God’s Church Looks Forward
2 Timothy 2:1 – 14a
God’s Church Looks Forward
Final sermon at Trinity Church Mount Barker on July 7, 2019.
When looking back is attractive ...
No matter how terrible, or obscure your taste in music, the streaming service Spotify will find some songs that you like!
So, imagine my delight when, driving through the Hills recently, Spotify served me up a blast from the past! song after song that we used to sing in church when I was a teenager!
It took me back to my childhood,
My university years,
My days as a ministry apprentice, and I was overwhelmed with memories of what church was like,
The people I laboured alongside of,
The ministries that we were involved in.
The expectation that there was going to be world-wide revival, and it would start with us!
The memories flooded back, and those really did seem like the good old days!
And isn’t that an easy place to get to in our minds and hearts?
Imagining we were back there, or back then,
Remembering how great life in the Body of Christ was, once.
Wishing that our life together today, was more like it was then. Though of course, the memory of it usually outshines the reality!
Friends, the change in our church life that we’re about to step into, means that in the coming, weeks, months, or years, we will face the temptation, to look back at some moment in church life,
When church was great,
When we liked how things were,
When we felt well cared for,
When our friends were here,
Maybe when we saw lots of results from our evangelism,
Maybe ministry was in some way easier,
Perhaps it felt like I fitted in better.
And we’ll be tempted to look back and say,
“If only church was still like that,
Let’s make it today, like it was back then,
I can’t be happy, or involved, or cared for, unless it feels like it did when I loved it.”
I know I’ll be tempted to think of Mount Barker as the “good old days”,
And I’m sure there will be changes here, that are not what you’re used to, that don’t fit with your personality or preferences, and so our eyes, our hearts, our minds, can keep dropping back to the past.
Today, friends, I want us to hear together from God’s Word, as he calls us to look forward.
We give thanks to God for what he’s done for us in the past, and we look forward, to the ongoing work of the gospel, for the glory of Christ Jesus.
A word for pastors? Or normal people? (v 1)
These words we’ve heard are from the Apostle Paul, to Timothy, a young pastor; You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
Paul knows, life in the local church can be hard.
There will be difficulties,
There will be false teachers, as he says in the next section,
Some will walk away from Jesus, chapter 1.
And so in Paul’s grammar, the you of verse 1 is emphatic.
Others will distort the message of Jesus,
Some will abandon the faith,
But you Timothy, be strong.
And actually, the be strong is passive. It’s literally “be strengthened” in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
Standing firm in the Christian life and in Christian ministry is not about toughening yourself up.
I’ve been filtering Australianisms out of my vocabulary so that I can be understood in London!
“Take a teaspoon of cement and harden up, princess!” probably has to go!
But that approach is also out when it comes to the Christian life.
Not “harden up.” Be strengthened.
Let God’s kindness to you in Jesus, which brings you to salvation, also equip you for the ongoing work of ministry.
It’s passive, and yet it’s a command given to Timothy, isn’t it? He does have to do something.
If we want to be strengthened, we must actively take hold of God’s grace, and co-operate continually with his purposes.
See, we know we’re saved by grace, but sometimes we live as if our Christian life and ministry are entirely dependent on our strength and our efforts.
But if Trinity Church Mount Barker, is to continue to grow in effectiveness in Gods’ work in the world, it will be because your motivation for ministry, your desire to give each person in all the Mount Barker region every opportunity to respond to Jesus, if that comes from seeing God’s kindness to you in Jesus, and being overwhelmed, and strengthened, and carried along by that.
And so you can see that this isn’t unique to pastors like Timothy.
The temptation to give up, turn away, long for the good old days, or depend on our own strength is not just for pastors,
The grace of God in Christ that strengthens us for ministry is for all Christians.
Pass the good news on! Ensure people hear the gospel from you and others. (v 2)
Because there’s a task before us;,
Make sure other people hear the same gospel message that you heard.
Verse 2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.
There’s an emphasis in this whole letter on guarding the message of Jesus.
But the way this message is guarded, is not by locking it up. It’s by passing it on!
So in a week or so when our house sale goes through, I’m anticipating getting a pile of money.
Of course, ANZ bank who hold the mortgage on our house, are expecting that pile of money to come to them, so I have to guard that money until it gets into the mortgage account.
