Perseverance Portrayed (2 Timothy 2:2-5)
2 Timothy 2:2-5
Good morning everybody. Let’s take our Bibles if we could and open them to the book of
2 Timothy, 2 Timothy, chapter 2 beginning at verse 2, and if time permits we may make it through verse 10. I doubt it… somebody laughed; I have no credibility on that issue. But I know where we’re going to start at least, verse 2, maybe through verse 10. The title of our message this morning is Perseverance Portrayed. And let’s see, we’ve got all the optics? Praise the Lord. We are in the midst of a study on 2 Timothy which is about finishing strong.
We know that Paul wrote this book; he wrote it to a young man named Timothy, who was wavering. His salvation is not in doubt but whether this man is going to finish his calling is in doubt. And that’s why Paul writes this book to him. Paul, of course, is about ready to pass from the scene; Paul makes that clear in chapter 4, verse 6. [2 Timothy 4:6, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure is come.”]
And really the issue becomes is there going to be somebody coming behind Paul to pick up the baton of truth and pass it on. Paul is skeptical, a little, of this, with Timothy because Timothy is not having an easy time with ministry. And Paul seeks to correct Timothy and get him to run his race. This is the very last letter of the 13 letters that the Apostle Paul wrote.
We have been through chapter 1 which is a basic call to faithfulness and endurance. We have seen a greeting, verses 1-2, thanksgiving, verses 3-5, a reminder that Timothy has a unique gift that he is to use, and there’s the whole idea that God gives us gifts to employ, spiritual gift s that is. He is reminding Timothy to be courageous and if he is doubtful then those doubts don’t come from the Spirit of God, they come from his own flesh. Timothy is not to be ashamed. And then Paul sort of wraps up this chapter by giving negative examples not to imitate, and then he gives a positive example, of a man Timothy knew, to imitate.
And that takes us into chapter 2; chapter 2, in essence, is ten metaphors, or pictures illustrating the point that Paul has tried to make in chapter 1. So if you are more analytical you like chapter 1 better; if you are more creatively wired, you like pictures and artistry you’ll probably like chapter 2 better because these are ten word pictures telling us exactly what endurance looks like. So there are ten of them here which we’re going to start walking through this morning.
But even before Paul begins to articulate these ten metaphors he reminds Timothy, in verse 1, to “be strong in the grace that is in our Lord Jesus Christ.” And we took a look at that verse in our last session together, not last week, we had Shahram Hadian last week, as you know… by the way, it’s interesting, Shahram was here on Sunday and this incident in Paris happened, I think on Friday so it shows you the timelessness of what Shahram was trying to communicate in terms of Islam and its agenda. And I’ve noticed the hits on our website have gone up dramatically. So if you didn’t have a chance to be at the conference I would challenge you to listen to those seven sessions and really gain an understanding of Islam and what its ultimate goals are.
But we talked about, not last Sunday bur the prior Sunday, of the grace of God and how the grace of God is not just a yesterday thing and it’s not just a tomorrow thing, it’s a right now thing. In other words, the grace of God, which brought us to saving faith in Christ, grace, of course, meaning unmerited favor, the grace which brought us to saving faith in Christ is the same grace that will take us to heaven one day. And, the point Paul is making in verse 1 is the exact same grace that helps us with daily struggles.
So the gospel is not just a yesterday thing, it’s not just a tomorrow thing, it’s a right now thing. And that, really, if you begin to understand this unpacks the secret of Paul’s effectiveness. He lived every single day of his life not just on grace that he had gained through faith at the point of salvation. He lived on the grace not just of its promises for tomorrow but he really rested on grace every moment of his life, for strength, power, encouragement, which allowed Paul to become what he became in Christ. And Paul is hoping that Timothy will tap into this secret which is really no secret at all. We saw in our prior session together that it’s something that is taught from cover to cover in God’s Word, the present tense grace of God.
Now from there Paul begins to move into these ten metaphors, or pictures, word pictures if you will. He moves from point, chapter 1, to pictures, chapter 2, to give his young protégé, and struggling protégé Timothy, pictures, if you will, of what endurance actually looks like. The first thing that Paul brings up is the picture of a teacher. And notice what he says in 2 Timothy 2:2, he says: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
So Timothy, the first word picture I’m giving you, concerning what endurance looks like, is the word picture of a teacher. And since I spend most of my time either at the college or here teaching I understand this “word picture” very well. Teaching requires faith because you really have no clue when you’re teaching if you’re really getting through to somebody. I guess at the college I can give them a test, but even then the students are really good at telling you what you want to hear and you really wonder if the message that you’ve been trying to communicate throughout a twelve week, a fourteen week semester is really going to take root in their lives. And so you really have to just step out and trust the Lord. You have to claim certain promises, such as the Word of God does not return null but it always accomplishes the purpose for which it was sent.
