This 21 part expository study of 2 Timothy was preached at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in 2006-07. Audio and manuscripts are available for each lesson.
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Imagine that we are at a marathon race. Many contestants are lined up at the starting point, but one especially catches your eye. He’s in his sixties, but he looks much older. You can tell that his body has endured many hardships. The thought flits through your mind that the old guy could die on the course. You wonder, “Why is he even in the race?”
But as the race gets underway, you’re amazed that the old man holds his own. In fact, he even pulls in front of the pack. And to your utter astonishment, as you stand at the finish line, you see him sprinting far ahead of his competitors. As he comes across the line, you expect him to collapse in a heap. But, instead, he turns and trots back to an earlier point in the course where a younger man in his late thirties seems to be losing steam. The older man jogs alongside the younger man, saying, “Come on, you can make it! Hang in there! Don’t quit!”
If that really happened, I would want to know, “What does this old guy have that I lack?” If I heard that he was going to speak on his training secrets, I’d show up and take notes. Clearly, the old man knows something about endurance. He is an example of how to finish well.
I didn’t make up that story. It really happened, but in the spiritual race, not in an actual marathon. We read about it in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. The apostle was in his sixties, but his body bore the marks of much suffering. He was in a cold, damp dungeon in Rome, about A.D. 67, awaiting execution at the hands of the cruel madman, Nero.
There were numerous reasons that he could have been discouraged. In 1:15, he writes, “all who are in Asia turned away from me.” In 4:10, he mentions Demas, whom he had formerly called a “fellow worker” (Philemon 24). But now he had deserted Paul, “having loved this present world.” In 4:14, he warns Timothy about Alexander the coppersmith, who did Paul much harm. Perhaps he had been responsible for Paul’s arrest and imprisonment. In 4:16, he pathetically writes, “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me.” Only Luke was with him (4:11).
Not only that, but as the aged apostle awaited execution, he saw many serious errors infiltrating the churches. Hymenaeus and Philetus had gone astray from the truth, teaching that the resurrection had already taken place, thus upsetting the faith of some (2:17-18). Other ungodly false teachers were entering households and captivating weak women weighed down with sins (3:6). Paul knew that the day was soon coming when professing Christians would not endure sound doctrine, but would pile up teachers in accordance with their own desires to tickle their ears, turning from the truth to myths (4:3-4). Bishop Moule said that, humanly speaking, Christianity trembled on the verge of annihilation (Studies in II Timothy [Kregel], p. 18).
If there was ever a prime candidate for discouragement, Paul was it! Who could have blamed him if he had said, “I’ve had enough! I’ve given this thing more than my fair share of effort! I’m going to retire!” We would expect him to be a bitter, pessimistic, discouraged old man, his hopes and dreams shattered by overwhelming disappointments and setbacks. And yet we find him sprinting across the finish line and then jogging back to Timothy, who is pooping out, saying, “Come on, Timothy, keep going! Be strong! You can make it! Don’t quit!” When this guy speaks about endurance in the Christian life, I want to listen!
We live in a culture where pastors are bailing out of the ministry in droves. A newsletter in 2003 reported that 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches. It said that 70 percent of pastors constantly fight depression. Fifty percent are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but they have no other way of making a living.
Not only pastors, but also many Christians, have burned out in serving the Lord. They have been wounded by criticism or conflict in the church. Some drop out of church entirely. Others attend occasionally, but that’s all that they do. They don’t want to risk getting hurt again. So they don’t get involved in serving the Lord.
I suggest that any discouraged pastors and Christians need a good dose of 2 Timothy. It’s a very personal letter, Paul’s last, written to his beloved son in the faith, who was timid by nature. He probably felt inadequate for the tasks facing him. The problems were overwhelming. It looked as if Paul was about to be executed, and the mantle would fall on Timothy. William Hendriksen (New Testament Commentary, I-II Timothy & Titus Baker], p. 218) nicely sums up the dominant theme of the book, “Timothy, do not be ashamed, but by God’s grace exert yourself to the utmost, being willing to endure your share of hardship in preserving and promoting sound doctrine.” We can sum up each chapter as follows:
Chapter 1: Unashamed as a witness: Guard the gospel!
Chapter 2: Unashamed as a workman: Suffer in godliness for the gospel!
Chapter 3: Adequate as a workman: Continue in the gospel!
Chapter 4: Awarded as a workman: Preach the gospel!
In Paul’s opening greeting and in his expression of thanks to God for Timothy (1:1-5), we see the foundation for a lifetime of faithful ministry. When I say ministry, I’m not referring only to those who are called into so-called full time ministry. Paul himself would not qualify, since he often had to work to support himself in ministry. Rather, I’m referring to the biblical truth that every Christian is saved to minister according to his or her gifts. If you’re a Christian, you were saved to serve, as we will see more next week. So you need to lay a solid foundation so that you will not burn out or drop out of the race.
A firm foundation for faithful ministry rests on knowing God’s call on your life through the gospel.
Our text makes three points about this gospel foundation:
Paul begins (1:1-2), “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my beloved son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” In verse 5, he also mentions the sincere faith that he is sure dwells in Timothy. These words reveal three vital truths about the gospel:
Paul was facing death, but he was focused on the promise of life in Christ Jesus (see also, 1:10). Christianity is not primarily a matter of religious rituals or a moral code to live by, although it does give us God’s moral standards. Rather, Christianity is a matter of experiencing new life in Christ Jesus. By nature and by our many sins, we all were spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1). Dead men do not need in the first place to hear about a better moral code to live by. They need life! They need God to raise them from spiritual death to spiritual life.
The eternal life that God gives centers on knowing Him personally through His Son. Jesus said (John 17:3), “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Or, as 1 John 5:11-12 puts it, “And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”
Paul says that this life is a promise. God is the Promiser. Paul mentions God three times in the first three verses. The promise is as reliable and secure as God is faithful. If God promises new life in Christ Jesus, then we can count on it, even when we’re in a dungeon facing an unjust execution, when former friends have deserted us and spread falsehoods about us.
This promise of life comes to us in Christ Jesus, whom Paul also mentions three times in verses 1-2. The other New Testament writers always use the order, Jesus Christ. But Paul, especially in his later writings, often writes, Christ Jesus. Bishop Moule (p. 30) suggests that this order breathes a certain feeling of worship and intimate affection towards the Lord. It emphasizes His office as the Anointed One (=Christ, Messiah), embodied in the human Jesus, who revealed the Father to us. The mention of Christ Jesus our Lord in conjunction with God the Father, as the source of grace, mercy, and peace, is a strong affirmation of the deity of Christ. Clearly, for Paul, Christ Jesus was central. He is the gospel. To know Him is to have eternal life. Paul the persecutor had become Paul the apostle because God had intervened in his life, giving him eternal life according to the promise in Christ Jesus.
Paul’s conversion and his calling as an apostle both happened at the same time. When God struck down Paul on the Damascus Road, He told Ananias, whom He sent to restore Paul’s sight (Acts 9:15), “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine….” Paul’s salvation and his calling as an apostle were not by his human choice, but rather, by God’s will and choice. Of course, salvation is received by faith. But the reason we believe in Christ is that before the foundation of the world, God willed to save us.
I’m not making this up! Read Ephesians and you will see it clearly. Paul says (Eph. 1:4), “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” He adds (1:5), “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” He repeats (1:11), “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” Or (Eph. 2:8-9), “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Paul recalls (1:5) the “sincere faith” within Timothy, which first dwelt in his grandmother Lois and in his mother Eunice. Timothy’s father was probably not a believer, but God used his godly grandmother and mother as links in the chain that led to Timothy’s salvation. They taught him the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15), but then God used Paul’s preaching to bring Timothy to saving faith. “Sincere” means, “unhypocritical.” There is such a thing as hypocritical or false faith, but Paul was convinced that Timothy’s faith was the real thing. It had to be Timothy’s faith, not the faith of his grandmother or mother. God may use godly parents or grandparents to bring us to faith in Christ, but no one gets saved apart from sincere personal faith in Jesus Christ.
By the way, these words should encourage any mothers who may be trying to raise your children without the help of a believing husband. Even though God’s best is to have a godly father and mother training their children in the Lord, His grace and power can work in imperfect situations. Train your children in the Lord and pray for the influence of a godly man, who could take your sons further in the Lord, as Paul did with Timothy.
We saw these three qualities in our recent study of 2 John. In Paul’s writings, this threefold blessing occurs only in 1 & 2 Timothy (the addition of “mercy” in Titus 1:4 lacks solid manuscript support). Why did Paul add “mercy” in his letters to Timothy? I think it was because as he drew near to the end of his life and ministry, Paul was ever more aware of the reality of God’s mercy to him, the sinner (1 Tim. 1:13-16).
God’s grace is His undeserved favor to those who deserve His wrath. His mercy is His compassion to those who are in misery because of their sin. His peace is the result of being reconciled to Him because of His grace and mercy. These blessings come to us freely from God the Father who sent His Son, Christ Jesus our Lord, to die for our sins.
Ask yourself, “Have I experienced new life in Christ according to God’s promise? Do I know personally God’s grace, mercy, and peace? Because of God’s sovereign will, do I now personally have sincere faith in Christ Jesus?” If you can answer yes, then you have a foundation for serving Him, no matter what trials it may bring into your life. You are not your own. “For you have been bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20). God’s call on your life through the gospel is the foundation for a life of faithful service.
This opening greeting oozes with Paul’s deep feelings of love for Timothy, whom he calls “my beloved son.” He constantly remembered him in his prayers and he longed for the joy of seeing him, even as he recalled Timothy’s tears on their last parting (1:3-4). We don’t know whether Timothy got to Paul’s cell before the sword fell.
Beyond Timothy, this short letter mentions many others that Paul knew and loved. There were Onesiphorus and his household (1:16-17), Crescens, Titus, Luke, Mark, Tychicus, Carpus (4:10-13), Prisca, Aquila, Erastus, Trophimus, Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia, and all the brethren (4:19-21). Paul was not a lone ranger Christian! Each of these dear brothers and sisters in Christ meant something to Paul. The relationships that they shared had changed them all.
Often when I counsel with someone who is struggling with a personal problem or a difficult sin, I ask, “Do you know any other brothers in Christ who could meet with you each week and help you in the things of the Lord?” Sadly, the answer is often, “No.” That’s not right! The Christian life is not just you and God. It is you and God and God’s people. You may be thinking, “It’s God’s people who are my problem!” That may be so. In fact, Paul mentions many people in this letter who had caused him grief (1:15; 2:17; 3:5-9, 11, 13; 4:3, 10, 14, 16).
But it’s only as you remain committed to God’s people in a local church and work through your problems in accordance with His Word, that you will grow as a Christian and have a foundation for serving Him. Try to look for both a Paul and a Timothy in your life. Ask God for an older man (or, a woman for women) who can be a friend and an example of godly maturity in your life. And, look for a younger man (or, a younger woman for women) that you can help to grow in Christ. These relationships that we form through the gospel should cause us to thank God and to pray continually for one another (1:3).
So, the gospel brings us into a personal relationship with the Father through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. It also brings us into close, life-changing relationships with others. Finally,
Paul was called to be an apostle by the will of God. None of us are apostles, but each of us has received a spiritual gift that God expects us to use to serve Him in some capacity (1 Pet. 4:10-11). There should be no benchwarmer Christians. As Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 12, there aren’t any spare parts in the body. He wasn’t talking about a “spare tire,” of course! But except for that, we need every part of our bodies to function.
But, why does Paul emphasize his apostleship in a letter to Timothy, who knew full well that Paul was an apostle? Some suggest that it was because Paul intended for these pastoral letters to be read more widely, and he wanted all of his readers to be reminded of his divine appointment as apostle. Many were attacking Paul, saying that a true apostle would not be imprisoned. Paul wanted Timothy and others to recall the dramatic story of how God had appointed him to this office of apostle.
He also was emphasizing to Timothy that he had not volunteered for the job. Rather, he had been drafted! Timothy was faltering in the race. Maybe he was thinking, as every pastor has, “I’ll bet there is an easier line of work to get into! Maybe I should consider a career change.” Once in California I had been going through a difficult time, receiving a lot of criticism. Marla and I were driving somewhere and were stopped by a flagman for road work. I sat there watching a guy driving an earth-mover and thought, “That looks like a nice line of work to get into! You go to work, drive your machine, go home at night, and nobody criticizes you. Maybe I should look into that!”
But Paul says, “I am an apostle by the will of God.” I’m not in this line of work because I went to a guidance counselor who said, “Your aptitude tests show that you’d make a good apostle.” It wasn’t my career of choice. Rather, it was the will of God.
Why does Paul mention serving God with a clear conscience the way his forefathers did? Paul was about to lose his head for the faith. At such times it’s important to remember that you’re dying for the faith of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Elijah, and all of the other faithful men of God in history. You’ve been handed the torch and you’ve got to carry it faithfully and hand it off to those who come after you.
Also, both Nero and the Jews were persecuting Christianity as a new cult. Paul is saying, in effect, “This is not a new cult. This is the culmination and fulfillment of God’s promises to the Jewish fathers. They looked forward to the promised Messiah. Christ Jesus is the promised Messiah, in whom we also believe.” So Paul was making the point that he was in the mainstream of the history of God’s purposes as revealed in the Old Testament, but now fulfilled in Christ.
If you’re feeling like dropping out of the race, read about the heritage of godly men in the Bible and in church history. They have persevered through incredible trials, disappointments, loss of loved ones, persecution, and martyrdom. As I’ve said before, I’ve learned more by reading Christian biographies than from any other source, except for the Bible itself (which also has many biographies).
Paul mentions serving God with a clear conscience. “Serve” means to serve as an act of worship. “Clear” is literally, “cleansed.” It does not imply perfection, but it does imply walking in reality before God, confessing your sins to Him and to those you have wronged, so that you don’t fall into hypocrisy. Paul knew that God examines the heart (1 Thess. 2:4), and so he lived to please God on the heart level (2 Cor. 5:9). He knew that soon he would be standing before God, to give an account of his ministry. So will each of us.
Are you running in the race, serving God in accordance with the gifts He has bestowed on you? You may say, “I’m retired. I’ve already put in my time.” But there’s nothing in the Bible about retiring from serving God. Paul was an old man in jail, but he says, “God, whom I serve” (present tense). God doesn’t have a retirement program!
You say, “I don’t feel qualified to serve.” Neither did Timothy. He was in over his head. So was Paul. He exclaimed, “Who is adequate for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). You think, “But I’m not in the best of health.” Neither was Timothy. He had frequent stomach and other ailments (1 Tim. 5:23). “But I’m shy and introverted. I don’t have the personality to lead.” Neither did Timothy. “But I tried serving and people criticized me.” Yes, talk to Paul. Here’s this old geezer, sprinting across the finish line, and then he comes back to you as you’re ready to drop out of the race. He says, “If God has called you through the gospel and given you new life in Christ, then you’ve got to hang in there. Don’t drop out! Keep going! Eternity is just ahead. Then you can rest.”
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
A farmer had a team of horses in which one horse consistently worked harder than any of the others. The farmer said, “They’re all willin’ horses. The one’s willin’ to pull and the rest are willin’ to let him.”
Sadly, that is often an accurate description of the local church. In fact, pastors often refer to what they call the 80-20 rule, which states that 20 percent of the church members do 80 percent of the work. But God never intended it to be that way. He intended that all whom He saved should serve His cause in some capacity.
There are many reasons that Christians do not serve the Lord. Some don’t serve because their commitment to Christ and His church is half-hearted. They attend church occasionally, but their real interests are in the world. Serving in the church would be an inconvenience for them. Others have tried serving, but they lacked training and grew frustrated and quit. Some quit because other church members criticized them. Others burned out trying to do too much. Some quit serving because they were serving out of the wrong motivation. They were looking for commendation from people, not from God. But for whatever reason, many Christians grow weary of the hassle of serving the Lord and retreat to a more comfortable seat on the sidelines.
It seems that Timothy had a tendency to retreat from the front lines of serving Christ. He was rather shy and timid, and not in the best of health (1 Tim. 5:23). His relative youthfulness caused him to be a bit unsure of himself when difficult issues required confident leadership (1 Tim. 4:12). Once Paul had to write to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 16:10), “Now if Timothy comes to you, see that he is with you without cause to be afraid.” Paul knew that the rowdy Corinthians might run roughshod over this insecure man.
As Paul sat chained in a Roman dungeon, awaiting execution, he knew that he had to hand off the torch to Timothy. So he wrote this final letter to encourage Timothy to keep running the race in spite of difficulties and opposition. He words should encourage any of us who may be tempted to draw back from actively serving the Lord to persevere. And this book exhorts all who know Christ, but are not serving, to get into the race.
In 2 Timothy 1:6-11, Paul is encouraging Timothy to continue serving the Lord with all of his strength, in spite of opposition. His flow of thought goes like this: “Because you are saved, you must serve (1:6-7); but when you serve, be prepared to suffer (1:8); when you suffer, remember your salvation and God’s call to preach the gospel (1:9-11).” Then Paul points to his own example of serving in spite of suffering (1:12) and to the example of Onesiphorus (1:16-18). The theme here is, even if you suffer for serving Christ, do not be ashamed of the gospel or of those who preach the gospel (1:8, 12, 16). Today we can only look at the first section (1:6-7):
Because you are saved you must serve Christ.
“For this reason” (1:6) points back to 1:5, to Timothy’s salvation. Paul is saying, “Because I know that you have a sincere faith in Jesus Christ, you must kindle afresh (or, keep in full flame) your spiritual gift by actively using it in serving the Lord.”
Salvation is the foundation for any genuine service that we can offer to the Lord. It is a huge mistake to think that you can offer God anything before you first receive His gift of salvation. For example, people fall into this error by thinking that if they give financially to a church or a Christian organization, they are doing something that will commend them to God on judgment day.
But God will not be indebted to anyone. He will not let you into heaven as a payment for anything that you do for Him. Salvation is a free gift. If you can do anything to earn it or deserve it, then it is no longer a gift of God’s grace, but a wage or a reward that is due (Rom. 4:4-5). Good works follow salvation, but they cannot in any way earn it (Eph. 2:8-10). So, before you get involved in any way to serve the Lord, make sure that you’re saved.
Maybe you’re thinking, “I already know this.” Timothy knew it, too, but Paul reminded him of it again (1:6): “For this reason [because you are saved], I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you….” There are two ways in which God gifts every saved person:
Every Christian receives the Holy Spirit to indwell him or her at the moment of salvation. In Romans 8:9, Paul asserts, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (see also, Gal. 3:2, 5). In the context of spiritual gifts, Paul writes (1 Cor. 12:13), “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
Some scholars argue that when Paul says (1:7), “God has not given us a spirit of timidity,” “Spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit and should be capitalized (Gordon Fee, New International Biblical Commentary, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus [Hendrickson Publishers], pp. 226-227). Others understand it to refer to the inner spirit or demeanor that should characterize every believer. Whichever view is correct, it is clear that power, love, and discipline are qualities that come from the Holy Spirit. But God’s main gift to every believer is the indwelling Holy Spirit, who empowers us to serve Him. We need to walk daily in dependence on the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16).
It is significant that in each of the four main biblical references to spiritual gifts, it specifies that every Christian has a gift:
Romans 12:3: “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” Paul goes on to discuss spiritual gifts.
1 Corinthians 12:7: “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Again, Paul goes on to discuss spiritual gifts.
Ephesians 4:7: “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” In verse 16, he mentions “the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part….”
1 Peter 4:10: “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
God doesn’t want us to miss the point! If you are a Christian, you have been given a spiritual gift that you are to use in service (or, ministry) for the Lord. The term, “inactive church member” is a contradiction in terms. If you’re a believer, you’re in the ministry and you will someday give an account to the Lord of how you fulfilled the ministry that He entrusted to you.
If you’re thinking, “But I lack the gifts to serve the Lord,” remember, God never calls you to a ministry where He doesn’t also give you the gifts to fulfill. This is not to say that it will be effortless or easy. Even Paul, when considering the responsibility of preaching the gospel, exclaimed (2 Cor. 2:16), “And who is adequate for these things?” He answered that question (2 Cor. 3:5), “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.”
So if you’re saved, God has graciously imparted at least one spiritual gift to you to use in serving Him.
In 1 Corinthians 12:11, Paul says, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.” God is sovereign in how He bestows spiritual gifts. We need to remember that whether it is a natural ability or a spiritual gift, everything that we have is a gift of God’s grace (Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 4:7; Eph. 4:7). Thus none of us can boast in our gifts. All we can do is use them to glorify God. We would be nothing without Him!
A common question is, how can I discover my spiritual gift?
There is debate as to whether each person has only one gift or several. It seems to me that the apostle Paul had many spiritual gifts. So I don’t find any reason to limit it to one only. Peter Wagner refers to it as your “gift mix,” and maybe he is correct.
I don’t put much stock in taking a spiritual gift inventory or test to try to figure out what your gift is. For one thing, the lists of spiritual gifts in the Bible are probably not comprehensive, so the tests may not even include your gift. Also, there is widespread disagreement on the definitions of the various gifts. Any inventory must speculate on the precise definition of each gift. So I don’t find these tests very helpful.
Ask yourself, what are my desires and abilities? What do you like to do and are reasonably good at doing? I like to sing, but I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, so that is clearly not my gift! There are other things that I can do, but I dislike doing them. If God wanted me to focus on them, I think He would give me satisfaction in doing them. Some things, by the way, we all need to do, even if they are not our specific gift. There are commands for just about every spiritual gift in the Bible. Knowing your gift shows you where to focus your time and effort.
Some sit around trying to discover their gift before they get involved in serving. That’s backwards. You will discover your gifts as you try various ministries. Get as much experience in different areas as you can, and in the course of serving, you will discover your niche, what God has uniquely gifted you to do.
Other Christians, especially mature church leaders, will recognize and affirm your gift. Paul mentions that Timothy’s gift was “in you through the laying on of my hands.” In 1 Timothy 4:14, he mentions that Timothy’s gift was bestowed “through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery [elders].” Paul may have had special apostolic authority to impart spiritual gifts, or this may have been a public recognition of Timothy’s gifts, affirmed by Paul and the elders laying hands on him in an ordination service. The modern application would be that others will recognize and affirm your gifts as they see you serve.
Do you see results when you exercise your gift? I remember being surprised when I first started teaching the Bible during my college days. People would come up to me, sometimes weeks later, and tell me that what I had said had helped them. I seemed to be effective in teaching. But when it came to evangelism, I saw very little positive response. Others would report how they talked to five people and all five accepted Christ. I would talk to five and see none respond. I’m still responsible to witness, but evangelism isn’t my gift. So I concentrate on teaching, not on evangelism.
God graciously imparts spiritual gifts, but we are responsible to develop them. No gift comes fully developed, and the process of developing them is not automatic or effortless.
Obviously, if God has gifted you to teach, you must spend time studying and learning the Bible, plus learning how to teach well. If you are gifted in evangelism, you still need training in various methods. You need to learn the content of the gospel. By the way, we all can benefit from the training offered by others in areas like evangelism, even if it isn’t our gift.
This is a lifelong process. You should not only get involved in serving, but also, search the Bible to make sure that you are serving in accordance with biblical methods, evaluate your methods, and refine your approach as needed. Sometimes it is helpful to ask a mature believer to give you honest feedback on how you are doing. But, be open to what he (or she) tells you!
Paul tells Timothy to “kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you.” The picture is of a fire and as you know, most fires will die out unless you tend them and add more fuel. There are several applications:
It’s easy to drift into spiritual apathy or distance from Christ. The world crowds in, pressures keep us from spending time alone with Christ, and before we know it, we are in the spiritual doldrums. Don’t let your love for Jesus Christ grow cold!
Maybe you burned out by doing too much or you got burned in serving through criticism, so you quit. Maybe you’ve been on the sidelines so long that you feel rusty. Get back in the game!
Paul was in prison, with people attacking him. False teachers were perverting the gospel. If Timothy got involved, he would undoubtedly catch flak. Because of his timid nature, it was easier not to use his gifts. But if you only serve when it is convenient or when you feel like it or when you think it’s safe, you really aren’t serving God at all. We are bond-slaves of Christ, and slaves serve when their master calls them to serve, not when it’s convenient.
By the way, while conversion is a radical change in which God imparts a new nature to us, He doesn’t change our basic temperaments. Paul was basically the same personality after conversion as he was before. The same was true of Peter and of Timothy. As we grow, God develops the fruit of the Spirit in us, but He puts that fruit into our various personalities. You’ve got to know and accept who you are as God made you, and be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Often your greatest strengths are at the same time the areas of your greatest weaknesses. Timothy was a sensitive man, which is a strength. But if you’re easily hurt, it’s a weakness.
Quite often, to serve God effectively, you’ve got to step out of your natural comfort zone and trust God to do something that is difficult. It often is difficult in terms of time pressures, but also it often is something that you just could not do in your own strength. I could not preach every week without trusting God. More often than not, each week I think, “I don’t have a clue what to say about this text,” even after I’ve spent quite a while studying it. Sermons usually don’t come easily to me. I have to spend hours working at them, usually with a lot of stress. I’m always citing Paul, “Who is adequate for these things?” Not I!
Paul mentions four qualities, one negative and three positive, which were specifically geared to Timothy’s disposition. But, of course, they apply to us all:
I used to enjoy the old Bob Newhart show, where he played an insecure psychologist. One of his clients was even worse than Bob, always apologizing for everything he did. When Bob would try to make him more assertive by telling him, “You don’t have to apologize for everything,” the man’s response was, “I’m sorry!”
Timothy wasn’t that bad, but he was not naturally bold. He shied away from conflict or confrontation. But the fact is, we’re engaged in spiritual warfare and you don’t win wars by being passive or cowardly. People will not grow in Christ and the church will not stand against the forces of evil if we do not overcome the fear of opposition and conflict.
This is not the power of the flesh as seen in worldly assertiveness training. This is the power of the Holy Spirit, resting on the truth of God’s authoritative Word. The aim of this power is not so that you can control others, but so that you can help them come under God’s control, to conquer sin and heal broken relationships.
Love balances power. It also is opposed to fear, because fear stems from self-love or self-concern or self-protection. Biblical love is concerned for the spiritual well being of others. Love for others will give you the boldness to overcome your fears so that you can speak to them about their need for Christ or their need to obey His Word. Love for God and others should be your motivation whenever you exercise your spiritual gifts.
This word occurs only here in the New Testament, but a similar concept, self-control, is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23). The nuance of the word used here is of a sound mind controlling your life so that you don’t react in a sinful emotional outburst and so that you do not yield to impulses of the flesh. It means that you use the gifts that God has given you in a sensible, controlled manner, in line with God’s purposes in each situation.
So Paul is telling Timothy, “Because you are saved, you must serve Jesus Christ.” He has gifted you to serve Him, but you’ve got to discover, develop, kindle, and exercise your gifts. This does not mean volunteering to do some job in the local church, although it may certainly include that. Rather, it is an attitude or mindset, where you realize that because God rescued you from a life of sin and selfishness, you are not your own. You belong to Him and He has you on this planet to serve Him in some capacity. So you don’t just dabble at serving when it’s convenient. You’re committed to serve Christ because He gave His life on the cross for you.
A pastor was trying to persuade a woman to teach a Sunday school class, but she kept giving him the same excuse, “I don’t want to be tied down.” Finally, the pastor responded, “The Savior was nailed down on the cross for you. Shouldn’t you be willing to be tied down for Him for a few hours each week?”
But that pastor’s words may convey the wrong idea, that you fulfill your ministry by serving a few hours each week. Rather, if Christ saved you, then you are His slave. You serve Him out of love, not out of guilt. But, you serve Him 24-7, always being aware of His great gift of salvation and that He has gifted you to help fulfill His purpose in His church and in the world.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
After an extensive tour of the United States, the well known German pastor and theologian Helmut Thielicke was asked what he saw as the greatest defect among American Christians. He replied, “They have an inadequate view of suffering” (cited by Philip Yancey, Where is God When it Hurts? [Zondervan, 1977], p. 15).
Thielicke was right. I’ve heard many times of Christian psychologists who encourage their clients to rage at God because of tragedies that they have gone through. I’ve heard of pastors and missionaries who have left their ministries and sometimes left the faith because of burnout or other hardships. I’ve seen many in the local church quit their ministries and sometimes drop out of church altogether, because they were criticized or ran into conflict with other believers. We have an inadequate view of suffering.
I confess at the outset that I am not qualified to preach on the subject of serving Christ through suffering. I have suffered very little in my service for Christ. Sure, I’ve been hit with criticism and verbal attacks. I’ve had people slander me and accuse me falsely and try to get me fired. But I’ve never had to go through what many of the Lord’s servants in China, India, or most of the Muslim countries go through. They suffer beatings, imprisonment, rejection by their families, privation, and death because of Christ.
More and more I am persuaded from Scripture and from the history of missions that God’s design for the evangelization of the world and the consummation of his purposes includes the suffering of his ministers and missionaries. To put it more plainly and specifically, God designs that the suffering of his ministers and missionaries is one essential means in the joyful triumphant spread of the gospel among all the peoples of the world.
Piper goes on soberly to say that if we are faithful to God’s command to take the gospel to the remaining unreached peoples, some of us and some of our children will be killed in the process. But this is clearly God’s design, as the Bible and church history repeatedly demonstrate. In fact, God has predetermined a specific number of martyrs (see Rev. 6:10-11)!
Paul was in his final imprisonment, awaiting execution. Timothy, timid by nature, was not so sure that he wanted to follow in the great apostle’s footsteps if it meant imprisonment and martyrdom. That didn’t sound like a fun future! He may have been wondering if there might be a little safer, more pleasant line of work to get into. So Paul pleads with him not to be ashamed of the gospel or of Paul, the prisoner, but to join with him in suffering for the gospel. Paul mentions this in every chapter of this letter. In (2:3) he writes, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” In 3:12, he re-emphasizes, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Again (4:5) he exhorts Timothy to “endure hardship” in his ministry.
“Therefore” (1:8) points us back to 1:5-7: “Because you are saved, Timothy, and God has given you a spiritual gift to use in serving Him, therefore, join with me in suffering for the gospel.” Paul is making the point,
When you serve Christ, be prepared to suffer for the gospel.
There are five things to note in this verse:
When I was in boot camp for the Coast Guard, a guy became the laughingstock of the whole camp because he arrived with his water skis and fishing pole! It seems that the recruiter had told him (correctly) that the boot camp was on an island in the Oakland harbor. And, the recruiter was technically correct in telling this guy that you could water ski and fish there (as long as you understood the word you in the broadest sense, meaning, “a person” theoretically could do these things).
What the recruiter failed to tell this naïve recruit was that the first day of boot camp, they issued your uniform and made you take all of your civilian clothes, including your underwear, and ship them back home. The shipment included your comb, shampoo, and all personal toiletries, except for a razor and shaving cream. You wouldn’t need your comb and shampoo after they gave you the boot camp haircut, which came next, because you would have no hair! Also, they took away all privileges. There were no TV sets, but there was one radio and they posted the front page of a newspaper on a bulletin board. But the catch was, you had to earn the privilege to have the radio on or to read that front page.
They could wake you up in the middle of the night and make you carry all of the bunk beds from the second floor down to the ground outside. Then you had to strip the floor of old wax and re-wax and polish it before carrying your bunks back, being careful not to mar your new wax job! Or, if they chose, they could make you go out and run or march in the middle of the night for a couple of hours. If you were lucky, you might get back to bed for an hour before they got you up at 5 a.m. for the day. And woe to you if you dozed off during the boring classes!
They were trying to prepare us for real battle or rescue situations, where you could be called out in the night in extreme conditions and you had to work harmoniously as a team. They knew that we would not be adequately prepared if we spent our time water-skiing or fishing or lounging around reading the newspaper. We needed to be ready to accept danger and hardship up front so that when it hit, we would not run from our duty.
Not only this verse, but also the entire Bible shows that serving God engages you in combat with the evil enemy, the devil, and that God does not promise to keep you from all suffering in the battle. Jesus sent out the disciples as sheep among wolves, warning that they would be persecuted because of the gospel (Matt. 10:16-17; Luke 21:12-19). Paul wrote (Rom. 8:36-36), “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’” The implication is that God’s people have to endure those sorts of trials.
Hebrews 11:35b-38 tells of men of faith who “were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” Where did we ever get the idea that if we serve Jesus Christ, he will spare us from suffering and hardship?
So before you think, “It will be fun to serve the Lord,” consider the cost. You’re being deployed into enemy territory. There will be attacks and setbacks and even friendly fire from your own troops! You’ve got to accept the reality of suffering up front before you get involved in serving. Otherwise, you’re going to be rather shocked when they send your water skis and fishing pole home!
“Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord….” The testimony of our Lord is the message of the Savior who died on a shameful Roman cross. As Paul wrote (1 Cor. 1:18), “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” A few verses later (1:22-23) he adds, “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness….”
Although the Jews did not practice crucifixion, sometimes they would hang a dead body on a stake or a tree as a public object lesson of shame (Josh. 10:26; 1 Sam. 31:10; 2 Sam. 21:1-9). They considered such men accursed by God (Deut. 21:22-23; Gal. 3:13).
The Romans probably imported the practice of crucifying live victims from the Persians. The cross in the first century world was an abominable horror. Roman citizens, except in rare cases, were exempt from it. It was reserved for slaves, robbers, assassins, or rebellious provincials. Sometimes the Romans would crucify thousands in mass executions, leaving their bodies to rot as a warning to others not to rebel Both the Romans and the Jews viewed crucifixion as so shameful and degrading that it shouldn’t even be mentioned (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible [Zondervan], 1:1038, 1041).
Today we have seeker churches that are into marketing the gospel by making the message more acceptable to unbelievers. They downplay sin and judgment, because those aren’t popular among their target audiences. They play up how Jesus can help you reach your full potential, or how He can give you a happier family life. But the gospel isn’t about helping you fulfill your dreams for happiness and success. The testimony of our Lord is a testimony of a crucified Savior. He died to rescue sinners from the awful eternal judgment that they deserve. While that message may not “sell” in today’s self-focused culture, that is our only message.
Pastor John MacArthur has observed that God couldn’t have created a worse way to market the gospel than by a crucified Savior. But if you eliminate or minimize the cross to make the gospel more marketable, you eliminate the gospel. That simple message of the crucified Savior is just as powerful to convert an intellectual at the university as it is to save a primitive tribesman in the jungle. Rather than being ashamed of the cross, Paul gloried in it (Gal. 6:14). So he is calling Timothy (and us) not to be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, which is the message of the cross. Proclaim it without compromise.
But, why would anyone choose to do something that inevitably leads to shame or suffering?
If you’re going to choose hardship or suffering, at least choose to suffer for a worthy cause. You’ll lose all your money and possessions at death. But what could be more worthy than the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior? Paul tells Timothy not to be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord and appeals to him, “join with me in suffering for the gospel.” When we suffer for the gospel, we’re suffering to take the greatest news in human history to those who are perishing, so that they can have eternal life!
Jesus (Matt. 13:44) told the parable of the man who found a treasure hidden in a field. From joy over it, he went and sold all that he had to buy that field. Christ and the gospel are that treasure! He told a similar parable (Matt. 13:45-46) about the merchant who found a pearl of great value and he sold all that he had to buy it. Jesus and the gospel are that pearl of great price. If you’ve found eternal life in Him, you’ve got everything that you need for time and eternity. Christ and the gospel are worth suffering for!
The apostle Paul is one of the most remarkable men in history. Paul’s letters that God saw fit to put into our New Testament reveal the heart of this man, who counted everything else as rubbish so that he could know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings (Phil. 3:8-10). In addition to Paul, when you serve Jesus Christ you are joining ranks with Peter and John and the other apostles, and with the long line of faithful saints who have handed the torch down to our day. It is the greatest cause in the history of the world, because we know that one day soon, the kingdom of this world will “become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).
But back to reality: here’s Paul, chained in a dark Roman dungeon, being criticized and attacked, even by his fellow Christians. Almost everyone has abandoned the frail old man. How can he maintain any hope in this gloomy situation?
I think one key is in his comment, “me His prisoner.” It was Caesar’s government that had arrested Paul. Certainly he was Caesar’s prisoner! No, from Paul’s perspective, he was the prisoner of the Lord, the King of kings, the sovereign of the universe. One key to enduring any criticism or suffering that you encounter in serving the Lord is to remember that He is sovereign over it. He has a purpose in allowing people to do wrong things to His servants.
If you serve people, you will be their prisoner if they mistreat you. But if you serve the sovereign God, then you are His prisoner. Adoniram Judson, who suffered incredible trials in taking the gospel to Burma, said, “If I had not felt certain that every additional trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings” (in John Piper, from “Giants of the Missionary Trail” [Scripture Press Foundation, 1954], p. 73).
