Appeals to Faithfulness


2 Timothy 2:1-13


In chapter one Paul has been taking several different approaches in appealing to Timothy to remain faithful not only to Jesus during times of persecution but also to His servant Paul who is suffering for Christ. In 2 Tim. 2:1-13 Paul continues to make these appeals to Timothy. Starting in v. 14 Paul deals with the issue of heretical teachers who are afflicting the churches in Asia and how Timothy should respond to such teachers.

Before going further, I would like to address the topic of whether or not Timothy responded positively to Paul's appeals. In other words, did Timothy respond positively to Paul's message in 2 Timothy by remaining faithful to Christ and Paul, or did he pull back? The tone of the letter suggests a real crisis is facing Timothy. It is not a "gimme" that Timothy is going to respond positively. The fact that Paul has to issue command after command implies that Timothy just might not remain faithful.

Two facts lead me to believe that Timothy faded into the background after Paul's death. First, the tone of 2 Timothy which does not seem all that flattering to Timothy, and second, after the NT was written, we do not hear anything else about Timothy. The next mention of Timothy is found approximately 300 years later in a book called The Acts of Timothy. According to this book, Timothy did rise up to meet the challenge given him by Paul. In fact around 97 AD according to this book Timothy who became Bishop of the church at Ephesus was executed there because he tried to stop the worship of the goddess Diana (Artemis of the Ephesians). This may very well be true; however, it is unlikely that Timothy became a bishop the way this book says he did (these kinds of bishops were a second-century phenomenon, not a first-century one). Moreover, the generation after Paul wrote that John the Beloved Disciple became the great driving force at Ephesus; there is no mention of Timothy. When it is all said and done though, none of this affects the interpretation of 2 Timothy.


Be Faithful by Mentoring the Succeeding Generation (2:1-2)

Paul continues by urging Timothy to "be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2:1). Notice once more that Timothy is not to be strong in his own strength and power; he is to be strong in the grace, the power that comes only from Jesus. Too many times I feel like "I can't do that." There's nothing wrong with that. In fact that's the way it should be. According to Jesus "the flesh profits nothing" (John 6:63). So why should I want to do anything in my own strength and power? It should not be Carey Ford doing anything. It should be Jesus Christ doing it in and through me.

Being faithful to Jesus during times of persecution means that I am to continue to mentor the generation coming up behind me: "And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2:2). I have been so fortunate to have been the recipient of some of the best mentors in the world: Yandal Woodfin who studied under C. S. Lewis at Cambridge, Dr. J. W. MacGorman who received his doctorate from Duke University, James Brooks who received his degree at the feet of some of the greatest men in textual criticism--Bruce Metzger at Princeton and Kilpatrick from Oxford, and last but by no means least, Dr. Robert Sloan, President of Baylor, who studied under 2 of the greatest NT scholars of the 20th century--Marcus Barth and Bo Reicke. The reason Jesus had me mentored was not that I might lavish all these things upon myself. Rather it was that I might be a channel of these things for others.

Christianity is not just for the present generation. It is for future generations also. Too often we focus simply on ourselves and fail to develop the generation coming up behind us. I've seen organizations in churches go under because the people at the top wanted to do it all themselves and refused to train and hand things over to younger people. They may have done it better than the younger people did; however, they ended up killing the organization. I've heard people say, "Oh, I don't do so well with younger generations. I do better with my own generation." These people are most likely only speaking about their own comfort, something Christ has not called us to. For the sake of our own comfort, we destroy the progress of Christianity for the future. All mentoring will cease if we focus only on our own age group.

Appeals from Life Situations (2:3-6)

Next, Paul appeals to Timothy to be faithful to the Lord by drawing parallels with 3 different situations in life: the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. Why does Paul draw parallels with these 3 situations? Because there are elements in the situations of the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer which are found in Christianity as well. There are soldier-like characteristics to the Christian life, just as there are athlete-type characteristics and farmer-like characteristics to the Christian life.

The Soldier (2:3-4)

The first illustration revolves around the soldier. First, the soldier must expect suffering to be a part of his vocation. He must suffer by preparing himself physically through rigorous training and self-discipline. I like the slogan from the Marines which says, "Pain is weakness leaving the body." There are few people in society tougher than the soldier. He got that way through suffering. Moreover, he suffers when under fire. It is laughable whenever a soldier who volunteered for the army refuses to go to Iraq by claiming to be a conscientious objector. Sure being a soldier means you have to suffer; it's part of the equation.

