Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Which book of the Bible has been of more help to you than any other book in the Bible?
John Calvin said, “This epistle has been more profitable to me than any other book of Scripture.”
This is the first in a 9-week sermon series:
To Him Be Glory Forever and Ever
Unashamed of Christ and Ready to Suffer
A Summer in Second Timothy
The title of today’s message is from verse 12, and verse 12 is not the main verse (6–7 is).
Why this series?
- Because it’s in the Bible—“preach the word” (4:2).
- During John Piper’s vacation, sermons are still preached.
- The Pastor for Preaching & Vision (John Piper) senses the time is right for this.
- We praise God for early spiritual impressions made upon our minds by the teaching of our mothers or other relatives (e.g., Lois and Eunice), so we preach this sermon series to make early spiritual impressions on young minds.
- We preach these messages to embolden us to not be ashamed of the gospel, but be willing to suffer for it, as we enjoy the Father who overcomes our fear.
The first letter to Timothy asserts that the gospel produces practical change in believers, namely godliness.
The second letter is a bold, clear exhortation to endure in the gospel and for the gospel in spite of suffering which will most assuredly come.
In this sermon I am to …
- Help you fan the flame of courage in speaking the gospel.
- Connect “knowing” with courage.
- Fuel your enjoyment of the God who does not want you paralyzed by fear.
As you can see in our text, this letter is from an apostle, by the will of God (v 1)—God has a will. He wills. He wills in accordance with his promise, and he promises what he wills to promise. He is an integrated whole. There is no double-mindedness in God.
Paul’s teaching is authoritative; he does not speak from private opinion. God speaks to us by the mouth of mortal man. Paul is a preacher, apostle, and teacher (v 11) all under the appointment of God almighty. And why does Paul write it? What is the problem he is trying to address? The main point of this passage, the point that everything else in this passage supports or explains:
Keep blowing on the spark of God’s gift—of unashamed courage to speak openly of Christ and to suffer for heralding the good news of what Jesus has accomplished.
Fan that flame! Because if we don’t, it will go out. It’s raining all around us; our wood will get wet. Don’t quench this spirit. It is a gift from God. We must fan it like our lives depend upon it. Fan it till it is a forest fire spreading everywhere.
Everything in this passage serves to explain and empower that kindling, that gift, that courage, that speaking and suffering for that gospel so that we will speak openly of Christ and be willing and ready to suffer for the gospel.
Paul underscores the importance of this numerous times in this letter. Notice:
- 1:16: “Onesiphorus . . . was not ashamed of my chains.”
- 2:3: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”
- 2:9: “I am suffering [for the gospel], bound with chains as a criminal.”
- 2:10: “I endure everything for the sake of the elect.”
- 2:12: “If we endure, we will also reign with him.”
- 2:15: “Do your best to present yourself . . . a worker who has no need to be ashamed.”
- 2:24: “And the Lord’s servant must . . . patiently endure evil.”
- 3:1: “In the last days there will come times of difficulty.”
- 3:10: “You . . . have followed my . . . persecutions and sufferings.”
- 3:12: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
- 4:5: “As for you . . . endure suffering.”
- 4:6: “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.”
- 4:7: “I have fought the good fight.”
- 4:16: “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me.”
Not only fan the flame, but keep fanning—the language is a continuous, ongoing action. Flames go out (without continuous oxygen).
Now, what is to be kept burning? Verse 6—It’s the gift that God has given Timothy. “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God.”
The ongoing existence of that fire is dependent on obedience to verse 6: Fan it—over and over again. It will go out if we don’t—even though it’s the gift of God.
If we don’t fan the courage, we won’t be ready to suffer. So Paul wants us to be ready to suffer, ‘cuz it’s coming.
Apparently Timothy was like many of us: He struggled with courage.
When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. 11 So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.— 1 Corinthians 16:10–11
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.—1 Timothy 4:12
It’s natural to encounter fear when you know you will suffer. And believers will suffer.
When we speak on behalf of the gospel—as preacher or teacher or parent or neighbor—we will suffer.
In addition to our unseen devouring Enemy, wicked men hassle godly men, for their self-justifying hearts are pricked by the godliness of the godly. But courageous believers are not held hostage by huffing and puffing, or even by blowing the house down.
Do we think that the gospel shall be free of all persecution? Do we think people will like it when we announce …
- None is righteous
- Your good works are like filthy rags
- Natural man is not good, but corrupt.
- You don’t deserve a break today, but have earned wrath.
- All persons are born vision-impaired (blind).
- Your body is not your own
- All must bow to Jesus
- God requires mandatory capital punishment for all moral infractions, like
- Do all things without grumbling.
- Give thanks for everything.
People will react to those who speak biblically like that.
Notice: suffering is not commonly associated with being in control. Those in control typically eliminate their suffering.
While chewing on this text, I saw a dentist, to address an abscessed tooth. Intermittent pain started a few weeks prior and was tolerable. But it had reached a point at which I was motivated (an understatement) to take measures within my control to end this non-stop jab and ache and distraction. (Severe toothache victims without access to dental care have been known to encounter delirium. I understand.) Generally, to continue in suffering is owing to having no control.
When a person doesn’t take reasonable steps to end the suffering they could end, we wonder if he is a masochist, neurotic, imbalanced and irrational. “Use your control to end your suffering, you idiot,” we might think.
But … there are many exceptions in which suffering is willingly endured:
- The woman in delivery is suffering indeed, but will voluntarily do it again in a couple years in order to gain another child.
- The athletic champion who buffets his body through conditioning, training, and exhausting regimens of workouts willingly pushes himself to endure more, aiming for a prize.
- The venture capitalist risks his equity and works long hours forfeiting sleep and short terms gains for the sake of a more distant and greater goal.
Paul willingly suffers, saying, “This is why I suffer as I do.” Why? He suffers for the sake of the gospel, not being ashamed of the testimony about the Lord. Saved and called, he was appointed a preacher, apostle, and teacher, and because the gospel is offensive, he suffers opposition in multiple forms. Willingly.
If fearful circumstances are to be expected as par for the course in living a godly life in Christ Jesus … and if Paul’s goal is that we be unashamed ...
- at work
- at school
- at family gatherings
- in the public square
… how will we overcome fear? (By the way—unashamed does not mean tactless, unpersuasive, harping, offensive.)
Paul wants Timothy to fan into flame his gift. What might keep a gifted person from exercising and cultivating his gift? Answer: fear.
Fanned fear can cripple courage, and fanned courage can overcome paralysis of fear.
God has not given us a spirit of fear, but power.
This gift does not arrive in maximized condition. It must be enlarged, strengthened, tuned, polished, fanned. This gift is apparently not given in full bloom. Further, the excellence associated with a gift can tempt carelessness and sloth and play into Satan’s God-belittling schemes. Our gifts can grow cold, rusty. Exercise your spiritual gifts (an echo of Ed Stetzer’s sermon last week).
How is a gift fanned into flame?
Notice a connection between 2 Timothy 2:1 and 1:2.
In 2:1, Paul says: “You then, my child, be strengthened [be empowered] by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” So the power that sustains the fire of courage is “by the grace that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
See the connection with 1:2. Watch for the word grace and how it functions: “To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” Grace to you!
In other words, if you ask Paul, “How do I fan the flame of God’s gift so that I speak openly of Christ and suffer for the gospel?” He answers: By the power of God, the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. And if you ask him, “How do I receive this ongoing grace?” He answers, this grace is coming to you right now through the word of God.
In verse 7 Paul names three things antithetical to fear: Power, love, and self-control.
- Power is not intrinsic to us, but is derived from the omnipotent Spirit. Superior power is not fearful. (big football lineman vs small elderly woman)
- Love casts out fear. (mother vs. alligator)
- Self-control distinguishes the power of the Spirit from zealots, who boast of having the Spirit of God, but demonstrate zeal without knowledge. (walking less confidently on ice)
Warning: Lest we think that God is held hostage to Timothy’s weakness, and can’t make the gifts he gave him successful, remember, Timothy’s fanning this gift into flame is also God’s gift. God makes the flame of his gifts dependent on our fanning, and then makes our fanning dependent on his grace.
What is the fanned, enflamed courage to be used for? Answer: Gospel proclamation.
Verse 8: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel.” Don’t be ashamed of speaking openly about Christ, and don’t be ashamed of the shameful circumstances of those who do—like Paul’s imprisonment. Don’t be ashamed to suffer for the gospel. On the contrary, verse 8 says, “Share in suffering for the gospel.”
And notice the last phrase of verse 8: “. . . by the power of God.” When all the fanning is faithful, and the flame burns brightly, and you speak boldly, and you suffer bravely—who did it? Where did this come from? God did it. You did it “by God’s power.” You acted; but his power was the decisive cause.
My prayer is that perhaps God would do this for some of us right now. That God would overcome a spirit of fear and give a spirit of God-confidence to speak and suffer for Christ as we speak.
Speak what? The gospel.
What is the gospel? (the testimony about our Lord—v 8)
We testify that it is his 1) purpose, and 2) grace (v 9). Not only does grace exclude any human merit, but election—beforehand—makes clear that the decisive work is all God’s. The root is not any work or deed or merit foreseen in us, but HIS PURPOSE explicitly (v 9)—before the ages began.
He saved us (v 9) not because of our works (v 9) before the beginning of time (v 9).
What is the “it” that God will guard? The “it” is the testimony about the Lord. The word. The gospel, the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus. Paul trusts it, and through it—trusts the Lord. Hence, he trusts the Lord to keep him trusting.
… and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior—Titus 1:3
Paul is convinced the Lord is able to keep him believing, and to keep him believing until the end, that is, judgment day.
The Importance of “Knowing” to Courage
Paul was not ashamed, and he exhorts us to be like him (v 12).
In our text, Paul asserts that there is particular knowledge that, if you possess it, you will be armed with courage, and if you don’t, you won’t—“I am not ashamed, knowing.”
What does Paul know? Answer: He knows whom he has believed.
And who has Paul believed and what does he know about the one whom he trusts?
I find 16 actions God takes in these 12 verses.
Notice just one of the things God has done: Jesus abolished death. Huh? People are dying all over the world. I have lost two children to death. I buried my mom just two years ago. Jesus abolished death? Yes. And brought life and immortality. When the Bible says Jesus “abolished death,” it is not lying or mistaken. So, what is meant by saying that he abolished death? In what sense did Jesus “abolish” death? It means something like he rendered it moot. Death speaks, but it has nothing authoritative to say to believers. It’s like saying stop lights are abolished for police squad cars. The lights don’t go out of existence, but they lose their authority: for some the lights don’t have the final say. And neither does death. It’s no longer punitive, but arrives in the service of the believer on his way to being promoted, rewarded.
To life is added immortality—unceasingly alive, incorruptibly alive. Not just made alive, but kept alive.
For he who does not have this God-confidence sealed on his heart, will be continually be shaken like a reed.
If our salvation and our flame-fanning depended on ourselves, we would continually be vulnerable to failure. But now, in God’s hand, our fears are allayed.
Be emboldened to speak the testimony about our Lord by the gracious power, love, and self-control our Father gives.