But there is another factor in how Paul could endure such trials with hope in the Lord:
“Join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God.” Paul had learned to rely on God’s power to endure trials. As he describes in 2 Corinthians 12, God had sent him a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to keep him from exalting himself after his heavenly vision. Some think that it was an illness, perhaps a disease of the eyes. Others have suggested that the thorn was the leader of the Judaizers, who followed Paul everywhere that he went, perverting the gospel of grace that he preached.
But whatever it was, it was a severe trial and Paul entreated the Lord three times to remove it. The Lord’s answer was (2 Cor. 12:9), “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” It is in our weakness that God’s strength is perfected in us and displayed to others. It is when you are overwhelmed by trials, setbacks, disappointments, and impossible situations in your service for the Lord that you’re forced to cast yourself on His power in ways that you’ve never done before. When you suffer in serving the Lord, endure by the power of Almighty God.
Whenever I am tempted to feel sorry for any difficulties that I have to endure in ministry, my mind goes back to a great hero of mine, Adoniram Judson. Born in 1788, and converted in his early twenties, Judson and his new bride Ann sailed in 1812 with a group of the first missionaries to go out from American soil. After a difficult four-month voyage, they arrived in India only to hear very discouraging reports about Burma, plus to learn that they could not stay in India. They spent the next year sailing from India to Mauritius (off the coast of South Africa) and back, to avoid deportation. Finally, against all advice, they managed to get aboard a ship going to Burma. En route, Ann gave birth to a stillborn baby and almost died herself.
They finally arrived in Rangoon, Burma, a filthy, fly-infested town, and began the arduous task of learning Burmese. They found the Burmese people to be committed to Buddhism and totally uninterested in and opposed to Christianity. The only other English-speaking couple in Rangoon left, so the Judsons were alone as they struggled with the language and the mission. The birth of a son brightened their lives, but at eight months, he grew ill. With no doctors or medicine in Rangoon, the baby died. They buried him in their yard and continued with the work through their tears.
After six years, they finally baptized their first Burmese convert. A handful more trickled in over the next few years. Then, in 1824, the British went to war against the Burmese. The Judsons were in the capital city, Ava, and Adoniram was imprisoned, falsely accused of being a British spy.
His arrest was by a “Spotted Face,” a criminal whose face bore a spot tattoo on each cheek. Some of these vicious men had the name of their crime branded into their foreheads or chests. The ears and/or noses of some had been cut off. Some had only one eye. They delighted to inflict similar tortures on their captives. To arrest a man, they slipped a small, hard cord behind the back and around a man’s arms, just above the elbow. They could yank this cord so tight that it often dislocated the arms, it could cut off the breath, and could even make blood spurt from the nose and mouth of the prisoner. After hauling Judson to the prison, they secured his feet with three sets of iron fetters that cut into his ankles.
The prison was a sweltering bamboo room, with an overwhelming stench. There were no windows, but a little light filtered through the cracks. At night, the prison ruler, with “murderer” tattooed on his chest, who insisted on being called Father, would come in with an assistant. They slid a long bamboo pole through the fetters on each man’s legs and hoisted it up with a block and tackle until only the prisoner’s shoulders and heads rested on the floor. They left them suspended in this position all night, while the rats ran around them on the filthy floor.
Ann was pregnant, but had to walk two miles each way to bring him food each day. After 17 months of this terrible torture, including a move to a farther location, where he had to walk barefoot over sharp, hot rocks and nearly died, Judson was released. The Burmese government needed his translation skills to negotiate with the British. Eleven months later, Ann, who had delivered their third child during Adoniram’s imprisonment, died. Six months after that, their little daughter died.
For a period of time, Judson almost went crazy. He moved out into the tiger-infested jungle and lived as a recluse. It took him almost three years to recover and regain the right perspective. But even during those difficult years, he continued working on his translation of the Bible and on some evangelistic materials. It took him 21 years from his arrival in Burma to complete the translation of the Bible, plus six more years to revise it.
Eight years after Ann’s death, he married Sarah Boardman, a widow of another missionary. They had eight children, five of whom survived childhood. Eleven years later, Sarah died as the Judsons sailed to America. After 33 years in Burma with no furlough, Adoniram arrived in America. While there, he met and married a young woman, Emily Chubbuck, who was a famous writer. She was 29, he was 57. She went back to Burma with him and they had four happy years together before Judson died at age 61. She returned to America and died at age 37 of tuberculosis.
I haven’t begun to describe many of the other hardships that he and his wives and children had to endure over the years. He left behind a Burmese Bible, a Burmese-English dictionary, and a small number of Burmese Christians. Today in Burma (Myanmar), according to Operation World (Patrick Johnstone & Jason Mandryk, 21st Century Edition, p. 462), there are over 3,700 Baptist churches with a total membership of over 600,000, plus many other evangelical churches. The Burmese church today, although under frequent persecution, sends out many missionaries of their own.
I would like to think that the Lord has Adoniram Judson heading up the official “Welcome to Heaven committee” when Burmese believers die. After reading about what Judson endured to take the gospel to Burma, how can I complain when I suffer a little criticism or hardship in my service for the Lord? Read his life and the lives of other missionaries for yourself and join with Paul in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
We’re all prone to choose a life of comfort and ease over a path that will entail difficulties. So how would you go about convincing someone to persevere in serving Christ when it entails persecution and maybe martyrdom? That was Paul’s task as he wrote this final letter to his younger disciple, Timothy. Paul was facing execution for the sake of the gospel. He had endured numerous hardships already, as Timothy well knew (3:11). Now Paul was handing the torch to Timothy, who was a bit hesitant to take it. He knew that following in Paul’s steps would take him on a path of certain suffering for the sake of the gospel (1:8). Why should he go that route? Why suffer for the gospel?
Most evangelistic appeals today pitch the gospel as the way to have an abundant life. “Jesus came to offer you abundant life. Trust in Him and He will give you peace, joy, and a truly happy life.” While all of those claims are true if properly defined, what the salesman hasn’t told the potential customer is that your problems may grow much worse after you have trusted in Christ.
When we pitch Jesus as a better way to self-fulfillment, we’re promoting an Americanized message that is not identical with the biblical gospel. What if the potential convert is from a Muslim background? Will his life be one of trouble-free happiness if he trusts in Christ? His family will disown him and possibly kill him because he converted to Christianity. What if he is from China? He may lose his job or be sent to a labor camp on account of his Christian faith. In 2 Timothy 3:12, Paul says, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” We had better present a gospel that is worth suffering for!
In the Greek text, verses 8-11 are a single sentence. In verse 8, Paul exhorts Timothy not to “be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God.” Then in 1:12, Paul states, “For this reason, I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed.” So our text is sandwiched between an exhortation to embrace suffering for the gospel without shame and an example of one who had done so. The motive that Paul uses to urge Timothy to embrace suffering is the glorious gospel of God’s sovereign grace. He is saying that…
Because God has saved us by His sovereign grace, we should be willing to suffer for the gospel.
Getting a grasp of the glorious truth that God saved us according to His own purpose and grace, which was granted to us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, will give us the strength to endure suffering for the sake of the gospel. Remember, these words are coming to us from the Holy Spirit through the mouth of a man who is facing imminent execution on account of the gospel. So these truths are powerfully practical, but we must understand and submit to them in order to benefit from them.
Before we examine the text, I want to respond to a frequent objection that I hear that goes like this: “Steve, why do you put such a strong emphasis on God’s sovereignty in salvation? You’re always bringing up the doctrine of election. It’s just a divisive issue that gets people upset. Some have left this church because you hammer so much on this. Why not just emphasize other things that aren’t so controversial? Besides, people want to hear more practical truth. This may have been an interesting topic in seminary, but we need practical help with our problems. So, back off!”
Here is my response. First, the reason that I mention the subject of God’s sovereignty so often is that the Bible mentions it often. I preach through the Bible verse to verse. If it’s in the text, I talk about it, even if it’s controversial. It just so happens that the Bible often talks about God’s sovereignty with regard to our salvation. Not only Paul, but also Jesus spoke often about these matters.
But I cannot be faithful in preaching the whole counsel of God if I tiptoe around the subject of God’s sovereign election. I realize that it is difficult to understand and that it takes time to grasp these things. It took me a long time to wrestle with these truths before I embraced them. I grant you the time to struggle. Because of this, I feel the need to take the time to explain these doctrines when they are in the text. But I won’t dodge biblical truth just because it is controversial or difficult to understand.
By the way, I did not come to believe in these truths by reading Calvin or Edwards or Spurgeon or any other of the men who taught these things. I came to believe these things as a college student by wrestling with God’s Word, especially Romans 9. I didn’t read Calvin’s Institutes until I had been a pastor for about 13 years. To label and dismiss these truths as “Calvinism” is not fair or intellectually honest. Calvin was just wrestling to understand the same Bible that we have. You should follow that example.
So, I’m not doing you a favor if I dodge what God saw fit to put repeatedly in His Word. These truths are intensely practical, because they have to do with your view of God, your view of man as a sinner, and your view of salvation. When Paul taught these truths, he burst into spontaneous praise (Rom. 11:33-36). So the bottom line of understanding these truths is so that we would bow in worship and ascribe all glory to God. Paul didn’t write Romans for theologians, but for the believers in Rome, many of whom were uneducated slaves. Jesus taught the truths of election to the common Jewish farmers and fishermen of His day.
So I exhort you not to run from the hard work of thinking through these truths by saying, “Nobody can understand these things or come to agreement, so why bother?” Our text is saying that these truths are at the core of the gospel and that understanding them will give you the strength to endure suffering for the sake of the gospel. For sake of time, I must limit myself to verse 9. Next week we’ll study verses 10 & 11.
The gospel is clearly a dominant theme here (1:8, 10). The gospel is the good news that God saves sinners. Never get over that! Paul reveled in it (1 Tim. 1:15): “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10; 5:32). Note three things:
God the Father took the initiative in eternity past. He sent His Son at the proper time (Gal. 4:4). The Holy Spirit applies God’s salvation through the new birth (John 3:6-8). It is all God’s doing. As Jonah (2:9b) affirms, “Salvation is from the Lord.”
As I’ve often said, salvation is a radical word. You don’t need saving if you’re in pretty good shape. All you need then is a little help. You need saving when you’re perishing and are helpless to save yourself. The Bible uses a number of metaphors to show that we are desperately helpless and unable to save ourselves. It says that we were dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1; John 11). It pictures us as blind (John 9; 2 Cor. 4:4), lost (Luke 15), leprous (Luke 5:12-14), crippled (Luke 5:18-25), deaf (Mark 7:31-35), and hardened in our hearts (Eph. 4:18). Salvation means that God came to us while we were His sinful enemies (Rom. 5:8, 10), rescued us from our helpless condition, and gave us new life as His free gift. As William Hendriksen put it (New Testament Commentary, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus [Baker], p. 232), “God has delivered us from the greatest of all evils and he has placed us in possession of the greatest of all blessings.”
But here is where much controversy arises. Many will say, “It’s true that God saves us, but the sinner has to exercise his free will in order to accept God’s gift.” In other words, God has done His part by sending Christ to die for our sins, but now it’s up to us to accept Him. Implicit in this teaching is that everyone has the ability to believe in Christ. Without such ability, they say, God’s offer of salvation is a sham. What good is it to tell a sinner to trust in Christ if he is not able to trust in Christ?
Several things need to be said here. First, sinners must repent and trust in Christ to be saved. Christ commands sinners to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15). But the command does not imply ability. Jesus plainly said (John 6:44, 65), “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day…. For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” Clearly, the Father does not draw everyone to Christ, because Jesus promises to raise up on the last day all who come to Him through the Father’s drawing. But not all will be saved.
Jesus said (Luke 10:22), “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” Clearly, Jesus does not will to reveal the Father to everyone. When the disciples asked Jesus why He spoke to the multitudes in parables, He replied (Matt. 13:11), “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.”
In John 8:43, 44, Jesus asked the unbelieving Jews, “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father….” Jesus did not say, “It is because you chose by your free will not to hear My word,” but rather, “because you cannot hear My word.” Because they were not born again, they were of their father the devil, and they acted in accordance with their nature.
If we had time, I could multiply verses that say the same thing (e.g., Rom. 8:7-8; 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:1-3; 4:17-18). So to speak of “free will” is really misleading. As Martin Luther correctly argued against Erasmus (The Bondage of the Will), the fallen human will (before conversion) is in bondage to sin. Or, as Charles Wesley put it (“And Can it Be?”), “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night….” God has to send that quickening (life-giving) ray to awaken us from our darkness, death, and bondage. At that instant, we respond in faith and repentance, which also come from God. It is God who saves us.
This is a frequent theme in Paul. He writes (Eph. 2:8-9), “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (See also, Titus 3:5.) If we could take any credit for our salvation, we would do it (1 Cor. 1:26-31). But we can’t because the whole thing, including repentance and faith, are God’s gift (Acts 5:31; 11:18; Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 2:25; Heb. 12:2). We are saved unto good works (Eph. 2:10), and unto holiness. But these things are the result of salvation. They have no part in causing salvation.
Paul roots our salvation not in anything that we can do, but rather in something that God purposed from all eternity. But God not only purposed it from all eternity, He also granted it from all eternity! This means that in one sense, we were saved before the universe existed! Of course, we did not exist then, and God must apply His salvation to us at a point in time. But if you have been saved, God had you personally in mind in His eternal purpose.
In words similar to our text, Paul writes (Eph. 1:4-6), “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” A few verses later (1:11) he adds, “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.”
The Bible is clear that God has an eternal purpose. If He did not have a purpose, He would not be wise. If we grant that a human builder must have a plan before he starts to build, then why should we not agree that an all-wise God has a predetermined plan for His creation? Predestination is the means by which God accomplishes His predetermined plan.
Also, our text shows that God’s eternal plan concerns promoting His glory through our salvation. His purpose is “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” He also will be glorified in the just condemnation of the wicked, who are responsible for their sin. But, rather than leaving everyone to receive the just penalty of their sins, God determined to save some, whom the Bible calls the elect.
Furthermore, God is fully capable of achieving His eternal purpose to save His elect. Again, there is controversy and confusion over this point. Some argue that because God desires all men to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9; Ezek. 18:32), therefore He has done all that He can do to save sinners. But their actual salvation rests on their free choice to believe in Christ. They picture God as anxiously sitting on the edge of heaven, wishing that He could save everyone. But, alas, He is limited by man’s stubborn will!
In fact, Dave Hunt (What Love is This? [Loyal], pp. 111-112, 113-114) argues that if God could save everyone, but chose only to save some, then He is immoral and unjust. He compares this to someone who could save a drowning man, but chose not to. That is a blasphemous argument! It portrays God as held captive by man’s fallen, sinful will. God wishes that He could save everyone, but man’s will is sovereign over God’s will. God must be relieved that at least some decide to choose Him. It really would have been a bummer for God to put His Son on the cross if nobody actually decided to get saved! What a pitiful view of God!
In Romans 9, Paul raises the question of God being unjust because He chooses Jacob and rejects Esau before they were born. He did it “so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls” (Rom. 9:11). God made the choice and He was not unjust to do it (9:14). Then Paul cites God’s self-revelation to Moses. When Moses asked to see God’s glory, here is God’s reply: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Rom. 9:15, citing Exod. 33:19). Paul concludes (9:18), “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” He did not say, “He has mercy on whoever chooses Him and He hardens whoever rejects Him.”
If you object, “But that’s not fair, because if God determines who will be saved, then no one can resist His will,” keep reading. Paul raises that objection (9:19) and answers it like this: “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” He goes on to argue that the potter has the right to do with the clay whatever he chooses. God has the sovereign right and the ability to save whoever He chooses, in accordance with His purpose.
I used to fight with those verses, thinking that I was fighting with Paul. Then one day, God tapped me rather forcefully on the shoulder and said, “You’re not fighting with Paul. You’re fighting with Me. I gave you a clear answer to your question about fairness, but you don’t like the answer!” I realized that like Job (40:1), I had been contending with the Almighty. With Job (42:2, 6), I confessed, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted…. Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.” I realized that if I was going to believe God’s Word, I had to submit to what Paul was clearly teaching. I had to be willing to let God be God, the sovereign of the universe, who acts freely to accomplish His purpose according to His grace. If you don’t submit to this teaching, you really don’t understand the gospel very well at all. The gospel is all about God’s saving sinners according to His purpose and grace.
One common objection to the view that salvation is totally by God’s grace is that such teaching will lead to licentiousness. The charge was leveled against Paul (Rom. 3:8; 6:1). But he always made it clear that God calls us to live holy lives. If someone claims to be saved but continues living in sin, he had better examine whether he was truly saved at all. Salvation that does not result in a life of progressive holiness is not genuine salvation. It dishonors the name of God when someone claims to be saved, especially someone in public ministry, but he lives in sin. While no one can be totally free from sin in this life, those whom God has saved will sin less as they grow in holiness in thought, word, and deed.
God’s call to holiness is effectual, which is to say, it is something that He purposes and promises to accomplish in us. Yet at the same time, we must actively strive for holiness according to the means that God has provided. As to the effectual nature of this call, note Romans 8:28-30:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the [lit.] called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
God’s call predestines us to be conformed to the image of His Son, who is holy. Or, as we saw in Ephesians 1:4, He chose us so “that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” While God foreordained that we would be holy, this does not imply that we are passive in the process. We must “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in [us], both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). We must strive against sin (Heb. 12:4).
Maybe you’re still wondering, “What is the practical benefit of any of this?” First, in the context of our text, knowing that God purposed your salvation from all eternity will give you the strength to endure trials, especially the trials that come in serving Him. We just read Romans 8:28, which promises that if you are one of the called according to His purpose, then He will work all things together for your ultimate good. As we’ll see in verse 10, even death is under His sovereign control.
Second, knowing that God purposed your salvation from all eternity will give you assurance that He will finish what He began. As Paul put it (Phil. 1:6), “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Third, it will motivate you to grow in holiness. There are many more practical benefits, such as humility (1 Cor. 1:26-31) and confidence in witnessing (Acts 4:27-31; 18:9-11; 2 Tim. 2:10). But, I’m out of time!
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.
In his excellent book, Don’t Waste Your Life [Crossway, 2003], pp. 45-46), John Piper tells about Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards, who died in April, 2000, in Cameroon, West Africa. Ruby was over eighty, had been single all her life, and had spent her life making Jesus Christ known among the unreached, poor, and sick. Laura was a widow, a medical doctor, pushing eighty, who served with Ruby in Cameroon. Their brakes failed, the car went over a cliff, and they both were killed instantly.
Piper asks, “Was that a tragedy? Two lives, driven by one great passion, namely, to be spent in unheralded service to the perishing poor for the glory of Jesus Christ—even two decades after most of their American counterparts had retired to throw away their lives on trifles.” He answers, “No, that is not a tragedy. That is a glory. These lives were not wasted. And these lives were not lost. ‘Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it’ (Mark 8:35).”
He continues, “I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who ‘took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast … when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.’”
When Piper first read that, he thought that it was a joke, a spoof on the American dream. But it wasn’t. Rather, this was the dream: “Come to the end of your life—your one and only precious, God-given life—and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: ‘Look, Lord. See my shells.’” Piper concludes, “That is a tragedy.” He rightly urges, “Don’t buy it [that version of the American dream]. Don’t waste your life.”
Some would probably conclude that a frail, lonely man in his late sixties had wasted his life. He was chained in a Roman dungeon without enough clothes to keep warm, about to be executed because he proclaimed that Jesus Christ, not Caesar, was Lord. He had known years of hardship, privation, persecution, betrayal, and disappointments. If he sounded a little bitter or cynical as he faced death, most of us would not blame him.
But, rather than being even slightly bitter or cynical, the apostle Paul was confident and upbeat as he exhorted his younger disciple, Timothy, not to be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, but to join with him in suffering for the gospel (1:8). Clearly, Paul believed that the gospel was a cause worth living for and worth dying for. If you live your life for the glory of God through the gospel, in line with your spiritual gifts (1:6), you will not waste your life.
This is not to say that in order not to waste your life you must go into some form of “full time” Christian ministry. But it is to say that if you don’t want to waste your life, you must live it in view of the shortness of this life and the reality of eternity. That means that you live in such a way that your life makes no sense if there is no heaven or hell. When people who do not know Jesus Christ look at how you spend your time and money, they should think, “This guy is nuts!” They don’t take eternity into account, but you do. So with Paul, you can say (1 Cor. 15:19), “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” Because these eternal truths are certain, to spend your life for the gospel is to spend it wisely. In our text, Paul is saying,
Because through the gospel Jesus Christ abolished death and appointed us to serve Him, it is a cause worth dying for.
It has always amazed me that in light of the statistics on death—one out of one people die—people are not consumed with finding the answers to questions like, “Where will I spend eternity? How should I spend my short and uncertain life here in view of standing before God some day?” You would think that every young person would wrestle with those questions before he gets out of college, lands a job, and settles into some vague pursuit of happiness, which often devolves into watching pointless and profane TV shows every night. Very few spend much time at all thinking about the crucial questions in life.
You would think that every retired person would be panicked. It’s the fourth quarter and the clock of life is counting down to the final buzzer. Very shortly, he will stand before God. You would think that he would be consumed with knowing for certain that his sins were forgiven and that he had eternal life. Yet, as I see in every issue of my AARP magazine, the focus is on how to stay healthy, hide your wrinkles, and pursue your selfish dreams, ignoring the inevitable approach of death.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only answer to these tough final questions that we all need to face. Paul here shows us three things that will help us to live in a truly meaningful way, both for time and eternity, if we will respond to them.
Verse 9, as we saw in our last study, is a succinct summary of the gospel of God’s sovereign grace: God “saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.” But how was that eternal purpose of God made known in time? It was “revealed by the appearing of Christ Jesus our Savior.” There is no salvation apart from the appearing of Jesus Christ. We get our word “epiphany,” which means an appearance or manifestation of God, from the Greek word translated “appearing.” This is the only time the word refers to the first coming of Christ. Every other time it refers to His second coming.
That Jesus Christ appeared implies that He existed before He came to this earth. Jesus asserted such about Himself. He told the disbelieving Jews (John 8:58), “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” He often referred to being sent to this earth by the Father (John 3:17, 34). In John 17:5, Jesus prayed, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” These statements of His preexistence are assertions of His deity. There is no good news of salvation apart from the truth of the deity of Jesus Christ. The cults that deny His deity do not preach the gospel. If Jesus Christ is not God, then He cannot save us from our sins.
But the fact that Christ Jesus appeared also asserts His true humanity. He was born of the virgin Mary through miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit. He fully shares our humanity, except that He was born without any sin. The four Gospels tell us of His sinless life, His profound teaching, His miracles that authenticated His claims, His voluntary, sacrificial death on the cross for our sins, His bodily resurrection from the dead, and His ascension into heaven. Many of the facts about this promised Savior were predicted in the Old Testament, centuries before His coming. The Christian faith rests upon this verifiable history that testifies to the appearing of Christ Jesus our Savior.
But the Christian faith is not just knowing these facts about the life of Jesus Christ. Rather, it concerns knowing Him personally. As Paul says (1:12), “I know whom I have believed.” Or, as he put it (Phil. 3:8), “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” So if we ask, “How can this frail old man who has suffered so much, who doesn’t even have a coat to keep him warm, who has no wife or children, no retirement benefits, who is facing an unjust execution, how can he be so joyous?” The answer is, “He had come to know the glorious person of Christ Jesus his Savior.”
Have you come to know Jesus Christ personally? Can you call Him “Christ Jesus my Lord”? How does this happen? It has been revealed in Scripture (1:10), but also God has to open your blind eyes to the truth of who Jesus is. He opens your eyes to see that you are a sinner, in need of a Savior. He shows you that Jesus Christ is the only Savior from sin. When Paul shared the gospel with Lydia in Philippi, we read (Acts 16:14), “and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” If you don’t know Christ personally, ask God to open your heart to who Jesus Christ truly is. Trust Him alone as your Savior.
There are two aspects of this:
A critic may scoff by saying, “You can believe that if you want, but the local cemetery proves that you’re believing a fairy tale.” Obviously, Christians and non-Christians all die. Believing in Jesus as your Savior doesn’t give you a free pass around death. But, of course, Paul knew that. He saw many believers die. He mentions his own impending death (4:6). He was not promoting some form of Christian Science, where you tell yourself that sickness and death don’t really exist.
The Greek word translated “abolished” means to nullify or to render inoperative. Paul uses it in Romans 6:6, where he says that “our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with.” Obviously, we still live in these bodies that are prone toward sin. Our bodies have not been annihilated. What Paul means is that the power of sin has been broken, so that we do not have to be slaves to sin any longer.
So when Paul says that Christ abolished death, he means that through His death and resurrection, Jesus broke the power of death and freed us from fear of judgment (Heb. 2:14-15). While believers are still subject to physical death (unless we’re alive at His coming), the sting of death has been removed. Note the parallel between our text and 1 Corinthians 15:53-58. Both speak of Christ’s victory over death and then talk about our service for Christ as a result:
For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
It is because Jesus Christ took the sting of death from us that death for believers is now referred to as sleep (Acts 7:60; 1 Thess. 4:13). This does not mean that our souls sleep. The moment we die, we are consciously in the presence of the Lord in heaven (2 Cor. 5:8). But our bodies sleep in the grave until the return of Christ, when they will be raised and transformed into incorruptible bodies that are suited for heaven.
I love that scene in The Pilgrim’s Progress where Christian and Hopeful come to the final river of death. They are fearful that the water will be over their heads. But Hopeful goes first and calls back to Christian, “Be of good cheer, my brother; I feel the bottom, and it is good.” For every Christian, the bottom is good because of the word of Christ Jesus our Savior, who has promised that He will take us to be with Him in heaven (John 14:3). When you face death, trust in His promise to bring you safely to the other side.
“Life” refers to the new life that we receive at regeneration. “Immortality” refers to the eternal, incorruptible nature of that life. The new life that we receive from God at regeneration is eternal life. It can never be taken away from us, because Jesus Christ promised (John 10:28), “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” Eternal life is His gift to His sheep, and it is permanent. When He returns, the dead in Christ will be raised and we who are alive will be instantly transformed (1 Thess. 4:13-17; 1 Cor. 15:52). In that glorious moment, “He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Rev. 21:4).
Christ Jesus brought these wonderful truths “to light through the gospel.” In the Old Testament, there are scattered references to the hope of eternal life beyond the grave, but for the most part, they were dimly visible, in a comparative dusk, as Bishop Moule puts it (Studies in II Timothy [Kregel, 1977], p. 50). But Christ brought these truths out into the open. So as Christians, we look “for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:13-14). Note, again, Paul’s emphasis there on salvation resulting in service.
That’s the flow of thought in our text. Christ Jesus personally brought God’s salvation to us through the gospel by His appearing. He also abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. But, He saved us so that we would serve Him.
Paul finishes the sentence (1:11), “for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher.” Many Greek manuscripts add, “of the Gentiles,” but that may have been added from copyists to make it conform to 1 Timothy 2:7. This repeats the flow of thought that we saw in verses 5-7, where after mentioning Timothy’s salvation, Paul exhorts him to kindle afresh his spiritual gift in service to the Lord. The point is, God doesn’t save us so that we can live our own self-centered, happy lives, ignoring the needs of others. He saves us so that we can serve in His great purpose of saving souls and conforming them to Christ for His glory.
Note, also, that we do not volunteer to serve Jesus in our spare time. Rather, we are drafted—appointed—to serve. As we saw in verse 6, God has given every saved person at least one spiritual gift to use in service for Him. You will give an account of how you used your gift, just as I will. In the parable of the talents (a talent was an amount of money, not an ability), the Lord gave five talents to one servant, two to another, and one to the third servant (Matt. 25:14-30). The man with five invested them and earned five more. The man with two invested them and earned two more. But the man with one buried it and returned it with no profit. The master rebuked him strongly and threw him into outer darkness.
One lesson from that story is that if you think that you can’t do much for the Lord because you aren’t very gifted, you’re in the greatest danger of burying your talent. The one-talent guy looks at those with two or five talents and thinks, “I can’t make that much difference, so why bother?” But that’s a serious mistake. If the Lord has seemingly only given you lesser gifts, don’t bury them! Use them! Often, when you begin to use them, you will discover that you have been given more gifts than you thought at first.
Paul mentions three offices to which he had been appointed: preacher, apostle, and teacher. Why does he use this order? It would seem that apostle was his highest role. Perhaps he is thinking in terms of the order of the gospel. The preacher (the word referred to the herald, who announced the king’s messages to the people) proclaims the gospel, getting people saved. The apostle established the saved into churches, where they could grow in Christ. The teacher equips those believers for the work of service.
The office of apostle as one who had unique authority from Christ no longer exists, because the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20). We have the apostolic foundation in the New Testament. In the sense of “one sent out to plant churches,” the role does exist. But for the sake of avoiding confusion, such people should not be called apostles, but missionaries or church planters.
Some have questioned why Paul here reminds Timothy of what he already knew, that Paul was a preacher, apostle, and teacher. I think that Paul was so caught up with the greatness of the gospel and God’s call to preach it that he just got carried away in amazement that God had laid hold of him, a persecutor of the church, to preach the gospel. If you’re hesitant to serve the Lord, go back to the glorious gospel that saved you from a life of futility. Whatever your gifts, God saved you to serve in the great cause of the gospel, a cause worth dying for. Because through the gospel Christ Jesus abolished death and appointed us to serve Him, it’s a cause worth dying for.
The day after Joe Bayly and his wife buried their almost five-year-old, who had died of leukemia, he stopped by the doctor’s office to thank him for his kindness during the nine months between the diagnosis and death. The receptionist called him to the desk, nodded toward a little boy playing on the floor, and whispered, “He has the same problem your little boy had.”
Bayly sat down next to this boy’s mother and spoke softly. “It’s hard bringing him in here every two weeks for these tests, isn’t it.” He didn’t ask a question; he stated a fact.
“Hard?” She was silent for a moment. “I die every time. And now he’s beginning to sense that something’s wrong …” Her voice trailed off.
Bayly chose his words carefully. “It’s good to know, isn’t it, that even though the medical outlook is hopeless, we can have hope for our children in such a situation. We can be sure that after our child dies, he’ll be completely removed from sickness and suffering and everything like that, and be completely well and happy.”
“If I could only believe that,” the woman replied. “But I don’t. When he dies, I’ll just have to cover him up with dirt and forget I ever had him.” She turned back to watching her little boy push a toy car on the floor.
Bayly felt compelled to say, “I’m glad I don’t feel that way.”
“Why?” This time she didn’t turn toward him, but kept watching her child.
“Because we covered our little boy up with dirt yesterday afternoon. I’m in here today to thank the doctor for his kindness.”
She looked straight at Bayly and said, “You look like a rational person.” He was glad she didn’t say, “I’m sorry.” “How can you possibly believe that the death of a man, or a little boy, is any different from the death of an animal?” (From, The Last Thing We Talk About [David C. Cook, 1973, revised edition], pp. 12-13.)
The answer to that woman’s question is, we believe that the death of a person is different because we believe the historic facts about Jesus Christ. By His death and resurrection, He conquered death. By His certain promises, He has given us hope beyond the grave and a purpose worth living and dying for.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.
Our subject today is “Banking with God.” I’m not talking about your money, but something far more important—your life. Each of us is investing our lives in something. It may be a career. It may be building a solid marriage and rearing our children in the Lord. But we all are allotted a certain number of days. We spend them doing something. The sum total of how we spend our days amounts to the investment of our lives.
My next birthday is already scaring me, even though it is still more than six months away. I will turn 60. For those of you who are younger, that sounds ancient—way, way off in the distant future. But let me assure you, it comes around very quickly! You find yourself looking in the mirror at this face that isn’t so young any more, wondering, “Where did the time go?” Whatever your age, you need to think carefully about how to invest wisely the few short years that the Lord gives you. Jesus asked the vital question (Mark 8:36), “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”
When it comes to investing money, most of us are pretty careful. If you’re like me, you don’t have more money than you know what to do with, and so you’re cautious about entrusting it to an unknown person or company that promises you a profit. But, it’s amazing that while people are careful about investing their money, they are often very haphazard about investing their lives. They waste gobs of time. Without thinking, people devote their lives to pursuing fleeting pleasures and possessions. But they give little thought to investing their lives with God, who gives “solid joys and lasting treasure” (John Newton, “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken”). Jesus referred to this as storing up treasure for yourself, but not being rich toward God (Luke 12:21).
In our text, Paul gives us a guaranteed plan for successful banking with God. Here is a man who, if you look at his outward circumstances, has every reason to anxious and uncertain about his life. His life is basically over. He is in a dungeon in Rome, awaiting execution from the evil tyrant, Nero. He was destitute. He didn’t even have a coat to keep him warm. He was not a world-renowned best-selling author and conference speaker. At this point, he didn’t know, as one author put it, that centuries later men would name their sons Paul and their dogs Nero. He was just a lonely old man, chained to a Roman guard, with many reasons for disappointment.
So as he awaited death, Paul had every reason to say, “I’m not so sure about the way I’ve lived my life. I’m not going to advise others to follow my example.” And yet he exudes confident assurance in God and exhorts Timothy to follow his example. This man has something to tell us about investing our lives successfully! Paul shows us that there are two sides to successful banking with God:
To invest your life successfully, deposit it with Christ and guard His deposit with you.
Entrust everything that you are and have to God for safekeeping. And, God entrusts something with you for safekeeping.
You can dream about and study investments all you like, but the bottom line is when you actually deposit some of your hard-earned cash with the investment firm. Until that transaction takes place, all of your knowledge and interest in the subject count for nothing. If the investment shoots up in value, it won’t benefit you at all unless you’re actually invested in it.
In a similar way, you must personally commit your life to Jesus Christ. Paul writes (1:12), “For this reason [the gospel that had laid hold of him, vv. 9-11] I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him [lit., “my deposit”] until that day.” The Greek word for “deposit” was used of leaving your valuables in the care of a trusted friend to guard while you were away. Until you deposit your life with Christ, all of your knowledge about God and interest in spiritual things amount to nothing. You must make the deposit before the investment can begin to benefit you. So a crucial question is, “How do I deposit my life with Christ?”
Paul says that he knew whom he had believed. As I said last week, it’s significant that Paul does not say, “I know what I have believed” (although he did), but rather, “I know whom I have believed.” There is a vast difference between knowing about Christ and knowing Christ personally. Of course, you cannot know Christ personally until you first know about Him. You must hear about Christ and the facts of the gospel as revealed in the Bible, and you must believe that those facts are true. But true Christianity involves entering into and maintaining a personal relationship with Him, where you grow to know Him more and more. As your knowledge of Christ grows, your trust in Him grows.
Trust is at the heart of the banking industry. You don’t take your money to a guy in a trailer with a homemade sign that reads, “Fast Eddie’s Bank”! Most of us go to a bank with an established name, in a decent-looking building, where we hand over our check to a respectable-looking teller. If all of the tellers looked like guys who were scrounging for drug money, we might decide to bank elsewhere! To deposit money in a bank requires trust.
In the same way, it takes trust to deposit your life with Jesus Christ. When you trust in Christ to save you, you are admitting, “I cannot save myself by my own efforts or good works. Although I am a sinner, I am confident that Jesus Christ can save me. I am entrusting my eternal destiny to Him. I am taking God at His Word by believing that Christ will do what He promised, namely, to give eternal life to every person who believes in Him.”
Until you have made that basic transaction, you do not have eternal life and you do not have a relationship with Christ. It is not too strong to say that until you have deposited your life with God, you’re wasting your life. Some thirty years before writing this letter to Timothy, Paul had made that deposit on the Damascus Road. At that time, he let go of all that he had been trusting in for standing with God in exchange for the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ his Lord (Phil. 3:7-10).
Some may ask, “Can I entrust part of my life with Christ now, and if things go well, I’ll give Him the rest later?” Or, as it’s usually phrased, “Can I accept Jesus as my Savior, but wait to make Him my Lord?” The Bible is clear that trusting Christ with your eternal destiny is an all or nothing deal. You entrust to Him all of yourself that you are aware of. Over time, He will reveal to you other areas that you have not yielded that you were not aware of at first. But you are not truly trusting in Christ if you’re knowingly holding back part of your life from Him. To trust in Him for eternal life is to deposit all of your life with Him.
I read once about a family that put their elderly grandmother on a plane for her first flight. She wasn’t too sure about this mode of transportation, but she grudgingly went along with it. When she returned, some of the family members couldn’t help playfully asking, “Grannie, did the plane hold you up okay?” She reluctantly admitted that it did, but then added, “But I never put my full weight down on it.”
