Suffer Together

Jon Marq Toombs
6 February 2016
Presbytery / Town North Pres
2 Timothy 2:3-8

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I count it a privilege to stand before you as a brother in Christ and to speak to you as a fellow minister of the gospel. I want to make the most of the time you have given me, so let’s jump right in.

My purpose today is to encourage you to suffer together for the glory of Christ and the good of his church in the power of the resurrection.

The question is How must we suffer? Let’s hear God’s word and find out together.

Our sermon text for today is 2 Timothy 2:3-8. If you are able, please stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word.

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. 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. Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.

The word of the Lord. May God add his blessing to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word.

A few years ago the Francis Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development estimated that:

  • 40% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.
  • 70% of those who enter the ministry will not last 10 years.
  • Only 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.
  • Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month the year before the report was published.
  • Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month, many without cause.

The stats might vary within the PCA, but this report is sobering enough to make us shiver. If true, it means that some of us will not finish what we started; some of us will not last to the end.

Granted, there are many reasons men leave gospel ministry, but there are reasons men stay as well. The ones who stay are the ones who suffer together for the glory of Christ and the good of his church in the power of the resurrection.

In his book “The Unnecessary Pastor” Eugene Peterson warns that “Pastors have an extremely difficult job to do, and it’s no surprise that many are discouraged and ready to quit. Though it may not seem like it at face value, pastors are persecuted in North America…Our culture doesn’t lock us up; it simply and nicely castrates us, neuters us, and replaces our vital parts with a nice and smiling face. And then we are imprisoned in a mesh of “necessities” that keep us from being pastors.” (183)

We would all agree that gospel ministry requires far more from us than any of us ever expected or imagined. One thing it requires from us is suffering.

So, we must be tough-minded, tender-hearted, and thick-skinned. Especially now that we live in post-Christian America.

That’s not exactly what we want to hear, but it is exactly what we need to hear.

What does that have to do with our sermon text?

Paul was nearing the end of his life and ministry and he wanted to leave Timothy with a few last words. One of those words was suffer. In Chapter 1 Paul says, suffer with me for the sake of the gospel. In Chapter 2 he says, share in suffering. In chapter 3 he says, everyone who wishes to live a godly life in Christ will suffer. In Chapter 4 he says, suffer and so fulfill your ministry.

What does ‘suffer’ mean? J.N.D. Kelly interprets suffer to mean “take your share of rough treatment.”

Now keep in mind that Paul says all these things to a man who started his ministry with suffering – by getting circumcised, by letting goods and kindred go, and by going on mission. And he continued suffering in his ministry – by serving as pastor of the church at Ephesus. So, Timothy knew by experience that gospel ministry was a hazardous vocation.

Like some of you, his guts were so shredded that he needed to drink a little wine for his stomach’s sake. Like some of us, his heart was so broken that his face was often streaked with tears. Like some of you, he was already taking his share of rough treatment.

And Paul knew it. But I want you notice that Paul urged Timothy to suffer not alone, but with others.

You can see it more clearly in Greek, but the word for suffer has a little prefix attached, which draws us out of isolation and into community with each other. Thank God for that little “syn-” prefix!

Brothers, we must suffer together. How? As soldiers, athletes, and farmers.

Let’s look at these one at a time.

Suffer together as soldiers who are detached from the world and devoted to Christ – not distracted by all the “pragmatic activities of life.”

You are baptized Christians. You bear the sign and seal of the cross of Christ on your life.  You pledged your loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ when you took the sacramentum militare. His wish is your command. If he says, “Stand your ground!” You stand your ground. If he says, “Charge!” You charge. If he says, “Fight!” You fight the good fight of the faith, against the devil, the world, and the flesh. And you fight as men of God, armored in Christ, with the spiritual weapons of righteous in both your hands. Why? So that you may please your Lord alone and no one else, including yourself.

Suffer together as athletes who are so disciplined that you eat and breathe and train according to the only infallible rule of faith and life, which is the Word of God. Not only will it make you wise unto salvation in Christ; it will equip you for every good work.