Do you suggest I guard it, by giving the cash to someone I meet in the street in Mount Barker, and saying, “can you pass it on to someone else”, and so on and so on, until someone drops it into the bank?
Just so you know, that’s not what I’m planning on doing!
But Timothy is to guard the message, by passing it on to reliable, or faithful people, who will do the same thing.
The good news of Christianity is a message that is taught.
We believe in a God who speaks through his Word.
And so to a church surrounded by competing truth claims,
To people who are under constant pressure to add to the Christian message,
Or to remove bits from the Christian message,
To make it more palatable,
Easier to gain traction in a society obsessed with self,
Paul says, the message that people in and around a church like that need to hear, is the same message that came from the eye-witnesses of Jesus.
Does that sound like any church we know?!
That’s exactly our situation, isn’t it?
So, ensure people hear the gospel from you and others.
the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.
We’re not free to change the message of Jesus.
We don’t leave out bits we don’t like,
Or add in what we think God missed out.
But do you know it?
If Paul’s message is what people in this region need to hear to be brought from death to life, could you tell them?
Or are you inadvertently undermining the truth of the gospel, because when someone asks you what Christians believe, turns out you’re fuzzy on the details that mean the difference for people between assurance and anxiety?
Or between confidence before God, and a lifetime of endless striving to win God’s favour?
Do you know it?
Of course, there are some in our church to whom this instruction applies quite directly, those who are responsible for training and appointing people to leadership.
If you’re a Bible Study Group leader,
A Kids’ ministry leader,
A youth leader,
A member of the Leadership Team,
Or an M-Leader,
Who are you investing in, so that after you’re gone, they will continue to teach and shepherd God’s people faithfully?
There are 4 generations of God’s people on view here, aren’t there? This is a long-term vision for gospel ministry!
Those Timothy entrusts the message to,
And they must be able to teach others.
Are you looking forward?
Thinking about who comes next?
Who’s still to hear?
And when church life gets hard, because the new senior pastor makes decisions that you’re pretty sure I wouldn’t, and people around you are keen on ministries that don’t really float your boat,
Will you keep looking forward, and raising up people to teach and lead in the body of Christ after you’re gone?
Now, you might be sitting there thinking, “well, there’s no rush, I’m not going anywhere!”
Which is exactly what I thought 6 months ago!
It’s why one of the things I’m most thankful for in the life of our church has been Prepared to Serve, our blokes teaching and training, and theological thinking group.
For a year at a time, a group of men study God’s Word together, and wrestle with the application of it in our lives,
In the life of our church,
And in the wider world.
And out of PTS we’ve seen God bring men onto the Leadership Team,
Into M-Leader roles,
As Ministry Area Leaders,
And Ministry Team members.
And while we need men and women in ministry across the life of our church, in his original langauge Paul puts his finger on the need for men to lead and teach, and I’m very thankful to God that he’s raised up men who will also be qualified to teach others.
You’ll suffer like Paul, but be singled-minded, be disciplined, and persevere (v 3 – 7)
Of course, holding fast to the true message of Jesus is to guarantee suffering! And so we’re called to look forward;,
To be single-minded,
To be disciplined,
And to persevere.
June was baptism month, wasn’t it?
And each time we baptised someone, together we urged them, to “continue as Christ’s faithful servant.”
To keep going forward, and looking forward.
And here we see what that looks like.
Get ready to suffer
First of all, it means suffering.
Join with me in suffering Paul says like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
You only need a short conversation with Jono Erwich or Al McLean to realise that being a soldier involves suffering.
Not to mention people trying to kill you.
And Paul says that’s what you need to expect, Christian person, as you look forwards.
Ask the Christians in Nigeria, or Indonesia,
Or at Mount Barker High School,
Or at Cornerstone College,
But to be ridiculed, rebuked, excluded, or, worse, because of your commitment to passing on the message of Jesus that’s been handed down to you, means you share in the sufferings with all God’s people everywhere.
And while now for us, the suffering is not much, we need to expect it, so that when it does come, we don’t think it’s a sign of something wrong.
Rather it’s a sign of something right.
No one suffers for telling people exactly what they want to hear!
No one is mistreated because their message reinforces the prevailing worldview of their day!
No, look forward, and prepare now, for the suffering that will come if you faithfully proclaim the good news of king Jesus.