In the same way, the Christian must expect suffering to be a part of his calling to be a Christian. Too often we think of Christianity in terms of health and wealth. It's OK to think of those 2 elements as long as you add the words "bad" and "lack of"--"bad" health and "lack of" wealth. Sometimes the Christian prospers in these areas; however, he should not expect this. Rather he should expect suffering. Why? How can we ever claim to follow the suffering Jesus without ever having to suffer ourselves? A non-suffering Christian is a contradiction in terms.

Second, the soldier must at all times be prepared to obey his commanding officer immediately and without question. When the commanding officer tells his men to get ready for action, they don't say, "Let me finish watching 'I Love Lucy' first," or "I've got to go make a deposit so that I don't bounce any checks." Such behavior would be unheard of. In the same way, when Christ orders us to do something, negotiation is not a part of the process. Like Mike Stroope's daughter said when she became a Christian, "When I gave my life to Jesus, I gave Him my 'Yes.'" In other words, whenever He gave her a command, her immediate response from then on would be "Yes."

The Athlete (2:5)

The next person Paul uses as an illustration is the athlete. A successful athlete is not just somebody who has developed his/her body but one who actually plays by the rules. Can you imagine if all these runners were lined up to run the 1600-meter race and one did not run forward after the gun sounded? What would happen if that one runner turned around, went past the finish line, waited for all the runners to get to the finish, and then cross the finish line right before all the other runners were about to finish the race? Would that one runner be given the prize? No. The judges would be egged if they awarded the prize to that runner.

Yet that is the way many approach the Christian life. The gun sounds, they do a 180 and head for the finish line, and then cross it at the last moment. They expect a wreath to be given them. Well, they're not going to be given it. "But, I thought we were going to be saved by grace." Yes, but not by that kind of grace. NT grace is the kind of grace that transforms a person. It takes a Saul and makes him a Paul. It takes a Simon and makes him a Peter. The man who wrote, "For by grace you have been saved through faith," was also beaten 3x with rods, was shipwrecked numerous times, stoned once, spent a night and a day in the deep, went numerous times without clothing, food and shelter, and ultimately died a martyr's death for Christ. When we became Christians, God gave us graciously the gift of His Spirit so that we might be transformed into the image of Christ. If you are not being transformed into the image of Christ who suffered, obeyed, and played by the rules, then you probably have never experienced God's saving grace.

The Hard-Working Farmer (2:6)

The last illustration is that of the farmer. One man tills the soil, seeds it, weeds it, waters it, prays over the crops, and harvests the crop, while another sits around and does nothing. Who deserves the harvest? The one who worked hard or the one who did nothing? Naturally, the one who worked hard. In fact, we would be incensed if the lazy farmer got the crops because it would be unfair. The same applies to the Christian life. When the person works hard because grace has made him a hard worker, he deserves the harvest. He does receive the crown, reward Jesus has promised him. Timothy is to be that soldier that suffers and obeys, that athlete who plays by the rules of being faithful to Christ during persecution, and that farmer who works hard to bring in the harvest.

Although these 3 illustrations seem negative, the wonderful thing about them is that they imply there is a victory to be achieved, a prize to be won, and a harvest to be reaped.

Appeal to Keep the Focus on Jesus (2:8-10)

The key to being faithful is "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David" (2:10). Jesus is the point of it all. Christ is what CHRISTianity is all about. When we remember Him and remember who He is, then we should be more willing to be faithful to Him and to His cause, spreading His lordship throughout the world.

The clause "risen from the dead" points to the fact that He is exactly who He claimed to be--God the Son. The kind of resurrection He experienced is a God-kind of event. It is the kind of event that God alone can do. Since Jesus declared Himself to be God the Son and since God alone can give a person this kind of resurrection, Jesus MUST be God the Son; otherwise, God has resurrected and validated a liar (or a demon), something He would never do.

The phrase "descendant of David" refers to Jesus' status as the Lord of the universe. God had promised David that one day He would give him a descendant whose throne would be eternal (2 Sam. 7:11-16). In addition to being eternal, this throne is also universal. Jesus is that physical descendant of David who now sits upon the throne of heaven, the One beneath whose feet God is subjecting all the universe.