So exercise self-control in all things. Discipline your body and keep it under control – watch how you eat and drink, and how you work and play, and how you worship and rest – lest after preaching to others you disqualify yourself (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Run the course marked out for you, and run with perseverance. Why? So that you may feel God’s pleasure and win the victor’s crown, which is yours by faith in Christ.

Suffer together as farmers who are diligent and determined to tend the field assigned to you by the Lord – no matter how big or small, and no matter how nearby or far away, it may be.

If you are called to plow, then plow; if to sow seed, then sow; if to water, then water; if to harvest, then harvest. Do it with hope, in season and out of season, for God’s word never returns empty. As it is written, Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! (Psalm 126:5-6) God gives the growth, but you must work hard. Why? So that you may enjoy the first share of the crops.

Brothers, we must suffer together with our blood, sweat, and tears.

However, if we’re not careful, our suffering in ministry will become an end in itself. It will feel like a massive rock that we struggle to push up the hill only to chase it back down so we can push it back up again. In which case we are no better than Sisyphus.

Brothers, we are not called to suffer unto death by the myth of Sisyphus, rather we are called to suffer unto life after death by the power of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

That makes all the difference both in this life and the life to come.

God calls us to suffer as cross-bearers – not rock pushers.

What’s the difference?

The cross is not an end in itself. It is the means to the end, which is the life that is truly life.

As it is written: We suffer with Christ in order that we may also be glorified with him. For the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:17-18)

Like our Lord, we must suffer and die before we can truly live.

The sufferings of the cross result in eternal bounties not existential absurdities. The sufferings of gospel ministry are not acts of futility – they are acts of faith.

So how can we suffer together as cross-bearers?

Paul says we must reflect on these things and grind them fine in our heart and minds, and expect the Lord to illumine us.

The applications are endless, and I will leave it to you to work them out (together) in your own life, community, and ministry.

But I will make one application that flows from our text — just to kick start your thinking.

How can we suffer together in gospel ministry? By remembering Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the ultimate mnemonic device for gospel ministry. When you remember Jesus Christ your calling is renewed and your life is reoriented.

So, we must not forget Jesus Christ – his person and work as prophet, priest, and king. We must remember his life, miracles, and teachings. We must not forget his sufferings and death.

Above all else, we must remember Jesus Christ – raised from the dead.

Jesus is the true and better farmer who shed tears over sin and death and brought the gospel of grace to fields of the world.

Jesus is the true and better athlete who sweated in the desert in order to live by every word that came from God’s mouth, and sweated in the garden in order to do his Father’s will not his own.

Jesus is the true and better soldier who shed his blood fighting our enemies to the death and defeating the devil at the cross.

Jesus is the true and better minister who suffered humiliation unto death and celebrated exaltation unto life.

Jesus suffered, but he never surrendered. He died, but he was not defeated.

Jesus finished the ministry he started.

That is the Story that shapes your life and ministry.

If you forget Jesus, you will grow fearful, wasteful, or slothful in life and ministry.

But if you remember Jesus Christ raised from the dead, you will endure all things for the sake of God’s elect.

Chances are that you have suffered in ministry only to find yourself sitting at a crossroads inside a dark cave – weighing your few options. You have taken your share of rough treatment only to find yourself standing on the edge of crisis – grieving your heavy losses.

Perhaps (like Frodo Baggins) you wish the calling had never come to you or that none of these things had ever happened in your time.

“And so do I – and so do all who live to see such times. (as Gandalf said) But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

That means deciding to suffer together, not in the weakness of the flesh, but in the power of the Spirit.

Brothers and fathers, many of you have promised to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace and unity of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise unto you on that account.

My purpose today was to encourage you to suffer together for the glory of Christ and the good of his church in the power of the resurrection.

My prayer is that God will make you strong and courageous as you fulfill your ordination vows and so fulfill your ministry in the Lord.

May God’s mercy and love be with you always.

soldier-farmer-athlete 2 tim 2

Image Source: a2church / google images

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