Jon Marq Toombs
10 November 2016
Chapel / Redeemer Seminary
2 Timothy 2:1-13
Demythologizing Gospel Ministry
My purpose today is to encourage you to lift up your eyes and look beyond the walls and library of this seminary and see the world to which you will go with the gospel.
Our sermon text for today is 2 Timothy 2:1-13.
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. 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, 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. 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. (2 Timothy 2:1-13 ESV)
The word of the Lord.
One of the things I have tried to do in my ministry to seminary students is demythologize gospel ministry. I have tried to show some of the realities of ministry by debunking myths and demonstrating truths of gospel ministry.
Today’s message is intended to do more of the same.
We would all agree that gospel ministry requires far more from us than any of us can imagine or even put into words. But one thing it requires that often gets overlooked is suffering, enduring hardship, agonizing for the gospel.
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?
In this story, 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 it mean ‘to suffer’? J.N.D. Kelly interprets suffer to mean “take your share of rough treatment.”
To do that well, we must be tough-minded, tender-hearted, and thick-skinned. Especially now that we live in post-Christian, PC America. Pastoral ministry is no place for professionals, pushovers, or pansies.
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)
Contra mundum, God’s word calls us to endure hardship. To put up with loads of crap, sleepless nights, relentless temptations, difficult people, unfixable problems, impossible circumstances, heart-numbing loneliness — all which culminate with boundless joys in Christ!
Now keep in mind that Paul says all these things to a young man who started his ministry with suffering – first, by passing his ordination exam which consisted of getting circumcised as an adult (!), then by letting goods and kindred go, and finally, by going on mission with a trouble-maker who turned the world upside down.
And he continued suffering in ministry by serving as pastor of the church at Ephesus. There he engaged in real spiritual warfare, inside and outside the church. (Recall that some of the elders turned out to be wolves in sheepskins!)
Timothy suffered for the gospel and he 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. Yet he urged him to keep on suffering –- except not in a way you might think.
You can see it more clearly in Greek, but the word for suffer has a little prefix attached to it. That prefix “syn” draws us out of isolation and into community with others.
Thank God for that little “syn-” prefix!
Brothers and sisters, we must suffer together not alone, in community not in isolation.
How must we suffer together? As soldiers, athletes, and farmers.
Let’s look at these quickly one at a time.
First, 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 — not even yourself.
Second, 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 it with perseverance. Why?
So that you may feel God’s pleasure and win the victor’s crown, which is yours by faith in Christ.
Third, Suffer together as farmers who are so 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, and no matter how fruitful or fruitless 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. It always accomplishes the purpose for which it is sent. (But that might not have anything at all to do with your hopes, dreams, and vision for your ministry!) God gives the growth, but you must work hard. Why?
So that you may enjoy the first share of the crops — however few or many they might be. As it is written, Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! (Psalm 126:5-6)
Brothers and sisters, we must suffer together with our blood, sweat, and tears. That means we must suffer as cross-bearers, even as we share in the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ.
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)
To misquote the social prophet Stephen Colbert, “You don’t get to flee to another [church] when things get rough here…You’re stuck whether you like it or not.”
Like our Lord, we must suffer and we must die before we can truly live.
So how can we suffer together as cross-bearers?
Remember Jesus Christ raised from the dead.
When you go and do gospel ministry, you will get distracted and disoriented by many things. If you are not careful, you will forget things the central thing and focus on the marginal things.
So, I urge you to remember Jesus Christ.
He is the ultimate “mnemonic device” for gospel ministry. He reminds you of who you are, why you were called, and what you are supposed to do.
As you take your share of rough treatment, you must never forget his sufferings and death. And you must always remember his life after death.
As you teach and preach, you must be strong in the grace of Christ and remember that
Jesus is the true and better farmer, who shed tears over sin and death, who brings the gospel of grace to fields of the world, who will reap a harvest in the end through your efforts.
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, who sweated in the garden in order to do his Father’s will not his own, who sweated at the cross in order to finish the race marked out for him.
Jesus is the true and better soldier, who laid down his life for his friends, who shed his blood fighting our enemies to the death, who sacrificed himself defeating the devil at the cross.
Jesus is the true and better gospel minister who endured all things for the sake of the elect.
He suffered, but he never surrendered. He died, but he was never defeated.
He finished the ministry he started, not by guts and grit, but by grace.
He was strong in the grace of God, and so you must be strong in his grace as well.
His story is the Story that shapes your life, and doctrine, and ministry.
After seminary, you will forget lots of really important things that you learned in seminary. But you must always remember Jesus Christ no matter what.
If you ever 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 take your share of rough treatment and put up with all things for the sake of God’s elect people, the church catholic. Why? Not for yourself, but for others, “that like you they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”
So, my brothers and sisters, I urge you to suffer in gospel ministry with all your heart, not so that you can experience salvation, but so that others can experience it with you.
In one of my favorite films, Kingdom of Heaven, Godfrey of Ibelin makes his son a knight. And with his last and dying breath he gives him a solemn charge, which I want to pass on to you now:
Be without fear in the face of your enemies.
Be brave and upright that God may love thee.
Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death.
Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong.
That is your oath.
Let us pray: O God, grant us the grace to imitate Jesus and participate in his sufferings, with one another, for the sake of your chosen people, to the praise of your glorious gospel. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen
Benediction: May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.