2 Timothy 2:11-13 “Here is a trustworthy saying: 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 will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”
Many of you know that there are five of these ‘trustworthy sayings’ or ‘faithful sayings’ in the three pastoral epistles. There are three in the first letter of Timothy; there is one in the letter to Titus and there is this one in the second letter to Timothy. If you are thinking, “That would be a good subject for my Ph.D.” then an excellent one has been done on these five sayings, and it has been published. It is by George Knight, and his conclusions are summarized in his definitive commentary on these three letters.
So what were these ‘trustworthy sayings’? They were certainly truths that were well known among Christians. Were they kinds of choruses that they sang? Did Paul write them and teach them to the converts? Is this one a fragment of a longer hymn or is it the chorus of a hymn? When Polycarp the church father quotes it he adds another couple of lines that are not here. You can see that our text is certainly semi-poetic; technically it is what we call a quatrain, four verses, all conditional sentences each one beginning with the word ‘if.’ The first two verses are positive and the second two are negative. There is also chronological progress; they begin in the past tense and then they go on and deal with the present and finally they speak of the future. So you can see that this ‘trustworthy saying’ is carefully constructed. I wonder if these sayings had become proverbs written on pieces of papyrus and hung on their walls, or on the walls of the places where they met – just as in our meeting place the text ‘The time is short’ is printed on the face of the church clock?
Did they quote them to one another especially during various trials – “Here is a trustworthy saying: 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 will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” Was this a statement that was made by a convert before he was baptized? We guess at the various contexts in which these trustworthy sayings were used in the New Testament church. Probably in all those contexts, just as with each of us, different verses and passages of the Bible become helpful to us at various times. Let us look at the first epigram.
- IF WE DIED WITH JESUS CHRIST WE WILL ALSO LIVE WITH HIM.
Almost identical words are found in the opening verses of chapter 6 of Romans. This truth was vastly important to Paul and he wanted it to be important to us because his entire doctrine of the Christian life hung on this fact that all Christians have died to sin in and with Jesus Christ. The tense of the verb is past: “We were put to death with Jesus Christ.” So this trustworthy saying begins by referring to something that has already happened in history, in time and space, in the death of the Son of God, and then in our own histories it happens to every convert who puts his trust in Jesus. He also has been put to death. You understand? Paul is not talking about something that needs to happen, nor is he describing an ongoing present action, “We are dying to sin” though that again is a biblical truth as we are all mortifying the sin that is in our members. Nor is he describing something that is in the future, “We will die to sin one day.” What we are reading here is not an imperative, “Annihilate sin! Mortify sin! Kill remaining sin!” Paul is not enforcing any obligation. This is not some exhortation of the apostle Paul, “Come on now Timothy, let’s both carry on dying to sin.” No! Rather this is a simple statement of what once had happened to Paul and to Timothy and all the members of the church in Ephesus, “We all died with Jesus.”
The simple truth is that if you are a mere believer in Jesus Christ, you have been joined to our Lord Jesus – you are in him – and you’ve already died to sin in him. It’s a past event, an accomplished fact. What is a Christian? A Christian is a believer in Jesus and – like all believers any time and everywhere – he has died to sin. It is fundamental to Paul’s practical application of his Christian teaching. At a particular point in a Christian’s past life there was this completed event, there was this past experience; there had taken place this definitive, once-for-all, irreversible occurrence, every single believer has died in the crucifixion of Christ. In his dying he was their substitute; he really bore their guilt and their judgment; he paid the wages of their sin in his death. They were joined to him as he hung on the cross, breathed his last, died and was buried. They were dead in Christ too.
Let me say again that Paul isn’t pushing the power of positive thinking here. He’s not saying, “Whisper to yourself fifty times every day, ‘I have died to sin . . . I have died to sin . . . I have died to sin’ and if you’ll just tell yourself enough times that you’re a person who has died to sin, well then, you will be assured that you have actually died to sin.” Paul is not playing games here, he is talking about a reality which has been wrought by God through the life and death of his Son for and in every Christian. He’s talking about you taking on board in your reckoning and thinking a great change of status and resources and relationships that have already occurred as you have entrusted yourself to the Lord Jesus. He is not saying, “Let go and let God become your Lord.” Paul is not encouraging denial. He’s not encouraging people who are still whole-hog in love with the life of unbelief and self, “Let’s pretend that we’re not.” He’s not saying, “OK, you people that are in love with this vain world, just for a moment act as if you’re not, and pretend . . . like . . . you’ve died to sin.” He’s not encouraging denial. Paul is describing one of the definitive changes that occurs when a person entrusts themselves to Christ. We lived and died and rose with him.
