Passing the Baton | 2 Timothy 2
Brian Hedges | May 7, 2017
The letter of Second Timothy is the last will and testament of the apostle Paul. It’s written with amazing urgency as we consider the dying words of the apostle to his son in the faith, young Timothy. Paul is in prison, he is in Rome, he is awaiting execution; he knows that the end is near, and he writes this final letter that’s been preserved for us to his son in the faith, and he essentially is telling Timothy, “Stand for the gospel, guard it; pass on what you have learned to others. Ensure that there’s faithfulness to the teaching of Scripture, the pattern of sound words that you’ve heard from me. Hold onto that, and pass it on to others. And then, Timothy, come and see me. Come and visit me.”
It’s an urgent letter that we began studying last week, and we’re studying this letter with a particular end in view. I want us to read this letter as something like Paul’s playbook for church life and ministry, a book that establishes for us the essential vision of gospel ministry in a local church. By gospel ministry I don’t mean merely what I do behind a pulpit on Sunday mornings. I mean the whole life of the church, drilling down into the depths of the gospel together in every aspect of church life.
So that’s what we’re looking at this morning and for the next several weeks, and today we come to Second Timothy chapter two, and really the essential message of Second Timothy 2 is, “Pass on what you’ve learned from me to others.” So I’m titling this message “Passing the Baton.” The illustration we all know: relay runners in a race who pass the baton one to the other. And the success of the race, of course, is determined by each person in the race successfully passing on the baton to the next runner.
Well, that’s essentially what Paul is telling Timothy to do in Second Timothy 2. So let’s read the text. I’m going to read the full chapter, and then we’re going to look at three things together in this chapter. Second Timothy chapter two, beginning in verse one.
“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”
Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
This is God’s word.
So Paul wants Timothy to pass the baton of ministry to others, to pass on the word that he has received to others. That’s the essential mandate of the text passing the baton is the working illustration for this message.
That’s our basic task, and, essentially, what I want us to see this morning is the nature of this task, the task that we’ve been given, and then secondly, how we accomplish it; and then thirdly, our resources for the task. Okay? So the task we’ve been given, how we accomplish it, and the resources for the task. Let’s take each one of those thoughts in turn.
I. The Task We’ve Been Given
First of all, the task we’ve been given. I’ve already stated the basic principle. Let me read it again in verses 1-2. “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witness entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
In verse 2 you have the basic pattern of discipleship described. Paul says, “Timothy, you’ve received something from me. Now be faithful to it and pass it on to others, to faithful men who will also be able to pass it on to others.” So you can see this pattern of multiplication in ministry. That’s what Paul wants. Paul trains people to do ministry after him. Timothy was one of those; we could also think of Titus, we could think of Silas, and I’m sure there were others.
Now Paul’s talking to Timothy, he’s trained him, and he’s telling Timothy, “Now you need to train others, and you need to train others so that they are able to train others.” That’s the pattern of discipleship. That’s the way discipleship works. Discipleship is not simply about my relationship with Jesus; it is about my relationship with Jesus that is then being reproduced in the lives of other people. Whatever else a church does, if a church does not do that, it fails at its most basic task.
Now listen: we could probably fill every seat in the house and then some if we did more entertainment, but our goal is not numbers. The goal is not quantity. As much as I would love to see every chair in the house filled, the goal is not quantity; the goal is quality, and it is quality disciple-making, discipleship. That is, reproducing actual followers of Jesus who are holding fast to the truth of the gospel.
This is not easy. This is not easy to do. Preaching sermons: relatively easy. Teaching a class: relatively easy. Making disciples: really hard; really hard. Our elder team, we’ve been talking about this two, three years, coming back to it every few months, and trying to figure out, “How do we do this personally? How do we get a whole church on board with making disciples, so that every aspect of the church is geared towards this one central task?” One of the things we’re discovering is that it’s hard work. It’s hard to do this and to do it well.
Well, Paul says as much in verses 3 through 7 as he describes the character that’s required for this task. Notice how he uses three illustrations, three word pictures, to describe the portraits of a disciple maker.
(1) First of all, there’s the soldier; you see it in verses 3 and 4. He says, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” I think what Paul is after here is what we might call a wartime mentality.
Most of us have not personally experienced this. Even though we’ve seen our nation at war in other parts of the world, we haven’t experienced anything like our forefathers did in World War II. There are a few of you in this room who remember it. You remember the day of rationing. You remember when there was a limit on how much gas you could buy. You remember when the whole country was involved in the war effort.
