2 Timothy 2:8-10 “This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.”
Paul is writing his last letter, and it is to his beloved son in the faith, Timothy, the pastor of the church in Ephesus on the western shore of what we call today Turkey. They were hard times for all the true Christians because all the other churches had embraced new teaching and turned against Paul. What is the first thing in our text that the apostle tells Timothy?
- PAUL SUFFERED FOR THE GOSPEL.
If I said to you what Paul says to Timothy in this letter, “Join with me in suffering for the gospel” (1:8) then you’d be totally perplexed. “What suffering have you known for the gospel?” you’d ask. If we were Syrian Christians, or believers living in North Korea, or Iraq, or in parts of India and Pakistan then that is the context in which followers of Jesus Christ today are living their lives. The invitation to become a Christian is an invitation to suffer for your new faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and your Saviour. Join with us in our sufferings for the gospel. But by and large we are fat cats. A friend told me of a man from his church who joined the army and after six months he returned home. They asked him in the church whether it was hard to be a Christian in the army. He told them that it wasn’t. They were surprised and quizzed him a little more about the response of fellow soldiers to his words and life as a Christian. “Oh, I haven’t told them that I’m a Christian,” he said. Then it was easy. He claimed to be a secret disciple, but you cannot sit on a fence for long. It is a precarious and uncomfortable place to be. Either the secrecy is going to destroy the Christianity or the Christianity is going to destroy the secrecy. Secrecy was not an option for Timothy; “Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner” (1.8); “I am not ashamed” (1.12) said Paul. Are we? We sing a hymn, “Jesus, and shall it ever be, A mortal man, ashamed of Thee?
“Ashamed of Jesus! that dear Friend On Whom my hopes of Heav’n depend!
No; when I blush, be this my shame, That I no more revere His Name.
“Ashamed of Jesus! yes, I may When I’ve no guilt to wash away;
No tear to wipe, no good to crave, No fears to quell, no soul to save.
“Ashamed of Jesus! empty pride! I’ll boast a Savior crucified,
And O may this my portion be, My Savior not ashamed of me!
Maybe it’s being ashamed of Jesus that’s the reason we’re not suffering for the gospel? I remember a vibrant Christian girl who accompanied her husband who was a student at the university. She wore a large badge identifying herself as a Christian, and she gave out tracts. She was on the campus one day working her way down the line of students in the dining room carrying their trays waiting to pick up a meal, and she was giving them each a tract. There was a student who worshipped with us standing in the line, and he saw her getting nearer and nearer to him and finally she gave him a smile and a tract, and he said to her, “I’m a Christian.” He told me what joy he had in saying those words for the first time. He believed them in his heart, but then he confessed his inner faith with his lips. He was never so ashamed to do that again. “I’m one of those too!”
Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with the beatitudes. I have heard them referred to as ‘the beautiful attitudes.’ The final beatitudes are all about the inevitability of suffering for the gospel and the strange powerful and glorious blessedness that that brings into our lives. There is no blessedness to be experienced that dodges suffering. Jesus could not make it clearer; “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:10-12). How faithful was Moses and how the people grumbled about him and rebelled at his teaching, telling him it were better for them if they had lived and died as slaves in Egypt than to have followed him into the wilderness. How faithful was Elijah and Jeremiah and how terribly they were treated, and what a blessing their lives have been to the world ever since. From 10,000 pulpits all over the world today the example and teaching of those prophets is strengthening a million Christians even as we meet here. How blessed is the person who suffers for righteousness’ sake.
