Sermon series: What Matters Most
- The God of All Patience - 1 Timothy 1
- Missional Leadership - John 20
- Godliness: The Serious Virtue - 1 Cor. 10
- The Unchained Gospel - 2 Timothy 2
The life of a Roman Legionnaire was anything but easy. They usually enlisted at the age of 19 to 20 and were bound to serve for 20 years. Theirs was a difficult existence. They marched 25 miles a day in formation, then when they stopped for the night, they would build a camp. The camp consisted of a 12 foot earthen wall and a 12 foot mote all the way around it. The average legion had nearly 6000 men in it so the camp would have been massive. It had with wooden gates and streets marked out, with tents and campfires. The next morning, after bread and water for breakfast they would burn the camp and set out on their march again, only to build another camp after another 25 miles. This was their daily existence. This was what they endured for the sake of the earthly kingdom of Rome.
As Paul writes this letter to Timothy, he is chained to one of these Roman soldiers. No doubt the difficulties they endured for Rome served to remind him of the difficulties we should endure for the sake of the kingdom of God. It is within this context that Paul writes to Timothy.
Open your bibles this morning to the book of 2 Timothy, chapter two, verses 8-10.
As we read through this book, it is easy to see that Paul is concerned about Timothy. He is concerned about Timothy's courage, about his commitment to continuing the ministry God had given him and he is concerned that Timothy, who was by nature somewhat timid and afraid, will not be willing to pay the price to fulfill his calling.
If we were to summarize this book in one simple phrase, it would probably be something like, "Stand up, Stand up for Jesus." Throughout this letter Paul is encouraging Timothy, exhorting him to be strong, to recognize that being a Christian means that like our Master, we too will suffer.
There are four things to which Paul calls our attention this morning.
I. Don't be distracted from the centrality of the gospel
As in our day, so it was in Paul's day, there are many good things which Christians can do, all the while ignoring the best. Paul wanted to be sure that Timothy was aware that the gospel should be central to all he did. He did not want Timothy, like so many of the others, to go astray and begin focusing on things which were or no eternal value. As he would say in chapter three, "Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof - ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of truth." This was what Paul was warning Timothy against, against allowing himself to be caught up in. He did not want him to get sidetracked.
There are many people who, with the best of intentions, have allowed themselves to get caught up in good things, which cause them to ignore the best.
Some get caught up in prophecy. Now, make no mistake, prophecy is an important thing. It is scripture and should be studied and, in its proper context, it should be taught. But there are those who spend all their lives and ministries trying to find out what's going to happen, and doing nothing about what's already happening.
I flew into Guatemala City late Wednesday night, as I was teaching a pastor's conference Thursday and Friday. There at the airport were these folks holding big signs announcing a major prophecy conference. Looking around at the city and at the folks there in that Central American country, it was obvious to me that before they need to know what is going to happen, they need to know the one who is going to make it happen. Before they need a huge conference on prophecy, they need to get out into the highways and byways and preach the simple gospel that says Jesus is the Messiah, the seed of David, that He was crucified and rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and someday is coming again in glory.
While some get caught up in prophecy, others get caught up in discipleship. They want to know the deeper life. They have their study bibles and their commentaries, they listen to tapes and attend intensive bible studies, and all of that is good. But if all that knowledge does not lead them to make disciples and share the gospel then they have gotten off track.
Others get wrapped up in worship. "Oh, I just want to praise the Lord, I just love music pastor and that's my passion." That's all well and good, but when was the last time you led someone to Jesus? When was the last time you were able to give your testimony, telling someone else how you came to know the Lord and what He has done for you? How you were lost and now you've been found?
Others just want fellowship. "It's all about community pastor, it's all about being part of a family." Well, fellowship is something we do, it is one of our core values, just like worship, and the study of the word, but when we allow any of these to become the central purpose for our existence we get out of step with God who is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance and who has commissioned us to spread the gospel to every tribe and every nation, as well as to every neighbor and every neighborhood.
Paul wanted Timothy to keep in the very forefront of his mind the reality that the gospel of Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, should be central to his preaching and central to his ministry, lest he be led astray.
Folks, when Paul went to Corinth, he said, in 1 Corinthians 2:2, "For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified." This was the gospel he preached and it is the same gospel we preach.
Keep the gospel central.
