The Reward for Endurance

 

Week of February 24, 2013

 

Bible Verses:2 Timothy 2:1-13.

 

Lesson Focus:This lesson can encourage you to endure in faithfulness for the sake of the gospel.

 

An Enduring Message:2 Timothy 2:1-2.

 

[1]You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, [2]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.[ESV]

 

[1-2]The first chapter ended with Paulís sorrowful reference to the widespread defection among Christians in the Roman province of Asia. Now Paul urges Timothy that he must stand his ground. But Paulís call to fortitude is not a summons to Timothy to be strong in himself but to be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Timothy is to find his resources for ministry not in his own nature but in Christís grace. It is not only for salvation that we are dependent on grace, but for service also. Paul proceeds to indicate the kind of ministry for which Timothy will need to strengthen himself by Christís grace. So far he has been exhorted to hold the faith and guard the deposit [1:13,14]. He is to do more than preserve the truth, however; he is also to pass it on. If the disloyalty of the Asian church made it imperative that Timothy should guard the truth with loyalty, the approaching death of the apostle made it equally imperative that Timothy should make arrangements for the handing down of the truth intact to the next generation. In this transmission of truth from hand to hand Paul envisages four stages. First, the faith has been entrusted to Paul by Christ. This is why he has called it my deposit [1:12]. Secondly, what has been entrusted to Paul by Christ, Paul in his turn has entrusted to Timothy. This deposit consists of certain sound words which Timothy has heard from Paulís own lips. The reference to many witnesses shows that the apostolic faith was not a secret tradition handed on privately to Timothy but a public instruction, whose truth was guaranteed by the many witnesses who had heard it and who could therefore check Timothyís teaching against the apostleís. Thirdly, what Timothy has heard from Paul he is now to entrust to faithful men. The men Paul has in mind must be primarily ministers of the word, whose chief function is to teach. These are Christian elders whose responsibility it would be to preserve the tradition by faithful teaching. Fourthly, such men must be the sort of men who will be able to teach others also. The ability or competence which Timothy must look for in such men will consist partly in their integrity or faithfulness of character already mentioned and partly in their facility for teaching. Here, then, are the four stages in the handing on of the truth, which Paul envisages: from Christ to Paul, from Paul to Timothy, from Timothy to faithful men, and from faithful men to others also. This is the true apostolic succession. Certainly it would involve men, a line of faithful men at that, but the succession from the apostles is to be more in the message itself than in the men who teach it. It is to be a succession of apostolic tradition rather than of apostolic ministry, authority or order, a transmission of the apostlesí doctrine handed down unchanged from the apostles to subsequent generations, and passed from hand to hand like the Olympic torch. This apostolic tradition, the good deposit, is now to be found in the New Testament. Speaking ideally, Scripture and tradition should be interchangeable terms, for what the church hands down from generation to generation should be the biblical faith, no more and no less. And the biblical faith is the apostolic faith.

 

Examples of Endurance:2 Timothy 2:3-10.

 

[3]Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. [4]No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. [5]An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. [6]It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. [7]Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. [8]Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, [9]for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! [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.[ESV]

 

