The Legacy of the Gospel
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The Legacy of the Gospel

With every day that passes, we leave behind a legacy. As Alistair Begg explains, Paul desired to see Timothy uphold the legacy of the Gospel by resisting the sinful consensus of his day. Urging Timothy to be man of conviction in a world of many voices, Paul reminded him that standing for truth often leads to suffering. God’s Word, however, shows us that the demands of discipleship pale in comparison to the prize of Christ.

Series Containing This Sermon

Useful to the Master

2 Timothy 1:1–18, 2 Timothy 2:1–26, 2 Timothy 3:1–17, 2 Timothy 4:1–22 Series ID: 15501

Sermon Transcript: Print

Well, it is in that spirit of prayer that we turn again to 2 Timothy this morning and resume our studies at the fifteenth verse of the first chapter.

Just a wee word of reminder: Timothy was converted during the time of Paul’s visit to Lystra—that’s recorded in Acts 16. He became Paul’s special protégé, and despite the fact that he was comparatively young, he was physically frail and naturally timid, he had been entrusted with the responsibilities of pastoral care for the church in Ephesus. And it is in that environment that Paul writes to him what is his swan song under the shadow of death, concerned that the torch of the gospel will be passed with great care into the hands not only of Timothy, but of subsequent generations.

And as we concluded yesterday morning in verses 13 and 14, we were noting Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to “keep … the pattern” which he had received and to “guard the good deposit.” And the urgency of the need for this is underscored by the reminder that comes in verse 15 of those who had defected in the province of Asia. Now, if you remember in Acts at all, you may recall in Acts 19 that Luke says there was a great awakening in Asia and that everybody, he says, heard the news and many of them believed.[1] And now within a relatively short period of time there is a wholesale sellout on the part of these same people in Asia. Those who had heard the Word of God, those who had listened to it, had now departed from it. And that’s the reason why Moule, as I mentioned yesterday morning, says in his commentary, “To every eye but that of faith it must have appeared just then as if the Gospel were on the eve of extinction.”[2] The letter does not come at a time of great encouragement; it comes at a time of great confusion. People are unsure as to what it is they believe—there is doctrinal confusion. They’re unsure as to how they should behave—there is moral confusion.

Phygelus, Hermogenes, and Onesiphorus

And somehow or another, in the midst of all of these nameless people, “Phygelus and Hermogenes” rise to the top of the list. Whether they were the ringleaders or not we can’t say with certainty, but nevertheless they were known enough to gain mention by Paul in the writing of this letter. What a sad thing it would be to have only one line in the Bible where your name appears, and against that the indication that you were deserters! We’re all of us leaving a legacy. Every day that we live our lives we are establishing for good or ill certain recollections that our children and our friends and our neighbors and loved ones will have of us. We are, to one degree or another, building a reputation. We are making a name for ourselves. And it is a salutary thought to consider if you or I were only to be given one line in the record of Holy Scripture, what would they put against your name or mine in reference to the contribution that we have to this point made to the kingdom? Most of us, I don’t think, come up with glowing reports for ourselves. And the best we can hope for is that on our tombstone someone will say something nice about us. Isn’t it a shame that you have to wait till you die before people say nice things about you? It’s amazing, they criticize the pastor for years, and then when he leaves, in his farewell they tell him all the things they really loved about him. Well, if they told him that while he was there, he might have stayed a wee while longer.

Mental cleverness may live on in the printed page. Eloquence, I can guarantee you, will be quickly forgotten. But genuine kindness will live on in the hearts of men and women for many a generation.

And the fact is that we’re most of us only immortalized in a line or two on a tombstone. I like to read tombstones. I spent part of Friday evening in a graveyard. You might think that’s strange—I know my children think it is—but I was in St. Peter’s Church in Addingham outside of Ilkley, and I was looking for statements that would tell me something about those who had gone on, and they actually tell you a wee bit about those who have stayed behind. I didn’t find anything particularly striking. My favorite is one from a Scottish tombstone, which read as follows: “Interred beneath this kirkyard stane lies stingy Jimmy Wyatt, who died one morning just at ten, and saved a dinner by it.” Now, nobody would be in any doubt at all as to the nature of this character. He has left his legacy, and so have Phygelus and Hermogenes.