That’s the idea, and especially for the soldier, Paul says the soldier does not continue to be involved in civilian pursuits; his one aim is to please his commanding officer. When a soldier goes off to boot camp he leaves everything behind, and when he gets there, his full day, from morning to night, is governed by someone else. Paul is saying that that’s what it’s like to be a soldier of Jesus Christ; it’s to bring our whole life within the orbit of his lordship, so that our one, single-minded pursuit is to follow him, and that’s hard. It involves suffering oftentimes, and so he says, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”
(2) The second word picture is in verse 5. Here we have an athletic image. “An athlete,” he says, “is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” Paul is no doubt referring to the athletes who competed in the Olympic games in ancient Olympia in Isthmus. Those who were won their competition were crowned not with gold, silver, bronze medals but with a laurel wreath, but they couldn’t be crowned unless they competed according to the rules. According to one commentator, ancient athletes who participated in the Olympiad first had to complete a required ten-month training period and then swear an oath that they had done it. Those were the rules.
So here the idea seems to be the discipline of the athlete; the training of the athlete. This is the image that Paul uses also in 1 Corinthians 9. He says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air, but I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
Paul is saying to Timothy, “Timothy, you need the discipline of an athlete if you’re going to do this task.” I one time heard a preacher say, “The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle.”
So it’s a call to discipline, to the utmost rigor. Discipleship is really about discipline; you can even see the relation between the two words. A disciple is a disciplined one. A disciple is someone who has enrolled into the school of training, Christ’s school of discipleship. To be a disciple means to bring our lives under the rule, under the discipline, of Jesus Christ. That’s one reason it involves what we call the spiritual disciplines, where we train our minds and our bodies in patterns and in rhythms of prayer and of reading and of meditation. We train ourselves for godliness.
(3) There’s another image, in verse 6. This is the image of the farmer. “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” So you can see there’s overlap between the images. Here the stress is on hard work. It’s on labor.
I’m reminded of how hard it is to do real gospel work. You know, all of the great missionary stories are stories of labor and toil, sometimes for years, before there was success. Did you know that it was seven years before William Carey baptized his first convert in India? Seven years! I think I’d be ready to quit after three. Like, “No converts! I’ve been here for three years; nobody’s come to Jesus!” Seven years!
It was seven years before Judson won his first disciple in Burma, seven years that Morrison toiled before the first Chinaman was brought to Christ. Something about seven years; I don’t know what it is, but these are what their stories tell us. I mean, hard labor, hard work.
Whether we quite realize it or not, we live in a missionary context now. The United States of America is the most religiously diverse country in the world. Did you know that? It is the most religiously diverse country in the world. There are millions of people who do not profess Christ, and to make disciples of new converts requires hard labor. It requires hard work to even make disciples of people who confess the name of Christ in the church.
So the hard-working farmer.
These are the character qualities that are necessary. But then notice one more thing under this first point: notice the centrality of the Gospel to this task.
You see this in verses 8 through 13. Paul gives us the very essence of the Gospel in verse 8: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as priests in my gospel.” That’s the very essence of the gospel. Jesus Christ. He’s the offspring of David; there’s his humanity, and there is his full Messiahship. He is the son of David, the offspring of David. But he’s risen from the dead! That presupposes his death and especially his death through crucifixion for our sins, but Paul stresses on the resurrection.
Why is his stress on the resurrection? I think there are two reasons. One is because, as we’ll see in a few moments, there’s false teaching in the church of Ephesus that’s related to the resurrection, and so Paul emphasizes it; he underscores it. He underlines it. The resurrection: part and parcel of the gospel. I think the other reason is because Paul is staring death in the face. He’s in chains. He’s awaiting martyrdom, and his great comfort in the gospel is resurrection; the resurrection of Christ.
If you serve a man who was killed and then came back to life, what can threaten you? He holds the power over death and hell! We sang it this morning, and I hope I got the lyrics right:
Come behold the wondrous myst’ry,
Death has slain the Lord of life.
But the grave could not hold him;
Praise the Lord, he is alive!
See the foretaste of our redemption,
How unwavering our hope;
Christ the Lord is resurrected,
As we will be when he comes.
Our resurrection connected to his. He’s the firstfruits of our resurrection; resurrection’s right at the heart of the gospel.
