Preaching the Word

May 21, 2017 ()

Bible Text: 2 Timothy 4 |


Preaching the Word | 2 Timothy 4
Brian Hedges | May 21, 2017

Thank you, worship team.

Well, good morning once again. It’s great to be with you for a time of worship and now to dig into God’s word together.

The last several weeks we’ve been looking at Paul’s last letter, the letter of Second Timothy. Paul wrote this when he was on death row in the prison in Rome. He was soon to be executed, and with a tremendous burden on his heart he writes to his son in the faith, Timothy, and he discloses to him his deepest burdens for the church.

We’ve been looking at this letter for the last several weeks, and we’ve kind of been reading this letter through this lens, trying to ask this question: “What does it mean for us as the church today to be a whole church, engaged in the practices of discipleship, in showing this kind of allegiance to the word of God that Paul encouraged Timothy to have?” So that’s been our question, that’s been what we’ve been studying together, and today we come to the fourth chapter, 2 TImothy 4.

So I’m going to read this chapter. This’ll be the conclusion of this series, and what I want to do is just look at three things about this chapter, particularly Paul’s charge to Timothy, and then Paul’s personal example, and then also Paul’s confidence as he’s in these dire situations, facing his death, his execution, and yet exhibits such confidence in the Lord. I want to look at those three things, and then I want to end the sermon by suggesting to you three very practical commitments for our church as we move into the future.

So Second Timothy chapter four; let’s read the passage together.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.

This is God’s word.

So, three things to look at.

I. Paul’s Charge: Preach the Word
II. Paul’s Example: Keep the Faith
III. Paul’s Confidence: Trust the Lord

I. Paul’s Charge: Preach the Word

First of all, Paul’s charge to Timothy: preach the word. We could spend an entire sermon just on this, but it does feel oddly self-serving to preach a sermon on preaching when I’m the main preacher here. So I’m not going to spend an entire sermon on this, but I do want to just emphasize for a few moments the importance of preaching and the reasons why Paul gives this charge.

Now there are many of these reasons, but I just want to emphasize two from the text.

(1) The first one is this: our accountability to Christ. Our accountability to Christ. You see this in this first verse, and there’s really not a verse like this anywhere else in the Bible, that I know of, that just has such a pile-up of serious reasons all in one verse backing this one central command.

Paul says, “I charge you in the presence of God,” but not only in the presence of God, “in the presence of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living,” and not just the living, but also the dead, “and by his appearing,” Paul says, “and his kingdom.” It just piles up gravity. It’s almost like he’s piling up oaths by which he makes this charge, this command, to Timothy. “I charge you in the presence of God and of preach the word.”

He’s emphasizing here, for Timothy, Timothy’s solemn accountability before God to discharge this basic responsibility of preaching the word. Now, this is a responsibility that rests supremely on ministers of the word, but it also rests on the church, because Paul does tell us, in 1 Timothy 3, that the church is the pillar and the ground of the truth. All of the church is accountable to the word of God; even ministers of the word are accountable to the word and are accountable to the church in upholding the word. There’s kind of a community of accountability here, and this accountability comes in light of the eternal gravity of fulfilling this basic responsibility of discharging this basic task: preaching the word. That is the church’s main job in the world today, to preach the word.

When we gather week to week for this event, you’re not gathering to hear someone’s personal testimony; that’s not what I’m doing. We’re not gathering to be entertained; we’re not gathering merely even to be taught and instructed, although that’s part of it. We’re gathering for the solemn proclamation of the very word of God. We’re gathering to hear God himself speak to us through his word.

I read this verse and I think of that wonderful picture in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress when Christian comes to the Interpreter’s house, and the interpreter shows him a picture of a very grave person against the wall, “and this was the fashion of it,” Bunyan says. “It had eyes lifted up to heaven, it had the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon his lips, the world was behind his back. It stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over his head.” When Christian asked, “What does this picture mean?” Interpreter says, “This is your guide—” this is your guide, this is your guide! “—to the Celestial City.” It’s the minister of the word and the ministry of the word through those who serve the word.

So there’s much gravity here; there’s a solemnity to this. There’s an urgency to Paul’s mandate here, and it’s important for us to emphasize that today, especially in a day when so many things in the church compete for the preaching of the word, the proclamation of the word.

