Paul is writing to Timothy, who was one of his co-workers in the ministry. And Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus to oversee the church there. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul gave Timothy instructions about what to do and what to teach and how to deal with the false teachers who were spreading their false ideas around the church and confusing the believers. And now Paul has written Timothy a second letter. And this second letter to Timothy is Paul’s last surviving letter. If Paul wrote any more letters after this one, they did not survive, but were lost or destroyed or whatever. This is the last letter he wrote which we have. And so, since this is his last letter, it really is his last chance to give Timothy advice about the work of the ministry. And as we saw last week, they are signs in what we read here that Timothy was not coping well with the pressure of ministry and the challenges he faced in Ephesus were piling up. And from what Paul wrote, it seems that Timothy was a little afraid and anxious. He was Timid Timothy. And so, Paul write to encourage him to remain faithful to his calling and to keep intact the gospel message. That was vital, wasn’t it? Paul had received the gospel from the Lord Jesus. And now Paul himself was about to die. He was in prison and it seemed that he was not going to be released and he was waiting for the day when the Roman Emperor would give the order for Paul to be executed. And so, once Paul was dead, and once the other apostles were dead, would Timothy remain faithful and would he guard the gospel and would he continue to preach it as Paul had done?
I’ve sometimes heard it said that when we’re not careful, one generation will believe the gospel; and the next generation will assume the gospel; and the third generation will forget the gospel. And the problem lies with that middle generation who only assume the gospel. That is, they take it for granted. Their attitude is that we’re tired of hearing the gospel and we want to hear something else. And so, instead of focussing on the gospel, they focus on other things. And when the focus is not on the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel is easily forgotten. And what a disaster for the church and what a disaster for the world if the gospel is not preached, because only the gospel gives us the comfort we need for life and for death, because only the gospel makes clear the love of God for sinners and the hope of everlasting life for all who believe in Jesus Christ. So, Paul wants to ensure that Timothy will keep the gospel intact and will continue to preach it faithfully.
And Paul needs to encourage Timid Timothy, because gospel ministry is difficult and often it involves hard work and suffering. This is how John Calvin puts it:
Those who offer Christ their service must be ready to bear hardships so that without patient endurance of evils there will never be perseverance.
Those who offer Christ their service must be ready to bear hardships. And so, Paul wanted to make sure that Timothy was ready to bear hardships for Christ. And in the passage we read a moment ago, he gives four instructions to Timothy. Four commands. The first is ‘be strong….’ The second is ‘entrust [what you have heard from me] to reliable men….’ The third is ‘Endure hardship with us….’ And the fourth is remember: ‘Remember Jesus Christ….’ We’ll take the first three today and — all being well — come back to the fourth one next week.
So, in verse 1 Paul instructs Timothy to be strong. He writes:
You then, my son, be strong in the grace [or by the grace] that is in Christ Jesus.
The word ‘then’ tells us that this command arises from what he’s just been saying in chapter 1, where Paul wrote to tell Timothy to fan into flame the gift he received and preach the gospel. Don’t be ashamed to testify to the gospel, but join with me in suffering for the gospel. And keep the gospel intact and guard it safely. And right at the end of chapter 1 — and we didn’t really study these verses last time — he reminded Timothy that everyone in the Roman province of Asia had deserted Paul. Instead of standing with Paul, they deserted him. So, was Timothy tempted to desert Paul too? Was Timothy tempted to give up his ministry and quit preaching the gospel? In case he was tempted, Paul encourages him with these words: ‘Be strong!’
But if Timothy really is timid, if he’s tempted to throw in the towel and go AWOL, where’s he going to get the strength he needs to persevere? Where’s he going to get the strength he needs to stand up to the false teachers? Where’s he going to get the strength he needs to overcome the challenges of the ministry? Someone can’t get the cap of the bottle. They try and try, but it won’t budge. What good is it if you say to them, ‘Be strong!’ They can’t suddenly become strong. Strength doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from somewhere. Physical strength comes from exercise and weightlifting and that kind of thing. Now, Paul is not referring to physical strength. He’s referring to spiritual strength. Or mental strength. The strength to keep going in the ministry. Where does that kind of strength come from? It doesn’t come from nowhere; it must come from somewhere. So where does it come from?
Paul tells us. It comes from the Lord. That is, it comes from the ‘grace that is in Christ Jesus’. He’s referring to Christ’s gracious help. The Saviour has promised never to leave his people and never to forsake them. And he is with us by his Spirit whom he has given to us and who lives in every believer. And so, Timothy can rely on the help of the Saviour who comes to us by his Spirit to strengthen us. And, of course, the word ‘grace’ reminds us that we don’t deserve his help, because we’re sinners. But he graciously and freely gives us the help we need, even though we don’t deserve any help from him. And since we don’t deserve any help from him, then how grateful we must be when he helps and strengthens us.