Trusting Christ as your Savior means getting on board and putting your full weight down on Him. You let go of any notion that you can do anything to save yourself. You abandon any trust in your good works. You rely on Christ and His shed blood as the only acceptable payment for your sins. That is the starting point of banking with God.
Someone may wonder, “If I deposit all of my life with Christ, does that mean that I have to be a missionary in Africa?” The answer is, maybe, maybe not. It does mean that you must be willing to be a missionary in Africa if the Lord calls you to do that. Trusting Christ means that you trust that He is good and that He knows what is best for your life. If He wants you to be a missionary in Africa, you’d be miserable to be a successful stockbroker on Wall Street. You’ve got to trust Him for that. You hand Him a blank check for all of your life and He fills in the details.
“But,” you may ask, “will my deposit be secure?”
A literal translation of verse 12b, bringing out the tenses of the Greek verbs, is, “for I know Him in whom I have trusted and still am trusting, and I became convinced and still am convinced that He is able to guard my deposit until that day.” Paul’s firm and abiding assurance rested on his personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul knew that Christ is completely trustworthy.
That knowledge grows over time, but personal knowledge of Jesus Christ is the key to assurance, because you discover that He is totally trustworthy and is fully capable of fulfilling His promises. “He is able!” If He’s not able, you shouldn’t trust Him. But He has never failed any investor who has entrusted his soul to Him. Here is His promise (John 10:27-28): “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” That’s a secure investment!
But you still may wonder, “Is my investment wise? Will it bring me an adequate return?”
Paul says (1:12b), “He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” He is referring to the day of judgment, when all accounts will be squared away before God. If this life is all that there is, then we live in a cruel and unfair world. Here is a godly, self-sacrificing apostle in a dungeon while a perverted lunatic revels in luxury and debauchery as he rules the Roman Empire. Paul was executed while Nero kept on partying. That was not fair!
But, that day is coming. When he was preaching to the intellectuals in Athens, Paul proclaimed (Acts 17:31) that God “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” If Jesus is risen, then that day is coming. No one will get away with anything. All wrongs will be brought to light and punished. All who have trusted in Christ will not face judgment, but will “stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24). In light of eternity, it is a secure and wise investment to deposit your life with Jesus Christ.
Have you made that deposit with your life? That’s where you begin. You commit everything that you are and have to Christ, convinced that He is able to guard your deposit until that day. But, there is another side to banking with God.
Paul exhorts Timothy (1:14), “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure [lit., “the good deposit”] which has been entrusted to you.” When you entrust your life to Jesus Christ, He entrusts His good (the Greek word means “morally excellent,” or “beautiful”) deposit with you. Paul is referring to the gospel, which includes the whole body of Christian truth about the person and work of Jesus Christ.
While the gospel is contained in the written Word, the Bible, at the same time it is preserved and communicated in and through the lives of God’s people. Many people never read the Bible, but they read your life. You are to personify the good news of Jesus Christ in what you believe and how you live. While in verse 12 the emphasis is on whom you believe, in verses 13 & 14 the emphasis is on what you believe. Satan is relentless in attacking the truth of the gospel, because “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). You must guard that deposit. How do you do that? Three ways:
“Retain” (1:13) means to have or hold in one’s charge for safekeeping. It was used of Judas having the money-box (John 12:6; 13:29). “Standard” refers to a pattern or example. Thus Paul is telling Timothy that he must hold to the pattern or blueprint of sound doctrine that Paul had laid out. Because sound doctrine, especially on core issues, such as the gospel, is always under enemy attack, we must guard it and fight for it as if we were guarding a precious treasure.
Obviously, there are many doctrinal disputes among those professing to know Christ. How do you determine what sound doctrine is? More could be said, but there are two clues in our text:
“Sound” means “healthy” (we get our word “hygienic” from it). Sound doctrine is teaching that leads to genuine spiritual health. It results in people being truly born again and growing to maturity in Christ. In Ephesians 4, Paul talks about pastor-teachers equipping the saints. The goal of their teaching is (4:13) that “we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” He goes on to talk about not being tossed around by every wind of doctrine.
In our day, doctrine has become a dirty word. The slogan is, “Doctrine is divisive. Jesus said that the world would know we’re Christians by our love, not by our doctrine. So let’s set aside our differences and come together in the areas where we agree.” That may be fine if we’re talking about doctrines that are peripheral to the gospel. But if we set aside the essentials of the gospel, we have failed to guard the good deposit that God entrusted to us.
Paul tells Timothy to retain the standard of sound words “which you have heard from me.” Paul was an apostle in a sense that no one today can be. He had seen the risen Lord and he was entrusted with authority from Christ to build the church (1 Cor. 9:1; 2 Cor. 13:10; Eph. 2:20). His writings are inspired Scripture (2 Pet. 3:15-16). The New Testament contains apostolic doctrine.
To find out if a teaching is sound, go to the New Testament and compare Scripture with Scripture. Be careful, because Satan knows Scripture, too, and he is subtle in lifting verses out of context, or emphasizing one verse while neglecting another. Systematic theology is the process of fitting all of the relevant verses of Scripture together into a unified whole. If any despise theology as an academic exercise, I would point out that we all are theologians, because we all try to fit the Scriptures together. If you despise theology, I would venture that you are a sloppy theologian and you’re not retaining the standard of sound doctrine that Paul handed down to us in the New Testament. We all are charged to guard the deposit of biblical truth by holding to sound doctrine.
Timothy was to retain the standard of sound words “in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” In other words, holding to sound doctrine is not enough. How you hold to sound doctrine matters greatly!
First, you must hold to sound doctrine in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. You must truly believe what the Bible teaches, to the degree that it filters down into your everyday life. Jesus said (Luke 6:46), “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Genuine faith always results in obedience to Christ.
Second, you must hold to sound doctrine in the love that is in Christ Jesus. Biblical love is not syrupy sentiment, but rather a commitment to seek the highest good of the one loved. It is not mere words, but also good deeds (1 John 3:18). I have known men who hold to sound doctrine, but they do not hold it in genuine love towards others. Rather, they use their knowledge of the truth to prove that they are right and to put down those who are wrong. That is just pride, not love. But, as Paul says (2 Tim. 2:24-25), we must not be quarrelsome, but kind, patient, and gentle towards those who do not know the truth.
How do we guard the deposit of sound doctrine in true godliness? Paul answers,
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He is given to every believer at the moment of salvation (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 12:13). He is directly involved in both aspects of guarding the deposit of the gospel, namely, holding to sound doctrine and living a godly life.
Jesus promised the apostles (John 14:26) that “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things….” John later wrote to a church that was wracked with confusion because of false teachers (1 John 2:27), “As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.”
John was not dispensing with the need for human teachers, in that he himself was at that moment teaching them! Rather, he was writing against the Gnostic false teachers, who claimed that you had to go through them to understand the secret truths about God. John was affirming the ability of believers, indwelled by the Spirit, to interpret the Word of God. As we depend on the Holy Spirit and diligently study the Scriptures, He will enable us to guard the treasure of the gospel that is always under attack.
As we saw, we guard the deposit of the gospel by living in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. If we walk in daily dependence on the Holy Spirit, we will not carry out the deeds of the flesh (Gal. 5:16-21), but will instead produce the fruit of the Spirit (5:22-23): “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control….” Walking in dependence on the Holy Spirit enables our lives to back up the gospel, so that we will guard that good deposit that God has entrusted to us.
In one of his books, Watchman Nee points out that a person will walk differently when he has a treasure in his pocket. If you’re walking down the street and only have a quarter in your pocket, you aren’t very concerned about losing it. But if you’re given $10,000 and told to guard it in your pocket as you go from one place to another, you’ll walk a bit differently than if you only have a quarter. You’ll be careful not to go to certain places, where you could get mugged. There are certain things that you just won’t do, for fear of losing that treasure.
If you have deposited your life with Jesus Christ, then He has deposited the precious treasure of the gospel with you. He asks you to guard it by holding to sound doctrine and by godly living. To be apathetic about growing in sound doctrine or to be careless about how you live as a believer is not to guard the treasure. Walk carefully! Invest your life wisely, which means, invest wisely how you spend each day. To invest your life successfully, deposit it with Christ and guard His deposit with you.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.
Stored in a safe place at the Library of Congress is a small blue box. The label reads: “Contents of the President’s pockets on the night of April 14, 1865.” As you probably know, that was the fateful night on which President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
The box contains five things: (1) A handkerchief embroidered “A. Lincoln”; (2) A country boy’s pen knife; (3) A spectacles case repaired with string; (4) A purse containing a $5 bill—in Confederate money! (5) Some old and worn newspaper clippings.
The clippings are concerned with the great deeds of Abraham Lincoln. One of them reports a speech by John Bright, a British statesman, saying that Abraham Lincoln is one of the greatest men of all time.
That is not news for us who live over a century later. We all know that Lincoln was a great man. But in 1865, the jury was still out. The nation was divided and Lincoln had fierce critics on both sides as he made decisions that he hoped would restore the Union. Remember, Lincoln hadn’t read the history books on himself!
There is something poignantly pathetic about picturing this lonely figure in the Oval Office reaching into his pocket and spreading out these newspaper clippings as he re-read the encouraging words of a man who believed that Lincoln was a great man. It gave him the courage and strength to go on. People, especially leaders, need encouragement! (From an article by Charles Swindoll in the newsletter of the First Evangelical Free Church, Fullerton.)
Shift the scene from the Oval Office of Abraham Lincoln to a dungeon in Rome. It is dark and cold. A dim ray of light filters in through the opening at the top. Inside sits an aged, weathered little Jewish man, chained to a guard. It is Paul of Tarsus awaiting execution. Keep in mind that Paul didn’t know that his life and teachings would radically change the course of world history. All he knew was that the end was near and that many of those whom he had loved and taught were abandoning him like sailors jumping off a sinking ship.
Suddenly, there was a noise above as the guard opened the hatch to his cell. The old man squinted into the light, but couldn’t see who was climbing down the ladder to visit him. But he recognized the friendly voice, “Paul, Paul, I’ve found you at last!”
“Onesiphorus! Is that you, my good friend?” The two men embraced warmly in spite of the stench of the prisoner and his squalid cell. Then Onesiphorus, whose name means “bringing help or profit,” opened his bag and gave Paul fresh bread, fruit, cheese, and wine. He stayed a long time and he came back often, bringing good news of the progress of the gospel across the Roman Empire. Each time he came, Paul was refreshed in body and spirit.
Onesiphorus could have thought, “Paul is strong. After all, he’s the great apostle, who has suffered often. This isn’t his first time in prison. Who am I to try to minister to someone like him?”
But the reality is that everyone needs the ministry of refreshment at times. Even the Lord Jesus, in His hour of agony in Gethsemane, took His three closest disciples with Him and asked them to watch and pray with Him there. If Christ needed it and if Paul needed it, then we all need it. That means that we all need to look for those in need of refreshment and minister to them.
God has called us all to the ministry of refreshment.
As you know, Timothy was not naturally courageous, able to stand against the flow of public opinion when he needed to do so. And so three times in 2 Timothy 1, Paul exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed: He does it directly (1:8); he points to his own example (1:12); and, he calls attention to Onesiphorus, who “was not ashamed of my chains” (1:16). Apart from Paul’s greeting to the household of Onesiphorus (4:19), this is the only reference to this man in the Bible. His fleeting appearance on the stage teaches us three characteristics of a refresher, as seen in Onesiphorus:
We don’t know whether Onesiphorus was in Rome on other business and looked up Paul while there or whether he went there solely on a mission to find Paul. Even if he had other business to take care of while there, I think his main reason for going to Rome was to visit Paul. He had to risk his life to do it. The Jews no doubt had gotten Paul arrested as a man who was stirring up sedition. He was politically dangerous. Visiting Paul in prison would be like visiting a terrorist suspect at Guantanamo Bay. You would make yourself a target for arrest by doing so.
Also, as one author put it, “He went to Rome at a time when every Christian was trying to get out of it” (Albert MacKinnon, cited by Guy King, To My Son [Christian Literature Crusade, 1976], p. 34). Nero was covering Christians with pitch and burning them to light his garden parties. Others were being thrown to the lions in the Colosseum to satisfy the public’s perverted lust for blood. Onesiphorus deliberately went into this dangerous situation and tracked down Paul because he had heard that his beloved friend and spiritual leader was in great need.
Before we look at the positive example of Onesiphorus, Scripture sets before us the negative example of verse 15:
Paul reminds Timothy, who was in Ephesus, the capital of the province of Asia, of what he already knew, that “all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes” (1:15). We do not know who these men were. They may have been ringleaders of the defection or men whom Paul would have thought the least likely to turn against him. Some think that they also turned away from the faith, but others say that they probably were just self-promoting Christians, trying to build a following for themselves by attacking Paul. Whoever they were, they acted with selfishness, cowardice, and unfaithfulness toward Paul at precisely the time he needed their support, when he was arrested.
It is difficult to interpret Paul’s statement that all who were in Asia turned away from him. Just ten years before, Paul had a tearful, affectionate farewell with the Ephesian elders. Although at that time Paul predicted that from among them, some would “arise, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:30), it is hard to believe that they all defected within so short a time. So how should we understand Paul’s words?
It may be the hyperbole of a depressed man, so that Paul means, “many in Asia” had not been willing to risk standing with him when he was arrested. Or, it may refer to “all those who were in a position to help” in the aftermath of his arrest. The Christians who had influence with the Roman authorities, who could have gone to them and argued for Paul’s release, had instead drawn back out of embarrassment or fear. They didn’t want to risk being implicated with Paul on the charge of spreading sedition. Maybe it would hurt their business. So they played it safe to save themselves.
Probably some of these defectors owed their salvation to Paul, humanly speaking. He had spent time nurturing them and teaching them how to live as Christians. He had prayed for them. I can say from personal experience that it is discouraging when you have ministered to people, only to have ringleaders stir up a controversy in the church. Rumors and false accusations are spread behind your back. People that you have personally cared for leave the church without even coming to talk to you. But I take comfort that the same thing happened to Paul. So why should I expect better treatment? When that happens, you need a man like Onesiphorus.
Onesiphorus didn’t tell Paul, “If you ever need anything, let me know.” Rather than thinking about himself and how inconvenient it would be to travel to Rome and find Paul, Onesiphorus demonstrated selfless love, courage, and faithfulness by seeking out Paul. He ministered in four ways:
He just showed up! We don’t know a single word that he said, but his presence spoke volumes. Just going to be with someone in his or her time of need says, “I care about you and I’m here to stand with you.” Sometimes when someone has suffered the loss of a loved one or some other severe crisis, we hesitate to visit because we don’t know what to say. The best thing is probably to say very little. Job’s comforters sat silently with him for seven days, but they got into trouble when they opened their mouths and tried to explain the reason for his trials. Just ask the hurting person questions and let him talk. Or, sit with him in silence.
A magazine once asked the readers for their definitions of a friend. The one that won said, “A friend—the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.”
Paul writes that Onesiphorus “was not ashamed of my chains.” He didn’t cast disparaging looks at Paul’s chains as they clanked in that dungeon. Nor did he ignore them as if they weren’t there. I’m sure that he didn’t tell Paul that if he just had enough faith, God would deliver him. He didn’t share the story of how God had delivered Peter from prison, thus implying, “What’s wrong with you, Paul?” He didn’t offer advice: “Paul, next time you need to be a little more tactful in your preaching.” He just accepted Paul, stench and wretched conditions and all.
This doesn’t mean that we should allow someone to wallow in self-pity or sinful thoughts endlessly without correction. There is a time when we must help a friend think biblically and move on with life. But we all need the refreshment of a friend who accepts our chains without condemnation.
The text does not specifically say that Onesiphorus was cheerful. But based on the fact that Paul was refreshed (the Greek word has the idea of a breath of fresh air), I conclude that Onesiphorus didn’t come under a giant gloom cloud complaining, “Ooh, Paul, it’s bad out there. Nero is killing all the Christians. Many are defecting from the faith. I, only I, am left and they are seeking my life, too.” Maybe it was Onesiphorus who suggested, “Paul, you may be in chains, but the word of God is not” (2:9).
I’m not saying that Onesiphorus was Mr. Pollyanna Positive, who ignored reality. The two men no doubt talked about those who were defecting (1:15). But I surmise that the main thrust of their conversation was on God’s faithfulness and how the gospel was changing lives. When Onesiphorus left, Paul was filled with renewed hope and encouragement in the Lord. When you minister to someone in need, you don’t need to avoid reality and pretend that everything is rosy when it’s not. But your overall demeanor should reflect the joy and hope that we have in Christ.
Thus a refresher seeks out a person in need and ministers by his presence, his acceptance, and his cheerfulness. Also,
Paul says, “he often refreshed me.” He reminds Timothy (1:18), “you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus.” This was Onesiphorus’ lifestyle, to look for ways to refresh others.
There is only one explanation for his track record: he was focused on the Lord and others, not on himself. Many go around thinking, “I need to have my needs met.” They often leave church disappointed that others did not meet their needs. Their focus was on themselves.
On the other hand, there are those that are always thinking, “Lord, use me to minister to others.” The interesting thing is that these servants usually are fulfilled and satisfied with the joy of the Lord. When the tired disciples first served the loaves and fishes to the hungry multitude, they discovered that they each got a full basket of leftovers. So the first mark of a refresher is that he seeks out those in need and ministers by his presence, his acceptance, his cheerfulness, and his persistent focus on others.
Crowd opinion is always selfish: “Protect yourself! Look out for number one! I wouldn’t get involved like that if I were you. You’ll only get hurt!” But Onesiphorus wasn’t swayed by such notions. This brief sketch reveals three things about selfless service:
To do what Onesiphorus did, you must operate on the conviction that you are called to serve rather than to be served. Sometimes this means going against crowd opinion to stand alone with those who aren’t popular. Some of the believers in Ephesus had turned against Paul or at least were ignoring him in his time of need. But sometimes even the Christian crowd is wrong. We need to follow Christ, not the crowd.
I sometimes watch the evening news while I’m exercising. There is a commercial right now that I appreciate. The scene is at a high school. A bully knocks the books out of the hand of a weaker boy, while the bully’s friends jeer. But another boy walks over, asks the boy if he’s all right, and helps him pick up his books. I don’t know who sponsors the ad, but it encourages young people to have the conviction to do the right thing.
At church, I sometimes notice people talking to their friends, while a visitor sits alone nearby. We’ve gone to churches on vacation where no one made an effort to talk with us, even though we hung around after the service. It’s not a great feeling. The golden rule would say, “Treat a newcomer as you would want to be treated.” But to do it you have to have the conviction to say to your friends, “Let’s go over and meet that new person.” Otherwise, you’ll go along with the crowd.
Paul says (1:17), “he eagerly searched for me and found me.” Just getting from Ephesus to Rome was no small feat in those days. But when he finally got to that huge city, Onesiphorus had to look all over for Paul. The prison officials were probably suspicious of anyone trying to track down a prisoner, and they usually weren’t noted for their helpful customer service. But Onesiphorus persisted until he found Paul.
Some have suggested, and it may be likely, that because Paul sends greetings to the household of Onesiphorus (4:19), but not to Onesiphorus himself, that perhaps he had also been imprisoned or executed because of his association with Paul in Rome. The main problem with that view is that then it seems that Paul is offering a prayer for the dead when he says (1:18), “The Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day.” The Catholic Church uses that verse to support prayers for the dead.
But the idea that our prayers could change the eternal destiny of someone that has died goes against all of Scripture. The moment a person dies, if he has believed in Jesus Christ as His Savior he goes instantly to heaven. Or he goes to hell because he rejected Christ. There is no such place as Purgatory, and all of the prayers in the world cannot get a deceased person into heaven if he died as an unbeliever. So we must understand Paul’s words as a sympathetic desire that the Lord will reward Onesiphorus for his sacrificial service.
But whether he died or not, it was not convenient for Onesiphorus to minister to Paul in these difficult conditions. It seldom is convenient to serve. Of course, there are times when we must say no to requests or opportunities to serve simply because we are finite and must juggle other demands. But we’ve all got to fight against the selfish mentality that only serves when it’s convenient. Usually, it’s not!
Both in verse 16 and in 4:19, Paul mentions the family or household of Onesiphorus. Paul’s request that the Lord grant them mercy shows that they had to pay a price by releasing Onesiphorus to serve Paul.
I do not agree with those who sacrifice their families on the altar of ministry. One of the most tragic stories that I have read was written by the daughter of the late Bob Pierce, who founded World Vision. He was gone for months every year, preaching in Asia while his family was floundering without him in California. His marriage finally broke up and one daughter committed suicide. The daughter who wrote the book had to work through many deep problems as a result of her father’s abandoning the family. The Bible is clear that a man’s family must be in order before he is qualified to serve as a leader in the local church. It requires adequate time together as a family to foster healthy relationships.
Yet at the same time, a family needs to be committed to serving the body of Christ. It’s not right to focus on the family to the detriment of serving Christ. That just fosters selfish living. I like the balance that Edith Schaeffer describes in What is a Family? [Revell, 1975]. As you may know, the Schaeffer’s raised their children at L’Abri in an open home, where many people came at all hours. In one chapter, Mrs. Schaeffer describes the family as a door with hinges and a lock. The hinges open to welcome those in need, but the lock gives the family time to grow and be refreshed for ministry. They did not damage their family by over-commitment to ministry, and yet they instilled in their children a ministry-mindset.
Thus a refresher seeks out a person in need. He bucks crowd opinion to serve selflessly. Finally,
He will receive “mercy from the Lord on that day.” “That day” is the day of judgment, as we saw in 1:12. Paul was living in view of “that day.” You may wonder, “Why does a servant like Onesiphorus need mercy on that day?” Phygelus and Hermogenes need mercy! But why Onesiphorus?
The answer is, we all need mercy from the Lord on that day! Perhaps Paul was echoing Jesus’ Beatitude (Matt. 5:7), “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” It is not that anyone can earn or deserve mercy because of his good deeds. We all deserve God’s judgment, because we all have sinned. Even servants like Onesiphorus have to battle selfishness on a daily basis. So we all must cast ourselves on God’s mercy as our only hope for eternity.
I read about an 11-year-old boy who got his first job working at a garden center. His dad was anxious about his first day on the job, so he stopped by before noon to check on him. He sensed that something was wrong, especially when he saw a tear trickle down his son’s cheek. The boy explained, “When I came to work this morning, they said they’d pay me 50 cents an hour. I’ve been here three hours now, and nobody’s been around with my 50 centses!”
If you get involved in the ministry of refreshment, you need to remember that story. The rewards will be handed out in eternity. You may or may not see rewards in this life. The world may think you’re stupid to sacrifice yourself for others and the church may forget to recognize you at the awards ceremony. But the Lord does not forget. He will be merciful to you on that day.
In one sentence, the Bible writes the biographies of Phygelus and Hermogenes: they turned away from Paul in his time of need. Whether because of fear or embarrassment or selfish motives, they did not minister refreshment. In another sentence, the Bible writes the biography of Onesiphorus: he often refreshed Paul and was not ashamed of his chains.
How would the Bible write your biography in one sentence? Do you seek out those in need to minister refreshment? Do you serve selflessly, no matter what others are saying or doing? If so, the Lord will reward you in that day.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.
Of all the concepts in the Bible, one of the most important for you to understand and apply daily to your life is that of God’s grace. If you do not understand God’s grace, you do not understand the gospel, because grace is at the core of the gospel (Acts 20:24). Not only are we saved by grace, but also we are to grow in grace (2 Pet. 3:18). God’s grace motivates us to serve Him (1 Cor. 15:10; 2 Cor. 9:8). His grace sustains us in our trials (2 Cor. 12:9). When we are needy, we are invited to come to God’s throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need (Heb. 4:16). We are told to fix our hope completely on the grace to be brought to us when Jesus Christ returns (1 Pet. 1:13). The very last verse of the Bible reads (Rev. 22:21), “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”
Because God’s grace is such a vital concept, it is not surprising that the enemy of our souls works overtime to subvert God’s grace by spreading error and confusion about its true nature. Every false religion on earth promotes salvation either totally by human works or by some mixture of God’s grace with human works. Among God’s people who have been saved by His grace, the enemy promotes confusion about how to live the Christian life apart from God’s grace. Some promote holiness through legalism, which only fosters the most pervasive of sins, namely, pride. Others turn the grace of God into licentiousness, thus denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 4).
Because God’s grace is such an important concept and because I frequently encounter those who do not understand it or live by it, I thought that it would be profitable to devote an entire message to 2 Timothy 2:1, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” The entire paragraph runs through verse 7. The theme of these verses is fruitful Christian service. Timothy, as we saw in chapter 1, was prone to shrink back from exercising his spiritual gifts because of shyness or fear of controversy. Three times Paul exhorts Timothy, either directly or indirectly by example, not to be ashamed of the gospel or of Paul, who was in prison because of the gospel (1:8, 12, 16).
Now, in 2:1-7, he encourages Timothy to exercise his gifts so as to be a fruitful Christian. He is saying: To be a fruitful Christian, there is a person that you must be (strong in grace; 2:1); there is a task that you must do (entrust the gospel to faithful men, who will teach others also; 2:2); and, there is a price that you must pay (suffer hardship; 2:3-7). He uses three examples of those who suffer hardship for a greater goal: the soldier (2:3, 4); the athlete (2:5); and the farmer (2:7). Then (2:8-13), he gives three more examples of how present suffering leads to future glory: Jesus Christ, risen from the dead (2:8); Paul, suffering so that God’s elect will obtain eternal glory (2:9-10); and, an ancient Christian hymn, which teaches that endurance results in reward (2:11-13).
With that overview, today we will focus on verse 1, which in the context is saying,
To be a fruitful Christian, you must be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
The “you” is emphatic. The idea is that in contrast to the prevailing mood of those in Asia who are turning away from Paul (1:15), Timothy must stand firm. John Stott (Guard the Gospel [IVP1973], p. 49) paraphrases, “Never mind what other people may be thinking of or saying or doing. Never mind how weak and shy you yourself may feel. As for you, Timothy, be strong!”
“Therefore” links these verses back to the exhortations and examples of endurance and falling away from chapter 1. Paul’s flow of thought is, “Therefore, in light of the great gospel message deposited with us and in light of the examples that you have in Onesiphorus and in me, if you want to endure and use your gifts for God’s purpose and glory, you must be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
Paul addresses Timothy tenderly as “my son” or “my child.” This reminds Timothy that he owes his salvation, humanly speaking, to the apostle Paul. It also reminds him that Paul’s exhortations flowed out of his fatherly heart of love. Perhaps also there is the thought that as a child, Timothy was prone to be led astray by the crowd mentality that was turning away from Paul and the gospel of God’s grace. To be strong in grace we must stand firm against the enemy’s relentless attempts to pollute God’s grace with human merit (Gal. 2:4-5).
Flowing out of the situation in Ephesus that Paul was seeking to correct and out of Paul’s entire ministry, there are four requirements if we want to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus:
As you know, Paul was constantly plagued by the Judaizers, who perverted the gospel of God’s grace by teaching that to be saved, you must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses (Acts 15:1, 5). He wrote Galatians to correct this error. He said that it is a different gospel, which is not a gospel at all and that all who teach such a false gospel are to be accursed or damned (Gal. 1:6-9).
In 1 Timothy 1, Paul repeatedly emphasizes the gospel. He was an apostle “according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus,” which is the gospel. He reminds Timothy of his own conversion (1:5). He exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, but to join Paul “in suffering for the gospel” (1:8). He mentions how Christ “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (1:10). In the context, the deposit which Timothy is to guard is the gospel (1:14).
Thus when Paul exhorts Timothy to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2:1), at least in part Paul was thinking of the message of the gospel of God’s grace. Every attack on the gospel is an attack on the grace of God. Some false religions blatantly teach a system of human works to earn salvation. Others are more subtle, mixing God’s grace with human works. But any teaching that adds works to God’s grace diminishes Christ’s work on the cross. It would mean that His substitutionary death is not sufficient to save us so that we must add something from ourselves to supplement His death. But that pollutes the pure stream of God’s grace.
Grace is properly defined as God’s unmerited favor. It is not “the desire and power to do God’s will,” as Bill Gothard teaches. I agree that God gives us the desire and power to do His will (Phil. 2:13), but that is not grace. Grace means that God freely gives us eternal life completely apart from anything we are or anything we do. In fact, He gives it in spite of who we are and what we do (Rom. 5:6-10). God’s grace stems solely from His character and His sovereign will, not from anything in us. God did not bestow His grace on us because He foresaw that we would believe in Him. That would take glory from God alone, and share it with us as the cause of our salvation. He did not give us His grace because He saw great potential in us or because we are basically good people or because we have done good works in His name.
You may wonder, “If grace comes to us totally apart from anything that we do, then why does the Bible say that God gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5)? Doesn’t that imply that we must do something to merit or earn His grace?” The answer is that by its very nature, grace can only be received by the humble, because the proud person does not see or acknowledge his need for grace. The proud person wants to help pay his own way. But the humble person recognizes, “I deserve only God’s wrath and judgment. If salvation depends on me, I’m doomed.” So he cries out to God for mercy, and thus God gets all the glory when He saves him.
In order for you to understand clearly what I’m talking about, I must be specific here by mentioning the Roman Catholic Church. There is a strong movement today, led by well-known men like Charles Colson, Max Lucado, and the Promise Keepers movement, to set aside our differences with Catholics and come together in the areas where we agree. The problem with that thinking is that the Roman Catholic Church teaches a different way of salvation that is not salvation at all. It teaches that we are saved by God’s grace through faith, but not by grace through faith alone. Rather, we must cooperate with God’s grace by adding our works and in combination, eventually we may accumulate enough merit to be saved. But that is the essence of the Galatian heresy. Here is how the official Catholic teaching reads (The Councils of Trent, in Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom [Baker]):
If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified: let him be anathema. (Session 6, Canon 12, in Schaff, 2:113.)
If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof: let him be anathema. (Session 6, Canon 24, in Schaff, 2:115.)
In other words, the Catholic Church declares that we are justified before God by grace through faith, but not through faith alone. Rather, our good works must be added to faith in order both to preserve and increase our right standing before God. This process is not completed at the initial point of faith in Christ, and not even in this life, but only, maybe, in Purgatory. (For further treatment, see Justification by Faith Alone [Soli Deo Gloria], ed. by Don Kistler, especially pp. 7-14, by John MacArthur, Jr.)
This gospel of God’s grace alone is also under attack by the so-called “New Perspective on Paul.” While I do not have time to deal with that, it only shows that Satan is relentless in attacking the gospel of God’s grace. To be strong in grace, you must be clear on and stand firmly on salvation by grace alone through faith alone.
The Greek here may be translated either, “be strong by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” or “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Either concept is biblically valid, since it is by God’s grace that we are strong and we are strong in God’s grace. But in the context here, it seems preferable to take it as, “be strong in the sphere of grace that is in Christ Jesus.” As you know, Paul used the phrase “in Christ” dozens of times. It refers to the amazing truth that when you trust Christ as your Savior, God views you as totally identified with Jesus Christ. If God accepts Jesus Christ, then He accepts you, because you are in His Son. Paul puts it this way (Eph.1:3): “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” All of the riches of Christ are ours because we are “in Him”!
Every once in a while, you read a bizarre story of a person who had a fortune in the bank, but he lived and died like a pauper because he did not draw on his vast resources. Many Christians are like that. Everything that God has to give us is in Christ and we are in Christ. But either through ignorance or unbelief, we do not lay hold of these riches in our daily lives. Our text says that there is grace to be found in Christ Jesus. We need that grace daily because we fall short daily. Go to God’s Word and by faith lay hold of the promises of God that are yours in Christ. If the enemy accuses you because you have sinned, confess your sins to God and lay hold of the grace that is in Christ Jesus. If you need victory over some stubborn sin, lay hold of the truth that you died with Christ and that you are raised up with Him, so that sin no longer has dominion (Rom. 6:1-11). To be strong in grace, you must understand your new position in Christ through God’s abundant grace.
Legalism is the attempt to be holy by keeping certain standards (usually manmade) without dealing with your heart before God. The Pharisees in Christ’s day were concerned about ceremonial purity, fastidiously observing their rules about washing their hands and pots and pans. But they ignored obeying God on the heart level (Mark 7:1-23). They practiced their supposed righteousness to look good to other men, but they did not live to please God, who examines the heart (Matt. 6:1-18). Legalists always boast in the flesh, but the Christian is to boast in the cross (Gal. 6:13-14).
Paul dealt with this perpetual problem in many places in his letters. But note especially Colossians 2:20-23:
If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
Then (in 3:1-4) he goes on to talk about our new position in Christ, how we have been raised up with Him and must, therefore, keep seeking the things above. In other words, legalism never produces genuine godliness because it only deals with the flesh, not with the heart. Through grace, we have died to the flesh and we are made alive in Him. Living in view of these glorious truths is the key to holiness.
I should also mention that some react against legalism and go into licentiousness, claiming to be under grace. I have heard Bible teachers say that legalism and licentiousness are two opposite extremes, with grace being the balance point in the middle. I have also often heard of grace being portrayed as sloppy, hang-loose living. But that is to misunderstand these terms. In reality, legalism and licentiousness are flip sides of the same coin, because they both appeal to the flesh. The legalist takes pride in his outward observance of certain rules. The licentious person indulges the flesh, saying that it doesn’t matter because he is under grace. But both are simply living in accordance with the flesh. Living under grace does not mean that we are free to be sloppy about obeying God’s moral commandments.
To live under the true grace of God in Christ always leads to a desire to please God in thought and deed. Note Titus 2:11-12: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.” God’s true grace always leads to holiness. Or, as Paul put it (1 Cor. 15:10), “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them [the apostles], yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” God’s grace motivated Paul to labor for the Lord, not to kick back and take it easy.
Thus to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, you must be clear and stand firmly on the gospel of God’s grace. You also must be clear on your standing in Christ by grace. You must avoid appeals to become godly through legalism, as well as the other danger of thinking that God’s grace allows you to tolerate sin.
Implicit in the phrase “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” is also the statement, “Recognize your own weakness so that you rely completely on His strength.” To the extent that we think that we are strong, we will not rely on God’s sufficiency and power. In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul tells how he was burdened excessively beyond his strength, so that he despaired even of life. He adds (2 Cor. 1:9), “indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.” We will only be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus to the extent that we are weak in ourselves and cast ourselves on the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul had an amazing revelation of the glory of heaven, which may have happened when he was stoned and left for dead (2 Cor. 12:1-4; Acts 14:19-20). But God knew that having such a vision of heaven could easily lead Paul to exalt himself. Thus God sent Paul a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to keep him from exalting himself. This may have been a physical ailment or it may refer to the Judaizers, who dogged his every step. But whatever it was, Paul cried out to God to remove it. In that context, God said to Paul (2 Cor. 12:9), “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul goes on to add (12:10), “when I am weak, then I am strong.”
In the context of talking about preaching the gospel, Paul exclaimed (2 Cor. 2:16), “And who is adequate for these things?” A few verses later (3:5), he answered his own question: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” In himself, Timothy was not adequate to stand firm against the false teachers who were undermining the gospel. He was certainly not adequate to fill the sandals of the apostle Paul (who would be!). But if he was strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, that grace would be sufficient for him in every situation. That same grace is sufficient for you.
The well-known British preacher, Charles Spurgeon, was riding home after a heavy day’s work. He felt weary and depressed, when suddenly the text came to him, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” It came home to him with the emphasis on two words, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” Spurgeon said, “Doubtless it is. Surely the grace of the infinite God is more than sufficient for such a mere insect as I am,” and he burst out laughing as he thought on how far the supply exceeded all his needs.
He said that it was as if he were a little fish in the sea, and in his thirst he said, “Alas, I shall drink up the ocean.” Then the Father of the waters lifted up His head and smilingly replied, “Little fish, the boundless main is sufficient for thee.” The thought made unbelief appear supremely ridiculous, as indeed it is (Lectures to My Students [Zondervan, 1965 reprint], pp. 193-194). To be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, you must be weak in yourself, but strong in Christ’s sufficiency.
As I said, the context of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy is that of being fruitful as a Christian. To be a fruitful Christian, you must be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. It will cause you to revel often in His amazing grace that saved you. It will sustain you as you serve Him. It will flow through you to others and attract them to Christ, because His grace is supremely attractive. I pray that we all will be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus!
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.
Pastor John MacArthur (MacArthur Commentary Library [E-4 Group, CD, vol. 2], on 2 Tim. 2:2) tells about a state invitational track meet during his college years, when he represented his team as the second man in the mile relay. The first man ran a fast first leg, and John did well on the second. But soon after he passed the baton to the third man, one of their best runners, that runner stopped, walked onto the infield, and sat down.
