If God built His world to be under the authority of men and women rightly aligned with His word and purposes, then it only makes sense that His church—the new humanity, the down payment of the new creation to come—ought to be the same. The men God calls to be elders are to be examples of godly maturity, submission, truth, righteousness, and love. And because ministry is war—the church and especially her leaders are on the front lines of attack on the kingdom of man and Satan—the standard if high, the costs are great, and the rewards are unparalleled.
As we celebrate the installation of a new pastor, we are reminded of seven charges made to him by the Lord—and seven things we are to pray for him.
A. Suffer (1:8-12)
It is God’s will for us to suffer (cf. 1 Peter 4:19). But Paul highlights the resources available in Christ: we are to suffer “according to the power of God”—the idea is “in proportion to” His power. This may mean great suffering, but we have the assurance of greater power to sustain us! Moreover, this power is what saved us from sin and death and called us effectually, all according to His own purpose, not our works. All of this is rooted in the grace God gives us from eternity. This grace has been visibly manifested in the person and work of the Lord Jesus, who came to put that grace into effect by abolishing death and bringing life and immortality to light through His gospel. This is the gospel to which Paul has been sovereignly appointed as an apostle and teacher, and it is the reason he suffers (to bring the gospel and all of its inspired implications and applications to fallen men, and saved men with the ugly residue of the flesh, is a guarantee of pain). But Paul is not ashamed to suffer, because he knows the character of the One he trusts, and that He is able to guard what Paul has entrusted to Him—Paul himself!—safely through the coming day of judgment and into the glories of eternal life.
B. Defend (1:13-18)
“Retain” is a word that means “to hold fast,” “cling to,” or “maintain.” It’s a present imperative, identifying the ongoing necessity of the maintaining. Timothy is to never lose his grip on the apostolic message. He is not to modify or revise it. He is supposed to maintain it unaltered and preserve it intact and complete. Why? Because a compromised message cannot save nor sanctify. Because compromising even lesser truths results in a mixture of the divine and human perspectives—a boundary that must never be crossed (James 3:15). The gospel is the most important aspect of God’s revealed truth, and as such the greatest demonic attacks will be there. Paul is telling Timothy to prepare for satanic and human opposition. He is also reminding him of the preciousness of the gospel. (If it is worthless, Timothy needn’t hold to it so tightly!) Suffering will tempt us to modify the message out of self-protection. But this would be exactly the wrong idea.
To “guard” is lit. “to not let one escape.” What is the treasure we are to guard? The entirety of the word of God—both the message (what the words contain and communicate) and the words themselves. Timothy is to preserve the whole thing—the word contained in the inerrant words, the words themselves and the Word. None of it is to be lost.
C. Depend (2:1-13)
We are barely into chapter two and yet the order is magnificently tall already. And that is exactly right—we are unable to do this ourselves! God often places us into contexts where our strictly human resources are utterly unable to meet the need, to show us our greater need of dependence on Him, and then to come through for us in a way such that He receives all the glory. It is this kind of life to which Paul calls Timothy, and all of us. Verse 1 is is a passive command—it is a command to let something be done to or for you. We are to be strengthened—God is to put His strength in us to enable us to suffer and defend, and we are to—if I may say it like this—allow Him to do it. We are not to get in His way in His process of filling and enabling, but we are instead to “put ourselves in the way of” His strength and power, that we may be filled.
The source of our strength is grace. This is God freely working to show favor and good—unmerited, unsought, unearned—to those who are undeserving. How do you grow strong? Meet God in His gospel. Think of who Christ is, who you are, and what He has freely and lovingly done for you. Meditate upon this until you have power to move mountains and endure any hardship for Him. For all grace in time and eternity—and grace is simply the free gift of God Himself in all its justifying, sanctifying, and blessing activities—is rooted in the work of God in His gospel.
Paul gives three illustrations of what a grace-energized life looks like. They also show the vigorous, unending, vigilant life of ministry. The soldier who delights to please his commander (vv. 3-4), the athlete who runs to win the prize (v. 5), the farmer who ought to receive the first-fruits of his labor (v. 6). Timothy is to steep himself in these apostolic words and seek God’s illumination—he is to think, and God the Spirit gives light (v. 7).
Who is our example? The Lord Jesus—the incarnate Man—who gave Himself over to the will of His beloved Father. This Man conquered death (and gives us deathless hope to pour ourselves out in love). This Man is the Seed of David (who rules even now in kingly splendor and will one day complete the fullness of this promise—recall that the Davidic kingship is “a charter for humanity” [2 Sam. 7:19]). And He was vindicated as incarnate God by His resurrection. And we will be vindicated by ours. We can wait.
The goal of suffering in gospel ministry is the reaching of the elect (v. 10). And we are promised glorious things if we endure all the way to heaven—we will reign with Christ in His kingdom (vv. 11-12).
D. Study (2:14-26)
“Be diligent” is to work hard to the point of sweat, exhaustion, and toil. Understanding the Bible is not a cavalier affair. Much less is rightly proclaiming it in the Spirit’s power. Pastor-teachers are to give due care to the proclamation of truth. But the study itself is difficult. This requires the strengthening of grace, too.
This is not just true for preachers; no Christian will be mature apart from a serious, humbling, soul-breaking study of the Word of God, where we commune with Him in faith and humility. O how many Christians know so much and yet are prideful and dismissive of others who are not as “enlightened” as them! O how many of us confuse amount of knowledge with maturity! May God break our wills and crush us, that we are overwhelmed with our need of grace and proclaim all the counsel of God in broken humility and steely courage.
The need for proper study is due to threats within and without the church. Within, there are false teachers and disobedient believers (vv. 16-26). Both reject the authority and power of Scripture, and must be dealt with properly—so we are not led astray and so we can proclaim truth to them. Outside, there is a culture of ungodliness that seeps its way into the church.
E. Understand (3:1-9)
The people Paul talks about here may very well be professed Christians. Or they may be blatant unbelievers. Or both. The point is that our context is amidst the fallen kingdoms and cultures of this world system. The threat for infiltration and contamination—to the point of eternal damnation—is quite real. We are not to be naive about the ugliness of the culture. We are not to play with its fallenness, excuse it, much less embrace it as a way of “being missional” or evangelistic, or making the gospel—which breaks our enslavement to sin and our association with the fallen world—palatable to worldlings who do not want to break with the world. Christians are to be distinctly different from the fallen world in every way.
Among these worldly people are those who bring false teaching, and impact people who are always learning ideas but never come to a settled and fruitful knowledge of the truth. These teachers are to be opposed as of the world, not of the present and future kingdom of our God and His Christ. We oppose worldliness in the church because with it always comes false teaching to excuse and enable it. One day, the folly of worldliness will be exposed and all of those who clung to Christ, however imperfectly, will be vindicated.
F. Herald (3:10-4:4)
Timothy is to be a sharp contrast to the inhabitants of the world system: He is to continue following Paul’s new covenant character (v. 10), including its suffering (vv. 11-12). False teachers will be ubiquitous (v. 13), but Timothy is to cling to and boldly proclaim the inerrant, inspired, preserved, authoritative Word of the living and eternal God. It saves, sanctifies, teaches us how to think, and prepares us for eternal glory. Preach it, and nothing else!
4:1 is courtroom language. The holy God, in the person of Christ, is watching and will judge. You will give an account, preacher. And in light of it: Proclaim one book, all the time, whether people listen or not. For the time will come when church people will not listen (vv. 3-4), and you must be ready for that. Preach anyway!
G. Finish (4:5-22)
Ministry is war. And there will be casualties. Don’t be one of them! These last verses are a beautiful portrait of the cost and glories of ministry. Just as Paul is telling Timothy to “fulfill [his] ministry”—to fill it up, execute it, do it all—he waxes eloquent on what that very thing cost him. But there is glory ahead. Paul has a crown waiting for him—the crown which is eternal life itself. God stands with us to strengthen us to fulfill His plan (v. 17), and promises to rescue us (v. 18). That rescue into His eternal kingdom is our hope. It’s what drives everything else. It sustains us in the times of sacrifice and is glimpsed in the times of great joy.
Ministry is war, but Jesus has won the war already. May we align ourselves with Him and experience overwhelming victory for the glory of His Name!