Speak To Us Smooth Things
The apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2). This charge reveals that a preacher's work is difficult. He must be be ready to preach even when it is inconvenient to do so. I think the phrase "out of season" is Paul's way of acknowledging the necessity of preaching the Word, even when such preaching might bring about anger, opposition, disquiet or sorrow.
Consider Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's commentary on the phrase "in season and out of season":
"..that is, at all seasons; whether they regard your speaking as seasonable or unseasonable. 'Just as the fountains, though none may draw from them, still flow on; and the rivers, though none drink of them, still run; so must we do all on our part in speaking, though none give heed to us' [Chrysostom, Homily, 30, vol. 5., p. 221]. I think with Chrysostom, there is included also the idea of times whether seasonable or unseasonable to Timothy himself; not merely when convenient, but when inconvenient to thee, night as well as day (Act_20:31), in danger as well as in safety, in prison and when doomed to death as well as when at large, not only in church, but everywhere and on all occasions, whenever and wherever the Lord’s work requires it."
In describing the evangelist's work, there are two words, "Convince" (KJV, "reprove") and "rebuke" that have the potential of making an enemy of the one receiving the message. This happened to Stephen in Acts 7. He charged the Jews with duplicity in the murder of the Christ. In response we are told "they gnashed at him with their teeth" (54); and they "cast him out of the city and stoned him" (58).
Stephen's antagonists were not unique. In every age there are those who shy away from the light of the gospel. Jesus told His disciples, "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed" (John 3:19-20).
The conscientious preacher is motivated by love. He does not desire to antagonize. He wants to bring sinners to repentance, that their souls might be saved! Paul asked the Galatians, "Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?" (Galatians 4:16). But, the seasoned man has learned that regardless of tone or content, some will not bear criticism of their sin. One wag stated, "There are a lot of different ways to skin a cat, but the cat isn't going to like any of them!"
The Lord instructed Isaiah, "Now
go, write it before them on a tablet, and note it on a scroll, that it may be
for time to come, forever and ever: That this is a rebellious people, lying
children, children who will not hear the law of the Lord; who say to the seers,
"Do not see," and to the prophets, 'Do not prophesy to us right things;
Speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits. Get out of the way, turn aside
from the path,
cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.'" (Isaiah 30:8-11).
The response of the people in that text should not necessarily be construed as literally spoken. Seldom do people admit that they are unwilling to accept God's truths. Instead, they criticize the messenger: his supposed attitude, his tone, the length of his lessons, etc., etc. Ahab cried out to Elijah, "Is that you, O troubler of Israel?" (1 Kings 18:17). Ahab also chafed at the preaching of Micaiah, saying about him, "...I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil." (1 Kings 22:8). Amaziah, the priest of Bethel told Amos, "Go, you seer! Flee to the land of Judah. There eat bread, and there prophesy. But never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is the royal residence" (Amos 7:12-13).
Paul warned of this rebellious attitude
when he wrote Timothy, "For the time will come when they will not endure
sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching
ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears
away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
When such attitudes prevail, a number of things happen:
False teachers, those who speak "smooth things", become popular.
Apostasy progresses, as ungodly men "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18).
Men replace the righteousness of God with their own righteousness (cf. Romans 10:1-3).
A generation arises that does not know the Lord or His will (cf Judges 2:10). As the wise man noted, "There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes, yet is not washed from its filthiness" (Proverbs 30:12).
So, what can we do to avoid such an end in our generation?
First, we need men to stand in the breech and declare the "whole counsel of God" (cf. Acts 20:17). This charge is not an excuse to foment strife (cf. Philippians 1:15). It does not justify hobbyism (cf. 2 Timothy 2:14). However, it does necessitate a willingness to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3), to "Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2). And it requires such effort even in the face of opposition.
Second, we need faithful Christians to uphold the hands of those who do stand. Paul wrote Timothy, "I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:14-15). As the church is the support of the truth, what is the end of those who refuse to give a proclaimer of truth their right hand? In the past, such people have been described as a "faithless and perverse generation" (cf. Matthew 17:17).
Of course, so much more is needed in our time. With the opposition we face, we must confess that we are "strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland" (Hebrews 11:13b-14). This world is not our home. "Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4:4). Our walk must match our profession, that we might "Let [our] light so shine before men, that they may see [our] good works and glorify [our] Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16).
But, the foundation is and always will be a knowledge of and respect for God's word. "You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:17-18). What is your attitude toward the one who shares with you the truths of God?
By Stan Cox
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