Back to the Basics Again — Part One
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

Back to the Basics Again — Part One

2 Timothy 3:10–4:8  (ID: 3081)

In 2 Timothy 3, Paul encouraged Timothy by reminding him of the truth he had been taught and instructed him to continue preaching God’s Word faithfully and patiently. This exhortation from by Paul is just as relevant for pastors today. Alistair Begg reminds pastors and congregations of the sufficiency of God’s Word and the need for patience to teach it no matter the circumstances.

Series Containing This Sermon

The Pastor’s Study, Volume 7

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 23008

Basics 2015

Trusting the Word of God to Do the Work of God Selected Scriptures Series ID: 23515

Sermon Transcript: Print

Eternal God and ever blessed Father, you who created us for your praise and for your glory, you who reached out to us in your mercy and in your grace, you who have redeemed us with an outstretched arm and brought us into the company of your beloved Son, we offer to you our praise and our worship. We confess to you, Lord, that on our best day we are unprofitable servants. Who knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of a man that is in him?[1] You know when we sit down and when we stand. You know the words of our mouths before we ever speak them. All the days of our lives were written in your book before one of them came to be. And it is in the amazing reality of that that we say with the psalmist, “That kind of knowledge is too wonderful. I just can’t attain to it. I cannot fully comprehend it.”[2] And we acknowledge that eye hasn’t seen nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, the things that God has prepared for them that love him.[3]

And we know that you have good works foreordained for us to do[4]—that in our coming here, although with one sense we come with expectation that we might be ministered to, we realize immediately, as we look around, the immense responsibility that we have to minister to one another, to exhort and to encourage one another. And we recognize that while the talks are of significance, it may well be that by the time we wend our way home, we will have discovered that the things that took place around the tables and in personal conversation, as truths proclaimed were brought home to our lives, have actually proved to be of deep and lasting benefit.

We pray now at the very outset of this for a prevailing sense of the Lord Jesus Christ presiding over things—for the brooding, as it were, of the Holy Spirit over all that takes place, protecting us from ourselves and from our own proclivities, warning us, watching us, guarding us, keeping us. And when our minds wander to the responsibilities we’ve left, or to the difficulties of which we are keenly aware, or the concerns that we have for members of our flock or perhaps even the members of our own family—our spouses or our children—we thank you that we are able to cast our burdens upon the Lord, knowing that he promises to sustain us.[5]

So, accomplish your purposes, Lord, we pray, in the balance of this hour and in the day as it unfolds. We look away from ourselves to you, and we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

Well, I invite you to turn with me to 2 Timothy and to chapter 3. I’m going to read from 3:10 into chapter 4. He’s been describing these various people who have been singularly unhelpful, detrimental, to the work of the gospel in Ephesus. And he uses a phrase continually, as you know: su de, “you, however,” or “but you.” And that’s what he’s doing here. Verse 10:

“You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

“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.”

This is the Word of the Lord. And we say, “Thanks be to God.” At least some of us do.

Well, in this first session, as I say, the responsibility and the privilege falls to me to essentially—and this is what I want to do, what I choose to do—and that is to set the context of our being together, and to take a moment or two in doing just that. Those of you who were present last year will remember how much we benefited from the ministry of Christopher Ash. And in his book The Priority of Preaching, you will perhaps recall in his introduction, he tells of how he had attended “a large conference of ministers” at the time that he was involved in what he referred to as an “ordinary” church on the coast of eastern England. And he writes as follows:

Sad to say, all I can remember of the conference is impressive speakers who all seemed (to my jaded eyes) to be tall, handsome, successful—everything I was not. Above all, they seemed to talk a lot about doing “strategic” work for the gospel of Christ. It all seemed very strategic. They were clearly strategic people in strategic places doing strategic ministry. I, however, being of a melancholic disposition, was quite sure I was not a strategic person, nor was I in a strategic place, and I was most certainly not doing strategic ministry. As I left the conference, like a dog with its tail between its legs, I wondered if it was really worth preparing for the following Sunday’s preaching.[6]

Well, I read that in order that we might say we want nobody—including myself—I don’t want to finish up here like a dog with my tail between my legs, and I don’t want you to do that either.