Now, in contrast to the desertion of these characters and their cohorts we have recorded for us the devotion of this individual Onesiphorus—at least that’s, I think, how you say his name. It sounds like something from the periodic table of the elements, which I never really knew much about. Or I suppose you could pronounce him “One-sip-horus”; that may register him in your mind in an unhelpful way. In actual fact his name means “the bringer of profit,” or, if you like, colloquially, “the refresher.” And you can see how well he lived up to his name, because he was profitable to the apostle. And indeed, that’s why he merits the record here that is given of him. “He often refreshed me,” he says in verse 16; “[He wasn’t] ashamed of my chains.… He searched hard for me until he found me … [and] he helped me in Ephesus [in all kinds of ways].”[3] And consequently it is of worth to Paul to mention him not only in order that he might revere his memory and reflect upon him and pray for him and his household, but also that this might be a stimulus to Timothy as a young man. Surrounded by so many who were defecting, Paul reminds him of one who was devoted. And the inference is clearly, “Don’t go with the crowd with Phygelus and Hermogenes, but follow in the track of this lovely man Onesiphorus. He refreshed me.”

Now, I didn’t go to check—I haven’t done my research properly—but I recall that there were sweets here called Refreshers. I don’t know if they’re still on the go. If there are, thank you for thinking about getting me a packet, but it’s okay. But I remember them. They were supposed to jazz up your mouth. And this was the impact of this man. He refreshed him; he made an impact for good.

There are individuals who sap our energies. Even when we think the best of them, that’s the truth. You can see them coming from a long way in the distance, and at your best, on your best morning, you find yourself saying, “Oh no, here we go again.” And if you don’t feel that way then I’m sorry for impugning your motives and I confess to you freely my own sins. There are other people, however, who when they come bring with them the prospect of energizing us and bring to our lives and to our ministries just that word of encouragement or that spirit of refreshment, and consequently we’re so grateful for them. If I may say—helpfully, I hope—we’re not really, in the Christian pilgrimage, in need of any more smarties, but we are in need of a few more refreshers. The people who write you letters taking apart this piece of the sermon and that piece of the sermon and introducing you to things you never even knew yourself think somehow to refresh you, but in actual fact they’re just smarties—smarty pants—and we don’t need anymore. But a few more refreshers would be good.

Are you a refresher? Or are you just a smarty? Mental cleverness may live on in the printed page; eloquence, I can guarantee you, will be quickly forgotten; but genuine kindness will live on in the hearts of men and women for many a generation.

I remember (and I was thinking of it as I prepared just this morning) in the course of visitation in Edinburgh visiting in various elderly people’s places—nursing homes, etc.—and one out on the road to Corstorphine; I used to go and visit a number of people there, and one was a little man by the name of Mr. Blair. He lived a long time. And some days when I would go to see him I will have missed him, and so I would take the opportunity to speak to others, some who were perhaps his immediate friends, and others who were acquaintances. But I remember the one thing that everybody said of Mr. Blair—an unsolicited testimonial, the phrase was always the same: “Oh, Mr. Blair. He’s such a good man.” It was his goodness which stood out—not his eloquence, not his striking giftedness, not the forcefulness of his personality, but the impact of his goodness.

When Paul writes to Titus he says, “[Jesus Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”[4] And Onesiphorus had obviously grabbed hold of this and had been just that kind of person to the apostle Paul. And consequently, Paul prays for him at the beginning of verse 16, and he prays for his household later on,[5] that they might be the beneficiaries of God’s mercy, and that he might “find mercy,” in verse 18, “from the Lord on that day!” “It is [because] of the Lord’s [mercy] that we are not consumed.”[6]

Gospel Conviction in a Sea of Consensus

Now, from there he then returns to exhort his young lieutenant in the faith. Back to this issue of Timothy: “Come on now, Timothy,” he says, “You then…” This is one of a number of “But you…” or “You, therefore…” phrases which run throughout the Pastoral Epistles as Paul describes the circumstance that is around and he calls Timothy to live in contrast to the prevailing consensus of his day. And he’s essentially picking up what he had dealt with in verses 13 and 14, and he is urging Timothy to be a man of conviction even though the consensus view may be overwhelmingly against him. In other words, “Be a man of conviction in a sea of consensus.”

This is the great longing in the realm of politics, is it not? People would like to hear somebody with conviction, even if their convictions are wrong! It would just be refreshing to hear somebody say what they actually believed for a moment or two, even if we disagree with them, rather than the constant political licking of the fingers to find the way in which the wind is blowing in order that we might move again in that direction.