At first the other team members thought that he had pulled a hamstring or twisted an ankle. MacArthur ran across the field and asked, “What happened?” “I don’t know,” he replied, “I just didn’t feel like running anymore.”
Understandably, his teammates, the coach, and everyone else from the college were quite upset. “How could you do that?” they asked. “Don’t you know you’re not just representing yourself, but your team and your school? Have you forgotten all the time the coach has invested in you and that your teammates have invested to get where we are? How could you, in one brief, selfish second, destroy all of that?”
MacArthur continues, “On an infinitely more important level, countless leaders in the church have simply dropped out of the Lord’s service, some with no better reason than the apathy of that collegiate runner.”
Timothy was not yet at the point of dropping out of the race. But because of his timid personality he hated conflict and criticism, which are an inescapable part of leadership. The hardship of standing for the truth in the face of many who were defecting was tempting him to draw back and not use his spiritual gifts to uphold and hand off the truth. Paul, who was awaiting execution in a prison cell in Rome, was handing Timothy the baton. In our text, he is not only telling Timothy to take the baton and carry it faithfully, but also to hand it off to others who will carry it faithfully and in turn hand it off to others after them. It is because of such faithful men down through history that we are here today.
As we saw last week, the main theme of 2:1-7 is being a fruitful Christian. Every true Christian wants to be fruitful in serving the Lord Jesus Christ. To be fruitful, there is a person that you must be: Strong in grace (2:1). There is a task that you must do: Entrust the truth to other faithful believers (2:2). There is a price that you must pay: Suffer hardship as a soldier, an athlete, and a hard-working farmer (2:3-7). The message of 2:2 is:
To be a fruitful Christian, you must entrust the truth to others who will entrust it to others also.
Before we examine this verse, let me point out that it is applicable on several levels. The primary application is to pastors and other church leaders. Our task is to hand off God’s truth to other faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. But the text also applies to every Christian in every relationship with other Christians. Christian husbands must hand off the truth that God teaches them to their wives. While the husband is responsible to shepherd his family, the communication is not just one way. Wives also must share with their husbands the truth that God teaches them. Parents are responsible to entrust the truth to their children. More mature believers must see their responsibility to impart biblical truth to younger believers. All of us who know Christ are responsible to share the gospel with those who are lost, so that they may be saved.
The idea is that if God has entrusted any truth from His Word to you, it is not to make you feel good and then keep it to yourself. He gives it to you so that you will pass it on to others. Keep in mind that verse 2 follows and is built on the truth of verse 1. To entrust God’s truth to others, you must be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. With that as a foundation, verse 2 gives us three requirements if we want to be fruitful for the Lord:
Of course, we must impart to others more than mere content. Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he had imparted to them not only the gospel, but also his own life, because they had become very dear to him (1 Thess. 2:8). So our text assumes that the truth that we impart is clothed in a godly life of love for others. But the clear focus of 2 Timothy 2:2 is on the content of sound doctrine. Paul mentions what Timothy had heard Paul teach and he tells Timothy that he is to impart these truths so that other men may teach them to others also. There are two aspects to this:
This verse implies what our culture denies, that there is a definable body of spiritual truth that can be known and handed off faithfully to others. We live in a culture permeated with the view that spiritual truth is a matter of personal preference, much like your favorite flavor of ice cream. If something is true for you, that’s nice, but don’t be so arrogant as to imply that your “truth” is true for everyone else!
As it often happens, the prevailing worldview seeps into the evangelical church. Studies have shown that one-third of America’s baby boomers identify themselves as born-again Christians, but half of those say that religions other than Christianity are equally good and true. One third of “born-again” baby boomers believe in reincarnation and astrology (Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion, Wade Clark Roof, as reported in “The Watchman Expositor,” Vol. 18, #1, 2001, p. 22).
In No Place for Truth [Eerdmans, 1993], David Wells shows how the evangelical church has largely abandoned doctrinal truth. He argues (p. 13) that “the central function of the pastor has changed from that of a truth broker to manager of the small enterprise we call churches.” Wells argues (pp. 102-103) that the New Testament contains the apostolic exposition of the truth about God and Christ and that to be a believer has always meant to believe what the apostles taught. He adds (p. 103),
This is why the apostles not only framed Christian faith in doctrinal terms but called for its preservation and protection in this form. There is no Christian faith in the absence of “sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:10; Tit. 1:9), “sound instruction” (1 Tim. 6:3), or the “pattern of sound teaching” (2 Tim. 1:13-14). It is this doctrine, or, more precisely, the truth it contains and expresses, that was “taught” by the apostles and “delivered” to the Church. It is this message that is our only ground for hope (Tit. 1:9) and salvation (1 Cor. 15:2; 1 Pet. 1:23-25). Without it, we have neither the Father nor the Son (2 John 9). Indeed, Paul says that we can grow in Christ only if we stay within this doctrinal framework, for its truth provides the means of our growth (Col. 2:6). It is no wonder that Christians are urged not to depart from the apostolic teaching they received “in the beginning” ( John 2:7, 24, 26; 3:11) or from what they had heard (Heb. 2:1), for it is the “faith once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). Nor should we be amazed to read of Paul’s admonition to Timothy that it is only by adhering to this “good teaching” that he will become a “good minister of Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 4:6). For all of these reasons, the apostles instructed believers to “guard” this faith (2 Tim. 1:13-14; 4:3; cf. Tit. 1:9; Gal. 1:9), defend it (Jude 3), “stand firm” in it, not to “drift” from it, to become “established” in it, and to transmit it intact to succeeding generations.
There is a noticeable emphasis on the themes of “sound doctrine,” teaching, and truth in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 1:3-5, 10; 3:2; 4:1, 6, 11, 13, 16; 5:17; 6:2, 3, 20. 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:2, 14-16, 18, 23-26; 3:7-8, 10, 13, 15-17; 4:2-4, 15; Titus 1:1, 9-11, 14; 2:1, 3, 7, 10, 15; 3:9). As Paul handed the baton to Timothy and Titus, he wanted them to hold unswervingly to the truth, because it was under attack. As we saw in our recent study of 1 John, which was written about 25 years after Paul’s death, false teachers were promoting serious errors in this same church of Ephesus, where Timothy was when Paul wrote 2 Timothy to him.
David Wells points out (ibid., p. 140) that, “shorn of its theology, evangelicalism has become simply one more expression of the self movement, which also includes many constituencies that do not have the remotest interest in God but with whom evangelicals often make common cause in satisfying the self.” That statement was reinforced to me this week as I read a review of Joel Osteen’s best-seller, Your Best Life Now [Faith Words, 2004]. The author, Greg Gilbert, says that although the book is sprinkled with references to God and the Bible throughout, it is not Christian in any way. He concludes (in email newsletter from 9 Marks Ministries, October, 2006, Volume 3, Issue 8, at www.9marks.org),
The really frightening thing is that 5 million people have bought Your Best Life Now, and a good portion of those have probably walked away thinking they have read the Christian gospel. They think they understand the message of the Bible, and it is me. My success. My self-esteem. My house. My car. My promotion.
If that is what is passing for Christianity today, then the need for true gospel preachers is more than severe. Someone needs to tell these people—even if they are not inclined to hear; even if it’s over the heads of their own “pastors”—that the gospel is not about collaborating with God to make yourself successful. It is not about getting more stuff and being more prosperous. It is about God forgiving people for their sin through the death of his Son, bringing them to life from the spiritual dead, and conforming them to the image of Jesus Christ. Whether Joel Osteen preaches those truths in his church of thirty-thousand, I have no idea. But he certainly has not written about them.
So to obey Paul’s commandment in our text, we must begin by affirming the existence and importance of absolute truth in the spiritual realm, which is revealed to us in the Bible. Without that truth, we have nothing to hand off to anyone!
You can’t impart to others something that you’re fuzzy on. You must be clear about the truth to hand it off, and to be clear about the truth, you’ve got to engage in a lifetime of study and growth. We may legitimately envy Timothy’s unique place in history, because he heard Paul teach the Scriptures on numerous occasions. More than that, as they ate together or traveled together, Timothy could ask Paul any question about any subject in the Bible. But even though Timothy had such great advantages, Paul still had to exhort him (2 Tim. 2:15), “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” He still had to work hard at studying the Word!
What does Paul mean when he tells Timothy (2:2) that he had heard these things “in the presence of many witnesses”? The phrase is literally translated, “through many witnesses.” The idea is not that Timothy was taught by these witnesses, but rather that these witnesses could all affirm the truth that Paul taught. He taught the same thing wherever he went. There were witnesses in Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth, Rome, and all the other cities that Paul had ministered in, who could confirm the message that he proclaimed. It wasn’t secret, inner-circle “truth” as the Gnostics would later would claim to know. It was publicly proclaimed, and these witnesses also could confirm that Timothy’s doctrine squared away with Paul’s doctrine.
Paul’s uniform testimony to the truth teaches us that we can’t bow to the pressure to soften the truth in order to be popular. Pastors, like anyone else, want to be liked. And there is added pressure, because if people get offended by what you preach, they’ll go down the road to the next church and your congregation will dwindle. Since numbers represent success, many pastors become politicians, who dodge the hard aspects of the truth so as not to offend anyone. But as we’ll see in chapter 4, Paul specifically exhorts Timothy not to fall into playing to the crowd. He is to preach the Word, which requires reproving, rebuking, and exhorting (4:2).
While it is especially incumbent on pastors and elders to be able to exhort in sound doctrine (Tit. 1:9), this also applies to every believer. There are so many winds of false doctrine blowing in our day that if you do not study the truth God’s Word for yourself, you will surely be blown off course. To be fruitful as a Christian, the first requirement is to be clear on sound doctrine.
I’m not referring to overweight men, but to men who are faithful, available, and teachable. (I didn’t come up with this acronym myself; I got it years ago from Bill Yaeger, who was then pastor of First Baptist Church of Modesto, California.)
“Entrust” is the verb related to the noun that means a deposit (1:12, 14). It refers to entrusting your valuable treasure to a trusted friend to guard for you during your absence. Believers have entrusted their lives to Jesus Christ, being convinced that He is able to guard that deposit until the day of judgment (1:12). In turn, Christ has entrusted the precious treasure of the gospel with us, and we must guard it with our lives (1:14). We cannot compromise the truth of the gospel or we are unfaithful to guard the deposit. But not only are we to guard this deposit, also we are to hand it off or entrust it to FAT men:
“Faithful” implies that these men are believers, that they are loyal, and that they are reliable (William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon [Westminster Press, 1975], p. 158). We cannot always judge accurately in advance who will prove to be faithful. Paul was disappointed by Phygelus, Hermogenes (1:15), and Demas (4:10), plus probably many more. But if you want to be fruitful, look for younger believers who give evidence of being faithful and entrust the great truths of the faith to them.
This process of entrusting sound doctrine to others takes time. Some people, as sincere as they may be, are just too busy with other things. In some cases, their busyness is a matter of wrong priorities. They are simply not interested in growing in the things of God. They need to be challenged to seek first the kingdom of God. In other cases, they are at an inescapably busy time in life and they can only do so much until they get through that phase. But you can only work with those who can make the time to get together to study the Word with you.
Paul says that these men must be able to teach others also. No one is able to teach well unless he also is teachable. If Timothy had not been willing to receive teaching from Paul, he would not have been qualified to teach others also. A know-it-all or a stubborn, self-willed man who wants to argue incessantly will not be able to teach others, because people will resist his arrogance. Being teachable means being willing to change your views when you become convinced from Scripture that you were in error. It means being willing to learn from other godly men and not claiming to have the corner on the truth. And, of course, it means having a never-satisfied hunger to know God and understand His Word in deeper ways. We never “arrive” spiritually in this life.
So to be fruitful for Christ, you must be clear on sound doctrine. You must entrust the truth to those who are faithful, available, and teachable. Finally,
The task of reaching the world’s more than six billion souls for Christ seems impossible! I say it reverently, but God seemingly could have devised a more efficient method. Angels could have gone to every people group on earth with the clear message of the gospel much sooner than we bumbling humans have been able to do it! Yet He chose to work through us.
His plan is that of spiritual multiplication. There are four generations listed in our text: Paul, Timothy, faithful men, and the others that they teach also. If you teach someone and he bottles up the truth and doesn’t pass it on, the process stalls out there. You are involved in addition, not multiplication. But if those you teach will teach others who in turn teach others, you’re engaging in a ministry of multiplication. While it’s slow at the start, after a few years it can reach millions.
Suppose that two boys had a very rich father. He made them an offer: they could choose to receive either $100,000 per day for 31 days, or one penny the first day, doubled each day for 31 days. If one boy chose the $100,000 per day, at the end of 31 days he would have $3,100,000. But the boy who chose the penny doubled each day would come out with $2,147,483,648!
When it comes to spiritual multiplication, the process doesn’t happen quickly or without any failures. But the point stands, that to be fruitful, look for those that you can teach who will not just study for their own benefit. Rather, look for those who will be able to teach others also. It is a great joy to see, as we are seeing today at FCF (commissioning a young couple to go to a Muslim country) young people going out to spread God’s truth to those in places where there is very little gospel witness.
To apply this verse to your life, ask yourself two questions: First, who is my Paul? If you are a woman, who is my Pauline? In other words, to whom do you look as a spiritual mentor? A word of caution: Don’t sit around with your spiritual umbilical cord in hand, waiting for the opportune place to plug it in. When I was younger in the faith, I prayed about this and explored a few opportunities, but everything I tried fell flat. I couldn’t find anyone to be in the role of a Paul to me. Finally, I started reading the lives of the great men of God, such as George Muller, Charles Spurgeon, John Calvin, John Bunyan, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and a host of others. They have served as my spiritual mentors. I look forward to meeting them and sitting down for long chats in heaven! But ask God first for a living model.
Second, who are my Timothy’s? I don’t know of a female variation of Timothy for the ladies, but Titus 2:4 commands the older women to train the younger women in the things of God. If you have been a believer for at least a year or two, you should be looking for someone younger in the faith that you can hand off God’s truth to. If you’re not doing that, I strongly encourage you to get involved in the lives of other believers, to help them grow and to grow yourself. Our Forums of Four are one such venue.
One further word of caution: Don’t opt for perfection or nothing. Sometimes we idealize the Paul-Timothy relationship to the point that because we can’t even come close to it (because of job or family commitments), we end up doing nothing at all. It’s not perfect to meet with some guys once a week for an hour or two, but it’s better than nothing. God can use it tremendously in the lives of younger believers. Ask Him to give you a few younger believers to entrust the truth to. Get together regularly, get into the Word, pray for one another, and share together in the things of God. He will use you to bear fruit for eternity in the lives of others.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.
Why would anyone willingly embrace suffering? The current “Mountain Living Magazine” (Oct., 2006, pp. 26-28) features a cover story on Olympic-hopeful runner Paul Stoneham, who attends FCF. The article chronicles his many years of injuries as a result of his running career. It begins by quoting Paul’s description of his drive and inner resolve with running: “My relationship with Christ has paralleled my running career and I don’t know if next week I will be injured. There is a level of faith required in all these things…. God is sovereign over what happens to me—and I find peace in that.” To reach his goal, Paul puts his body through twice-a-day workouts, racking up 120 miles a week. His commitment to the goal motivates him to endure the hardships.
In our text, the apostle Paul wants Timothy (and us) to join him in suffering hardship for the gospel. That’s a tough sell in our comfort-oriented culture! We recently bought a car off of Ebay. I was talking with the salesman in Florida, who told me that he had visited Sedona, but he left after a few days because he was bored. I asked, “How could you be bored with all of those beautiful hiking trails to explore?” He roared back, “Hiking! I’m 5 foot 9, 285 pounds. The only place I hike is to the parking garage. My idea of a great vacation is an air-conditioned hotel with a big screen TV!” I thought to myself, “Then why leave home?”
But that’s the mentality of the typical American couch potato: Park as close as you can to the store, so you don’t have to walk more than a few yards. Drive a block rather than walk. Sit in your recliner with the remote in hand, watching all of those crazy guys on TV run all over the field. Your exercise for the day is to walk to the kitchen for more chips and drinks. And you want me to embrace hardship for the gospel?
I will warn you in advance, this is a convicting text! How many of us, myself included, willingly embrace hardship for the sake of the gospel? How many of us keep ourselves unentangled from the affairs of everyday life so that we may please our Commander-in-Chief? How many of us discipline ourselves as athletes for the kingdom so that we may win the prize? How many of us toil in the unglamorous task of farming God’s fields so that we may enjoy the crops? These are the illustrations that Paul uses to make the point:
To be a fruitful Christian, you must willingly suffer hardship for the gospel now in view of future rewards.
This text assumes that as a Christian, you desire to be fruitful for Jesus Christ. Is that a valid assumption in your case? If it is, you either are serving Christ in some capacity or are seeking Him about where He wants you to serve. In other words, underlying Paul’s command to suffer hardship (it is a command, not a nice suggestion!) is Jesus’ command (Matt. 6:33), “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” “All these things” refers to the things that unbelievers eagerly seek: food, clothing, a nice place to live, and other material possessions.
Jesus’ command applies to every believer, not just to those in so-called “full time” Christian service. Likewise, Paul’s command certainly applies to pastors and missionaries, but it also applies to every soldier in Christ’s army, which is to say, to every believer.
The convicting word in Jesus’ command is, first. If He had only said, “Seek the kingdom of God,” we could have added that to our list of things to do. That would be somewhat manageable. But to seek it first means that we must bump it up to the top of the list. It has to control everything else! Many Christians view the kingdom of God as a nice slice of life. It makes them feel good to go to church on Sunday and to have a spiritual element in their lives. But God’s kingdom is not at the center. It’s not the driving force of their lives. So they dabble at the kingdom of God, but they don’t seek it first.
This is even a trap for many pastors. It’s easy after a few years to settle into the pastorate as a comfortable career. You put in your time, get a paycheck, and save up for retirement at 65 or sooner if you can afford it. In your off hours, you pursue your hobbies. But you’ve lost that consuming passion of seeking first the kingdom of God. You’re not willingly embracing hardship for the gospel in view of eternity. The ministry is just how you earn a living.
To sell us on this difficult command, Paul uses three illustrations and then he urges us to consider what he says. First, he points us to the soldier, then to the athlete, and then to the farmer. The three analogies are similar in that there is a requirement to receive the reward or reach the goal. The soldier must be focused and avoid entanglement to please his commander. The athlete must be disciplined to compete according to the rules to win the prize. The farmer must work hard to enjoy the first fruits of the harvest. Each endures hardship for the sake of future rewards.
Early in the 20th century, an ad in a London newspaper read: “Men wanted for hazardous journey: small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, and constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.” It was signed by the famous Arctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and thousands of men responded. Commenting on this, Warren Wiersbe (Be Faithful [Victor Books, 1981], p. 13) writes,
If Jesus Christ had advertised for workers, the announcement might have read something like this: “Men and women wanted for difficult task of helping to build My church. You will often be misunderstood, even by those working with you. You will face constant attack from an invisible enemy. You may not see the results of your labor, and your full reward will not come till after all your work is completed. It may cost you your home, your ambitions, even your life.”
Paul was an honest recruiter. I’ve told you about the dishonest recruiter who told a young man that he could water ski and fish off the island where the Coast Guard boot camp was located. That was technically true, but manifestly false! Paul knew that if you decide to follow Christ under the false pretense of a life of ease, you will quickly go AWOL when the battle gets intense. And so he calls us to embrace hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. This requires four things:
The imagery of being a soldier shows that Christ is not inviting us to a Sunday School picnic! It’s a battle zone. People are getting wounded and killed. In this case, it’s not a volunteer army. Rather, you were drafted when Jesus Christ laid hold of you. The enemy is the unseen forces of darkness in heavenly places. To avoid being a casualty, you’ve got to put on the full armor of God (Eph. 6:10-17).
In boot camp, they train you to endure hardship. They get you up in the middle of the night and make you run laps on the blacktop or do pushups until your arms feel like Jell-O. They teach you to work as a team when you are tired and upset. They teach you to obey orders, even when those orders seem to make no sense. You have to trust that the superior officers know something that you don’t know and that by obeying their crazy orders, you will help achieve the goal of victory in battle.
As a Christian, you must develop the mentality of a good soldier of Christ Jesus. You will not understand all of His orders or why He puts you into some very difficult circumstances. In the case of Job, God permitted Satan to take all of his earthly possession, kill his ten children and their mates, and afflict Job with boils all over his body, just so that God could win an argument! But as the Sovereign of the universe, He has the right to do that!
Pastor John Piper has pointed out that many believers use prayer as an intercom to have the maid bring more refreshments to the living room, when in fact prayer is our walkie-talkie to call in more support to the front lines of the battle. In other words, prayer isn’t to make our lives more comfortable. It is to bring the forces of heaven against the forces of evil in the cosmic battle of which we are infantry soldiers. So as a believer, you’ve got to develop this wartime mentality. Don’t be surprised when the bullets start flying!
Just as the soldier in Iraq doesn’t set up a souvenir stand or a fast food business to make a little extra money on the side, so the Christian must not get distracted from seeking first the kingdom of God. This is one of the most difficult commands for each of us to apply consistently.
To apply it does not mean that you must become a monk or a missionary. It doesn’t require you to quit your regular job or to neglect the daily matters that go along with being a functioning member of society. Paul himself made tents to support his ministry. While it is legitimate for some to be fully supported in ministry (1 Timothy 5:17-18), you don’t have to be a career Christian worker to obey this command.
The key here is the word, “entangle.” It’s easy for all of us, including those of us supported by ministry, to get entangled with things that are not wrong in themselves. They’re wrong because they distract us from seeking first the kingdom of God. There is nothing wrong with a limited use of sports or computers or recreation or hobbies, if we use them to refresh us for the battle. But it’s easy for these legitimate things to suck you into the quicksand and before you know it, you’re not seeking first God’s kingdom.
In his book, Your Money Matters ([Bethany Fellowship, 1977], pp. 22-23) Malcolm MacGregor tells of a man who had gone into business for himself, who came to him for counsel. A tremendous opportunity had come along. Once he got this business established, he was going to have a lot of time available to minister at the church and help others.
He had excitedly told his family that he had found an opportunity to be his own boss and have the freedom he wanted. They must understand that for a short period of time, he was going to have to pour a lot of work and time into getting the business started, but after that he would have a lot of extra time. He would be able to help out at church, perhaps coach Little League, and they would do things together as a family.
So, the first thing he did was to resign his position on the church council, because the council met on Saturday and that was the one day he had to be at work. But as soon as he got the business started, he would be back.
Business was going well, but he was not going to the mid-week service any more, because that was the night he had to catch up on paper work. Then he quit teaching Sunday School, because he didn’t have time to prepare his lesson. Next, he stopped coming Sunday evenings. Then a crisis set in and he was not in church on Sunday morning for six, eight, ten weeks. Now, sitting across the desk from MacGregor, his business was destroyed and he was facing bankruptcy. He asked, “Why would God put me into this business just to see it fail?”
Before we sit in judgment on that man, let’s admit that it’s very easy to drift into that kind of situation. But if anything—even your family—comes before seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, it is wrongful entanglement.
“The one who enlisted him as a soldier” does not refer to a lowly recruiter, but to the general who raised an army by rallying men to his cause. Jesus Christ is our general, who calls us to His person and His cause.
A good soldier must be loyal to his commander. Commanders are pleased by obedient, dependable soldiers. To please our Commander is the great desire of every blood-bought soldier of the cross (2 Cor. 5:9), so that one day we will hear, “well done, good and faithful servant.”
Keep in mind who it is that we are trying to please: Jesus Christ. Otherwise, we will try to please people or get upset because people criticize what we’re doing. While we must be sensitive to people, our aim is to please our Commander, Jesus Christ, beginning on the heart (thought) level.
The Greek word used (2:3) is a compound word meaning, “to suffer hardship with” someone, in this case, with Paul. It shows us that we are never alone in the battle. The enemy tries to make us feel that we’re the only ones going through our trials. Like Elijah when he was running from Jezebel, we think, “I alone am left and they seek my life!” But the Lord always has His 7,000 that have not bowed to Baal (1 Kings 19:10, 18). Read the lives of the saints who have suffered in the past and be aware of the persecuted church around the world today. It helps put your trials into perspective to realize that you are enduring hardship with all of the Lord’s good soldiers.
Observe three things:
We’re all suckers for quick and easy remedies for difficult problems. Almost daily I get emails trying to sell me a pill that will take off pounds without the discipline of dieting or exercise. Spiritually, we fall for the same easy-remedy approach: “Get baptized in the Spirit and speak in tongues and you’ll instantly be transported to a higher level where you’ll never struggle with temptation again.” But it doesn’t work.
The athlete metaphor shows that it is only by discipline that the athlete may compete and win. Every athlete knows that occasional jogging won’t prepare you to compete in the Olympics. To compete on a winning level, you must daily discipline your body through exercise, diet, and proper rest.
Paul writes (1 Tim. 4:7), “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” You can wish for godliness, you can try magic remedies for godliness, but you won’t become godly apart from the daily discipline of making the time to spend in the Word and in prayer. There are no shortcuts.
If an athlete disobeys the rules of his sport, he is instantly disqualified. Yet many Christians, even Christian leaders, think that they have a special exemption that allows them to disobey God’s Word and yet expect His blessing. But it doesn’t work that way! To put it bluntly, men, you can’t engage in mental lust or look at pornography and then pray, “Lord, keep my children morally pure.” You can’t cheat in your business and ask God to bless it.
Paul tells us (1 Cor. 9:24) to run in such a way that we might win. In the Christian race, we’re not competing against each other. And, there will be multiple winners. We all can win. But Paul wants us to adopt a mindset that says, “I’m not going to dink around in my Christian life. I’m running to win!”
Charles Simeon, a godly Anglican pastor in the early 19th century, saw many young men under his influence go out into the cause of world missions. One such young man was Henry Martyn, who went to India and Persia, where he died at age 31 of tuberculosis. This was before photography, but someone had painted a portrait of Martyn just before he died and sent it to Simeon. He was shocked when he saw it, at the obvious toll that the hardship of missionary life had taken on his young disciple. Simeon hung the portrait over the mantle in his study, where he looked at it often. He said that it reminded him, “Don’t trifle! Don’t trifle!”
Thus to be a fruitful Christian, willingly embrace the hardship of the soldier and the athlete.
Note three things:
Compared to the lives of the soldier and the athlete, the life of a farmer is rather boring. The soldier lives on the edge of life and death on the battlefield. The athlete has the thrill of the cheering crowd as he runs toward the goal. But the farmer works long and hard, plowing and planting, and goes home tired. About the most exciting thing he can see is, “The corn grew two inches last week!” Whoopee! Why does he do it? He is looking for the harvest.
Spiritually, there are a few who have “exciting” ministries. They’re invited to speak all over the world. They have thousands flocking to hear them or buying their books. Then there are the rest of us, out in the fields waiting for the corn to grow. Every week, I try to sow the seed of God’s Word into hearts, but people don’t usually change over night. Sometimes bad storms or pests destroy the plants before they bear fruit. But you keep sowing, trusting God to bring the increase of the harvest.
The Greek word that Paul uses for “hardworking” means to toil or strive so as to become weary and tired. He uses it to describe pastors who “work hard in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). He commends those in Rome who “worked hard” in the Lord (Rom. 16:6, 12). He often mentions his own labor or toil in the Lord’s work (1 Cor. 15:10; 2 Cor. 6:4; Gal. 4:11; Phil. 2:16; Col. 1:29-2:1; 1 Tim. otionally draining. Even Jesus was so tired that He could fall asleep in a small boat in a fierce storm! Expect to be tired as part of the hardship of serving the Lord.
The harvest is at the end of the age. Often we will not know what God accomplished through our labors or our prayers or our gifts until we stand before Him. Then we will meet people who are in heaven because we sowed the seed through our words or our gifts or our good deeds. We will enjoy a harvest of eternal joy!
After giving these three illustrations, Paul tells Timothy (2:7), “Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” Timothy had to engage his brain to think about the implications of Paul’s words, but if he gained any insight, it came from the Lord, who gives understanding in spiritual matters.
Perhaps we could add this as a fourth illustration—the hardship of the Christian scholar. To gain insight from God’s Word, you must apply yourself by carefully observing and thinking about what the text says. All the while that you’re laboring, you must ask God to give you understanding.
That is especially true in this difficult-to-apply text that we’ve been considering. None of us naturally is inclined to embrace hardship. But Paul directs us to look to the rewards in eternity. Jesus Christ will smile and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That will make all the toil and hardship worth it! He will reward you eternally for your labors. You will enjoy the harvest of righteousness in the presence of the Lord and all His saints. But you must now set aside all distractions and the sin that so easily entangles you. Seek first His kingdom and righteousness as a good soldier, a disciplined athlete, and a hardworking farmer, even though it is difficult!
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.
The Christian life is not a 100-yard dash; it’s a marathon. It’s easy to begin a marathon well and it’s not too difficult to run a few miles. The test comes over the long haul. Will you endure to the finish? In the Christian race, will you be faithful through all of the hardships, even unto death?
Every Christian wants to be able to say with the apostle Paul, as he thought about his own death (2 Tim. 4:7), “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” While God promises that He will keep all that He saves, the process is not automatic. We must endure hardship as good soldiers, disciplined athletes, and hard working farmers (2:3-7).
Paul is exhorting Timothy to embrace hardship for the sake of the gospel (1:8; 2:3). Timothy was under pressure to compromise the gospel. His timid personality shied away from conflict and controversy. Many were turning against the imprisoned apostle and at the same time, abandoning the gospel that he preached (1:15; 2:17-18). So Paul is exhorting Timothy to persevere. He is showing him how to endure when he feels tempted to drop out.
In our text, he adds three more illustrations of how suffering hardship for the gospel now results in eternal glory. Jesus Christ died, but He is risen forever (2:8). Paul himself is imprisoned and facing death, but he endures for the sake of God’s elect, so that they may obtain salvation and eternal glory (2:9-10). Third, Paul cites a hymn from the early church (2:11-13), which makes the point that faithfulness now results in future glory with Jesus Christ, because God’s promises are trustworthy. In these verses, Paul reveals four strategies for enduring to the end of the marathon:
To endure hardship, remember:
Jesus Christ the risen Savior;
that His Word is powerful;
that God’s sovereign purpose in saving His elect will succeed;
and that His promises are trustworthy.
It seems odd for the apostle to write to his younger pastor friend (2:8): “Remember Jesus Christ….” Was Timothy in danger of forgetting Him? This sounds like something you might write to a new believer, but not to a man who has some years under his belt as a pastor! Why would Paul say this to Timothy?
Keep in mind Paul’s counsel in 2:7, “Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” We have to think about these matters, leaning on the Lord for understanding. Verse 8 gives us some clues as to why Paul tells Timothy to remember Jesus Christ.
First, notice the word order, Jesus Christ. So far, Paul has referred to the Lord as Christ Jesus six times (1:1, 2, 9, 13; 2:1, 3). He will go on to refer to Him as Christ Jesus four more times (2:10; 3:12, 15; 4:1). But in 2:8 alone, he reverses it to Jesus Christ. Surely there must be a reason. I believe that he is calling attention to the humanity of our Lord, born as the man Jesus, who suffered and died on the cross for our sins. As Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:36), “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”
So Paul is making the point that because Jesus in His humanity suffered shame and death on a cross for our sins, God highly exalted Him (Phil. 2:8-11). His point is the same as Hebrews 12:3, “For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
A second clue that helps us understand why Paul tells Timothy to remember Jesus Christ is, “risen from the dead.” The verb tense means, “He was raised from the dead in the past and He continues now as the risen One.” Jesus’ resurrection is the main support of the gospel. Paul says that if Christ is not risen, our faith is worthless (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). Everything hangs on the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. As the risen Savior, He also promises to give us the victory over the grave. So even if we suffer and die for the sake of the gospel, “Jesus Christ, risen from the dead,” is the grounds for our hope. Be steadfast!
A third clue is, “descendant of David.” Why does Paul use this unusual phrase here (used elsewhere only in Rom. 1:3)? This validates Jesus historically as the Messiah or Christ, who was promised to be of the seed of David. And it shows that He will return as the conquering King who will reign on David’s throne, ruling the nations with a rod of iron (Ps. 2:9). So the application for Timothy and us is, when you go through suffering now as a Christian, remember Jesus Christ, descendant of David in fulfillment of God’s promise, who is coming back to reign as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Endure hardship for the gospel now so that you will be on His side when He returns.
The final clue is in the last phrase, “according to my gospel.” That does not mean that Paul invented the gospel, but rather that the gospel was revealed directly to Paul from the risen Lord Jesus and entrusted to him as the treasure (“good deposit,” 1:14), which he had to guard. The crucified, risen Lord Jesus Christ is at the heart of the gospel. Note also that Paul viewed the gospel as his personal treasure. He was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent aggressor (1 Tim. 1:13), but God in His great mercy laid hold of Paul through the good news that “Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Tim. 1:15).
If you want to endure to the end of the marathon, to stand firm for the truth through hardship and even persecution, you must be able to say with Paul, “my gospel.” God saved me from my sins by His abundant grace. To endure hardship, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel” (2:8).
Paul’s gospel was the reason that he suffered “hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal.” Then he adds the triumphant note, “But the word of God is not imprisoned.” The word “criminal” is used elsewhere only of the two thieves on the cross (Luke 23:32, 33). Paul didn’t deserve to be treated that way. He had been arrested on trumped up charges, made no doubt by enemies of the gospel. He was being held in a filthy dungeon, chained to a guard day and night. It wasn’t fair. But, rather than complain, Paul rejoiced in the fact that no one can imprison the power of God’s Word. With Luther, Paul could have sung, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever.”
Often God puts us in difficult trials for the very reason that He wants the power of the gospel to shine through our joy in Him in circumstances where the world can only complain. Maybe you are imprisoned in a hospital or in a body that is sick and dying. If you grumble and complain, you’re missing the opportunity for the power of the gospel to shine through your life. But if, through the pain and the tears, the joy of the Lord shines forth, the same powerful gospel that saved you may transform others. So to endure hardship, remember the power of God’s word!
Paul explains (2:10), “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.” Paul means that through his sufferings in preaching the gospel, God’s elect would come to salvation and inherit the eternal glory that is in Christ Jesus.
Many Christians get nervous when they hear the word “elect” and try to minimize or explain away its plain meaning. If you do that, you will miss a key truth in understanding your salvation and a key component that you need to endure hardship for the sake of the gospel. Don’t dodge the doctrine of election by saying, “That’s just Calvinism!” What you need to ask is, “Is it taught in the Bible?” Paul easily could have said here, “I do all things for the sake of those who will believe,” but he did not. If you believe that the very words of Scripture are inspired, you’ve got to grapple with why he said “the elect.” As believers, we have to submit to what Scripture says. Let’s look at just a few texts (there are many more):
John 3:27: “John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.’”
John is asserting what all Scripture teaches, that the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14; see also, Matt. 13:11). God grants spiritual understanding to some and He withholds it from others. That is His sovereign right.
John 6:37, 39: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out…. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.
Jesus says that there are some whom the Father has given to Him (He elsewhere calls these “the elect,” Matt. 24:22, 31). Clearly, the Father does not give all to the Son, because all do not come to Jesus. Jesus says that everyone the Father gives to Him will in fact come to Him and He will not lose any of those. Their eternal destiny is secure.
John 6:44, 65: No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day…. For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”
Jesus repeats the truth that no one is able of his own ability or “free will” to come to Christ, unless the Father has granted it.
John 8:43: “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My Word.”
Jesus again makes the same point, that the natural man is incapable of understanding spiritual truth.
John 10:26-28: “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”
Jesus’ sheep are identical with those whom the Father gave to the Son or, the elect. If someone is not of that group, he does not believe. If someone is of that group, Jesus gives them eternal life.
John 17:2, 9: “even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life…. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours.”
Jesus claims to have authority to give eternal life to all whom the Father has given Him. The emphasis is not that He gives eternal life to all who will believe of their own free will, but rather that He gives eternal life to all whom the Father has given Him. He prays on their behalf, not on behalf of the whole world.
If we had time, we could go to many other texts that clearly spell out the same truth, that before the foundation of the world, apart from anything that God foresaw in us, by His grace alone, He chose to give a people to His Son (Eph. 1:4-5). If He had not done so, none of us would have believed. You must believe in Christ to be saved. But, no one can believe unless God first opens their blind eyes (2 Cor. 4:4). The reason that you believed in Jesus Christ is that God first chose you for salvation. That way He gets all the glory (1 Cor. 1:26-31).
People react against this by saying, “If God has already chosen everyone who will be saved, then why witness? If they’re ordained to be saved, then they be saved apart from anything that we can do.” Not so! God, who ordained the salvation of His elect, also ordained that they would be saved through the preaching of the gospel. Paul had to suffer hardship and preach so that the elect would obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.