And Paul is confident in this power of the gospel. He says in verses 9 and 10 this is why he’s suffering, bound in chains as a criminal. “But the word of God is not bound,” he says, “therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” And then in verses 11 through 13 Paul tells Timothy to remember the pattern of the gospel, and he gives the fifth and the last of his faithful sayings, all of which occur in the pastoral epistles, 1 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Timothy.
Here it is: “The trustworthy,” or, “This is a faithful saying, for if we have died with him we will also live with him, if we endure we will also reign with him, if we deny him he will also deny us, if we are faithless he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” There’s a double promise in these verses, or really we might call it a promise and a warning. Each one is stated twice.
The promise: if we’ve died with him, we’ll live with him; if we endure, we will reign with him. The warning: if we deny, he will deny us; if we are faithless, he is faithful, he cannot deny himself.
Those words are reminiscent of the words of Jesus, Luke chapter 12: “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men the Son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.”
We cannot deny him; we must confess him. So it’s a call to courage. But there’s a promise attached to it. If we suffer with him, we’ll be glorified together with him, Romans 8. If we endure, we will reign; if we die, we will live. It’s the promise of resurrection for all who suffer with Christ. That’s the pattern of the gospel.
This is why Paul can say things like, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain,” because he’s absolutely, utterly confident that the worst the world can do to him is death, and death is not the end! That’s the worst that can happen! The worst that can happen is that they take your life, and Paul says to live is Christ, to die is gain. If I die, I go to be with Jesus, and someday I get raised from the dead. Death is not the end.
So, he is content to be imprisoned, to be in chains, to suffer, and to suffer for the sake of the gospel, so that the elect will be saved. That’s what says, isn’t it, in verse 10, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”
Whatever your doctrine of election is, if your doctrine of election doesn’t function in this way, something’s wrong. For Paul, the doctrine of election did not lead him to sit back on his laurels and leave evangelism and missions to the Arminians! For Paul, it motivated him into the mission field. “The reason I preach is so they’ll be saved.” So there’s mystery there, and we need to follow Paul’s example.
So here’s the task: the task is discipleship, it’s multiplication, it’s spreading the gospel. It requires hard work, and the only way we can do it is if we hold to these promises of the gospel. The gospel is central to it all.
II. How We Accomplish It
But then, more specifically, secondly, how do we accomplish this task? Here’s where it gets a little more practical. I’m not laying out a program at this point for the church, but I want you to see that there are basically two aspects to discipleship. There is a teaching aspect and there is a life aspect. Or we could say it this way: there’s a doctrinal aspect and a moral aspect; two dimensions to this.
What Paul says here corresponds really closely with what Paul says to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16, where he says, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
So two things we have to watch: we have to watch our lives, and we have to watch our teaching, our doctrine. I want you to see what Paul says about each.
(1) So first of all take the doctrinal aspect, what we teach. You see this in verses 14 through 18, and then again in verses 23 through 26. I’m not going to read all of this again, but let me just point out that there’s both negative and positive dimensions to this.
Negatively, Paul says, essentially, “Avoid false teaching.” Verse 14, “Charge them not to quarrel about words.” Verses 16 and 17, “Avoid irreverent babble,” and it gives two reasons for avoiding it. He says it will lead to more and more ungodliness, and it will spread like gangrene.
John Stott says that “these two tendencies of heresy are most revealing. We should be wise to ask ourselves regarding every kind of teaching both what its attitude is towards God and what effect is has upon men. There’s invariably something in error which is dishonoring to God and damaging to men. The truth, on the other hand, always honors, promoting godliness, and always edifies the hearers instead of causing a catastrophe, [which is the Greek word Paul uses for “ruin” in verse 14], upsetting them or turning them upside down, it builds them up in faith, love, and holiness.”
So Paul’s really concerned about false teaching here. It leads to ungodliness, it spreads like gangrene, the disease in the body that damages the body. You know that if gangrene sets in in a leg or an arm it has to be amputated.
And then in verses 17 and 18 he names the heretics. He names them! Hymenaeus and Philetus; he names them. Then in verse 23, “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies. You know that they breed quarrels.”
So, this year is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which I’ve mentioned a few times, I think, and I will keep mentioning it this year. This is an exciting year. So, one of the things that’s meant for me personally is it’s just kind of motivated me to read more church history than I have in the past. I’ve read biographies here and there over the years, but this year I’m trying to really dig in deep. So I read a short biography of Calvin a couple weeks ago; working on Luther right now.