When we began in the year 2000, we decided that we would call this conference Basics. I think we were probably thinking that if we ever had a second conference—and at the time, it was highly unlikely, and if you were around then, you would know there were a number of reasons why. But I think we were thinking, “If we ever have another conference, we can come up with a decent title. We can buy ourselves time by just calling it Basics.”

To reinforce this, I actually had my secretary check, and she managed to find for me three letters that were written to me—probably the only three letters—after the conference in 2000. And the men who wrote them, I believe, are registered, because I checked. I think you’re here. I won’t embarrass you by naming you, but you can come up afterwards and check and see if your name’s on the list. But in two out of the three letters, the men say, “I would like to think that this might be an annual event, where each year I can bring more of the men in our church who the Lord is raising up for ministry in the gospel.” That was a good suggestion. And from one of the other gentlemen—two out of the three—“So I implore you to make a pastors’ conference at least an annual event at Parkside Church.” So we know there were two people who thought it was pretty good and that they would like to come back. Well, two was good. It was better than one! And so, we decided we would go at it again. But of course, we couldn’t come up with a better title than Basics, and so we kept that for 2001. And here we are, sixteen years later, and the title has stuck. It’s just stuck.

Evangelical Basics

Now, it would be wrong to give the inference that we actually chose the title arbitrarily, because we didn’t. The choice was purposeful. We were saying to ourselves, “Let’s see if we can’t help ourselves and fellow pastors to pay particular attention to evangelical essentials.”

At that time, some of us had been spending a fair amount of time reading a number of books along these lines—books that you’ve read. For example, the little book with that wonderful picture on the front of Martyn Lloyd-Jones entitled What Is an Evangelical? And in that book, you will perhaps recall—or I will instill in you a great desire to read it, perhaps—he talks about the two great challenges that face the evangelical minister: on the one hand, ecumenism, where they lose any sense of orthodoxy at all, but on the other hand, the danger of becoming schismatic and of projecting a conviction about things that are unnecessary or unhelpful.[7] And to the great delight of my elders, when we read this book together, we discovered that Lloyd-Jones, a Welshman, said—and I quote—“The country that illustrates this … point more clearly perhaps than any other is Scotland.”[8] In other words, they’re a bunch of schismatics in Scotland. And he has this wonderful illustration—you’ll perhaps remember it—of the Burghers and the Anti-Burghers, the people who were on the side of the borough and the people who were opposed to the borough. Culminating as it did, the division was so significant that he quotes a minister’s wife who was on the other side of the debate saying to her husband, “You may still be my husband but you are no longer my minister.” Because he was on the wrong side of the issue.[9] That is what it means to be schismatic.

What he helps us with, and what he helped me tremendously with, was when he identifies what he says—having established, if you like, the basics—the areas where he will refuse to disagree with those who are his fellow ministers in the gospel. It’s not my task to expound them but just to remind you of what they are. He says, “I’m not going to fall out with my brother in Christ,” number one, “on the question of election and predestination”; number two, “on the subjects and the mode of baptism”; number three, “on the question of church polity”; number four, in “views of the millennium,” for, he says, “not one of them can be proved”; and number five, “on the issue of spiritual gifts and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.”[10] And so, when I say to you that we’re not here to identify all of these issues and use them as an opportunity for division, but rather to say, “We want to focus on essentials.”

Now, we also read John Stott. And John Stott quotes Packer in his book on this subject, Evangelical Truth, and Packer identifies “six evangelical fundamentals,” as he puts it: number one, “the supremacy of Holy Scripture” as breathed out by God; number two, “the majesty of Jesus Christ” as the only Savior; number three, “the lordship” and supremacy “of the Holy Spirit”; fourthly, “the necessity of conversion”; fifthly, “the priority of evangelism”; and sixthly, the vital importance of Christian fellowship.[11]

Now, in the ensuing fifteen years since that first conference, there surely is so much to encourage as we think about a decade and a half: many of the young men that have grown up, the establishing of opportunities for evangelism, the partnership of churches with one another, and not least of all, partnerships that extend beyond the oceans and so on, testifying to our unity in the Lord Jesus Christ. But while it is true to say that, and it must be said, it is also sadly true to say that the American church is increasingly marked by proclamation, if there is any proclamation, that is theologically vague and is harmlessly accommodating—accommodating constantly to the prevailing cultural notions. And what makes it so alarming is that as the church appears to be losing its nerve and as pastors grow increasingly soft, the surrounding culture gets tougher and is intolerant of anything that is definite, thereby making it a peculiar challenge to hold to the convictions of Scripture and to convey them in a way that is not bombastic but rather is humble, without actually giving anything up at all.

