In and Out of Season
Updated: Sep 13, 2019
“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season.” (2 Tim 4:2)
Some fast-food restaurants make it a point of pride that they’re always open: “Eat great—even late.” It’s kind of like that in the ministry. To be a preacher means being available, and prepared to dish out spiritual food in heaping portions. Paul says to Timothy, “Be prepared in season and out of season.”
Paul uses a word that calls up a distinct image, that of a soldier who’s always ready for going into battle. You never know when you’ll have to fend off an attack, or launch an offensive of your own. So you keep your armour on. The same preparedness is vital for a preacher. As he carries out his work, he can’t be lazy, or distracted by whatever’s trending on YouTube. There’s too much at stake. God’s people need this gospel. So he must be vigilant, preaching “in season and out of season.”
Is there really a season for preaching, like there is for duck-hunting or salmon-fishing? No, preaching is for all times. That’s what the Old Testament prophets often said: if God has spoken, it must be prophesied. And God has spoken, not just the gospel of our redemption in Christ, but wisdom about so many issues of life. There are always opportunities to speak the Word usefully.
What are these “seasons” then, that Paul refers to? One translation puts our text: “Be ready to preach the Word, whether it’s convenient or not.” The fact is, there can be golden opportunities to preach: like at funerals when we crave a word of hope, or after natural disasters when we want some perspective. On so many regular Sundays too, we come to church expecting the Word, and we’re glad to hear a message from the Lord.
But there can be times that are “out of season” too, when God’s Word isn’t so welcome. For the Word runs up against the ideas of our culture, where evil is called good. Other times the Word might challenge our beloved traditions and our ways of doing things. And sometimes we don’t want to hear what the Word says about our sin—it’s too direct and makes us uncomfortable.
Here the preacher’s concern for his own reputation can be an issue. No one likes to hurt another’s feelings! And he’s preaching to the very people who provide his pay... But none of this may sway him from proclaiming the truth of God’s Word. “Keep preaching,” says Paul.
Timothy surely had times when he wanted to be quiet, or to modify his message. As Paul says in the next verse, “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4:3). It’s often the case that people—even in the church—want to be tickled with novelty or triviality, instead of being fed with the life-giving truths of the gospel. “But keep preaching,” says Paul.
Besides that is hardship. Paul mentions in 2 Timothy 4:15 how Alexander the coppersmith “strongly opposed our message.” And there was Paul as he writes this letter, sitting in jail for his testimony to Christ. So it will always be, for the Christian gospel is offensive. And not just when it comes to the definition of marriage or the evils of abortion. More basically, the message of Christ offends people: “Don’t tell me about Jesus. That’s going too far.” Centuries ago, Jesus was called a stumbling block—and still He is. Why? Because Jesus calls us to a total humbling of ourselves, simply trusting in his death on the ugly cross as our hope for life, and then gladly serving him as our Lord. From one perspective, there’s a lot not to like about the message of Christ. “But keep preaching,” says Paul.
It’s ours to be faithful, to always abound in the work of the Lord. And here’s an implication for everyone, in pew and pulpit. First, that you faithfully receive the Word whenever it’s preached. Listen prayerfully, and diligently, and humbly, whether you feel like it or not, whether it’s brought dynamically or not so much.
We could re-phrase our text to say, “Listen to the Word, in season and out of season.” It’s food for your soul. And then know that spreading the Word “in season and out of season” is for all of us. It’s prepared Christians who’ll make the most of every opportunity, who’ll be ready to speak a wise word, and win sinners for Christ.