Then I also was reading the two-volume Story of Christianity, by Justo Gonzalez, which is just an amazing church history that covers everything, from the early church all the way into the 21st century. Here is one of the striking things about church history: in some ways you can plot the history of the church by its battles with heresy, and there have always been battles, and there are still battles to be fought today.
So in the early church, the first three, four hundred years of the church, they’re fighting for the integrity of the gospel, to just get right the person and the work of Christ. So you have the gnostics, who are claiming this weird kind of esoteric knowledge, that they know something that everybody else doesn’t know. But part of what they say they know is that Jesus really isn’t divine; he really isn’t fully God.
You have Arius, who says he’s a man, he’s a son of God, but he’s not truly God; he’s not of the same essence of God. And that’s why an Athanasius has to rise and endure five exiles, because he’s so unpopular as he fights the heresy of Arianism, which takes most of the church for a whole generation. But Athanasius eventually won the day, and it was settled in the Council of Nicea, and then again in Chalcedon. Then we have the creed that bears Athanasius’ name, the Athanasian creed. He didn’t write it, but it’s a wonderful summary of the Athanasian defense of the deity of Christ.
But then you have a Pelagius who comes, and Pelagius denies original sin. He says that salvation is essentially just becoming moral; it’s just obeying. If you just obey Jesus, you’ll be saved. And Augustine reads this and he thinks, “This is a denial of the very nature of grace!” And so he goes to war; he goes to battle against Pelagianism.
And then you have, in the sixth, seventh centuries you have the church now is a Roman church, it is the state church, and it becomes worldly, it becomes decadent, and you have a whole group of godly people who see this and they react against, and that’s where the whole monastic movement came from, the desert fathers. They’re retreating from the world, because they are protesting the worldliness of the church.
And then you come to the Reformation, and Luther comes to understand that we are justified not by our works, not by buying indulgences, and not by the merits of the saints; we are justified by the righteousness of Christ received by faith alone. So he protests, and Calvin joins him, and Zwingli joins him and others join them, and the Church is in conflict once again.
I could just keep going all the way through the modernism controversy of the late 19th, early 20th century to where we are today, where the evangelical church is at another crossroads as we are faced with moral questions, as we are facing the pressure of a culture that is engulfed in moral relativism and in religious pluralism. So the two sticking points today are these: do we defend biblical morality, especially when it comes to issues of homosexuality, and do we defend the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation? The Church is under tremendous pressure, again.
Now a lot of people don’t like thinking about heresy and they don’t like hearing about doctrine. They say, “Doctrine divides,” and you’re right, it does. Doctrine does divide, but get this: the reason we have to fight for pure doctrine is because if we don’t the false doctrine will always do these two things: it will always lead to ungodliness, it will always lead to ruin, to catastrophe. It eventually destroys the church! You can see this also in church history. You can see that the churches in the 17th and 18th centuries that were forsaking the doctrine of the Trinity, they were giving in to the rationalism of the Socinians, those churches became unitarian; most of them have closed their doors now. There’s no gospel witness.
That is the pattern throughout history. When heresy invades the church, if it is not fought, if it is not refuted, the heresy destroys the church from the inside out.
You remember the story of the Trojan horse? You remember that great story, from Roman mythology? So, the city of Troy is being attacked and their attackers leave them a gift, and the gift is this huge wooden horse, and they bring it into the city, not knowing that inside the horse there are soldiers, and when the city has gone to sleep the soldiers sneak out of the horse, they unlock the gate, and they let the whole flood of soldiers in, and the city is taken.Heresy is the Trojan horse in the church. Paul knows it, he’s concerned about it, and that’s why he gives this warning: avoid false teaching.
And then positively, teach the word. Look at verse 15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
That’s the task that Paul gives to Timothy. It’s of course a task for every preacher, but this is also the task of every Sunday school teacher, every small group leader, every person who’s engaged in one-on-one discipleship. I think I’ve said something like this before, but you either should be discipling someone or you should be discipled. One or the other. If you have faith in Christ, if you love Christ, you want to follow Christ, you should be in the process of discipling or being discipled or both.
This applies to parents, okay? So what I’m trying to do here is say that if you read this verse and think, “Well, I’m not a preacher, so I this isn’t really relevant to me,” no, it’s relevant to you! If you want to train your children to know the truth, this is relevant to you. You as a parent or as a disciple-maker or whatever your task or your role is, you also must do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
It matters that we interpret the Bible correctly. It matters. It does have meaning; it doesn’t mean whatever we want to make it out to mean. We need good principles of interpretation. We need to know our Bibles inside and out, comparing Scripture with Scripture, so that we hold to the plumbline of what God has revealed in his word.