And so, to borrow, as it were, from Jude: although I had thought to begin this conference in a different way, I find it necessary to begin where we left off last time, by exercising a ministry of reminder.[12] There is both apostolic practice and apostolic precept to guide us in that way. And Peter says, “I intend always to remind you of these things, so that after my departure, you’ll be able to bring them to mind.”[13] Paul has a ministry of reminder consistently, not least of all in the Pastorals. And his exhortation to Timothy is to make sure that he himself—2 Timothy 2:14—is reminding his people of these things. And his concern here, in this final letter that he writes, is for his spiritual son. He refers to Timothy in this way in 1 Corinthians. You remember, he says, “I sent … Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord,” notice, “to remind you of my ways in Christ.”[14] “I have exercised the ministry of reminder to him in order that he might do the same for you.”

Now, let me pause and just say this: I used to think that Timothy was a special case. In fact, if I go back to early sermons that I preached on Timothy, I preached him as a sort of peculiar individual. We know that he was youthful. We know that he had to drink wine for his tummy’s sake, so he had some kind of colorectal problem or something. And we also know that he was naturally diffident. And so I used to say, you know, “The reason that Paul says what he says is because he’s physically frail, he’s naturally diffident, and so on”—the inference being, he’s a bit of a strange person. But the longer I’ve lived my life and been involved in pastoral ministry, I’ve changed my mind entirely. I think Timothy is totally normal! I think he is completely normal. Aren’t you afraid? Don’t you feel frail? Now, I don’t want to hear about your stomach, but you get the point. (I was listening to Dick Lucas not long ago on the very subject, and he talked about the fundamentalist who said that the directive given by Paul to Timothy concerning the wine was such that it was only to be applied externally.) But, you see, with the death of Paul, Timothy’s up. He’s next up. And it is Timothy who has to hold the line. He has to hold the line in the church. He has to govern himself by the Scriptures, and he has to govern the church in the same way.

It’s very vital that in his role as the pastor and the teacher and as the church leader, as the elder, that as Paul says to him in his first letter—1 Timothy 4—he says, “I want you to make sure that you keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching”—“watch yourself, watch the teaching”—“for by so doing”—remember what he says?—“you will save yourself.”[15] Now, there’s a sermon title for you, isn’t it? Go back and preach on Sunday about how you can save yourself. “It says in the Bible you can save yourself.” Well, in actual fact, it does. Here’s the strange and amazing thought: that by doing his job in the providence of God, he is actually being kept in the paths of righteousness.

This has come home to me quite forcibly in the last few weeks, as once again I’ve had some sabbatical time away from the pulpit. And it has occurred to me—and not in a way that is immediately encouraging—but it has occurred to me that one of the mechanisms that God has chosen to use in my life for my own sanctification and blessing is just the job that he’s given me to do, so that as I do the job, I keep myself. As I do the job, I save myself. I save myself from my propensity for foolishness and for increased wandering. And just the very routine of it, the necessity of it, the fact that Sunday comes around again every few days—and sometimes every two days, it would seem—but as it comes around, it is there.

Now, the reason is very obvious. If Timothy crashes or wanders, the whole church will suffer. If the pastor goes down, it’s a devastating thing. Because the enemy of our souls is always aiming his strongest blows at the undershepherd. It makes perfect sense. You see this in the persecuted church. When we hear of what is happening in Somalia, or in Egypt, or in India, or wherever it might be, what do we hear? We hear that pastors are removed, pastors are imprisoned, pastors are killed, because the Enemy recognizes that in the church, the role that has been entrusted to the pastor-teacher is the primary role, is the responsibility, and is the privilege.