And, you know, many times we look for tangible fruit, we look for attendance to increase, we look for changed lives, and sometimes the Lord is very kind and shows us the fruit of our actions in people. But I’ve noticed other times He does not and the reason He does not is we have to step out on faith, because without faith it’s impossible to please God. So teaching, and I’ll show you a little bit later, is just like farming, you’re just planting seed, planting seed, hoping it will germinate into a crop down the road.
So Timothy, your first word picture of endurance is just like that of a teacher, and what I want you to do, Timothy, Paul says is I want you to take the truth that I have given to you and I want you to teach other people. Now what’s very interesting here is Paul tells Timothy to not entrust truth to just anyone; he is to entrust truth to faithful men. In fact, if you look towards the end of the verse it says “entrust these,” that’s the teachings that Timothy learned from Paul “to faithful men.” What does it mean to be a faithful man? What does it mean to be a faithful woman? It means to be simply trustworthy, to be consistent in one’s character. And Paul here specifically tells Timothy to trust these treasures that he has learned from Paul to people who have a demonstrated track record of faithfulness.
One of the things I noticed about Jesus Christ is Jesus did not entrust Himself to just anybody. You say, well didn’t Jesus just give Himself away equally to all people? Well, in a certain sense He did because the death of Christ is for the entire world; but in another sense He did not. He disclosed truth to those that were faithful and that, I believe, is one of the reasons Christ spoke so frequently in parables. What is a parable designed to do? It’s designed to conceal and to reveal. A parable takes a truth just below the surface, where a non-diligent person really can’t understand the parable because the parable requires an interpretation. But you see, the diligent student is rewarded because they gain the knowledge deciphered or unpacked in a parable.
In fact, there’s a very interesting verse at the end of John 2, and this is what it says: John 2:23-25, it says, “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.  But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men,  and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”
So there were many, many people at this particular feast that were trusting Jesus. There are a great many commentators that will tell you that they weren’t true believers. But you see, the problem is the Greek construction, it’s pisteuō eis, “believe in,” which is the same Greek construction that’s used all the way through John’s Gospel to describe a legitimate saving faith.
So there were many people being saved, but it specifically says “Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men.” In fact, He really does not begin to disclose Himself in a greater fashion to people until the Upper Room. And in the Upper Room, in John 15:14-15, when He’s huddled there with His eleven, because Judas had already left the room in John 13, His eleven hand-picked disciples, this is what Jesus says in John 15:14-15, “You are My friends,” He’s talking to saved people, “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” So there’s a difference between being a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and being a friend of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a difference between trusting in Christ and, as we like to say, having one’s fire insurance paid up so they won’t go to hell, versus (andas significant and important as that is) graduating into friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ where a person is entrusted with the deeper things of God.
Jesus says, “You are My friends if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” You’re no longer just believers, you’re friends.
Now what qualifies one into friendship? It is not simply trusting in Christ for salvation, but it is obedience to His commands, under His power. And now that these disciples had graduated to that level of friendship they were now prepared to receive greater truths from the Lord Jesus Christ, greater insights, greater revelation. So when Paul tells Timothy to entrust Paul’s statements “to faithful men,” he is simply following the exact same pattern of the Lord Jesus Christ. And you know, I started thinking about this a little bit this week, what qualifies one to be a leader in God’s church? Is it talent? Is it education? I don’t think those are, as important as those things are I don’t think those are the defining issue. The defining issue really is faithfulness to God in the little things.
In fact, just to review a short excerpt in the first letter, 1 Timothy 3:4-7, Paul lays down the qualifications for being an elder. I won’t read you all of them, just a few. “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity  (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?),  and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.  And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”
We could go on and on reading these requirements, but you know how you sum up all of those requirements? It’s faithfulness with the little things. Faithfulness in your marriage, faithfulness over your own children. I mean, how can God expect somebody to stand up and preach the Word of God to a congregation if he’s not even discipling his own kids. And so as we prove ourselves to God faithful in, perhaps lesser things, or smaller things, things we look at sometimes as insignificant, God graduates us, with greater insights, greater spheres of responsibility.
