For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him, as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
Text: 2 Timothy 2:1–7
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
We'll start at the end (v 7) and end at the start (v 1).
I’ve been praying for you that God will fulfill his promise to Timothy from Paul for you. That is that you will have understanding in everything.
Ministering the gospel to others with a view to the continuation of the Kingdom is hard, but of it's of great value AND empowered by the grace of Christ’s gospel.
Paul, the Apostle, central figure in the proclamation of the gospel and the establishing of the early Christian church is passing on his legacy to Timothy, his “beloved child.” He is entreating him to be faithful to the message of the gospel in the face of false teaching and suffering.
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God (1:8).
The emphasis is faithfulness to the message (sound words), the gospel, and a life that reflects those sound words.
Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (1:13).
Imagine you are given an extremely valuable item. You’ve been "entrusted" with it. You are called to protect it. Because of the nature of the item, you will be under constant attack but you must be faithful. You cannot deny it or put it down or play it down.
(pick up v 2)
Paul instructs Timothy in a relatively detailed way to minister gospel truth to others such that the effect is that the process continues.
- Paul wants Timothy to take the deposit of the gospel entrusted to him and keep the spread of it going. He’s got a way to do that.
- Just as Paul has loved Timothy and instructed him and modeled for him faithfulness to the gospel, he wants Timothy to do that in the lives of others.
- Note: “That which you heard” is the gospel message of the good news about Jesus’ work for sinners and its immediate gospel corollaries.
Paul says, that he has been appointed a preacher, apostle and teacher for the gospel (1:10–11). Obviously, Paul’s instruction to Timothy is gospel saturated; it has, at its core, the simple gospel reality of Jesus, his person and work.
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel (2:8).
What is the gospel?
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.— 1 Corinthians 15:1–4
- Specifically, Paul is concerned with Timothy continuing the ministry that Paul has had in Timothy’s life by investing in men who can be the leaders of the church, the elders, who will guard this deposit the gospel and entrust it to others who will keep on believing, guarding, and entrusting.
- Principally, a key dynamic of Christian growth is a Christian receiving truth (entrusted) from a trusted mentor.
- Paul’s affection for Timothy (dear child) and familiarity with personal details (1:5) illustrates the relational dynamic of this ministry. This is not a sterile series of lectures but the impartation of gospel truth from one life to another. Some call this "life on life" or "incarnational ministry."
- The characteristic of the men that Timothy is to entrust the gospel truths to is that they are “faithful." This is beautiful. The point is not some sort of gift or attractive attribute. Simply faithfulness.
- Paul does not outline a ministry that ultimately ends with Timothy and those to whom Timothy ministers but rather that keeps going indefinitely (a qualification for the ‘faithful men’ is that they “teach others also”).
- Note: The model of Jesus—He chose 12 to be with him and that he might send them out to preach. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach (Mark 3:14).
- And I say, “great” sounds like a worthy cause to get involved in.
However ... Gospel ministry is difficult.
The gospel by its very nature is an offensive message.
We speak to meet the greatest human need. Where gospel reality is spoken, reference, appealed to as the point, there will be trouble.
- Pastor John: We are committed to helping alleviate all human suffering, especially eternal suffering.
- When you talk this way, and talk about the chains and consequences of sin and the claim of Christ as God and the only hope to escape the devil and sin and hell. This will not be popular with all.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life (2 Corinthians 2:15–16).
People will resist, slander, abandon, gossip, and abandon.
You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes (1:15).
- so the call to suffer and the call to endure accompany the call to minister the gospel
- some will prove faithful
May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains (1:16).
- The temptation will always be to hide or dilute the message (1:8 SHAME), we are wired to avoid shame at any costs. There are many “churches” and many “Christians” who have given up the core. Given up the center because of shame.
- Paul moves directly to exhort Timothy to be faithful to guard the deposit of the gospel regardless of the consequences in v 2. He does this with 3 metaphors.
Note: Paul is making one point with 3 examples not 3 points. Each example has certain nuances that support the overall point
Soldiering, athletics and farming all call for great commitment, great focus, great sacrifice. There is a also an alternative for each that is neither as difficult or as rewarding ("path of least resistance").
Soldier – Focus: Don’t get involved Civilian matters; goal: Please the one who enlisted him.
Athlete – Focus: Compete according to the rules; goal: Win the prize.
Farmer – Focus: Work hard; goal: Enjoy the first fruits.
There is a sort of way of Christian life that shies away when it gets personal, that avoids getting one’s hand dirty. That stays away from the pain and struggle,
Paul says it should be the opposite. We are called to "lean in" to the pain of others lives. We are called to bring the truth of the hope of the gospel to bear on every “issue” that the people we minister to have. “Every issue is at its core a gospel issue.”
- We seek to bring the gospel to bear on every challenge, every hurt, every confusion, all disbelief, all suffering, Jesus’ person and work are the answer to the human condition now and forever.
- We don’t begin with the gospel and continue or end with something else.
We are not justified by the gospel and then sanctified by obedience, but the gospel is the way we grow (Galatians 3:1–3) and are renewed (Colossians 1:6). It is the solution to each problem, the key to each closed door, the power through every barrier (Romans 1:16–17). It is very common in the church to think as follows: "The gospel is for non-Christians. One needs it to be saved. But once saved, you grow through hard work and obedience." But Colossians 1:6 shows that this is a mistake. Both confession and "hard work" that is not arising from and "in line" with the gospel will not sanctify you—it will strangle you. All our problems come from a failure to apply the gospel. Thus when Paul left the Ephesians he committed them "to the word of his grace, which can build you up" (Acts 20:32).—Tim Keller
Why should we do something so hard?
The resulting joy is worth it.
Paul does call Timothy to suffer for the gospel. Evidently, either one chooses to be ashamed of the gospel or to suffer for that embrace and lack of shame
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God (2 Timothy 1:8).
However, suffering is not ultimate. Joy is.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
The soldier ultimately soldiers on for the joy of pleasing his commander.
The athlete ultimately competes according to the rules for the joy of the crown.
The farmer ultimately works hard for the joy of the first fruits.
God is not calling us to some sort of masochistic pursuit of suffering but to an embrace of the effect of the gospel message on a sinful world that will ultimately result in joy for those who Christ it and preach him.
I can say that some of the toughest times in my life involve seeking to stand with and impart biblical truth in the face of deeply troubling lives. I just want to run away sometimes, close my door, turn on the air conditioner and watch Sports Center. But, the long-term joy and awe at 1) God’s willingness to use me (even me!) and 2) the joy and seeing the Holy Spirit bring about the obedience of faith to God’s Word far outweighs the trial.
The ability to do this with steadfast faithfulness is not within you:
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2:1).
This to me is one of the most staggering and hopeful verses in Scripture.
Context: Prior Paul has admonished Timothy to “follow” and “guard.”
Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you (1:13–14).
In order to follow and guard Timothy will need strength. In order to entrust to faithful men he will need strength. Where will this strength come from?
This runs counter to our thinking. When we think “be strengthened” we think of what activity will strengthen us that we do (work out, eat right, study hard, etc.). Paul tells Timothy to be strengthened by something completely outside of his effort. “THE GRACE THAT IS IN CHRIST JESUS.”
God calls us to get messy in the lives of others. This is challenging, tiring, difficult work. In order to do it, we need strength. While we may be tempted to trust in our gifts, talents, abilities, the strength needed for this kind of work only comes from the grace of God in Christ toward us in the gospel.
Again, this means anyone can do it.
Sing “It is Well With My Soul.”