And the thing about his gracious help is that we normally don’t even notice it. We don’t even notice it, but that doesn’t mean to say it doesn’t exist. I sometimes remind people of the difficulties they’ve suffered in their life. And the challenging times they faced. And the troubles they endured. And it was hard or it was heart-breaking and it filled them with sorrow and sadness or fear and trembling. Perhaps they suffered a great deal because of something that happened in the past. And at the time when they were going through this difficult period in their life they wondered how they could cope and how they could face another day and how they could get through another day. And yet, I say to them, here you are today. When you were going through those times, you wondered how you could cope. And yet, here you are today. You got through it. You survived it. There may be scars from that time, but you made it through. And you made it through because of the gracious help of the Lord your God and Jesus Christ your Saviour, who upholds you every moment of every day and normally you don’t even notice it.
So, what’s Paul saying to Timothy when he instructs him to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus? He’s reminding Timothy that he needs to rely on the Saviour’s gracious help. And so do you.
Next Paul instructs Timothy to entrust to reliable men the things Timothy had heard Paul say in the presence of many witnesses. That’s in verse 2. He referring to the gospel which Paul preached: the good news about Jesus Christ who gave up his life for sinners and who was raised from the dead to give us life. Read the book of Acts and you’ll see what Paul preached and how — wherever he went — he always preached the good news about Christ.
And Timothy and many others heard Paul preach and teach these things. And that means Timothy has now received this gospel message from Paul, this body of teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And we saw last week that Paul referred to this gospel message as a ‘deposit’. The word ‘deposit’ reminds us that the gospel is precious. It’s valuable. If I owned something precious, I might deposit that precious thing in the bank for safe-keeping. And the gospel is precious, isn’t it? And Paul wants Timothy to take this precious gospel message and he’s to do what with it? He’s to entrust it to reliable men. He’s to entrust it into their care so that they will keep it safe and sound. Just as Timothy was to keep the gospel intact, so these reliable men are to keep it intact. And that’s why these men must be ‘reliable’. You wouldn’t ask somebody unreliable to look after your valuables, would you? You wouldn’t give your valuables to someone who is always losing things. You give your valuables to someone who is reliable and who will keep them safe. And Paul wants Timothy to entrust the good news of the gospel to reliable men. And these reliable men must be qualified to teach others. So, he’s referring to elders, isn’t he? Back in 1 Timothy 3, Paul listed the qualifications for the eldership. And one of the qualifications was the ability to teach. And then, in chapter 5 of 1 Timothy, Paul referred to those elders whose work is preaching and teaching. So, every elder must be able to teach in the sense that they know and can defend and explain the faith. But some elders are teaching elders. Ministers are teaching elders. Our special calling is to preach and teach God’s word. And here’s Paul telling Timothy to entrust the gospel message to the elders and especially the teaching elders who are qualified to teach others.
So this is what Paul is saying to Timothy: I’ve entrusted the gospel to you, Timothy, for sake-keeping after I’m gone. And you must entrust it to elders and teaching elders for sake-keeping after you’re gone. And, of course, they must entrust it to the next generation of elders and teaching elders for sake-keeping after they’re gone. And so, the gospel is passed on from one generation of elders and teaching-elders to the next who will keep the gospel message safe and sound and intact for the next generation. And not only will they keep the gospel message safe and sound and intact, but they will be able to teach the good news of the gospel to all. So, I received the gospel message from elders and ruling elders who were older than me. They passed it on to me. And as a minister, I’ve to preach it and teach it to all. And one day I’ll be dead and gone. And so, before I’m dead and gone and the other ministers in my generation are dead and gone, we need to pass the gospel message on to the next generation of elders and teaching elders who will be reliable men who will keep it safe and who will be qualified to teach the gospel to all. And so our young people — and our young men in particular — must think about whether they might be included in that next generation of elders and teaching elders who will be given the gospel to keep intact and who will be able to preach and teach it to all.
Endure hardship with us
But the work is hard. Gospel ministry is hard. And therefore in verse 3 Paul instructs Timid Timothy to endure hardship with us. That is, he instructs Timothy to share with Paul in suffering. Every one suffers in this life, because this life is a life of sorrow and suffering and it begins with tears and it ends with tears and there are many, many tears throughout our life on earth. But since Paul is saying this to Timothy, then he’s thinking especially of the suffering that ministers of the gospel may face and how they need to be prepared for the suffering and hardship that accompanies gospel ministry. And he uses three images, doesn’t he? There’s the image of the soldier and there’s the image of the athlete and there’s the image of the farmer. The first one is the main one and the second two add to the first.