You know, I look at a lot of people and I see talent, and I often say to myself, why isn’t that person, with the talent he or she has, why aren’t they being used more effectively for the things of God? Why aren’t they being used more productively for the things of God? I don’t know the answer because I can’t look into people’s hearts, but here’s my suspicion. There is something going on in their life, whether it be financial, relational, something of that nature, they just are not faithful to God in that area. And because they are not faithful to God in that area they remain not friends of God but merely believers who, thankfully are going to heaven, but people that God just can’t use. People that God can’t trust.
One of the things I do at the College is I give take home tests and people are shocked that I do this—you’re giving them take home tests, don’t you know that they can cheat on a take home test? Don’t you know that you can be fooled? And my answer to that is I know I can be fooled, I’ve been fooled and I’ll probably continue to be fooled by a lot of people. But you can’t fool God. God sees everything, and I tell the students this: if you cannot be faithful in something this minor, how in the world is God supposed to entrust to you eternal things? So this test is really a test of your character, it’s a vindication of your character. And I believe this, if you’re faithful on this test and don’t try to pull the wool over somebody’s eyes, which is within your power to do that, that will largely determine the effectiveness and the degree of authority that you will have in the future in ministry.
Don’t just take anybody and start dumping things onto them, Paul tells Timothy, but entrust these things to faithful men. Now it’s not just elders that must be faithful, it’s deacons. 1 Timothy 3 also lays out the qualifications for deacons and this is what verse 10 says, “These men must also first be tested; let them serve as deacons if they are above reproach.” You don’t just grab somebody whose character you don’t even know and throw them into a ministry position. You put them through some sort of test, it doesn’t say what test it is but it really has to do with a long-term observance of someone’s character. What is their character like? What is their character like when things are going well for them? What is their character like when things are going difficult, in a difficult direction for them, when they’re going thru adversity. You monitor their character very carefully because you’re trying to ascertain are they faithful? And if they are faithful with the little things they can be trusted with greater things.
If there’s a mistake that I have made in my brief time at this church, it’s happened to me on more than one occasion, I’ve tried to kind of push some people through the ranks and elevate them to a position of responsibility in the church before they’re really ready to handle it. And it’s a tragic thing when that happens and every time I do that the Lord is saying you should have gone back to the playbook; you rush someone too fast through the ranks, you didn’t give yourself and the other leaders in the church really enough time to ascertain if this person is really faithful or not. You see, because the problem that we have is we have to fill slots; we have a Constitution, we have a rotation, slots need to be filled and oftentimes we get in such a hurry to fill a slot that that becomes our focus and our priority instead of doing what God says to do in His Word, which is to watch people very carefully.
So both Jesus and the Apostle Paul had this philosophy of ministry where they said you entrust things to those who are faithful men. Now you’ll notice also in verse 2, “four generations.” What is Paul interested in? He is interested in truth being disseminated through the generations. What is the difference between a politician and a statesman? A politician cares about the next election; a statesman cares about the next generation.
Paul was very clearly not a politician in that sense, he was a statesman because he’s not only thinking about the next generation, I would say this in verse 2, he’s thinking about four generations total. Notice again verse 2, the language that Paul picks: “These things which you” that would be Timothy, “have heard from me” Paul, “in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Generation 1 is me, Paul. Paul had faithfully handed truth off to generation 2, Timothy, that’s the pronoun “you” there, second person. And then what is Timothy to do with this truth? He is to entrust it a third generation, “faithful men,” and then what are these faithful men to do They are to entrust it to yet another generation, “others.”
So it goes from me to you, to faithful men, and to others. What motivated Paul, perhaps more than any other single thing is to see truth being faithfully handed off or disseminated from one gener-ation to the next. Now if you want the origin of public schools in America that was their purpose. It goes back to 1647 in what is called the Old Satan Deluder Law, passed in Massachusetts in 1647, over a century before our Declaration of Independence, and what they were worried about, those that came to these shores and founded this country, what they were worried about is somehow truth wouldn’t get into the minds of these children. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to raise money and we’re going to collectively pool our resources and we’re going to get these kids in one place and location and time and we’re going to start teaching them the Word of God.
That is the origin of public schools in America and for people to kick God out of the public schools today is laughable. There would not be public schools had our forbearers not had that perspective of a transgenerational transfer of truth. Why were our forbearers so interested in this perspective? They were interested in this perspective because they came from Europe. What happened in Europe? The great Protestant Reformation. What led to the Protestant Reformation? What preceded the Reformation was the Dark Ages; the Dark Ages where there was mass illiteracy, the dark ages where the average Christian was told that they could not read the Bible for themselves, the Bible in many circumstances during the European Dark ages was chained to the pulpit, the only person that was given permission to read the Bible and to teach the Bible was the priest. And oftentimes the priest was highly allegorical or non-literal in their interpretation. And they could use the Bible to prey on the ignorance of the people.
