Sermon / Oct 2, 2016 / 2 Timothy 1:8-9 / Passing the Baton / Pastor Terry Defoe
Our sermon text is found in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, chapter 1, verses 8 and 9. The Apostle Paul says:
8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord - or of me, his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life - not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus... (N.I.V.)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Today, we turn to a letter written by the Apostle Paul, a letter addressed to a young pastor by the name of Timothy. You know, as God’s people study the Gospels, they realize that the Gospels are telling the story of Jesus -- telling us what happened -- and doing that from four different perspectives. And, as God's people study the Word, they also realize that the rest of the New Testament – especially Paul's letters -- explain why these things happened the way they did. In other words, the gospels give us information about Christ. And the rest of the New Testament interprets that information for us. I pray that God would bless our consideration of His Holy Word this day!
Scholars tell us that the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy approximately 30 years after Jesus’ earthly ministry was complete. By that time, congregations had been established in several different places, and mission work was going ahead full steam. The Apostle Paul was definitely one of the pioneers of the Christian faith. During his lifetime, he did an incredible amount of mission work – travelling great distances and telling literally thousands of people about Jesus, the One who had changed his life so dramatically.
Paul’s letters to young Timothy – and there are two of them in the New Testament – contain words of advice from by an older, more experienced Christian, to a young man fairly new to the faith. When today's text was being written, Paul was completing his work for the Lord, and Timothy, on the other hand, was just starting out. In this second letter to Timothy, Paul shares his years of experience with this young man – as well as with us. At the time this letter was written, the apostle Paul probably had more experience sharing Christ than any other person living at that time. What better teacher could Timothy have? And when you think about it, what better teacher could we have, aside from the Lord Jesus Himself?
Evangelical leader Dr. James Dobson once compared Christian evangelism -- sharing of the Gospel of Christ – with a relay race. When you think about evangelism this way, you can imagine the Apostle Paul finishing his leg of the race, getting ready to pass the baton to a new generation. When you think about evangelism this way, you’ll realize that, all through church history, every generation of Christians has done the same thing – passed on their faith to the next generation. You may want to think about it this way. Someone in the past -- it may have been a pastor, a parent, or a friend -- cared enough about you to pass the baton of faith to you. And you received it and haven't let it go. And when you think about it, the most loving thing you and I can do for someone in the younger generation is to pass that baton of faith to them as well.
The Apostle Paul wrote the words of our text while he was a prisoner in Rome. He had been imprisoned on charges of spreading a religion that was forbidden in the Roman empire. The government authorities argued that Paul's preaching stirred up the people and turned them away from their political leaders. The Roman emperor at that time was Nero. Nero was the one that – as tradition says -- “fiddled while Rome burned.” After Rome was destroyed by fire, Nero blamed the Christians. Nero persecuted those who believed in Jesus, the one they called the Christ. And one of the people caught up in that persecution was the Apostle Paul himself.
At the time our text was written, Paul had spent many long days in that Roman prison. And the only person there to bring him encouragement was the Gospel-writer Luke. At the time our text was written many Christian believers in Rome had been martyred for their faith. Paul's turn was imminent. Paul had been in prison before, on at least four different occasions, but this time, it didn’t look good. Scholars tell us that Paul had spent a total of four years behind bars for preaching Jesus Christ.
So, when you think about it, Paul was not only near the end of his ministry, he was near the end of his life. For many years, and under the most difficult of circumstances, he had preached Christ to all those who had ears to hear the message. He had seen many people come to faith as the Holy Spirit sparked faith in their hearts. Paul didn't spend his time in prison whining and complaining about the terrible conditions. He knew Christ would not forsake him and that made all the difference. Paul was able to see things from the perspective of eternity, and he knew that if he had it to do all over again, he wouldn't change a thing.
Paul’s suffering for the Gospel was nothing new. In the Old Testament, we hear about the way God's prophets were treated. And we read about Joseph, who, after he had proven himself to be a faithful servant of God -- by loving his brothers in spite of their resentful and hateful acts toward him -- was thrown into prison and misjudged by the Egyptian authorities. My point is this: God’s servants in every generation have learned that they will face challenges as they serve the Lord, and they must depend on his strength to make it through.
While Paul was in prison he made the best of the situation. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he read the Scriptures. He wrote letters to various Christian Churches and their leaders. He prayed. In this second letter to Timothy, Paul says:
...night and day, I constantly remember you in my prayers. (2 Tim 1:3, N.I.V.)
While he was in prison, the Apostle Paul longed for Christian fellowship. He said to Timothy: (v.4, N.I.V.)
I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.
A visit from Timothy would bring joy to the old man's heart. Paul remembered the tears that were shed the last time the two of them had parted. The Christian church thrives on healthy fellowship. Our faith is strengthened when we are encouraged by a group of like-minded people. The Apostle Paul may have been one of the founding fathers of the Christian faith, and one of the greatest missionaries the church has ever known, but he, too, longed for Christian fellowship which kept his faith strong. Back in the Old Testament, in the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon learned the truth about strength in numbers. Consider Solomon's advice from 3000 years ago: (Eccl. 4:9-12, N.I.V.)