II. The call to follow Jesus is to suffer for Him
One of the greatest privileges God has given me has been the ability to go to numerous countries around the world, teaching and preaching, encouraging other pastors and sharing the gospel. One of the things this travel has done for me is it has opened my eyes to the reality that more Christians suffer for their faith than do not.
Over the past several years I have had the honor of meeting Christians from around the world. I've sat and listened to a house church pastor in China, a part of the underground church, tell how he was arrested for being a Christian and how miraculously God delivered him. I've listened to Romanian Christians talk about the persecution they suffered under their communist dictator Chochesko. I heard the testimony of an old woman in Ukraine tell how when she was a little girl, right after WW II, the communists had killed Christians in her village and how she had escaped, and for years was the only Christian she knew of. I've listened to Indian pastors tell how their fellow pastors were beaten and stoned in villages because they preached the gospel there, only to go back the next day and preach to the same people the same gospel. One Indian pastor was attacked by Hindu radicals who beat the bottoms of his feet till they bled so that he could not walk back to their village. As soon as he could stand, he wrapped his feet in bandages and went back to that same village and preached the gospel. I've listened to Cuban Christians tell how they were threatened and imprisoned for their faith. Around the world today more Christians are suffering persecution then at any other time in the history of Christianity. In some countries, like North Korea and some Islamic countries, even owning a bible is a capital offense.
If you are a Christian and you are not suffering for your faith, you are in the minority.
During the time that Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, he was in prison for no other reason than that he was a follower of Jesus Christ.
Now, don't misunderstand me, we are not to go out and look for someone to persecute us. We're not supposed to want to be mistreated, that's simply ridiculous. What Paul is saying to Timothy, and to you and me is that we must be willing and ready to suffer for Christ should the occasion arise. In fact, Paul will go on to say that all who desire to live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
There are different kinds of persecution and there are differing degrees of persecution.
Some suffer socially as they are considered outcasts for their faith. One of my friends when I lived in Spain, who is now with the Lord, was a man named Jose Borras. Jose had been a Roman Catholic Priest. He was given the assignment of studying the Baptists to find out why they were wrong so he could teach other Roman Catholics how to refute their doctrine. So as he began to study what the Baptists believed, he made an appointment with a Baptist preacher in town to interview him about his faith. In the course of his investigation, as he spoke with this Baptist pastor, the pastor shared the gospel of salvation by faith through grace with Jose. Jose looked at the scripture and realized that what the Baptist was saying was true. Under deep conviction by the Holy Spirit, Jose prayed to receive Jesus and was gloriously saved.
When he went back to his Bishop he was summarily dismissed from the priesthood and put on the streets, literally with nothing more than the clothes on his back. Still a young man at the time he returned home to his parents home. When he knocked on the door his mother, a devout Roman Catholic, answered the door. He asked if he could come in. She said, "I no longer have a son, he died, and slammed the door in his face." The Pastor who led him to the Lord took him in and Jose Borras went on to become one of the leading evangelical pastors in all of Spain. But not without having to pay a heavy price for his faith. Some suffer socially.
Others suffer economically. I spoke with a friend of mine who grew up in Utah. He told me that if you own a business there and are not a Mormon you will promptly go out of business because the Mormons will not patronize your business. Additionally you will find it hard to get a job if you are a born again believer. I've talked with Indian pastors who lost their jobs, their homes and everything simply because they were Christians.
Others suffer physically, like Paul, many Christians are still imprisoned for their faith. In Muslim countries around the world, our Christian brothers and sisters are beaten, imprisoned and some are killed, for no other reason than their faith.
Paul is saying that the call to follow Christ is a call to be ready and willing to suffer should Jesus call us to do so.
Look at the second part of verse 9 where Paul says that in spite of his suffering, in spite of his chains, the gospel is unshackled, it is not in chains.
This is the third thing I would have you notice in this text.
III. The gospel's power is not bound
Even thought Paul was in chains, he knew good and well that outside the walls of his prison the gospel was continuing to spread like a wildfire.
It would have been incredulous to the Romans to have read this letter. Lost and blind, they were worried about protecting their physical territory, while the gospel was conquering the hearts and lives of their people and would one day conquer their Empire.
The gospel is not bound.
From the very beginning of Christianity there have been those who would try and stop or stomp out the gospel, but no one has ever been able to do it.
