Over the last weeks we’ve received good encouragements from Paul’s first letter to Timothy – that Jesus came to save sinners like us, that God wants every one of us to be saved, and that attachment to and identification with God is gain this world cannot match. God’s’ Word is good for God’s people. But step back for a minute and remember as we enter 2 Timothy that these words are Paul’s letters to Timothy, the young pastor. They’re personal words of encouragement to one following in Paul’s footsteps. Imagine that the follower Timothy takes a few quiet hours to read through these letters by himself when he receives them. Maybe he sits on the rocks by the shore, looking out over the sea to the west, past Greece to Rome. Because letter one came from a Paul doing what he did best – visiting churches with encouragement, walking the dusty roads, missionary on the move, a workman always working. But letter 2 comes from Rome where Paul was in prison like he’d not been before; this time it was different. Paul now languished in a cold dungeon1 chained like a common criminal2. He wrote that his work was done and that his life was nearly at an end3. And this Paul to Timothy writes to keep the flame of faith and gospel work alive, to not be afraid, to boldly witness, to guard the truth and keep it.
Do you think maybe Timothy wondered whether he could do it? Paul, whom he knew as some indestructible sort of mentor, was now chained up near death? Maybe Timothy wondered whether he could do it, whether it was worth it, whether he’d fall under that kind of torture/temptation, or whether he could do justice / do the kind of work Paul had done. A pastor thinking on the encouragements from another pastor – to well make use of his pastor-gifts.
But it’s not just a word for pastors. In v.5 Paul mentions Timothy’s faith – the kind that lives in him, because, in the end, it’s really not a professional but a living faith Paul’s addressing, that same “grace given you in Christ Jesus…[where] you do not lack any spiritual gift.”4Paul’s words apply to your Christian lives like our gospel does it this morning – where Jesus warns about daily, Christian life, lest we cause someone to stumble in their faith. He warns it’d be better to be neck-tied to a millstone and flailing follow it into dark, wet death than to cause another to stumble in faith. But have you ever? In the gospel Jesus talks about faith as that everyday practice where reality is we’ll be sinned against and he expects that we’ll forgive, often, repeatedly. But do we? In the gospel the apostles cry out appropriately because simply doing the work servants ought to do seems pretty difficult.
They’re right. I don’t think it’s too far to say: it ought to be impossible. Do you ever worry that you just can’t serve? Consider Paul’s encouragements and whether you do them. The basic tending of the fire of faith. Do you always fan it into flame, that gospel-faith? Sometimes don’t we sort of fall asleep and wake to find the flame’s pretty low – we’re sort of cold?
Sometimes it’s not for lack of zeal but for lack of esteem. This week in a class we talked about evolution – and someone asked how we can help people understand that we’re not dummies when we don’t believe in evolution. I say – forget evolution – you believe in Jesus Christ as factual, historical character, by whose perfect life and innocent death you can escape death and find peace – you’re fools already. That’s already offensive – if you believe everything that comes from it you’re bigoted, intolerant, foolish – so-called, at least. Ever ashamed?
How about afraid? Do you ever cower away from opportunities to live as God’s people or to testify about God’s gift? Be cowards because we don’t want to suffer – certainly not things like ISIS fighters do to Christians and their kids, but not even sometimes to get laughed at or thought-ill-of or to have an uncomfortable moment?
And then to guard and protect this gift? Do you have any steam left for that? For actually, articulately thinking through the specific things God says that describe what he loves, that we are to love more than love for the world or from it?
Consider this: Paul calls Timothy to serve – and as Christians this call extends to you and to me – but do we have any right to think, given all that junk I can list in paragraphs (which only touches some of what you fear), that we can actually serve him? Ought we not ask, “How could we ever get this done?” In the reality of our damning sin, yes. In the reality of our saving God, also no. Instead we cry with the disciples, “Increase our faith!” because as Paul calls us to serve God this morning, he interweaves it with a beautiful, simple ability that we can trust: God’s power.
Without reservation, Paul calls you to serve with God’s power.
- Indeed, Paul calls our spirit – our energy, our way – a “spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” We have from God’s Holy Spirit a spirit that says, “I can do everything through [God] who gives me strength.”5 A spirit that knows undeserved love and shows it the same. That lives wisely just as God would have us regardless of what it looks like to the world or what the world screams it will do to us because of it.
- You might call it our “holy life”, v.9, but literally it’s a holy calling from the God who saved us. It isn’t based on / figured by what we’ve done, how we served or will – no worry about past record or future failures. No, our holy lives are made with the truth about life. See, we think the truth about life is that everybody dies. But from before time was a thing God was working a gracious purpose, which he put into effect with Jesus, the God-man. In Jesus’ work, death is dead. Death as the punishment for all our sins that rots our spiritual life with guilt – it’s powerless and dead. Jesus’ work is good news that says there is forgiveness for all our sins, that he has paid and died, and that he has risen to life to show us that real life with God is the kind of thing that does not decay, does not go gray, does not fade away – but lasts forever. Death as the end of life, that’s dead too. And he’s given this life to us by faith: a gift that will not die.
- And it’s all grounded, v.12, in God who is absolutely strong enough to watch over that promised eternal life until the last day – through every day of our lives until then – in which believers trust because Jesus loves them and his Holy Spirit lives in them. 5 Phil 4:13
In truth, the power of God – in his love for you in Christ that saves you from sin and sets you aside to be his own and fills you up with his Spirit – this allows you to ask, “How can we serve?” You can – fan into flame the gift God’s given you as you read his Word and eat his meal and are strengthened to turn away from all these worldly things and to simply trust him. It’s like a fire you stoke and let shine. You can – not be ashamed of witnessing for this Lord or suffering for this good news because nothing this world can do has any effect on the real life Jesus brings. You will not die but live because he lives. And he’s watching over your fiery faith. You can – tend it faithfully and hold the standard of faithfulness to God’s Word that Paul shows and protect this grace of God message from all sorts of enemy things. You trust in the one who has loved you and you know that his Spirit lives in you to make all these things true. Guarded by God, you can guard the good deposit of this gospel message he’s given you.
Without reservation, Paul calls you to serve with God’s power. And you can. You do.
And thinking about, talking about it, anticipating the opportunities service to God will bring among the people of God, it brings joy to your pastors’ hearts. We thank God whom we serve as we remember you in our prayers. Remember one another in prayer and do not be afraid to serve, but anticipate, look forward to, how our God will fill us all up with a holy joy as we together serve him in so many ways. Amen.
As you serve, be “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Amen.