The implication to this is that if I reject Jesus and refuse to be faithful to Him, then I am rejecting no one less than God Himself, the very God who now sits upon the throne of heaven, whose reign will continue throughout eternity.

Look also at the nature of the gospel for which Paul is suffering: "but the word of God is not imprisoned." The bottom line is that you might put Paul into prison, you might put Christian after Christian to death; however, you cannot destroy God's Word, much less imprison it. At times God's Word has been a mere flicker in the world; yet is has never been extinguished. It just waits for that man or that woman totally dedicated to it and to Jesus Christ so that it can truly become a wild-fire. It has flickered at times; yet a day will come when it will eternally light God's universe. Now why would Timothy ever want to reject that Word?

Final Appeals (2:11-13)

Paul concludes the section of appeals (1:8-2:13) by listing some short pithy statements warning us and yet encouraging us to be faithful to Christ. It prefaces these little statements with the formula: "It is a trustworthy statement" (2:11). Three times in 1 and 2 Timothy Paul uses this formula (1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; and here) to indicate that what he is about to say deserves our unqualified attention. It's like Jesus' formula in the gospels: "Truly, truly, I say to you." All the Bible is God's Word; however, whenever you hear these 2 formulas, you had better give them your special attention.

"For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him." The first tendency is to spiritualize this statement. "Oh, we need to die to ourselves daily so that Jesus can live His life through us." While that statement is true, it does not do justice to the context of this letter. Paul is not simply dying to himself. He is about to die physically. He's going to have his head cut off. It's just like Jesus' statement, "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24). When did Jesus say this? Right after He had predicted His own death on the cross. To be sure we are to die to self daily; otherwise, we most likely won't be ready to render the ultimate sacrifice if God calls us to die physically for Jesus. In fact in many ways the martyr's death is the logical outcome to the Christian life. If I have died to Christ daily, why would I not die physically for Him at the end of life? It's not that I volunteer for that; however, I should be willing to make that sacrifice if Christ calls me to it.

By dying for Christ when called upon, I receive life. Does this mean I have to die physically for Christ in order to be saved? I believe it means that the genuine Christian who will experience life to the fullest at the return of Christ will lay down his life for Christ if called upon. The genuine Christian will not deny Christ, even if it means certain death, persecution, etc. The genuine Christian makes it to the end. Responding positively to persecution does not make a person a Christian; it just reveals that that person is a Christian.

"If we endure, we shall also reign with Him." This does not mean we seek persecution; however, if persecution comes our way and cannot be avoided legitimately, then we are to confess Christ and endure the results. The word translated "endure" literally means "to remain under [the load]." We don't eliminate the load by denying Christ. We remain faithful no matter the cost.

The result is that we shall reign with Christ. Paul says that we are joint-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17). When we become Christians, the Spirit of God's Son comes to live within us (Rom. 8:15) so that now we become as much God's sons and daughters as Jesus is. As a result, we inherit all that Jesus is going to inherit--reigning over the universe: "He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, just as I also have overcome and have sat down with My Father on His throne" (Rev. 3:21); "And I saw thrones, and they [Christians] sat upon them, and judgment was given to them" (Rev. 20:4).

"If we deny Him, He also will deny us." Once more this sounds like salvation by works. Yet, first, it is based upon the teachings of Jesus: "he who denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 10:33). Being true to Christ during times of persecution is not an option. A person's response to persecution reveals whether or not he is a Christian and then whether or not Jesus will be ashamed of him before his heavenly Father.

"If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself." Although on the surface, this seems to contradict the previous statement, it does not. There is a difference between being faithless and denying Jesus. We all mess up. There is not a day that goes by that I or any other Christian has not sinned. Yet that is radically different from denying Jesus during times of persecution. The former is forgivable; the latter shows that that person has never genuinely experienced Christ's forgiveness and salvation.

Why does Christ remain faithful to us when we are faithless? "Because He cannot deny Himself" may first mean that we are so united with Christ because of His Spirit living within us, that for Him to deny us would be tantamount to His denying Himself. Or it may be that Christ by nature is so faithful that if He is faithless to us, then He contradicts His own nature--something He would never do. His faithfulness to us is not based upon how good we are but upon His own nature.