Then, the manner for doing this is in verse 24, not quarrelsome. “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.”
So that’s the doctrinal aspect.
(2) Now here’s the second piece of this: not just what we teach, but how we live. This is the moral aspect; watch your life. The principle is in verse 19, “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.’”
That reminds me of this story about Alexander the Great. I don’t know if this is true or not; maybe it’s legend. But it’s a wonderful story where a soldier in Alexander’s army had gone AWOL; he had run during battle. He had defected from the army, and he was captured, and he was brought before the king for trial.
The king asked him, “What’s your name?” And the soldier whispered a reply, “Alexander, sir.” The king said, “What is your name?!” “Alexander, sir!” One more time. “What is your name?!” “Alexander, sir.” To which he said, “Either change your behavior, soldier, or change your name.”
Paul says something the same here: “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” If you are a Christian, if you bear the name of Christ, live a holy life. That’s what Paul is saying here.
He illustrates this with two kinds of vessels, verses 20 and 21, and then the twofold application in verse 22: “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
John Stott shows that this is the pattern throughout Scripture, this twofold pattern of fleeing and pursuing. I’m not going to read the quote for the sake of time, but I will read this one. One of my heroes in the faith is Robert Murray M’Cheyne, that young Scottish pastor in 19th-century Scotland. M’Cheyne was known for his godliness; he was known for his holiness. The stories are that when he would ascend to the pulpit people would begin to weep, such was the piety of this man.
I read his journals and letters and diaries and so on, often just to kind of spur me on or to encourage me or to convict me, to help me in this pursuit. M’Cheyne wrote a letter to a friend who was about to be ordained; the friend’s name was Dan Edwards, and this is what he famously said: “Do not forget the inner man, the heart. The cavalry officer knows that his life depends upon his saber, his sword, so he keeps it clean. Every stain he wipes off with the greatest care. You are God’s chosen instrument; according to your purity, so shall be your success. It is not great talent, it is not great ideas that God uses; it is great likeness to Jesus Christ. A holy man is an awesome weapon in the hand of God.”
Well that’s what we’re called to. Everyone of us, we’re called to holiness. This is what we must pursue.
III. Our Resources for the Task
So, a twofold approach to accomplishing this task. We fight for purity of doctrine, we fight for purity of life, and then finally, we need to look at our resources for the task. I don’t know about you, but these kinds of passages, these kinds of sermons, are challenging, they are convicting, make me feel like I have to do something. That’s right, it’s good us to feel that; it’s good for us to feel like there’s something that must be done. My life needs to change in some way; that’s a good thing for us to feel.
But here would be a bad response to that: the bad response to that would be to kind of drum up as much willpower as we can and come up with a new list of resolutions and start trying really, really hard to be good people in our own strength. We can’t do this on our own!
Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “Who is sufficient for these things?” And you can say the same thing here. So it’s just wonderful to me how throughout this chapter Paul weaves into these exhortations, he weaves in promises. He weaves in hope, gospel encouragement for young Timothy, so that he has resources for doing this, resources for this kind of ministry, for this kind of life. So let me just point them out quickly; there are four of them, and I’m not going to take long on any of them.
(1) First of all, we see the strength of God’s grace in Christ, verse 1. The whole chapter starts off like this, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” What a wonderful command! “Be strengthened by the grace that is Christ Jesus.”
It’s in the present tense; it means, “Do this daily; do this continually. Always be being strengthened.” Imperative mood, so it is a command, but this interesting: this is in the passive voice, because being strengthened is not something you do to yourself, but it’s something that is done to you. You receive strength. “Be strengthened by grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
So I think the idea is this, that if you are in Christ Jesus, all the resources of Christ are available to you; they are yours, and through the instrumentality of grace the resources of Christ strengthen you, but he’s the one who strengthens you; you are the one who is strengthened. And yet we’re commanded to do this.
It’s the same idea as Ephesians 5:18, where we are commanded to be always being filled by the Holy Spirit. I think that means that the posture of the Christian must be the humble posture, on our knees before God, saying, “Lord, I can’t do this on my own. I can’t! I can’t be strong, I can’t endure suffering, I can’t endure hardship, I can’t live a holy life. I can’t do these things on my own. Jesus, help me!” You pray that. You pray that, because it’s the only way to have strength.