Paul was in Corinth and was afraid that he was going to be harmed. Jesus appeared to him and said (Acts 18:9-10), “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” Paul didn’t know yet who God’s people in that city were, but God knew. Paul was to go on preaching so that those in that city whom the Father had given to the Son would come to salvation. That is exactly what Paul is saying in 2 Timothy 2:10.
Our only hope that our efforts to evangelize will result in the salvation of any is that Jesus has purchased with His blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev. 5:9). He did not purchase every person in the whole world, but some from every people. None that He purchased will be lost. All whom God predestined to salvation will be glorified (Rom. 8:30): “and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” In other words, those whom God saves, He keeps. They persevere unto eternal glory.
If you have not embraced this great biblical truth, you are missing the basis for assurance of your own salvation. Salvation rests in God’s sovereign purpose and might, not in your feeble, fallen will or efforts. And, you are missing the main motivation to proclaim the gospel in the face of hardship and rejection, namely, that God will save His chosen ones through the gospel.
To endure hardship, remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead; that God’s Word is powerful; and, that God’s sovereign purpose in saving His elect will surely succeed. Finally,
Paul cites the words of a familiar hymn to remind Timothy that God’s promises are trustworthy and will not fail. He introduces it as a trustworthy statement (there are four others in the Pastoral Epistles: 1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; Titus 3:8). He probably breaks into the middle of the hymn, so that the opening word (“for”) refers back to earlier words that we do not know. It consists of four “if” clauses, followed by their consequences. The first two refer to those who are faithful. They attain to life and reigning with Christ. The last two refer to those who deny Christ or are faithless, and the consequences. The overall point reinforces what Paul has been saying, that if we endure hardship with Christ now, we will experience glory with Him in eternity.
There are a couple of interpretive difficulties in the hymn. Some take “if we died with Him, we also will live with Him” to refer to the truth of our identification with Christ in His death and resurrection, as Paul sets forth in Romans 6. The language is similar, but it seems foreign to the context. The verb (Greek aorist) may also be translated, “if we die with Him,” meaning, “if we die a martyr’s death, we will also live with Him eternally.” If that is the meaning, the hymn would have been an encouragement to those who were suffering persecution for the gospel.
The other interpretive problem is in the last line. Some understand verses 12 & 13 to be parallel, thus taking verse 13 to mean, “if we are faithless, He remains faithful to His threat to punish all unbelief.” In favor of that view is the parallelism and the present tense of the verb, “are faithless.” But, it seems to me to go against the concept of God’s faithfulness. His faithfulness is always mentioned to give encouragement to discouraged saints, not to warn unbelievers of His judgments.
Thus I prefer to understand the first line of the hymn to be connected by way of contrast to the third line, and the second line to contrast with the fourth line. The first and third lines then mean, “If we hold fast our confession faithfully unto death, we will live eternally in heaven with Him, but if we deny Him, He will deny us before the Father” (as Jesus warned, Matt. 10:33). The second and fourth lines contrast to mean, “If we endure hardship with Him now, we will be rewarded by reigning with Him in heaven. But if we are faithless by not enduring hardship, we will lose rewards, but because of His faithfulness to His covenant, we will still be saved, for He cannot deny Himself.”
Thus I would fit Judas Iscariot under line 3, as one who finally denied Christ and was lost. I would fit Peter under line 4, as one of God’s elect who momentarily was faithless, but he repented and was restored. So when we fail, we should confess our sins, knowing that He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Our salvation ultimately rests on God’s faithfulness and grace, not on our perfect record.
Several years ago, Bible translators Bruce and Jan Benson and their 14-year-old son were driving down a mountainside in the Peruvian Andes. As they came around a switchback, they came bumper to bumper with a truckload of terrorist rebels known as The Shining Path. Men jumped out of the truck brandishing automatic rifles, surrounded the Benson’s car, and ordered them to get out. Jan thought, “This is it! This is the end of our lives.”
The terrorists took them to a nearby town. On the way, fearful and bewildered, Jan felt the need to pray and then to sing. She said, “It began as a trickle, a presence that said, ‘The Lord inhabits the praises of His people.’” She protested, “But Lord, I don’t know how to praise You right now.” “Sing,” came the answer. “At least you can sing.” So she began to sing, “You are my hiding place. You always fill my heart with songs of deliverance. Whenever I am afraid I will trust in You.” Other songs also flowed.
Suddenly, she felt as though she was the only person alive on earth, just her and God. She felt His all-encompassing love and His assurance that He was in control. Nothing, not even death, could remove her from His presence.
That night the rebels unexpectedly released the Bensons, but they confiscated their car, their portable projection equipment and film reels of the “New Media Bible” from Luke, the same film material that makes up the Jesus film.
One year later, the Bensons were living in the capital for safety. Jan received a phone call. One of their captors had become a Christian and wanted to meet with them. When they met, he told them that he was an experienced killer and that he and the others had planned to kill them that night. But, for some reason they just could not do it and released them instead. Then, the rebels set up the projector and watched the film, eventually many times. At one viewing, several hundred rebels were watching and listening to God’s Word in their own language. Many were so moved that they wanted to lay down their weapons right there and leave The Shining Path. Standing before them as a fellow believer, their former enemy said to them, “Please forgive me for my part in what we did to you that day.” The Bensons were able to go back to that village and finish the translation of the New Testament into that language.
God’s witnesses may be imprisoned, but His Word cannot be imprisoned. The gospel “is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). To endure hardship, remember Jesus Christ, the risen Savior. Remember that His Word is powerful, that His sovereign purpose in saving His elect will succeed, and that His promises are trustworthy.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.
People use the Bible in all sorts of weird ways. You’ve probably heard the story of the guy who felt he needed some guidance from the Bible, so he opened it at random, closed his eyes and put his finger on a verse: “Judas went out and hanged himself.” He thought, “That can’t be God’s will for me,” so he tried again: “Go thou and do likewise.” He knew there must be some mistake, so he tried once more: “What thou doest, do quickly!” It can be dangerous to use the Bible in the wrong way!
While we chuckle, it’s no laughing matter when people really use the Bible improperly. In 2 Timothy 2:14, Paul tells Timothy to solemnly charge those under his pastoral ministry “in the presence of God” that if they misuse the Bible, it will lead to ruin. We get our word “catastrophe” from the Greek word for “ruin.” Paul means, ultimate spiritual ruin! He names Hymenaeus and Philetus, who had gone astray from the truth, upsetting the faith of some with their misuse of the Bible! Paul is saying that…
While the misuse of the Bible leads to ungodliness, God’s people should use the Bible to grow in godliness.
The first thing we should note (and it should startle us) is:
The words (2:16), “it will lead to further ungodliness,” are literally, “they will make further progress in ungodliness.” The false teachers claimed that their teaching would help you move ahead in your spiritual life. Paul sarcastically says, “Yes, you will make progress all right—progress in ungodliness!” Paul piles up words to drive home this frightening point: “useless,” “ruin of the hearers” (2:14); “further ungodliness” (2:16); “spread like gangrene” (2:17); “gone astray from the truth,” “upset the faith of some” (2:18). The improper use of the Bible is not a harmless activity. It destroys lives! That’s one reason James 3:1 warns, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment.”
That’s why Paul here warns Timothy, “Remind them of these things and solemnly charge them in the presence of God” (2:14). “These things” probably refers to the hymn just mentioned, which says that if we endure faithfully, we will reign with Christ, but if we deny Him, He will deny us. Maybe they’ve already heard it, but remind them again! Do it in the presence of God! The Bible is no harmless instrument. It’s a sharp sword and must be handled with proper care. Paul mentions three improper ways of using the Bible:
“Wrangling about words” (2:14) was a notorious characteristic of the false teachers in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:6; 2:8; 6:3-5, 20-21). They liked to display their “knowledge” on peripheral matters that did not lead to godliness, but only to pride over “being right.” Paul said (1 Tim. 1:5), “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
Any time you use the Bible to grow in knowledge apart from godliness, you’re heading for spiritual trouble. One of the most common sins Satan uses to trip us up is spiritual pride—puffing us up with supposed knowledge (1 Cor. 8:1). To know God truly in His holiness and majesty will humble us. When you study the Bible, always ask, “What does this teach me about God and about myself? How should I apply this to my life?”
We need to be careful not to misinterpret what Paul is saying here. We would be wrong to conclude that “wrangling about words” means that the precise words of Scripture do not matter. In Galatians 3:16 Paul builds an argument over the fact that the promise given to Abraham uses “seed” (singular) rather than “seeds” (plural). Jesus argued for the resurrection based on the present rather than past tense of the Hebrew verb in Exodus 3:6 (Matt. 22:32). He taught that the smallest letter of the law would not pass away without being fulfilled (Matt. 5:17). It is important to study the precise words of Scripture and to understand the nuance of the original languages so that we interpret it properly.
Also, Paul is not saying that growing in spiritual knowledge through Scripture is unimportant. He often mentions the need to grow in spiritual knowledge and understanding (Eph. 1:17-19; Phil. 1:9-10; Col. 1:9-10). As we’ll see in a moment, accuracy in handling God’s truth is crucial. So Paul is not discouraging careful Bible study. Truth matters greatly and error always causes harm.
Rather, Paul is here combating those who like to get into intellectual banter over obscure points of doctrine, but who are not seeking to grow in obedience to God. These scholars like to prove their superior intelligence by winning theological debates. But the point of Scriptural knowledge is not to fill our heads but to change our lives. To use the Bible for knowledge without application is to misuse it.
In 2:16, Paul refers to “worldly and empty chatter.” In 1 Timothy 6:20 he uses the same phrase in reference to “the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge.’” He may be talking about a different aspect of “wrangling about words.” The word “worldly” means, “permitted to be trod under foot,” hence, “profane, unhallowed.” It has the nuance of trafficking lightly in the things of God or of using God and the Bible for worldly gain.
This sort of thing is rampant in American Christianity in our day. The “health and wealth” heresy is perhaps the most blatant form of it. Also, many “Christian” self-help books approach the Bible from the perspective of how to gain what you want in life, rather than reverently coming to it to learn how to please God (Col. 1:10). It is using the Bible for worldly success.
Note two things: First, such false teachers are always popular. “Their talk will spread like gangrene.” You don’t have to help gangrene to spread! Because they appeal to the flesh, these false teachers never lack a following. Some of the largest churches in America use the Bible to help people succeed in their worldly, selfish goals. But don’t judge a church by how big it is, but rather by how sound is the teaching in producing genuine godliness. People who buy into this kind of false teaching often testify of how much they’ve been helped, and often, outwardly, it seems true. But any time people are helped out of their troubles without learning to depend more on the living God and submit more fully to His lordship, it is false help.
Second, Christians are to avoid such teachers and their teaching (2:16). Steer clear of them. Don’t waste your time watching them on TV or reading their books. What Augustine wrote over 1,500 years ago (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4, ed. by Philip Schaff [Ages software], “Reply to Faustus the Manichaean,” Book 17, p. 432) applies here: “For to believe what you please, and not to believe what you please, is to believe yourselves, and not the gospel.” By appealing to the flesh and the lure of the world, these false teachers draw away after them people who are not fully submissive to the lordship of Christ and His gospel of the cross. To use the Bible for worldly ends is to misuse it.
These men were not totally wrong. They were teaching a half-truth as if it were the whole truth, which is often Satan’s method. They were teaching that the resurrection already had taken place. They had verses from Paul to back up their views. He wrote often of the fact that Christ is risen and that we are risen with Him. But he also taught that there is a future resurrection of the body, which these men denied. They argued that the resurrection was only spiritual and thus was an accomplished fact.
You may wonder, “What’s the big deal? Why was this worth contending about?” Paul answers that question in 1 Corinthians 15, where he says that if there is no future, literal, bodily resurrection, then Christ Himself is not even raised and our faith is worthless.
Mark it well: Heresy always begins as truth out of balance! There is always an element of truth in the teachings of the cults. That’s how they entice people. They even have verses to back up their errors. So they prey on the untaught who are looking for “something more” in their faith. But they lead people away from dependence on the living God. If somebody handed you a three-dollar bill with a picture of Frank Sinatra on it, you wouldn’t be fooled. A counterfeit always looks genuine at first glance. That’s why we have to examine the popular worldly teachings cleverly cloaked with the Bible that are flooding the church in our day. They promote half-truths as if they were the truth of God.
Before we look at the positive side of how to use the Bible to grow in godliness, here are three tests of sound doctrine that will keep you from being taken in by false teaching:
First, does it honor God and exalt Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord? Sound doctrine always lifts God up in His majesty and holiness. It exalts Jesus as fully God and fully man, who gave Himself for our sins and was raised bodily from the dead.
Second, does it humble proud, fallen sinners? Sound doctrine always brings sinners to the foot of the cross where they come to the end of their own pride and self-sufficiency.
Third, does it promote holiness? Sound teaching always results in obedience to the Word of God and progress in holy living. It leads to genuine love for God and love for others.
The fact that in four out of six verses here Paul presents the negative should alarm us enough to examine ourselves. Using the Bible is not enough! You can use the Bible to your own destruction! Using the Bible for knowledge without obedience, to promote worldly goals, or to teach half-truths as the entire truth will lead to spiritual ruin. We need to be careful to use the Bible to grow to know God and to grow in submission to Him. But two verses focus on the positive:
The Bible wasn’t given to satisfy our curiosity about the end times or to fill our heads with facts. It was given to help us grow in godliness. Paul gives us four ways to use the Bible properly:
“Be diligent...” The KJV (“study”) conveys the wrong idea. The word means to be diligent or zealous. We are to give constant effort to the task of being approved unto God as unashamed workmen, which means handling God’s Word accurately. This especially applies to those who teach the Bible, but it also applies to all believers, who must be able to handle the Word carefully.
So many Christians are haphazard and lazy rather than diligent in their approach to God’s Word. They don’t systematically read, study, or memorize it. If they read it at all, they jump from passage to passage, pulling verses out of context. They aren’t seeking to know God and how He wants them to think, to believe, and to relate to others. Their lives and relationships are falling apart, but they don’t search diligently to discover what God’s Word tells them to do about these problems.
The key to being diligent in God’s Word is to be motivated. Motivation is the key to learning. Have you ever been on an airplane and watched the passengers as the stewardess gives the instructions on how to use the emergency breathing apparatus? They’re reading their newspapers or impatiently thinking, “Hurry up so we can get going!” They’re not motivated to hear her boring instructions. But suppose they’re airborne and the pilot comes on the intercom and says, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re experiencing some severe trouble with our engines. We’re going to have to de-pressurize the cabin and make an emergency landing. The stewardess is going to explain how to use the emergency breathing apparatus.” Do you think he would have to add, “Please give her your full attention”? People would be motivated!
So the key to being motivated to be diligent in God’s Word is to recognize, “I live in the presence of God! Someday soon I will give an account to Him. His Word alone contains His wisdom on how to live in a way that pleases Him, which is the only way to true happiness for me. So I’ve got to be diligent to search out what the Scriptures say about knowing God and His wisdom for living.”
“Present yourself approved to God.” “Present” is used (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:27) to speak of a bride being presented to her bridegroom. It’s a very personal, loving act when a young woman gives herself to a young man in marriage. In that culture (pre-women’s lib) it meant that she was giving herself completely to him: her devotion, her time, her body, her complete focus was now toward her husband because of his love for her and her love for him.
That’s how we should come to the Bible. It’s not just a book of principles for how to live. It tells us of Christ’s enduring love for His bride. As His bride, we should seek to please Him and be available to do His will. As such, our focus should not be on what others think of us, but on what God thinks. Too many pastors fall into the trap of pleasing people, rather than pleasing God. While it’s nice to be liked, my main focus is to be, “approved to God.” Our goal is to please our heavenly Bridegroom who loved us and gave Himself for us.
When Jim Elliot, who was later martyred in the jungles of Ecuador, was a student at Wheaton College, he wrote in his diary, “My grades came through this week, and were, as expected, lower than last semester. However, I make no apologies, and admit I’ve let them drag a bit for study of the Bible, in which I seek the degree A.U.G., ‘approved unto God’” (Shadow of the Almighty [Zondervan], p. 43). Come to the Bible to deepen your love life with the Lord, to learn how you can please Him more.
“A workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.” Here the metaphor is that of a craftsman. You’re the carpenter and God’s Word is your set of tools. Rather than being sloppy and nailing together a chicken coop that’s about to fall down, do a decent job so that you will not be ashamed when God inspects your work. If a carpenter knows that his work will be inspected by a skilled master craftsman, he will not cut corners. He will do his best so that his work will be approved.
The Bible is God’s “word of truth.” Truth is accurate, objective and knowable, not subjective and fluid. If a carpenter showed up at your house and didn’t have a level, square, tape measure or set of plans, you’d be a bit concerned. If you asked him about his methods and he said, “We all have different ways of seeing things and no way is absolutely right. Who’s to say that your house has to be plumb and square?”—you’d be even more concerned! You want your house built carefully and accurately according to the plans.
God’s Word is not the sort of thing where one person can see it one way and another person can see it another way and it really doesn’t matter because no one can know what it means. Every biblical text has a fixed meaning that is true and never changes. Based on and stemming from that meaning, it may have a different significance or application for different people and at different times for the same person. But we need to use the tools of Bible study and interpretation to discover the meaning of each text in its biblical context. Otherwise, we’re being sloppy workmen with God’s Word of truth.
The word translated, “accurately handling” (KJV, “rightly dividing”) means “to cut a path or road in a straight direction, so that the traveler may go directly to his destination” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [The University of Chicago Press, second edition, 1958], by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, p. 580). Or, using a farming metaphor, Chrysostom said that it means to plow a straight furrow. The idea is not to get distracted off course by false teachings but accurately and straightforwardly to cut through the doctrines of Scripture so that you and your hearers can reach the destination of godliness.
Change doesn’t come from people feeling good or liking certain ideas that they think come from Scripture. Change comes when people are confronted with God’s truth and they submit their lives to it. Thus we all, but especially those of us who teach God’s Word, must be skillful and accurate so that God’s people understand and submit to God’s truth in these days of moral relativism.
Thus the proper use of the Bible requires the proper approach (diligence); the proper relationship (love); the proper skill (accuracy); finally,
“Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness’” (2:19). It’s kind of scary reading about professing Christian people who have been ruined (2:14), have gone astray from the truth (2:18), and have been upset in their faith (2:18). We may wonder, “How can I keep on the path? How can I keep from being ruined?”
So Paul reminds Timothy of the foundation of the Christian life. The foundation refers to the true people of God, the church. Those who truly belong to the Lord are not carried away by false teaching. The seal on the foundation, or cornerstone, has two statements that reflect two important aspects of our salvation. These two statements come from the story of Korah’s rebellion against Moses. Moses said (Num. 16:5), “the Lord will show who is His, and who is holy, and will bring him near to Himself; even the one whom He will choose….” He warned the congregation to depart from the tents of these wicked men before God destroyed them (Num. 16:26).
Paul says that the first part of the seal is, “The Lord knows those who are His.” Salvation does not begin with man; it begins with God. He planned it and He executed it. “He chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18). We can’t know God’s truth until God has first laid hold of us and saved us from our sins by His grace alone.
The second statement is, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” As Ephesians 1:4 continues, God chose us “that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” We can be assured that we belong to the Lord because we see Him progressively working His holiness into our daily lives. So the foundation for using the Bible properly is that God knows us as His own and that through our diligent, careful study and application of His Word of truth, we are growing in godliness.
A young man once studied violin under a world-renowned master. When his first big recital came, the crowd cheered after each number, but the young performer seemed dissatisfied. Even after the final number, despite the applause, the musician seemed unhappy. As he took his bows, he was watching an elderly man in the balcony. Finally, the elderly one smiled and nodded in approval. Immediately, the young man beamed with joy. He was not looking for the approval of the crowd. He was waiting for the approval of his master.
Christians should be living for God’s approval. We will be approved unto Him as we use the Bible to grow in godliness. Are you growing as a craftsman who uses God’s Word of truth accurately and skillfully to grow in godliness? The misuse of the Bible will lead you to ruin. The proper use will lead you to godliness.
Copyright 2006, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
A man used to visit a tiny general store in the country. The proprietor has a clerk named Jake, who seemed to be the laziest man in the world. One day the man noticed that Jake was gone.
He asked the proprietor, “Where’s Jake?” “Oh, he retired,” was the answer. “Retired? Then what are you going to do to fill the vacancy?” The owner replied, “Jake didn’t leave no vacancy.”
That leads me to ask, “What kind of vacancy would there be in this church if you left?” It is God’s clear intention that every one of His people be used in serving the Lord Jesus Christ. He has given gifts to each one to be used as good stewards. And yet for so many that name the name of Christ, their faith is like football—an occasional Sunday spectator sport. They are not serving Christ day by day. But if you truly know Christ, you can’t be happy sitting on the bench or in the stands. You want to be in the game.
Our text reveals the kind of person God uses. You may think that God uses people who have impressive abilities and gifts. While spiritual gifts play a part, they are not the main feature in being used by God. As we saw in the national news recently, a man may be a gifted Christian leader and yet bring terrible disgrace to the name of Christ. Or you may think that God uses a person who has been to seminary and has a lot of training. While seminary has its place, I know of many men who graduated from seminary, but they’re not even in the stadium, let alone in the game!
Or you may think that God uses a person who has a great knowledge of the Bible. While, as we saw last week, being careful students of the Bible is very important, it is not the main thing. You may be a renowned Bible scholar, and yet be detrimental to the cause of Jesus Christ.
The simple message of our text is that God uses cleansed people, who are defined by two characteristics:
God uses cleansed people who flee sin and pursue godliness.
Paul is telling Timothy how to deal with some difficult problems in the church of Ephesus, where he was ministering. In the verses just before, he has exhorted Timothy to use the Scriptures properly, not as Hymenaeus and Philetus, whose false teaching had led some astray. He reminds Timothy, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness” (2:19). Now he urges Timothy to be a cleansed man who flees sin and pursues godliness, summed up under four qualities: righteousness, faith, love and peace with the Lord’s true people.
Paul uses the illustration of a large house that has different kinds of vessels. The gold and silver vessels are kept clean so that they may be used for honorable purposes, such as dinner parties. The wood and earthenware vessels are used for dishonorable purposes, perhaps in the kitchen or to carry out garbage or human waste. They often get broken and are cheaply replaced.
It would be easy to misapply Paul’s point here. If you took his illustration to its logical conclusion, you could say that the dishonorable vessels serve a legitimate function and thus are just as necessary as the gold vessels. But that’s not his point. Rather, the large house represents the professing or visible church. Some who associate with the church are truly born again. Others, such as the false teachers Hymenaeus and Philetus, are probably not born again. They are the vessels for dishonor. Paul is saying that no one should be a vessel for dishonor.
To put it another way, he is saying that God isn’t going to use a garbage pail life to serve the pure gospel to a hungry world. Can you imagine being a guest at a wealthy home, where you’re seated around a magnificent table? The kitchen door swings open and the cook comes out with a garbage pail and starts dishing the food out of the pail. Even so, God isn’t going to use dirty lives to serve the good news of Christ to the world. Rather,
Note three things:
Clearly, Paul is presenting us with a choice: Do you want to be a gold or silver vessel, used for honor, or will you be a cheap clay pot, used for dishonor? Again, you may think, “Well, both are used of God, aren’t they?” The answer is, “Yes, but you don’t want to be used as a vessel for dishonor!” It’s interesting that Paul uses this illustration in Romans 9:21-23, although with a different emphasis:
“Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory….”
In that text, Paul is emphasizing God’s sovereign right to do as He pleases with His creation. As the potter, He can do whatever He wants with the clay, and the clay has no right to challenge the potter. But in 2 Timothy 2:20-21, Paul’s emphasis is on our responsibility to cleanse ourselves from the defilement of sin, especially the sin of false teaching, so that we will be vessels for honor.
The Bible is clear that as the Sovereign of the universe, God uses even evil people for His righteous purposes. He uses Satan and the demons, even though they are opposed to Him. In Moses’ day, He raised up Pharaoh and used him to demonstrate God’s power (Rom. 9:17). He used Judas in His plan of putting Jesus on the cross. Acts 4:27-28 explains, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” As Proverbs 16:4 puts it, “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.”
If you’re thinking, “Then we’re just robots or puppets,” you’re wrong! The Bible also clearly declares that each of us is a responsible moral agent. Although God ordained that Judas and Herod and Pilate would play roles in crucifying the Savior, each of those men are guilty sinners, responsible for their terrible sins. You will fall into error if you let go of either God’s absolute sovereignty or man’s full responsibility for his sins. Paul’s point in our text is, you have a choice: Will you be a filthy vessel that God uses for dishonor? Or, will you be a clean vessel that God uses for honor? You are accountable for your choice!
Note verse 21, “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things….” In the context, “these things” refers to the false teachings that were being spread. It’s worth noting that false teachings are not just mental mistakes—they are sins that need to be cleansed out of our lives!
When Paul says that a person needs to cleanse himself, he is not teaching that by our own efforts we can atone for our sins. If you could do anything in and of yourself to deal with your sin problem before God, then the death of Christ was pointless. But you can and must avail yourself of the means of cleansing that God has provided in Christ. That is your responsibility.
If you come into the house dirty after a day of working in the yard, you don’t lick yourself clean like a cat does! Rather, you make use of the soap and water to cleanse yourself. The soap and water are the means of cleansing. But you make use of them by applying them to your body.
God provided the blood of Jesus as the means of cleansing us from all our sins (1 John 1:7, 9). There is a sense in which we are completely clean the moment that we trust in Christ as Savior. But we walk in the world, where we get defiled. When we confess our sins, we apply the blood of Jesus to our dirty lives. To be a vessel for honor, you must walk in the light, confessing all known sin to God. Vessels of dishonor walk in the darkness and do not cleanse themselves from sin.
So, you must choose the type of vessel you will be. Cleansing yourself to become a vessel of honor is your responsibility.
The word means, “set apart” unto God. It is used three ways in the Bible. There is positional sanctification. Through the death of Christ, believers have been sanctified once for all (1 Cor. 1:30; 6:11; Heb. 10:10). There is also progressive sanctification. As we grow in Christ, we are progressively conformed to His image (2 Cor. 3:18; 7:1; 1 Thess. 4:3-7). Finally, when we see Jesus, we will be like Him, which is ultimate sanctification (1 John 3:1-3). In our text, Paul is talking about the process of progressive sanctification. We must be growing in the process of being separate from all doctrinal and moral evil, set apart as clean vessels for the Lord’s use.
“Master” is the Greek word from which we get our word despot. It emphasizes Christ’s absolute lordship. Paul’s point here is that dirty vessels are not useful to the Master, except for purposes that you don’t want to think about. Have you ever been in a restaurant and discovered a previous customer’s dirty egg crusted on your fork or plate? You would rightly demand a clean fork or plate. The dirty one is not useful. In the same way, if our minds embrace false teaching and our lives are tainted by sin, we are not useful to our Master.
Prepared has the idea of being willing and ready. The cleansed vessel is waiting for the Master to pull it off the shelf and put it to honorable use. Dirty vessels are not ready to be used.
Have you ever been angry when suddenly you have an opportunity to bear witness for Christ? You weren’t prepared, were you? Or have you ever been grumbling about something when you encountered a brother or sister who needed a word of encouragement? You probably didn’t even notice the need, let alone respond appropriately. But if you are cleansed, you’re ready to serve the Lord in any good work that He sets before you.
Thus Paul’s point (2:20-21) is that God uses cleansed people. He goes on to show what this looks like in practice:
There are two commands, flee and pursue. We are to flee from youthful lusts and pursue what we may sum up as godliness, broken down under four qualities: righteousness, faith, love and peace with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart, that is, peace with other believers.
“Now flee from youthful lusts….” We usually associate the term with sexual temptations, but as one older seminary professor told us, “Men, they aren’t just youthful!” You don’t outgrow sexual temptations. Where do you think we got the term, “dirty old man”? The word translated “lusts” may refer to any desires, although it usually refers to sinful desires. So while sexual temptation may be included in “youthful lusts,” it’s probably not the primary focus.
Rather, Paul was probably referring to wrong desires that younger men are more prone to than older men are. Calvin understood it as the propensity of younger men to lose their tempers and rush forward into a heated argument with more confidence and rashness than men of a riper age do (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], on 2 Tim. 2:22, p. 232). In the same vein, Gordon Fee (New International Biblical Commentary [Hendrickson Publishers, 1988], p. 263) says that Paul is speaking of “headstrong passions of youth, who sometimes love novelties, foolish discussions, and arguments that all too often lead to quarrels.” William Barclay related it to the faults of impatience, self-assertion, love of arguing, and love of novelty that stem from youthful idealism (The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon [Westminster Press, revised ed., 1975], p. 180).
So Paul was telling Timothy that while it is right to defend the faith against serious errors and to stand firm on the central doctrines of Scripture, there is a right and a wrong way to go about it. He will go on (2:23-26) to explain the right way. Here, he is warning against the wrong way, which is to be arrogant about how much you know, impatiently to blast those in error, and to be quarrelsome and self-assertive. The fruits of the Spirit include patience, kindness, and gentleness, along with self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). Youthful impetuosity is not on the list! Paul says to flee from these youthful temptations.
The Bible commands us to flee from some other sins. 1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee immorality.” Don’t flirt with it. Don’t stand there and pray about what to do. Don’t get near it. If it comes knocking, run for your life!
1 Corinthians 10:14 says, “flee from idolatry.” You may be thinking, “Well, at least that one isn’t a problem for me! I’m never tempted to set up an idol.” Really? You’re never tempted to set up anything in the place that rightfully belongs to God alone? You never allow watching TV or playing computer games to usurp the time that you should spend alone with God or serving Him? Run from anything that pulls you away from full devotion to God!
1 Timothy 6:11 (which is parallel to our text) tells us (in the context) to flee from the love of money. Are you tempted to gamble? Run! It’s the love of money that feeds gambling. Do you look at the rich and think, “I want to live that way”? Run! Are you tempted to steal or cheat on your taxes or be greedy rather than generous? Run! Cleansed people flee from sin.
Fleeing and pursuing are opposites. It is not enough just to flee from sin. Also, you must pursue godly character qualities. The word “pursue” is the same word that is elsewhere translated “persecute.” It means to go after it with a vengeance. Run hard after these four aspects of godliness:
This is a general term that refers to right behavior or conformity to the standards of God’s Word. God’s Word is not vague about how you should live. It doesn’t offer helpful hints for happy living, if you feel like giving it a try. It gives us the commandments of God, which are for our good (Deut. 10:13; 1 John 5:3).
Years ago, an elder in my church in California told me that people like his wife, who grew up under austere, authoritarian religious fathers, could not relate to my preaching. When I asked why not, he said, “Because you preach obedience.” I replied that whenever I preached obedience (which seems to be mentioned rather often in the Bible!), I tried to emphasize God’s love and grace as the motivation to obey. But he insisted that people such as his wife, who grew up in these authoritarian homes, could not relate well to my emphasis on obedience. In fact, I’ve often been called “legalistic” because I teach that we must obey God.
But obedience to God’s Word is not legalism! Paul commands us, “Pursue righteousness!” Go after it with everything you’ve got! David exclaimed (Ps. 40:8), “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.” Hebrews 10:7 puts those words in Jesus’ mouth. If you’re growing to be like Jesus, you’re growing in the delight of pursuing righteousness from the heart.
The Greek word here may mean, “faithfulness.” We should be pursuing faithfulness, which is all too rare! It means that you are trustworthy or reliable. When someone gives you a job, you can be counted on to do it.
But the word also means “faith.” We are to pursue faith. Faith is related to your concept of God. Is He mighty? Does He hear the prayers of His people and act on their behalf? Do you trust Him to do far more than you are able to do in your strength?
Many years ago, there was a learned Hebrew professor at Princeton Seminary named Robert Dick Wilson. He could read, as I remember, more than 30 Semitic languages! One time about twelve years after Donald Grey Barnhouse had graduated, he went back to the seminary to preach to the students. Dr. Wilson sat down near the front. After the message, he went forward and shook Barnhouse’s hand. He said, “When my boys come back, I come to see if they are big-godders or little-godders, and then I know what their ministry will be.”
Barnhouse asked him to explain and he replied, “Well, some men have a little god and they are always in trouble with him. He can’t do any miracles. He can’t take care of the inspiration and transmission of the Scripture to us. He doesn’t intervene on behalf of His people. They have a little god and I call them little-godders. Then there are those who have a great God. He speaks and it is done. He commands and it stands fast. He knows how to show Himself strong on behalf of them that fear Him.” He went on to tell Barnhouse that he could see that he had a great God and that God would bless his ministry (Donald Grey Barnhouse, Let Me Illustrate [Revell, 1967], pp. 132-133). Pursue faith!
You say, “Well, I’m just a naturally loving person!” No, you’re naturally selfish! That’s why Paul commands, “Pursue love!” That requires getting your focus off of yourself and onto others, so that you can treat them as you would want to be treated. It means giving your time to listen to someone who is hurting. It means befriending someone who is lonely. Sometimes it means having the courage to talk to a brother (or sister) who is in sin with the aim of restoring him to the Lord. It means being patient, kind, considerate, and not easily provoked (see the complete list, 1 Cor. 13:4-7). Pursuing love means investing constant effort to love others.
Peace usually doesn’t just happen. You have to pursue it deliberately, sometimes with much effort. It is debatable whether the comma should be inserted after “peace.” With the comma, the sentence means that you should join with other believers in the common pursuit of peace. Without the comma, the idea is that the peace that you should pursue should be with other believers, here described as those “who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” “Pure” is related to the verb “cleanses” (2:21), and thus refers to a heart that has been cleansed from sin. The implication of the command is that even though Christians all call upon the name of the Lord out of hearts that have been cleansed from sin, they still will have conflicts and misunderstandings with each other. Thus they need to pursue peace with one another.
The world’s way of dealing with misunderstandings or conflict is to nurse hurt feelings, to spread gossip, and to stand up for your rights. God’s way is to go directly to the one who offended and seek to be reconciled. Jesus said that this is so important that even if you are worshiping, leave your worship and first be reconciled to your brother (or sister; Matt. 5:23-24). Recognizing that it is difficult, Paul said (Rom. 12:18), “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Pursue peace!
It’s a great honor for an athlete to be put into the starting line-up of a big game. But even greater than the honor of being used by the coach is to be used by God. To be in His starting line-up, you don’t have to have great talents. You have to be a cleansed person who constantly flees from sin and pursues godliness.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.
I have read that when people are asked to rank their greatest fears, the fear of death ranks second after the fear of speaking in public! I don’t know where the fear of confronting someone who is in sin would rank, but I suspect that it would be somewhere near the top of the list.
Many pastors are afraid to deal with sinning church members. I heard of a pastor who was a gifted Bible expositor. But he refused to confront a woman who often sang solos in that church, even though she was divorcing her husband for unbiblical reasons. He said that he didn’t want to touch that one for fear of stirring up a hornet’s nest!
I know of husbands whose wives are in obvious sin, but they will not offer loving, biblical correction for fear of incurring the wife’s anger or retaliation. I know of Christian wives who never say anything to their professing Christian husbands who are in serious sin. The wives say that they are being submissive to their husbands, but I think that they are not acting in love towards their husbands. I know of Christian parents who refuse to correct rebellious children. They allow them to be unsociable, rude, and impudent in speech and attitude, with no correction. The parents sometimes may lose their tempers and yell at the rebellious child, but they do not correct them biblically.
Whether we like it or not (and we probably should not like it!), we all need to learn how to give biblical correction to those who are in sin or in serious doctrinal error. Without correction, churches and families tend to run into the ditch. In our text, Paul shows Timothy how to carry out the gentle art of correction. It applies especially to church leaders, but it also applies to every Christian, because we all have relationships that require at times, if we truly love others, for us to offer biblical correction. So although it is never a pleasant task, it is a part of biblical love.
There are several reasons that we shy away from correcting others. I’ve already mentioned the fear factor: we’re chicken! One key to overcoming the fear of correcting those in sin or error is to recognize what verse 24 affirms, that if you know Christ, you are the Lord’s bond-servant. As such, He will hold you accountable for being faithful to Him. You need to fear God more than you fear people and recognize that obedience to His command to love others requires correcting them if you see them heading for the cliff.
Another factor that keeps us from correcting others is a misunderstanding of Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” This is one of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible. If you keep reading, in verse 6 Jesus talks about not giving what is holy to dogs and not casting your pearls before swine. Obviously, you must make some pretty harsh judgments to label someone a dog or a swine! You cannot minister to people if you do not make some judgments about their spiritual condition. Jesus meant that we should not condemn others for minor things in their lives while we ignore major sins in our own lives. First take the log out of your eye and then you can help your brother with the speck in his eye.