There’s a wonderful story in The Downing Street Years, in the first volume of Margaret Thatcher’s biography, where, when she attends the first—I think it is, by memory—the first European Economic Summit, she determined that it was imperative to get on the docket the discussion of Britain’s financial contribution to the EEC, which she believed to be far higher than it ought to be. The details are largely irrelevant, but I recall them for your benediction. And she was told that if she did not raise the issue before the business of the day was concluded then it would not be able to be prepared for discussion on the following morning; therefore, it was imperative that she raise the matter before close of business that day. She was the only lady amongst men, she was there for her very first time. And she mentioned at lunch in a stroll in the gardens to the French prime minister that she had it in her mind to raise the question of Britain’s contribution to the EEC. “Oh yes,” he said deferentially, “I’m sure we’ll get to that.” Apparently, he had no intention of doing so.

It is imperative that the gospel be passed like a baton in a relay race safely into the hands of those who will hold it tightly, proclaim it boldly, and suffer for it bravely.

And as the business of the afternoon wound down to the early evening hours, and as the smell—“the odors,” I should say; “the fragrance” is the best—the fragrance began to emerge from the kitchens around and the prospect of dinner loomed, the French prime minister, who was chairing the events, looked at his watch, looked at the group, and said, “Well, time has gone on. I do think it’s important that we wrap this up. And dinner is beckoning; I’m sure that you can sense it. And if nobody has any other thing to say, then I suggest we just adjourn.” And she said, “Yes, I do have something to say.” And, of course, he didn’t like that, but she said, “We need to discuss the matter of the EEC contribution.” And, of course, everybody was ticked, and everybody wanted to go to dinner, and everybody agreed to put it on the docket for the morning. And as the group exited the room, one foreign aide was heard to remark to an aide of another country, “Britain is back.”[7]

Now, don’t start getting all nationalistic on me. It just happens to be a political illustration, but it is an illustration of conviction in a sea of consensus. It is the spirit of Caleb when he returns as one of twelve from the surveying of the land, and ten of the twelve “[make] the hearts of the people [sink]”[8] as a result of what they have to share, and Caleb records in Joshua 14:7, “And I brought him back a report according to my convictions.” “Right or wrong,” he says, “these are my convictions. Yes there are giants, and yes there are grapes which fall in clusters, and yes there are all these things. And it is my conviction that by God’s enabling we can certainly go up and take the land.” And Moses said, “I like this Caleb, and I’m glad to hear from you, Joshua. And the other ten of you, you sit down over here, and I’ll talk to you in a minute or two.”

That is the spirit that Paul is calling Timothy to—timid Timothy, the most unlikely fellow for such a challenge. “Come on, Timothy,” he says, “be strong.” You might as well tell a snail to fly as tell a character like this to be strong. How is he going to take the stand necessary, in a context where the prevailing drift is in the opposite direction? Well, you see, the wonderful balance of Scripture is there: “You then, my son, be strong.” How? “In the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” The activity that is demanded is more than matched by the grace that is provided. It was God’s grace that had redeemed Timothy, he had been saved by grace, he had been called into service, and he was going to be able to exercise his continued service as a result of God’s grace to him.

And of course, the issue here is not with the reception of the gospel, but it is with the transmission of the gospel. And it is imperative, as we will note, that the gospel be passed like a baton in a relay race safely into the hands of those who will hold it tightly, proclaim it boldly, and suffer for it bravely.

What is it that is to be passed on? Well, you’ll see there in verse 2: “the things [you’ve] heard me say in the presence of many witnesses.” I don’t think this is a reference to one instance in which Timothy heard Paul say something, but rather it is simply a summary statement of all that Timothy had been on the receiving end of as he had ministered and walked and talked with Paul through the course of these past years. And he had understood, as Paul had made so perfectly clear, that the gospel that Paul was conveying was not a gospel that he had concocted, nor that anyone else had, for that matter. Indeed, he makes it perfectly plain when he writes to the Galatians of his concern about their defection from the gospel that they must understand the nature of this gospel. And he says in Galatians 1:11, “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached [to you] is not something that [men] made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”[9] “Therefore, Timothy, it is imperative that what you convey is that which I have received from Christ by revelation. And you heard me say it, and you understood it; it’s a beautiful deposit, it’s a good model, it’s the real pattern, it’s not to be tampered with, it’s not to be diluted, it’s not to be disfigured, it’s not to be fiddled with in any way. Just do what I’m asking you and pass it on.”

I don’t like giving people my mail. I don’t even like giving my wife my mail. I don’t like giving my children my mail. I guess I’m a control freak. But I like putting it in that box myself. At least I know it went in there. It’s so important, especially if it’s an important letter. Maybe there’s someone I would give it to, I just don’t know who it is. But Paul says, “Now, we’ve got good news to pass on. Timothy, you’re my man. I’m giving this to you. You’ve heard me say it in the presence of many witnesses. I received it from Christ. It’s not some secretive thing. It’s not some special information for the initiates. It’s not like some kind of gnostic heresy,” which was moving around. “No, we’ve declared this,” he says, “out in the open. There’s lots of people who were witnesses to what has been said.” It’s a reminder to us that that is the continual work of the gospel, in contrast to cultish activity: that we are able to declare the gospel. There’s nothing secretive about it. We’re prepared to do it openly and, I trust, boldly. We’ll let the whole world know what we believe. We’ll say it in the high street, we’ll seize the opportunity in the media, we’ll preach it from the rooftops. As [Billy Bray] said, “If you put me in a barrel, I’ll shout ‘Glory to God!’ out of the bunghole.”[10] We’ll do everything we can to let the whole world know. That’s our commission.

Unlike Scientology, for example. I suppose they’re here; I know they’re in Germany, I read the newspapers. They’re certainly in America. And you find these places on the high streets, but you never know what’s going on inside. You never know what’s going on inside when you see that palm, and you’re supposed to come in and find out about the rest of your life. It’s not open. It’s not “in the presence of many witnesses.” It has all the features of “‘Come into my parlor,’ said the spider to the fly.”[11] But not the gospel! “Let the whole world know,” he says. “I declared it to you in the presence of many witnesses.”

Now, from Christ to Paul, from Paul to Timothy, and from Timothy—and I think this is the real apostolic succession—from Timothy to “reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” What are these men to do? They are “to teach.” In other words, they are to be teachers of the Word. They’re to be like the elders of Israel, ensuring that the truth of God is preserved in its entirety and conveyed in all of its authority.

I want to pay careful attention to the exhortation of Paul in 1 Timothy, where he describes those who have an unhealthy interest in controversy. I certainly don’t want to be one of those individuals, but I do want to say to you this morning that in light of Paul’s prior statement in his first letter and in 2:12, I believe it is in keeping with the biblical pattern that the role to which he refers here in 2 Timothy 2:2 is a role that is given uniquely to men—not just any men, but faithful men. And without prejudice in any way at all, and with gratitude to God for all of our sisters in Christ and all of the ministry that God entrusted to them, I want to say this morning on the authority of God’s Word that it is surely long past time for men to stand up and be counted; for men to stand in the place of responsibility and opportunity; for reliable men, who are able men, who are qualified men. And all of that enabling, and all of that reliability, and all of that qualifying comes from God himself.

Jesus looks us in the eyes and says, ‘You’re all mine.’

The reason that there is such an indifference towards preaching is largely because there is so much bad preaching. That some poor souls have stumbled up against a pulpit is a sadness to all concerned. “Oh, he’s a lovely man,” they say, “and he’s a nice pastor.” Well, that’s good. Why don’t you let him just pastor, and get somebody else to teach who’s able, who’s qualified? Maybe he’s not good; maybe he doesn’t like that. And everyone’s sitting there looking for tapes and books to try and feed their souls. Why? ’Cause we’re not paying attention to what the Bible says. You don’t just send anybody into battle. You don’t just send anyone up to fly the aeroplane. You don’t just give anybody the responsibility of performing cardiac surgery. So why would you just throw anybody into the task of ensuring that the gospel is faithfully transmitted from one generation to another?

That’s the challenge. It was the challenge then; I believe it is the challenge today. Says [E. K. Simpson] in his commentary, “The torch of heavenly light must be transmitted unquenched from one generation to another.”[12] And that will take—in these grievous times, as we’ll come to in chapter 3, God willing—in these perilous times, men of the caliber of Knox. They threw stools at him—ladies did, that is. Wee Jenny was good with her stool, apparently. But it was said of Knox that “he feared the face of God so much that he never feared the face of any man.”[13] Athanasius—they came to him and they said, “Athanasius, the whole world is against you.” “Then,” said Athanasius, “I am against the whole world.”[14]

We bear the torch that flaming
Fell from the hands of those
Who gave their lives proclaiming
That Jesus died and rose;
[And] ours is the same commission,
[And] the same glad message ours;
[And] fired by the same ambition,
To [Thee, O God], we yield our pow’rs.[15]

Look at that beautiful scene at the Old Course and the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse. And virtually every photograph of it contains the monument to its right as you look at it. And once in a while my American friends ask me, “What’s that old stone there to the right of the clubhouse?” And then I tell them about the Covenanters, and I tell them about the heritage of people who gave their lives believing that Jesus died and rose.

Loved ones, thirty years prior to this people could never have imagined the extent of the defection that is present in the framework of conservative evangelicalism in relation to stuff that was then regarded as central and has now become regarded as peripheral. Of course, if we are right now, then we were wrong then. But we were not right both times. You’re sensible people; you’ve got to work this out as you read your Bibles.

A Soldier, an Athlete, and a Farmer

Now, this man-sized task is then underscored by the pictures that he employs. “Good soldier,” he says: “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of [Jesus Christ].”[16] Total commitment, total concentration.

I’ve never been a soldier. I would like to have been a soldier. The closest I came to it was Stirling Castle Esplanade, when there still were soldiers there; used to go up there sometimes on bank holiday weekends and march alongside on the cobbles while the soldiers marched on the Esplanade. And I imagined myself to be a soldier, but I wasn’t one, and I’m not sure I would have been a very good one. I just attended the induction of twelve hundred young people at a US military academy, and the commanding officer made it perfectly clear to these young folks about the hardship they would face and of the focus they would require. And they’d all had their heads shaved, and they all looked immaculate, and they all looked scared to death. And I stood on the sideline, I said, “My, I’m glad I’m up here and I’m not out there.” And of the twelve hundred that began, and they were there three weeks ago, some of the officers told me that by the time they reach the end of the summer there will be somewhere around nine hundred of them left. Three hundred will already have gone home, and only nine hundred will continue. Why? Because they can’t take the commitment and they’re not prepared to make the concentrated focus.

My father tells the story against himself of receiving his call-up papers at the Second World War. And he was called to report to Maryhill Barracks. And he reported to Maryhill Barracks in Glasgow, and they did whatever they do to ’em—probably gave him a good haircut, although that was not particularly necessary in his case; maybe a spit and polish. And he tells how sometime around four-thirty in the afternoon he was making his way back out of the gates of Maryhill Barracks when a sergeant shouted to him, “Hello! Where do you think you’re going?” My father turned round, he said, “I’m going home to my house for my tea.” And I’m not sure just how kindly the sergeant was, but he made it perfectly plain that since he put that uniform on, and since he signed that sheet, and since he took that responsibility, he’d go home for his tea when he told him, and if he never went home for his tea again that’d be tough, ’cause he was in the army now. He looked him in the eyes and he said, essentially, “You’re mine. You’re all mine.”

That’s what Jesus does: looks us in the eyes and says, “You’re all mine.” “Don’t get entangled with civilian pursuits. Be at the same time like a disciplined athlete.”[17] In Paul’s day there were strict rules not only for competing but also for preparing to compete. If you didn’t compete according to the rules you were flunked; if you did not train according to the rules you couldn’t even compete. Consequently, there would never be a moment when an athlete would stand triumphant on the dais unless he had competed according to the rules. Those of you who remember the short-lived victory—pronounced victory—of Ben Johnson in the 1988 Olympics will have a classic illustration of that. For a moment it appeared that he had outstripped all of the field and he had run to victory, but eventually they stripped him of his gold. Why? Because he had not competed according to the rules. The rules of entry and of competing are external, and they complement the internal discipline that marks out an athlete. You see them: they go to bed early, they eat their food with great care, they have an exercise regimen, they are driven by something inside of them that is consumed with the prospect of finishing the race and breasting the tape and receiving the crown.

Paul says, “Now, Timothy, let these things be in your focus. Submit to your commanding officer, get crouched down and ready for the fire of the pistol, and run the straight race, through God’s good grace. But remember that you must do so according to the rules.” This is not particularly acceptable in our day either, I don’t think. In our lawless generation we have still to reaffirm the fact that the Christian is under obligation to keep the rules, to obey God’s moral law. Not that by our law-abiding we are justified—we know that—but without our law-abiding we give no evidence of having been justified.

A good soldier, a disciplined athlete, a “hardworking farmer.”[18] Some of you are here as farmers, and you’ve left behind you all kinds of responsibilities. And hopefully someone’s caring for it. Farmers work while others are still asleep, and farmers can be seen on those combines still working long past the time that others have decided they’re going to go to sleep again. Farmers know that there are no quick results. Farmers know that patience is vital. Farmers know that they will only enjoy that which is as a result of their disciplined commitment to their responsibility.

