Craving Spiritual Junk Food (II Timothy 4:1-5)
Passage: 2 Timothy 4:1–4:5
Not by Bread Alone
I. When Fruit Just Won’t Cut It
Is there anyone among us who does not, at some point during the week, at some point during the day, is there anyone among us who does not get a craving for some kind of ‘junk food’? I know you know what I’m talking about.
There are times when you want a little snack and, I’m sorry, fruit just won’t cut it.
You want something sweet, right? You want something, greasy…something salty or sugary. Almost everyone loves junk food, even though, almost everyone knows it is not good for us. That’s why it’s called ‘junk food’. It’s junk. It has no real value in terms of nutrition, does it?
Can you imagine eating nothing but junk food? What would happen to you? What would be the consequences of allowing every meal to be defined by these kinds of cravings?
Now, before I start sounding more like a nutritionist rather than a pastor, let me encourage you to turn with me to II Timothy 4. II Timothy 4:1-5.
This morning we are concluding a three-part study on what it means to live “not by bread alone” as Jesus declared to the Devil when he was tempted in the desert, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” In II Timothy 2, Paul called Timothy to rightly handle the word of truth. In chapter 3, he reminded Timothy that all Scripture is breathed out by God, that it is God’s own voice, able to equip us for all of God’s will.
II. The Passage: "For the Time is Coming When…" (4:1-5)
So follow along as I read from I Timothy 4 and let’s see where Paul goes with his instructions and encouragement for Timothy:
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: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Now what I want you to see here, first of all, is that there is one key, one overarching instruction for Timothy. It's at the beginning of verse 2: “preach the word”.
This is ultimately how Timothy will fulfill his ministry, as Paul puts it at the end of verse 5.
Now, In light of everything we’ve already seen from this letter, Paul’s main exhortation to Timothy is not surprising. Remember the verses we've studied over the past couple of weeks:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2:15)
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (3:14-17)
So again, it makes sense that Paul is directing Timothy back to God's word. But in order to understand what is unique about this passage, let me actually begin by starting in the middle of the passage.
If you look at these five verses, you will see that verses 1 and 2, along with verse 5 function in some sense as brackets because they are both direct charges, direct exhortations to Timothy about his ministry. But I'd like to begin by looking at what's between these two brackets, at the center we find in verses 3 and 4.
A. The Center: Paul’s Warning (4:3, 4)
Paul’s charge to Timothy to “preach the word” is followed in verses 3 and 4 with a description of why this will be so important.
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Now, when Paul says “the time is coming”, he doesn't mean that this is going to happen someday at sometime in the distant future. The word “myths” at the end of verse 4 points us back to I Timothy 1:3, 4 where we read:
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.
So certain men were already beginning to “wander off into myths”. What Paul is telling Timothy in II Timothy 4:3 is that there is a time coming soon when this problem will not be limited to just “certain men”. Paul says “people...people will not endure sound teaching”.
Do you see the progression there in verses 3 and 4?
1) People will not endure sound teaching. 2) Instead they will have itching ears, that is, they will have a desire for someone to tell them what they want to hear. 3) This desire will cause them to seek and surround themselves with teachers who will tell them what they want to hear. 4) They will fully turn away from the truth of God, and 5) they will “wander off” into myths. Those, of course, are not myths in the sense of Greek myths. These are simply any stories that are not grounded in actual history and truth.
So Paul calls Timothy to “preach the word” because those “certain men” who are starting to “devote themselves to myths” are very likely just the tip of iceberg in terms people being led astray. Only the word of God, only the truth can stop those dominoes from toppling.
Now as we think about Paul's warning here, I want you to see that the danger he describes here is something that will take place in the church. And if we think about the essence of what Paul is describing, I think this is a danger every single one of us has to be concerned about.
Think again about the progression we see in verses 3 and 4, specifically that first stage in verse 3: For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching...