The church of God navigates the waters of life as a result of the tiller of the Word of God guiding us on our way.

And so, for example—and I won’t quote much to you from this—but when he says at the end of chapter 1 in his first letter, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander.”[16] What is the inference? “You’d better not shipwreck!” He doesn’t say, “But this’ll never happen to you.” He says, “You’d better make sure that you don’t.” And when you get to the second letter, he’s essentially making reference to the same thing when he says to him, “I want to make sure that you fan into flame the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of the hands”[17] of those presumably in his ordination. So the responsibility and the privilege is absolutely clear.

Now, rather than roam around the Pastoral Epistles for the balance of the time, I’ve chosen to read here from the end of 3 and the beginning of 4. And I don’t know how far I’m going to get in this, and I’m not unduly concerned about it. I will, though, stop on time, wherever we are, all right? So at least we have confidence in that.

At the end of chapter 3—at the end of chapter 3—Paul is not informing Timothy of truth that he had never known. Timothy was brought up with an understanding of the Scriptures. Timothy had a godly mother, a godly granny, and Paul was able to say to him, “I want to encourage you in relation to the things that you have learned and that you know.” So he would have known the fact that the word of the Lord came to the prophets, that the word of the Lord came to Samuel, the word of the Lord came to Solomon, so on. And he recognized that it was the word of God through the servant of God that led the people of God. So when he tells him here that “all Scripture is breathed out by God,” Timothy would not have been going, “Wow, that’s fantastic. I never knew that!” Of course, no; he’s simply reminding him of what he must never forget—namely, that the Scriptures are divinely inspired, that they are completely reliable, that they are totally sufficient, and that they are the key to the competence and to the usefulness of the man of God: “that the man of God may be…”

Now, we can apply this beyond the pastor-teacher role, but the primary emphasis in these Pastorals is on the role that you men—that we men—fulfill. How, then, am I to be competent? How am I to be useful? If your conviction goes concerning the sufficiency and the authority of Scripture, your usefulness will go right with it. And that’s why he reminds him as he does. It’s the duty of Timothy, but not only Timothy—of every contemporary Timothy—to make sure that we bring the Scriptures to bear upon the family of God in such a way that we together as the family of God obey the Word of God. Very straightforward, isn’t it? I mean, it’s so straightforward, you wonder why more people don’t do it: that the church of God navigates the waters of life as a result of the tiller of the Word of God guiding us on our way.

So Timothy needs to continue in what he has learned and has firmly believed—3:14. And he does so in a moral and in a theological context that’s not too different from our own. The context in Ephesus: people were confused about what they believed, and as a result, they were confused about how they were supposed to behave. And today, nothing much has changed, has it? And when this letter was read publicly, as it would have been, then both the pastor—namely, Timothy—and the congregation were made aware of what was expected. And that’s why when we read the Pastorals in front of our congregation, it’s a quite daunting thing to do, because they’re immediately saying, “I wonder if my pastor’s doing that. I wonder if he’s committed to that.”

A Solemn and Simple Charge

Now, notice what he does is he gives him a charge. This a fairly routine recurring phrase on Paul’s part: “I charge you [here] in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus.” I want to just say three things about this charge.

First of all, it is solemn. It is solemn. “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus.” There’s nothing casual, there’s nothing inconsequential about it. He is reminding Timothy that his ministry in Ephesus is being exercised with the Father and the Son as his witnesses, and in light of the fact that Jesus is establishing his kingdom, and in light of the fact that one day he is going to appear. And Paul has exercised his ministry, is coming to the end of his life, bringing the reality of then to bear upon his experience now. And when you read church history, you realize that the men who have been most influential in their now are men who have fastened on the reality of the then.