(2) So we should preach the word because of our accountability to Christ, but then also because of the authority of the Scriptures. Notice that Paul says that Timothy is to preach the word, and he does that following upon what he’s just said about Scripture in chapter three.

Paul is charging Timothy in light of the Spirit-breathed Scriptures, which are useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. In light of this word, Paul says, in light of these “sacred writings which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ,” in light of that, therefore because of that I charge you to preach the word. So the authority of the Scriptures.

It’s important for us to remember that when the Scriptures speak, God himself speaks. Isn’t it significant that Paul not only commends to Timothy the private reading of the Scriptures but the public teaching of the Scriptures. Because one might well reason, “Well, if we have the Scriptures and we can understand the Scriptures by reading them on our own, why do we need to be taught?” That’s not the way Paul thought at all. Paul instead charges Timothy with this solemn responsibility of preaching the word, understanding that in the proclamation of the word of God, God himself is speaking.

This was one of the distinctive emphases of the Reformation. I’ve been referring to the Reformation a lot these months, because we are in the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation, and the Reformers understood that when the word of God was faithfully proclaimed, God himself was addressing his people through the word. That was their understanding of the means of grace.

So, for example, John Calvin—perhaps the best example of this from the Reformation—Calvin said, “When the gospel is preached in the name of God, it is as if God himself spoke in person.” That’s an amazing thought, that when the gospel addresses us, God himself is speaking to us in person, through the address of the gospel, through the proclamation of the word.

There is biblical basis for this. Paul himself says in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, God himself making his appeal through us.” He says, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Do you hear what he’s saying? He’s saying, “When the preacher says, ‘Sinner, be reconciled to God,’ that’s God speaking to you!” God himself is making his appeal through us.

So when the word of God is preached, God himself is speaking, and that’s why the Reformers gave such emphasis to the preaching of the word. Before that, before the Reformation, the priests would perform mass, and they would give a little homily, but usually not even in the language of the people. Oftentimes the people wouldn’t even see the priest, because there would be a divider between the altar, where they believed Christ was being resacrificed at the altar in the mass, there would be a division, a divider, between the people, who would gather in kind of a common area, and the priest. They weren’t hearing the word of God.

So when the Reformers were grasped by this gospel in a fresh way, they made it their chief aim to explain, to teach, and to teach preach regularly the word of God. This just gripped John Calvin. Calvin wrote of ministers in his first edition of The Institutes, that “their whole task is limited to the ministry of God’s word, their whole wisdom to the knowledge of God’s word, their whole eloquence to its proclamation.” That was in the first edition of The Institutes.

Twenty-three years later, in the 1559 edition, he added, “Whenever we see the word of God purely preached and heard, it is not to be doubted a church of God exists.” This was one of a defining marks of a true church, that the word of God was heard. Calvin, of course, just left a legacy of biblical preaching that few since have rivaled. He preached 186 sermons on the Corinthian letters, 86 sermons on the pastoral letters, 159 sermons on the book of Job, 200 sermons on Deuteronomy, and so on.

His commitment to preaching was so strong, and his commitment to the exposition, the sequential exposition, of Scripture as he moved through books of the Bible—it was so strong that, rather humorously, when Calvin had been exiled from Geneva for a period of three years—they kicked him out of town—and so he went to Strasbourg for three years. When he came back, they begged him to come back and he didn’t even want to. He said it just sounded like torture to him to go back. But he did, because he felt like he was accountable to God to do so. When he came back, the first Sunday in the pulpit, in 1541 after three years of exile, he said nothing about the exile, nothing about what had happened; he just picked up at the next verse in the book he’d been preaching three years before! That’s how serious he was about the exposition of Scripture.

He summarized the heart of the expositor well when he said, “Let us not take it into our heads to seek out God anywhere else than in his sacred word, or to think anything about him that is not prompted by his word, or to speak anything that is not taken from that word.”

We need to be grasped by this, again, that it’s in the word of God that God speaks to us. Not in our imaginations, not in our dreams, not in visions, not in fancies, not in some impression you may have which may be the effect of bad pizza from the night before; but rather in the word of God, in the Scriptures. That’s how God speaks to us. He never leads us apart from or in contradiction to the Scriptures. This is the means of grace; this is the means by which God himself communicates with us through the word of God.