So what exactly is “sound teaching”? The word “sound” is an interesting word in Greek. Let me read you two verses from the Gospel of Luke, and see if you can find this same Greek word in these verses:
And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31, 32)
And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.' (Luke 15:27)
The word translated “sound” in II Timothy 4 is the same word we see translated in Luke as “well” or as “safe and sound”. It is a word that means 'healthy' or 'whole'; “free from injury or disease”.
So Paul is telling Timothy that the time is coming when people will not endure, will not put up with “healthy teaching”. They will instead crave spiritual “junk food”. And I think Paul can say “the time is coming” because he knows, all too well, he knows human nature. He knows that all of us have a weakness when it comes to “junk food”...spiritual “junk food”, that is.
It begins when we don't like what we hear from God's word, when God's word challenges us in terms of our thinking or our behavior. “That's not what it says about sex, is it? That's not what the Bible says about my money, is it? That's not what the Bible says about suffering, is it? About marriage? About divorce? About worry? That's not what the Bible really says about someone who is genuinely converted, is it? Is that really what it says about Hell?” Sometimes the truth is hard to hear, for all of us.
But then, the very real danger is that our ears begin to itch. And we want to scratch that itch. We begin to look around for some escape hatch, for some exit door, for a teacher or teachers who will tell us what we were hoping to hear all along. We turn to teachers we don't really respect. We turn to obscure sources outside the Bible and build complex arguments to explain why a verse only seems to be saying what it really isn't saying.
We begin to say things like, “Well, pastor 'who know you' said this is what that actually means.” We begin to justify certain things because they're now relevant or market research has shown that they are effective. We change churches. We change Bibles. We cut ties. We look more and more for that which will affirm us rather than challenge us. And we begin to eat more and more “junk food”.
What would happen to you if you lived on strict diet of spiritual “junk food”? I'll tell you what would happen. Paul tells us right here. You would wander off into myths. Rejecting the often demanding truth of God, you would find yourself living according to the status quo lies of this world.
At different times, in different ways, all of us crave spiritual “junk food”.
B. The Brackets: Paul’s Charge (4:1, 2, 5)
So what are we to do in light of such cravings? There is only one things we can do. We need to commit ourselves to a steady diet of what is healthy. Just like a person who is seriously committed to eating right, we need to get all the junk food out of the house and surround ourselves with healthy food that will nourish us.
This is exactly what Paul tells Timothy in verse 2. In light of what he will quickly say about “itching ears” in verse 3, he instructs him in verse 2 to “preach the word...preach the word!” But look at how verse 1 sets this up. 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:
Is there any doubt that Paul is serious here? He says, “right here, Timothy, right now in the presence of God, with Jesus Christ as my witness, in light of the fact that you will stand before Him and have to give an account, Timothy; in light of the fact that He will both return and reign, Timothy, this is what you must do: preach the word.” Could Paul make it any stronger?
Now, at this point, let me explain something about the application of God’s word here. II Timothy is one of three letters called the “Pastoral Epistles”. This label comes from the fact that these letter were written by Paul to Timothy and Titus, encouraging them and instructing them in the pastoral ministry they were carrying out (i.e. caring for the church through teaching and leading), Timothy in Ephesus and Titus on the island of Crete.
So in many cases, when these letters are taught, one of two things happens. Either they are taught as applicable primarily for church leaders, or they are generalized for all believers in such a way that Paul’s intent in writing seems to go out the window.
But if we are to “rightly handle” God’s word, as we talked about last week, we need to first recognize the pastoral work that informs all of these letters, but, at the same time, we need to see the principles that inform what Paul says about the pastoral work.
So for example, when Paul says “preach the word”, what principle informs that exhortation? Well, the larger principle behind Paul’s charge here is the principle of keeping God’s word first in Timothy’s ministry, the ministry he must fulfill according to verse 5.
Timothy’s challenges in Ephesus with these “certain men”, his personal struggles with fear and shame, all of it can be and should be addressed as Timothy keeps God’s word first in his life and ministry. When the word moves to second place, behind seeking the approval of others, or behind doing what is safe and comfortable, we begin to find ourselves hungry for spiritual ‘junk food’.