David will perhaps tell us later on about the fact that he’s from the church in which Murray M’Cheyne was the pastor. Same building. The pulpit is still there. And you think about a man like M’Cheyne. He dies at twenty-nine. How do you accomplish so much in such a short time? I’ll tell you why: ’cause his focus was on the then, and that’s how he gave himself to the now. That’s why when he wrote his hymns, he wrote, for example,

When this passing world is done,
And when has sunk this yonder sun,
When I stand with Christ on high,
Looking o’er my history,
Not till then, O Lord, I know
Just how much I really owe.[18]

And Paul has done the same thing. And so he’s saying to Timothy, “You know, Jesus is going to come back. And his kingdom is being established. It has been established in his appearing. It is growing as a result of the Word of God going out to the ends of the earth, and one day he will bring it into all of its fullness.” And in the meantime, Timothy and his colleagues are to keep watch in the church over the souls under their care. That’s the charge he’s giving him. The way in which it is to be exercised we’ll see, but it is as the writer says in Hebrews: that the leaders of the church “keep watch over your souls as men who must give an account.”[19] “As men who must give an account.” This doesn’t mean we’re going to give an account to the trustees, or we give an account to some nuisance of a deacon, or some lady who plays the piano will all of her fingers, but she uses all of them all of the time; there’s no discrimination between it. Not that kind of thing at all: we deal with all of that, and they deal with us, and that’s all part of life. No. No, it’s something far more daunting than that. We keep watch over their souls as men who must give an account to God, to the Lord Jesus Christ, for the ministry that we exercise is in his presence.

I say to you again, there is something very solemn about this charge. I’m always concerned when I hear about young men who are telling me, “Well, I don’t know if I want to be an engineer, or perhaps a doctor, or I thought I might go to seminary. Yeah, I might have a stab at that. You know, I might try pastoral ministry for a little while, you know.” I say, “No, I hope you won’t. I hope you won’t. I hope you go as far away from here as you possibly can.” No, it’s not that at all. Says Matthew Henry, “The best of men have need to be awed into the discharge of their [ministry].”[20] “Awed into the discharge of their ministry.”

Now, I don’t wish to be unduly deferential to my guests, but I do want to quote a couple of times these two days from the Free Church’s Confession of Faith and Subordinate Standards, in the Directory of Public Worship. You say, “Really? You’ve run out of material?” No, no. I may well have run out of material, but that’s not the reason. Just on this notion of the solemnity of the charge that is given. And this is on “The Preaching of the Word” in the Directory of Public Worship. I won’t read it all. It reads as follows:

It is presupposed, (according to the rules for ordination,) that the minister of Christ is in some good measure gifted for so weighty a service, by his [ability] in the … languages, … by his knowledge [of the common course of life]; … by the illumination of [the Spirit of God], and [the] gifts of edification, which (together with reading and studying of the word) he ought still to seek by prayer, and an humble heart, resolving to admit and receive any truth not yet attained, whenever God shall make it known unto him. All which he is to make use of, and improve, in his private preparations, before he deliver in public what he hath provided.

So there’s no sense of somebody sitting around with a laptop trying to come up with a few bright ideas, simply to lay them on a group of people who haven’t really been thinking very much for the last seven days. No, it is far more solemn and significant than that. Do you remember last year, Christopher Ash, when he was underpinning this—and he underpins it again in his Priority of Preaching—he points out that the pattern that runs through the Bible, whether it’s the Old Testament or the New, is the gathering of the people of God under the authority of his Word as pronounced by an individual? And he takes us in that book, The Priority of Preaching, to Sinai and to Deuteronomy 4, and he reminds us that although there was a tremendous amount going on visually, God says to them, “And although all this was going on visually, you didn’t see me. You only heard me.” There was nothing, just a voice. And in a context where video clips and all manner of stuff are intruding upon the preaching of the Word, it’s a very interesting thought, isn’t it?

Gresham Machen, in his day at Westminster, said to his students, “It is with the open Bible that the real Christian preacher comes before the congregation, not to share his opinions, not to present the results of his research, but to set forward what is contained in God’s Word.” That’s what we’re supposed to do.