Let me just give one more personal reason for preaching the word, and that is the example of those who have gone before, and of course Paul holds himself out as an example to Timothy. The example of others before me inspires me.

On my 25th birthday I was approaching ordination—this is 18 years ago now. My beautiful wife, Holly, decided to do a different kind of gift. And so unbeknownst to me, she wrote a number of ministers, preachers, pastors, and asked them to write a personal letter to me for my 25th birthday as I was approaching ordination. Among these was a precious letter from my dad, who’s a minister of the word; some of my mentors in ministry and the churches in which I was developing at that time; but also some of my modern-day heroes of the faith, like John Piper and Chuck Swindoll and John MacArthur.

John MacArthur, of course, has left quite a legacy of preaching the word, this expository kind of preaching, and MacArthur wrote this in a letter, and I have this letter in my office. He said, “As you embark on a life of ministry, I would challenge you to maintain this focus: preach the word.” Well, Paul told Timothy and God’s word speaks it to us, and the example of those who’ve gone before stands for us to follow. That’s our task; that’s our task as the church of Christ, to be sure that the ministry of the word continues.

So Paul’s charge: preaching the word.

II. Paul’s Example: Keep the Faith

This is followed, secondly, by Paul’s example, Paul’s example in keeping the faith. I just want you to notice verses six through eight. It’s interesting here how Paul describes his impending death. He knows he’s at the end of his life; he knows this. And he describes this in terms of three metaphors.

First of all, there’s the metaphor of sacrifice. He says, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” He knows he’s about to die! He says, “This is a drink offering; it’s a sacrifice. It’s an offering of myself to the Lord.” He’s ready to make it.

Then he uses warfare imagery. He says, “I have fought the good fight.” He’s this weather-worn soldier, he’s been through many battles, he carries the battle scars, he’s at the end of the war, and he says, “I’ve fought a good fight.”

Then he uses an athletic metaphor: “I have finished the race.” He realizes he’s at the end of his life, he’s crossed the finish line. “I have finished the race.”

And then he drops the metaphor and says, “I have kept the faith. Henceforth,” he says, “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing,” repeating the same language of verse one as he looks to Christ the judge and the final judgment and his appearing. Paul says, “I am confident that there is a crown of righteousness waiting for me, because I have faithfully kept the faith.” What a picture of faithfulness and of endurance and of perseverance!

Years ago someone shared with me an essay—I think it was actually a sermon that had been transcribed by Walter Henrichsen of the Navigators. The Navigators was, of course, a ministry that really delved into the whole world of discipleship, produced a lot of wonderful discipleship materials, and then eventually books published by Nav Press. Walt Henrichsen, in the ’60s and ’70s was kind of at the forefront of this movement.

Someone shared with me this thing that Hendrickson had done called “Many Aspire, Few Attain”. It was a call to people in Christian ministry especially, but I think it’s really a call for all Christians to continue and to finish well. To finish well! To not just start well, not just to aspire, but to attain. And he said, “Many aspire, but few attain.”

Henrichsen said that the attrition rate in the Christian life is absolutely horrendous. He says, “In the final analysis, many aspire, but few attain. Many begin well, but precious few end well.” He said, “You can climb on the shelf and render yourself ineffective for God in many ways. You could sign peace treaties with Satan and let him go his way while you go yours. Satan willingly holds the ladder for any who want to climb onto that shelf and hang up their swords.” He says, “Many aspire, but few attain.”

He talked about how sometimes he would meet people, who were in their 30s or 40s or 50s, who had been fighting the battle in their 20s, and when he would say to them something like this, “My objective in life is to conquer the world for Jesus Christ,” he said that their eyes would kind of glass over, they’d become really benevolent, they’d pat him on the back, and they’d say, “That’s idealism for you.”

He said, “When I talk to someone like that, I know that I’ve talked to someone who’s hung up their sword.” They aspired, but they haven’t attained. The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the love of other things have choked off the word, and they’ve become unfruitful.

Henrichsen said, if you want to be the kind of person who not only aspires but also attains, you’ll have to make some resolutions. You’ll have to do some work in your soul. You can’t give sin quarter. You can’t give the enemy quarter. You have to continue fighting! You have to stay in the battle.

