Reflections on 2 Timothy 4:1


I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word . . .
2 Timothy 4:1–2a

In 2 Timothy 4:1, Paul charges Timothy to commit himself to preaching. In this final epistle of his life, Paul labors to impress on Timothy the seriousness of this charge. We can see how seriously Paul considers the preaching task by noticing five qualifying phrases.

First, I solemnly charge you. I imagine that Timothy would have been startled by Paul’s use of “solemn” in this verse. After all, it’s not like Paul was only discussing light and trivial matters in the previous chapter. Paul had just encouraged Timothy to affirm Scripture as God’s Word, to follow him in suffering, and to protect the sheep from false teaching. For Paul, faithful preaching is a matter of utmost solemnity.

Second, I solemnly charge you in the presence of God. Timothy must give an account of his ministry to the judge of all creation—the maker of heaven and earth. Paul is essentially saying, “The audience for this solemn oath-taking ceremony is the Lord Himself.” Paul wants Timothy to be aware that preaching must be carried out under God’s watch and in his presence. The Lord himself is Timothy’s ultimate audience—God is watching what he is doing.

Third, I solemnly charge you in the presence of Christ Jesus. Paul calls on Timothy to swear allegiance to this particular task under the watchful gaze of his Redeemer. Timothy’s job is to preach the word of salvation under the gaze of the one who gave his life for him.

Fourth, I solemnly charge you in the presence of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead. Jesus Christ is not only our Savior. He’s the ruler of all history—the one who will judge the living and the dead. Paul wants Timothy to remember that ministers are going to be judged in accordance to their faithfulness by the Lord Jesus Christ on the Last Day. As James says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (Jas. 3:1). One day, every pastor must stand before Jesus and give an account for how faithfully he served his flock, and in particular, how faithfully he preached God’s Word.

Fifth, I solemnly charge you by his appearing and his kingdom. Every faithful gospel preacher longs for one thing: the Day of the coming of the Lord. On that day, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Paul charges Timothy to keep his eye on eternity, to preach in light of that day. So often we focus only on the challenges and issues that are before us. But Paul reminds us to keep our perspective focused on eternity.

Ultimately, Paul reminds Timothy that he must give an account of his preaching, not to Paul, or even to his congregation, but to the Lord Jesus. We preach to honor him.

Ligon Duncan

Ligon Duncan is the chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. You can find him on Twitter at @LigonDuncan.

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