That leads to another reason that we do not correct others: We are aware of sin in our own lives. We are afraid that if we try to correct someone else, he (or she) will point the finger back at us, and we know that we’re guilty as charged. So we do not bring up the other person’s sin in hopes that he will not bring up our sin! But, Scripture commands us to deal with any known sin in our lives. That’s why Paul’s instruction here on the ministry of correction follows his exhortation on being a cleansed vessel. We do not have to be perfect to practice this ministry (or it would never get done), but we do have to judge our own sins.
Another reason we do not correct others is laziness and procrastination. It is always more of a hassle to correct than to let it go. Always! It takes effort to arrange a time to get together. It is stressful to talk about such matters. You risk a backlash from the other person. But, we are commanded to pursue love (2:22), and that always requires effort and risk.
Another reason we do not correct those in sin is that we have inadvertently bought into the tolerant, relative morality of our culture. We mistakenly think that love means accepting the person, sin and all, with no moral judgments about his behavior. But, God’s Word gives us absolute standards for right and wrong behavior. If we see someone violating biblical standards, he is heading for the cliff. The consequence of sowing to the flesh is corruption, which isn’t pretty (Gal. 6:8)! Love requires attempting to correct.
Another reason we shy away from offering correction is that we do not know whether or not we should do it. Some problems get resolved as we pray without saying anything. And, not all matters warrant correction. We’re all imperfect and in process. God Himself is patient with us, not confronting us all at once for every area where we fall short. So, we wonder whether a particular matter calls for correction, or whether we should just bear with the person. That’s one reason that I have called this the gentle art of correction. It requires waiting on the Lord and applying biblical wisdom to know when it’s right to correct or when to remain silent.
But, even with all of these reasons why we draw back from this ministry, our text is clear:
As the Lord’s servants, in love we must wisely correct those in sin and serious doctrinal error.
As I said, it’s crucial that you see yourself as the Lord’s bond-servant if you want to be obedient in this ministry. Someday you will answer to Him for whether or not you loved the people that He brought into your life. You cannot truly love someone and let him head toward a spiritual cliff without warning him. Paul shows that we should not be argumentative or quarrelsome, but he also says that we should correct those who are in opposition to the Lord. He gives us four guidelines:
Some issues are not worth dealing with. Paul writes (2:23), “But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels.” He is talking about those who were getting into fruitless doctrinal controversies in the church. Perhaps the best commentary on our text is 1 Timothy 1:3-7:
“As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.”
Some doctrinal controversies are clearly important and worth defending vigorously. Paul went to Jerusalem to argue strongly against the Judaizers, who said that circumcision is necessary for salvation (Acts 15). Paul contended against Peter, whose behavior compromised the gospel on this matter (Gal. 2:11-14). Jude 3 appeals to us to contend earnestly for the faith. So Paul does not mean (in our text) that all doctrinal controversy is wrong.
Rather, he is talking about pointless issues that have no bearing on salvation or godly living. “Speculations” infers that these were matters on which the Bible is silent. I might add that while we should not get into these kinds of foolish and ignorant debates, we may need to confront the argumentative spirit of those promoting them. Some people like to argue because it feeds their pride to prove their point and to put down others. But Paul’s point is that it is futile to argue over speculative matters where the Bible either is silent or unclear.
Here are some questions to ask to help determine if an issue is a foolish and ignorant speculation to be avoided or a matter requiring biblical correction:
*Is this person involved in clear disobedience to God’s Word? Maybe he is doing something that I don’t like, but there is no command in the Bible against it. Also, some things fall into a gray zone: they may be inadvisable, but they are not clear sin. Use discernment!
*Is a major doctrinal issue at stake? Some doctrines are essential to the Christian faith. If you deny them, you have left the faith. Other issues may be very important for one’s view of God or man or how to live the Christian life, although they are not essential for salvation. Again, you must know Scripture and exercise discernment in light of how serious the matter is.
*What is your goal in this issue? Do you just want to argue and prove that you’re right, or are you concerned about godliness and love? Quarreling or winning an argument does not lead anyone to Christ nor does it build up your brother in true godliness. If you must correct, your aim should be to help your brother grow in the Lord. Correction must be done wisely.
Paul gives one negative and three positive terms. Together, these qualifications add up to biblical love.
You can’t effectively correct if you are antagonistic. The most effective correction takes place when the other person knows that you love and care for him. If you go to “set him straight” or “prove that he’s wrong,” but do not show genuine concern for him, he will probably not adopt the viewpoint that you’re arguing for, even if it is biblical.
Also, you must determine before you go to the other person that you will not get into an argument, because often the one in sin will counter by attacking you or your motives. If you allow yourself to be drawn into that kind of quarrel, you cannot be effective in the ministry of correction. You can be firm and unwavering without raising your voice or losing your temper. This applies also to husbands and wives. You can talk with your mate about a problem that concerns his or her behavior without yelling, arguing, name-calling, or attacking. In fact, these things are sin because they do not stem from biblical love.
The Greek word means “mild” or “gentle.” Paul uses it (1 Thess. 2:7) to refer to his own behavior, comparing himself to a nursing mother tenderly caring for her own child. We often think that to be effective, correction must be stern. But Paul says that we must be kind. Husbands, do you correct your wives with the tenderness of a nursing mother? Parents, do you correct your children with the same kindness you show to a nursing infant?
Often when you try to correct others, they will respond by attacking you. They will falsely accuse you of wrong motives or they will bring up shortcomings in your behavior to try to divert matters away from their own sins. If you are impatient when wronged, you lose the ability to correct effectively.
This word is often translated “meekness,” but that conveys weakness, which is wrong. The word is used of Moses (Num. 12:3), Jesus (Matt. 11:29; 21:5), and Paul (2 Cor. 10:1), none of whom were weak, timid men! It is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23), and is also used in Galatians 6:1, which talks about the need to restore with gentleness those who are caught in sin. The word was used in secular Greek to refer to a horse that had been broken. It was strong and powerful, but in complete submission to its master. So the biblical word may include behavior or speech that is very strong at times. But the gentle person is sensitive and completely submissive to the Master’s will. He is not acting out of self-will. He is truly “the Lord’s bond-servant.”
Thus, correction must be done wisely and in love.
Paul says that the Lord’s bond-servant must be “able to teach.” The word “correcting” (2:25) is the word for “child training.” It refers to giving instruction, correction, or discipline to a child. The standard for all such teaching is God’s Word of truth. In other words, we should never attempt to correct by saying, “I think,” or, “in my opinion, you’re wrong.” My opinion carries no weight. God’s opinion what matters!
You must be careful here, because it’s easy to mix up your opinions or your way of doing things with God’s clear commandments. They may not be one and the same. We sometimes inherit certain views from our upbringing or from cultural notions about right and wrong.
For example, I’ve heard people say to children who are rambunctious in a church building, “You shouldn’t behave that way in God’s house!” But, church buildings are not God’s house! God’s people are His house, but the building is just a convenient place where the church gathers. It may be that the children need to behave in a more subdued manner in a group setting, but God’s house has nothing to do with it. To view this building as a sacred place is to confuse a cultural idea with a biblical truth.
The same thing applies to what is appropriate attire at a church service. The Bible commands us to dress modestly, but it never says that we must wear a suit or dressy clothes when we gather with the church. Some argue that if you were going to meet the President, you would dress up, so you should do the same when you come to meet with the Lord. If that is so, then you’d better put on your suit before you have your morning quiet time! I actually heard a lecture in seminary where the professor used Titus 2:10, which urges slaves to “adorn the doctrine of God” in every respect, to argue that as pastors, we should wear a suit even when we went to the local hardware store! He was misusing Scripture to try to support a cultural value! Biblical correction must stem from biblical standards of truth and morality.
When you offer correction, emphasize that obedience to God’s Word is the only path to blessing. I often ask, “You want God’s blessing in your life, don’t you? You can’t ask God to bless your life when you are living in violation of His Word.” Your correction must offer constructive help that shows the other person practically how to live in a manner that is pleasing to the Lord. As the one offering correction, you are subject to the same biblical standards. So you should be able to point to your life as an example and show the one in sin how to apply the Bible in daily life.
Thus correction must be done wisely and in love. It must be based on and in accordance with God’s Word of truth.
Paul says that those in error are “in opposition,” that is, in opposition to God and His truth. He adds (2:25-26), “if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”
We often see things only from the natural plane, but God’s Word teaches that there is a constant spiritual battle raging on the spiritual plane. We are struggling against “the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). At bare minimum, this means that it would be utter foolishness to try to talk to men about God before we first have talked to God about men. Prayer must permeate this whole process of biblical correction.
There are several interpretive matters to consider in these verses. First, is Paul referring to believers or to unbelievers who need this correction? The fact that they need to come “to the knowledge of the truth” would point to unbelievers, since Paul uses that phrase consistently of unbelievers in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 2:4; 4:3; 2 Tim. 3:7; see also, Titus 1:1). On the other hand, in 1 Timothy 3:7, Paul says that an elder may fall into the snare of the devil, the same term that he uses here. Also, the verb “held captive” means to capture alive. It’s as if Satan captures believers as POW’s to use them for his purposes. So, it may refer both to believers and to professing believers. The test of the genuineness of their faith is whether or not they respond positively to correction. If someone professes to know Christ, but persists in heretical teaching or godless behavior, his claim may be suspect.
Another issue is the correct translation at the end of verse 26. The Greek pronouns are ambiguous. Some say that it is the servant of the Lord who takes captive the erring one, so that he may do God’s will. Others say that the devil has captured him, but they escape so that they can again do God’s will (NASB, margin). But most scholars understand it to mean that the devil has captured them to do his (the devil’s) will. Probably either the second or third view is correct. The person in serious doctrinal error or disobedience to God’s Word has fallen into Satan’s snare and is being held captive by him. Satan’s evil will is opposed to God’s holy will. Since we are fighting against this powerful evil enemy, we must put on the whole armor of God, which includes prayer (Eph. 6:10-20).
Note also that while we should exhort those in sin to repent, at the same time, God must grant repentance. Scripture is clear that both are true (Acts 2:38; 5:31; 11:18). “If perhaps” shows that we cannot be sure in advance whether God will grant repentance or not. If He grants repentance, He will be glorified by the person’s turning from sin to Christ. If He withholds repentance, He will be glorified by His justice in condemning the person at the judgment because he refused to repent. You’ve got to hold both of these truths in tension.
How do we know if the person truly repents? Paul says that he will come to “the knowledge of the truth.” This means more than mental assent. It points to experiential knowledge, evidenced by a change of thinking and behavior. His life will conform to God’s Word, both in doctrine and practice.
Also, he will “come to [his] senses.” The Greek word means to return to soberness after being in a drunken stupor. Satan drugs his captives so that they do not think clearly. They are spiritually dull. When God grants repentance, they begin to think clearly. They often will say, “I was so deceived!”
Finally, he will “escape from the snare of the devil.” Paul uses this phrase of elders that lack a good reputation with outsiders, thus falling “into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:7; see, also, 1 Tim. 6:9 on the snare of the love of money). A snare traps an animal. Sin and false teaching trap people and enslave them. When God grants repentance, they are freed from sin and are able to continue in obedience to His Word, which is the only true freedom (see John 8:31-36).
Probably every one of us who is walking with Christ would not be where we’re at today if other brothers and sisters had not corrected us in love. We all need this ministry from time to time, because we all are prone to get off the path.
If you are a cleansed vessel, fleeing from sin and pursuing godliness (2:20-22), then you are called to practice this gentle art of correction towards those who are flirting with or already have drifted into serious doctrinal error or sin. I want to give you some gentle, but firm correction by saying, “Do it!” Gently correct those you know that are in sin or error. Do it wisely. Do it in love. Do it in accordance with God’s Word. Do it prayerfully, being aware of spiritual warfare. But do it! Do it because you love God more than anything and you love your brother or sister as you love yourself.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.
Someone has described the evening news as the program where the announcer says, “Good evening,” and then proceeds to tell you why it isn’t! Can you imagine an evening news program that only ran the good news? “Three thousand planes took off and landed as scheduled today, without any incidents. The economy seems to be doing fine. No politicians were indicted for corruption today. Crime is down, and families gathered for a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Thanks for joining us on the evening news!”
I suppose that would be a surprisingly refreshing broadcast, but we all know that it would not be realistic. Sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring reality is not a helpful way to solve problems or to face the future. So as pessimistic as it may be, we need to know the problems that we are up against so that they will not hit us broadside to discourage and disorient us.
In our text, Paul gives Timothy (and us) a dose of reality about the times in which we live. He warns us that “in the last days difficult times will come” (3:1). The Greek word for “difficult” is used only one other time in the New Testament, to describe the two violent demoniacs of Gadara (Matt. 8:28). It means, “harsh, fierce, savage.” When Paul says “the last days,” he is referring to the period of time between Christ’s ascension and His second coming. “Times” means “seasons” or “time periods.” So the idea is that during the church age, there will be various times, some more intense than others, where the church will face intense, sometimes savage, opposition. Paul here describes in detail the kind of evil men who instigate such opposition against the church.
As you read through this long list of evil characteristics, you probably think of the godless enemies of the faith that never darken the door of a church. But then you come to verse 5, where Paul says that they hold “to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.” You realize, “Good grief, he’s talking about those within the church!” He’s describing professing Christians. Some are church leaders. They teach Bible studies. They’re not passive, sit-in-the-pew members, but those who are active in ministry. But their religion is just an empty shell. They lack the reality of a genuine walk with God, who looks on the heart. They talk a good line, they put on a good front, but in their motives, their thought lives, and their personal relationships, they are not godly people.
It’s easy to read this list and think, “You know, I once knew someone who fit this description. He was a real scoundrel!” Or, “I’ve read about guys like this. Shame on them!” But I think that Paul wanted Timothy and us to do some personal soul-searching as we read this list and ask, “Lord, is it I? Could I be drifting into holding to a form of godliness, but be denying its power to transform my heart?” Paul’s message to us is,
We must knowingly avoid empty religion and those who propagate it.
He makes four points:
It is easy to fall into this trap of outwardly professing one thing, but inwardly and towards those that know us, living another way. The reason that unbeliever often complain about all the hypocrites in the church is that there are a lot of hypocrites in the church! Make sure that you’re not one of them! Paul says three things about this kind of empty religion:
These men claimed to be Christians! Probably, if they had read Paul’s description here, either they would have mentally shrugged it off as applying to someone else or they would have protested that it was a gross caricature. Hypocrites seldom recognize their own hypocrisy, as Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees demonstrated. Alexander Maclaren observed (Expositions of Holy Scripture [Baker], on 2 Tim. 3:5, p. 90), “The worse a man is, the less he knows it. The more completely a professing Christian has lost his hold of the substance and is clinging only to the form, the less does he suspect that this indictment has any application to him…. If a man says, ‘Your text has no sort of application to me,’ he thereby shows that it has a very close application to him.” He adds (p. 91), “Many of us substitute outward connection with the Church for inward union with Jesus Christ.”
If you have the inward reality of a vital relationship with Jesus Christ, you will be judging your life each day by the light of Scripture. You will be confessing and forsaking evil thoughts that do not please God. You will be examining your life with regard to the evil characteristics that Paul lists here, turning from them in thought, word, and deed. Those that are closest to you should observe the reality of the lordship of Christ in your daily life. Do they?
It is significant that the first two and the last item in the list talk about love that is wrongly directed: “lovers of self, lovers of money, … lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (3:2, 4).
This leads the list and is really the root cause of everything else on the list. Years ago, for a while, I got sucked into the current of the modern church that says, “You need to love yourself properly.” The verse that is always cited for support is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). The reasoning goes, “If you don’t love yourself properly, you can’t love God and others. So you need to develop proper self-love or self-esteem.”
But this idea did not come into the church from the Bible. It came into the church in the past forty years from the teaching of godless men like Carl Rogers and Eric Fromm. I read a lot of men from previous centuries, and all of them uniformly condemn self-love as a terrible sin. The Bible is clear that our root problem is that we love ourselves all too well. There are only two (not three) great commandments: Love God and love your neighbor. Self-love is the assumed standard by which you can measure if you really love others. If you would show the concern for others that you practice toward yourself, you would fulfill the commandment. Even those with so-called poor self-esteem love themselves too much. Invariably, they are self-focused people. But the mark of biblical love is self-sacrifice, not self-love or self-esteem (Eph. 5:25; John 13:34).
Jesus said that the first requirement if we want to follow Him is to deny ourselves on a daily basis, not to work on better self-love (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). Many verses in the Bible command us to humble ourselves and not to think too highly of ourselves, which is our innate tendency (James 4:6-10; 1 Pet. 5:5-6; Rom. 12:3; Phil. 2:3). But there are no verses that tell us to love ourselves more than we already do. None! No Scriptures tell us to esteem ourselves more highly than we already do. None! But these lies permeate the modern evangelical church. Our text warns us that self-love heads the list of all manner of evil.
This flows out of self-love. If we love ourselves, then we love money because we see it as the means to a more comfortable lifestyle. While the Bible commands husbands to provide adequately for the needs of their families (1 Tim. 5:8), it also warns us about the danger of loving money (1 Tim. 6:9-10): “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” I find that I have to keep rooting the weed of greed out of my soul, because the world daily feeds us the lie that more money or more things will make us happy.
What a description of our culture and, sadly, even of much of the evangelical church of our day! Many churches today are aping the world by bringing comedians into the church to entertain the saints! I’ve heard sermons where the pastor sounded more like Jay Leno than a steward of the mysteries of God. Frankly, much Christian music falls more into worldly entertainment by glamorous stars, rather than worship.
Almost 60 years ago, H. A. Ironside lamented about the church in that time (Timothy, Titus, & Philemon [Loizeaux Brothers, 1947], p. 217), “The church of God has gone into the entertainment business! People must be amused, and as the church needs the people’s money, the church must, perforce, supply the demand and meet the craving!” He was prophetic about the philosophy of the modern “seeker” church: Find a need and fill it. If the people like drama better than sermons, then give them more drama and less preaching! If people want 15-minute upbeat talks that help them towards personal fulfillment, but don’t mention sin, then that’s what you should give them!
The ironic thing is, genuine, lasting pleasure is not to be found in all of the forms of entertainment that our culture so devotedly pursues. David had it right when he proclaimed (Ps. 16:11), “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand are pleasures forever.” As John Piper has rightly pointed out (Desiring God), it’s not wrong to pursue pleasure. What’s wrong is to pursue pleasure outside of God. We are commanded to pursue and maintain our greatest joy in God Himself.
So Paul shows us that empty religion means having the form without the power. The root of such empty religion is misdirected affections.
I can only briefly touch on these, but notice that all of these terrible sins stem from the love of self and they violate the command to love our neighbor as ourselves. This list is a manual on how to have broken, awful personal relationships! If any one of these sins pricks your conscience, don’t brush it off. Deal with it!
The Greek term referred to traveling quacks that wandered around full of empty boasts about cures and other feats that they claimed that they could accomplish. Spiritually, it refers to people who claim to have a wonderful relationship with God, but the inward reality is not there. They know how to use God-talk to sound spiritual, but they are putting on a front to cover a sinful life. Or, they boast about their easy spiritual remedies that they market to gullible people, but they are false claims.
This looks at the inward attitude that lies behind the boastful person. It is the attitude of the person who thinks that he is better than everyone else, but he does not see his own pride.
This refers to those who blaspheme God or insult other people. It stems from being boastful and arrogant.
Satan works overtime to destroy Christian homes, because that is where children should see the reality of Christ in the parents and their relationships and where they should come to know Christ and be trained in His ways. Nothing will sour kids on the faith more than seeing repeated hypocrisy in their “Christian” parents.
Many parents do not train their children to be obedient. They allow toddlers to be defiant and disobedient, without any penalty or consequences. As the child grows older, the parents become increasingly alarmed at their disobedience, so they slap on more rules. But that is backwards. The younger the child, the more you should enforce obedience to the rules. Then, as the children learn to obey your authority, you can back off on the rules as they mature. By the time they are teenagers, they should be living under the lordship of Christ, so that you have very few rules of your own.
This may refer to ungratefulness towards God (Rom. 1:21), as well as ungratefulness towards others. Ungratefulness stems from self-love and looking out for your own “rights.” Gratefulness stems from realizing that you are an undeserving recipient of God’s grace.
This means that they do not reverence God or respect the things of God. As Romans 3:18 puts it, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
The Greek word means without natural affection of the sort that even the world displays in families.
They refuse to seek forgiveness when they are wrong or to grant forgiveness when they have been wronged. They hold a grudge and seek ways to inflict revenge when they’re wronged. It is the opposite of pursuing peace (2:22).
This is the Greek word diabolos, from which we get the word “devil.” It literally means to throw something against someone. The malicious gossip tries to spread half-truths or falsehoods about someone, often to make the gossiper look good and the other person look bad by comparison.
This word means “without power” and refers to a person who gives in to wrong impulses or desires. Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:23).
The word means savage, untamed, or fierce. Many Christians watch movies that portray and glorify violence. The Bible says (Ps. 5:6), “The Lord abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit.” And (Ps. 11:5), “The one who loves violence His soul hates.” How can you watch with delight a movie portraying what God hates?
This refers to hating God and His standards of righteousness. If you hate a godly person because he makes you feel guilty, you are a hater of good.
This is the word used of Judas, who betrayed Jesus. It refers to someone who betrays loyalty or a trust in order to further his own interests.
This means to be rash or careless about things that are valuable in God’s sight. The reckless person goes for a cheap thrill without regard to the consequences or danger.
The word means to wrap in smoke, hence, to puff up with pride. This is a person inflated with a sense of his own importance. This brings us full circle back to the root evil, lovers of self.
Remember, Paul isn’t primarily talking about atheists or those who never darken the door of a church. He’s talking about people who make a profession of godliness, but they are hypocrites. They do not have inward reality with God, but just empty religion. We need to take personal inventory, to make sure that none of these characteristics describe our lives. Make sure that you are a lover of God, not of self or money or pleasure apart from God.
You would think that they whose lives are marked by such hypocrisy would try to cover it up. But Paul goes on to show that they actually recruit followers to join them!
All of the major cults in church history began with those who had the form of godliness without its power. You may wonder, “How can anyone be duped into following a hypocritical, corrupt leader, such as Paul here describes?” He gives four explanations:
They “enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins” (3:6). Purveyors of false religion often prey on people with emotional or spiritual needs, such as guilt, but not by offering the gospel. Often, as with Satan in the original temptation, they prey on susceptible women, who may be more emotionally vulnerable than men would be.
These women are “led on by various impulses” (3:6). This may imply that these false teachers were seducing these women while their husbands were away. Or, it may refer to women who are led more by their emotions than by reason and self-control.
Paul describes the victims as “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (3:7). “The knowledge of the truth” refers to a saving knowledge of Christ. The learning offered by the false teachers appealed to the pride of these women. They were stuck at home and probably not highly educated. But if they followed the false teachers, they would know more than their husbands know. Often such false teachers gain a following by sensational claims, such as explaining prophecies in great detail. But that kind of learning doesn’t lead to godliness.
Paul illustrates his point by referring to Jannes and Jambres, Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses. These men are not mentioned by name in the Bible, but rather in early Jewish writings and tradition. They mimicked the miracles that Moses and Aaron performed before Pharaoh, not by the power of God, but either by sleight of hand or demonic power. But Paul says (3:8) that the false teachers “oppose the truth” and are “of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith.” Often the cults will offer results that are promised to believers in the Bible, but they offer them without bringing people to the cross and to faith in Christ. The Mormons, for example, offer harmonious family relationships, but they do not proclaim Jesus as Lord and preach submission to Him.
Thus empty religion is a constant danger and it always has those who propagate it.
These verse have two commands: “Realize” (or, “know,” 3:1); and, “Avoid such men as these” (3:5). “Realize” means, “Know this in advance so that you won’t be thrown off balance when you see these things happening.” When you see professing Christians and Christian churches brazenly pursuing the love of self, love of money, and love of pleasure instead of the love of God, don’t be surprised. Don’t be taken in by it!
“Avoid such men as these.” Don’t read their books, go to their seminars, watch their TV programs, or join their churches. Never send them money to support their false teaching! I could name names, but I hope you can figure it out. If a man does not preach the cross of Jesus Christ as the only remedy for sinners who are under God’s judgment, or if they promote how to “use God to achieve worldly and personal success,” avoid them!
“But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s was also.” Paul does not mean that these evil men will cease to plague the church, because in 3:13 he says how they will “proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Rather, he means that God will only allow them to go so far. They will get some victims, but Jesus Christ promised to build His church, “and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18).
The only antidote against the insidious evil of the enemy is the true gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of God’s Word of truth. Make sure that you have experienced the transforming power of the gospel through personal faith in Jesus Christ. Make sure that daily you feed on His Word, allowing it to confront your sinful thoughts, attitudes, words, and behavior. Walk in personal reality with Christ, being filled with the Holy Spirit, growing in the fruit of the Spirit in your character. Be brutally honest with your thought-life before God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Confess your sins to God and seek forgiveness of those you wrong. That kind of genuine walk with God is the only way to avoid the danger of empty religion.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.
Robert Porteous and his wife were missionaries in China who were imprisoned when the communists took over that country. Many times the order to execute them was given, but never carried out. One night, they were marched up a hill after dark. The executioner led the way, with his sword gleaming in the moonlight. When they reached the top, the Chinese prisoners were wailing with fear and writhing on the ground.
But Pastor Porteous and his wife started thinking that in just a few minutes, they would enter the presence of their Savior. As the man with the sword came up behind them, they looked up to the starry night and began to sing, “Face to face I shall behold Him, far beyond the starry sky. Face to face in all His glory, I shall see Him by and by.”
The guards turned to the Chinese prisoners and scolded them, “The missionaries are not afraid to die.” Then they turned to Pastor Porteous and his wife and asked them to sing for them in Chinese. “All we know are Christian songs,” he replied. So they began to sing in Chinese, “The gate of heaven is open wide for me.” When they finished, the guards didn’t execute them.
The man who related this story met Pastor Porteous when he was in his mid-nineties, sporting a white goatee and carrying his zither. He would ride the bus to a retirement home where he would sing to the residents, “to cheer them up.” Most of the residents were younger than he was! He finally went to meet His Lord in 1976. His church dedicated Psalm 34:1 to his memory, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” (Related by Stan Jeter, in Luis Palau “Briefing,” Fall, 1982.)
All of us that know Christ would say, “I want to be as faithful unto death as Pastor Porteous was! Whether I die a martyr’s death or live to a ripe old age, I want to be faithful to my Lord and Savior, who gave Himself for me.” But, as we know, spiritual faithfulness is not an automatic process. When I see Christian leaders fall into terrible sins, bringing disgrace to the name of Christ, I realize that I am not invincible and pray, “Lord, give me the grace to remain faithful to You, especially when there are strong temptations to compromise, whether in doctrine or morals.”
After describing the false teachers who hold to a form of religion, but deny its power (3:1-9), in our text Paul again exhorts Timothy to remain faithful, even through persecution. He reminds Timothy of his own example, which Timothy has observed for many years now. Paul was not boasting in himself, but rather was saying, “Timothy, my life is open to you. You know my life and my teaching. You’ve seen me under persecution of the worst sort, including being stoned and left for dead in your home town of Lystra. You’ve seen me go through imprisonment, beatings, shipwreck, and other hardships. You know that my life backs up my message, the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. So after I’m gone, remember my example and continue in it yourself.” His message in 3:10-15 may be summed up:
Spiritual faithfulness is not automatic, but requires recognizing and following godly examples who follow the Scriptures.
These verses fall into two sections, marked out in the Greek text by two identical phrases (3:10, 14) that should be translated identically, “But you,” or, “You, however….” In 3:10, Paul draws a contrast between the character of the evil men in 3:1-9 and Timothy’s faithfulness up to this point. In 3:14, the contrast is between the evil men and impostors in 3:13 and Timothy’s needed faithfulness in the future.
Even though Timothy had followed Paul’s teaching and example thus far, Paul felt it necessary to exhort him to continue doing so in the future, especially when he encountered persecution, as he surely would (3:12). In other words, past faithfulness does not automatically guarantee future faithfulness. The lives of these evil men that Paul has been describing (3:1-9, 13) serve as a warning. They were not atheists or outwardly opposed to religion. Rather, they made a profession of faith. They had been leaders in the church. They held to a form of godliness, but now their lives denied its power. They were impostors, or charlatans. “Proceed” (3:13) means to make progress. So Paul is sarcastically saying, “They will make progress all right, from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
Whenever the Bible warns about deception, be careful, because deception is always tricky. It picks your pocket when you think everything is okay. In the context here, the warning is, just because you have been a faithful church member for years or you have served faithfully for years, or you’ve been faithful in your marriage for years, none of these things guarantee future faithfulness. Long term spiritual faithfulness does not happen by accident. You must be deliberate about it.
So, recognizing the danger, how can we remain faithful to the Lord in the face of temptation and trials?
We all need examples to follow, which is why the Bible gives us the stories of so many faithful witnesses. Although we see many that fall into sin, thankfully there are many others, such as Paul and Timothy, who finish well. Our text shows us both how to recognize and follow godly examples.
Timothy had Paul as his example, but not as his only example. The word “whom” (3:14) is a plural (in the best manuscripts). Beyond Paul were Timothy’s mother and grandmother, who taught him the Scriptures from infancy (1:5; 3:15). It is not clear whether they led Timothy to salvation, or whether their teaching him the Scriptures prepared him to respond to the gospel when he first heard Paul preach (Paul calls him, “my true child in the faith,” 1 Tim. 1:2; also, 2 Tim. 1:2). There were also probably many other godly examples in Timothy’s life.
There is an important lesson here, namely, that we all need to be exposed to a number of godly examples. Also, we should pray that our children would come under the influence of many godly examples. I have known parents that have tried to keep their children exclusively under parental influence, not allowing church youth leaders or anyone else to get close to their children. Their motive, no doubt, is to protect their children from harmful influence, which is always a risk. But it seems to me that it is to our children’s advantage to be exposed to a number of godly adults besides that of us as parents. We needed all the help that we could get in rearing our children, and if another godly adult could have an impact in their lives, I thanked God for it.
The same is true of pastors. Some pastors are afraid of having their people listen to other pastors, perhaps out of fear that the other pastor will say something that undermines what the local pastor is saying. But I don’t have a corner on God’s truth! I encourage you to benefit from other godly pastors who are faithful to Scripture. I personally benefit from the ministries of men like John Piper, John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul, and others.
But, how do you discern whether or not a man is a godly example? Let’s face it, there are a lot of religious charlatans out there! Paul gives us three solid guidelines:
Paul writes (3:10), “But you followed my teaching….” In 4:2, he will give Timothy a strong charge to preach the Word. Paul put a premium on sound doctrine, which is a frequent theme in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 1:3-5, 10; 3:3, 15; 4:6, 13, 16; 5:17; 6:1, 3, 20-21; 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:2, 15; 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 10).
So listen to what a man teaches. It won’t take you long to discern whether he is teaching the Bible or whether he is merely using the Bible as an inspirational springboard to launch off into his own ideas. Some preachers use the Bible like the Reader’s Digest: It has some good quotes that support or illustrate their points, but they don’t teach it as God’s authoritative Word that we must understand and submit to. When you listen to a sermon, ask yourself, “Did he explain and apply the text of Scripture so that I come away understanding what it means and how it applies to my life?” Also, a godly Bible teacher does not skip the difficult sections and doctrines. He teaches the whole purpose of God.
Note also (3:15) that a godly teacher uses the Scriptures to lead people “to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Timothy’s mother and grandmother had taught him the “sacred writings” (a Jewish term for the Old Testament) from infancy (the literal Greek word). God’s Word is able to give even a child the wisdom that leads to salvation, which means, salvation from God’s righteous judgment on our sins. That salvation does not come by keeping the moral precepts of the Bible, or even by believing the Bible. Rather, salvation comes through faith in Christ Jesus alone.
As parents, pray for your children’s salvation and use the Bible to explain to them their need for the Savior and how to trust in Him to forgive their sins. The popular idea of having your child “ask Jesus to come into his heart” is probably not the clearest way to present the gospel. A child needs to come under conviction for his sins, so that he sees that he is guilty and deserves God’s judgment. He also needs to know that on the cross Jesus paid the penalty that he deserves, if he will trust in Christ. There should be evident signs of new life if a child truly has been born of God. Whether with children or adults, use the Bible as the main tool in leading people to salvation.
He practices what he preaches. His life backs up his teaching. Paul mentions six areas of character:
The word (used only here) means, “way of life.” You should be able to look at a person’s way of life and tell whether he or she is a godly example worth following. This would include how he spends his time, how he manages money and possessions, what kind of entertainment he enjoys, and how he relates to his family, friends, fellow workers, and even to strangers. Is he rude or sensitive? Is he oblivious to the needs of others or kind and caring? Christianity is a way of life that affects all of life. A godly example lives under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Paul was a man of purpose. His purpose was to help bring about God’s purpose (Eph. 3:9-11). He did everything for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). He related every aspect of his life to the supreme purpose of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord (Phil. 3:8-10) and making Him known to others (1 Cor. 9:23; 10:33). He disciplined himself for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). He made it his ambition to be pleasing to Christ (2 Cor. 5:9). He told the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:24), “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” Godly examples will always be men and women who live daily in light of God’s purpose.
The word may mean “faithfulness,” which is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Paul was certainly a faithful man (1 Cor. 4:1). But it also may refer to trusting God to do what is humanly impossible, so that He gets the glory. Referring to how God delivered him from the brink of death, Paul said (2 Cor. 1:9), “indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.” A man or woman of faith lives in light of eternity, trusting that God will keep His promises beyond the grave (2 Tim. 4:8). Look for examples that live by faith.
This also is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It comes from two Greek words that literally mean to be long before passion or anger. The patient man doesn’t have a short fuse. He can bear with difficult people without exploding in anger. He doesn’t snap at his wife or children with angry words. The supreme test of patience had not been invented when Paul wrote, but a truly patient man is patient when he drives!
This leads the list of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Love, above all other virtues, should mark believers in Jesus Christ (John 13:34-35; 1 Cor. 13). My definition is, “biblical love is a self-sacrificing, caring commitment that shows itself in seeking the highest good of the one loved.” Sometimes the highest good requires confronting someone in sin and holding him accountable. The aim is to bring him under the lordship of Jesus Christ, so that his life brings glory to God. Such love should govern everything that we do.
This word has the nuance of enduring difficult circumstances over the long haul. It means trusting God when things aren’t the way you want them to be and there is no immediate solution in sight. Many Christians either imply or directly tell you that if you have enough faith, God will instantly deliver you from your problems, whether it is a serious health problem or a difficult relational situation or whatever. “Just name it and claim it by faith,” they say.
Many years ago, I was wondering what was wrong with my faith, because I wasn’t experiencing many instant, miraculous answers to my prayers. Then I came across Colossians 1:11, where Paul prays that we may be “strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might.” I thought, “Yeah, that’s what I want. Give me that glorious, mighty power of God!” Keep reading (1:11b-12): “for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience, joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” “Steadfastness and patience” are the same Greek words as “perseverance and patience” in our text.
I thought, “Wait a minute! If God’s mighty power delivers us instantly from our trials, why would we need steadfastness and patience, with joy?” The only reason we need steadfastness and patience with joy is that God has not yet delivered us from our trials. It takes His mighty power to give us joy in the midst of unanswered prayers and ongoing trials. That leads to the third mark of a godly example. A godly example is known for his teaching and his character. Also,
How does a man respond when trials hit? Does he rail at God or submit to God? Does he drift into the world or draw near to the Lord? A godly example trusts God and grows through trials.
Paul mentions the trials that he encountered at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra (Timothy’s city), three cities in the Galatian region of Asia Minor. During the first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas were driven from Antioch because of intense persecution (Acts 13:50). At their next stop in Iconium, they had to flee to avoid being stoned (Acts 14:5-6). In Lystra, Paul actually was stoned, dragged out of the city and left for dead. He was probably unconscious, but God miraculously raised him up (Acts 14:19-20). Rather than let such awful persecution deter him, Paul went right on preaching the gospel in that region (Acts 14:21-22). Timothy had witnessed Paul’s courage and joy in the face of these terrible trials. When Paul says that the Lord rescued him out of them, he means that God brought him through them. God did not always keep Paul from trials, although at times He did (Acts 18:9-10).
Don’t miss verse 12—it’s a promise for you to claim! “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” While the type and intensity of the persecution will vary from ridicule or rejection to physical violence or even death, every true Christian who lives a godly life in this evil world will experience persecution. If you are honest at work, your honesty will convict those who cheat, and they will try to get you. If you speak out about injustice or evil, you will be ridiculed and attacked. Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], on 2 Tim. 3:12, p. 244) put it plainly: “they who wish to be exempt from persecutions must necessarily renounce Christ.”
Thus spiritual faithfulness requires recognizing and following godly examples who follow the Scriptures. You can recognize them by their teaching, their character, and their godly demeanor under trials. But, once you recognize them, you need to follow them.
Three things are involved here:
That’s the meaning of the Greek word, “followed” (NASB, 3:10; NIV, “know all about”). It means to follow closely in somebody’s footsteps. Luke (1:3) uses the word when he tells Theophilus that he has investigated everything carefully. He means that he has traced out the history and carefully checked his sources. In our text, Paul means that Timothy was thoroughly familiar with Paul’s teaching and his life because he had spent so much time with him, watching how he lived.
The implication is that we need examples whose lives are open and transparent. They are not afraid to let us see how they relate to their families and to share areas where they struggle. It implies getting to know someone well enough that you can tell whether he walks with Christ or is faking it. If he’s the real deal, then follow his example.
Paul says (3:14) that Timothy has learned these things and become convinced of them. Christianity involves learning certain doctrinal truths and developing convictions about them. Some doctrines are not essential to the faith, and godly men may differ on them. We need to hold our views on these matters with tolerance towards those who differ. But on core matters, we should not compromise at all. It requires maturity to discern where you should draw these lines.
Timothy had learned these things and was convinced of them, but Paul tells him to continue in them. The context makes it clear that he must continue in them even if it means persecution. With Martin Luther, we must say, even under intense pressure to yield, “Here I stand!” Besides reading about Luther and Calvin, who risked their lives to stand for the gospel against Rome, read the lives of others who stood for the truth under fire.
Iain Murray’s, The Forgotten Spurgeon [Banner of Truth], tells about some of the difficult controversies that Spurgeon endured, especially the painful “Downgrade Controversy.” I read it in 1990, and wrote in the flyleaf, “This is a provocative study that motivates me to go deeper theologically and to hold unswervingly to the Word even if I am the only voice. Spurgeon stood strong and true, even when others were accommodating.” I could say the same thing about many others whose examples have encouraged me to stand firm.
I conclude by asking you two questions. First, who are the examples that you follow? To be spiritually faithful, you need godly models who follow the Scriptures. As I said, if you can’t know them personally, read about their lives in the Bible and in Christian biographies. I have been strengthened greatly by reading the lives of the godly men who went before me. Although I do not know them personally, contemporaries like John MacArthur, John Piper, and others who stand for God’s truth encourage me to do the same.
Second, to whom are you an example? If you are growing in Christ as you should be, then you should pray that God will use your teaching, your conduct, and your godly demeanor under trials to impact the lives of younger believers. While none of us may ever be well-known or as strong an example as Paul was, we all should be faithful enough that our lives are worth imitating.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.
Walk into any bookstore and you will find a number of books purporting to tell you how to invest your money so as to get rich. Investing your money in these books makes the authors rich. But there are two questions you must ask about such books: First, is it reliable? Can I trust what the author is saying? Second, is it useful for me? The problem with most investment books is that they assume you have a big wad just waiting to be invested. That doesn’t help me. I need a book that speaks to where I’m at. If you can show me a book that is proven to be reliable and useful, I’ll buy it and read it. So would you—maybe.
The fact is, we all own a book that tells us how to invest our lives for maximum profit. This book has been proven to be totally reliable. No one has ever followed its life-investment strategy and been disappointed. And, the book is useful to every human being, right where they’re at. And yet, strangely, it sits neglected on our shelves while we read newspapers and watch television.
I’m talking, of course, about the Bible. It is a book that is totally reliable and useful for every person, in every country around the globe, no matter what his or her situation in life. It has never let anybody down. Millions down through the centuries have followed its life-investment strategy and found it to be completely satisfying regardless of the trials they have encountered. Most of us own several copies in different translations.
But the Bible is not a good luck charm. Having a copy in a prominent place in the house will not rub off on a family. Like any book, the Bible will profit you only if you read it, study it, and apply it to your life. I want to convince you that ...
You need the Bible because it is totally reliable and useful for all of life.
The problem is, most of you already subscribe to that proposition in theory. But I want you to go away so convinced of it that you will read, study, memorize, and meditate upon the Bible and apply it on a regular, on-going basis.
In 2 Timothy 3, Paul has been describing to Timothy the difficult times of the last days (3:1-9). He is addressing the question, How can a Christian survive and prosper in such an evil age? In 3:16-17, he reminds Timothy of the reliability and profitability of the Scriptures. Timothy already knew that. So do you. But we need it burned into our hearts so that we will apply it.
“All Scripture is God-breathed” (the best translation). This means that God is the originator of Scripture. Since it comes from God who is reliable, all Scripture is reliable. (Next week I plan to elaborate on this, so I’m not going to be thorough today.) But I want to touch on two questions:
First, what did Paul mean by “all Scripture”? The word translated “Scripture” is used 51 times in the New Testament and always refers to some part of the Bible. Sometimes it refers to the entire Old Testament (Luke 24:45; John 10:35), sometimes to a particular Old Testament passage (Luke 4:21), sometimes to a particular New Testament passage (1 Timothy 5:18) and sometimes to a larger portion of the New Testament, as when Peter refers to Paul’s letters as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16).
In our text, Paul was referring to the entire Old Testament and probably also would include the New Testament books that had been written up to the time he wrote, including his own writings. Paul directed that his letters be read in the churches (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27). Several times he claimed that his writings had divine authority (1 Cor. 2:13; 7:10, 12; 14:37; 2 Cor. 2:17; 13:3). The only New Testament books written after 2 Timothy were 2 Peter, Hebrews, Jude, and John’s writings. While I cannot go into the history of how these books were recognized as authoritative (“canonical”) Scripture, the 66 books of our Bible have generally been so regarded by Christians since the fourth century.
I agree with J. C. Ryle, who stated (Practical Religion [James Clarke], p. 71):
... the Book itself is the best witness of its own inspiration. It is utterly inexplicable and unaccountable in any other point of view. It is the greatest standing miracle in the world. He that dares to say the Bible is not inspired, let him give a reasonable account of it, if he can. Let him explain the peculiar nature and character of the Book in a way that will satisfy any man of common sense. The burden of proof seems to my mind to lie on him.
A second question is, what does “inspired” mean? The Greek word means, “breathed out by God” and points to God’s initiative and influence as the source of Scripture. Carl Henry defines it as, “that supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit whereby the sacred writers were divinely supervised in their production of Scripture, being restrained from error and guided in the choice of words they used, consistently with their disparate personalities and stylistic peculiarities” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Zondervan], ed. by Frank Gaebelein, 1:25). Or, as Charles Hodge put it, “Inspiration was an influence of the Holy Spirit on the minds of certain select men which rendered them the organs of God for the infallible communication of His mind and will. They were in such a sense the organs of God that what they said God said” (Systematic Theology [abridged ed., Baker], p. 77).
Thus the Scriptures find their origin in God. They are not the result of human religious genius. They are not great ideas of which God somehow approved. Rather they are the words of God imparted without error through the various authors. While God dictated a few portions of Scripture (e.g., the Ten Commandments), for the most part He allowed each author to use his own personality and style. But the final product came from God in the sense, as Hodge expressed it, “what they said God said.”
The bottom line is that the Scriptures are as reliable as God is. If God is the God of truth and if He “breathed out” the Scriptures, then it is inconceivable that they would contain contradictions or errors. This does not mean that every sentence in the Bible is true: The Bible truthfully records the lies and falsehood of its subjects at times. So you cannot lift a statement out of context and claim that it is true (e.g., parts of Job, Ecclesiastes, etc.). But taken in its proper contextual setting, the Bible is an accurate and true record of the very words that God wished to record through the various human authors. It is totally reliable. (More on this next week.)
Of course the Bible has always had its critics who seek to undermine its reliability. The Bible confronts sinners with their sin. Rather than face their sin, it’s more convenient to attack the Bible. But I agree with John MacArthur (Our Sufficiency in Christ [Word], p. 117) when he points out that overt attacks on the Bible are not the worst kind. Rather, the most dangerous attack is the subtle undermining which comes from those who say they believe in the Bible, but who deny its sufficiency for all of life. They say that the Bible is fine for dealing with “spiritual” problems (whatever that means!), but they turn to the wisdom of the world to deal with the tough problems of modern life, as if the Bible did not have God’s answers for living in our modern culture. But as Paul goes on to show, the Bible is not only totally reliable. Also,
Imagine God going to all the trouble to save us and then saying, “You’re on your own! Look to the world and maybe you’ll figure out how to get through life!” There is no problem in life for which the Bible does not provide God’s wisdom, either through explicit teaching or through principles that apply. In 3:16 Paul shows how Scripture is useful and in 3:17 he shows the result of such usefulness.
God’s Word is the supreme and final source and standard of truth (Ps. 119:160; John 17:17). It conveys to us God’s wisdom concerning the great questions of human existence: Is there a God? What is He like? How can we know Him? Who are we? Why are we on this planet? Why is there death and suffering? What lies beyond the grave? What does the future hold? How do I know right from wrong? These and many other questions are answered in the Bible from God’s all-knowing, authoritative perspective.
Furthermore there are principles and precepts in the Bible concerning all the practical matters we grapple with daily: How do I relate to my mate? How do I relate to others? How do I raise my children? How do I manage my money? How do I conduct my business? How do I make wise decisions? How should I think? How do I control my emotions, such as anger, depression, anxiety, and impulsiveness? How do I overcome temptation? The Bible speaks practically on these and many more matters.
The Bible is like the instruction manual you get when you buy a new computer. The manufacturer explains to you how to operate the equipment for maximum results. It would be foolish to spend a lot of money on a new computer and then ignore or, even worse, violate the manufacturer’s instructions. God created people. The Bible is His instruction manual on how to live for best results.
The fact that the Bible is profitable for teaching implies, of course, that it is necessary to study it. God chose to communicate His truth in written form. One of the great tragedies of American Christianity is that the species, “pastor-theologian,” is almost extinct. We have forgotten that the greatest theologians of the past—men like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and the Puritans—were pastors. Today pastors flock to church growth seminars that give proven methods for increasing church attendance and managing a growing church. Theology? It’s an interesting hobby for a few quaint pastors, but not very relevant to the work of the modern pastorate. (See David Wells, No Place for Truth [Eerdmans], for an excellent study on this.)
As a result, pastors are not preaching God’s truth and God’s people are starving for the spiritual nourishment of the great doctrines of God’s Word. We desperately need to know the living God and to know ourselves as revealed in His Word of truth.
To do this you must expose yourself to Scripture from every source so that you can grasp its principles and understand how to apply it to your life. Obviously it is not a one-page instruction sheet. You don’t catch it by reading a few favorite texts now and then. You need to hear it taught by faithful expositors. You need to read it over and over, comparing Scripture with Scripture so that you have the balance of the whole counsel of God. You need to study it in more depth. You need to memorize key verses. And you need to meditate on God’s Word (think about it carefully).
“Reproof” means to convince or expose. In Greek, the verb means not merely to reply to, but to refute an opponent. It meant that a lawyer convinced the judge and jury as to the specific wrongs of his opponent’s case. This means that the Bible has the power to expose sin in our lives and to convince us that we are in the wrong.
If you’re thinking, “Why would I want that to happen?” the answer is, “Because sin will ruin your life!” It’s only by exposing your sin that you can then confess and forsake it and be careful to avoid it in the future. Also, we need convincing because we all tend to justify our sin and blame others for problems that our sin created. As Proverbs 19:3 says, “The foolishness of man ruins his way, and his heart rages against the Lord.” If you’re not using the Bible to confront your own sin, then you’re not growing in righteousness as God would have you to do.
There was once a little boy who loved his mother’s strawberry jam. She put it on the top shelf and told him not to get into it while she ran some errands. He resisted for a while, but finally he succumbed. He put the chair by the counter, climbed up and could just reach his finger into the jam. He enjoyed his illicit treat until he heard his mother coming. He quickly climbed down and was standing there trying to look innocent when she walked in.
His mother said “John, have you been in the strawberry jam?” He looked her right in the eye and said, “No.” She repeated, “John have you been in the jam?” His eyes fell down to her belt-line, and he said, “No.” A third time she asked, and this time his eyes fell to her shoes, but he still said, “No.” She asked a fourth time, “John have you been in the jam?” This time his eyes fell even lower, so low that he looked right in the middle of his shirt and saw a spot of strawberry jam. (Story told by James Boice, at Dallas Seminary.)
That’s how the repeated reading of God’s Word works on us, to bring us to apply it to ourselves. The first time through we say, “This really applies to that no-good neighbor of mine. I wish he’d read it!” The second time we say, “This is good stuff for those obnoxious people at church.” The third time we say, “I wish my wife and kids would read this! It would really improve our family life.” The fourth time we see the spot on our own shirt and say, “Oh, Lord, I need to deal with my own sin!” The Word reproves us.
The Word doesn’t just point out where we’re wrong and leave us there. It also tells us how to get right with God, with others, and with ourselves. It helps restore us to the proper path of God’s ways. When we become aware of sin in our lives, it tells us how to confess it and appropriate God’s forgiveness. It tells us how to be reconciled with those we have wronged. It tells us how to overcome harmful habits, how to break off harmful alliances, and how to mend broken family relationships.
Once we’re back on the path, the Bible tells us how to stay there and make further progress. “Training” means, literally, “child-training.” This implies a process where God teaches us how to deal with all of life. Just as parents work with their children over the years to train them in various social graces, morals, relational skills, and useful habits, so God, through His Word, trains us in all areas of life so that we can know what pleases Him.
No matter where you’re at, whether a babe in Christ or a mature saint, the Scriptures are useful in your life. But the final result is not so that we might live a happy, selfish life. Paul shows us ...
“That the man [or, woman] of God may be adequate.” The word means whole or complete, sound of body and mind, full-grown, especially something fitted for its intended purpose (R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament [Eerdmans], p. 77). Since God made you for His purpose, only His Word—not this world’s wisdom—is able to fit you for that purpose. The Bible will enable you to form a Christian world-view, so that you think and respond to all of life as God intends. There is no such thing as a mature man or woman of God apart from being strong in the Word of God. But maturity is not an end in itself.
“Equipped for every good work.” “Equipped” means to be furnished or supplied. You will have adequate resources to minister to others. It’s not mere theory—you have proven through experience in the crucible of life the truth of God’s commandments and principles in His Word. Thus you can confidently impart that truth to others, because you aren’t imparting your own ideas about life, but rather the very words of God, which you have applied to your life and proved reliable.
It is my prayer and aim that each person in this church would become a mature man or woman of God through knowing experientially the Word of God. I want each of you to know the great doctrines of the faith as a means of knowing the living God and of knowing your own heart. Each of us needs to let the Word confront our own selfishness, pride, anger, lust, greed, and abusive speech. We need to let the Word correct us and keep us on the path of righteous living in this wicked world. Then we can use the Word as God has used it in our lives to minister Christ to others.
The late Bible teacher, H. A. Ironside, told of visiting a godly Irishman, Andrew Frazer, who had come to California to recover from tuberculosis. The old man could barely speak because his lungs were almost gone. But he opened his worn Bible and, until his strength was gone, he simply, sweetly opened up truth after truth in a way that Ironside had never heard before. Before he knew it, Ironside had tears running down his cheeks. He asked Frazer, “Where did you get all these things? Could you tell me where I could find a book that would open them up to me? Did you learn these things in some seminary or college?”
Frazer answered, “My dear young man, I learned these things on my knees on the mud floor of a little sod cottage in the north of Ireland. There with my Bible open before me, I used to kneel for hours at a time, and ask the Spirit of God to reveal Christ to my soul and to open the Word to my heart. He taught me more on my knees on that mud floor than I ever could have learned in all the seminaries or colleges in the world.” (H. A. Ironside, In the Heavenlies [Loizeaux Brothers], pp. 86-87.)
You own a Bible. But do you use it to teach you about God and godly living? It is the only reliable book that tells you how to invest your life. It is useful and sufficient for all of life and godliness. I strongly urge you to begin today consistently to read, study, memorize, and meditate on the Bible.
If you do not know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, the Scriptures are “able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (3:15). Read the Gospel of John and ask God to impart His gift of eternal life to you. Jesus promised (John 5:24), “ Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”
Copyright 2006, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
You don’t have to pick up books like Dan Brown’s bestseller, The Da Vinci Code, to find attacks against the reliability of the Bible. The late Dr. James Boice (“Does Inerrancy Matter?” [ICBI, 1979], p. 9) cited a survey of clergy in five major U.S. denominations that asked the broad question, “Do you believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God?” This was weaker than asking, “Do you believe that the Bible is without error?” It left open the definition of “inspired.” Yet in spite of the level at which the question was asked, 82 percent of the Methodists, 89 percent of the Episcopalians, 81 percent of the United Presbyterians, 57 percent of the Lutherans, and 57 percent of the Baptists, answered “no.”
In our day, to say that you believe that the Bible is inspired by God and without error in all that it affirms puts you in league with the folks in the Flat Earth Society. Especially in a university town, we expose ourselves to ridicule to go on record as saying that we believe that the Bible is completely true and without error.
Even many who claim to be evangelicals will not affirm the Bible to be without error. Many professors in evangelical colleges do not accept the biblical account of creation as true. Some believe that there are historical errors in the Bible and contradictions between parallel accounts. A few have gone so far as to say that the Bible errs on doctrinal and moral issues, such as Paul’s teaching on the role of women or his condemnation of homosexuality. They advocate re-interpreting these issues in light of modern knowledge.
These critics maintain that inerrancy is not all that important. The real issue is a person’s relationship to Jesus Christ. They argue that to hold to inerrancy is not scholastic and it imposes on the authors of Scripture standards of accuracy that they themselves did not hold. Thus evangelicals should not divide over this issue.
But is the inerrancy of the Bible a trivial issue? I think not. If the Bible errs on some historical facts, then how do we know that it is accurate on other historical events, such as Christ’s virgin birth, bodily resurrection and ascension? If we can’t be sure of the historical accuracy of the Bible, how can we know anything about Jesus? The Jesus of the Bible could then be a composite fictional character invented by the early church!
The main problem is that if we say that there are errors in the Bible, then we set ourselves up as judges over the Bible. Then we don’t have to submit to its authority. We’re free to pick and choose what we wish to obey. Over 100 years ago, the British preacher, Charles Spurgeon saw this clearly. He pointed out that faith that accepts one word of God and rejects another is not faith in God at all, but rather, faith in one’s own judgment and preferences. Further, he argued that invariably when a man argues against the Word of God, some form of sin lies at the root of it (Iain Murray, Spurgeon & Hyper-Calvinism [Banner of Truth, pp. 6-8).
But must we then take a blind leap of faith with regard to biblical inerrancy? Must we refuse to recognize or wrestle with problems in the Bible? Or are there good reasons to trust the Bible? I believe that there are. I want to explore the proposition that…
You can trust the Bible because it is God’s Word and it is without error in all its teaching.
“All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). As we saw last week, the word means breathed out by God, which is to say…
The Bible did not come from the best religious ideas of the apostles or prophets. It originated when God spoke to them and they wrote down the words of Scripture. This is not to say that God dictated the words of the Bible. Obviously He used the personalities and styles of the various human authors. But God originated it and thus the final product is preserved from error.
The only verse which gives us a hint of how God accomplished the process of inspiration is 2 Peter 1:21: “No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy spirit spoke from God.” The word “moved” is used in Acts (27:15, 17) to describe the effect of strong winds upon Paul’s ship. Luke says that the ship was “driven along” by the wind, meaning that it was no longer under the control of the sailors, but of the wind. But just as the sailors were active, though not in control, so the human authors of Scripture were active, but not in control (see Charles Ryrie, What You Should Know About Inerrancy [Moody Press], p. 46). The Holy Spirit moved the authors so that the words they wrote were the words God intended. Since the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth (John 16:13), He did not superintend errors. The Bible is the Word of God.
At this point a critic might accuse me of begging the question. I’m saying that the Bible is the inspired Word of God because the Bible says so. But anybody can make a claim like that and it doesn’t prove a thing. So how do we verify whether or not the Bible’s claim is true?
The Bible says that God scoffs at scoffers (Prov. 3:34). If you do not humble yourself before God and ask Him to open your spiritually blind eyes, you won’t be able to understand His truth (1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Thess. 2:11-12). Jesus said (John 7:17), “If any man is willing to do [God’s] will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself.” In other words, the issue is being willing to submit to God. If you come to the Bible to find fault with it and to provide yourself with excuses to continue in rebellion against God, you will find supposed errors. But if you come in submission to God, with the desire to follow His ways, you will find solutions to most of the difficulties.
The late theologian Kenneth Kantzer had a friend whose mother was killed. Kantzer first heard about her death through a trusted mutual friend who reported that the woman had been standing on the street corner, was hit by a bus, was fatally injured and died a few minutes later. A short time later he heard from the dead woman’s grandson that she was riding in a car that was in a collision, she was thrown from the car and killed instantly. The boy was quite certain of his facts. Which story was correct?
If you didn’t like or trust the grandson, you would conclude that the boy was confused and that the first account was the correct one. Or, if you had a problem with the first man, you could believe the boy’s account. Or, you could scoff at both accounts and say that obviously they contradict one another, so neither story is true. Your approach to the credibility of the witnesses would greatly affect your conclusion.
Dr. Kantzer later learned from the dead woman’s daughter that her mother had been waiting for a bus, was hit by another bus and critically injured. A passing motorist put her in his car and sped off to the hospital. En route, he was in a collision in which the injured woman was thrown from the car and killed instantly. Both accounts were literally true! (Christianity Today [10/7/88], p. 23.)
Let’s apply that story to the problem of harmonizing some of the seeming contradictions in the gospel accounts, such as Peter’s denials or the resurrection narratives. If you approach the problems as a skeptic, you may quickly conclude, “There are errors in the Bible.” I think that’s an unscholarly and arrogant approach for several reasons. First, the different accounts make it obvious that the various authors were not fabricating a story in collusion with one another, or they would have ironed out these apparent differences. Second, we have no reason to doubt the integrity of these eyewitness accounts. Third, since they were there and I wasn’t and since they are truthful men of integrity (as the totality of their writings shows), I would need strong, compelling evidence to say that they are in error, even if I cannot harmonize the accounts.
The proper approach doesn’t make all the difficulties in the Bible disappear. There are some tough problems to resolve, but not nearly as many as critics allege. Dr. Ryrie estimates that if you put together a composite list of the supposed errors, there would be about two dozen, more or less (ibid., p. 83). But the crucial issue is how you approach those problems. You don’t come to the holy God of the universe as a scoffer or skeptic and expect for Him to meet you on your terms. You must come acknowledging your need for understanding of spiritual truth. If you come to Him with a submissive, obedient spirit of faith in Jesus Christ, He will reveal to you the truth of His Word. You will grow to discover that…
This is the heart of the issue. If there are errors in the Bible, then how can we trust it? So how can we be sure that the Bible is without error? There are two ways to reason:
A deductive argument (or syllogism) consists of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion that stems from the two premises. Any deductive argument is only as good as its premises. If a premise is faulty, then the conclusion is invalid. This argument would not prove anything to a skeptic, but it ought to carry some weight with those who agree that the Bible is inspired by God. It goes like this: Major premise: God is a God of truth (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18; Ps. 119:160). Minor premise: God breathed out (originated) all the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21). Conclusion: The Scriptures are God’s truth (John 17:17). (This syllogism adapted from Ryrie, p. 40.) A true God cannot originate error.
A second line of deductive reasoning goes as follows: Major premise: Jesus Christ believed and taught that the Bible is trustworthy and without error. Minor premise: I believe in and follow Jesus Christ. Conclusion: I must believe that the Bible is trustworthy and without error. To me, this is one of the strongest arguments for the total reliability of the Bible. Everything that Jesus Christ said with reference to the Scriptures shows that He had implicit trust in the totality of Scripture as the authoritative and reliable Word of God. Consider:
Often Jesus referred to the Scriptures as the authority for His actions. He assumed that if Scripture said it, that settled it. In His temptation by Satan, Jesus responded each time with, “It is written” and then quoted Scripture. He refuted the Jewish leaders by referring to Scripture (Matt. 19:3-5; Mark 7:5-13; 12:26). He said that all the Scriptures bore witness to Him (Luke 24:25, 27, 44-46; John 5:39).
He referred to Moses’ writings as both the commandment and Word of God (Mark 7:8, 9, 13). He referred to David’s Psalm 110 as being spoken “by the Holy Spirit” (Mark 12:36).
He acknowledged that God created Adam and Eve and referred to them as real people, not myths (Matt. 19:3-5). He referred to Noah and the great flood as historical precedent for what will happen when He returns (Matt. 24:37-39). He verified the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and of Lot’s wife (Luke 17:28-29, 32). He accepted the story of Jonah and the great fish as actual history (Matt. 12:40). Jesus made many other references to Old Testament people and events. Clearly, He saw them as true history, not as fiction.
In Jesus’ debate with the Sadducees about the resurrection (Matt. 22:23-32), His argument hinged on a particular verse of Scripture (Exod. 3:6), and further on a particular verb tense (present) in that verse!
In Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus upheld the Law and Prophets (a reference to the entire Old Testament) and said that it will all be fulfilled, down to the smallest letter or stroke (“jot or tittle,” KJV). The smallest letter is yod, which looks like an English apostrophe. The stroke (“tittle”) is a reference to a small extension that distinguishes the Hebrew daleth from resh. His point is that even the most minute details of God’s Word are reliable and accurate.
He said (John 12:49-50), “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.” (See also, Matt. 24:35.) Obviously, Jesus affirmed all of the Old Testament and His own words as being the word of God, totally reliable and accurate not only in spiritual matters, but in factual and historical matters as well. If we claim to be followers of Christ, we must follow Him in affirming the complete truthfulness of Scripture.
Whole books have been written on each of these points, so I can only skim the surface. Consider,
There are hundreds of prophecies in the Bible that were made in some cases hundreds of years before they were fulfilled, with too much specific detail to be mere coincidence. For example, Daniel 11 reads like a history of the 300 years that followed Daniel’s lifetime. He also predicted the succession of four great world powers: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome (Daniel 2 & 7). The stunning precision of these prophecies has led liberal critics, who have an a priori bias against the miraculous, to say that Daniel had to be written after the fact, although there are solid, scholarly reasons for believing that the book was written in the sixth century B.C. as claimed (see, Josh McDowell, Daniel in the Critics’ Den [Campus Crusade for Christ, 1979]).
Ezekiel 26 predicted that the city of Tyre would be destroyed and the ruins scraped off and dumped into the sea. Nebuchadnezzar fulfilled the first part of the prophecy when he destroyed the city in 573 B.C. But for 250 years the city was not dumped into the sea. Then Alexander the Great came along in 322 B.C. and used the ruins of the city to build a causeway out to an offshore island where the people had fled, thus fulfilling Ezekiel’s prediction that the stones and timbers of Tyre would be laid in the sea.
But the most amazing prophecies are those relating to Christ. As He said, the Scriptures bear witness of Him (John 5:39). Scholars say that there are over 300 specific Old Testament prophecies relating to the person of Christ. Micah 5:2 predicted Bethlehem as His birthplace. Zechariah 9:9 prophesied that Jerusalem’s king would come to her lowly, riding on the colt of a donkey, which Jesus fulfilled in the triumphal entry (Matt. 21:5). Psalm 22 describes the death of Messiah by crucifixion hundreds of years before that was known as a means of execution. Isaiah 53 predicts that Jesus would bear our sins as the lamb of God, silent before His accusers. It says that His grave would be with wicked men, yet He would be with a rich man in His death. That was specifically fulfilled when Jesus was crucified with the two criminals, yet buried in the tomb of the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea.
Math professor Peter Stoner (Science Speaks [Moody Press], pp. 101-107) took just eight of the prophecies that Christ fulfilled and calculated conservatively that the odds of these prophecies being fulfilled in one man just by chance would be one in 10 to the 17th power! He illustrates this number by saying that if you took that many silver dollars, they would cover the state of Texas two feet deep. Mark one, stir it thoroughly into the whole mass, blindfold a man and let him travel as far and long over the state as he wishes. He must pick that one silver dollar. Those are the odds that Jesus could, by chance, have fulfilled just eight of the prophecies made about Him. And there are over 300!
In spite of numerous critical scholars who have attempted to disprove the historical accuracy of the Bible, none have succeeded. One familiar example concerns the Hittite people, mentioned often in the Old Testament. Skeptics in the 19th century scoffed at the Bible’s mentioning this race, since there was no corroborating evidence that such a people existed in history. Then, in 1906, the Hittite capital was uncovered about 90 miles east of Ankara, Turkey, silencing the critics on that point.
Critics attacked Daniel’s mention of Belshazzar as the final king of Babylon, since Herodotus (450 B.C.) refers to Nabonidus as the final king. But more recent archaeological discoveries of some tablets dated from the 12th year of Nabonidus show that his son, Belshazzar, reigned in Babylon as co-regent while Nabonidus was at war in Arabia for ten years. Thus the book of Daniel is precisely correct when Belshazzar promises Daniel that he will make him a third ruler in the kingdom (Dan. 5:16, 29).
Although the Bible is not a science textbook and should not be pushed beyond its intended purpose, there are no proven scientific inaccuracies in the Bible. Obviously, the Bible sometimes uses poetic language and figures of speech that are not intended to be taken literally (such as the sun setting or rising). Moses’ purpose in Genesis 1 was not to write a detailed scientific account of origins. This is not to say that it is inaccurate, but rather that Moses’ point was not to answer all our scientific questions. Rather, he wants to show God as the mighty Creator who spoke the universe into existence through His power in an orderly manner.
We need to be careful not to capitulate to science as if it were inerrant (since it often has been proved wrong), nor to hold to our interpretation of debatable texts as if we were inerrant. The Bible, rightly interpreted, is inerrant. We can rest in the fact that there are no proven scientific inaccuracies in the Bible, even though it was written thousands of years before modern science.
John Warwick Montgomery wrote (Christianity Today [7/29/77], pp. 41-42),
... the total trust that Jesus and the apostles displayed toward Scripture entails a precise and controlled hermeneutic. They subordinated the opinions and traditions of their day to Scripture; so must we. They did not regard Scripture as erroneous or self-contradictory; neither can we. They took its miracles and prophecies as literal fact; so must we. They regarded Scripture not as the product of editors and redactors but as stemming from Moses, David, and other immediately inspired writers; we must follow their lead. They believed that the events recorded in the Bible happened as real history; we can do no less.
Thus, there are solid reasons why you can trust the Bible. If you have never investigated its claims carefully, you owe it to yourself to read the gospel accounts about the main character of the Bible, the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, you must read with a willingness to follow Him as Lord if His claims are authenticated. You will find that Jesus is who He claimed to be, God in human flesh, who gave Himself as the penalty for our sins.
If you are a Christian struggling with doubts, you can trust the Bible over and above all modern claims to truth. It speaks accurately and authoritatively to the problems we all grapple with. None who have trusted in God and followed the commands and counsel given in the Bible have been ultimately disappointed. The Bible is a life-changing book. I invite you to commit yourself afresh to read it, study it, and apply its teachings to your life. You can count your life on it!
Copyright 2006, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved
If you were here on May 31, 1992, the first Sunday that I preached here as your pastor, I thank you for hanging in with me over these years. You personify Paul’s exhortation in our text to “endure sound doctrine”! On that Sunday you heard me preach from this text, when I explained my major task and yours. I said that my major task would be to preach God’s Word. Your task would be to hear it receptively.
I repeated the same basic sermon on March 15, 1998. If you have already heard it twice, I apologize for making you hear it a third time. But, if the Lord tarries and if He allows me to continue as your pastor over the next few years, you may hear it yet again, because the subject is of utmost importance. We live in a time when many churches have abandoned the preaching of the Word, so it is of critical importance that we understand Paul’s words here and make certain that this church never veers from them. If for whatever reason you ever need to search for another pastor, I hope that the main benchmark would be that he faithfully, systematically preaches God’s Word of truth.
In recent years, the seeker church movement has minimized and softened biblical preaching so as to attract “seekers” to the services. If the potential “customers” want upbeat, pragmatic 20-minute messages, the customer is king! Give them what they want so that they will keep coming! If they prefer drama and touching stories above doctrine, give them drama and stories.
Now, the emergent church has moved away from the seeker church, tailoring the message for a postmodern culture that does not accept the idea of absolute truth. The emphasis is more on having a self-satisfying spiritual experience in a completely non-judgmental atmosphere. Last summer, a cover story in the Phoenix New Times [June 22-28, 2006] told about a radical emergent church there. One of the pastors, who is also a student at Phoenix Seminary, is quoted, “A lot of us are just sick of churches that make you follow these certain requirements, or you’re just not welcome. What kind of load of [unrepeatable expletive] is that?” Evidently Paul’s command here to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort” does not fit their agenda!
Our text is Paul’s final charge to Timothy just before the apostle’s execution. He senses that the time of his departure has come (4:6). He is handing off the baton to his younger friend and understudy. Inspired by the Spirit of God, Paul realized that Satan would relentlessly attack God’s Word. Having just emphasized the trustworthy nature of that Word and its vital importance (3:16-17), he now charges Timothy (and every pastor after him) to be faithful in preaching the Word, no matter what the opposition or hardships. But preaching is a two-way street. So Paul’s words are not only a solemn charge to pastors. They also are a solemn charge to all believers to welcome solid preaching.
Preaching and hearing God’s Word are of the utmost importance in view of eternity.
If Paul had said, “I solemnly charge you, preach the Word,” it would have been a strong exhortation. If he had said, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, preach the Word,” it would have been a really strong exhortation. If he had said, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead,” we’re off the charts on strong exhortations.
But when he says (4:1-2a), “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom, preach the Word,” it is hard to imagine how he could have said it any more emphatically! It’s as if he reached out and grabbed Timothy by his shirt, pulled him to within six inches of his face, and screamed at him, “Preach the Word!” Paul uses nine imperatives here, five in verse 2 and four in verse 5.
In 4:1-2, Paul shows why preaching is of utmost importance. In 4:3-4, he shows why hearing the word is of utmost importance. Then (4:5), in light of inevitable opposition, he shows why a faithful pastor must persevere in preaching the Word.
Paul answers four questions: Why preach? What to preach? When to preach it? How to preach it?
The word translated “solemnly charge” (1 Tim. 5:21; 2 Tim. 2:14) had a legal nuance, of taking an oath in a court of law. Paul is calling Timothy in front of God’s judicial bench and charging him under oath with the serious task of proclaiming God’s Word to those who also will someday stand in front of that bench for judgment by Christ Jesus who will return to reign over all.
The verb “is” (before “to judge”) literally means, “is about to.” It implies the urgency of the task. The day is soon coming when Christ will return. He came the first time as the suffering Savior to redeem us from our sins. But the second time He will come as the Sovereign King, to put down all rebellion and to judge the living and the dead. That includes almost everyone (some of you may be hovering somewhere between those two realms)! Although as believers in Christ, we will not face condemnation, we all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10).
This means that you need to take life seriously. One day you will stand before the living God to give an account of your life. The Word of God tells us how to live so that we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.” Preaching is important because of the seriousness of this fact.
Christ will appear and set up His kingdom to reign over all. The word “appear” was used of the Emperor’s visit to a province or town. Just before his visit, things were put in perfect order. The garbage was cleaned up, the streets were swept and the buildings were scrubbed clean for his appearing. When I was in the Coast Guard, we heard that an admiral was going to visit the clothing warehouse where I worked. We worked for days to get it ready. That’s the idea here: Christ, the King, is coming. Preach so that people’s lives are clean and ready for His return.
Some scholars argue that “the word” means the gospel. I don’t object to that, as long as by “the gospel” you include the whole counsel of God as contained in all of Scripture. In the original text, there is no chapter break between 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 4:1-5. All Scripture is profitable for teaching. “Instruction” (4:2) means teaching or doctrine. A preacher must explain and apply the doctrines of the Bible so that when he is done, you can look at the biblical text in its context and say, “I understand what it is saying and how it applies to my life.”
The preacher’s message should come out of the text and be governed by the text. “Preach” means “to herald.” The herald was the king’s messenger who relayed the king’s message to the people. He wasn’t free to make up his own stuff. He wasn’t a politician or diplomat or a spin doctor. His job was to proclaim faithfully the king’s message so that the people understood it.