So here’s Paul at the end of his life, looking at young Timothy, and he’s saying, “Timothy, I’ve fought the good fight! I’ve finished the race; I’ve kept the faith. Now it’s your turn. Now it’s your turn.”

Where does that find you this morning? Let me just ask you: have you hung up your sword, or are you still in the battle?

I want to just give, if you’ll permit me, a couple of moments of focused exhortations to mature believers, to the grey and silver heads in our church. Are you fighting the good fight of faith? Are you still fighting? Will you finish the race? And not only that, what will you leave behind? Or maybe the better question is, who will you leave behind? You see, Paul left Timothy behind. Who will you leave behind?

I just want to encourage you that, on one hand, I’m so grateful for you; I’m grateful for your faithfulness in prayer and your faithfulness in worship and your faithfulness in service in our church, your faithfulness to the word, and I want to encourage you to continue with that. Keep on being faithful. I want to encourage you to fight for the right things. Fight for the inerrancy of Scripture. Fight for the doctrines of the gospel, the purity of the gospel, the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. Fight for the right things, and then on the other hand, embrace the other kinds of changes that are necessary to pass the baton on to the next generation. Fight for the gospel, and embrace changes for the sake of the gospel.

And most importantly, in your senior years give yourself to ministry. Disciple others, mentor others, train others, keep praying, keep participating. Finish well! Go out with a flame, right? Go out running the race and running hard. “Many aspire, but few attain,” and I want you to finish well, and all of us who are middle-aged and younger, I want us to finish well.

Sometimes the middle years are really difficult. Martyn Lloyd-Jones talked about the difficulty of the middle period, and I could attest. I’m in my middle-aged years now; I can attest that there are different kinds of temptations in your forties than you have in your twenties. There are different kinds of discouragements now than there were 20 years ago. You do lose some of the idealism of your twenties when you get into your forties, and I’m sure things will be really different in my sixties. But I recognize the difficulty of the middle period, and what I want when I read something like this is I want to redouble efforts to stay serious about God and the gospel, and to repent when I’ve sinned, and to not drift, and to not quit the race, to not be a casualty of war. Paul kept the faith, and the question is, will we?

III. Paul’s Confidence: Trust the Lord

So we see here Paul’s charge to Timothy, we see Paul’s example, and then number three, Paul’s confidence. I’m so thankful for the endings of Paul’s letters. Verses nine through 23. This is not just a list of names; this is where you get the heart of the apostle Paul laid bare. Paul just opens up his heart to Timothy. He says so many things here, we obviously can’t cover them all. But just remember Paul’s situation—he’s in prison! He’s said before that he’s in chains. He’s in prison. Paul has suffered for the gospel and he is suffering for the sake of the gospel, and now he’s telling Timothy, “Don’t be ashamed of me, his prisoner, and don’t be ashamed of the gospel. Don’t be ashamed of Christ Jesus.”

Here he is, and at the end of his life he’s writing this last letter, and even here he recounts some of the trials he has faced. He says in verses nine and ten, “Do your best to come to me soon.” Paul’s lonely. He’s lonely in prison, and he wants Timothy to come. The only person with him now is Luke. He’s probably penning his gospel and perhaps the book of Acts. “Do your best to come to me soon.” And then, verse ten, “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.”

Paul had been betrayed. Demas had been one of his fellow workers. He’d been one of his disciples. And here’s someone that he had brought up; he had brought up, he had partnered with him, he had done mission trips with him, his missionary journeys, and now Demas has deserted. Demas has become an apostate.

I know what that’s like. Do you know what that’s like? Someone that you had high hopes for, and they flame out; they go off the rails. Think of how discouraging that was for Paul.

And not only that, but Paul had known persecution. In verse 14, “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm.” Personal antagonist. Paul says, “The Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him, Timothy, for he strongly opposed our message.” And then Paul says in verse 16, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them.”

Where did Paul get his strength, his confidence, to keep going? I mean, this is hard stuff. This is harder than most of us will ever face in our lives. Most of us are not going to die a martyr’s death after a period of time in prison, after all of our Christian friends deserted us. But we are going to suffer, and we are going to encounter obstacles in our walk with Christ and in our ministry. So how do we keep going? Where did Paul get his strength?