So for Timothy to keep the word first, in light of his gifts and calling, he must “preach the word”. Now, we need to speak God’s word as well, but we may not do that like Timothy. But the principle behind Paul’s charge is one that we desperately need to hear and hold onto.
Brothers and sisters, keep the word first. Now when I say that, I am not merely saying, keep ‘Bible study’ first. Some may hear it that way. What I’m ultimately saying is keep ‘hearing from God’ first. The man or woman of God does not separate ‘Bible study’ and ‘hearing from God’. They are inextricably linked. “All Scripture is God-breathed”. (3:16)
Keeping the word first is about living “by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. It’s about being consistently nourished by “sound, healthy” teaching; “sound, healthy doctrine” that can only come from Scripture, from the Bible.
But notice here in verses 2 and 5, notice in these ‘brackets’, that Paul goes on to give Timothy six more principles that are related to his mandate to “preach the word”. So if you and I, recognizing and taking seriously our vulnerability to cravings for spiritual junk food, if we know we need a steady spiritual diet, a healthy spiritual diet, then we also need to understand the principles Paul gives Timothy here in regard “preach[ing] the word”, or more generally, of keeping the word first.
So what is God teaching all of us here about living, not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God? Well, He’s telling us…
1)Keep the word first, whether it is convenient or inconvenient.
Listen again to verse 1 and the first part of verse 2: 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: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season;
Timothy has to know that he is always “on duty” when it comes to the word. He has to be ready to speak God’s word, not just in a Sunday morning sermon, but whenever God’s people need to hear it, no matter the situation.
When it comes to eating right, you can’t simply do that when it’s convenient, can you? The fact that so much ‘junk food’ can also be referred to as “fast food” is good reminder of this. It often costs more, in terms of both money and time, it often costs more to eat healthy. It’s often not convenient. But if we know we need it, it won’t matter if it’s convenient or not.
Brothers and sisters, the same has to be true for the word. We need to keep it first in our lives, whether our schedule or our workload or recreational commitments or whatever is telling us it is inconvenient. Keep the word first, “in season and out of season”.
2)Keep the word first, so that it can challenge you toward change.
Listen to the passage again: 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: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove [or correct], rebuke, and exhort…
To be “on duty” with the word meant that Timothy needed to use the word not only to comfort and console, but also to challenge.
There are many times when we desperately need to hear the encouragement and consolation of God’s word; times when we need to be comforted by God’s promises. But along with our need for consolation, all of us have a desperate need for correction.
Every day we are bombarded by lies on the outside and tempted by “passions” (v. 3) on the inside. Every day we are tempted to spiritually slow down, or relax; to put things on ‘cruise control’. We are often tempted to believe that somehow we have arrived. That we know all the right things, that we are doing all the right things.
But God is never finished with us in this life, is He? He wants to keep changing us. With a mindset grounded in grace (i.e. that we are already fully accepted by God because of what Jesus did on the cross), with that mindset, we need to seek out, in God’s word, how God wants to change us, not just affirm us. As you read, keep praying, “God how is what I’m reading challenging me to think and live differently?”
3)Keep the word first, always savoring grace and seeking understanding.
Look this time at all of verse 2: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching…
As Timothy was fulfilling his ministry in Ephesus, as he was reproving, rebuking, and exhorting, he needed to do this with “complete patience and teaching (or instruction)”. The opposite of this would be to reprove, rebuke, and exhort impatiently and with no explanation. That sounds like the way a tyrant deals with his people. But that’s not Christlike leadership.
Timothy need to demonstrate the grace of God with those who were in error or those who were spiritually indifferent. In Timothy’s appeals, they need to hear the heart of God for them, AND they need to understand why God wanted them to change.
In the same way, as we keep the word first in our lives, we need to come to it, not as a rule book, by as the revelation of God himself. We come to the word, not first to know what we should do, but first to know the God who loves us enough to tell us what we should do.
