[From ws 4/19 p.20 Study Article 14: June 3-9, 2019]
“Keep preaching the good news, fully accomplish your ministry.” – 2 Timothy 4:5
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people 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. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” [bold ours] – 2 Timothy 4: 1-5 (New International Version)
“I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his manifestation and his Kingdom: Preach the word; be at it urgently in favorable times and difficult times; reprove, reprimand, exhort, with all patience and art of teaching. For there will be a period of time when they will not put up with the wholesome teaching, but according to their own desires, they will surround themselves with teachers to have their ears tickled. They will turn away from listening to the truth and give attention to false stories. You, though, keep your senses in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelizer, fully accomplish your ministry.” [bold ours]- 2 Timothy 4: 1-5 (New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures)
“I charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables. But be thou sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill thy ministry.” [bold ours]- 2 Timothy 4: 1-5 (American Standard Version)
Why have we begun this review by quoting 3 different translations of the 2 Timothy 4:1-5?
Context is often important in understanding the intention of a writer. We need to also consider the setting, the circumstances of the writer and the audience the letter is written to, in order to grasp the full intention.
Context and setting
The writer is the Apostle Paul. This was his second letter to Timothy who was now a Christian elder likely still in Ephesus.
Paul writes this letter while imprisoned in Rome. Most bible scholars agree the letter was written between 64 C.E. and 67 C.E. Not much is known about Paul’s death. The Bible is silent on how or when he died. The general consensus among Bible Scholars is that he died (beheaded) between 64 C.E. and 67 C.E. What is clear from 2 Timothy 4:6 is that Paul knew that his death was imminent.
He then asks Timothy to “preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” and “keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
From the quoted text it becomes evident that Paul was not specifically referring to public preaching, though of course, that is part of Christian preaching. He wanted Timothy to protect the congregation from the corruptive influence which would soon infiltrate if following his death. In fully accomplishing his ministry or discharging all his duties, he would need to be correcting, rebuking and encouraging those in the congregation.
Something though is disturbing about the cited theme scripture in this article:
“Keep preaching the good news, fully accomplish your ministry” – 2 Timothy 4:5
Most Witnesses will glance over this and not notice that the first part has been changed to fit a certain narrative.
Where in 2 Timothy 4:5 does it say, “Keep preaching the good news”?
It does not.
Keep this in mind as we go through the article and then conclude on whether the article truly reflects the purpose and context of Paul’s second letter to Timothy.
Paragraph 1 already gives us an idea of the purpose of this article. Note the following:
“After all, this work is more important, more worthwhile, and more urgent than any other occupation in life. However, it can be a challenge to spend as much time in the ministry as we would like”.
We now can see that the article will focus on positioning the ministry as our main occupation. However, it is the ministry as defined by the Organization. The time spent in the ministry will also be considered.
It is worth noting that while Paul placed the ministry first in his life, he was a tent maker. He never referred to the ministry as his occupation and never required ongoing financial support.
“And when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so.” – 2 Corinthians 11:9.
Paragraph 3 ends with the following question: “What does it mean to accomplish our ministry fully?”
The following paragraph (4) gives the Organization’s answer: “Simply put, to accomplish our ministry fully, we must have as full a share as possible in the preaching and teaching work”.
The explanation does not cover all the aspects of Paul’s words we have discussed. The explanation given is yet again only focused on encouraging the JW preaching work.
Footnote to paragraph 4: “EXPRESSION EXPLAINED: Our Christian ministry includes various aspects of preaching and teaching, construction and maintenance of theocratic facilities, and disaster relief work. 2 Corinthians 5:18, 19; 8:4.”
Notice the inclusion of construction and maintenance of theocratic facilities. Is this really what Paul had in mind when you consider the context of 2 Timothy 4:5?
How to Make the Ministry Your Priority (pars.10, 11)
Goals to Help Me Fully Accomplish My Ministry
What are the goals suggested to help publishers fully accomplish their ministry?
- Practice a sample conversation from the current Our Christian Life and Ministry—Meeting Workbook
- Improve my ability to start conversations and witness informally
- Improve my skill in reading and explaining scriptures, making return visits, or demonstrating a Bible study
- Look for opportunities to introduce jw.org and to show videos
- Increase my preaching activity during the circuit overseer’s visit or during the Memorial season
- Make my ministry, return visits, and Bible studies a matter of prayer
You will notice the majority of the suggestions are using or drawing attention to the Organization and its teachings rather than the Bible. However, not one of them encourages the reader to study the Bible more often and more thoroughly, nor to practise fruits of the spirit, both of which would help one to better accomplish our ministry.
Moreover, no attention is paid to Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to “correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction”. (2 Timothy 4:5)
The focus of the letter to Timothy is not just about preaching to those who we meet in the ministry. It is also, if not more so, about those within the congregation.
While the suggested goals are a good start, far more is needed.
How to Keep Your Life Simple
Paragraph 14 gives an unattributed experience:
“We reduced our expenses, cut back on what we now view as excessive recreational activities, and asked our employers for a more flexible schedule. As a result, we were able to participate in evening witnessing, conduct more Bible studies, and even share in the midweek field service twice a month. What a joy!”.
There are many other ways to increase our share in the ministry. We need not focus on only formal field service meetings but need to look for other ways to reach the hearts of those inside and outside the congregation.
The experience is a subtle encouragement of the suggested avenues of service in paragraph 8: “Some in the congregation are able to serve as special, regular, or auxiliary pioneers. Others have learned to speak another language or have moved to an area where there is a need for more preachers”.
The Organization would like Witnesses to believe that reducing their secular work and exchanging it for JW.org activities means fully accomplishing their ministry. This is not the case.
How to Improve Your Preaching and Teaching Skills
“How, though, can we continue to make progress in our ministry? By paying close attention to the instruction we receive at the Weekly Life and Ministry Meeting”. (par. 16)
What exactly are we taught in the weekly meeting? There are some useful tips after the sample presentations and student talks about how we can deliver better sermons, arouse the interest of those we meet at the door and how to conduct bible studies; however much of what is taught at the meeting is JW doctrine. Also, we should not assume that applying the suggestions in that meeting is enough to help us fully accomplish our ministry.
In conclusion, this article does have a few good suggestions regarding the preaching aspect of Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4.
To fully accomplish our ministry though, we would need to also improve our ability to “correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction”. While that is the essence of Paul’s message to Timothy, it does not conform to the agenda of the Organization, and so it is totally ignored. It seems that Watchtower writers do not worry that Jehovah’s Witnesses will read and consider the context critically.