Look at verses 17 and 18; I just love this. Verses 17 and 18, he said, “No one stood by me, all deserted me, but the Lord stood by me.” The Lord stood by me. That’s how he did it. He said, “Christ was with me.” The Lord, probably referring here to Jesus. “Christ was with me. The Lord stood by me and strengthened me,” so his presence and his strength, “so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.”

I think he’s probably talking about Satan. Peter says he’s like a roaring lion, prowling around, seeking whom he may devour. And Paul says, “The Lord rescued me from the lion’s mouth.” So there’s confidence here in life, as Paul recounts the trials he’s been through and how God has been with him.

But then notice this, in verse 18; there is confidence also in death, as he says, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.” That’s how Paul describes his departure, his death. In another place Paul says, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He’s telling to us, “It’s not death to die, if you’re a Christian! It’s not death! It’s just a departure, and it’s an entrance into Christ’s heavenly kingdom. It’s a departure from this world, and it’s an entrance into the heavenly kingdom of Christ. Christ will bring me safely there.” There’s his confidence, that God will sustain him, that God will be with him. He’s trusting in the Lord.

So again, you gray and silver-headed saints,

...fresh courage take
The clouds ye so much dread
Are great with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Don’t be afraid to die; don’t be afraid to die. It could happen to any of us any day; any one of us could drop dead tomorrow, but if you’re a Christian, you don’t need to be afraid to die, because when you die, Jesus is going to bring you safely into his heavenly kingdom! That gives us courage to be faithful when it’s hard, courage to suffer when we’re persecuted, courage to keep going when it’s lonely; he gives us courage.

So we’ve seen here three things: Paul’s charge, preach the word; Paul’s example, keep the faith; Paul’s confidence, trust the Lord. I want to conclude this message and this short series by suggesting to you three commitments that we need as a church. Now in some ways these aren’t new; these are things I hope we already embody to some degree, but I think it’s just worth emphasizing again, especially in light of what we’ve learned in 2 Timothy.

Conclusion: Three Commitments for our Church

So three commitments for our church as we move forward.

(1) There must be a commitment to the centrality of the Gospel. A commitment to the centrality of the gospel. We saw this in 2 Timothy 1, where Paul tells Timothy to guard the good deposit entrusted to him; to guard the gospel. He keeps the gospel central. For Paul, the gospel was central. “I determine to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified,” he says to the Corinthians. It was the preaching of the gospel that was central in Paul’s life, in ministry, and he tells Timothy, “Just do what I’ve done! Hold fast this pattern of sound teaching! Just preach the word, Timothy. Be faithful to the gospel.”

Practically, that means that we keep the person and the work of Jesus Christ central in all that we say and in all that we do.

It also means that we keep the ministry of the gospel, the mission of the gospel, the task of evangelism, we keep that forefront in our minds and in our hearts. So commitment to the centrality of the gospel; that’s first.

(2) Secondly, a commitment to the authority of Scripture; a commitment to the authority of Scripture. This needs explanation because the Scripture is actually what defines the gospel, okay? The Scriptures define the gospel, and it’s one thing to say, “I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ,” and, “Let’s preach the gospel of Christ,” and, “Let’s proclaim the gospel of Christ,” but if that doesn’t get defined by the actual test of Scripture, drift happens.

I’ll give you an example of this. I was working on this sermon yesterday, and I’ve had a book in my trunk of my car for the last several months, I kind of dip into off and on. This book is kind of talking about mission for the church today and practices that the church needs. And I love the table of contents. I read the table of contents and I was like, “Yes, this sounds good!”

I picked that up. There’s a chapter on the practice of proclaiming the gospel. I thought, “Ah, I’ll read that. It might give me some fodder for the sermon tomorrow.” I read that, and then I read this sentence in that chapter: “The gospel for this time and place may not address the hearer’s sin condition or their trust in Christ and his sacrifice on the cross, the most common starting point for evangelicals.”

What?! I read that and I thought, “What?! How can the gospel not address the sin condition and trusting in Christ and the Savior’s work on the cross? What gospel are you talking about?”