Lazy men will never experience this. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.”[19] Solomon in Proverbs: “A lazy man does not plow in season, so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.”[20] Where did we get this notion that somehow or another we’re going to be spiritually useful—we’re going to be “useful to the Master,”[21] in Paul’s rendition to Timothy here—without the emphasis on a serious commitment of disciplined living in the framework of Christian life? We’re breeding… apparently, it’s Generation X. I don’t call it Generation X; I call it Generation Shrug. You ask people, “How are you?”—maybe this is just in America—they go, “Huh.” “Did you enjoy that?” “Huh.” “Are you excited about your holidays?” “Huh.” “Would you quit doing that for once?” (You say, “Well, you’re very hard. You obviously don’t have teenagers.” I have a nineteen-year-old, a seventeen-year-old, and a fifteen-year-old.)

There is no dungeon deep enough and there are no bars strong enough to contain the Word of God.

We are breeding a generation that are experts in unfinished business. They don’t finish their vegetables, they don’t finish cleaning their room, they don’t finish their homework, and the chances are they won’t finish their marriages. And I love to tell young people, “You finish those few Rice Krispies at the bottom of the bowl. Don’t leave them slurping around there. Get that finished!” And they say, “Why?” and I say, “Because you might not finish your marriage if you don’t.” They’re like, “Where in the world did that come from? That is the greatest non sequitur of all time, you know.” That may well be. But nobody harvests souls or holiness without an all-pervasive diligence.

I was recently at a very, very well-known Christian college in the United States, and in the course of speaking I said, “How many of you know J. C. Ryle’s book Holiness?” I was just met by two and a half thousand blank stares. And I said, “How many of you know J. C. Ryle?” Equally blank. “How many of you know anything about holiness?”—you know, trying to find something. But the fact of the matter is, there is a great need here. Listen to Ryle: “I will never shrink…”—this is page 21 of Holiness—“I will never shrink from declaring my belief that there are no ‘spiritual gains without pains.’ I should as soon expect a farmer to prosper in business who contented himself with sowing his fields and never looking at them [until] harvest, as expect a believer to attain much holiness who was not diligent about [their] Bible-reading, [their] prayers, and [their] use of [a Sunday].” We won’t go down that road, alright? “Our God is a God who works by means, and He will never bless the soul of that [individual] who pretends to be so high and spiritual that he can get on without them.”[22]

Small wonder, then, that in the seventh verse Paul suggests that Timothy takes a breather, that he reflects on this, that he gives due consideration to his illustrations, and he says, “[God] the Lord will give you insight into all [of] this.” That’s the key to the reading of the Bible and the understanding of the Bible: our commitment to consideration and our dependence on the Lord for illumination. It is both, it is not either-or. The people who read their Bibles like a kind of treasure trove, a promise book, dip in and pull anything out that they think; a “blessed thought,” a funny feeling in their tummy, becomes the direction of their lives—very dangerous, shouldn’t do that. As if somehow or another you were illuminated without the use of your brain! Others are sitting around trying to manufacture their understanding of everything, having forgotten that without the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit all of their study will yield them very little. It is our consideration, it is God’s illumination, and he illumines it as we bring our minds to a consideration of what he has said in his Book.

Suffering for the Gospel

Now, when we come to this eighth verse we are in the final approach for landing, you will be pleased to know. Each of the illustrations that Paul has employed involve a measure of suffering, and I think that is the link with what follows. Because he’s back again in the second half of verse 8 with this matter of suffering. And he begins it by saying, “Remember Jesus Christ.” He is the Suffering Servant. He it is who is “descended from David,” a reminder of his humanity; he it is who is “raised from the dead,” reminding us of his divinity. And the reminder of the Lord Jesus comes not only in Paul’s words to Timothy, but comes throughout all of the New Testament, so that when we’re tempted to avoid pain, when we’re tempted to avoid humiliation and suffering and flinch in the face of death, then we “consider,” as the writer to the Hebrews says, “[he] who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”[23]

Note again the link between the gospel and suffering: “This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal.” You’ll notice “like,” not “as.” He’s not being chained as a criminal. He hasn’t been selling non-existent timeshare apartments, you see. He hasn’t been bilking women of their money. He hasn’t developed a 1-800 number scam where he fleeces people of their resources. No, he has been chained like a criminal, but he hasn’t been chained as a criminal. But there is no dungeon, he says, that is deep enough, there are no bars that are strong enough to contain the Word of God. Don’t you love that sentence there at the end of verse 9? “But God’s word is not chained.” It’s good. We should tattoo that on something, I think: “God’s word is not chained.” “Spurgeon, how do you defend it?” “I don’t defend it. I would as soon defend a lion. What do you do with a lion? You let it out the cage.”[24] What do you do with the Word of God? Let it out. “God’s Word is not chained.”