Paul is talking about union with Christ. Timothy, remember who you are! You were in Adam as was your mother and grandmother, but now you three are all people who are united to Christ, and therefore, as he died on the cross so also these three generations of the Timothy family also died to sin in him. All right, but what does that phrase mean? Here is the simple answer. It means that you have been set free from the tyranny and domination and ruling power of sin over your life. You remember that in the New Testament sin is portrayed as a strong man armed and merciless with prisoners and slaves under his power. Before you came to Christ, you were a prisoner and enslaved to sin. Sin, your master, told you to ignore God; never to pray; not to go to a Bible-preaching church; to change the conversation when a Christian family member or friend began to drive it in a certain religious direction, and then you obediently changed the subject; the man you used to be never thought about Jesus, or about praying, or even about dying, or about the Bible. Sin, who was your former master, said things like that to you, and you did what your master told you to do. You were a man in Adam who obeyed sin, but then the metamorphosis took place, when God’s grace laid hold of you. Then God joined you to Christ and all the benefits of his perfect powerful life actually and positionally became yours. You were set free. Your chains fell off. The prison doors were opened and you walked out of that status of being a prisoner to sin. So the sin-obeying man you used to be was radically changed. He was put to death. The old unbelieving pagan you used to be “died” to sin’s ruling power over you and you were placed under the rule of Jesus Christ. Once the prisoner has died the warden can yell at him and scream and whip him, and kick him, but he doesn’t move. He lies on the floor dead. Mr. or Mrs. Christian has died to the influence of the tyrant Sin over him. Sin has no more hold over him. So it is with every single believer. If any man is in Christ Jesus he is a new creation, old things have passed away; all things have become new. When sin tells us to reject Jesus Christ . . . “curse him . . . have nothing to do with him,” then we do nothing of the sort, and sin can rant and rave, but we don’t hear him and we don’t fear him and we don’t obey him.
Let me use another vivid picture. Imagine an ancient slave market. If you are a slave, you must obey your master’s every word. He says “Come!” and you come. You have no choice. You are ‘alive’ to his voice because he is your master. But suppose you are sold at an auction to a new master. From the moment of the sale, your old master no longer has any legal right to command you. He can see you in the street and can shout to you, ‘Come here this minute!” but you no longer have to go running to him. He can command until he is blue in the face, but you have no obligation to obey him. You have “died” to his authority and “come alive” to a new master. Can you still obey that old master and go to him? Oh yes, if you are weak and afraid of him and choose to act as you once acted, but you no longer have to submit because he has no power over you – unless you choose to go weak at the knees and give him power. But it doesn’t make sense to obey your former master when you have a new master. No man can serve two masters.
That is what Paul is reminding Timothy of here. Timothy, you and I have “died” to our old slave master (sin) because we were joined to God the Son when he took our place and he entered into sin and death for us. Now we have “come alive” to a new master (Jesus Christ). So why serve sin voluntarily when you don’t have to? We died with him and now we’re also living with him. If you are a Christian, your life has two parts, B.C. and A.D. ‘Before Christ and After Deliverance.’ The story of Paul’s life, and Timothy’s life, and every single Christian’s life is their translation from the ‘Before Christ’ side to the ‘After Deliverance’ side. Our old self was crucified with him; our “old self” is the life we used to live. It’s the person you once were. It’s the “old you” with your old unbelieving way of thinking and acting and relating. All of that is now gone. Your friends search for that unregenerate unbelieving man whom they once knew – the old you, the person you used to be. They look in the nightclub and in the betting shop but they never find you in your old haunts. The old ‘you’ no longer exists. He has been put to death. People have been looking for you since you turned religious but you’re not to be found anywhere. That unbeliever is dead and buried. He was crucified with Christ. All they can find now is a new man who sings, “The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want.” He is living day by day with Jesus. Paul can say, “I live, yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”
Isn’t that magnificent? We sometimes look at the pressures, the mountains God asks us to climb, the burdens God asks us to carry, and we say to ourselves, how can we possibly manage. We say, “I can’t cope with this any longer,” until we come back to these great words of one syllable, “we live with him.” When Paul saw this he rejoiced; “So I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Christ lives with every one of his children. He inhabits the body of Christ. Every Christian bears the fruit of God’s Spirit. We can’t excuse our failures by thinking that we didn’t have the helpful presence of the Lord Jesus, and if only we’d had his life in us then everything would have been different. You can never argue like that – because you all live with him, and so you can climb any mountain, endure any caring ministry, bear any burden, endure any frustration, submit to any loneliness, overcome any temptation, bear any pressure because the life you now live is with Christ, day by day and every passing moment. Whatever God gives you, and whatever God calls you to do then you can do all those things, because the old unbelieving you has died with Christ and the new you lives with him and he is living in you. “If we died with him, we will also live with him.” Tomorrow and all my tomorrows, as long as life and immortality endures I am living that future with him.
- IF WE ENDURE WE WILL ALSO REIGN WITH HIM.
Once again today this theme is set before us. In both services today God has spoken to us about the necessity of enduring. I reckon there are some people here who are close to giving up and that is why God has given me these two messages today. Maybe that person is me. Maybe it is you. How can we endure? Three ways;
i] Have a realistic view of yourself. I am not as strong, or as wise or as patient as I think I am, but God is stronger and wiser and more patient than I can imagine. In our better moments we know that. We are not as good as we think we are, and the only thing that keeps us going is this, that Jesus Christ is a strong and all-wise Saviour. He is everything we are not. He knows the future. He knows our real needs. He knows when we have reached our breaking point and will never push us over the brink. Remember the great foundation of your hope is this, that God justifies the ungodly who believe in Christ. This Lord came seeking for sinners, and he finds them and he saves them and he gives them a purpose in life.
ii] Discover your purpose in life. The supreme purpose of my life is to find out why God laid hold of me. What is his purpose for my life? You discover his purpose through his many providences, how he guides you, where he takes you, what duties and responsibilities he brings into your life. Then you don’t waste your life with other secondary issues. Paul said, “This one thing I do!” That is how you endure. You have seen a sniffer dog at an airport or in a prison, ears alert, eyes focused, sniffing one bag and then another and another. You have seen another dog let off a leash in a park running everywhere sniffing every flower and tree. He has no mission and no purpose. A Christian says, “One thing I do.” His chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever. You know the parable of the talents. Jesus tells us that a man is faithful in one talent and he receives another talent, and another, and another. Five become ten; three become six. A preacher marries and he is to love his wife as himself. That one thing he does. Then he is given children; the fruit of the womb is God’s reward, and he is faithful in raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. This one thing I do. Then God gives him a pulpit and a ministry, speaking three times a week. This one thing I do. Then God gives him a website and international correspondence. “This one thing I do,” he says about every talent entrusted to him by God.
A talented artist says, “This one thing I do.” A caring teacher says, “This one thing I do.” An athlete says, “This one thing I do.” A single mother says, “This one thing I do.” A student who wants an excellent degree says, “This one thing I do.” But most people are like the dog let loose in the park, chasing butterlies, saying, “Many things I do,” and they are totally fragmented people, unsuccessful and unattaining in anything, because their priority is not to give themselves first of all to one thing and do it with all their might. It is not enough to have a list. I have lists covering my desk. One thing on most of them is “Tidy your desk!” We can delude ourselves into thinking that if we have a list we have a purpose – it’s not true. A list without a purpose is just a list. Discover your purpose in life. I am speaking on enduring and I am saying that the first way to endure is to have a realistic view of yourself, and then it is to rediscover the chief end of your life and go for it.
iii] Forget what lies behind you. If you are going to persevere and progress in the Christian life then you can’t keep looking back. After the American Civil War the Christian general, Robert E. Lee, who’d led the defeated Confederate army, visited a woman who showed him the remains of a wonderful tree in front of her home. “Look at it”, she said, “Look what they did to it. My grandfather planted that tree.” It had been destroyed by Union artillery fire. Then she waited for Lee to condemn the North, or at least sympathize with her loss. Lee paused and then he said, “Cut it down, dear madam, and forget it.” As a congregation we are going through this challenging process of choosing a new pastor, and we have to forget many things in the past; many things that have been said. If Paul and Barnabas disagreed about the suitability of John Mark to join them and work with them then little shrimps like us are bound to disagree in our assessment of men.
The apostle Paul urges us to forget the things that are past. If we are to make progress and persevere in the Christian life then we must mortify vain regrets and disappointments. We are to refuse to remember our worries, and our fears, and our failures, and our victories, and our defeats, the attacks of our enemies and the praise of our supporters. Yesterday’s blessings are a day late for today. So are the accomplishments of the past months and years, any claim to fame, the good things we think we’ve done, the stuff we often do to make the world glad that we got out of bed in the morning, all the things we brag about, all the degrees and honours and column inches. Last year means nothing! Last month’s Radio Times means nothing. If ManU got promotion ten years ago, it means nothing today. If they got demoted then, it means nothing now. Let the archaeologist write learned papers about that. It is irrelevant to us. There was a time when the Cambrian News (our local paper) and the Western Mail (indeed all the daily papers) were allowed to publish wills and anybody could know how much money you had left. Every day there as a little column of how much everyone left. We know of people who were as miserly as Scrooge because they wanted as large a sum of money as possible to be there in the newspaper for the world to read. What madness! It means nothing. They are rotting in the grave and their souls are either in heaven or hell. What a blessing is holy amnesia about our victories and our defeats, our gains and losses. As long as we’re looking back, we can’t move forward. No endurance comes from looking back. If you have put your hand to the plough then you don’t look back.
But if we keep going, if we endure as we follow Jesus Christ, then what glory awaits us. The manacled Paul, put in a dungeon by Emperor Nero and soon to be put to death by the same mad tyrant, cries to Timothy in our text, “We shall reign with Jesus!” That is what this faithful saying tells us. What did our Lord say? “That where I am there you shall be also.” We shall be with him for ever, and where is he? He is in the midst of the throne, and that is our goal, the sky not the grave is our destination. That is where he will welcome us. “Well done good and faithful servant! You were faithful in little you will now have responsibility over much.” Remember Stephen as he was martyred he was given a glimpse of the risen exalted Jesus Christ and he saw our Lord standing up at the throne to go forward to welcome Stephen to his side. There from that throne we will judge men and angels. We will be co-regents with Christ,
- IF WE DISOWN HIM, THEN HE WILL ALSO DISOWN US.
Paul is referring here to those words of the Lord Jesus, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” (Matt. 10:32&33). Jesus says that we will have an Advocate with the God who is light, in whom there is no darkness at all and that that Mediator will be the Son of God, the one who became the Lamb of God. In our place condemned he stood, and he knows all who are his, all whose sins he bore, and he will say, “Father, this is one of those whom you gave to me before the foundation of the earth to save and keep. He lived in Aberystwyth and there he acknowledged me before the people of that town. He was not ashamed of me, and I am not ashamed to call him my friend and to present him to you as one who will live with us for ever in glory.
Then there are others whom Jesus also speaks about who disowned Christ, who said, “We will not have this man rule over us.” They had no time and gave no place to the Lord. They held in contempt his name, his book, his day, his people, his Spirit, his worship, and these people will be disowned by Jesus before his Father in heaven. To many he will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” There is a place of everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. That is what the Lord Jesus spoke about, the bonfire of the vanities, the cesspool of the universe and that destination is the logic of rejecting and defying Christ. Be warned. This is a trustworthy saying. “If we disown him, he will also disown us.” That is what the Lord Jesus said, and isn’t all that I quoted to you now what Jesus Christ said? Was he wrong? Do you know better than him? Whom am I to believe? You or Jesus Christ? Who preached the Sermon on the Mount? You or Jesus Christ? Who lived a spotless life? You or Jesus Christ? Who prophesied that he would rise from the dead? You or Jesus Christ? It was Jesus Christ, and if we disown him, he will also disown us.
- IF WE ARE FAITHLESS HE REMAINS FAITHFUL.
