The Shape of Effective Ministry
2 Timothy 1:15 - 2:13
The Shape of Effective Ministry
Other people’s letters ...
You may have heard in the week before Christmas, Australia Post set a record, delivering over 2 million items of mail on a single day, and throughout the lead-up to Christmas, they delivered over a million packages every day!
Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise, that one in 4 Australians, say they’ve had problems with mail not being delivered, or being opened by the wrong people!
Naturally if you send someone a letter, you expect it to arrive, and you don’t expect, that somebody else is going to read it!
Except, that’s exactly, what we’ve just done, isn’t it?!
We’ve just read part of a letter, written by someone, to someone else, and it’s ended up in our hands because somebody passed it to somebody and so on.
And we’re not even doing the quick glimpse, hold it up to the light kind of reading someone else’s mail,
We’re doing the “steam it open over the kettle” job, spending these few weeks, in the Apostle Paul’s letter to a young Christian leader named Timothy.
So who’s mail are we reading?
Well, if you look up at the very beginning of the letter, just up the page a bit, you can see that the sender is identified as Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.
This was of course, the custom of the time, the name of the person sending the letter would come first.
If we write a letter, we tend to put our name at the end, but actually, this is a bit more like email, isn’t it? You get an email from someone, and the first thing you see is who it’s from.
So for all our modern communication methods, we’ve really just reverted back to the first century AD!
Paul had travelled throughout Asia, not China and Japan! but the Roman province of Asia Minor, what today we’d call Turkey. And he had spent 2 years in the capital, Ephesus.
It’s Paul’s longest recorded stretch of evangelism in one spot, and he went back there later, this time leaving one of his colleagues, a young man named Timothy. His task, 1 Timothy 1:3, was to combat false teaching that was being spread in the province.
And so this letter, written quite close to the end of Paul’s life, tells Timothy what he can expect as a Christian in a vibrant pagan city where people believe all kinds of different things, and how to be most fruitful and effective as a Christian, in that kind of environment.
Which, already sounds like something that could speak into our experience and our situation, doesn’t it?
Effective Christian witness can be both lonely and encouraging
And so where we’re picking up the letter, in the middle of chapter 1, we see that Christian witness can be an incredibly lonely and isolating experience.
See there, 1:15 Paul says You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.
In chapter 4 Paul says, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me,
His word literally means to turn your back on something.
“Everyone in Asia has turned their back on me.”
We know from Acts chapter 19, that Paul was arrested in Asia, in Ephesus. People were opposed to his message of a free relationship with God through Jesus, and so there was a riot.
Paul and his team were seized,
And maybe Paul thought that there were Christian people who should have come to his aid.
Or maybe, when Paul was on trial in Rome, there was an opportunity for some of the Christians from Asia to testify on hist behalf. But maybe they didn’t want to. No one wanted to be seen with him!
Whatever the case, this wasn’t news to Timothy. But it’s interesting language for Paul to use, isn’t it?
Obviously not everyone deserted Paul. He mentions Onesiphorus in the next verse, and of course, where’s Timothy, right now, as he’s reading this letter?
He’s in Ephesus.
He’s in Asia!
He hasn’t deserted Paul. Onesiphorus hasn’t, but just about everybody else has, and probably, Paul’s thinking particularly about some of the church leaders,
People he did ministry with,
His Bible study group.
Now, Paul finds himself on his own.
And we know something of that, don’t we?!
Maybe you’re the only Christian in your family,
Or your class,
Or your workplace.
Seeking to be effective for Christ, is a lonely business for Paul.
Even he, the great apostle commission by Jesus, feels the pain of isolation and abandonment as he seeks to live out his faith, and share the good news.
And although this perhaps doesn’t sound like it, I actually want it to be an encouragement!
We often have a tendency to think that if my Christian life is hard,
If I’m feeling isolated,
If I’m all alone,
If people I used to do ministry with have now all gone their own way, then I must be doing something wrong!
The fact that even Paul felt the isolation of trying to be an effective Christian suggests pretty strongly that if in 2017, you want to live a fruitful life as one of God’s people, then there will be times, when you face opposition,
Times when you feel alone, and isolated,
Times when people say things about you that are untrue or unjustified.
Later on in this letter, Paul uses this word for deserting, turning your back on something, to describe people abandoning the gospel, turning their back on the message of salvation in Jesus.
And so he may be deliberately linking the 2.
In turning their backs on Paul, they were also turning their backs on the message Paul had taught them.
