For the sake of the gospel

Chatswood Baptist Church

2 Timothy 1:13-2:13

What’s driving you?

At the latest working bee in January, Roberto, July and I finally finished the deck at the church manse next door. 99% of the work was finished almost a year ago, after 2 months of intense work. But that last 1% – mostly just tidying up some gaps around the stairs – it took a year to work up the motivation to get it done.

You see when we started building the deck, we immediately turned our back yard into a construction zone, which is not great when you have three small children. It was dangerous, messy and inconvenient, and we all wanted to get it done as quickly as possible – to make it safe, tidy and convenient! Unfortunately it was a pretty busy time of the year, and I couldn’t spare much time during working hours, so I was working on it constantly every evening and early morning. Any minute I could spare, I worked to get us to the goal. I was dreaming about it most nights, because building it and figuring out what to do next and how to do it pretty much consumed my mind for a month! But once we finished the main phase of the building, and it was safe and functional, the fatigue set it, and I was a lot less motivated to be pushing myself so hard physically and using all my free time to get the next little bit done. 

When we’re captured by a strong motivation, we can be powerfully driven to engage in a task, making all sorts of sacrifices and enduring pain and fatigue in the process. But without the clear sense of purpose, it’s hard to keep going when things get tough isn’t it?

Some of us are captured by a clear vision of what we want in terms of career, and we’re willing to put the hard yards in – early mornings, late nights, years of study… whatever it takes. Some of us here have recently completed the HSC, and you know what it’s like to be driven by a goal (before the strange nothingness of the post HSC holidays!). Whether it’s exercise, goals for our family, learning a new language, study or work, whatever it is… many of us have been, or perhaps are right now, powerfully driven to work towards a goal, enduring all sorts of sacrifices and disciplining ourselves in all sorts of ways to get there.

The question that our passage in 2 Timothy puts before us is, how driven are we to live faithfully for Christ and his gospel? Maybe you area very driven person, making all sorts of sacrifices for the sake of your personal goals… but are you driven to stand with Christ and engage faithfully in his mission in this world, even when it starts to hurt? Even when it starts to cost you?  As we continue to unpack Paul’s second letter to his beloved, younger co-worker Timothy, God is inviting us to embrace a vision of promoting and serving the cause of Jesus Christ in this world as the central and overriding concern of our lives – a concern that motivates sacrifices, hard work, and delayed gratification. He’s calling us to live a life that is spent for the sake of the gospel.

A particular task (amidst a passionate plea!)

I think the heart of our passage is captured in verses 1-3 of chapter 2. What we see in these three verses are three exhortations, or commands, but they come in a kind of sandwich. The first and the third capture the message of the whole rest of the passage – ‘You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus… Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.’ And then in between these two commands, these passionate pleas to be strong and suffer with him for the gospel, comes a particular charge – ‘the things you’ve heard me say, things many witnesses can confirm, entrust them to reliable people who will also be able to teach others.’ 

The passage as a whole is an impassioned plea from Paul to Timothy to focus on the goal and willingly endure all things for the sake of the gospel. And in the midst of the various exhortations to embrace this calling, come what may, the particular instruction of verse 2 stands out. It almost feels out of place in this passage. You could easily delete verse 2, and the passage would make perfect sense – frankly, it would flow better! But it’s there for a reason. Paul is highlighting that there is a vitally important task for Timothy to get on with amidst the broader call to serve Jesus and promote the gospel. 

Back in Chapter 1, verses 13 and 14, Paul has urged Timothy to keep the pattern of sound teaching he has heard from Paul. As he comes to the end of his life and ministry, Paul is deeply concerned that people like Timothy ‘guard the good deposit’ that has been entrusted to them. He wants the gospel preserved and passed on in all its truth and beauty – free from corruption and half-truths – so that God’s powerful work of liberating people from sin and death might continue. 

And this instruction in verse 2 of Chapter 2 flows directly on from this thought, this overriding concern of Paul’s: find reliable, faithful people who can teach others, and entrust the gospel – the truegospel, that which you’ve heard from me in the presence of many witnesses – entrust this teaching to them, so that they might in turn teach others and entrust the gospel to them. And this is where it becomes even clearer that to ‘guard’ the gospel is not to lock it up in a safe place – it’s not to simply preserve ‘the truth’ and shoot down wrong ideas – it’s to pass it on

There’s two ways to extinguish the flame of the gospel: you can let it be polluted by false teaching so that what’s passed on is not really the gospel, or you can keep it to yourself so that it dies with you. To guard the good deposit is to entrust a true and proper understanding of God’s grace in Christ to others. 