When he writes to the church at Philippi he reminds them in this very same vein that “what has happened to [him] has … served to advance the gospel.”[25] He’s chained to a soldier, and then the soldier does his eight hours and goes away, and he’s chained to another soldier. And everyone that comes, he must have said to them, “Ah, good afternoon, Levi. Glad to meet you. You ever heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?” I’m sure he wouldn’t have said that. But he may well have seized the opportunity to tell him why it was that he was chained up. And he says, “What has happened to me has … advance[d] the gospel.”

“The grass withers … the flowers fall, but the word of [the Lord] stands forever.”[26] And this, I think, is something that we need to have the Holy Spirit affirm in our thinking again and again. We’re at the end of arguably a quarter of a century in which the Word of God and all of its authority has been significantly undermined, not least of all in the hearts of God’s people. And if Paul in writing to Timothy affirms anything, he certainly affirms the absolute sufficiency and authority of the Word of God, upon which this whole convention finds its foundation.

Andrew Melville, who was an early herald of the Scottish Reformation, was on one occasion denounced by a man by the name of Regent Morton, who suggested publicly that if a few of Melville’s type were to be hanged, that that would silence their proclamation of the gospel once and for all. And Melville looked the regent in the eye and he said, “It is the same to me whether I rot in the air or in the ground. The earth is the Lord’s. My fatherland is wherever well-doing is. I’ve been ready to give my life when it was not half as well-worn at the pleasure of my God. Yet God be glorified, it will not lie in your power to hang or exile this truth.”[27]

If Jesus Christ is worth serving, he is worth serving well.

According to verse 10 Paul recognized that his sufferings had an evangelistic purpose: “I endure everything,” he says, “for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.” In other words, his life and his preaching and his writing and his suffering were the means whereby God was redeeming for himself a people that are his very own. And what an encouragement it must have been to Timothy as a young man to have this seasoned campaigner—distanced from him, under the shadow of execution—not whining and groaning and complaining, not writing about the glory days back in Lystra, not saying, “Oh, Timothy, you should have been around in the early days when it was really going well, you know, when everybody in Asia was hearing, and everybody in Asia was believing, and now look, everybody in Asia is deserting, and I’m a miserable soul down here in this dungeon.” “No,” he says, “come on! I’m chained, but the Word isn’t chained. People are defecting, but there’s always souls like Onesiphorus. Timothy, get up in the morning and pledge yourself to be a soldier and an athlete and a farmer,” and as we will see, “a student of the Word.”

And then he says, “Let me finish by quoting a hymn.” You say, “Where’d you get that from?” Well, it’s the fifth of a number of “trustworthy sayings.” Every preacher knows that when everything’s running away from you, you should quote a hymn, you know. And so Paul quotes a hymn: a bit of hymn, bits and pieces of a hymn, well known, and our dying thoughts—I mean, our thoughts in these dying moments.

Notice: “Here,” he says, “is this trustworthy saying: ‘In dying to ourselves, we live with him.’”[28] Jesus said, “Whoever loses his life for [my sake] will find it.”[29] “In enduring, we look forward to the prospect of reigning with him. If we disown him, he will disown us; and if we’re faithless, he will remain faithful.”[30]

Now, there is some question as to whether John Stott is right in suggesting that here in this final phrase in verse 13 we have a word of warning, in that faithfulness on the part of God means the faithfulness which he exerts in the carrying out of his threats.[31] So therefore, if he promises to do something—namely, to banish the wicked[32]—faithfulness on the part of God will be to banish the wicked. If he promises that in our denial of him before men we will be denied before the Father, then faithfulness on his part will be to remain true to the promise that he has made. And Stott in his commentary says, “I believe that that is what is being said here. It is a word of warning.” George Knight III takes the exact opposite position and suggests that what we have here is a word of encouragement à la the predicament of the Prodigal Son,[33] who, having made a hash of it, returns up the road and is welcomed by the faithfulness of his father despite the faithlessness of his journey.[34]

So, what are we to say? What can we say with confidence? With confidence we can affirm that God cannot disown himself; that God will not, cannot, does not act contrary to his will; that his omnipotence is such that he can do anything he chooses to do, but he chooses only to do what is good and only to act according to the perfection of his character and his will. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”[35]

So we began with the faithlessness of Phygelus and Hermogenes. We conclude with a reminder of the faithfulness of God. In between we’ve pondered the sufferings of Paul, a call to disciplined endurance, a call to suffer for the gospel.