And that too is an experience some here have known;, for people you care about to reject the gospel message, even though for some, or all of their life, that was a message they professed.
And there is a particular kind of sadness attached to that, but again, it doesn’t mean that you didn’t share the gospel enough, or well enough.
As we wait for Christ’s return, people will turn aside, as Paul says in chapter 4, to what their own ears want to hear.
And so this letter prepares us for the isolation that being a fruitful follower of Jesus will likely bring.
It’s also a good reminder for us, of the Onesiphorus-es of our lives, to give thanks to God for those who have been an encouragement to us.
And of course, this also gives us an opportunity to think, “who am I doing this for, in the body of Christ?, at TMB, or further afield?
Since we watched The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with our kids, they sometimes talk about what names they would have if they were royalty!
So in the movie there’s “Edmund the Just”, and “Lucy the Valiant” and so on, So our Abby says, “If I was a queen, I’d be Abby the Nice”
And, you know, I don’t actually expect her to become a queen, but that would be a good name to live up to, wouldn’t it!
Onesiphorus means, “the one who brings help.”
What a good name to live up to!
Could any Christian write this of you?
I mean, I knocked that Bible last week, that one where they print your name in it, but this is one where it should be, isn’t it?!
May the Lord show mercy to the household of, Clayton?, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains,
Could Lauren Hull, or one of the other university workers that we support, say this about you?
The Kleins in South East Asia,
Warwick and Caroline in Dubai,
The Roes in Namibia,
Some other Christian missionary you know,
Those at our new church at Trinity South Coast,
The staff and leaders here,
Could a Ministry Area Leader in our church say of, you, or me, You know very well in how many ways they helped me.
To be so eager to bring help for the sake of the gospel, that we’re not put off by the opinion of others, or by ridicule, or the personal cost, not ashamed of my chains
Who will give thanks to God, for your selfless, sacrificial service? Not to them particularly.
I mean that’s what celebrities get isn’t it?
There was a BBC story recently looking back at when Bob Marley got shot in 1976. And people were describing how Marley’s house was just filled with people hanging off him, and they would do anything that he wanted.
That’s not what this is, this is a commitment to the gospel, that will incur such a high personal cost.
And lots of scholars think that Paul’s reference to the household of Onesiphorus and not the man himself, even suggests that the aid that he brought, cost him his life.
Here’s someone who counted it an honour to often, verse 16, refresh and encourage the Apostle Paul, and may have even paid the ultimate price for it, but Paul assures us that Onesiphorus invested in what matters.
I hope we can follow his example.
And in saying all that, I’m not meaning to suggest that you’re not!
In fact I can personally say that I’ve spoken these words about people here,
This has been my prayer, for people in this room, because of the refreshment and support in gospel ministry that you’ve provided to me,
People who haven’t been ashamed to stand with me, for the cause of the gospel.
The pattern of effective gospel ministry
Paul then turns his attention to Timothy, and lays out for him how to be fruitful and effective in his life and ministry.
And we’ll see that this isn’t just for people like Timothy who led churches, but this is a pattern for life and ministry that applies to all of us.
Most of us, I imagine, are Christians, we’re involved in different kinds of gospel ministries, where we want to see people become disciples of Jesus, and grow as disciples of Jesus.
And I’m sure we want to be fruitful and effective. We don’t want to waste our effort.
You might have seen in the news this week that a man from Queensland set out to break the world record for continuously playing lawn bowls.
He’d look up the record, and decided he needed to play for 73 hours to break it,
The only problem is, the number 73 he saw in the record book, that was just a reference to man’s age that had nothing to do with the record! In fact there was no record for playing lawn bowls! He could have just played for a few hours, and claimed the world record!
That’s a waste!
That’s being ineffective!
And so to guard Timothy, and us, from being ineffective, Paul gives these instructions, starting with the certainty that for effective gospel ministry, the Christian person will teach others.
Effective ministry requires teaching others (2:1 – 2)
You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 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
Having just given the terrifically encouraging example of Onesiphorus, Paul turns to Timothy and emphasises the word you.
We’ve heard about him, what about you?
Timothy is to be strong. Literally it’s “be strengthened.”
See the danger in giving lists;,
“Follow this example,
This is what you should be doing,
Here’s what you need for effective ministry”,
The danger is that we, or Timothy, will think the Christian life, or Christian ministry is about doing more stuff, about strengthening ourselves.