Now there is a particular historical context to Paul’s instruction to Timothy. It doesn’t come to us a generalized proverb or teaching about church ministry. Paul wants Timothy to come to him in Rome, and as soon as he can, as he mentions in Chapter 4. And so it’s important that Timothy identify faithful people within the church community who he can entrust with the true, apostolic gospel to continue teaching others and building up the church towards maturity in Christ. He needs to do this before he can leave. 

And taking into account the broader themes and context of Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus (often called ‘the pastoral letters’), it’s very likely that Paul is particularly concerned with Timothy establishing elders in the church communities who will keep the churches faithful to the gospel. And of course, ensuring that the apostolic message was entrusted to reliable people who would preserve and pass it on was all the more necessary in a time when the New Testament was literally being formed.

But even taking into account these particular circumstances and motivations for the instruction, I think Paul’s concern is broader and that this verse is saying something important to all of us. I think it’s right for us to see here a call for all Christians to take responsibility for the gospel being faithfully preserved and passed on to others. In fact, I think this verse gives us a very helpful framework for Christian ministry – even a focus or driving goal to our very lives. 

The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus. Jesus himself makes that pretty clear, and the rest of the Bible backs him up. And this verse helps us see that task in a particular light, or from a certain angle. As we ourselves grow in our understanding of God’s word and in maturity in Christ, we should be constantly looking to entrust a true and proper understanding of the gospel and Christian life to others. If you’re a Christian, a driving concern in your life should be to see the gospel entrusted to others and to the next generation. I was just going over the aims and principles of our youth ministry with Daniel as he takes up responsibility for Junior Youth, and he pointed out he really liked that our vision was not just to establish the youth as mature Christians, but as mature Christians who in turn seek to present others mature in Christ. That’s our vision because of verses like this one!

Yes, there’s a particular sense in which being entrusted with the gospel and teaching others the truth is the responsibility of those of us who are elders, teachers and leaders in the church, and that’s why there are requirements for such people to be established in the faith, godly and able to teach. But that doesn’t mean it is purelythe job of elders and leaders. We are allcalled to make disciples, and so we are all called to push ourselves to understand the gospel and the Christian life as deeply and truly as we can, and to establish othersin this same faith, so that theyin turn might establish othersin the truth of the gospel. It may be through formal teaching roles in the church, such as kids and youth ministries, or growth group leadership, but more likely it will be in the context of all sorts of relationships – our own children, friends, family members, people in our growth groups, other members of the church community… frankly, it should be our desire for all people!

So the obvious question is, are there people in your life who you are actively entrusting the gospel to? Is this part of your thinking? As you go about your day, as you plan your week, your month, your year… are you consciously investing in particular people, teaching them, reading the Bible with them, modelling to them a faithful response to God’s word? If you’re a parent, do you take the time to actually entrustthe gospel to your children? Or are you assuming someone else will do that? If you’re growing in your understanding of God’s word, have you considered who you could meet with to encourage them and establish them more firmly in a life of faith and obedience to Jesus? Have you ever considered teaching children or youth here on a Sunday morning? And if you feel you’re not mature enough or don’t know enough about the Bible… have you considered how you might grow in maturity and knowledge of God’s word so that you can? 

Even the fact that Paul is giving this instruction because he wanted Timothy to come to him soon is more applicable to all of us than we might think at first. None of us know how long we will be around – not to be too morbid! None of us know how long we will have the opportunity to entrust the gospel to those around us. There’s a helpful principle in leadership that we should want to ‘work ourselves out of a job’. We don’t want others to be dependent on us to know God and his Word, we want them to be deeply grounded in it themselves, so that rather than turning to us for answers, they can teach others!

Be Strong in the Grace that is in Jesus

Well as I’ve said, surrounding this one verse, revealing this particular focus, the rest of the passage is essentially a series of exhortations to endure, to be faithful, to be willing to suffer with our mind set on the goal of serving Jesus and his gospel. If verse 2 gives us the task to focus on, the rest of the passage is designed to light a fire underneath us to drive us as we pursue it together.

Firstly, Paul encourages Timothy to be loyal to him and the cause of the gospel by giving him contrasting examples of people who have done just that, and people who’ve done just the opposite! Verses 15-18 flow on from the exhortations Paul gives Timothy in the first part of Chapter 1, where Paul has urged Timothy not to be ashamed of the testimony about Jesus or of Paul, his prisoner, but rather to join with him in suffering for the gospel by the power of God. And so now he reminds Timothy of the fact that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted him, including two men, who’s desertion must have particularly hurt and disappointed him, Phygelus and Hermogenes. The risk of giving in to fear or apathy is real, warns Paul. Don’t go down that path. Instead, think of the example of Onesiphorus. Paul is obviously profoundly grateful for this man’s loyal service to him. Rather than being ashamed of his chains, Onesiphorus searched hard until he found him. Here is a guy who went out of his way, at obvious risk to his own social standing, determined to stand with Paul as a faithful servant of the gospel. He didn’t just say, “I guess I can stop in to say hello to Paul on my way to the shops – I’m going that way anyway.” He searched hard through the streets of Rome until he found him. It was an overriding concern. 

And in light of these examples, Paul moves on in verse 1 of Chapter 2 to urge Timothy, “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” There’s two important dimensions to this. Be strong; don’t be weak! Be courageous for the cause of the gospel. But secondly, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Paul is not encouraging Timothy to just dig deep into his own resources and be tough, as the stoic philosophers would have. No, he was to be strengthened in the grace of God made available to us in Jesus and in the good news of God’s mercy to us in him. As he has made clear earlier, Timothy is to suffer for the gospel by the power of God, and through the help of the Holy Spirit. I’m not particularly strong willed or brave in the face of social shame. But the more I dwell on the grace God has shown me in Jesus, the more I reflect on the hope I have in Christ, the more I pray for God to strengthen me, the more I trust God to work through me, the stronger I am.

Join with me in suffering, like a…

Then, really to reinforce this exhortation to be strong in the grace of Jesus, Paul goes on in verses 3 to 7 to share three metaphors designed to inspire Timothy to suffer willingly for the gospel. The call to join with him in suffering, like a good solider of Christ Jesus in verse 3 is the overarching command, which he expands and builds on through the illustrations of the athlete and the farmer.  

Now the point is not really that Christians should see themselves as soldiers fighting against the non-Christian world around us. There isa sense in which God is waging war against the powers of evil in this world, and we are to engage with him in a war against sin and the devil – like the old hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers”. But Paul’s point here is more that we should be willing to suffer with single minded devotion to the task of gospel ministry, just like a soldierendures what he needs to and stays focused on the job. Verse 4 makes the point very clear, ‘No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.’ Paul is urging Timothy, all Christians really, to serve God with single-minded focus, and not become distracted and entangled in the ‘civilian’ affairs of life in this world.

Now in my mind, that immediately raises the question, is Paul saying it’s wrong for Christians to be concerned about ‘earthly things’ – that it’s sinful to invest time, money and energy in anything other than ‘church stuff’?? Cause that doesn’t sound overly realistic… 

No, there’s a reason it doesn’t sound realistic. That’s not what Paul’s saying. We need to keep in mind the overarching purpose of the metaphor, which is to inspire a willingness to endure hardship for the sake of the gospel. It’s not to lay down rules about Christians not learning to cook­ or buying clothing or building houses or wondering which school or university to go to. We are physical, social beings who are called to live in this physical, social world as God created us to. Although we do so as people who realise that this world is passing away in its present form and that we have a special task, a mission, of calling the world to repentance and faith, rather than simply enjoying life here and now. So whilst Paul’s not saying we need to be detached from or uninvolved in daily, earthly concerns, he issaying it’s inappropriate for Christians to become ‘entangled’in the concerns of this life, so that we become distracted from our calling or unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary.

I was recently reading a post from the Christian pastor and blogger, Stephen McAlpine, about a former great soccer player from the Netherlands, Johan Cruyff. And he highlighted something really interesting his son Jordi said about his father. He, Jordi, explained that although soccer took up a lot of his father’s time, it only really occupied a small part of his life. There were other things that were more important to him, namely his family and his local community. I think there’s a profound insight there for us. Work and the daily grind of running a household may take up a lot of time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to dominate our life. Now there may well be a strong connection between how much time we give to something and how dominant it is in our life – some of us allow work to take too much time from us because we havegiven it too big a place in our life. And some of us spend too much time shopping, because shopping has too big a place in our life. But we canbe driven by bigger concerns as we engage in these tasks, even when they necessarily take up large chunks of time. 