And that’s where you get this statement that Martin Luther reacted so aggressively against in what is called the Sale of Indulgences, the saying went like this: “If the coin in the coffer rings the soul from Purgatory springs.” In other words, if you want to get Aunt Sally or Uncle Joe out of Purgatory, pay up! Now if the people are illiterate or if the people are told you can’t read the Bible for yourself, or if the people are told that the Bible is such a symbolic book that only the priest and the elite class of people can interpret it for them, then the people were in a position of vulnerability.
And that’s why when the Protestant Reformation transpired one of its great rallying cries was the priesthood of all believers. What does that mean, the priesthood of all believers? What it simply means is we all have a relationship with the Lord. We all can have access to the Bible, we all can become literate and read the Bible in our own language. This is why the Reformers were trying to constantly translate the Bible. Like Martin Luther, for example, seeking to translate the Bible into the common language, in his case in German, because this was what the Protestant Reformers believed, this priesthood of all believers because they saw what was happening during these sale of indulgences, during the pre-Reformation European Dark Ages.
The children of the Protestant Reformers came to America and founded this country. And one of their first acts of business was this Old Satan Deluder Law passed in Massachusetts in 1647. Beyond that they set up all the Ivy League institutions. They set up Harvard, they set up Yale, they set up Princeton, all of these schools today that laugh at God, ridicule God, kick God out. Those schools themselves wouldn’t even exist had it not been for God because they wanted a clergy and in most cases a laity that was educated and literate and could read the Bible and interpret for themselves because they did not want to go back to the pre-Reformation Dark Ages. That is the history of America.
And Paul is completely on board with this, although Paul wrote these words 2,000 years ago. He wants truth to be transferred from one generation to the next. Well, why is it called the Old Satan Deluder Law, Massachusetts, 1647? It was called that because it’s the goal of the devil, the serpent, to keep men and women ignorant of the Scriptures. If you can keep men and women ignorant of the Scriptures you can manipulate them, can’t you. You can convince them that something called purgatory exists, even though there’s no biblical basis for purgatory, but if they can’t read the Bible or understand it, if they’re told they can’t understand it for themselves, if they don’t believe in the priesthood of all believers but everything has to be interpreted through an elite priest who interprets things in a highly allegorical fashion, then the people can be convinced there’s purgatory. And as long as the people can be convinced that there’s purgatory it’s like a money-making machine that keeps rolling in. And the priests in that time period were making what we would call beaucoup bucks off this system.
Martin Luther saw it and he said the whole thing is an abomination. And in fact, using the things of God to manipulate people and to make money is the very thing that caused Jesus such rage where He drove out from the Lord’s temple the moneychangers. And so we need to understand a little bit of our history. We need to understand why the Reformers did what they did, why the American public school system was started. It’s all about the transfer of truth from one generation to the next. Paul, in verse 2, I believe is articulating four generations; a politician thinks about the next election; a statesman thinks about the next generation. This is the heart of Paul as he is unfolding this book to his young pastor protégé, his disciple, Timothy.
What’s so interesting about this to me is Paul is not even thinking about himself. Wouldn’t you be thinking about yourself if you’re about to die? How do we know he’s about to die? If you look at 2 Timothy 4:6, he tells us that. He says in 2 Timothy 4:6, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” He recognizes that he doesn’t have a lot of time left so rather than focus on himself, as we would most likely be doing in our natural selves if we were under those same circumstances, Paul is thinking forward. He is a forward thinker: is the Christian truth that’s been handed off to us apostles, is it going to be transferred through the next series of generations. That’s what Paul is concerned about, that’s why he articulates here, I believe, four generations.
Going back to 2 Timothy 2:2 just for a minute, notice what it says, “These things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” One of the things that is happening in so-called Christian education circles, and I noticed this very early on in my seminary career and I see it constantly in the writings of pastors with their so-called pastoral ministries emphasis. There is a tremendous marginalizing or deemphasizing of the pulpit. Sermons need to be probably about 15-20 minutes max we’re told. We don’t follow that rule here obviously. Shahram didn’t get the memo I guess either, last week, because you can only hold people’s interest for 15 or 20 minutes. Well then, where does truth get transferred? Well, you’ve got to do that one on one. And the whole focus is on one on one ministry. And in this literature what you’re told over and over again is if you’re not doing one on one type of ministry, small group type ministries you’re really not doing real ministry.
