I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: Focusing on the Gospel
In an article in Guideposts Magazine a few years ago there was a story told by the operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti. He says:
"When I was a boy, my father, a baker, introduced me to the wonders of song," He urged me to work very hard to develop my voice. Arrigo Pola, a professional tenor in my hometown of Modena, Italy, took me as a pupil. I also enrolled in a teachers college. On graduating, I asked my father, 'Shall I be a teacher or a singer?' "'Luciano,' my father replied, 'if you try to sit on two chairs, you will fall between them. For life, you must choose one chair.'
I chose one. It took seven years of study and frustration before I made my first professional appearance. It took another seven to reach the Metropolitan Opera. And now I think whether it's laying bricks, writing a book--whatever we choose--we should give ourselves to it. Commitment, that's the key. Choose one chair."
Many Christians, in life, try to sit in too many chairs. They focus on so many things that have no importance in the end. They work hard so that they can survive, focusing on the weekend or the two week vacation when they can spend a few hours relaxing. And then they start the process all over again and can't wait for retirement when they don't have to work at a job they don't really like ever again.
Then many, at retirement, get bored and look for things that will occupy their time. Some go back to work, either because they can't live on their savings and Social Security, or because they want to do something to fill up the hours.
Some focus on their homes or other possessions and how they can improve and increase them, or they commit themselves to hobbies that they enjoy. Those who have enough money, may spend their retirement years traveling to different parts of the world.
While there isn't anything wrong with work, or possessions, hobbies, travel, or even retirement from a certain job, they should not become the focus of the Christian life. Rather, our commitment should be the glory of God and the advancement of the gospel of God's grace.
Not all of us are called to be preachers and teachers of the Word. However, we are all ambassadors of the Lord Jesus and should make sure everything we do leads, in some way, to the furtherance of the cause of Christ.
In the end, many Christians make commitments in life that don't look any different than the average non-Christian. Too many believers in the Lord Jesus Christ come to the end of their earthly journey with very little of spiritual value to show for it.
Paul, in his last letter to his son-in-the-faith, Timothy, is giving his young protégé some final words of advice and counsel before the great Apostle is going to be beheaded for his faith. He is in chains in a dark, damp, Roman prison awaiting his fate and finds it necessary to talk to and encourage this young friend and pastor of the church in Ephesus.
He is writing during a time when Christians were experiencing great persecution for their faith. It was a time when it would be easy to neglect what is important and focus on selfish things. Timothy, and the church that he pastored, could just forget about the gospel and all that the Apostle taught to them and go about their ordinary lives just like all the pagans were living.
However, in the end, it would be a totally wasted existence and one that would go unrewarded. Also, sadly, they'd miss the abundant life that Christ has promised those who belong to Him as His followers. In Jesus Christ alone we have the ultimate motivation for living and a reason to hope for a life beyond the grave.
Paul is reminding his friend of all of these things that he's taught him and is encouraging Timothy not to be fearful in fulfilling his job as the pastor in Ephesus. He wants the young man to continue to do what is right and what is important, namely to preach and teach the gospel of the grace of God. In order to do this the great Apostle gives Timothy 4 desires that every Christian must cultivate in order to stay focused on eternal things.
I. A Desire the Focus of a Soldier (2:1-4)
The very first thing that a Christian must desire in order to have a successful Christian walk that doesn't waver is to have the focus of a soldier. After Paul tells Timothy to stay strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus and to pass along what he's heard from Paul on to other faithful men who will, in turn, pass it on to future generations, he uses a metaphor to talk about the Christian life. He compares the Christian to being a soldier in an army.
Paul even goes so far as to ask him to:
"Suffer hardship with me as a good soldier of Jesus Christ."
Can you imagine a recruiter today who invites a candidate for the military to join in this way. Today, they say that they'll pay for their college tuition and allow the recruit to see the world, among other things. They use benefits that seem appealing.
Not Paul. He told Timothy that if he'd be in Jesus' army, he'd suffer hardships. The truth is that the soldier in the earthly army does the same. Anyone who has ever gone through boot camp or has been on the battlefield will tell you this.
However, if the cause is just then all of the hardships will be worth it in the end. The true benefits come after the war is over. And the benefits for the Christian come after this life is over.
What we all have to remember is that the Christian life is not a playground. It is rather a battlefield. We have an enemy, Satan, seeking to destroy us and to keep us from becoming all that God wants us to be.
We once followed the Devil, who is called the god of this world, and he was leading us to destruction. Now we have a new commander, the Lord Jesus Christ and we obey His orders alone.
Paul tells Timothy:
"No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier."
A good soldier is focused on the battle and the war and not on civilian affairs. We could never imagine a true soldier, getting ready for a battle, but running back to his commanding officer and telling him:
"Oh, I can't fight the enemy tomorrow! I forgot that I have to go harvest the crops in my field. When I'm finished, I promise I'll come back and help you finish the war!"
The commander would tell him to get back in line and fight. No war can be won with an army that isn't focused on victory. They have to continually stay committed to moving forward, winning battle after battle, or they will lose. And God is not a loser.
But we also have to remember that He will win, with or without us. The Lord doesn't need us to fight His battles. However, He gives us the privilege of being in His army. Sadly, it's our loss and not His, if we don't fight. So, we can't allow the affairs of this world to distract us from following our commanding officer.