You see what I’m saying? People can say, “Oh, yes, we preach the gospel,” but the way they define “gospel” is not the way the Bible defines the gospel. Because Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that “the gospel I delivered to you, the things of importance, is this, that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures.” The very first thing he says. “He was buried, and he was raised on the third day, according the the Scriptures.”

So when I read stuff like that, it just reminds me, we have to be really careful. This is an evangelical book, too. We have to be really careful that the Scriptures maintain their functional authority over what we believe and say and do, or we will drift.

(3) So a commitment to the centrality of the gospel, a commitment to the authority of the inerrant word of God, and then number three, a commitment to the priority of discipleship, the priority of discipleship.

This whole letter is Paul investing in Timothy; it’s Paul passing the baton on to the next runner in the race; it’s Paul telling Timothy, “The things that you’ve learned from me, pass on to others. Train faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Just keep the torch passing along from the one person to the next.” There’s a priority here on the next generation.

I met with a group of students this week who, several of them are graduating, been with us, some of them, for four years, I think, and they’re graduating and they’re leaving, and they said, “We’d like to meet with you and just talk; what does it look like, faith in the post-college years?”

One of the questions was, “How do you know whether a church is healthy or not?” That’s a really good question. That’s a question you should be asking. How do we know when a church is healthy or not? How do we know if our church is healthy or not?

I said several things to them that I thought, but one of the things I said is this: when you find a church that’s not multi-generational, when you find a church that’s only older folks, it’s not healthy, because they’ve lost the vision of passing the gospel on to the next generation. I’m thankful for the seniors in our congregation who have been faithful in prayer and in service and in ministry and in support for so many years, and I’m tempted to name you, but I don’t want to embarrass anyone and I don’t want to leave anybody out. So, you know who you are.

Commitment to the priority of discipleship. Listen: if the church ever becomes to us more about maintaining what we have than it is about passing it on to others, we’re in trouble. That’s where turf wars come from. That’s why some churches are too slow to jettison worn-out programs and methodologies, and are too slow to embrace new leadership. They’ve lost sight of the goal. What I’m saying to us is, let’s not do that, church. Let’s not do that. The priority is discipling; the priority is the ministry of the word and passing it on to the next generation. And that means that we hold the gospel tight and we hold everything else loosely. Everything else we hold loosely. The methodology, we hold that loosely. We hold the gospel tightly, we hold the word tightly, we hold the past loosely; we embrace the next generation, we pass on what we’ve learned, and we keep on running until we cross the finish line.

So a commitment to the centrality of the gospel, a commitment to the authority of the Scriptures, and a commitment to the priority of discipleship. That’s, I believe, what God has for us from this passage.

Let’s pray together.

Gracious Father, we thank you for your word. Thank you that you have not left us without a voice, you’ve not left us without special revelation, but you have disclosed yourself supremely in your son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the word made flesh, and in the writings of apostles and prophets, the foundation on which the church is built. We thank you for this word. We pray that you would enable us by your Spirit and through your grace to be faithful to this word, to be faithful to it in our lives, to be faithful to it in our ministries, to be faithful in passing it on to others.

We thank you for the life of the apostle Paul and the great example that he was for the grace that sustained him. We pray that that same grace, the person of your Son, the presence of your Spirit, would continue to work in our lives, to sustain us, to strengthen us, to carry us forward in life and in ministry together. I thank you, Father, for this church. Thank you that there is a love for the gospel and a love for the word of God in our church. We don’t pat ourselves on the back for it; we know that whatever love for your word that we have comes from you. But if we’re honest we probably all would need to say that we all too often neglect your word. We don’t give it the kind of attention that we could or should, and so I pray that you would give us an even deeper hunger, that in our personal lives as well as in our ministries we would love and hunger for and seek out your word, because when your word speaks, that’s when we know that you are speaking to us.

Thank you most of all for your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for the gospel that proclaims to us the good news that we are saved, not according to our works, but according to your own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began and has now been made manifest in the appearing of Jesus our Savior, who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light in the gospel. What hope that gives us; thank you for it.

As we come now to the table, we come celebrating this same gospel, the gospel declared to us in Scripture, made visible to us at the table, and we pray that by your Spirit you would draw near to us, unite us more closely to your Son. May we enjoy the grace and the fellowship of Christ Jesus. We pray this in his glorious name, Amen.