[3-6]Paulís prison experiences had given him ample opportunity to watch Roman soldiers and to meditate on the parallels between the soldier and the Christian. In earlier letters he has referred to the warfare with principalities and powers in which the Christian soldier is engaged, the armor which he must put on and the weapons which he must use. But here the good soldier of Christ Jesus is so called because he is a dedicated man, who shows his dedication in his willingness both to suffer and to concentrate. Soldiers on active service do not expect a safe or easy time. They take hardship, risk and suffering as a matter of course. These things are part and parcel of a soldierís calling. Similarly, the Christian should not expect an easy time. If he is loyal to the gospel, he is sure to experience opposition and ridicule. The Christian, who is intended to live in the world and not escape out of it, cannot avoid ordinary duties at home, at work and in the community. Indeed as a Christian he should be outstandingly conscientious in doing and not dodging them. Nor should he forget that everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving or that God richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy [1 Tim. 4:4; 6:17]. So what is forbidden the good soldier of Jesus Christ is not all secular activities, but rather entanglements which though they may be perfectly innocent in themselves, may hinder him from fighting Christís battles. This counsel applies specially to the Christian minister or pastor. He is called to devote himself to teaching and tending Christís flock. The application of this verse is wider than to pastors, however. Every Christian is in some degree a soldier of Christ. If we are to be good soldiers of Jesus Christ, we must be dedicated to the battle, committing ourselves to a life of discipline and suffering, and avoiding whatever may entangle us and so distract us from it. Paul now turns from the image of the Roman soldier to that of the competitor in the Greek games. In no athletic contest of the ancient world was a competitor giving a random display of strength or skill. Every sport had its rules, always for the contest itself and sometimes for the preparatory training as well. The Christian life is regularly likened in the New Testament to a race, not in the sense that we are competing against each other, but in the strenuous self-discipline of training [1 Cor. 9:24-27], in laying aside every hindrance [Heb. 12:1-2] and here in keeping the rules. The Christian is under obligation to live according to the rules, to obey Godís moral laws. True, he is not under the law as a way of salvation, to commend him to God, but he is as a guide in conduct. There is no crown otherwise, not of course because our law-abiding could ever justify us, but rather because without it we give evidence that we have never been justified. The context requires that competing according to the rules has a wider application than to our moral conduct, however. Paul is describing Christian service, not just Christian life. He seems to be saying that rewards for service depend on faithfulness. The Christian teacher must teach the truth, building with solid materials on the foundation of Christ, if his work is to endure and not be burned up. If the athlete must play fair, the farmer must work hard. Hard work is indeed indispensable to good farming. The first share of the crops goes to the hardworking farmer. He deserves it. His good yield is due as much to his toil and perseverance as to anything else. That is why a sluggard never makes a good farmer, as the book of Proverbs insists. He always loses his harvest, either because he is asleep when he ought to be reaping, or because he was too lazy to plough the previous autumn, or because he has allowed his fields to become overgrown with weeds and thorns. To what kind of harvest is the apostle referring? Two applications are more obviously biblical than others. First, holiness is a harvest. True, it is the fruit of the Spirit, in that the Spirit is Himself the chief farmer who produces a good crop of Christian qualities in the believerís life. But we have our part to play. We are to walk by the Spirit and sow to the Spirit [Gal. 5:16; 6:8], following His promptings and disciplining ourselves, if we would reap the harvest of holiness. Many Christians are surprised that they are not noticeably growing in holiness. Is it that we are neglecting to cultivate the field of our character? Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap [Gal. 6:7]. Our God is a God who works by means, and He will never bless the soul of that man who pretends to be so high and spiritual that he can get on without them. Secondly, the winning of converts is a harvest too. The harvest is plentiful, Jesus said, referring to the many who are waiting to hear and receive the gospel [Matt. 9:37]. Now in this harvest it is of course God who gives the growth [1 Cor. 3:6-7]. But again we have no liberty to be idle. Further, both the sowing of the good seed of Godís word and the reaping of the harvest are hard work, especially when the laborers are few. Souls are won for Christ, not by the slick, automatic application of a formula, but by tears and sweat and pain, especially in prayer and in sacrificial personal friendship. So far, then, we have looked at the first three metaphors with which Paul illustrates the duties of the Christian worker. By them he has isolated three aspects of wholeheartedness which should be found in Timothy, and in all those who like Timothy seek to pass on to others the good deposit they have themselves received: the dedication of a good soldier, the law-abiding obedience of a good athlete and the painstaking labor of a good farmer. Without these we cannot expect results. There will be no victory for the soldier unless he gives himself to his soldiering, no wreath for the athlete unless he keeps the rules, and no harvest for the farmer unless he toils at his farming.

 

[7-10]There is an important biblical balance here. If Timothy is to know and understand the truth, two processes will be necessary, the one human and the other divine. Timothy himself must think over or reflect on the apostleís teaching, listening to it carefully and applying his mind to it. For then the Lord will grant him understanding in everything. There are at least two important implications of this combination of human study and divine illumination for anybody who wants to inherit the promised gift of understanding from the Lord. First, if we are to receive understanding from the Lord, we must consider what the apostle is saying. This is a good example of Paulís self-conscious apostolic authority. He commands Timothy to ponder his teaching and promises that the Lord will grant him understanding in everything if he does so. He sees nothing strange about claiming that his teaching as an apostle merits careful study, or that it can be interpreted by the Lord alone, or that this is the way for Timothy to grow in understanding. It is clear evidence that Paul believed his teaching to be not his own but the Lordís. Indeed in the following verses, almost imperceptibly, he equates my gospel [8] with the word of God [9]. Secondly, if we are to receive understanding from the Lord, we must consider what the apostle is saying. Some Christians never get down to any serious Bible study. We must not divorce what God has joined together. For the understanding of Scripture a balanced combination of thought and prayer is essential. We must do the considering, and the Lord will do the giving of understanding. The command to remember Jesus Christ at first sight seems extraordinary. How could Timothy ever forget Him? Yet the human memory is notoriously fickle. The church has often forgotten Jesus Christ, absorbing itself instead now in barren theological debate, now in purely humanitarian activity, now in its own petty, parochial business. How and why, then, are we to remember Christ? Essentially because He is the gospel, the heart of the good deposit. If Timothy is to guard the deposit, and to hand it on faithfully to others, he must remember Jesus Christ Ö as preached in my gospel. In particular, Christ is to be remembered as the one who is both risen from the dead and the offspring of David. As we meditate on these two expressions, it is remarkable how full an account of the gospel they give. The birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus are all implicit in them. And these remind us both of His divine-human person and of His saving work. First, His person. The words offspring of David imply His humanity, for they speak of His earthly descent from David. The words risen from the dead imply His divinity, for He was powerfully designated Godís Son by His resurrection from the dead. Secondly, His work. The phrase risen from the dead indicates that He died for our sins and was raised to prove the efficacy of His sinbearing sacrifice. The phrase offspring of David indicates that He has established His kingdom as great Davidís greater Son. Taken together, the two phrases seem to allude to His double role as Savior and King. There is another reason why Timothy must remember Jesus Christ. It is not just because these facts constitute the gospel which Timothy must preach, but because they also illustrate, from Jesus Christís own experience, the principle that death is the gateway to life and suffering the path to glory. For He who died rose from the dead, and He who was born in lowliness as Davidís seed is now reigning in glory on Davidís throne. Both expressions set forth in embryonic form the contrast between humiliation and exaltation. ďSo then, Timothy,Ē the apostle seems to be saying, ďwhen you are tempted to avoid pain, humiliation, suffering or death in your ministry, remember Jesus Christ and think again!Ē Then Paul points to his own suffering for the gospel. He is having to endure the painful indignity of wearing chains like a common criminal, although he is a Roman citizen and an innocent man. But, though he is chained, Godís word is not. At his first defense he had been given the opportunity and the strength fully to proclaim Godís word to the court. In addition, Godís word was spreading through many others, and in particular Timothy must share increasingly in this work. The relation between Paulís suffering and the effectiveness of the gospel is not just one of contrast. It is actually one of cause and effect: 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. We notice in passing that the doctrine of election does not dispense with the necessity of preaching. On the contrary, it makes it essential. For Paul preaches and suffers for the preaching of the gospel in order that the elect may obtain salvation. The elect obtain salvation in Christ not apart from the preaching of Christ but by means of it. Further, it is not just the preaching but also the resultant suffering which are the means of the electís salvation. Paulís statement that in some sense the salvation of others is secured by his sufferings may at first astonish us. Yet it is so. Not of course that his sufferings have any redemptive efficacy like Christís, but that the elect are saved through the gospel and that he could not preach the gospel without suffering for it.

