Passing the Torch, 2 Timothy Series (3)
“Guard, Entrust, Endure” 2 Timothy 1:13-2:10
Recently when the All Blacks were preparing for their semi-final game against South Africa in the World Cup, a famous Kiwi was standing on the sideline watching. He also spoke to the team to give them encouragement. That Kiwi was Willie Apiata a former soldier in the SAS who in 2007 received the Victoria Cross for bravery. Under enemy fire in Afghanistan he carried a badly wounded comrade across the battlefield to safety. Both Willie Apiata & the All Blacks know what is involved in training & living under intense pressure. Today as we continue our series in 2 Timothy we are going to think about how to live under pressure & what we must do to win the prize.
Our first heading is:
1. Guard the Truth (vrs 13 & 14)
Timothy has the huge challenge & responsibility of leading the church in Ephesus, a pagan city where many powerful people are hostile to the Christian faith. Week by week, what is he going to share with his congregation to encourage them & build them up in their faith?
Paul writes in v.13, “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith & love in Christ Jesus.” A builder must build exactly according to the pattern or the drawings of the architect. Timothy was to build his ministry on the pattern Paul had given him. He was to teach what he had heard Paul teach. He was to build according to “the pattern of sound teaching” not swerving to the left or the right.
When growing up in Zimbabwe, our pastor, Mr Philpott, preached faithfully week by week, month by month, year by year. As a young boy & then as a teenager, I was privileged to sit under his faithful & godly ministry. I have no way to measure the blessing of having had a pastor like Mr Philpott. God’s Word is what feeds us & builds us up in our faith.
And yes, not only had Paul given Timothy the pattern of sound teaching, he had also shown Timothy how to minister, how to serve. Paul says, “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith & love in Christ Jesus.” Faith implies loyalty – remaining faithful to the truth & to Jesus. Faith also implies holding on in confidence, trusting in Jesus, no matter what happens. In his ministry Timothy needed unshakable faith & unwavering confidence in the Lord.
Notice too, Timothy is to fulfil his ministry with love. Yes, some people might give Timothy a hard time, they might look down on him because of his youth, but he must still show love. He must be gracious. He must forgive. He must love others as the Lord loves them. Timothy was to serve “with faith & love in Christ Jesus” & we must do the same.
Pastor Rodney Cowell, my predecessor at MBCC, who went to be with Jesus this week, was a faithful & loving servant of the Lord. He was a true pastor & our love & prayers go out to his wife Beryl & the family at this time – as well as to all who were blessed through his ministry.
The pattern of sound teaching that Paul passed on to Timothy was so important that Paul says, “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (v.14) The picture here is of a friend asking us to guard something very valuable while they are away. Another picture is depositing our money in a bank. We expect the bank to keep our money safe.
The good deposit Paul says Timothy must guard is the Gospel message, God’s Word, the truth. This precious gift has been entrusted to us. We must guard it & protect it carefully. It is wonderful of course that we do not do so on our own, for as Paul reminds Timothy, we “…guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” Jesus told His disciples in John 14:26, “The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things & will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
Every believer has the Holy Spirit living within. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would guide His disciples into remembering His words, so too the Holy Spirit helps us as we study the Bible. He plants the truth in our hearts & minds. He fills us with peace when we are walking according to His truth, but when we wander from His truth the Holy Spirit convicts us & warns us. Praise the Lord for the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The fact He dwells within every believer does not mean of course that every believer is filled with the Holy Spirit. We need to ask Him to fill us & give us the gifts needed to serve Him effectively. We need to keep filled, walking in truth & love & power.
By the way, did you notice, in the verse before, v.12, Paul said, “…I know whom I have believed, & am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” There is that same word “guard”. Paul speaks of the Lord guarding what he Paul has entrusted to Him. Things are turned around in v.13, which speaks of God entrusting His message to us & telling us to guard it for Him. So then, this is our first point, “Guard the Truth.”
2. Entrust the Gospel To Others (1:15-2:2)
Not only must we guard the truth, we must also pass it on & entrust it to others. Paul encourages Timothy to train up others & equip them to pass on the message too.
Of course not everyone in the church is ready or willing or qualified to be entrusted with the Gospel. Some may not be living a godly life or an obedient life. They would not be good representatives for the Lord. Instead they bring shame to His Name.
Sadly, it seems in Ephesus many had turned away from openly associating with Paul & Timothy & their fellow believers. Paul names two who stood out as examples of this in v.15, “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus & Hermogenes.” These two men might have been leaders who turned back when things got tough. They began to oppose Paul & Timothy, speaking badly of them & undermining their ministry. Sadly leaders do sometimes fall, & when this happens many people are stumbled.
When Paul was arrested & accused of being a political trouble-maker deserving of death, it would not have been easy for his friends & supporters. However many did remain loyal & true even when the pressure was on.
In 1955 Stephen Wang was a young leader in the church in Beijing led by Pastor Wang Ming Dao. When Pastor Wang was arrested & accused of being a “counter revolutionary” the members of his congregation faced similar pressures. Some dropped out but Stephen remained loyal & true to his faith. He too was arrested & spent many years in prison. It was my great privilege in the 1980s to get to know Stephen quite well – & I will never forget first meeting him in Suzhou in 1983. He now lives in Canada. I also was privileged to meet Pastor Wang in Shanghai where he lived with Mrs Wang following his release after 23 years in prison.
You & I may not be arrested for our faith but there may be times when we face criticism or misunderstanding. When we openly confess our faith in Christ & openly associate with God’s people, we may lose some friends. We may lose the chance of getting a promotion. We may even lose our job.