But how Paul suffered! He describes it here, “Even to the point of being chained like a criminal” (v.9). He was having to endure the painful humiliation of wearing fetters like a dangerous criminal. What an indignity! When he first became a Christian and was preaching in Damascus they were searching for him to kill him and he escaped by being lowered in a basket from a room on the walls of the city. What an indignity! A runaway. He was a Roman citizen. He was innocent! He was being treated like a criminal – this word is also found in Luke 23 to describe the two men crucified on each side of the Lord Jesus, and you remember that one of them confessed that his life had been so heinous that he deserved a long, lingering crucifixion. The standard New Testament Greek dictionary informs us that this word ‘criminal’ is used to describe ‘those who commit gross misdeeds and serious crimes’ – violent people like murderers and traitor, scum who were tortured to death. This was no open prison as was his first house arrest in Rome. Do you remember the last two verses of the book of Acts? This is how Luke describes Paul’s situation in Rome, “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:30&31). That was his first incarceration in Rome and much freedom was Paul’s, but then that abnormality terminated and the Christian pattern reasserted itself, going from the hard to the difficult and the difficult to the impossible which I tell you is the normal pattern of the Christian life. A godly ministry cannot end with everybody slapping you on the back and singing, ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’ not if you are a righteous man. It ends as it did with Jesus and Stephen and Paul and Tyndale and Bunyan and Spurgeon and it is very sad if it ends in any other way.
Just before Paul wrote this letter in the year 64 Nero in his evil madness set alight to half the city of Rome and burned it to the ground and then blamed the Christians for causing it, and so they were arrested and crucified and covered in pitch and burned alive and their women were thrown to the starving lions in the Coliseum as entertainment and Paul ended up in a cell manacled to a legionnaire. Some of them were foul-smelling bullies who wouldn’t tolerate Paul preaching to them and he was chained to the apostle. That is the context out of which this holy Scripture that we are studying came. Nothing could be less conducive to holy God-breathed writing, but what Timothy received was soon to become the most favourite New Testament epistle of many Christians. And Paul then tells us why . . .
- BUT GOD’S WORD IS NOT CHAINED.
“The word of God!” What a wonderful phrase! This is the first time it is found in this letter, and the only time. Later it is simply called ‘the Word’ or again ‘the Word of Truth.’ Think of it, that in this world that God created there is such an entity as the word of God. I can hold in my hand a book and it is exactly as God intended it to be, to the jots and tittles. Remember what Wesley said of it one day, exultant in joy? “I am a creature of a day. I am a spirit come from God and returning to God. I want to know one thing: the way to Heaven. God himself has condescended to teach me in that way: He has written it down in a Book. O, give me that Book. At any price give me the Book of God. Let me be a man of one Book.” That was Paul and that was Timothy and that is every man of God who has served God in the last 2,000 years.
I want us to face today the reality of this book, that it is the Word of god, that we should pause and read these great written words of the apostle Paul and understand that nowhere in the whole realm of human literature can we find letters that are remotely comparable to those of Paul, and Peter, and James and John. I am saying, in other words, that the Bible itself, the gospels and letters as extant realities, that that Bible and these gospels are themselves miracles, that when I hold this Word in my hand then I am grasping a miracle. I am holding something absolutely and utterly unique. I have something here that is miraculous in the independence of its thought, in the compellingness of its tone, and in its utter and invincible confidence that it is relevant to the lives of everyone who is hearing or reading these words. And sometimes in moments of doubt our minds must rest in this, “I have the Bible. I have this great intrusion, a book that come from another world, where I can read the unique utterances of the Son of God and his inspired apostles.”
I have seen human literature. When I was a small boy I lived 100 yards from the town’s Carnegie Library and I almost read the children’s department dry. Then I studied English up to the level of university entrance, but here in the Bible I find something discontinuous. Here is something splendid and absolutely unique. These are words that know me, that describe me, that search me, that find me, that speak to my need, that contain concepts that are quite unsurpassable in their grandeur, and that are quite uninventable in their sheer originality. There are times when I say that if there were no God then I’d worship the One who wrote this Book.