I think all of us have been asked from time to time by a kind and clueless friend, “How do you manage to come up with something?” Don’t people ask you that? You’re sitting somewhere, and they say, “Oh, by the way, how long have you been at your church?” You say, “Oh, I’ve been there half a dozen years.” They say, “Well, goodness gracious, that’s a lot of Sundays! How do you come up with something?” They think that’s what we do. Maybe it is what we do; that’s the challenge, isn’t it? In fact, apparently that’s what a number of us have been tempted to do, and give ground to the question. Too many pulpits are occupied by sort of well-meaning individuals speaking with emphasis, coming up with a few observations and a few applications and fill-in-the-blanks so that the people can take it away with them. But not a life-shaping encounter with God as a result of the Spirit of God bringing the Word of God home to the people of God. When you read James Stewart in his lectures to—was it Yale Divinity School?—in the ’50s, he speaks there about how the apostles were swept off their feet by the news that they were called to proclaim. They could hardly contain themselves. Well, that’s very different, isn’t it?

No, there is a direct link between the sufficiency of Scripture and the authority of the preacher. I love the fact that when Spurgeon wanted to drive this home to his colleagues, he did so with his inimitable skill. He said,

A great many learned men are defending the gospel; no doubt it is a very proper and right thing to do, yet I always notice that, when there are most books of that kind, it is because the gospel itself is not being preached. Suppose a number of persons were to take it into their heads that they had to defend a lion …. There he is in the cage, and here come all the soldiers of the army to fight for him. Well, I should suggest to them, if they would not object, and feel that it was humbling to them, that they should kindly stand back, and open the door, and let the lion out! I believe that would be the best way of defending him, for he would take care of himself; and the best “apology” for the gospel is to let the gospel out. Never mind about defending Deuteronomy or the whole of the Pentateuch; preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. Let the Lion out, and see who will dare to approach him. The Lion of the tribe of Judah will soon drive away all his adversaries.[21]

That’s good, isn’t it? I mean, I like it! I think it’s good.

A Searching Charge

Well, that’s enough on the first. We gotta go. It’s hotter than the… It’s a very hot afternoon in here. First of all, it is solemn. And secondly, as I have pointed out, it is simple, in the sense that it is straightforward. There’s nothing hard to understand in this, is there? “I want you, Timothy, to preach the Word of God and to do so carefully.”

The third thing is to say that it is a searching charge. It is a searching charge. Because it actually forces Timothy, and us as readers, to ask whether our actions make it clear that we are convinced that the regular exposition of the Bible is the driving force—again, as Ash says—that shapes authentic church life. Do we actually believe that the regular teaching of the Bible is the primary, necessary element to shape and direct the life of our churches? Or do we need to go back to “strategic this, strategic that, and the strategic…” We’re not talking about setting aside all of those things or being foolish, but in terms of core conviction.

Verse 2 makes it clear that this message is to be pressed home on all occasions, convenient or inconvenient. No excuse for laziness, no excuse for fearfulness. “Preach the word … in season … out of season.” In other words, when people are hostile or when they’re receptive, when it’s discouraging or delightful, when the numbers are growing or the numbers are dwindling, when the approach of the Lord’s Day fills you with expectation and when the approach of the Lord’s Day fills you with dread.

You say, “Oh, come now, we’re not gonna admit to that, are we?” Well, I’ll admit to it. I understand the story of the mother getting her son up. Remember that old chestnut? “John, you better get up. You’re going to be late for church.” “I don’t want to go to church!” “Johnny, you better go. You’re the pastor of the church.” Now, why would we think that our own people drag themselves in reluctantly, as if somehow or another we just showed up all the time with a spring in our steps? No, the reason he says it to him is because he recognizes that there will be times, there will be occasions, that will ebb and flow. Our own emotions ebb and flow. The circumstances of our context ebb and flow and so on. There’s tremendous help in this. It searches us, but it’s also helpful in its search. By its very nature, he’s pointing out that the Scripture reproves, exhorts, rebukes. It won’t always be comfortable, but it will be profitable.

I don’t think what we’re supposed to do is say to our wives on a Saturday night, “I’m gonna do a real good reproval one tomorrow!” or “I’m thinking of a right good rebuking tomorrow!” you know? But some of us have just become phenomenally hortatory—or “hortatory,” I think, as you say. It’s gotta translate. You know, so, “Come on, come on, come on, come on!” and our people are just going crazy listening to us. The balance of Scripture, as we teach the Scriptures. The Spirit of God applies the Word of God if we will trust it—in golfing terms, if we’ll let the clubhead do the work. Now, don’t cast it from the top. Wait on it. Let the clubhead hit the ball. Just get it square at impact. That’s all you need to do. Don’t get focused on your backswing—whether people think you look great or look bad or don’t look anything at all. Just let the clubhead do the work. Let the lion out, to mix the metaphors.