The key is the issue of distraction and entanglement isn’t it. Do the things of this world distract us from knowing and serving Jesus and his mission? Is our phone a tool for connecting with friends and family in a way that honors God? Or is it a distraction that sucks our time and our mind away from God and his word? Is our home a place for rest and hospitality? Or a never-ending renovation project, designed to be heaven on earth? Is study and tutoring an expression of embracing the responsibility to learn and work for the good of others and build community and culture? Or is it an idol of competitive achievement and a means of securing worldly success? As ‘good soldiers’ of Jesus Christ, we want to engage in life with all its complexity as people driven by the gospel, rather than people who become entangled in the things of this world.

The Athlete & the Farmer

Paul then builds on the metaphor of the soldier in verses 5 and 6 making similar, but slightly different points through the example of athletes and farmers. “Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.” 

The illustration of the athlete being crowned is designed to highlight that there is nothing gained by taking short cuts. The athlete is not crowned unless they compete according to the rules, which in the ancient world included both requirements for training as well as the rules of the event itself. Just as the Christian is like a soldier, focused on their mission and willing to suffer hardships for the sake of duty, so they are like an athlete, training hard, making sacrifices with their time, pushing themselves towards the goal. And just as an athlete is only crowned if they play by the rules, so Christians are only truly striving towards the goal when they do it according to godly principles and with the true gospel itself. Paul is alluding to the idea of guarding the good deposit – that what we pass on and entrust to others is a true and faithful understanding of the gospel.

Athletes who are found out to have cheated quickly lose their hero status don’t they. Whether it’s the Australian cricketing team tampering with balls, or the disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, stripped of all his medals for using drugs, or countless other examples, the message is clear – you can’t really win if you try to take short cuts. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul makes a similar point, that if we try to build a ministry on any other foundation than Jesus Christ and his gospel, we are really just building with straw and in the end it will be exposed for what it is and burnt up…

Faithful servants of the gospel don’t take short cuts or give up, they keep working hard, like a farmer with the goal of the harvest clear in his vision. My father in law is a farmer, and if there’s ever a job that requires persistent hard work, enduring long periods of no tangible result, in the hope of it all paying off one day – it’s farming crops. Faithful Christian service, Paul is saying, requires the patience and hard work of farming – it requires being driven by the end goal, and waiting patiently for it. 

In all this, Paul is trying to encourage his younger co-worker and beloved son-in-the-faith to dig deep into the resources of God’s grace in Christ and endure the difficult path of faithfully promoting the cause of the gospel and building up the church, come what may. And in a rather sneaky comment, rather than try to guess all the details of what that might mean for him practically, he just says in verse 7, “reflect on what I’m saying, I’m sure the Lord will give you insight into all this.” Makes me wonder why we bother trying to come up with application as preachers – maybe we should just tell you to go away and reflect on it…

Remember Jesus Christ

Now, from verse 8, after having urged Timothy to be strong and suffer when necessary for the sake of the gospel, to be faithful above all even if it means making difficult sacrifices, he then turns to reinforce whyhe should willingly do it. And we need to hear this, because frankly, some of us are wondering why anyone would. It all seems a bit dramatic and beyond us… could I reallysuffer like a good solider for Jesus Christ?? 

And Paul’s answer is: Yes, by remembering Jesus Christ; that’s why you endure all this – and that’s really how you’re going to do it. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel…” Clearly, this is some form of neat summary of Paul’s gospel – the gospel that is to be entrusting to others. It’s very similar to his summary at the beginning of his letter to the Romans. Jesus is the one who came in fulfilment of the promises about a king in the line of David – he is the son of David who would rule forever and establish God’s kingdom of peace and justice. And as the promised messiah, he conquered the enemies of God and established his kingdom, not through military power, but through conquering death itself. Jesus has been declared the Son of God through his resurrection from the dead. 

But Paul’s not just giving us a handy summary. He’s urging Timothy, rememberJesus, remember Jesus raised from the deadas the promised king. Look to him – look to what he endured on the cross for you and I, and even more, look to his vindication. As you suffer for the gospel of Jesus, remember that your Lord first suffered and has already been vindicated – raised from the dead as Lord of all! You are not suffering in vain – you know what the outcome will be. This is the gospel, the hope, for which Paul himself is suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal, and he’s urging us to follow his example. Remember Jesus and the hope you have in him – that’s what’s going get you through the hard stuff.

But there’s two more things that inspire Paul and energize him to endure what he does. First, he knows that no matter what happens to him, no matter how tightly he is bound in chains, God’s word is not chained. Nothing in the end can stop God’s word. So long as Paul is faithful to God’s word and his calling, he cannot fail, because God’s word is not chained. It’s much easier to give yourself to something when you know you’re on the winning team isn’t it? 

And secondly, he endures all things for the sake of the elect – he suffers for the cause of the gospel so that those God has appointed for eternal life might indeed obtain the salvation they are destined for in Christ Jesus. The Bible often presents us with these seemingly incompatible realities side by side. On the one hand, these people are the elect– people God has chosen in his sovereignty according to his own free will. Their salvation ultimately rests in the will and purposes of God, not in human efforts. And yet, Paul recognizes that he has a crucial role to play – the elect must hear the gospel and be established in it to obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus. One of the basic and most powerful motivators for Christian mission has always been love for the lost – a desire to see people come to know and enjoy the grace of God in Christ. 

A Trustworthy Saying

Finally, having urged Timothy to remember Christ, and having spoken of his own willingness to suffer and endure all things for Christ and his people, Paul sums it all up by referring to a known Christian saying. It’s like he can think of no better way to sum up what he’s trying to say about the vital importance of sticking with Christ and his gospel, come what may.

The first line points to the hope that belongs to us if we have put our lot in with Christ. ‘If we have died with him’ – that is, if we have denied ourselves, repented of life apart from him, and entrusted ourselves to Christ – ‘then we will also live with him.’ It reminds us that the very definition of a Christian is someone who has died to their old life to find new life in Christ alone.

Then the second line pushes us to embrace the hardships of following Christ in this world, knowing that the outcome is to reign with Christ. Just as we have died with Christ to find life in him, so if we endure, if we hold on and endure suffering for his name in this world, we will reign with him in the world to come. 

But then comes the flip side – the warning. If we disown him, he will also disown us. Paul is not just urging Timothy to suffer for the gospel because it’s the right thing to do. In the end, there is a very serious side to this challenge. If we’re not willing to suffer for the gospel when push comes to shove – if we are ashamed of it – if we decide in the end that we’d rather have the comforts and acceptance of the world than Christ himself, and so we reject him and what he offers us; then that decision will work itself out in profound and terrible consequences. On that day, that great and terrible day, when we all stand before the judgement seat of God, Christ will disown us.

And yet, and here we see that mysterious interplay between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility again in the final line as a word of hope – a word of comfort to rest in as we engage in the struggle. ‘If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.’ We might be weak, we might struggle and fail, we might give in to behavior and attitudes that could be described as faithless… but God remains faithful – faithful to himself, his purposes, his promises and his people. As the Bible assures us in many places, our salvation rests in the end in God’s own faithfulness rather than in our own resources and willpower. 

And ironically, this is exactly what we need to know to endure all things for his sake. If I can’t look past my own determination to be faithful, it’s hard to know if I’m really going to stick with Jesus till the end, and so it’s hard to know if it’s worth making the sacrifices now. But if I know that he remains faithful come what may, I can stand firm on that solid foundation and endure what I need to – each day as it comes. And I know some of you really need to hear this. For some, this sermon, this passage, with its relentless call for hardcore faith and sacrifice has probably felt like brick after brick of guilt laid on top of you – weighing you down more and more, highlighting your weakness. The reality is that all of us will fall short of the faithfulness that we should show to Jesus. And all of us need to rest in the grace and overwhelming faithfulness of God. In the end, in the midst of all the other reasons we have to give ourselves fully to the cause of the gospel in this world, it’s the faithfulness and grace of God that’s going to pick us up and keep us going. 

For the sake of the gospel

So are you driven to live a life of faithfulness to Jesus and his gospel? Is the work of making disciples and entrusting the gospel to others on your agenda? And are you motivated enough in this task, in your commitment to Jesus himself, to push through the hard stuff?

I hope so. There’s plenty of reason to give ourselves utterly and completely to it – even if it can seem beyond us sometimes (or a lot of the time). There’s plenty of reason for us to give Jesus and his gospel our undivided, principled and patient devotion. And ultimately that reason is Jesus himself.