I came across a whole bunch of resources during the week about how you can become strong.
But that’s not what Paul wants for Timothy. He’s not saying, “Timothy, go and read the Huffington Post article on the 9 habits of strong people” and put them all into practice, but be strengthened, in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
Earlier on in the letter, in chapter 1 verse 6, Paul speaks about a unique experience that Timothy had received, the laying on of my hands Paul says, some sort of commissioning for ministry, a bit like we’re doing for our leaders in a fortnight.
But see here that what’s needed for effective gospel ministry isn’t to draw on some private experience, but something that’s available to all Christians.
The source, if you like, that can strengthen Timothy, isn’t just something unique to him, it’s the grace of God that’s made known in Christ Jesus.
The grace of God is God’s kindness shown to us in calling us to himself,
Purifying us from sin,
Sanctifying us and making us holy,
Drawing us into his work of reconciliation,
And the grace of God will enable Timothy to continue to labour for the sake of the kingdom of God in Ephesus.
In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul speaks about the grace of God enabling him to labour for the cause of Christ.
He says by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me
How did Paul manage to have such a far-reaching ministry?
Evangelism, church planting, strengthening believers?
It was Gods’ grace to him,
Christians sometimes talk about the “well done, good and faithful servant” that God’s faithful people will receive when we stand before God. The words come from one of the parables that Jesus told about faithfully executing the ministry God’s given you.
And yet the Scriptures teach us that just as God calls us to that work, God enables us to complete it.
God commends us, for the work that he enables us to do!
I think about that when our kids come home from school with certificates of achievement from their teacher;, great spelling or something like that!
And, sure, I hope my children have put in appropriate effort, but the fact that they can spell correctly or whatever it is, is just as much a testament to the teacher, who’s taught them, and helped them practice, and encouraged them to have a go, and all that.
But the teacher is the one giving the award!
What is the ministry to which God is calling you?
What is it that God is strengthening you for?
Because the grace of God is sufficient for whatever it is!
Is God calling you to step up?
To serve the church?
To be an Onesiphorus?
To be bold in your conversations about Jesus?
To be more disciplined in your personal habits and godliness?
The strengthening that Timothy received, came from the same grace of God in Christ Jesus that is available to you.
And part of the task for which Timothy needed strengthening, was the preservation and passing on of the gospel message.
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.
If Timothy wants to have an effective ministry, he needs to pass on the truth of the gospel to others.
In verse 14 of chapter 1, Paul’s already spoken about preserving the integrity of the gospel message, He says Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you
We don’t see it in English, but it’s the dame language here. He’s talking about passing on the authentic message of Christianity.
And Timothy’s not in any doubt as to what it is, since he’s heard Paul teach this stuff to lots of people, on lots of occasions.
And we know this is important because each of us is here, because somebody passed on the message of Jesus to us.
There are all kinds of alternative “gospels” competing for attention.
People who would have us add this to the Christian message,
Or remove that, from the Christian message.
Paul and the rest of the apostles who received their instructions directly from God. Paul met the resurrected Jesus face to face and was commissioned for his ministry.
That was the experience of the first generation of Christian leaders, but Paul knows that’s not how it’s going to be for the generations that come after him.
We all know the Chinese Whispers effect.
Or that legend from the First World War, the officer at the front sends a message to headquarters, “Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance.”
But by the time the message gets to headquarters, the General’s reads, “send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance”!
But imagine that, with the life-changing, eternity-shaping message of the gospel of Jesus,
Imagine if every generation and every culture added in their own preferences and subtracted their own prejudices.
No, you have to pass it on, as you received it. Even to add the slightest thing to the gospel, is to reduce its power and effectiveness.
They say when you’re baking and you whip egg whites, you have to make sure your bowl is clean, spotlessly clean, according to one recipe I read the other day!
You can’t just decide, “I’ll put in a bit of butter”, or “a bit of egg yolk won’t matter”,
It won’t do what it’s supposed to do if you’d added something.
This is one of the reasons that at Trinity, we want to choose our leaders very carefully, especially those leaders who teach others.
Someone can’t just turn up and say, “Well, I want to be a Bible study group leader, send me some people to teach!”
It wouldn’t do for us to be less careful in the transmission of the good news of Jesus in Mount Barker, than they were in Ephesus, would it?
And I take it that when Paul says entrust the good news of Jesus to reliable people, he doesn’t just mean people who will be able to accurately pass it on, he does mean that, because he goes on to say that they have to be qualified to teach others, but I gather he also just means, “people who are reliable.”