And how should this be done? Well, look at this: “with complete patience and teaching.” Or as J. B. Phillips paraphrases it, “using the utmost patience in your teaching.” Or here in the NIV, “with great patience and careful instruction.” And I think worst of all here in the [ESV], “with complete patience.” What a daunting, uncomfortable adjective—namely, “complete.” Why couldn’t it read “with a wee bit of patience”? Why couldn’t it be “Teach the Bible, being intermittently patient, such as you find it suitable”—you know, something along those lines? But no, it doesn’t do that at all. It says, “You’re gonna have to do this with complete patience.” Think about it: that’s the parable of the sower. “A sower went forth to sow; and when he sowed, some seed fell here, there, and everywhere.” And what does it look like? It looks like nothing’s happening! In fact, in the vast majority of cases, nothing is apparently happening. “But some seed fell on…”[22] Now, unless we’re prepared to stay the course and labor over a period of time, we probably will be gone off to territories new out of a sense of discouragement that we have not seen “anything happen.” It’s the call to complete patience.

When I read this adjective again in the last few weeks, because we’ve been studying Timothy together, it brought for me an unhappy flashback. I don’t tell it because I’m proud of it. I tell it to my shame, but I tell it in order to make the point.

I take you to a summer evening way, way back in the ’70s, early ’80s—maybe ’81—in a park in suburban Glasgow. And my son, who has been given a bicycle as a gift, has been riding it with stabilizers—training wheels. And he has expressed a desire to ride his bicycle without the training wheels. And I shared his desire. So we left his mum behind and went to the park, and we were gonna have a wonderful evening together whereby he was gonna come home to tell his mom that he no longer needed the stabilizers. But I tell you, it is an unhappy flashback. It’s not because I was unmotivated. It’s not because the objective wasn’t clear and wasn’t good. But it’s because I lost my temper. I lost my temper with him at his inability to do what seemed so straightforward to do: “Keep pedaling! That’s all I’m asking you to do.” And he kept stopping, and every time you stop, you fall on your side. And it was a horrible evening. It ended poorly. In fact, I feel so badly about it that I don’t ever want to ask him if he remembers. And I haven’t asked him if he remembers. And I don’t want you asking him if he remembers, either.

But then I said to myself, “What’s much worse is, in the last thirty-two years at Parkside Church, how many times have I inhibited or marred the effective impact of the instruction of the Word of God by my own impatience, by losing my temper?”

Jim Boice, before he died, he used to say to people—especially young men, as I was then, relatively speaking—he says, “You know, you overestimate what you can accomplish in a year, and you underestimate what you can accomplish in five years.” Iain Murray, in the second volume of Lloyd-Jones, quotes William M. Taylor as he observes, “A young minister is prone to try to attain by one jump the height to which others have reached ‘by a long series of single steps in the labour of a quarter of a century.’”[23]

So, since we are to have “complete patience,” I ought not to test your patience, so let me recap and end in this way: It is God’s Word we are to preach—nothing more, nothing less. We’re to do it when the wind is with us and when all occasions do inform against us. Again, the manner in which we do this, to quote from the Public Directory of Worship, but without elaboration… I just went to this this afternoon. I said to myself—this morning, actually—I said, “I wonder if it says anything about this.” And I found it: “The servant of Christ, whatever his method be, is to perform his whole ministry,” number one, “painfully, not doing the work of the Lord negligently”; two, “plainly, [so] that the [simplest] may understand”; three, “faithfully, looking [to] the honour of Christ” and “the conversion” of men and women; four, “wisely, framing all his doctrines, [and] exhortations, and especially his reproofs, in such a manner as may be most likely to prevail”; fifth, “gravely, as becometh the word of God”; sixth, “with loving affection”; and seven, “as taught [by] God, and persuaded in his own heart.”[24]

Those whom the Lord calls, he equips. And yet he expects us to do our very best.

