The Complexity and Challenge of Gospel Ministry

Be Strong in God’s Work

Exposition of entire chapter

Focus on 2 Timothy 2:1-10,14-15,22-26

For Joyful Usefulness, One must choose Hardship 1-7

  1. “Therefore” – Paul reminds Timothy of the emphasis up to this point, and bases the subsequent instruction on these principles.

Because of the inviolability of the Word 1:12 – God’s truth has transcendent importance.  The Christian minister does not ask what is advantageous to him or what seems most comfortable or most palatable to hearers, but what is true.  As a servant of Christ, he serves the truth in the same way that Christ served the will of his Father.  God’s will for redemption dominated all that Jesus said and did in spite of the immediate pressures of his environment.  Even so, the Christian minister sees that God has given and is determined to guard his truth.  That divine purpose informs the minister’s, and every Christian’s, entire view of life.

The volatility of professors 1:15 – Many who professed faith already have departed.  The restraint of divine authority that called for rejection of the world, the taking of the cross to follow Christ, became onerous to some.  Paul, therefore, tells Timothy to be careful for his own pilgrimage in what he expects and to whom he commits this deposit of truth.

  1. “Be Strong in Grace” – The consciousness of God’s eternal purpose displayed in 1:9, 10 should prepare Timothy for both the grandeur and the relentless responsibility involved in propagating such a message.  He is to be strong both in his teaching ministry and his manner of life.

Teach the deposit to faithful men who are willing to teach it to others; no personal agendum – As opposed to those teachers that teach what they ought not, whose treatment of the Law if purely fictitious, and whose doctrines are mere speculation, Timothy is to deal with “the things that you have heard from me [Paul].”  Again this clearly asserts apostolic authority and the expectation that the apostolic message is the church’s body of truth ad infinitum.  From generation to generation, the things that Paul had told Timothy were to operate as the message that determined both content and structure. [cf. 1 Tim 3:14-16]

Choose suffering, not ease –Each of the cases listed in Paul’s admonition have to do with tasks that require one to function by well-established authority, not personal whim.  The way of true success and usefulness comes with submission to demonstrated and legitimate authority.  So the case with each example.

The soldier – he is under the authority of a commanding officer.  A battle will be won through strategy followed closely by each constituent part of an army, not by each person doing that which seems easiest or most pertinent to him at the time.  Choosing the difficulty of obedience and discipline results in the greatest good. Sometimes the strategy of attack to overwhelm the opposition involves sending in waves and waves of infantry many of whom will be killed, but must do so in order that the entire impact will be successful. In any cause of confrontation with the forces of error or the forces of hostile evil, the first wave of attack will reap many casualties.

The athlete – he is under the authority of the rules of training.  Eating sweets and sleeping may seem more pleasurable at the immediate moment, but will produce only sorrow and despair, even heightened personal embarrassment , when the time for athletic performance comes.  Long hours at the free throw line after practice avoids many an air-ball or brick during the game.

The farmer – must follow the unalterable flow of seasons and laws of harvest. To do means a good harvest at the end of a time of disciplined labor, and then the enjoyment of the nutritious and tasty crop that has been produced.

Examples should be instructive if contemplated – personal autonomy produces disaster.  The Lord has built into the very structure of nature and the interactions of human society principles that also operate in our relation to God. Though in the end, only God gives the increase, or the victor’s crown, or the final defeat of the enemy, the means employed are in accord with the moral order of his own character, so that outcomes are inextricably tied to the means used to bring them about.

The Reasons to Choose suffering Instead of Ease 8-13

For the Sake of Christ – In choosing to suffer hardship, Timothy should first of all call to mind the nature of the message with which he is entrusted.  The halls of eternity resound with these truths. Angels observe them with amazement.  Nothing can transcend their importance.  His message concerns Christ.

Look at his work as implied in the resurrection – Jesus’ mission is accomplished.  He has come to destroy him that has the power of death, he has come to become a curse for us, he has come to pay the wages of sin. He has died once-for-all to procure forgiveness, justification, and resurrection to incorruption for a people subject to corruption.  All this he has done.  “Risen from the dead.”

Consider his person as a descendant of David – 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 89 3, 4; Psalm 132:11, 17, 18; Isaiah 9:6, 7  From a reading of these Scripture it is clear that these promises to David of a Son, could only be fulfilled by one who has eternal honor.  His reign must be eternal and he must be worthy of worship.  That the Christ is the one who descended from David implies both his deity and his humanity.