The literature constantly regurgitates statistics about how your average person cannot retain things, what is said and what is retained, what they retain versus what is said is very small. And as you read this literature you’re inundated with psychological type statistics about the capacity of the human mind to actually embrace what it is they hear. And over and over again there’s a diminishing of the pulpit. May I just say that I don’t think that’s what Paul is talking about.
Now why am I even bringing this up? Because they use verse 2 to do it. Almost every writer that wants to get across this point will use verse 2 where it says “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” What they’re basically saying is look, Paul was interested in just a very small group, one on one, one on two, but anything in a larger group really has very little effectiveness. And don’t get me wrong, I am very much in favor of one on one ministry. I am very much in favor of small group ministry. But the error that people make is they turn it into an either/or fallacy. It’s either large group or small group, when in God, who’s very diverse it’s not one or the other, the either/or fallacy assumes one point is true and one point is false. It’s not that way with God on this point, it’s both/and. You need one on one; you need small group discipleship but you also need taking place the consistent teaching of the Word of God through the pulpit.
And I do not think that this verse can be used, although I’ve heard it used this way for many, many years. I don’t think this verse can be used to minimize the pulpit because… why would I say that. First of all, “faithful men” is plural, is it not? Did you also catch this little phrase here, “These things which you have heard from me in the presence of” what? “many witnesses.” As truth is being transferred it can take place in the presence of “many witnesses.”
This was pointed out to me by the Greek, great Greek scholar, one of my professors, one of my heroes, Dr. Stanley Toussaint, when I had him for a course on the Pauline epistles this is what he said: What you have heard from me can encompass a preaching situation; it can encompass a pulpit ministry, it can encompass a lectern. So let’s not limit God, let’s not say one type of ministry is where real ministry happens and another type of ministry is just sort of a filler, and let’s not use verses to support this preconception when the verse itself linguistically does not even allow that.
In fact, the church that Timothy was pastoring in itself was the church at Ephesus. How did the church at Ephesus itself even come into existence. Acts 19:9-10 explains how that church and many others came into existence. This would be on Paul’s third missionary journey. Acts 19:9-10, “But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school” oh-oh, there’s academia, there’s the lecture method, “the school of Tyrannus,” Acts 19:9. Verse 10 says, “This took place for two years” and how effective was the lecture method, in an academic environment, verse 10, “so that all,” did you see that word “all?” “so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”
You look at the church at Ephesus, you look at all of that collection of churches that we read about in the New Testament, you look at Colossae, Laodicea, Smyrna, Pergamum, Philippi, how exactly did those churches come into existence? They came into existence through the Apostle Paul setting up shop in the school of Tyrannus in Ephesus and teaching. And the Lord used that to start all of these churches in the Asia area, including the church that Timothy was ministering in at the time this was written, called “the church at Ephesus.”
You read about these churches in the book of Revelation. We read about, in Revelation 2 and 3, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea. How did all of those churches come into existence initially? They came into existence through Paul reasoning daily for a two year period in the school of Tyrannus.
Can God use the lecture method? Of course! Can He use academia? Of course He can. Can He use the pulpit ministry? Of course He can. And He does it quite frequently. And it disturbs me to some extent to see this literature pouring fourth that the pastors themselves are all reading telling them that the pulpit ministry is really not that significant. And that, I believe, is the reason why we’re experiencing, to a very large extent, the famine of the Word of God in America. How many people do I run into on a daily basis? How many people do I receive e-mails from saying this: Gosh, I really wish there was a church in our area that taught the Scripture like you guys teach it. They don’t complain that the sermons are too long (of course, they’re not here so I guess…) What they’re interested in is I’m hungry for this teaching. And it has really nothing to do with the teacher, it has to do with the faithfulness to God’s Word. That’s the issue here. It’s an authority of Scripture issue.
I go over to this church, I don’t get it, I go over to that church and don’t get it, I go to this church I don’t get it. Can you, and they always name a place of geography, I live in Florida and they name some county that I’ve never been to. This is where I live, can you tell me of a church that’s like you guys in Florida? And the answer is I can’t because I don’t know their area well enough. But what is happening is there is a famine for the Word of God. There is a basic famine for the simple proclamation and line by line teaching of God’s Word. Why is this famine existing? Largely it has to do with this pastoral ministries literature that the pastors are all reading, trying to convince them that the pulpit is a waste of time. That’s where a lot of this comes from.