Paul says of it here, that whereas men could bind him and silence him in death, they cannot do that to the Word of God. He says wryly that it’s not chained! They can stop us, but there is no way they can stop our message. As Luther sang, “The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; His kingdom is for ever.” Why is it that no one can chain the Word of God? We would say that firstly it is truth, and one quality of truth is that it endures unchanging on. Every attempt to silence it has failed. If there’s persecution then it goes underground and it lives in the hearts of the people and secretly they speak it to one another and explain it to all whom they meet. They burned the body of John Wycliffe, one of the first translators of the Bible into English, and they tipped his ashes into the river Swift, but they flowed down into the sea and spread across the oceans to the nations of the world. We sing the song, “Glory, glory Hallelujah, his truth goes marching on.” God’s truth abideth still.
Then secondly, we can say his word is Spirit as well as truth and there are no fetters or handcuffs or padlocks that can chain Spirit, anymore than you can chain a rainbow. Then thirdly, his word is alive and powerful, more powerful than anything on earth or in hell. All is helpless compared to the word of God. It was by the word of God that the heavens were made. Let there be light! And there was light. And light cannot say, “I will not be . . . I do not want to be!” because when God speaks it happens and all things hold fast. The universe is powerful, but how much more powerful must be the word that created it. And fourthly the word of God cannot be chained because it is an irresistible force; it is omnipotence educating and enlightening and making Christ-like a company of people more than anyone can number. Three thousand men at the Feast of Pentecost were unable to resist the word of God that Peter preached to them. The message they heard resulted in all of them turning around and repenting, every one of them, and believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. Charles Wesley describes that experience like this, “My chains fell off; my heart was free; I rose, went forth and followed thee.” The word of God cannot be chained.
- SINCE THIS IS SO THEN WE MUST ENDURE.
This is a summons for vigilance and a warning against complacency. “Therefore I endure everything . . .” (v.10). Paul is stirring up Timothy’s will to endure. Take a stand, Timothy. Don’t stop, Timothy. Go on, Timothy. That is the difference between failure and success. “I endure everything, and so must you and every single Christian.” Here is this immensely logical and wise man whose life was liberated when the word of God came to him on the Damascus Road.
The life of this cruel and prejudiced inquisitor general was saved through meeting Christ there, and Paul was changed beyond human understanding. Saul the old man died and was no more; Paul the new man now lived, and from that time on he became someone whose first thoughts were for the welfare of others. Let me give you one illustration of this. He spent weeks on board a little ship in a horrific storm in the Mediterranean. It finally was wrecked and he and his fellow passengers swam ashore onto the island of Malta. The first thing Paul did when he picked himself up on the beach, cold and soaking wet, was to search for driftwood and get a fire going to save his fellow castaways from hypothermia. Once the word of God entered his life and put its roots deep into his heart then he instinctively loved his neighbours as himself, and decades later, shipwrecked on a Mediterranean island, that was still his first thought. Paul pressed on; he endured, whatever providence brought into his life.
This is the hallmark of everyone who knows the power of the word of God in their lives. They keep going. We are told by God that this is an essential evidence of all who really trust in the Son of God, that they endure to the end and are saved. Now that certainly does not mean that if I live sinlessly to the end then I’ll get to heaven. The Christian falls, and the Christian fails in everything he does but he keeps alive his hope of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Let me use this illustration, there is a life and death difference between falling on the deck of a yacht in a violent storm while attached to that vessel by a lifeline, and falling off the yacht into the sea, washed overboard without a lifeline. We fall in the hands of Jesus. When we fall we don’t give up. Though we fall seven times we get up seven times. It is Jesus’ love keeps us enduring, through all the attacks of Satan, and all the weakness of remaining sin, through pain and self-pity and the disappointment of how other Christians let you down, you endure. The weakest Christian will endure. By enduring the snail reached the ark. Jesus told Peter that he was going to fall three times that night, but that he had prayed for him. We know what Jesus was praying for Peter. These are his words, “Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given to me” (Jn.17:11).