There is a sad lack of that kind of biblical preaching in the pulpits of America. I once heard some tapes titled, “The best of ...” a well-known preacher. He took his theme loosely from a biblical text, but then he’d jump off from there and tell a lot of uplifting stories. But when he was done, he had not explained or applied the words of the text in its context. Others give positive, upbeat, self-help messages with a few verses sprinkled in for good measure. But you could remove all the verses and the result could appear in Reader’s Digest, not much altered by the absence of the Scriptures.
But Scripture gives us “the wisdom that leads to salvation” and equips us for every good work (3:15-17). Scripture reveals to us “everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3). If a man doesn’t explain and apply Scripture, his preaching may be entertaining and inspirational; but it will lack life-changing power.
Although I disagree with much of Karl Barth’s theology, I admire him for a story told of him. During the 1930’s, he was preaching on John 3:16. Even though many in his German audience professed to be Christians, they were going along with the persecution of the Jews. Barth made the point that Jesus was a Jew, that He had died for all the world, and that the Jews were part of that world. Thus anyone who loves Christ would not participate in the widespread ill treatment of the Jews.
Many in his congregation walked out in disgust before he finished the sermon. One wrote a scathing letter denouncing him. Barth’s reply was a single sentence: “It was in the text.” That kind of preaching takes courage! But the man who proclaims the Word of God must not pull his punches. He must be patient and gentle, but he must proclaim and apply the text of Scripture.
Thus Paul tells us that we need preaching because of the coming judgment and kingdom; and that the man of God must preach the Word of God. Third,
“Be ready in season and out of season.” The idea here is that a preacher is not just to play at preaching. Rather, it must be a life- consuming passion. He is never off duty. All his life and his walk with God go into the preaching of the Word, because biblical preaching is God’s truth imparted through a man who walks with God. “Be ready” imparts a further sense of urgency. Picture a paramedic unit on call, ready to save someone’s life. Souls are perishing without Christ. Christians are straying from the fold. Proclaim God’s Word whenever and wherever you can!
The 18th century evangelical preacher John Berridge was called in by the Anglican bishop and reproved for preaching at all hours of the day and on every day of the week. “My lord,” he replied, “I preach only at two times.” The bishop pressed him, “And which are they, Mr. Berridge?” He quickly responded, “In season and out of season, my lord” (The Inextinguishable Blaze, A. Skevington Wood [Eerdmans], p. 212).
“Reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (4:2). A preacher once asked a class what they did with the commands of Scripture. A little old lady raised her hand and said, “I underline them in blue.” That’s nice, but the point of biblical preaching is not to get people to underline their Bibles or fill their notebooks. Biblical preaching should show people where their lives are not in line with God’s truth and help them to make the necessary corrections to obey that truth consistently.
To do this, a preacher must make an appeal to the reason of the hearers: “Reprove.” This is a legal term that means to present your case in such a manner as to convince your opponent of his wrong. A preacher must present his case in a logically convincing manner from the Word, so that his hearers are persuaded that what Scripture says is right even though their behavior is wrong. The Holy Spirit’s task is to reprove (convict) the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). He does this largely through Spirit-filled biblical preaching.
Second, a preacher must make an appeal to the conscience of the hearers: “Rebuke.” This moral aspect of preaching says, “You are sinning against God; you need to repent!” We tend not to like that sort of thing, but it is desperately needed in our day of watered-down, feel good Christianity. William Barclay was right when he wrote (The Daily Study Bible [Westminster Press], p. 207): “Any teacher ... whose teaching tends to make men think less of sin is a menace to Christianity and to mankind.”
Third, a preacher must make an appeal to the will and emotions of the hearers: “Exhort.” The word means strongly encouraging someone to right behavior. Some people need rebuke and some need encouragement. If you encourage those who need rebuking, you assist them to go on sinning. But if you rebuke those who need encouragement, you’ll discourage them. Someone has said that the preacher’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. Only the Holy Spirit can take the Word and apply it individually to a congregation made up of all sorts of needs.
The preacher becomes the channel for the Spirit’s working when he appeals with “great patience and instruction.” People require time to change. They don’t always get it the first time around. So the preacher of the Word must say it over and over again as he teaches the Word of God. Patience does not mean tolerating open sin, but rather, bearing with people’s weaknesses. But the preacher doesn’t just leave the people in their weakness; he gives them careful instruction so that they can grow in Christ.
Thus Paul is saying that preaching the Word is of utmost importance in light of the coming judgment and kingdom of Jesus Christ. But even great preaching that falls on closed ears and hardened hearts is not effective. Thus,
Paul warns Timothy (4:3), “For the time will come when they [those in the church is the implication] will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate [lit., ‘heap up’] for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires.” They will find teachers who tell them what they want to hear, not what they need to hear.
“Sound doctrine” is one of Paul’s frequent themes in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1; “sound words” in 1 Tim. 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13). “Sound” means healthy (we derive our word “hygienic” from it). Sound doctrine results in healthy Christian living. Note that such healthy teaching is set in contrast to what people like and thus it must be endured! This implies that, like health food, it doesn’t always feel good at the moment, because it confronts our selfish desires, but in the long run it yields healthy Christianity. Why didn’t God make spinach bad for us and ice cream good for us?
In 4:4, Paul says that people will turn aside from the truth to myths—the religious ideas of men as opposed to God’s revelation in the Word. The propensity of the sinful human heart is to turn away from God’s truth and to embrace what feels good at the moment. There is a powerful temptation to the preacher, especially if he wants to be liked, to give people the ice cream of popular worldly myths instead of the spinach of God’s truth. But you should not judge a man’s preaching by whether you like him or not, but rather by answering the question, “Does his preaching line up with what God’s Word says?” Is it in the text?
I try to serve the spinach of the Word along with the ice cream (the Word contains both, in proper proportions). That is one reason for preaching verse by verse through the Bible. It gives us the right proportions of spiritual spinach and ice cream. I try gently but firmly to confront sin with God’s truth as well as tell you God’s prescription for spiritual health. But my job is only half the task. You have a responsibility as hearers of the Word not to reject the spinach and want only the ice cream or to go find a place that only serves ice cream. You will not be spiritual healthy if you do.
But what if people don’t listen? What does a preacher do then? Paul tells Timothy in verse 5:
When people won’t listen, the preacher must keep preaching the Word anyway. This is the third time in this section dealing with the difficult last days that Paul has said, “But you ...” (3:10, 14). It is a pointed reminder that a man of God must go against the flow, even, at times, against the “Christian” flow. Paul gives four commands that show Timothy how to conduct his ministry even if people aren’t responsive:
First, “Be sober” (literally, “Don’t be drunk”). When people get intoxicated with the latest winds of false doctrine, you’re the designated driver. Keep your head about you and continue preaching the truth.
Second, “Endure hardship.” If you preach the truth of God’s Word, you will catch flak. Harry Ironside said that he sometimes received letters from people (invariably people he didn’t know personally) who would say, “I resent your personal attack on me last Sunday. I don’t like your preaching; and I don’t think you had any right to expose me in the way you did. I don’t know who has been talking to you about me.” And invariably they closed by saying, “It’s not true.” His comment was, “If you throw a stone into a pack of dogs and one of them yelps, you know who got hit” (Timothy, Titus, & Philemon [Loizeaux Brothers], p. 236).
Third, “Do the work of an evangelist.” Don’t get sidetracked by critics in the church, but keep preaching the gospel and going after lost people. Evangelism is the cutting edge of the church’s ministry. I agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who said (Preaching and Preachers [Zondervan], p. 150), “There is something essentially wrong with a man who calls himself a Christian and who can listen to a truly evangelistic sermon without coming under conviction again, without feeling something of his own unworthiness, and rejoicing when he hears the Gospel remedy being presented.”
Finally, “Fulfill your ministry.” Paul is saying, “Don’t bail out of the ministry and go into an easier line of work just because you run into opposition. Fulfill your calling as a preacher of God’s truth! Follow me in fighting the good fight so that you will finish the course” (4:7).
Years ago in California, I was going through a time of unusual attacks against my ministry. On a day off, Marla and I were driving somewhere and stopped by road construction. As we sat there waiting for the flagman, I watched a guy driving an earthmover and thought, “That looks like a nice line of work to get into!” It was tempting, but Paul is saying, “Don’t bail out!” John Calvin makes the point that rather than giving up because of opposition, the more intense the opposition, the more vigorously we must fight, to ward off Satan’s attacks on the church (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 255). So don’t concede the battle to the enemy. Defend the gospel against all attacks.
Once after the famous French preacher, Jean Baptiste Massillon had preached, one of his hearers exclaimed, “What an eloquent sermon! How gloriously he preached!” When the comment was reported to Massillon he replied, “Then he did not understand me. Another sermon has been thrown away!”
The point is not eloquent sermons, but a message from God’s Word that the Holy Spirit anoints and applies to our lives. After I’m done preaching, my aim is that you can look at your Bible and understand what it is saying and how it applies to your life. Very shortly, the time of your departure and mine will come. We all will stand before the Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ, Judge of the living and the dead. In view of that solemn day, it is essential that as your pastor, I preach God’s Word. It is essential that you listen to the preaching of God’s Word with a view to obedience. Then on that great day when we stand before Christ, we all will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Preaching the Word and hearing the Word are of utmost importance in view of eternity.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2007, All Rights Reserved.
A man was trying hypnosis to help him quit smoking. His friend asked whether he thought it would work. “Sure,” he said, “it worked the last time I tried it!” Let’s face it: starting well is relatively easy. Finishing well is a different matter! Starting that new diet or exercise program is kind of fun, but hanging in over the long haul is the real test. Getting married is exciting and relatively easy. Staying married through the struggles, adjustments, and trials is not always an easy matter.
The same is true of the Christian life. Becoming a Christian is relatively easy: acknowledge to God that you are a sinner and receive by faith the free gift of eternal life that Christ provided by His shed blood. You cannot work for salvation nor do anything to qualify for it. God gives it freely to all that recognize their need and trust in Christ alone.
But then comes the hard part—hanging in there as a Christian in a world that is hostile towards God and His people. The world constantly dangles in front of you all that it has to offer in opposition to the things of God. From within, the flesh entices you to forsake Christ and gratify your sinful desires. The enemy hits you with temptation after temptation. The real test of your faith is, will you endure? Genuine faith in Christ perseveres to the finish line.
The Christian life is a marathon, not a 100-yard dash. Since finishing a marathon well is not easy, when you see a man who sprints across the finish line, you ought to try to find out his secret. The apostle Paul was such a man. It’s as if he has crossed the finish line with energy to spare. He jogs back to where Timothy seems to be losing steam and exhorts him to keep running well. In our text, it is clear that Paul is looking death in the face. His words must have caused Timothy to burst into tears when he first read them. And, these words must have sobered Timothy with the reality that Paul had handed off the baton to him. Now, he had to finish well.
Paul’s words are not those of a discouraged, broken old man. There is no despair, no defeat, no cynicism, and no fear as he faces imminent execution. His calm assurance is all the more startling when you consider his circumstances. He was in the Mamertine Prison in Rome. Even the worst of our prisons today would be like the Hilton in comparison to the Mamertine. Paul’s cell was a dark, damp dungeon, reached only by a rope or ladder from a hole in the floor above. He had no windows, no lights, no toilet, no furniture, and no running water.
As Paul sat on the hard floor in the cold darkness, enduring the stench of his own urine and excrement, the circumstances outside were not encouraging. Many seemed to be turning away from the aged apostle, and even from the faith, following false teachers. Paul had labored for the past thirty years or more to preach the gospel around the Roman Empire, but at this point, it was at best a tiny sect, scattered here and there. Paul was not the world-famous apostle, appearing on TV talk shows, autographing books, with invitations pouring in from around the world for him to speak.
And yet, the man was clearly at rest, confident in the way he has spent his life, and calmly assured as he faces death by decapitation. What does the apostle have to teach us about finishing well? Note that verse 6 speaks about Paul’s present: “I am.” Verse 7 refers to his past: “I have.” Verse 8 begins, “In the future…”
To finish well, keep in focus Paul’s view of the present, the past, and the future.
Three key words here will help us finish well: reproduction, sacrifice, and departure.
In the Greek text, verse 6 begins with the emphatic pronoun “I,” which contrasts with the “you” of verse 5, along with the connective “for.” The flow of thought is this: “Timothy, you preach the Word even in the face of opposition, because I am about to die. I’m handing you the torch to carry!”
Dying is easier when you know that you’re leaving behind a number of people who can carry on with Christ because of your influence. Each of us needs to ask ourselves, “Am I working on that task?” I am talking about obeying Jesus’ Great Commission, to make disciples of others. That Commission applies to every Christian at some level. If you know Christ as Savior and are walking with Him, then He calls you to make disciples of others.
You can begin at home. Every Christian parent ought to be waging an all-out campaign to train up his or her children to know Christ and walk with Him. It doesn’t happen by accident. It begins by setting the example: you must walk in reality with Jesus Christ if you want to impart that to your kids. Beyond that, dads, are you taking the time to read the Bible and pray with your family? Are you making sure that your family gathers with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day for worship and teaching? Do you talk openly at home about spiritual things? Do you apply God’s Word when there are tensions or trials on the home front?
Beyond your immediate family, you ought to have a vision for reproducing yourself in the lives of others. Godly men should be handing off the faith to younger men in the faith (2 Tim. 2:2). Godly women should be training younger women in the things of God (Titus 2:3-5). When you’re gone, there should be others who will carry on with Christ because of your influence.
Paul did not view his execution as a cruel tragedy or as unfair treatment in view of his many years of dedicated service. Rather, he saw it as the culminating offering of a sacrificial life. After the sacrificial lamb had been placed on the altar, and just before it was lit on fire, the priest poured out on it about a quart of wine (Num. 28:7). It was the final sacrifice poured out on the existing sacrifice. That was how Paul viewed his own death. His whole life had been a living sacrifice presented unto God. Now, his death would be the drink offering poured on top of that (Phil. 2:17).
This means that to finish well, you need to view all of your life as an act of sacrificial worship to God. As Paul put it (Rom. 12:1), “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” You don’t serve Christ in order to get praise and acclaim from others. You serve Christ as an act of worship towards Him. If others turn away from you or badmouth you (as they were doing toward Paul), or if your earthly reward for a lifetime of dedicated service is to get your head cut off, it’s okay, because all of your life has been an offering to God.
This also means that to finish well, you view yourself as expendable in God’s service. Here is the great apostle to the Gentiles, the man who did more for the spread of the gospel than any other man in church history. His influence was incalculable. Yet he could finish well because he saw himself as expendable, a drink offering. In language similar to our text, Paul told the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:24), “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” If you have inflated notions of your own importance, you will not finish well. All of us should view ourselves and all of our service as a sacrificial offering to God.
“The time of my departure has come” (4:6). In the Bible, death is never cessation of existence, but rather, a separation of the soul from the body. It is departure. The Greek word that Paul used was a vivid one. It was used to describe the unyoking of an animal from a plow or cart. Death means the end of our labors and toils in this life. It was also used for loosening the bonds of a prisoner. Death is a release from the bonds of this corruptible body. It was also used for loosening the ropes of a soldier’s tent. This suggests that at death, the battle is over, victory is won, and we are headed home. The word was also used for loosening the mooring ropes of a ship. At death our earthly ship leaves the shores of this stormy earth and puts in at the always-calm port of heaven. (These examples are in William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon [Westminster Press], revised edition, p. 209.)
If you have Paul’s view of death as departure, you will be able to finish without fear and even with anticipation, knowing that to depart and be with Christ is much better (Phil. 1:23). You will be able to say with him (Phil. 1:21), “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” So to finish well, keep in focus Paul’s view of the present: present ministry is reproduction; present life is a sacrifice to God; and, impending death is a departure to be with Christ.
Paul was able to look back on his past in Christ and say confidently that he had done well. He is not implying that there had not been mistakes or times of discouragement—of course there had been. But through all of the problems and trials, Paul had stayed in the race. He could say, “I’ve done what God called me to do!” To be able to join Paul in saying that at the end of our lives, we must be able to make his three statements in verse 7:
When you come to the end of your life, will you be able to look back and say, “I have been involved in the struggle for the cause of Christ”? Paul is using an athletic metaphor, either of a wrestling match or a race. It conveys that the Christian life is not a Sunday School picnic, but rather, a struggle against the forces of evil. It is not just any fight, but the good fight, the fight of the gospel of Jesus Christ for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
Can you say, “I am currently involved in the struggle for the cause of Christ?” Let me help you answer that question. You cannot say so if you are living primarily for your own comfort and affluence, spending your time and money on your pursuit of the American dream. You may attend church every week. You may profess to know Christ as your Savior. But if your purpose in life is to be as comfortable and affluent as you can be, then you are not seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. You’re not involved in the struggle for the cause of Christ.
If, on the other hand, you live for the purpose of building up the body of Christ and extending His kingdom through your labors, your time, and your money, in accordance with the gifts and opportunities that God has given you, then you are involved in that struggle. What a fulfilling thing when it comes time to die, to look back on your past and be able to say, “I’ve been involved in that great struggle for the cause of Christ!”
“I have not dropped out of the race.” Paul is referring to a long race. The word “marathon” comes from a geographic place where a decisive battle took place between Greece and Persia in 490 B.C. If the Persians had won, world history would have been much different. The glories of ancient Greece would not have happened. The legend is that after the battle, a Greek soldier ran the distance from Marathon to Athens (21-25 miles, depending on his route) with the news of the victory, and then fell dead. Based on that legend, the modern marathon race began between Marathon and Athens in the 1896 Olympics, and was lengthened to the present 26.2 miles in the 1908 Olympics.
We all know those who began the Christian life with a flourish of activity and enthusiasm. Maybe they even went into full-time ministry. But when trials and disappointments hit, they dropped out. Sometimes, we need to take a break from serving to be refreshed and renewed. But then we need to get back in the race. Of course, we never should take a break from walking with the Lord.
I’ve never ran a marathon, but I know that there’s no such thing as an easy marathon. We need to get out of our heads that the Christian life is all glory and effortless bliss. There is joy, but there also are many trials that require endurance (Acts 14:22). So make up your mind to hang in with the Lord through the tough times, so that you can look back at the end and say with Paul, “I have finished the course.”
“I have guarded the truth about Christ.” Several times in these letters to Timothy, Paul has talked about “the deposit” that Timothy is to guard (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:12, 14). He was referring to the truth of the gospel, the core doctrines of the Christian faith. When Paul says that he has kept the faith, he means that he has carefully guarded the truth about Jesus Christ that God had entrusted to him. He had not bought into any of the many errors about Christ that were circulating in his day. His life and his teaching had held to sound doctrine.
You can’t keep a faith that you are unclear about. To be able to look back on your life and echo Paul’s words, “I have kept the faith,” you need to be clear on the essentials of that faith. It is just as much under attack in our day as it was in Paul’s day. So sink down some roots in sound doctrine. Know what you believe so that you are not tossed around by all of the winds of false doctrine.
Thus Paul could finish well because he could look at his present: he saw his present ministry as reproduction, his present life as a sacrifice, and his impending death as departure. He could look at his past: he saw that he had been involved in the struggle for the cause of Christ, he had not dropped out of the race, and he had guarded the truth of the gospel. But he also looked to the future:
Paul could finish well in spite of his dismal circumstances because he had secure hope for the future. There are two aspects of Paul’s future hope:
You may think that that sounds more like dread than hope! While there ought to be an element of awe and fear when we think of standing before the Lord, the prevailing emotion that we should have is expectant hope. The world, if they even think about standing before the righteous Judge, should be filled with dread. But Christians should love His appearing. Here’s why: Paul wrote (Rom. 8:1), “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Jesus said (John 5:24) that the one who believes in Him “does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” Salvation is God’s free gift given by His grace apart from any merit on our part. If your trust is in Jesus Christ as Savior, you do not need to fear the final judgment.
The reason that you will not be condemned on judgment day is not because you have earned it by being a good person. Rather, it is that by His death on the cross, Jesus Christ satisfied God’s perfect righteousness. When you trusted in Him, God imputed Christ’s righteousness to your account (Rom. 3:21-26). That hope of meeting the Lord, the righteous Judge, who will welcome us into heaven on the basis of His perfect righteousness, should help us now to run the race with endurance.
It is difficult to interpret what Paul means by “the crown of righteousness.” Is this a special reward given only to some believers who have lived especially righteous lives, but not to all? Or, is it the reward of eternal righteousness, given to all believers, who have already been justified by faith?
In favor of the view that it is a special reward is that the word “crown” refers to the wreath that was given to the victor in the games. Not all received this crown, but only those who won (1 Cor. 9:24-25; 2 Tim. 2:5). The Bible teaches that while salvation is a free gift, God will reward us on the basis of our service for Him (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10), and these rewards will differ among believers. Some will have their works burned up, because they were not founded upon Christ, but they will be saved yet so as through fire. Others will receive a reward for their works (1 Cor.3: 10-15).
In favor of the view that the crown of righteousness is given to all believers is that the phrase, “all who have loved His appearing,” seems to be a description of all believers. In this sense, it would be parallel to the crown of life that is given to all who love Christ (James 1:12). If Christ has saved you by shedding His blood for your sins, you long for the day when you will see Him.
Perhaps Paul’s meaning here is simply that even though his earthly judge (the evil Nero) had wrongly condemned him, he knew that the righteous Judge would vindicate him when he stood before Him. This is the third time that Paul has used “that day” in this letter (1:12, 18). Clearly, he lived in view of that day, when he would stand before Christ. So should we. The fact that we will stand before the Lord, the righteous Judge, on that day should motivate us to live righteously on this day.
I read of a journalist who was in charge of the obituaries. One day when he didn’t have any deaths to record, he put a sheet of blank paper in his typewriter and wrote his own name at the top. He then found himself writing his own obituary: “I have been a good husband and a fine father. I have contributed to a number of worthy causes. I have left a reputation of absolute integrity. My friends are many.” By the time he had finished the page, he had already committed himself to the task of living up to his own obituary (told by Robert Mounce, Pass it On [Regal Books], p. 153).
Perhaps your circumstances seem pretty dismal today. Maybe you’re considering dropping out of the Christian race. From his dungeon, the aged apostle calls out to you: “Don’t quit! Keep going! You can finish well!
“Keep in focus my view of the present: You can reproduce yourself in others to carry the torch after you. View your life as a sacrifice to God. Your death will be a departure to be with Christ.
“Keep in focus my view of the past, so that one day it will be your past. You will be able to look back and say that you engaged in the struggle for the cause of Christ. You didn’t drop out of the race! You guarded the truth of the gospel.
“Keep in focus my view of the future. Soon you will stand before the Lord, the righteous Judge, vindicated by His grace. Live in view of that day!” If you live with Paul’s focus, you will finish well!
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2007, All Rights Reserved.
I admit it: I get the AARP magazine! One of their recurring themes is, “You’re not really getting old! You’re going to live forever!” They feature some old geezer who is 85 and still surfs and jogs or some movie star who just turned 70, but is desperately trying to look like she’s 40. I have some bad news for all who buy into that mindset: You’re in denial! You’re going to die!
Since death is inevitable and since our aging bodies remind us daily that we’re not getting any younger, you would think that everyone would face the facts and prepare for the inevitable. Many try to reassure themselves that it will be okay: “If there is a God, surely He will be nice to me. After all, I’ve done the best that I could do.” But only God’s Word gives us clear, straightforward counsel on how to face the end of our lives.
Our text is one of those sections of Scripture that at first glance makes you wonder why God included it on the inspired page. As Paul concludes his final letter to his beloved son in the faith, he urges Timothy to make every effort to come to him before winter. He shares a number of personal greetings and some requests for personal items that he wants Timothy to bring. How does this relate to us?
But a more careful look at these verses reveals many practical insights into this great man of God and what made him who he was. On the one hand, he was very human. His loneliness cries out of these verses. He is wrestling with feelings of abandonment in his time of great need. He is disappointed with certain people. On the other hand, he is strong and confident in the Lord as he faces execution. He triumphantly states (4:18), “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
So the flavor of our text is not a simplistic, “follow this advice and facing death will be no problem.” The reality of disappointment with people and struggles with problems is here, but it is offset by a strong confidence in the Lord. Paul shows us how to face life’s winter in the Lord:
To face life’s winter well, establish and maintain the proper commitments.
We all make commitments, although sometimes we do so without thinking. Some people are committed to television. They spend hours watching all of their favorite programs every week, and plan their lives around those programs. Others are committed to computer games or sports or making money. In light of eternity, none of those are wise commitments and none will help as we approach death. No one on his deathbed says, “Man, life has been sweet! I’ve watched some great TV!” Our text reveals four commitments that helped Paul face life’s winter:
This is the most important commitment that undergirds all of the others. Paul was first and foremost committed to the living Lord Jesus, with whom he enjoyed daily fellowship, even in that cold, dark dungeon in Rome. Verses 17, 18, and 22 all begin with, “the Lord.” These verses reveal five things about our Lord:
He was sovereign over Paul’s circumstances, as unpleasant as they were. If the sovereign Lord had chosen to do so, He easily could have rescued Paul from that dungeon and given him more years of effective ministry. Some commentators interpret Paul’s words in 4:18, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed,” as referring to his being rescued from personal temptation to sin. While it is true that God does that, I do not think that that fits the context here. Paul was referring to the evil deeds of wicked men. As it turned out, the Lord did not choose to deliver Paul from such evil deeds, although He did deliver Paul through them.
We see the same thing in Hebrews 11, where the author chronicles how many were delivered from great trials by faith in God. But without skipping a beat, he also tells how many suffered horrible deaths as they trusted in God (Heb. 11:35-37). In both cases, God still reigned on high. Even if evil people do terrible things to us, we can trust in the sovereign God, whose plans cannot be thwarted.
Paul writes (4:17), “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me….” Also (4:22), “The Lord be with your spirit.” Whether the Lord actually appeared to Paul or whether he knew in his spirit that the Lord stood with him, I don’t know. But as Hebrews 13:5 assures us, “for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?’” No matter how difficult your circumstances, if your trust is in the living Lord Jesus Christ, His promise is, “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20).
He “will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom” (4:18). Jesus promised (John 6:39), “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me, I lose nothing; but raise it up on the last day.” If by God’s sovereign grace, you have trusted in Christ to save you from your sins, then His promise to you is sure. He won’t lose you on judgment day!
“To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (4:18). As Paul clearly shows in 1 Corinthians 1, you had nothing to do with your salvation. It originated in God’s sovereign choice (three times in 1 Cor. 1:27, 28), “so that no man may boast before God” (1 Cor. 1:29). Since God ordained your salvation before the foundation of the world, since Christ willingly came to save all that the Father had given Him, and since He promises that He will not lose any of those, all praise and glory go unto Him!
Paul’s final written words are, “Grace be with you.” John Stott (Guard the Gospel [IVP], p. 127) says that grace is “the word in which all Paul’s theology is distilled.” The word your in the first half of verse 22 is singular in Greek, but when Paul writes, “Grace be with you,” you is plural. This means that Paul expected us to read Timothy’s mail. God’s grace is for you! He saved you by His grace. He wants you to walk daily by His grace. Because salvation is all of grace, He gets all the glory. Concerning 4:22 and 4:18, Stott observes (ibid.), “It would be difficult to find a better summary than these two sentences of the apostle’s life and ambition. First, he received grace from Christ. Then he returned glory to Christ. ‘From Him grace; to Him glory.’ In all our Christian life and service we should desire no other philosophy than this.”
Since we all face the inevitability of death, it is crucial that you share Paul’s commitment to the living Lord Jesus Christ. If He has saved you by His grace, then death will usher you into His glorious presence, where you will glorify Him throughout all eternity!
In our text, we have both positive and negative examples of commitment to the cause of Christ.
If anyone ever deserved spending his final years on the golf course, it was Paul. He had been tireless in abounding in the work of the Lord. You would think that being in this dungeon would have slowed him down. But here he is, still going strong for Christ.
Note 4:11: “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” The NIV puts it, “he is helpful to me in my ministry.” In your ministry? Paul, don’t you ever quit? No!
Look at 4:16-17: At Paul’s preliminary hearing, none of the Roman Christians were willing to risk their necks to stand with him. If there was ever a time for a man to think about saving his own skin, this was it. Surely, Paul would not say anything to endanger his case! Yet here he is, proclaiming the gospel in the Roman court, “that all the Gentiles might hear.” Stott (p. 125) observes, “If ever there was a sermon preached ‘out of season,’ this was it!” God graciously delivered him from death at that hearing (“the lion’s mouth” is probably a general expression for death; Roman citizens were not thrown to the lions in the stadium).
We can apply this by realizing that whatever circumstances God puts us in, no matter how difficult, are an opportunity for proclaiming the gospel. As long as we are mentally able, if we end up in the hospital or a nursing home, it’s a new audience to tell about Christ. But, sadly…
It was a tense time, when Nero was torturing and killing Christians. To testify in court on Paul’s behalf would have been extremely dangerous, if not deadly. So at his preliminary hearing, no one stood with him. I don’t know where Luke was; perhaps he had not yet arrived at Paul’s side. But Paul is patient with their weakness, graciously echoing the words of Jesus, “may it not be counted against them.”
I cannot honestly say that I would be willing to step forward as a martyr if I had the chance to hide. It would require God’s special grace to give me such courage. But I know that I will never take such a stand if I am unwilling to be bold for the gospel in situations of lesser consequences. If I don’t speak out for Christ just to save myself a little embarrassment, then I won’t speak out for Him when my life is on the line.
Paul warns Timothy about Alexander the coppersmith, who had done him much harm. Perhaps as Timothy traveled to be with Paul, he would be passing through the city where Alexander lived. It may have been Troas, where Paul’s coat and books were left behind, perhaps when he was suddenly arrested. Alexander was a common name, so we don’t know if this is the same man that Paul had delivered over to Satan (1 Tim. 1:20). But it is likely that he had professed to be a believer, but he had turned against Paul, vigorously opposed his teaching, and had informed the Roman authorities about him, leading to his arrest.
The best manuscripts of 4:14 read, “the Lord will repay him according to his deeds,” not (as KJV), “may the Lord repay him.” Paul was stating a fact, not calling down a curse on him. The fact of God’s judgment of the wicked is a source of comfort and even joy for God’s persecuted people (Rev. 18:20). Calvin points out that it was not personal revenge that led Paul to say those words, but rather his love for God’s truth. Alexander had opposed Paul’s teaching, and Paul knew that such opposition to the truth would cause great spiritual damage to many people.
There are people who join the church for anticipated benefits. When the truth confronts their sinful motives, they become dangerous enemies, like Alexander, who cause much harm. Beware of a superficial commitment to the cause of Christ, when really your motive is just to get something for yourself!
Paul was probably more disappointed over Demas than with any of the others. When he had written to Philemon (v. 24) a few years before, Paul included Demas among his “fellow workers.” He had been a part of Paul’s team (see also, Col. 4:14). But now, when identifying with the apostle may have meant death, Demas had deserted him. Rather than loving the Lord’s appearing (4:8), Demas had loved this present world. Paul was left shivering without even a warm coat, while Demas took off to pursue “the good life.” We don’t know whether Demas later came to his senses and, like Peter after his denials, repented.
I do know that the world’s enticements are strong. I live very comfortably, and yet there are times when I see how the wealthy live and I think, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have all those things!” But as you face death, having the things of this world won’t matter much anymore. If you can join with Paul in saying, “I have been committed to the cause of Jesus Christ,” you will also join him in facing life’s winter well. It’s never too late, by the way. I read of a woman who became a Christian at 100. She devoted her last three years to working with a mission, stuffing envelopes!
So to face life’s winter well, commit yourself to the living Lord and His eternal cause.
Paul was not a Lone Ranger. These verses brim with the names of Paul’s fellow-workers in the cause of Christ. Timothy is foremost, of course. But also there is Crescens (4:10). This is all that we know of him, but he was faithful enough for Paul to send him to minister in the difficult Galatian region. Titus, another faithful man, had finished his assignment on Crete and now was off to Dalmatia (the Balkan area).
Luke, ever faithful, was by Paul’s side, probably taking down this letter. Paul asks Timothy to bring Mark with him. Mark had accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, but had deserted them and returned home. Later, Barnabas, who was Mark’s cousin, wanted to give him another try, but Paul adamantly refused, leading to a split between the two great missionaries. So Barnabas had taken Mark and gone to Cyprus. His patient encouragement with Mark had paid off. Now Paul wants Mark to be with him as he faces the end.
Tychicus (4:12) probably delivered this letter to Timothy and stayed on in Ephesus as his replacement (“sent” may be translated, “am sending”). Carpus (4:13) was Paul’s host in Troas, perhaps where he had been arrested. Prisca and Aquila (4:19) were Paul’s fellow tentmakers, who often hosted the church in their homes. Paul greets the household of Onesiphorus (see 1:15-18), who either had not yet returned home after visiting Paul in Rome, or who may have lost his life ministering to the apostle in his imprisonment.
Erastus (4:20) was the city treasurer of Corinth. Trophimus (4:20) was a Gentile native of Ephesus. He was with Paul in Jerusalem, when Paul’s enemies falsely accused him of bringing a Gentile into the temple, leading to Paul’s arrest. The fact that Paul, who had the gift of healing, left Trophimus sick at Miletus, shows either that these supernatural gifts were fading or, at the very least, that it is not always God’s will to heal supernaturally.
Paul sends greetings (4:21) from Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, and Claudia, along with all the brethren in Rome. Irenaeus and Eusebius mention a Linus who was the first bishop of Rome after the deaths of Paul and Peter (Stott, p. 118). Tacitus, the Roman historian, mentions a Roman noble named Pudens who married a British princess named Claudia (William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon [Westminster Press], rev. ed., pp. 222-223). If these are the same people, then we have here a link to British Christianity, from which American Christianity largely came.
But the point is, Paul was not a loner. He was committed to the cause of Christ with many others, and they labored together. You will be able to face life’s winter better if you are part of a body of committed believers, who uphold one another in the great cause of our Savior. But, there’s a final commitment:
Spurgeon draws six lessons out of Paul’s request to bring his coat (!), but I can’t go there for lack of time. I want to consider his request to bring “the books, especially the parchments” (4:13). Spurgeon uses this to chide pastors who think that they can preach without study and preparation. He says of Paul,
He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books! (Spurgeon’s Expository Encyclopedia [Baker], 11:386.)
We don’t know what these books contained, although many think that the parchments, which were more valuable than ordinary papyrus scrolls, were probably his copies of the Old Testament. But his words are amazing, in that he has just acknowledged that he is facing imminent execution, yet he wants Timothy to bring his books! This suggests at least three areas for growth, even as we face life’s final winter:
God saw fit to put His revelation in writing, which implies that we need to use our minds to read and think. First and foremost, we should read and study the Bible. But, also, we should read good books that help us grow intellectually and spiritually. I fear that many modern Christians, sitting in a dungeon awaiting death, would say, “Bring my TV set, and the videos.” Good books bring us the best thoughts of the godly men of past centuries. As long as you’re able, take care to develop your mind through reading.
Reading books and especially reading the Bible should help us come to know God better. In other words, reading should not only help us become better Christian thinkers, but also to go deeper in our personal relationship with Christ. With Paul (Phil. 3:8-14), we should press on to know Christ more and more.
Reading the Bible and good Christian books should help us become more Christ-like, more loving, and more humble. If we are filled with pride over how much we know, we have missed the point. In fact, the more you study the Bible and read the lives of the great saints from the past, the more you realize how little you know God and how much you need to grow. Even though you are an aged saint like Paul, there is still room to grow in godly character. Reading is a major avenue for growth.
I read once of Dr. Charles McCoy, a Baptist pastor whose denomination insisted that he retire at age 72. He was a single man, tall (6’ 4”), with white hair. He had earned two doctorates over the years. He dreaded the thought of retirement, thinking that surely there was more that he could do for Christ. About that time, a missionary from India invited him to come there and preach. Dr. McCoy had never traveled, even in the U.S., let alone overseas. But the missionary explained that in India they would respect his age.
He tried to put the idea out of his mind, and he gave the Lord all of his excuses. He didn’t have any money. But he felt that the Lord wanted him to go, so he decided to sell his car and go. People in his church thought he was losing his mind. The church chairman asked, “What if you should die there?” Dr. McCoy said, “It’s just as close to heaven from there as it is from here.”
So he went. En route, he lost all of his belongings, including his wallet and passport. His missionary friend who invited him was not there, so he didn’t know anyone. But God opened door after door for him to give the gospel to influential groups of people in the government and military. He started a Chinese church in Calcutta. He ended up having an itinerant ministry that lasted for 16 years, until he was 88! He had preached that afternoon and he had another speaking engagement that evening, when the Lord called him home.
Dr. McCoy faced life’s winter well because he was committed to the living Lord Jesus Christ and His cause with others. He was committed to keep growing. If you will do the same, you will be able to face life’s winter well!
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2007, All Rights Reserved.