And another tragedy has happened and I fall into this trap myself, where you evaluate success by how many people you can fit in the room. I never see that ever in the Bible as some kind of benchmark for success or effectiveness. I mean, where does it ever say you have to have a church with this amount of number, pack them in, go to two services, three services, Saturday night service, Sunday night service, and if that is not happening you are not successful in ministry. You see, this is what the pastors are hearing constantly. They’re hearing, number 1, that the pulpit has no power and they are hearing, number 2, even from our own ranks that success is determined by numerical growth. So what do you have in many instances? You have churches that are a mile wide and half an inch deep. And you have Christians that are being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine that comes down through the pipe. [Ephesians 4:14, “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.”]
Christians that are vulnerable to some of the deceptions that Shahram talked about last Sunday morning about Chrislam, people that want to merge the principles of Christianity with Islam. Why in the world would a Christian think that they could merge the two? They are polar opposites. Why would such a movement even be gaining steam in the evangelical world? The answer is the plot, to a very large extent, is malnourished. And it’s malnourished because the pulpit, to a very large extent is not taken seriously because the pulpit has been overrun by secular marketing experts that the evangelical literature quotes from, telling pastors over and over again you’re wasting your time. And it’s a tragic thing.
Now as we move through 2 Timothy we’re going to be dealing with this issue quite a bit, that’s why I’m introducing it now, because as you get into chapter 3 and especially into chapter 4 you have to be not wanting to not see what Paul says is a priority for every pastor. The priority for every pastor, not according to the academic literature but according to the Scripture is the study and the teaching of God’s Word. We’re going to be, you might just make a mental note of this, looking at Nehemiah 8 at some point. Nehemiah 8 is a tremendous chapter on the power of the pulpit to start a reformation and a revival in the post exilic community amongst the returnees who came back from the Babylonian captivity. What started that Reformation? What started that revival?
In fact, let me ask you this: What starts every reformation and every revival, not only in the Scripture, as recorded to us historically in the Scripture but as given to us in church history? What always starts it? What started the Protestant Reformation? What always starts it in every single case is a return to the authority of the Word of God, not just verbally, we believe it, but let’s put time into it to demonstrate the veracity of our values. Churches start moving back to the Word of God, churches start moving back to the things of God and the devil is not going to like that. That’s why he has thrown up so much confusion, through so-called pastoral literature, on this particular topic.
There is so much to learn here, just from verse 2, “These things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Paul moves on in verses 3 and 4 and he gives another word picture of what endurance looks like. He begins to talk about a soldier. Notice, if you will, 2 Timothy 2:3, Paul says, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” Timothy, your first word picture is that of a teacher; your second word picture to illustrate perseverance in your ministry is that of a soldier. You’ll notice that Paul says “Suffer hardship with me,” when Paul wrote these words he was not writing from a place of leisure, nor was he writing from a place of comfort or relaxation. He was writing from a place of suffering where his very own life, at the hands of the diabolical Nero, was about to be snuffed out.
In fact, you might recall 2 Timothy 1:8, earlier in the book, it says this, “Therefore do not 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.” Timothy, I want you to understand that part of your calling is to suffer for the things of God, and I want you to understand that I myself, when I pen these words am suffering but I am not bearing the cross alone, I am bearing up under it through the present tense grace of God which he described for us a couple of weeks ago in 2 Timothy 2:1. [2 Timothy 2:1, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”]
God never promises to remove suffering. How do I know that? Because Paul himself suffered. In fact, Paul suffered so severely that he describes in the book of 2 Corinthians 12 his suffering as a thorn in the flesh. The word “thorn” there I don’t even think is the best translation, I think it’s more of a stake being injected into you, not you know, a sizzler steak but a stake; right? I might have a steak later actually. [2 Corinthians 12:7, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me– to keep me from exalting myself!”]
But this stake was causing him a great deal of pain, whatever it was; we’re never told what it was. And he asked God, not once, not twice, but three times to take it away; take it away, take it away, take it away and God all three times said no. But then God said this, “My grace” present tense grace of God, “is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” I hope God takes away all of your problems. I hope God takes away all of my problems. I know one day He will, in the next life. But beloved, those are not ironclad promises for today.