9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
12 Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Paul was in the midst of passing his baton of faith to a new generation. Paul knew that when he was gone, Timothy would be one of the leaders who would take his place. Paul had words of advice for Timothy, words that Timothy would take to heart. Today, 2000 years later, we have the privilege of listening in to Paul's advice. Paul spoke of how Timothy had came to faith. He spoke of two special women who had a positive influence on Timothy’s faith – his mother and his grandmother. Scholars tell us that Timothy's mother was a Jewish woman who came to believe in Jesus as her Savior and Lord. Timothy’s father was a Greek, a man who apparently never became a Christian. It appears that Timothy was raised by these two women. They shared their faith with him, and their faith eventually became his own. It seems that, as time passed, the Apostle Paul took the place of Timothy's father.
Encouraged by the Word that had been passed along to him by these two women, Timothy came to faith in Christ. Paul describes Timothy's faith as "sincere." The original word literally means, NOT HYPOCRITICAL. Timothy's faith was the real thing. He was no hypocrite. He didn't wear a phony mask over his real intentions. Anyone who has been a Christian for a while knows that faith goes through stages. Sometimes faith is strong and vibrant. At other times, it may seem stale and lifeless. The same was true of Timothy. Apparently, at the time Paul wrote this letter, Timothy’s faith could use a boost. Paul says: (v. 6, N.I.V.)
..I remind you to FAN INTO FLAME the gift of God...
Paul sometimes compared faith to a fire or a flame. Once in a while, that flame burns low, and needs to be stirred up again. The word for "gift" here is the Greek word "CHARISMA." In other words, Paul is saying that the charisma we have from God – that is, our special gifts and abilities – need to be stirred up once in a while. Charisma literally means "a gift of grace." All the gifts we've received from God, including the most important one -- the gift of faith – are undeserved. They are gifts of God's grace and should never be allowed to go dormant.
General Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, said that the tendency of fire is to go out. And so, Christians need to keep that fire of faith burning. We do that by studying the Bible. We do that by worshipping regularly with God's people. We do that by receiving the Lord's Supper. There’s a verse in the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes that relates to this idea of maintaining a strong faith. Solomon says, in Ecclesiastes, chapter 9, verse 10: (N.I.V.)
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.
In our text, the Apostle Paul is looking to the future. He knows that his time is limited. He knows that God will soon place Timothy into a role of leadership in the church. Paul wants Timothy to be ready. So Paul reminds Timothy about the message he will be preaching. Paul says: (2 Tim 1:9-10, N.I.V.)
...God has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done, but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus ... who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light – through the gospel.
There are several key words here: SAVED, and CALLED, GRACE and LIFE, as well as IMMORTALITY. God took the first step in bringing salvation to Timothy. The Old Testament system of sacrifices for sin was not the final answer. God sent his own son to this world and through Christ, God’s will has been made known. Jesus healed broken bodies and restored broken souls. He died on a cross to remove the wall of separation – the wall that had sprung up between humanity and God – caused by sin. Salvation is God's free gift. It’s offered to those who don't deserve it -- people like you and me. As Martin Luther said so often, salvation is SOLA FIDE – that is, by faith alone. Faith is God’s gift. God gets all the credit for our salvation. We get all the benefits. Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:11
...of THIS Gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. (N.I.V.)
A HERALD is a person who proclaims a message. A town crier in olden days was a herald. A herald has a message to share, and proclaims it to everyone. An APOSTLE is sent out with a message. Paul was definitely an apostle – sent out by God -- with a message for the world of his day. And now Timothy would soon be sent out, as well. A TEACHER is someone who is able to explain things clearly. When you think about it, the Christian church is in the communication business. We have a message of life in Christ to share with the world. We are sent. We proclaim. And we teach. All this so that people can come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
The Christian faith is centered in JESUS CHRIST. Take Him away and the message loses its ability to save. Take Christ away, and the church loses its reason for being. Take away Christ and the church becomes nothing more than a glorified social club, or just another religion. It is Jesus Christ Who makes our faith unique. Paul told Timothy not to be ashamed of his faith. Paul knew that, as a result of Timothy’s preaching, some would believe, and that would make all the difference. Let the world scoff and bluster. God gave Timothy POWER, AND LOVE, AND SELF-DISCIPLINE. May God enable us here at Mount Olive to do our part in fulfilling the Great Commission – in our preaching, our teaching, and our baptizing – making disciples for the Lord Jesus Christ. May God grant it. In Jesus' name. Amen.
And now may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in this same Christ Jesus. Amen.
Let us pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER: Remind us of Paul's courageous sharing of his faith, knowing that it could bring him imprisonment and even death. Help us as we pass along the baton of faith to the next generation. In Jesus' name we pray. AMEN