That is, people who can be relied upon, are helpful for effective Christian ministry!
People who can’t be relied upon,
People who don’t turn up, Or won’t speak up, when someone’s leading others astray, they’re not the ones who are going to stand by Timothy, and contribute to the effectiveness of the church’s ministry.
Effective ministry needs reliable people who can teach the good news of Jesus to others.
And this is multiplication. Timothy is not just to replace himself, but to grow the ministry’s he’s a part of.
Maybe God’s qualified you to teach others,
Maybe you’re one of the reliable people on whom the effective ministry of the body of Christ here can rest, and who God can use to grow his church,
To teach those who are coming after us, the good news of Jesus, and what it means to be his disciple.
Effective ministry requires suffering but maintaining focus (2:3 -4)
Paul then turns to 3 very quick and simple illustrations, to capture something of what effective gospel ministry looks like.
First of all, the soldier who shows that an effective messenger for the gospel of Jesus, will suffer, but maintain focus.
Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer
I remember talking to Jonno Erwich who was based here at Woodside Army Barracks, about his second deployment to Afghanistan, and everything from the food, to the weather, to the boredom, sounded to me like suffering! To say nothing of the fact that people are trying to shoot at you!
Literally Paul says, “suffer together with me.” He’s not calling Timothy to do anything that he himself is not doing.
Maybe Timothy was tempted to see suffering was a sign that he was doing something was wrong. Certainly false teachers in the early church taught that, just as people today will tell you that.
“God wants you to be happy, and healthy, and wealthy, and if you’re not, it’s most likely your fault.”
Well, that’s not the Christian gospel, is it?
Suffering will accompany effective Christian witness.
And actually, suffering and our response to it, may well be part of our effective Christian witness.
I know people who were introduced to the reality of the gospel, and power of faith in Christ, through the suffering of Christians that they were privileged to witness.
If you want to be encouraged, and at the same time prepared for when you might face significant suffering, get online this afternoon and read about the church in Iran.
The Gospel Coalition published an article this week. It begins, the story of the church in Iran can be summarized in just two sentences: Persecution threatened to wipe out Iran’s tiny church.
Instead, the church in Iran has become the fastest growing in the world, and it is influencing the region for Christ.
More Iranians have become Christians in the past 20 years, than in the 13 hundred years since Islam reached their country.
The Christian in effective gospel ministry will suffer.
And though we enjoy many freedoms because our culture has been shaped by the Christian message, even so, if we don’t see any opposition to our Christian witness, perhaps our Christian witness is not as obvious or effective as we think it is.
The second part of the soldier illustration is about maintaining focus.
4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer
I love this image! The getting entangled bit is the picture of a soldier going to draw his weapon, but it gets tangled up in his clothes, and he can’t get it out of its holster!
It’s the Keystone cops!
It’s like that police officer who tasered himself!
But of course, it’s deadly serious if a soldier can’t draw his weapon in the heat of battle, and it’s deadly serious if a Christian is entangled in other things, and distracted from gospel priorities.
There’s nothing wrong with civilian affairs, but they’re for civilians to worry about, not soldiers.
The motto of the United States Marine Corps, is semper fidelis. It’s Latin for always faithful.
Their motto is not “always busy”, “always active”, but always faithful, always doing the thing that it’s right for them to do.
See one of the decisions that a Christian has to make, is not just what to do, but what not to do. There will be times, when someone asks us to do something, and we say “no.” Not that we can’t do it, but that we won’t do it,
We choose not to do it,
We have other priorities and a different focus.
And it applies to churches, as well as to individual Christians. There is lots of stuff that we could be doing as a church, lots of activities and programs we could run,
There are some programs that other churches run that people ask if we can do here, and sometimes our leaders here will say “no, we’re not going to do that, not because it’s wrong, but because we have to make a decision about what is most pleasing to God, the best use of our limited resources.
Of course TMB members are free to get involved in any kind of ministry they want, but the things that we as a church will put our combined energies into, will be the ministries that bring God’s Word to bear on people’s lives, so that they can become disciples of Jesus, or so they can grow to maturity as disciples of Jesus.
For us, any other program or activity, that entangles, must be left behind.
Effective ministry requires discipline (2:5)
The next picture comes from Athletics. For effective Christian ministry, God’s man or God’s woman will discipline themselves.
Verse 5, Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.
In the ancient Olympic Games, you were only allowed to compete if you’d been in training for the past 20 months.
That was the rule.
So do you remember Eric Moussambani from Equatorial Guinea? He debuted at the Sydney Olympics in the 100 metres freestyle, taking a minute 52 to finish, more than twice the time of the fastest men in the pool.
He was given the nickname “Rocky”, because he swam like a rock!
Moussambani had never even seen an Olympic pool before he arrived at the games, he learnt to swim in a lake back in Equatorial Guinea.
So back in the ancient games Eric the Rock wouldn’t have been allowed in!
If you hadn’t disciplined yourself constantly for nearly a year prior, you weren’t allowed in.
That’s what Paul is trying to capture here, the ongoing discipline required for effective Christian ministry.
Why do we make such a big deal about the SOAP Daily Readings?
Why do we go on about encouraging everybody here to be part of a Bible Study Group?
Because an effective Christian life requires discipline. We’re called to apply ourselves, to invest in our own growth, and maturity, and holiness,
And so to have God’s Word speaking into our lives regularly, and other Christians speaking into our lives regularly is invaluable for that.
You see those Olympic rowers up at 5 in the morning to go and train in freezing weather. They practically have to break the ice to get into the water, but every morning they do it.
There are plenty of other things, they could much more easily do.
And friends, in the Christian life, there will be plenty of things you could much more easily do.
And yet Paul urges us to learn the lesson of self-sacrifice, of suffering, and discipline, not to win a medal, but for a life of effective witness, and the reward that is ours in heaven.
That’s where that hymn at the end, in verses 11 to 13 takes us, if we endure,
we will also reign with him, and so on.
But I don’t think Paul is totally avoiding the more general idea of competing according to the rules.
We know of athletes who have been disqualified for not staying within the rules.
Maria Sharapova was banned after failing a drug test at last year’s Australian Open. Then of course there was Lance Armstrong. Did you know that someone put up notice at Manly Public Library in Sydney, saying that all Lance Armstrong books were about to be moved to the Fiction section?!
Well, there’s a warning there for us, isn’t there? Don’t disqualify yourself!
The athlete who ignores the rules, or who tries to play some different game, doesn’t succeed.
I don’t like using the word “rules” to describe the Christian life, but it’s Paul’s metaphor;, play outside the rules, and you’re disqualified.
Don’t spend your life thinking you’re competing, only to get to finish line, and realise you’ve been following some other set of rules.
Don’t disqualify yourself.
Effective ministry requires hard work (2:6)
The final illustration is so brief, that scholars can’t really agree on the application!
The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops
Either Paul is speaking of a physical reward, financial remuneration for those who work in gospel ministry as their job.
He makes that case more explicitly elsewhere, but he might be saying to Timothy, that even though Paul had, what people like me call a real job! to support his own ministry, Timothy and other people who worked hard for the cause of Christ, were absolutely entitled to be paid, supported, to enable them to preach the gospel for effectively.
It’s why we at Trinity pay people like me. We think I’m much more effective serving the church full-time, than if I worked at McDonalds flipping burgers, and did this in my spare time.
Or maybe, Paul’s focus here is on the fact that the person who works hard in gospel ministry will get a reward in heaven.
If a Christian allows themselves to be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus,
If they work hard to entrust the message of the gospel to reliable people,
If they suffer for the cause of the Christian message,
Maintain their focus,
Discipline themselves, if they follow all of this pattern for effective ministry in chapter 2, then they’ll receive a final reward from God.
Whichever of those 2 Paul has in mind, or maybe it’s both, the point is the same.
Fruitful ministry requires hard work.
The comparison, after all, is to a hardworking farmer.
Now, I’ve never been much of a farmer, but I’ve known enough farmers to know that it’s hard work;,
Persistence and patience.
Now, tt absolutely does not take hard work to become a follower of Jesus. In fact it’s the very opposite. It takes the recognition that you can’t contribute anything to your standing before God
But God calls us to work,
God calls us to his ministry of reconciliation,
God calls us to the work that, Paul says in Ephesians, God prepared in advanced for us to do.
And it’s still, it’s still nearly the new year isn’t it?!
It’s a good time for us to think about what it means to be involved in God’s work in the world,
What it means for us to be as effective in ministry as we possibly can.
We don’t know, what 2017 has in store, but here’s a pattern for Christian life and ministry.
Will you pray with me, that we might reflect it?