Consider the Gospel that Paul preaches –  “According to my gospel.’  This is the same as “my deposit” in verse 1:12.  Obviously Paul did nor originate it but received it.  Because it came by divine revelation, and he preached it as a steward, he called it his gospel.  Look at the language in 1 Corinthians 15:1-3 for this same possessiveness of that which is revealed.  “The gospel which I preached to you,”  “If you hold fast the word which I preached to you.” “I delivered to you as of first importance, what I also received,”  Also in Galatians among the many strong assertions of this pure stewardship, “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.”

Consider his suffering for the sake of that very Gospel – Had he been willing to relent on the hope of the gospel he could have been spared the humiliation and inconvenience of prison.  Paul’s imprisonment pictures the epitome of Peter’s admonition “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, his is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.” [1 Peter 4:15, 16] His imprisonment, however, did not mean that truth had any less power or that God did not continue to advance his purpose through his truth.  “But the word of God is not imprisoned.”  This is the same confidence with which earlier he had written the Philippians.  “I want you to know that the things that have happened to me have served to advance the gospel.” Phil 1:12.

B    For the Sake of the Elect  10 

This is in imitation of Christ John 17:6, 12, 14, 16-19;  Jesus prays for those that the Father had given him for to those he give eternal life.  Those are the ones that he will lead to know the Father.  Those are the ones he keeps and that he asks the Father to keep by his word.  Those are the ones he asks the Father to sanctify and for those, those that the Father gave him, he sanctifies himself, that is sets himself apart to the redemptive act of death.  It is no off the cuff remark, but at the heart of the entire scheme of redemption that all these things are done for the elect.  Those who want to ignore or minimize the place of election in gospel preaching and ministry, obscure the very thing that drives the entire ministry of Christ and that drove the apostles to suffer and die for him. Cf. Romans 8:28-39.

  The decree to choose demands the implementation of the right means of salvation.  “That they may obtain salvation.”  Just as the elect could not be saved had Christ not died, so they can not believe in Christ without hearing the gospel.  Their being brought to eternal glory, that goal toward which God’s elective purpose has destined them, involves their hearing and believing the gospel.

  1. As a manifestation of genuine faith  11-13 – Divine action produces true persevering faith

The certainty of salvation is established in the death of Christ.  “If we died with him, we will also live with him.”  By that he has accomplished that that is greatest and all other blessings of salvation flow assuredly from it.  “He who spared not his own Son, how shall he not also along with him freely give us all things” [Romans 8:32].  In this light we should see 2 Corinthians 5:15 “And He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”  Paul places this first in the confession to show what drives his confidence in the success of his preaching and why he is convinced that suffering in the will of God produces gospel advance.  On the one hand, all for whom Christ died shall certainly be saved; and on the other, none would be saved had Christ not died.

Second, endurance in love for and service of the gospel indicates genuine faith and holds the promise of eternal life.  “If we endure, we will reign with him.”  Endurance is a product of faith.

By the same token, if faith produces endurance, denial indicates the absence of faith.  “If we deny Him, He also will deny us.”  Calvin says, “When men basely deny Christ, the cause is not only weakness but infidelity.  It is because they are blinded by the allurements of the world that they see the life of God’s kingdom.”  Paul here simply takes at face value Jesus words in Matthew 10:33.

God remains faithful to his purposes and his character. He cannot deny himself, and therefore, those who have no union with Christ by faith, and thus deny God’s character as displayed in the gospel of Christ’s suffering and death, will find no mercy in the day of judgment.  Denial of cardinal elements of Christ’s work, or refusing to suffer for the advance of the gospel [without recovery] means we are faithless.  Our fall, however, does not detract from the glory of Christ, for it cannot be diminished, and no matter how many vainglorious men despise, reject, or fall away from Christ’ gospel, it is so much the worse for them but has no tendency to diminish the unshakeable steadfastness of the gospel and the glory of Christ contained in it.

Words and Reality 14-19  This section indicates at least one way in which persons demonstrate that they are faithless, and proposes the evidence also to the contrary.  Paul wants Timothy to remind his hearers of these very things as a check upon their tendency to vain talk and speculation.  “Remind them of these things.”  In fact the charge is so serious and the consequences of such magnitude that he wants Timothy solemnly to charge them “in the presence of God” of the consequences of a frivolous treatment of words when issues of eternal truth are at stake.