How much did Paul endure? He endured everything! He is not boasting when he tells Timothy this. He is stating a fact. The grace of God in his life is so powerful that he can endure incessant hard work, prison, floggings, exposure to death again and again, forty lashes five times, stoning, three shipwrecks, a night and a day in the open sea, being constantly on the move having no place to call his home, and in danger from swollen rivers, bandits, his own countrymen, frequent sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, cold nakedness and his concern for all the churches. “I endure all things!” he said. I don’t know Paul’s breaking point, but God knows. I don’t know my breaking point, but the Lord knows. The thorn in the flesh was not Paul’s breaking point because God told him that his grace was sufficient to keep him. And we can’t endure some minor disagreement in the church, or an inadequate sermon, or a feeling that our gifts and wisdom are not recognized, or some people we don’t get along with, or differences of opinion about people’s gifts and suitability for office!
Why did Paul endure all things? What motivated him? He tells us; “for the sake of the elect.” There are people whom God loves and he has chosen them from before the foundation of the earth that they should be holy and blameless before him one day. Imagine what would have happened if God had chosen no one! No one would have been saved because they were all dead in trespasses and sins. He did not choose one of them because some were smarter or richer or more beautiful or more talented than others. He chose them because he loved them, millions and millions of them, not one of them was lovable. He chose them to be the bride of Christ, his body, his eternal inheritance.
So Paul loved them because he saw how precious they were to God and thus they became precious to him. Ted Donnelly accompanied a man from his church to a Belfast hospital visiting his wife in the last stages of cancer. They went into her ward together. “Look at her Ted,” he said, “Isn’t she beautiful?” And there was a thin yellow-skinned woman who had lost much of her hair, but her husband was seeing his your bride and best friend, the one he’d loved for over 50 years. “Isn’t she beautiful?” Of course to him she was, and that is how all the church is to God in Jesus Christ, clothed in his righteousness, and when they see him they shall be like him! That is how God sees us and loves us, and that is why we accept all the indignities and criticisms and grumbles and misunderstandings and cares that come from being in the church in a fallen world. We endure everything for the sake of the elect.
- A PASTOR’S DETERMINATION – THAT EACH ONE REACHES GLORY.
What does Paul say? He sets before Timothy the goal of our entire preaching and pastoral ministry, our prayers and letter writing and counseling, “that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory” (v.10). He is speaking of salvation completed and consumated and perfected. Why do we give ourselves for the work of the ministry? Why do we spend years training in seminary while other men are getting promotion and climbing ladders of position and office and earning good salaries? Why do we enter such an unappreciated vocation as the Christian ministry? A dozen theological colleges and seminaries have closed in Wales in the last half century because there are so few men contemplating becoming preachers. Why bother? You could be a Christian ‘layman’ and reach many people as a schoolteacher or a manager, and such people are needed. Why give up a recognized and influential place in society for the frequent indignities of being a pastor-preacher? Paul reminds Timothy here of the reason.
i] There is salvation in Christ Jesus. There is this reality, as real as this congregation and this building and this Bible and this hymnbook and the person sitting next to you – all realities, and so is the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.
We need to be saved from our ignorance of how this world came about, and who is the God who made it, and why do men and women behave as they do, beheading and raping and stoning and murdering and becoming suicide bombers that kill strangers, who are women and children and teenagers? Why do men and women behave like this? How should we live? What lies after death? Is there grace from God to help us change and live like that? Is there mercy in God and forgiveness? How can God be just and yet justify and declare righteous wicked, hell-deserving men and women? Jesus Christ is the great prophet and teacher who has been sent into the world by God to answer all those questions. He saves us from our ignorance. He tells us God creating the world and men and women in his image. He tells us of the fall of man, and sin and death entering the world, but how God set up the machinery of redemption by sending his Son into the world, born of a virgin, living an impeccable life and so fulfilling all righteousness, and finally dying as our substitute, bearing our shame, receiving our condemnation in his own body as the Lamb of God taking away the sin of world. He cam deliver us from our ignorance of all this by telling us to come to Christ in faith and learn of him for he is meek and lowly of heart and you can find rest in all your restlessness. He saves us from our ignorance.