II. A Desire for the Obedience of an Athlete (5)
Also, not only must a Christian have the focus of a soldier. He, or she must desire to have the obedience of an athlete. Every player on a team or in an Olympic event has to know and follow the rules or they will be disqualified. Ultimately, they'll also lose the game and won't receive the prize.
On October 25, 1964, Jim Marshall, a defensive end on the the Minnesota Vikings football team, was playing in a game against the San Francisco 49ers. After recovering an offensive fumble, Marshall ran 66 yards the wrong way into his own end zone. Thinking that he had scored a touchdown for the Vikings, Marshall then threw the ball away in celebration. The ball landed out of bounds, resulting in a safety for the 49ers. For those unfamiliar with football, a safety is two points. So he scored for the wrong team.
It was totally an accident but that's beside the point. He wasn't playing by the rules and suffered the consequences. As Christians, we are playing on God's team. And we follow His rules. We are already on the winning team. The prize is an eternity in Heaven in the presence of the One who created it all. We're not there yet. So we keep competing by the rules set up by our Heavenly Coach. This will lead us to receive rewards when we stand before Him at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
And those rewards will be far better than anything we can get on this sin-cursed earth. For the Christian, the best is yet to come.
III. A Desire for the Dedication of a Farmer (6)
The final metaphor that Paul uses is that of a dedicated farmer, who works all season for the harvest of crops that will come if he takes care of them and does what is needed to make them grow. Paul tells Timothy in verse 6 of chapter 2 that:
"The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops."
Like the farmer, we Christians have to have a similar desire to be dedicated in our ministry, even if we can't see anything happening at the moment. God will cause us to reap what we sow. If not now, later.
William Carey, who lived from 1731-1864, was a British Christian missionary among other things. He spent 41 years in India without a furlough. At the end of this his mission he could count only 700 converts in a nation of millions.
However, during that time he also laid a foundation of Bible translations, education and social reform. And he inspired a whole new generation of men to go onto the mission field. He later became known as the Father of modern missions. All because he was dedicated to the ministry with which God had entrusted him.
A farmer plants in faith. He plows the field and prepares the soil ahead of time. And after planting, he waters it and keeps out the weeds in order for the crops to grow to maturity.
Of course there are no guarantees. There could be a crop failure. Maybe a hurricane or tornado comes and wipes out the field. There could be an early frost that will destroy the plants. But the farmer remains dedicated to getting to the fall and receiving a great harvest.
Like William Carey, Paul the Apostle and Timothy, we must remain dedicated to whatever ministry that God has given to us. And then we leave the results up to Him who sent us.
IV. A Desire to Endure for the Gospel (8-13)
In verses 8-13 we see the reason we must desire to be focused like a soldier, obedient like the athlete, and dedicated like the farmer. It's because of the gospel. And every believer should desire to endure so that the good news of Jesus Christ can go out to this lost world that is heading for destruction.
Paul tells Timothy to:
"Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal. But the Word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory." (8-10).
The Apostle ends this section with an old hymn that he quotes. He says:
"It is a trustworthy statement:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
if we are faithless,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself."
The section on dying with Him is a reference to the believer's spiritual participation in Christ's death and resurrection.
Believers who persevere give evidence of the genuineness of their faith. This leads to our reign with Him in His future eternal Kingdom when He will rule over the New Heavens and New Earth.
Disowning Christ is evidence that someone's faith wasn't authentic. This is not talking about a temporary failure such as with the denial of the Apostle Peter. Rather, it is talking about the apostate who abandons Christ and never returns like Judas.
These are the people the Apostle John was talking about when he said:
"They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us." (I John 2:19).
At the same time, those who are faithless do not make the Lord unfaithful, for He has made promises to believers that He will not abandon. Otherwise, He would be denying Himself. His holiness demands that He keeps His promises to those who have accepted Him through faith in Christ.
Those who truly belong to Jesus will love the gospel and should have a desire to tell others about their own relationship with the Lord, having a longing for others to come to know the One who gave them life.
So, in the final analysis, the life that we have been given is a gift to us in order that we can reflect the glory of God and to help as many other people as we can along the way to come to know Him through faith in the gospel. Paul was chained, imprisoned and ultimately died for what he believed. And he asked Timothy to be willing to do the same, suffering hardship as he was doing.
To summarize this chapter, Paul wanted Timothy to be focused like a soldier, following orders. And to be obedient like an athlete, playing by the rules in order to get the prize. Paul also desired for Timothy to have the dedication of a farmer who works and then waits for the harvest in the Fall.
And finally, he wanted this young man to remember Jesus and what he did on the cross, being faithful to tell others about the wonderful teaching of the gospel.
When it comes right down to it, the Christian life requires a sacrifice. It is so easy to go with the flow and follow the crowd. It's not as easy to go against what the world teaches. But Scripture also tells us that eternity is well worth any sacrifice that we can make on this earth.
Someone once said:
"Believers in this life are as close to Hell as they're ever going to be. While unbelievers are as close to Heaven as they will ever get."
As followers of Jesus, we aren't home yet. We're not in Heaven. So we've still got work to do. And if all our dedication and faithfulness through hardships that we have in this life brings one soul to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, then isn't it worth it to use our time for that purpose and not to waste it on things that won't last?
Paul thought so. And because of his witness, we are all here today, saved by the grace of God. May we follow his example, as he followed Christ!
© 2020 Jeff Shirley