This charge is solemn, it’s simple, it’s searching. And although I’m not a melancholic person by disposition, I understand this quote from Richard Baxter, which I will use to close. Do you remember this from Baxter? He says,

I seldom come out of the pulpit, but my conscience smiteth me that I[’ve not] been … more serious and fervent in such a case. It accuseth me not so much for want of ornaments or elegancy, nor for letting fall an unhandsome word; but it asketh me, “How couldst thou speak of life and death with such a heart? How couldst thou preach of heaven and hell in such a careless, sleepy manner? Dost thou believe what thou [suggests]? Art thou in earnest or in jest? … Shouldst thou not weep over such a people, and should[st] not [your] tears interrupt [your] words? …’ Truly, this is the peal that conscience doth ring in my ears …! O [Lord,] do that on our own souls which thou wouldst use us to do on the souls of others![25]

Unless we want just to go and find a big stone and crawl under it as we find ourselves saying, “Well, who then, really, is sufficient for these things?”—remember how Paul always introduces his imperatives on the strength of his indicatives and what is true and what is a reality. And so, before ever he has got to this, he’s said, “You, then, my [son], … strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus…”[26] And that’s as true for us all day and every day. Those whom the Lord calls, he equips. And yet he expects us to do our very best.

Well, we finished on time. I’m pleased about that. Let’s just pause for a moment of prayer, then we’ll sing a song:

O Lord, we thank you that even in this context—and it’s such a warm place—that your Word accomplishes its purposes. It never fails. And so our confidence, then, is in this: that as we think about this conference—the beginning of it—as we think about all that we’re about to hear and learn, that you will remind us of the immense privilege to which you have called us, so that as we benefit from the instruction we receive, that we might be able to affirm again and again your faithfulness from one generation to another, from the grandmother to the mother to Timothy, from Paul to Timothy, from Timothy to faithful men, from faithful men to others also.[27] We rest in this, Lord, and we pledge ourselves afresh this afternoon to take our part in the continuum of salvation, to do whatever you’ve asked us to do. And help us to do it to your glory, we pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] See 1 Corinthians 2:11.

[2] Psalm 139:2, 4, 6, 16 (paraphrased).

[3] See 1 Corinthians 2:9.

[4] See Ephesians 2:10.

[5] See Psalm 55:22.

[6] Christopher Ash, The Priority of Preaching (Fearn, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2010), 11–12.

[7] D. M. Lloyd-Jones, What Is an Evangelical? (1992; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2016), 13–22.

[8] Lloyd-Jones, 16.

[9] Lloyd-Jones, 16–17.

[10] Lloyd-Jones, 90–92. Paraphrased.

[11] J. I. Packer, The Evangelical Anglican Identity Problem: An Analysis (Oxford: Latimer House, 1978), quoted in John Stott, Evangelical Truth: A Personal Plea for Unity, Integrity and Faithfulness (1999; repr., Carlisle, UK: 2013), 9.

[12] See Jude 1:3.

[13] 2 Peter 1:12, 15 (paraphrased).

[14] 1 Corinthians 4:17 (ESV).

[15] 1 Timothy 4:16 (paraphrased).

[16] 1 Timothy 1:18–20 (ESV).

[17] 2 Timothy 1:6 (paraphrased).

[18] Robert Murray M’Cheyne, “When This Passing World Is Done” (1837). Lyrics lightly altered.

[19] Hebrews 13:17 (paraphrased).

[20] Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, ed. Leslie F. Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1961), 1897.

[21] C. H. Spurgeon, “Christ and His Co-Workers,” The Metropolitan Pulpit 42, no. 2467, 256.

[22] See Matthew 13:3–8; Mark 4:3–8; Luke 8:5–8.

[23] William M. Taylor, The Ministry of the Word (New York, 1876), 4, quoted in Iain Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, vol. 2, The Fight of Faith: 1939–1981 (1990; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2004), 458. Murray’s quotation of Taylor differs slightly from Taylor’s original.

[24] “Of the Preaching of the Word,” The Directory for Public Worship.

[25] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, 4th ed. (Glasgow: William Collins, 1835), 294–95.

[26] 2 Timothy 2:1 (ESV).

[27] See 2 Timothy 2:2.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.