Whoever conceived of this Christianity that was all smiles and strolls? People with empty heads and closed Bibles, I fear. Because you read your Bible and you realize that to live for Christ is both demanding and rewarding. And it must have been in the consideration of these things, I think—especially when you recognize that Jim Elliot had written in his diary that he wanted to be graduating from Wheaton College with the “AUG,” you remember, of 2 Timothy 2:15, “approved unto God”—and maybe it was in a consideration of the call to be this kind of soldier and athlete and farmer that he wrote in his diary one evening before going to bed, “He’s no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”[36] “If we [die] with him, we will also live with him.” Or C. T. Studd turning his back on all that represented security to him and heading out in the firm conviction, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice that I could ever make for him could ever be too great”[37]—the fundamental conviction that if Jesus Christ is worth serving, he is worth serving well.

Father, grant, then, that we might serve you; that the Spirit of God might be our teacher; that “the words of my mouth, and the meditation of [our hearts, may] be acceptable in [your] sight”;[38] that all that is true of you and of your Word may be fastened into the very core of our being, may become part of the fabric of our existence, and that which is extraneous, hypothetical, unaffirmable may be no detriment to our following hard after Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

[1] Acts 19:10 (paraphrased).

[2] H. C. G. Moule, The Second Epistle to Timothy: Short Devotional Studies on the Dying Letter of St. Paul (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1952), 16. Paraphrased.

[3] 2 Timothy 1:16–18 (NIV 1984).

[4] Titus 2:14 (NIV 1984).

[5] See 2 Timothy 4:19.

[6] Lamentations 3:22 (KJV).

[7] Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years (New York: HarperCollins, 1993), 63.

[8] Joshua 14:8 (NIV 1984).

[9] Galatians 1:11–12 (NIV 1984).

[10] Frederick William Bourne, The King’s Son; or, A Memoir of Billy Bray, 6th ed. (London: Bible Christian Book-Room, 1902), 47. Paraphrased.

[11] Mary Howitt, “The Spider and the Fly: A New Version of an Old Story,” in The New Year’s Gift; and Juvenile Souvenir, ed. Alaric Watts (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1829), 49.

[12] E. K. Simpson, The Pastoral Epistles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1954), 130.

[13] Attributed to James Douglas in W. Stanford Reid, Trumpeter of God: A Biography of John Knox (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974), 283. Paraphrased.

[14] Attributed in, for example, C. S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 206. Paraphrased.

[15] Frank Houghton, “Facing a Task Unfinished.”

[16] 2 Timothy 2:3 (NIV 1984).

[17] 2 Timothy 2:4–5 (paraphrased).

[18] 2 Timothy 2:6 (NIV 1984).

[19] Ecclesiastes 11:4 (NIV 1984).

[20] Proverbs 20:4 (paraphrased).

[21] 2 Timothy 2:21 (NIV 1984).

[22] J. C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1952), 21.

[23] Hebrews 12:3 (NIV 1984).

[24] See, for instance, C. H. Spurgeon, “The Bible (Part Second),” in Speeches by C. H. Spurgeon at Home and Abroad (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim, 1974), 17. Paraphrased.

[25] Philippians 1:12 (NIV 1984).

[26] Isaiah 40:8 (NIV 1984).

[27] William Anderson, The Scottish Nation: Or, The Surnames, Families, Literature, Honours, and Biographical History of the People of Scotland, vol. 3 (Glasgow: A. Fullarton, 1877), 141. Paraphrased.

[28] 2 Timothy 2:11 (paraphrased).

[29] Matthew 16:25 (NIV 1984).

[30] 2 Timothy 2:12–13 (paraphrased).

[31] John R. W. Stott, The Message of 2 Timothy: Guard the Gospel (Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 64.

[32] See, for example, Proverbs 14:32.

[33] George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 406–8.

[34] See Luke 15:17–24.

[35] Genesis 18:25 (KJV).

[36] Elisabeth Elliot, ed., The Journals of Jim Elliot (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1978), 174.

[37] Norman Grubb, C. T. Studd: Athlete and Pioneer (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1946), 129. Paraphrased.

[38] Psalm 19:14 (KJV).

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.