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.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation