"A boy scout is always prepared," the old saying goes. I was never a boy scout. And it shows every once in a while.
Every Christmas at Concordia, we hold a drive-thru nativity. Literally thousands of people drive through our campus from station to station as we share the blessed story of Christ's birth for people to enjoy from the comfort and warmth of their cars. Fortunately, this year, unlike in some years past, it was comparatively warm outside. In fact, one evening, it was warm enough to walk around without so much as a coat. You have to love those balmy San Antonio Decembers! But even in San Antonio, it is only a matter of time before a cold-snap hits in the "dead" of a Texas winter. And one did hit the following Tuesday.
Unfortunately, the following Tuesday was the day which we had scheduled to take down our drive-thru nativity sets - all ten of them. Thankfully, a hearty group of our church elders volunteered in the biting cold and piercing wind to help with the breakdown. They all came wearing Carhart jackets and overalls with thick gloves and woolen caps. They, apparently, were boy scouts. I came in a light leather jacket. I, as I already mentioned, was not.
I was miserable. My fingers went numb. My ears turned red. Even my tongue began to freeze to my mouth making it difficult for me to talk. Something unheard of for me! As I broke down sets, trying to stave off what I was sure to be immanent hypothermia by drinking coffee by the gallon, I kept thinking to myself: "You knew it was going to be cold today and you were going to be outside. Why didn't you come prepared?"
"Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction" (2 Timothy 4:2). These are some of the closing words penned by the apostle Paul to the young pastor Timothy in 2 Timothy 4. And Paul's admonition is that of a true, blue boy scout: "Be prepared in season and out season." Bring a coat in the summer and a tank top in the winter. Never come unprepared.
But Paul is speaking of something much more profound and significant than mere preparation for inclement weather. He is speaking of the preparation that is involved with sharing God's teachings. For Paul warns, "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" (verse 3). Paul reminds us that we need to be ready and able to refute false doctrine and confront those who would seek to tear down the gospel, for many will try. Are you prepared?
Of course, no one can be perfectly prepared to refute every objection and counter every attack. Thankfully, this is not what Paul calls for. The Greek word for "be prepared" is ephistemi, meaning literally, "to stand by." This, then, is Paul's call: not to have any and every answer for any and every theological question, but to "stand by," ready for action at a moment's notice. Ready to learn new truths about God's Word. Ready to comfort a friend in need. Ready to share the gospel with someone who needs to hear it. So stand by. After all, your standing on the message of the cross could be the very stadning that changes a human heart.