Philip Casmer

A Grand Dedication Hymn

by Philip Casmer on July 7th, 2024
2 Timothy 2:1-13

When we dedicate something in a worship service, as we did this grand piano this morning – when we do that, we’re making a formal statement about something. That it is set apart for this purpose and not, generally, for something else – a piano dedicated for worship, not playing in your living room (though that also would be a fine use). I wonder if something like that is true about the “hymn” Paul lays out in vv.11-13 at the end of our reading.

Those trustworthy words at the end were most likely a martyr’s hymn – something Christians said or sang as they faced persecution – words to help dedicate themselves to God’s service. Likely, they were preceded by something like this: “We shall remain faithful to our Lord even to death.” And, I suggest we join our hearts and minds with theirs for that same purpose and consider that little hymn a Grand Dedication Hymn – one in which we dedicate ourselves to God’s service once again. 

Take those first four lines to start: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him, which should teach us, if we see the worst, Jesus provides the best. And notice that that’s what Paul expects for Timothy – the worst likely would happen. In v.1, he needs to be strengthened or powered up to “suffer together with me” (v.3) – that’s the call. Remember when you read Paul’s letters to Timothy, you’re reading one pastor’s encouragements to another, to keep on being a pastor, how to do it, what to expect, etc. And Paul’s writing from prison, put away and charged with capital crimes for preaching about Jesus. As Paul says in v.9, “[for that gospel] I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal,” – same word as the one used for those who hung on the crosses around Jesus. In v.10 he says that he has to “endure” – put up with, last under the pressure… And he applies it to Timothy – calls him to be like a soldier whose concern is what their commanding officer has commanded; like a runner who obeys the rules in order to win; like a farmer who has to put in work to get reward. So the hymn lines we began with said it – an expectation of Christian service includes maybe even death but definitely enduring hardship. Which, I think you’d agree, are just the worst…

So, this “worst” we ought to expect too. As you heard it from Ezekiel – dealing with rebellious, obstinate, stubborn people who would reject the message, maybe even cause him harm – if the prophets of old, why not us? Or as you heard it from Jesus – dealing with his hometown people who could acknowledge his miracles and his wisdom, but couldn’t get past their relationship with him – eventually they killed him – if the Son of God himself, why not us? Why not also for your pastors as they preach – and for this ministry as we work it in our community – and for you when you talk to your children, your neighbors, your friends? It will be so. Suffering, rejection, difficulty. The work of the devil and the effects of sin. It might be fiery death and imprisonment; many times and places have known it regularly. It might be mockery and shame. It might just be the difficulty of following Jesus in the midst of temptations you are facing. There is no promise that following Jesus will bring prosperity. He, in fact, said otherwise: “In this world you will have trouble…” (John 16:33) Following Jesus even demands suffering, a disconnect from our own selfish desires: “Whoever comes after me must deny himself and take up his cross…” (16:24) We ought to expect the worst

But that’s okay… what did our hymn say? “If we died with [Jesus], we will also live with him; if we endure [the worst], we will also reign with him.” Jesus provides the best: life even if we die, reigning like royalty even if we knew shame. That’s what comes from “the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” We know grace – we love grace. Grace is God’s undeserved love – that comes despite all our unworthiness and not in relation to our accomplishments or our strength – that does not look at how we look and does not reward as the world does – that forgives our sins, in fact, was designed and done specifically for closing the gap, making up for our lack, providing what the world in itself does not have in order to meet God. Jesus’ best comes to us because of his love and because of his work – he is the God-man, promised “descendant of David,” “raised from the dead,” who provides salvation and eternal glory. 

The question is perhaps, what does the soldiering, the rule-keeping-racing, the hard farming work look like? If this is the promise – when we face the worst on account of Jesus Christ, he will provide the best – life and salvation… Then what’s the dedication look like? 

Well, Paul used certain words like “remember” and “be strong in” Jesus Christ. He said things like, “What you heard me preach, you entrust to other people so that it keeps getting preached.” He said to “reflect on” all these things about Jesus, the gospel message, and to look for the insight God gives. That’s the dedication: to hold on to Jesus in every possible way.

Of course, dedication – dedicating oneself – is a positive asserted in place of a potential negative, isn’t it? You dedicate yourself to waking up at 5:30 every morning and working out – because you’re tempted to do nothing at all. You dedicate yourself to dating your spouse – because you’re tempted to fill your time with doom-scrolling X and Instagram “together”. What temptation does our hymn highlight as we dedicate ourselves? If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself. Which should teach us, if we do the worst, Jesus remains the best. And by that I mean…

It’s totally possible to fall away from faith in Jesus. Paul says it in his first letter to Timothy that “some will depart from the faith” by following false teachings. (4:1) Jesus warns about the end that many will fall away. (Mt 24:10-13) The writer of Hebrews writes like this: “Take care brothers lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God,” (3:12-19) to brothers in the faith who might not hold that faith anymore… Because it’s real. Because suffering is uncomfortable and no one wants it. Because it’s nice to believe that real Christianity means reward right now and niceness and personal fulfillment for all people in whatever they like… Because there are so many seemingly beautiful things in which we might find our strength… This is a legit temptation: to be faithless – to not trust in Jesus’ best or to put trust in our best – and to disown Jesus. 

And it’s a warning to us. I don’t think you should read it as, “Don’t worry – Jesus is ever-faithful so you can’t fall away even if you do.” But rather, if we disown, we prove that he and we are nothing alike. If you disown him – choose to face the judgment in your sin, to stand before God’s holiness without the holiness you need to meet it – Jesus is the best – holy God who cannot disown himself – who he is, what he’s taught – he remains / stays / is unchangingly faithful. 

But that does work two ways. Paul commended Timothy to strength in grace – that’s where we live and work, isn’t it? So, you and me – people who do fail, who sometimes sin, who have been faithless at times, who are tempted never to suffer – we should read it as an encouragement for our dedicated service. When I proclaim his Word what will happen? When you teach the children in Sunday School, what goes on? When you face mockery because you share what you believe? This is true: “God’s Word is not chained.” Paul meant to say that even though he was chained up in prison, that didn’t contain God’s Word or hinder it. You ought to think, nothing can hinder the Word of God. The Word that goes out from my mouth or yours – “it will not return…empty, but will accomplish what [God desires] and achieve the purpose for which [he] sent it.” (Is 55:11) It will bring judgment and disregard. It will work in hearts where you don’t expect and create faith where you think it impossible and work into places where humans try to prohibit it. In fact, when you and I share God’s Word, it will uncover his chosen, his elect – all those he has known who will be his own by faith – and he will bring them to that glorious eternity of salvation with Christ Jesus – you and me too. That Jesus is the best – faithfully unchanging – is designed to encourage you in your dedication to him – to not do the worst, but to give him our best – because through it he works in the best possible way always.

That’s why you suffer and I experience hardship. This is why we endure. It’s why Paul calls Timothy to soldier on and run the race and do the work. And why Paul said, “That’s why I stick it out here—so that everyone God calls will get in on the salvation of Christ in all its glory.” And why with Paul we say, “Even if we die, we’ll live… If we endure, we’ll reign… Let us not disown him, but be encouraged by Jesus’ faithfulness…” Let us dedicate ourselves again and again: “Even to death, we shall remain faithful to our Lord.”

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