 

Enduring Promises:2 Timothy 2:11-13.

 

[11]The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; [12] if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; [13]if we are faithless, he remains faithful-- for he cannot deny himself.[ESV]

 

[11-13]Paul now quotes a current saying or fragment of an early Christian hymn which he pronounces reliable. It consists of two pairs of epigrams, which are general axioms of Christian life and experience. They apply equally to all believers. The first pair relates to those who remain true and endure [11-12a], the second pair to those who became false and faithless [12b-13]. The death with Christ which is here mentioned must refer, according to the context, not to our death to sin through union with Christ in His death, but rather to our death to self and to safety, as we take up the cross and follow Christ. So the Christian life is depicted as a life of dying, a life of enduring. Only if we share Christís death on earth, shall we share his life in heaven. Only if we share His sufferings and endure, shall we share His reign in the hereafter. For the road to life is death, and the road to glory is suffering. The other pair of epigrams envisages the dreadful possibility of our denying Christ and proving faithless. It has often been taken as a comforting assurance that, even if we turn away from Christ, He will not turn away from us, for He will never be faithless as we are. And it is true, of course, that God never exhibits the fickleness or the faithlessness of man. Yet the logic of the Christian hymn, with its two pairs of balancing epigrams, really demands a different interpretation. If we deny him and if we are faithless are parallels, which requires that he also will deny us and he remains faithful be parallels also. In this case His faithfulness when we are faithless will be faithfulness to His warning, which means He will carry out His threats as well as His promises. Christ will be faithful to His threat that He will deny those who deny Him. Because Christ cannot deny himself. The idea that there may be something which God cannot do is entirely foreign to some people. Can He not do anything and everything? Are not all things possible to Him? Is He not omnipotent? Yes, but Godís omnipotence needs to be understood. It is the freedom and power to do absolutely anything He chooses to do. But He chooses only to do good, only to work according to the perfection of His character and will. God can do everything consistent with being Himself. The one and only thing He cannot do, because He will not, is to deny Himself or act contrary to Himself. So God remains forever Himself, the same God of mercy and of justice, fulfilling His promises, giving us life if we die with Christ and a kingdom if we endure, but denying us if we deny Him, just as He warned, because He cannot deny Himself.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† In 2:1-2, Paul instructs Timothy on how to protect the true Gospel message and ensure that it will be passed on to future generations. What are the four stages that Paul gives to Timothy? The last two stages are meant to be followed by all churches throughout history. How well is your church following these two stages/

 

2.†††††††† In 2:3-6, Paul uses three metaphors to describe different aspects of the teaching ministry to which Timothy has been called. What lessons are we to learn from these three metaphors?

 

3.†††††††† What important biblical balance is found in 2:7-10? What two processes are necessary if we are to know and understand biblical truth?

 

4.†††††††† What is Paul telling us about the person and work of Jesus Christ in 2:8? What must we do in order to remember Jesus Christ and not forget Him?

 

5.†††††††† What does the trustworthy statement of 2:11-13 teach us about our Christian life and experience?

 

References:

The Message of 2 Timothy, John Stott, Inter Varsity Press.

The Letters to Timothy and Titus, Philip Towner, Eerdmans.

2 Timothy, Thomas Lea, NAC, Broadman Press.