Sermon: Faithful When It Hurts
Scripture: 2 Timothy 2:1-3
In this week’s lessons Paul continues to encourage Timothy in his Christian life and ministry.
Theme: Strong in Grace
In chapter one Paul talks about the need for those who will guard the sacred deposit of the gospel, who are determined to proclaim it, who are prepared to suffer for it, and who will pass it on pure and uncorrupted to the generation that will rise up and follow them. This need is just as true in our day as it was in Paul’s. Timothy lived in an age of decline, and we live in an age of decline. Timothy was challenged not to be ashamed of the gospel, and we too should not be ashamed of the gospel. He was told to guard the gospel as a precious possession and to proclaim it; we too are called to do precisely the same thing.
What Paul is about to say now in 2 Timothy 2 is built in a certain sense on what we looked at in chapter one. Here you have this difficult situation in the church in the midst of which Paul has given these three great charges to Timothy: to fan his gift into flame, not to be ashamed of the gospel, and to guard it. Now in chapter two he makes a contrast between what Timothy is to be and what the culture is around him, including the worldliness that is even found in the church. You notice that very clearly in the first verse, where Paul writes, “You, then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” At the end of chapter one Paul mentions how everyone in the province of Asia had deserted him. Then Paul points out the faithfulness of Onesiphorus. Paul wants Timothy to be faithful as well in how he carries out his ministry, which includes passing on what he has learned from Paul to other people, who themselves will then go on to teach still others.
Paul didn’t promise that the world was going to get better; as a matter of fact he prophesied that the world would get worse and worse. But he tells Timothy he is not to be like that. So having made that contrast, Paul begins now in this chapter to tell Timothy precisely what it is that he has in mind. The basic idea is found here in the beginning. He wants Timothy to endure and to be strong in the strength of the gospel. When Paul tells Timothy to be strong, he means to be strong in spite of the tendencies to be weak because of what is going on around him. Furthermore, Timothy’s strength is found in the strength of the gospel.
I am very glad Paul said it that way, because if he had simply told Timothy to be strong he could be misunderstood as merely suggesting an attitude of stoicism in suffering rather than persevering by the power of the gospel. Paul tells Timothy to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. It is that grace that will enable Timothy to carry out the exhortations Paul is giving. That is how Timothy will guard the gospel and proclaim it with force.
Furthermore, I think he implies by the way he goes on to talk about the passing on of that gospel to others that there are those who have gone before who have done this very thing, and these are to be not only our example, but an encouragement to us as we take our stand. As I read that verse I wonder if you noticed the sequence that is involved there. How many links do you have in this chain of the passing on of the apostolic gospel?
First, you have the Lord Jesus Christ who gave the gospel to Paul. Paul did not learn it on his own, nor even from someone else. Rather, Paul received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. Second, you have Paul passing on the gospel to Timothy. Having received it from Christ, Paul is then faithful in imparting such knowledge to Timothy, and in the presence of many witnesses. I think what Paul means by this is that as he traveled with Timothy, and as they worked together, and as Timothy heard Paul preach to all kinds of people in many different places, that Timothy heard the gospel and was thoroughly taught. As Paul is writing this letter toward the end of his life, he can look back on his ministry with thanksgiving that God gave him the opportunity and the strength to pass on what he received from Christ to others, particularly Timothy. Third, Paul wants Timothy to pass it on to reliable men, because this is the way the gospel is going to be spread and how the church is going to be strengthened—by reliable leaders who will preserve this precious treasure. Finally, the fourth step in this chain is that such men are then to pass it on to others as well.
What contrast is Paul making in 2 Timothy 2?
List the steps in the sequence of passing on the gospel.
Reflection: How do you see the culture around you deteriorating?
Application: In what areas do you need to, as Paul says, “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 1)?