My friend Stephen felt honoured to support Pastor Wang & honoured to remain faithful to the Lord Jesus. Paul too goes on to give an example of someone who was not ashamed of being his friend. Despite the danger, this brother went out of his way to express his love & support for God’s servant. Paul writes in vrs 16 & 17, “May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me & was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me.” This brother Onesiphorus also helped Paul before his arrest, as Paul says in v.18, “You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.”
Once again Paul encourages Timothy to be strong & courageous. He says, “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” (2:1) The Lord could give Timothy the grace, the help & strength he needed, to remain strong despite the disappointments & dangers he faced. You & I also need the grace that is in Christ Jesus if we are to remain faithful serving the Lord & living for Him despite all the ups & downs of everyday life.
There is something else Paul urges Timothy to do. It is to entrust the message to others. He writes, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2:2) This is an incredibly important & challenging verse. Paul had passed on the message to Timothy. Now Timothy himself is to make sure he passes the message on to others – not to anyone but to reliable people qualified to teach others also. Timothy had been a disciple learning from Paul. Now Timothy is to find those he can disciple, people who in turn can disciple yet others. This way the church would grow, not only numerically but in depth. And it would grow from one generation to the next.
I believe Pastor Rodney did this at MBCC. He was used by the Lord to lead some of you to Christ & he helped you grow in your faith. Some of you are now leaders, including our elder David Xu. And it was the witness of Pastor Rodney & also the witness of David that led to his wife Michelle to believe & now Michelle too is being used by the Lord in our Church.
Someone has said, each one of us should have a Paul in our lives (a mentor, someone we look up to) & each one of us should also have a Timothy (someone to whom we pass on what we have learnt). This principle of entrusting the Gospel to others is what making disciples is all about.
3. Endure Hardship (2:3-10)
Being a follower of Jesus is not like going on a picnic, or even going on a short-term mission trip. It is a challenge to full-time commitment. It is a surrender of our own will to the will of God. It is being willing to follow & obey Him no matter what the cost.
Paul goes on to use three pictures to illustrate what is involved in being a follower or a disciple of the Lord Jesus. In v.3 he tells Timothy, “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” It was common in the Roman Empire to see soldiers. Paul knew a lot about them for in prison he was guarded day & night by a soldier. He knew soldiers faced all kinds of hardship. And Paul goes on, “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer.” (v.4) Soldiers could not take off & do their own thing. They were under orders. They had to obey their commanding officer. They had to be ready for any sacrifice, even to give their lives for the sake of the Emperor.
So too we as Christians, must be ready to suffer hardship. We are to do everything to please our commanding officer, Jesus Christ. We are to surrender to His will. This does not mean all of us are called to full-time Christian work. No, we are still living in this world & most of us will be working in a secular job or at home caring for our family. But the point is, whatever our job & wherever we are, as believers we are under orders, the orders of our commanding officer King Jesus. We are to live in obedience to His will.
The second picture Paul uses is that of an athlete. V.5 says, “Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.” An athlete has to go into strict training, especially professional athletes. They must be totally dedicated to getting fit & preparing for the contest, the game or the race ahead. Being a top athlete involves incredible dedication & discipline. As Christians we too need dedication & discipline. We need to train ourselves in righteousness, doing what is right no matter how hard it might be.
Being a successful athlete also involves playing or competing according to the rules. A recent doping scandal led to the banning of Russian athletes & the Russian Athletics Federation from all international competitions. Nobody likes a cheat in sport. When caught, cheats are banned. They are stripped of their medals, as happened when the Belarusian women’s shot put champion was found to be cheating. Her 2012 Olympic Gold medal was awarded instead to our own Valerie Adams.
As believers we too need to follow the rules or we will be disqualified. For us following the “rules” means gladly obeying the principles & teaching of God’s Word. We cannot live as hypocrites & expect God to bless us or make us a blessing. We cannot operate in the flesh, with greed or pride or moral compromise, & expect God to turn a blind eye.
One Sunday a pastor told his congregation, “Next week I am going to preach on the sin of lying. In preparation for my message I want everyone to read Mark chapter 17.” The following Sunday the pastor asked those who had read Mark 17 to put up their hands. Almost everyone put up their hand. The pastor smiled & said, “Well, Mark’s Gospel only has 16 chapters, so now let me begin my sermon on the sin of lying.”
We cannot fool God. He sees our hearts, our motives. God loves to bless those who serve Him with a pure heart. If we run the race for Jesus these are the rules we must keep if we are to run well & bring glory to His name.
The 3rd picture Paul uses is of a farmer. He writes, “The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.” (v.6) For several months my strawberry patch produced nothing. I had to be patient pulling out the grass & weeds that grew among the strawberry plants. Once the strawberries started growing I had to make sure they were protected from the slugs & from the birds. Now most mornings I get quite a nice handful of fresh strawberries for breakfast. I am no farmer but how much more will a farmer understand what Paul is saying. The farmer works hard. He gets up early. He waits patiently. He looks forward to the harvest. So too we as Christians living in an often hostile world, we must work hard for Jesus. We must not give up but must look forward with expectation & faith to the harvest to come. What a day of rejoicing that will be! All the hard work will prove to have been abundantly worthwhile.
No wonder Paul ends this little section saying in v.10, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” Paul was looking forward to the final harvest, when salvation is completed & Jesus comes again in glory.
Do you remember our three points? First was: “Guard the truth”. Second was: “Entrust the Gospel to others”. Third was: “Endure hardship”. What Paul wrote to Timothy all those years ago, is God’s word for us today.