So be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. That’s the first encouragement. There is grace, and it is sufficient, and it’s there. If you feel needy this morning as I do, then go to the fountain of grace, and he’ll give you grace. Ask him for grace, ask him for strength; he’ll give you what you need to endure and to obey and to pursue righteousness and faith and love and peace.
(2) The second encouragement is the freedom of God’s powerful word. I’ve already mentioned this, but I want you to see it again, verses 8 through 10. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal.” You can almost hear the clink of the chains as Paul pens the letter. “I’m bound with chains; no freedom. Bound up, persecuted.”
But then he says, “But the word of God is not bound.” “I am bound, but the word of God is not bound!” That’s why Paul has confidence to suffer, to preach, because he knows that God’s powerful word is free, it is unbound in its power, in its efficacy, in its ability to do that for which God intends.
Remember that little story about Spurgeon, who is asked about defending the word, and he essentially said, “The word is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion; you just let it out of its cage, it’ll defend itself.” Well the word is like that; it’s not bound! The word is powerful, and that’s why our primary task is simply preaching and teaching, evangelizing and spreading the word.
(3) Then number three, in the face of apostates and heretics and people forsaking the faith, Paul says, “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his.’” So the certainty of God’s sure foundation.
You know, one of my comforts in ministry is that I know that God’s eternal, sovereign purposes of salvation are going to be accomplished. They don’t ultimately rest on my labors. Now that gives me confidence that when I labor it can bear fruit, but it also gives me peace knowing that when people don’t respond the way I want them to respond, the way they should respond according to God’s word; when they don’t respond, I don’t have to despair. God’s firm foundation stands sure. The Lord knows those who are his; his purposes will be accomplished. Therefore we can work hard and sleep good at night, because it’s in God’s hands.
(4) Then finally, number four, the hope of God’s gracious gift, verses 24 through 26. “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind of to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness; God may perhaps grant them repentance, leading to a knowledge of truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil after being captured by him to do his will.”
Note there, God is the one who grants repentance. Repentance is not something that someone does all on their own; God gives it. God gives the gift of repentance, and that’s why Paul can tell Timothy, “Don’t strive, don’t be quarrelsome; be kind, be gentle, just be patient, just teach, and God is the one who gives repentance.”
It reminds me of that great story of Charles Simeon. He was an Anglican pastor, kind of around the same time as John Wesley and John Newton, in that era. So he’s this Anglican pastor, and his congregation didn’t like him. They actually disliked him so much that they wouldn’t come on Sunday to hear him preach. This was back in the days when people rented pews and the pews had locks on them. So they would lock their pews and they wouldn’t come; they wouldn’t let anybody else come.
So the townspeople would come, but not the old guard in the church; they wouldn’t come. They’d lock their pews. So Simeon would come early, he’d set up chairs. They would come and throw the chairs out in the yard! And they wouldn’t listen to him for ten years. He just kept preaching. He just kept preaching, he just keep preaching. By the end of his life this amazing harvest, this amazingly fruitful ministry, because he just patiently, just kept going and kept going and kept going, even against all the opposition.
I read that story and I’m challenged and encouraged by the perseverance of this man, and I’m also thankful that the Lord has blessed me with a really good congregation. Nobody’s done anything like that; not here, anyway.
So this is our task, folks: discipleship, faithfulness in gospel ministry. We do it by watching both our teaching and our lives, and we do it in dependence on God and his grace in his word.
Father, the task before us is great, and it’s beyond our capacity, beyond our wisdom, beyond our strength, but we want to do it. We want to do it in obedience and in faithfulness to you, and we want to do it in the strength that you supply. We want to do it for the glory and the honor of our savior, the Lord Jesus. So give us grace to do so. Set our vision according to your word, give us the will to obey, give us the willingness to endure hardship like soldiers of Jesus Christ, and sustain us in your never-failing strength.
As we come to the Lord’s Table this morning, we do so in dependence upon you. We come to receive the gospel; just as we receive the gospel by word as we listen to the preaching of the word, so we receive the gospel by symbol as we take the bread and the juice, and in our hearts exercise faith in Christ. We look to Christ, our living Lord, our ascended Lord, our head, the head of the Church; we look to him for strength, we look to him for grace, grace for service, grace for our sanctification, grace for endurance. For all the things that we need we look to Jesus now as we come to the table. So meet with us we pray, by your Spirit. We pray it in Jesus’ name, Amen.