I’ll tell you what is ironclad, that He will give you the grace to sustain you in the midst of your problems. That’s His promise. He never promises to remove suffering, although He can. It’s within His power to do so; if it was not within His power Paul wouldn’t have given a three-fold request to remove suffering. But God never removed Paul’s suffering; what He promised is I will give you grace in the midst of your hardship. And so Timothy, suffering is part of the package; I suffered and so are you suffering. And your suffering can be analogized to that of a soldier. Think of the suffering that a soldier goes through, first of all in basic training, and then when a soldier is hurled into the line of fire and actually sees combat, think of the suffering that goes on. Think of the physical suffering, think of the emotional suffering, think of the people that come back from wars with tapes playing in their minds over and over and over again of the bloodshed that they saw on the battlefield, and how that never leaves them. And this is why Paul analogizes suffering to that of a soldier.
He continues on with the analogy, in verse 4 he says, “No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” You see, you become a soldier from a human viewpoint, and all of a sudden your options are limited. You can’t do whatever you want, you can’t please whoever you want, your career options just shrunk, and you exist as a soldier, because of a basic chain of command, you exist to totally please your superior officer. In fact, if you do not please your superior office you have, in essence, failed in your calling as a soldier, it doesn’t matter how good you look, it doesn’t matter how many friends you had back home, it doesn’t matter which side of the head you part your hair on, it doesn’t matter how intelligent you are, it doesn’t matter what your gifting is, it doesn’t matter what your hobbies are. If you do not please your commanding officer you are a failure as a soldier; you become successful by doing everything to please your commanding officer.
So the obvious point here is this: Timothy, you are a soldier, you’re commanding officer is Jesus Christ. Everything you do in your ministry must please Him. Now sometimes, Timothy, the folks will like it and sometimes they won’t. But the fact of the matter is you’re not in this to please them, you’re in this to please your commanding officer, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dr. Constable in his online notes writes this: “Obviously Paul did not mean that a minister should always give all of his time to preaching and teaching to the exclusion of any tent-making activities. He meant that he should not let other duties drain off his energies or interests or divert him from his primary responsibilities as a Christian soldier.” I love that choice of words, “other duties” and “responsibilities” draining “off his energies or interests”, diverting him “from his primary responsibilities.”
Here’s your basic problem that you run into as a pastor: people come into a church and they want you to be in their mold. They have in their mind a caricature of what you should be. Maybe they got the caricature from reading something; maybe they got the caricature from the movies, typically what happens is many people come from another church and they say well, our other pastor did it this way or did it that way. And they try to fit you into a box. Now this is problematic for personalities, like myself, that are basically people pleasing personalities. There are some people that are not people pleasers. I have the basic disposition where I want to please people. I want to make people happy. At the end of the day I would rather more people like me than dislike me.
And so you become preoccupied in trying to fit into someone else’s schedule, someone else’s agenda, someone else’s mold, someone else’s type. And how easy it is to get your eyes off your commanding officer and forget that you’re not in this business to please people, ultimately; I’m not in favor of being rude to people either, but ultimately you’re in this business to please the Lord Jesus Christ. And a pastor and a man of God or an elder or a deacon is not going to stand before people and give an account one day. What he is going to stand before is God Himself—did you or did you not dispatch your duties? And I think we should take this into consideration the next time we’re trying to look at a spiritual leader, whether it’s here or anywhere else. And say that person ought to do this and this, such and such, they ought to do that, I have a preference in this area, I’d like that man, I have a preference in that area. I’m not in favor of being mean to people but the fact of the matter is whatever preferences people may have, not that it’s wrong to try to meet preferences when they’re reasonable. Meeting the preferences of people is not the ultimate priority of a minister; it is answering to his commanding office; it is dispatching what the Lord Jesus Christ Himself gave that person to do.
It’s not just true with my calling, we all have different callings; it’s true in your calling. You’re going to give the same account. God is not going to ask you did you make your relatives happy, did you make this group happy, did you make that group happy. He’s going to say did you dispatch the task that I put on your shoulders, whether it’s being a faithful wife, being a godly mother, being a Sunday School teacher, earning a living, whatever it is God has called you to do? Did you evangelize, did you dispatch your responsibility? You’re not going to answer to me, I’m not going to answer to you. All of us will though be answering to the Lord.
Let me see if I can squeeze one more in. Verse 5, the third word picture that he gives is that of an athlete. Notice, if you will verse 5. He says, “Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.” Personally I think Paul was an avid sports fan because there was something in Greco-Roman society called the Isthmian Games, sort of a precursor to what we would call the Olympics. It was active in the very general area where Paul ministered and spent so much of his time, in Corinth and other places.
I believe Paul looked at these athletes competing and the Lord showed him spiritual applications. One of them is in 1 Corinthians 9:25, it says: “Everyone who competes in the games exercise self-control” not in some things, but “in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” wreath. Think about of the rigor you go through to be successful in an athletic contest. Think of the control of your diet, I mean, you can’t just go to McDonalds at 11:00 o’clock at night and pig out anymore. The diet has to be controlled. You have to be in bed at a certain time to get the proper sleep that you need. You have to go through rigorous training, running, weight training. You have to endure being hollered at over and over again by coaches that keep telling you to push yourself.
And why do they do it? They do it, Paul says, “to gain a wreath which perishes.” You know, I spent from 7th grade through college playing basketball, I know my short size gives me away. I definitely didn’t excel in ice skating, I’ll tell you that much. And I remember certain trophies that I gained and I was so proud of those trophies. As a matter of fact, so proud I am of those trophies that they’re displayed on my desk at home, on the shelf. My daughter looks at those trophies and she doesn’t even recognize it’s me. First of all, the picture on the trophy is a lot thinner. Number 2, these happened in the 1980s and so there’s been a lot of fading of the metal. And I put myself through such an ordeal to gain a piece of metal which is fading.
How different it is for the Christian who submits to the call of discipleship, who disciplines themselves as the Lord has them under discipline to gain what? Not a wreath which perishes but one which is imperishable. What a tremendous example of this. You know, you go into these health clubs, you see people putting themselves under great strain, there at 5:00 o’clock in the morning, not that I would know much about it, cycling, sweating, lifting weights so they can get to work on time. All for what? All for a body that’s fading. And I’m pro exercise, don’t get me wrong, I’m just saying priority wise how different it is that we are called into discipleship with the prospect of gaining a reward which never fades. Should we not even be more disciplined than your typical athlete?
You’ll notice that Paul says here in verse 5 the athlete must compete according to the rules. Every athletic contest or event has rules that must be honored. And think of how many athletes that have been discredited because they didn’t follow the rules. Think of names like Ben Johnson, Lance Armstrong, a number of others that I can think of that excelled only to discover that the reason they excelled is because they had injected themselves with steroids, or artificial substances, and how in the case of Ben Johnson his medals were taken away.
The fact of the matter is, beloved, in this race of discipleship and perseverance that we are all in there are rules that God wants us to honor. Well where do we find His rules? We find them in His will as revealed in His Word. And so what becomes so important to me as a pastor is the pastoral letters. There are three New Testament letters that are written to pastors: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, a nice three-collection set telling pastors how to be pastors. That’s the rule book.
And how tragic it is to look at pulpits today and not see Bible expositors but to see motivational speakers, to see psychologists, to see marketers, to see CEO’s, and I wonder, what has happened to the rule book? Has everybody forgotten the pastoral letters? How tragic is it to go into a so-called Christian bookstore and look up books on pastoral ministries and see a whole bunch of stuff about vision, and quote “leadership,” close quote, and to look in the index and wonder, are these books going to mention 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus and see if you’re lucky one to two references in the whole book to those letters.
What is going on? People are moving away from the rule book. It’s not a mystery, God has made Himself clear. He’s told us exactly what our priorities are, and thus Paul, writing to Timothy, says “Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.” Well, I at least made it through verse 5.
If anybody is here today and they don’t know Christ personally, you can change that situation now, it’s something we call the gospel which means good news. It’s good news because Jesus did everything in our place, and simply by trusting in His provision and His provision alone you can have the gift of life. If the Spirit of God is placing you under conviction because you do not have a relationship with His Son, the Son of God, our exhortation to you is to, the best you know how, respond by faith to Jesus Christ. Another way of saying faith is trust, to rely upon, to depend upon. It’s something you can get settled right now, in the privacy of your own mind, in the privacy of your own thoughts, as the Spirit of God places you under conviction. It’s not something you have to join a church to do, walk an aisle to do, raise a hand to do, it’s a matter of privacy between you and the Lord where the Lord convicts you of your need for Christ and you respond by faith. If it’s something you’re doing now or have done, then you just altered your eternal destiny. If it’s something that you need more teaching on I’m available after the service to talk. Shall we pray.
Father, we’re grateful for these ancient metaphors, and how they speak to us in the 21st century. Help us to be faithful this week based on the metaphors that we’ve looked at, the soldier, the athlete, the teacher, to walk out the lives that you’ve called us to walk out. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these thing in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said….