Governments cannot do it - The Romans tried and it overtook their country. The Soviets tried and their government fell, the Chinese have tried and one day they are going to wake up and find more Christians than communists in their country. Folks, read your history, governments cannot bind the gospel. There is no government powerful to bind the gospel for it is power of God unto salvation and nothing man can do is able to bind the power of God.
Philosophies of men cannot bind the gospel - for centuries men have tried, with their crafty words and human reason to undermine the gospel, to bind it with the wisdom of men, but try as they may, they cannot bind the gospel. Those who have ventured into the philosophies of men have found that it can fill your head but not your heart. It can give you questions about life but it cannot answer life's questions. It can tell you what dead men thought but not what the Living God says. Only the gospel can bring you into a relationship with Jesus Christ, who alone can fill your heart and soul. The philosophies of man cannot bind the gospel, it shatters them all.
False religions cannot bind the gospel. Even today, in places where it is illegal to be a Christian the Gospel is spreading like wildfire. People are coming to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior around the world. Why? Because you cannot bind the gospel. You could sooner tame the oceans and bind the tidal waters than bind the gospel. It cannot be stopped.
But there will be those who try and stop the gospel and even as Paul was imprisoned, there will be those who will resist us as we seek to further the gospel, thus - as Paul says in verse ten - we must endure.
IV. The gospel calls us to endure
In the New Testament, endurance is linked with the most severe trials imaginable. The very word describes an attitude which is determined to hold on regardless of the cost.
This is what Paul is urging Timothy to do, to endure, to hold on, not to give in because the mission is too great, the stakes are too high and the price of failure is too costly.
In 2 Corinthians 11:24 and following Paul says, "Five times I received from the Jews 40 lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the depths of the sea. On frequent journeys I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the open country, and dangers among false brothers; labor and hardships, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold and lacking clothing, not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for the church."
Now, look back in our text at verse ten. "This is why I endure all things . . . for the elect so they also may obtain salvation which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory."
While Paul uses the word elect, which speaks to being chosen by God, the focus here is not on the doctrine of predestination, but rather on the necessity of predetermination in the hearts and minds of those who follow Christ to remain faithful, to endure, to do whatever it takes to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to hear the gospel.
Paul's passion for seeing others come to know Christ was so great and he was so dedicated that he lived with a predetermination to make sure everyone heard the gospel.
He is telling Timothy, and you and me today that if we will be followers of Christ, if we will take the name of Jesus upon ourselves and call ourselves His disciples, we too must be willing to endure, we too must live with this predetermination that we will not quit, when the going gets tough, we will not give up.
These four couplets…
If we have died with Him we will also live with Him - Death to self here on earth, walking under His lordship here, brings with it the promise of life with Him here and in heaven. Clearly in correspondence to verse 8, which deals with the gospel. This is the heart of the gospel, death to self and life in Jesus.
Then, if we endure, we will also reign with Him - here is the promise to all those who endure. It will be worth it all one day, says Paul. Timothy, if you can hold on here, if you can keep your perspective and not give into the temptations to live for this life, but rather continue living for the life to come, irrespective of the pain, the problems and the persecution, someday you will reign with Jesus in heaven. Which life are we living for.
If we deny him, he will also deny us. No doubt Paul here is referring to the words of Jesus found in Matthew 10:32-33. "Therefore, everyone who will acknowledge me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven."
The emphasis here is on being an authentic Christian, never turning and walking away. Obviously, those who can deny Him, who can say He is not God, who can deny that He is the risen Savior, have never known Him. Thus, persecution and tribulation often separates the sheep from the goats, and demonstrates who the real believers are.
But what about the person who stumbles? What about the person who goes through periods of doubt and confusion? Look at verse 13… "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself."
There is a great insight here to the character and nature of God, a great theological truth which is this: If we stumble, if we falter and in moments of weakness, do things which are less then faithful to Him, He will not retaliate, His very nature is that of faithfulness. If we are His, if we have been bought with the blood, filled with His Spirit and our names are in the Lambs book of life, He will never leave us nor forsake us, but will be with us always, it is part of His very nature to remain faithful.
What a way to wrap us this word to Timothy. Timothy, who suffered from the temptations of fear and doubt, Timothy, who saw all that was happening to his father in the faith and was wondering whether or not he wanted to end up that way. Timothy…you need to know that even when you do things that are less than faithful to God, He is always there, ready to forgive you, ready to receive you, with open arms ready to lift you up and put you back on your feet so you can continue serving Him.