Let’s think about the image of the soldier first. Every one who applies to join the army needs to know that it can be a hard life. From time to time, you see those ads on TV about joining the army. And it looks so exciting, doesn’t it? It’s a big adventure. And no doubt there’s excitement and adventure in the army. But I’m sure that it’s often a hard life. And, of course, there’s great danger when soldiers are sent into conflict situations. So, every one who applies to join the army needs to know that it can be a hard and difficult and dangerous life. And Timothy and whoever goes into gospel ministry needs to know that it can be a hard and difficult and dangerous life. That’s the case, because the Devil will do everything he can to prevent preachers from preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, Timothy, instead of deserting me like everyone else, you need to share with me in suffering for the gospel like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. And then, Paul adds that no one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs, but he wants to please his commanding officer. So, instead of leaving the battlefield and going home for a while, he remains on the battlefield, ready for action. And what Paul is getting at here is that gospel ministers need to be single-minded. They need to have a single-minded focus on gospel ministry in order to please the Lord our God who calls us into the ministry. Ministers, of course, will have interests and hobbies like everyone else. But none of that should distract them from their chief calling, which is to preach Christ crucified.
And anyone who competes as an athlete must compete according to the rules. There’s a right way and there’s a wrong way. That’s true in all things. There’s a right way and there’s a wrong way in whatever we do. And an athlete needs to compete in the right way. If he’s running, he must wait for the starter’s pistol. He must stay in lane. He mustn’t trip up his opponents. He mustn’t use drugs to enhance his performance. And so on. And what Paul is getting at here is that there’s a right way and a wrong way to conduct gospel ministry and the gospel preacher must conduct his ministry in the way that God has revealed in his word.
And farmers must work hard. When we lived in Co. Kildare, I would see farmers out in their fields late at night at harvest time with great big lights on the front of their harvesting machines so they could see in the dark. The rain was coming and they needed to get the crops in before the rain came and ruined the harvest. And so, when everyone else was at home in bed or watching TV, the farmers were still farming. And what Paul is getting at here is that gospel ministers must work hard. But just as the hardworking farmer gets to receive a share of the crops, so those who work hard at gospel ministry can look forward to enjoying fruit for their labours.
So, Paul is teaching Timothy what to expect as a gospel minister and how he needs to be prepared for suffering and hardship. So, endure it like a good soldier. Be single-minded. Conduct your ministry in the right way. Work hard. And, in the end, you can expect what? To please your commanding officer. To win the prize. To enjoy the fruit of your labours. Gospel ministry is hard. And so, will you pray for gospel ministers, asking God to give them the strength they need to endure all things; and to endure hardships like good soldiers of Christ Jesus; and to be single-minded and not distracted; and to conduct their ministry in the right way and not the wrong way; and to work hard and not to be lazy? Will you pray for this, because what the church needs and what the world needs is gospel ministers who will be like this and who will never ever give up preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ who loved us and who gave up his life for us. That’s what the church and the world needs, because, of course, what the church needs and what the world needs is Jesus Christ. They need him because he’s the only Saviour. And therefore the church and the world need men who will preach Christ to them.
Paul has been writing to Timothy, who was a preacher. A gospel minister. And so, what Paul has written is for ministers most of all. However, the Christian life is a battlefield and every believer is caught up in this spiritual conflict which has been taking place ever since Adam and Eve faced the serpent in the Garden of Eden. And the Devil keeps coming at us with his wicked schemes and he wants to destroy our faith and he wants to trip us up so that we’ll fall away from Christ and he wants to distract us from doing our duty. And so, every believer must endure hardships like a good soldier of Christ Jesus and stand firm in the faith by relying on the gracious help of the Lord Jesus Christ. And his gracious help is always available to us.
And you probably have lots of things to do and you have many responsibilities and tasks. There’s your home life with your family. There’s your work life. You might be involved in some community group. And there are the things you do in connection with the church. You have lots of things to do, whereas a soldier really only has one thing to do. But in whatever you do, you must be single-mindedly devoted to doing all things for God’s glory. In whatever you do, seek to please your commanding officer who is Jesus Christ the Lord.
And you’re to be like an athlete in that there’s a right way and there’s a wrong way to receive the victor’s crown. If the victor’s crown is salvation in the presence of God, then the right way to receive that crown is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, because sinners are pardoned by God and accepted by him only through faith in the Saviour.
And you’re to be a like a farmer by working hard to serve him in your daily life. And as you work hard to serve him in your daily life, doing all things for his glory, you’re able to look forward to the eternal reward, which Christ will give you when he comes again. It’s a reward which you cannot earn and do not deserve, because you’re a sinner. But it’s a reward which he graciously gives to all who love him and who seek to serve him in this life. And to help you to serve him in this life, he graciously comes to you by his Spirit and strengthens you.