This is the final epigram; “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (v.13). How fascinating! What does this mean? What are the implications of this sentence? You see that it can mean two different things, and there is little help from the meaning of the word ‘faithless’. It can mean ‘unbelieving’ but it can also mean to disobey.
i] It can be speaking of the righteousness of the Lord. The Christ who warned the Pharisees so solemnly and at such length – “Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites” and spoke of two destinations of men and women, sheep and goats, saved and lost, this Christ is faithful to punish and repudiate because he cannot deny the justice and holiness of his being. Imagine a very fine Judge full of integrity, willing to hear every piece of evidence brought to the court, everyone acknowledges that he is just and fair. One day his own wretched prodigal son is brought before him charged with a dreadful crime. He loves his son very much and knows he faces a long term in prison for his crime if he is found guilty. Can such a judge disown all that he has sought to do in magnifying the justice of the law through every single court case? Wouldn’t such a judge have to fight against being harder and more severe in passing sentence on his son who has had such great privileges and yet repudiated them all? So that can be the meaning of this last stanza. The Lord is not unfair and weak when we all appear before him.
ii] It can be speaking of the faithfulness of the Lord to the promises of mercy he has given to those who believe in him. He will keep his promise that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. None of us will do something that is totally free from sin. All we are and all we do needs forgiveness. Many of us know shocking falls into sin. The Bible is replete with references to the falls of men of God. There is Abraham whose lies about his wife almost resulted in her being in the bed of a tyrant. There is Lot’s drunkenness and incest. There is David’s adultery. There is Solomon’s 300 wives and 700 concubines. There is his willingness to allow pagan altars and idols to be set up in Jerusalem. There is Peter disowning his Lord three times with swear words and anger. They were all forgiven. Every one. They were faithless but God remained faithful and aren’t you mighty glad of that? Have you never warmed your hands by a fire in the 100% presence of unbelievers and never spoke one word for your Lord when others were speaking ill of him and his people? Aren’t you thankful for the promise that whosoever believes in Jesus shall have everlasting life – even in the midst of your unfaithfulness? So then we can translate the opening word ‘if’ by the word ‘although’ (it is also the Greek word for ‘although’). Although we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. Although we behaved like king David, or even worse, God was merciful to us. He saw his promise, written indelibly in the blood of his Son, “Whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
What comfort to Timothy who must have had his bouts of unfaithfulness. What comfort to me, and to you. God’s mercy is grounded in the graciousness of his covenant keeping. What God is, who sent his Son to save Abraham, and Lot, and David, and Solomon, and Peter, he is always. He is today! Not one of us is always himself. No preacher is always like what he is in the pulpit. But God is always himself; he cannot be unfaithful to what he has promised. He cannot for a moment disown himself and throw into hell one of those he gave to his son to save and keep when that sinner fell into terrible sin. There was an occasion when Samuel Rutherford said, “Often and often I have in my folly torn up my copy of God’s covenant with me. But blessed be his name, he keeps it in heaven safe and he stands by it always.”
There is a famous American pastor whose wife had a fall into sin, and then last year he also fell into the same sexual sin. He lost his home and his church and his reputation and his vocation. Last week I got this letter that he had written. This is what he wrote,
“It’s been 8 months since I resigned my position and subsequently moved away from where I was the minnister. I moved at the invitation of a pastor and his elders. The first couple months were very painful and difficult as I was detaching from everything and everyone I love in my hometown. But as time has gone on, God has increasingly been settling my heart and mind by meeting me in the deep places . . . exposing my idols and replacing them with a fresh assurance of his love and grace. I could tell you a thousand stories of the ways God has sweetly met me very specifically in my darkest and most despairing moments, of which there have been many. Through many of you, God has met my guilt with his grace, my mess with his mercy, my sin with his salvation.
“To be completely honest, thanks to a great counselor, a great pastor, great elders, and a great church, I’m doing better now spiritually, emotionally, and mentally than I have in probably years. This place and these people have become a sanctuary for me . . . a place where I’m getting the help and healing I need and long for, a place where I’m learning to breathe again. I was telling my mom the other day that, even though this past year has been rocked by loss and pain and so much death, I’m more content and clear and at peace than I was a year ago . . . two years ago. Sometimes when it seems that God is killing you, he’s actually making you alive.
“I love you guys and am so grateful for your ongoing prayers and encouragement. You have no idea. Please keep praying. Because resurrection is God’s specialty, I have great hope (on most days) that the best is yet to come. He really does work all things out for our good and his glory. Back to my cave Many mercies to you all.” So this is what we see here in these closing words of Paul, the apostle of grace – “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”
7th February 2015 GEOFF THOMAS