As we are challenged by the word, it is critical that we remember that grace should motivating our desire to change. And we should seek to understand why God says to us “this is not good for you” OR “no, don’t go down that path” OR “I know this will hurt, but you need it.”
Just as Timothy was to do in Ephesus, so God, through word, always challenges us with complete patience and instruction.
4)Keep the word first, staying clear-headed from outside influences.
Listen again to verse 5: As for you, always be sober-minded…
It would be very, very easy for Timothy to let his difficult circumstances and the words of his critics the allure of an easier life somewhere else, it would be easy to allow these things to constantly fill his head and color his vision. It would be easy for him to become drunk with such things, to fall unduly under their influence.
That’s precisely why Paul says, “always be sober-minded”. “Timothy, you must keep a clear head.” If Timothy was going to “preach the word”, he needed to do so without that word being compromised, being colored, being softened, being twisted by all of these outside influences.
In the same, brothers and sisters, when we keep the word first in our lives, we need to be careful that we are not coming to the word or mediating on the word while “under the influence”.
I know all of us have been tempted to read this or that in God’s word through the lens of what would be easier for our current circumstance, or what would be more successful according to the world’s definitions. But we need to keep a clear head don’t we. Every time we come to God’s word, we need to stop and ask God to give us this sober-mindedness, so that we can really hear what He has to say, not what we want Him to say.
5)Keep the word first, even when the consequences of the truth are hard.
Verse 5: As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering…
Just before this, in verse 3, Paul said the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching… And if they will not endure sound teaching, they certainly won’t endure suffering.
But if Timothy is on a different path, on God’s path, then he will enduring sound teaching, even when it calls him to endure suffering. And it does, quite often. God is very clear about the fact that when we keep his word first in our lives, our lives will not be easy.
In many cases, God’s word will not make us popular. In many cases, God’s word will upset people; it will cause tension…even with people who are close to us. But again, if we trust God, then we need to hold when it’s hard, believing that He has a reason for the suffering we’re experiencing.
6)Keep the word first, keeping the gospel central at all times.
Look at verse 5 in its entirety: As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Now given the time-consuming challenges inside the church, when Paul says, “do the work of an evangelist”, he might certainly be telling Timothy to make some time for people outside the church as well. I think that’s right, but given the context, I think there’s more to it than that.
If this entire letter has been written in light of Timothy’s personal struggles in connection with struggles within the church, if the overarching charge here is to “preach the word”, especially in light of junk food cravings, then I think part of what Paul is reminding Timothy of here with the term “evangelist”, is keeping the gospel at the forefront of his ministry outside and inside the church.
It is the gospel, the message of the cross, that provides the ultimate corrective for our cravings. How? Because the message of the cross reminds us of the ultimate consequences of our foolish cravings. It reminds us how much we need God’s word, and the price God paid so we can live by every word from His mouth. It humbles us so we can hear.
If we are to keep the word of God first in our lives, we must hold on, at all times, to the thread of the gospel that weaves its way through every page of Scripture. As you read and meditate on the word, ask yourself, “How do I hear the gospel through this verse? How does this verse prepare me for or point me to the gospel, to the Good News that Jesus died for my sins?”
That’s not imposing something onto Scripture. That’s seeing what God wanted us to see all along.
III. Not by Bread Alone, and Not by Junk Food at All
Matthew 4:4…. But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Brothers and sisters, we live everyday in a culture that would whole-heartedly agree with the first part of Jesus’ response to the Devil, because living by bread alone would mean way to many carbs. We live everyday in a culture that exalts physical fitness, but not training in godliness.
Therefore, we live everyday in a culture that, in spite of so warnings about ‘junk food’, we live in a culture that lives off a steady diet of spiritual ‘junk food’. And we are not immune from the same cravings; from that constant influence.
That’s why we need to keep the word first. Only the Bible is the word of God, and only the Bible can nourish our souls with everything we need for what it means to truly live.
How will you keep the word first this week? Through faith, by grace, because of what Jesus did for us, may we live this day, and every day this week, by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Let’s pray.