Maybe you’re here this morning and you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian. But perhaps you’re here to try and find out about Jesus and the Christian life.
We’re so pleased to have you here, and this is part of what we want you to know. If you put your trust in Jesus for forgiveness and reconciliation with God, there will be opposition from a world which doesn’t think it needs reconciliation with God.
There’ll be opposition from people, who listen you speak of your need for forgiveness, and react because of what that says about their need for forgiveness.
People will listen to you speak of your sin, the way you’ve pushed God to the edge of life and beyond, how you’ve thrown off God’s pattern for life, to try and run life your own way, they’ll hear you speak like that, and you’ll lose your job with Rugby Australia, or whatever it might be!
There will be opposition and suffering. And you need to prepare for it now.
We need to be rooted deeply in the Word of God,
Confident in the promises that have been passed down to us,
And holding lightly to the things of this world that will be taken away.
You might know Paul White’s Jungle Doctor story about the hunter who gets a melon, hollows it out, sticks a banana in there, and ties the thing to a tree.
Monkey comes along, sees the banana,
Grabs it, but he can’t pull his hand out while he’s holding the banana.
Hunter comes along,
Monkey soup for dinner!
What’s the monkey’s problem?
He’s holding on too tightly to something, when he should have let it be taken away.
There are lots of blessings we enjoy living here, or in London;
But if we hold too tightly to these blessings, and, the many others, then when allegiance to Jesus raises the prospect of those things being taken away,
The temptation will be to cling to them, and do whatever we need to, to make the threat of losing those things disappear;,
That is, compromise on our message,
Friends, be willing to let go of the banana.
Some of you have heard me say over many years, that I know a pastor in the UK, who has said that he expects to be arrested at some point in his life, for the faithful preaching of the message that’s been passed down to us.
That pastor, leads the church that I’ll be working for in
I am very conscious of the reality of suffering coming to middle class western Christians, who have previously not known it.
And I desperately want you to be ready for it too.
So Paul urges us to be single-minded as we strive forwards.
4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.
One of my relatives flew with the RAF in the Battle of Britain.
Although, the Fopps came from Germany originally, so it’s possible there were other Fopps fighting in the Battle of Britain!
But imagine when a raid is detected, and the pilots all run to their planes, if one of them said, “Oh, I’m just tending my veggie patch, I can’t come now.”
In the military, you’d get shot for that!
And yet, it’s easy for us to get so entangled in any number of other pursuits, instead of being single-minded in our commitment to the cause of Christ.
When we think about our vision to give each person in all the Mount Barker region, every opportunity to respond to Jesus, what could be more important than that?
What would be worth getting involved in, instead of that?
What kind of distraction could we justify?
More time in the office?
Better sporting opportunities for my kids?,
Extra money for my family holidays?
None of those things is prohibited here, but we mustn’t be entangled in them.
Paul’s word here pictures a soldier trying to draw his sword, only for it to get tangled up in his clothes!
These things might be blessings from God, but it’s foolish to let them distract us from what matters most; That people are going to spend eternity facing God’s judgment, unless they respond to Jesus.
This kind of single-minded commitment, might mean not doing things we’d quite like to, or doing things we’d prefer not to do, for the sake of lost people hearing about Jesus.
The soldier in the illustration might quite like to tend his veggie patch, but preferences get put aside because of what he’s committed to.
And maybe, in order for people to respond to Jesus,
Ministries that you’re involved in might get wound up.
You might be asked to serve in some area you don’t particularly love,
The program you want for your kids might not run for a while, or ever again.
Are you OK that?
Is your commitment to people hearing the gospel of Jesus single-minded, such that nothing else will get in the way?
Related to that, Paul says, like an athlete, be disciplined.
5 Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.
I’ve been learning the rules for English sport.
I’ve been learning about football.
I’ve been thinking about cricket. I’ve arranged for a whole shipment of sandpaper to be delivered in time for the first test in Edgbaston!
You might have heard that nearly 6000 people were disqualified after the Mexico City Marathon in 2017, because they broke the rules. Numbers of them caught the train instead of running!
There is a pattern for life and ministry laid down by Jesus, these very kinds of commands here, and if we step outside of that we’ve got no hope of finishing,
But Paul’s idea here is also about preparation and discipline.
So unlike last year’s Winter Olympics where Pita Taufatofua from Tonga learnt to ski only 12 weeks before his event, the ancient Olympics demanded competitors swear by Zeus, that they’d been in suitable training for at least 10 months.
When suffering approaches,
When change happens,
When the time comes for you to decide, do I insist on my preferences, my comfort, or do I give them all up for people to respond to Jesus,
The way you make that decision in the future, will depend in significant part on the discipline you have applied to yourself today.
If life now is about comfort, and my preferences, and giving my kids everything I never had, and all that,
Then when push comes to shove at some point in the future, you’ll choose comfort and family, over obedience.
If you’re not willing to suffer for being a follower of Jesus now, when that suffering is not really much at all;, mocking, being left out, all that,
Then you’re not going to stay faithful to Jesus later on, if that means real suffering;, losing your job, or worse.
If you’re not willing to carve time out of your days, and out of your week now for reading the Bible, and meeting with God’s people,
Then when you get a busier job,
Or a bigger mortgage,
Or more kids,
Or aging family who need your time,
It’s not going to be easier to prioritise God, and his Word, and his people then, is it?
We need to be disciplined.
And then Paul says we need to persevere.
Imagine a farmer who begins to sow his crop, then at morning tea time on the first day, decides he’s had enough,
Doesn’t bother with the rest of it, let alone watering it, keeping the pests out, harvesting it, or anything else!
Is that farmer going to reap the benefits of his field?
Similarly, we won’t have an effective ministry, if we’re not willing to be involved,
To labour for the cause of Christ,
To keep going even when things are hard,
To love people when they annoy us,
Pressing on in ministry when we’re not realising any benefit.
No, we press on, because we’re looking forward.
Because we long for the end.
The farmer who longs for the good old days,
The one who can do nothing but reminisce about that bumper season 20 years ago,
And how the former Senior Pastor, I mean, farm hand, had a better way of doing things.
Constantly looking back like that isn’t going to get him a share of the crops, is it?
In fact it will leave him with nothing but bitterness.
I think it’s very telling, that each of these 3 occupations that Paul uses to illustrate Christian ministry is forward focussed.
The soldier looks for victory,
The athlete wants the medal,
The farmer shares in the crops.
God’s apostle wants us looking forward.
And lest we miss the force of these commands, Paul says Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this, that is, this is the Word of God to his people. There’s no promise of insight in Paul’s “Handbook for Making Tents our of Leather and other Materials” that he’d written earlier in his life.
But he understands that at this point he’s writing Scripture.
The other places in the Bible where we get this kind of promise, it’s about the words of Jesus, the once for all message of God to his people.
Paul says, “Reflect on it.”
There’s no shortcut.
Just like the command to be strong,
And the leaders who teach others,
God achieves his work through human efforts.
And those efforts require diligent reflection and study of God’s Word.
Other things will clamour for your attention;,
Things inside the church and out.
But if you want be strong in the grace of Christ in the years ahead,
You’ll need to be immersed in the Word of God.
Because of the risen Christ, we suffer and endure for God’s people (v 8 – 10)
And God’s Word will have its effect, so we can suffer and endure for God’s people, confidently, regardless of our circumstances.
8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.
I wonder what conviction, would persuade you to keep looking forward and pressing forward, when life is hard. Really hard.
When church isn’t the place you want to be,
When your friends aren’t responding to your gospel invitations,
When your memories of the Christian life and your church family seem much brighter than those things do in the present.
Or when you suffer. Loss of job, family, freedom.
What conviction will enable you to be single-mindedly focussed on the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory?
Notice, it’s not enough that we’re concerned for God’s people who have already obtained salvation. Our focus is to be on those who are yet to take hold of it.
So isn’t it, this, that we need to have firmly fixed in our minds? Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David
God’s long promised king, suffered, died, and raised to rule?
Jesus, your king, calling on you to trust him with your life, and with your death, because in triumphing over death, he demonstrates his power and assures us that death is not the end.
See, I don’t think that Paul tells Timothy remember Jesus Christ, because Timothy’s particularly at risk of forgetting Jesus, but because Paul knows that Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David, that is the only foundation that will enable us to continue in ministry, when everything else we might depend on is taken away, even to the point of being chained like a criminal.
Unless you’re convinced from the Scriptures that Jesus is God’s king risen to rule,
Unless you’re mindful of your resurrection as the necessary consequence of his resurrection,
Unless you see your future risen with Christ, certain and guaranteed, then you won’t be able to pour yourself out for the sake of God’s people, the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation
Unless you look forward to your own resurrection in Christ, then it won’t take long before the cost of mission and evangelism becomes too great,
Unless you remember that all people will one day face Jesus as judge;, Since death was not the end for him, it won’t be the end for us either, then too, the costs of mission and evangelism will quickly become too great.
But Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, and we can, verse 10, endure everything for the sake of the elect,
See, it’s not that we should never look back, because this reality from history is what enables us to endure,
To lay down everything for the sake of those who are not yet followers of Jesus.
To consider no cost too great, that we might give each person, in all the Mount Barker region, every opportunity to respond to Jesus.
And eternal glory puts suffering now into its right perspective, doesn’t it?
Convinced of this,
And with this Jesus fixed firmly in our mind, no cost is too great. Even if that cost is, everything.
Endure to the end because Christ is faithful (v 11 – 13)
See friends, you can endure to the end, because of Jesus. Because Christ is faithful.
That’s the point of the snippet of hymn that Paul quotes there, one of 5 in the New Testament that he calls “trustworthy sayings.”
The language of death is probably to do with baptism, If we died with him, we will also live with him. It’s certainly baptism on view in Romans 6 where Paul uses similar language.
But either way, once again, we see that it’s not wrong to look back and remember the past;, our dying with Christ, Our coming to faith, or our baptism,
These moments which remind us what God has done for us and in is, in bringing us to himself in Christ, give us reason for having courage and enduring to the end.
And put that together what the more frightening line which follows, If we disown him, he will also disown us, and we can’t escape the reality that our life now with Jesus will be reflected in our future life with Jesus.
The fact that I came to faith, and was baptised in response to the promises of God, is a reminder to me of God’s faithfulness.
And as we’re reminded at the end, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.
Everything in this hymn says our future and our identity, is tied up in Jesus, inextricably linked to who he is, and what he’s done.
We’ve celebrated a lot in the last couple of weeks;,
The Fopps were farewelled by the Senior Staff in the Trinity Network,
This church family very kindly farewelled us yesterday,
I’ve had meals with people, catch ups, conversations,
And I think in all of those, we’ve looked back, and remembered times from our history together.
And wouldn’t it be great, if every time we looked back,
Every time we reminisced,
Every time we thought of the “good old days”,
That we were convinced more than ever of God’s goodness, of Christ’s faithfulness?
The life of this family of God’s people, is about to change.
Ministry will look different,
Different decisions will be made,
Priorities might shift a bit, as different people step into leadership,
And for the Fopps, almost everything is about to change.
I reckon we’re kidding ourselves, if we don’t think there are going to be times, when we look back fondly, on the “good old days”, when we remember the Christian life in easier times or a better light ;,
When church was that size,
When those people were around,
When Sundays looked like this or that,
When the sun was visible, in our case.
That’s entirely natural.
But imagine if looking back for us, became like looking back for Paul, to baptism, or coming to faith, dying with Christ.
So that looking back reminds us of Christ’s faithfulness,
Gives us a reason for enduring, not only, that we will, reign with him, verse 12, but longing to see others obtainsalvation.
See, looking back and remembering everything that God has done among us, reminds us why we can press on,
Even when the Christian life is hard,
Even when we suffer,
Even when ministry doesn’t go the way we hoped.
Rather than despair now when we suffer, or when life is hard, because everything seemed so much better back then at some point, let’s use the reminder of how good God was to us back then, to spur each other on in ministry now.
We need to keep hearing this! (v14)
It’s been a delight for me to remind us all of these things today. Paul says we need to keep hearing them.
And so friends, you will need to Keep reminding each other of these things.
It’s been said that what’s taught in one generation,
Is assumed in the second generation,
It’s forgotten in the third generation,
And denied by the fourth generation.
That’s the constant cycle away from the truth of the gospel.
Unless, we keep reminding each other,
Unless we identify and raise up, reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.
We must keep telling each other of the risen Christ,
Of the need to be single-minded,
And to be disciplined,
And to persevere.
I must, you must, for the sake of people who will otherwise spend eternity without Jesus.
My, very dear friends, please, Keep reminding God’s people of these things, for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation,
Until each person,
In all the Mount Barker region,
Has been given every opportunity,
To respond to Jesus.