We need to be saved from the power that sin has over us. I have been sharing with the congregation letters from a man who has been living a despicable life, some of the details of which I did not print in the weekly letters for the praying people on Tuesday night, as too graphic. He wrote last week about the growing change in him as he had never experienced before. Sin had been reigning over him and he could not prevent himself fulfilling the lusts of the flesh and the mind. He was a prisoner to his sin; “The Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin” (Gals. 3:22). Sin was telling him to look at pornography and visit prostitutes and he was obeying it and hating himself and his hypocrisy. He needed someone who could deliver him from being dominated by the power of sin. Jesus Christ is that Saviour who is stronger than all the strength of the armies that come from pit and he can deliver us from the power of sin. When he prayed, “and lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil” then God answered him! He really did. The Lord comes in all his omnipotent grace and saves us from our powerful enemy. Sometimes he takes the desire away. Sometimes he takes the occasion away. Sometimes he gives us a hatred for it. Sometimes he allows us to fall and with the fall gives us bitter regrets and no joy. But Jesus can save you from your temptations and falls. This man whose letters we have been reading, is testifying to deliverance from the power of sin over him.
We need to be saved also from the penalty of our sinning. “The wages of sin is death,” that is the physical death that lies before each one of us steadily getting nearer and nearer, utterly unavoidable, and after death the judgment, God evaluating our lives, whether we loved and served him and loved and served our neighbours, whether we turned the other cheek and went the second mile, and overcame evil with good, whether we were ashamed of Jesus Christ? What have we done with our lives? Has our chief end been to glorify God and enjoy him for ever? If not why not? Have you been glorying in yourself, serving yourself? What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? After the judgment throne there is the second death for the impenitent and the unbelieving. The Lord Jesus by his life and death saves us from that. He was made sin for us. He bore our sin and guilt in his own body on the cross. He was made a curse for us, and for all those who put their trust in him there is now no condemnation. There is salvation in Christ Jesus. How shall we escape if we neglect it? Who can stand in the eternal burnings? Who can be delivered from the bonfire of the vanities, the cesspit of the universe where the false prophet is and the beast is and where all who neglect this salvation will be?
I have told you that there is salvation that is in Christ Jesus. That is what Paul reminds Timothy here. We are living on the edge of eternity. But there is a salvation that can be obtained! Men love to obtain things, a driving license, and place at university, a scholarship, a post. Do you see that word ‘obtained’ in our text? Paul had obtained God’s salvation, and Timothy had obtained it and all the elect too may obtain it, he says. All the elect here today reading these words may obtain it. “How do I know whether I am elect?” you ask. By obtaining this salvation. By giving your life to God in Christ Jesus. By asking him to show you mercy. By confessing your sins to him. By running away from all the influences that would destroy you and keep you in unbelief. By saying to the Lord, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” By believing in your heart that Jesus died for your sins and confessing with your lips that he is the living Saviour who can deliver you from the ignorance and power and condemnation of sin. Then you can obtain this salvation too. There is no other way. You must fix your mind of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is mercy – it is in him. There is new life – it is in him – there are new resources – they are in him. There is salvation from hell – that is in him. It is all in him and you must do all in your power to get joined to Jesus Christ.
ii] That salvation in Christ Jesus is with eternal glory. What moved the Lord Jesus Christ to endure the cross and despise the shame? The joy that was set before him. He could cry, “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.” He knew where he was going at death. Not into annihilation or purgatory but into the glorious presence of his Father, returning to the one who had sent him to the earth 33 years earlier to be the Saviour of the world. Back to the Father he was returning, mission accomplished, having delivered from hell all that vast number whom god had given to him to save and keep. He would now intercede for them and bring them safely home to the glory above. “God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:3&4). And glory, glory dwelleth in Emmanuel’s land.
7th February 2016 GEOFF THOMAS