A   Avoid empty but ruinous words –  Calvin observes, “Let us notice first that teaching is rightly condemned on the sole ground that it does no good.  God’s purpose is not to pander to our inquisitiveness but to give us profitable instruction.  Away with all speculations that produce no edification!”

Words are useful when they reflect reality and substance, but meaningless when no substance, but mere speculation, generates them 14, 16

Such words, if taken for substantial reality, lead to numerous errors

Ruin [catastrophe], ungodliness 14, 16

“Spread like gangrene” Such talk is infectious; others become infatuated with the delight of clever speculation and soon begin to give credit to pure fabrications.

heresy, the loss of truth and faith – “the resurrection has already taken place”  18

To embrace such language as representative of reality, implies that true faith was not present from the start  18b

B    Salvation is demonstrated in the meaningful use of right words 15, 19

Approvedness, having been tested and shown to be genuine, with no need for shame in the day of Christ.  Perhaps simply “a workman unashamed.”  The emphasis is not that he has no need to be ashamed but that he works actively in an unashamed manner.

Diligence, zeal, concentration on this task should occupy the energies of the one who handles God’s Word

Deriving one’s doctrine and view of the world from Scripture, the Word of truth, gives substance, edification, and eternal life.  One’s manner of exposition should always be with a view to exposing. Laying bear, the meaning of the text at hand as it relates to the overall truth of God.  An exposition of a text should not serve to fragment the Bible into disparate parts with no sense of inner connection, but should always aim toward a greater sense of the truth of the whole.  In all of this the aim is to glorify God and edify the saints.

Adherence to Scripture is an evidence of the eternal pleasure of God toward the person;  instead of having faith destroyed, God’s foundation in their lives stands firm.  While the speculations of some leads to denial of essential truth, inextricably connected with the historical activities of God in Christ essential for salvation, a mark of grace is continuation in those truths.  He will always sanctify his people through his truth. See John 17:17

Set Aside for the purpose of usefulness 20-26

Christian minister must purposely avoid unedifying conduct

The analogy of vessels is reminiscent of Romans 9:20-23, vessels of wrath and mercy –  The warnings of the traits of the elect and reprobate are clear in scripture.  That task that lies in the hand of the one who reads and understands is the pursuit of the honored vessel.  None should be satisfied to be a vessel of wrath or a vessel of dishonor.  Those traits that characterize godliness and true faith should occupy our attention, while the evidences of dishonor should be put away and shunned with all the energy we have.  While the work of salvation is of divine grace alone, it is revealed in such a way as to make us both empty of self-righteousness and hope in ourselves, yet zealous that the marks of the new birth, election, sanctification, adoption, and calling be ours.  “If anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor.

The Man of God must flee moral perversity and intellectual vanity  22, 23, 24

Indulgement in lusts shows that one has not repented and does not have a clear perception of the glory of the righteousness that the law portrays.

Quarrelsome activity shows a cavalier disregard for revealed truth in Scripture.  Our task is not to show that we are more clever than others, but to demonstrate confidence in the power of God’s revelation.  It is the true wisdom among the mature [1 Corinthians 2:6-8] and the only means for prompting repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. [1 Thess 1:4-7; 2 Thess 2:13-15]  Because the task of reclaiming is often a slow and difficult process, the Lord’s servant must take a long look at these things and thus show gentleness, not quarrelsomeness, and must realize that he will often be misunderstood and misrepresented.  Thus he has to be “patient when wronged” [24]

In taking this caution, he will be useful for eternal purposes

pursue the genuine fruits of true teaching and a transformed heart 21, 22

His knowledge of Scripture, combined with humility, will make him useful to reclaim those who are in error.  Perhaps some who fall briefly into doctrinal error through speculation may be reclaimed.  Normally, perhaps without exception, this occurs not through combativeness, but through gentle instruction focusing strictly on the word of God.  If they are among God’s elect, they will find grace in the truth of biblical instruction and in that way be reclaimed.  Otherwise, they show that they have not escaped from the snares of the devil but still are in his power. Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 5:18-21].


Forsaking personal autonomy for submission to authority of truth produces life here and hereafter

Being engrossed in personal speculation with regard for neither the morals nor the doctrine of Scripture indicates forsakenness

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts