Let us pray.
Our Lord, guard our hearts and our minds. Guard my lips that I may proclaim your Word aright. Grant us repentance and forgiveness as we look into your perfect Word. Amen.
Are you a soldier of the cross? Or, appropriate to football season, maybe we should ask if you are on the Jesus team? Or in this part of the country, maybe we ask what we've been farming for Jesus and whether it's harvest time yet? These are themes Paul raises in our passage today from 2 Timothy 2. Let's walk through our reading in order and draw a few conclusions from each segment we read. That may help me avoid getting ahead of myself and confusing matters.
We read verses 1-2 (ESV) again. "You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also."
Paul here calls Timothy to a faithful transmission of the Gospel. He is not to allow the Gospel of Christ to die with his generation. Timothy's mission as a pastor involves nurturing faithful men so they can be faithful pastors and teachers. Something I've studied for years and become convinced of is that we as believers need to be deliberate about training future generations. This includes discipleship in the home, especially husbands leading their wives and children in Christian growth. We don't live in a vacuum. Sad to say, if we raise up our children to decide for themselves whether they want to believe on Christ or not, we send them a crystal clear message that faith in Jesus is not a matter of life and death, that the Christian life is entirely optional. We send a message which encourages our children to depart from the faith, not to cling to our Lord and Savior for protection. On the contrary we are to train others who can themselves train yet more people. This starts on the level of the pastor seeking to teach and raise up elders who are strong and biblically qualified. But it continues as those elders nurture relationships with the other men of the church, helping them to lead their families.
Am I being demeaning to women here? I hope not. But I bring it up because I know what our culture says. Some of the most godly, committed, biblically literate people I know are women. I'm married to one of them. As we are all equal before our Lord in matters of salvation, so we are all called to learn and grow in grace just as much as our Lord nurtures us. Yet God has called men to step up and be the leaders in His Church. They are to be the spiritual leaders in their families, nurturing that faith in everyone under their authority. Where the men won't step up, I thank God for Christian women who will. But, men, it is your responsibility. Go ahead. Sit there. Get clammy palms. Gulp repeatedly. Pray like you have never prayed before. Lead your family gently but firmly in the paths of righteousness as you read the Scripture and pray with them. Need help? Ask for help. That's one of the things I'm here for. But you get to do it. Be those faithful men whose women will rejoice and feel safe in your presence as you lead them to our Lord and Savior.
Is this an easy thing? Not at all. In fact, I dare say it's something we can't do. Yes, there I go again, being like the Bible, telling us to do what we can't do. Well, that's what the Law of God does. It shows us our sin, telling us what is good and pleasing in the sight of God, showing us that we aren't able to please our Lord. Yet it also shows us our Savior, reminding us that we need the Gospel proclamation that Jesus has done what is pleasing to the Lord on our behalf. But it isn't an easy thing. Fact is, it may just prove fatal. FATAL??? Wait a minute! I thought we were trying to be welcoming. What if there are visitors? What did I just say to them? Come to our church and it will be fatal? Am I trying to drive people away?
I must apologize, but I am duty bound to tell the truth. That's what you asked me to come here and do. That's what I'm going to do. Yes, following our Lord, doing what is pleasing to him is likely to be fatal. (Do you like that? I went from "might be" in the last paragraph to "probably will be" in this paragraph.) Well, yes, we may as well admit it. When Jesus calls us to follow him, he calls us to follow him to his death on the cross. So I guess I should say it IS going to be fatal. There, the cards are on the table. But before I get too far ahead of myself, I need to read a little bit farther.
2 Timothy 2.3-4 (ESV) "Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him." Remember what soldiers do? They leave their families. They do really difficult physical tasks. They lose sleep, they eat badly, they have the wrong things to drink and wear, all to go engage in combat with other people and quite possibly die. And since Jesus came in order to die on our behalf, since the path to heaven takes us through the grave, when we follow Jesus we are taking up our cross and expecting to die. We die to this world. We leave civilian affairs. We do what has been set before us. We leave our comfort zone. Jesus has left his too. And we proclaim the truth regardless of what it will cost us.
This isn't sounding too encouraging, is it? We are supposed to leave our comfort zone by striving to enable others to know, hear, live, and teach the Scriptures. We are supposed to do it even if it means denying ourselves. And we are told the task is really too hard for us, even in the relative comfort of our local church and our family. We are not really able to do it. You may well ask what I am doing. Am I trying to persuade people to depart from the faith? Don't worry. Stick with me for a little longer.
We read on. 2 Timothy 2.5-7 (ESV) "An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything." We all understand what it takes to be athletes. I think we understand that quite well. You can look at my body and see that I know exactly what it takes to be a fine athlete. And you can reach the conclusion that I am unwilling to pay that price. I won't win the crown. I can follow the rules but I won't win. I can't throw, catch, run or jump. The winner plays by the rules. He also works really hard, sometimes doing things that seem like a waste of time. Did you ever think about how football coaches make the players run up and down the stairs in the stadium? Did you ever see those stairways the players need to run up and down on the playing field? Neither did I. There aren't any, though it would make for an exciting game. The perseverance of the athlete pays off. How about the farmer? Can you really expect to have a successful farm or garden if you don't do anything to it? Not at all! I know what they call a bean field that is not planted, tended, or harvested deliberately. Real estate. It is not a farm. But the hard working farmer has a very good chance of an increase. And it's right that he should receive something from his labor. Are you doing what Paul told Timothy to do? Think about it. That's what he told Timothy. Though we are soldiers for Jesus, though we are following his directives, though we are headed for transformation from this world to a heavenly home through death, we still receive something in this life as we labor.
Now I want to make something perfectly clear. I am not telling anyone to work really hard at godliness in order to earn favor with God. I will never tell anyone to do that. It doesn't work. We do not earn a thing. We are not the triumphant Christian soldiers, decked out and glitzy, marching to victory in a bloodless battle, following Jesus, clothed in our good works, that terrible picture you might imagine from a popular Christian revivalist hymn. No, we aren't like that. We don't appear triumphant at all. When we try to clothe ourselves in our own good works, our own diligence, we find that we are in repulsive filthy rags. By the way, here's a side note about how I dress. Did you notice what I wear under this white robe? Black clothes. It's symbolic of sin and death. That's what we're clothed in by nature when we go around doing what we do. Then before the church service, on goes the white robe. It symbolizes Christ's righteousness covering my sin and shame. Well, back on topic. When we try to prove our righteousness, when we try to earn merit, all we do is clothe ourselves in black, in failure and shame. No, we will never earn favor with God. And we don't look triumphant. You'll remember that Paul is in prison when writing to Timothy. He is waiting for his execution. He doesn't look like a winner at all. But how does he go on in our passage?
2 Timothy 2.8-10 (ESV) "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." Paul may not look like a victor in the contest. And to be quite frank, when we look on Jesus hanging dead on a cross, he doesn't look much like a victor either. But Paul reminds us to remember Jesus Christ. How do we remember him? We remember him risen from the dead. We remember him as the eternal king, ruling forever on the throne of David. We remember him proclaimed as the savior of the world. We remember that those who would resist us may bind us but that they can no longer bind our Lord. God's word is not bound! And this is the very word that empowers us, that gathers us into unity and one accord, that we believe teach and confess. This is the very living Word of God which Timothy is to entrust to faithful men so they can teach others. This is that living and active word of God, which is powerful. Remember Jesus Christ!
Are we on the pathway to death as soldiers of Christ? Maybe so. Probably so. Unless our Lord intervenes, there will come the day when each of us will be lying somewhere dead. But what is this promise our Lord has given his soldiers? 2 Timothy 2.11-13 (ESV) "The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him: if we endure, we will also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: if we are faithless, he remains faithful - for he cannot deny himself."
Let us pray.
Lord, we see your promise. We who have died with you are partakers of your life. We who hold to you receive a great inheritance in our heavenly home. Though we can depart from the faith you will never leave us or forsake us. You have given us your promise, and your promise is good. Bind us to you as your faithful soldiers. Create in us a desire to learn from your word, to trust in you, to leave our civilian pursuits and be thoroughly entangled in the freedom which you give to those who turn to you in faith. This we pray, as prisoners of you, the Lord who has set us free, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, unchanging, ever faithful. Amen.
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