I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles this morning to the book of 2 Timothy as we begin a verse-by-verse study through this book this semester. I have looked forward to this series for some time. Getting to start it this morning is a great personal joy of mine.
I’ve already intimated the importance of convocation for us. It is the dawn of a new calendar year, the christening of a new academic semester, and we greet this day with all the joy and hopefulness that a new semester brings.
We are a Christian community, a Southern Baptist community of learning. We are a covenant community. We are in covenant with one another, and, most especially, in covenant with the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. As a part of that covenant one to another, this semester we will be looking to again and again to 2 Timothy on Tuesdays as members of our faculty and a number of local pastors will be preaching through this book verse-by-verse.
This morning we look at verses 1–7 on four keys for persevering in ministry.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my beloved son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience he way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day,longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy.For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.
This morning we begin this series through the book of 2 Timothy. It is a week-by-week exposition, and implicit within this undertaking this semester is the conviction that biblical exposition is the preferred, most biblically faithful way to preach. In essence, our desire is to model the apostles biding in this book to preach the Word. We could have preached through any book in the Bible I suppose. We chose this book this semester particularly for the context of it and the message itself.
You know that Paul is approaching death. His life would soon end as he would say, being poured out as a drink offering. He is in prison for a second time in Rome. Church history teaches us that he is incarcerated in the infamous Mamertime prison in Rome. It is a dismal, dank, underground chamber with a single rectangle hole in the ceiling for light and air. He had little food, less comfort, no sanitation, and the only hope for relief was death itself.
Paul was lonely in the prison literally, but he was also lonely more broadly and figuratively. In fact, this book recounts for us Paul being abandoned, former believers leaving, believers apostatizing, and others drifting away. Now Paul writes to Timothy, his son in the faith, with great sense of urgency as to what is taking place in Timothy’s life and what is taking place in the church in Ephesus wherein Timothy pastored.
In fact, he says in chapter 3, verses 14–15 that he is writing this letter to Timothy so the church will know how to conduct themselves as the household. This letter is generally for the church, but it is also, no doubt, a letter to Timothy himself, Paul’s son in the faith. He is weak and beleaguered, vacillating and discouraged. His assurance in the gospel was teetering and his sense of ministry had gone wobbly.
So this letter to Timothy is about faithfulness; faithfulness in ministry and faithfulness within the local church. It is a message that is timeless for us. If ever the church of the Lord Jesus Christ has needed pastors and ministers that would press on in faithfulness until they received their reward from the Lord Jesus Christ, it is now.
Statistics and surveys, frankly, are discouraging. This weekend I had an occasion to read over certain recent reports about those in ministry. The reports give facts like these:
- 45% of pastors say they have experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry
- 57% of pastors still in ministry say at some time in their ministry they would have left their church if they had another suitable form of vocation they could have pursued
- 50% of ministers feel unable to meet the basic day-to-day needs of the job
- 75% of pastors reported a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry
- Finally, some 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month
Are you encouraged? These are daunting statistics. They are challenging and, in many ways, they are discouraging statistics. We have to remind ourselves that even as we comb through data like this, Christ has promised to build his church. He has been building it for 2,000 years and for every minister that has gone wayward, Christ has raised up many more in strength and stature to serve his church. I know this: faithfulness and perseverance in ministry does not just happen. It is something that you must pursue, strive for, and cultivate. It requires a great deal of intentionality day-by-day, year-by-year.
I want to be clear. As we think about perseverance in ministry I do not simply mean grinding it out. I do not simply mean enduring ministry. I suppose to merely grind it out is better than throwing in the towel, but there is so much more to ministry than that and so much more that I want for ourselves as ministers than that. In fact, I would argue if you find yourself merely grinding it out without joy and fruitfulness in Christ, they you are probably well on your way to leaving the ministry.
My desire in these verses as we begin this book is to see keys to perseverance in ministry—keys to a winsome, cheerful, pressing onward in our call for Christ and our ministry to the local church; to joyfully remain faithful to that call until Jesus calls you home. It does not just happen. We just cultivate it and intentionally strive for it.
A Supportive Mentor
See with me, first in your Bible’s this morning the first key. It is a supportive mentor. This oozes from this book chapter-by-chapter, but it especially strikes us as we begin these verses.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my beloved son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day,longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy.
These verses begin with a pronounced testimony of Paul’s love, affection and support of Timothy. Again, it does not end in verse 4. It carries on throughout the book and in these early verses, but Paul clearly begins this book by framing his affection for Timothy.
In particular, he begins in verse 1 with his on attestation to his own apostleship in saying, “I am an apostle, one set apart by Christ Jesus, for Christ Jesus, by the will of God, according to the promise of God in Christ Jesus.” This is a statement of authority, but also a statement of affection we see unfolding here. He is an apostle by God’s will and his authoritative apostleship does not minimize his affection for Timothy or compromise his ability to demonstrate his affection for Timothy. Similarly, his affection for Timothy does not minimize his stature or authority over Timothy.
You know the story. Paul was the great persecutor of the church in Acts 9, on his way to put to death Christians. Christ come to him and intervenes in his life. Christ says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” reminding us that to persecute the church is to persecute Jesus himself. Of course, Saul is converted and called as an apostle. His name is changed to Paul and he becomes the great missionary theologian of the early church. That is Paul. That is Timothy’s mentor.
Notice verse 2. This is not just a pile-up of words. Sometimes when we read our Bible’s and we come to a list, it is easy just to scan over it or move on assuming it is a pile-up of words. These are specific words to Timothy. “My beloved son.” He was not his literal son, but his son in the faith and in the ministry. “Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” Those are refreshing words. We know from this book that Timothy, as I have already referenced was beleaguered. Paul calls him to stand strong. No doubt, as he begins to read this letter to be reminded he is Paul—the great apostle’s—son, and to receive these words of benediction and blessing from Paul to him. No doubt, they come to him with refreshment and encouragement, laced with hopefulness.
Notice the affection it carried forward. He regales him with “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” Then he says, “I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day,longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy.” He calls him a beloved son; he thanks God for him and who he is; he references the fact that he is praying for him ongoingly—night and day is a statement of unremitting prayer for him. There is so much affection as he says, “I long to see you even as I recall your tears.” These are tears of separation and of distance. “So that I may be filled with joy.”
Perhaps a young man in ministry has never had a greater mentor than the apostle Paul. We know that theologically and we know that given what Paul did and who he was, but also, we can think that way as it relates to the affection that Paul conveys to Timothy. He loves this man; he is invested in this man; he believes in this man. So much of what Paul proceeds to say to him is not just a word of admonishment, not just a word of rebuke or correction, and not just a call to man up, but it comes with a full measure of love that Paul feels for Timothy.
We see this in so many places throughout the New Testament. For instance, we are reminded in Philippians two of Paul’s affection for Timothy. In verse 19 Paul writes of Timothy and says:
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition, for I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interest, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he has served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. Therefore, I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me and I trust in the Lord that I myself may also come shortly.
There is no doubt there is a unique relationship between Paul and Timothy. It is one of affection as Timothy is a beloved son. “Grace, mercy and peace, longing to see you, recalling your tears, filled with joy, praying night and day.”
Paul is a supportive mentor. Students, who is your supportive mentor? And by the way, having a supportive mentor is not reserved for one who is a master’s student or undergraduate student who is under the age of 18, 22, or 25. All throughout ministry there should be someone older than you that you can look to. Perhaps you need them less frequently because you have grown in your knowledge of the Word in ministry, but still that you know is praying for you and encouraging you. I say to you, if you do not have someone or multiple people like this in your life that you can look to, you are missing a key ingredient to strength and perseverance in ministry.
I remember when I was converted to Christ in college. I began to not even know what was going on in my own life, but I was sensing a call to ministry. I didn’t even know then that that is what it was. I remember seeking out a man in our church—a layman—and asking to meet with him. He was Mr. Layman in the church and was known to be very faithful. I remember sitting down in a little study in the church and saying, “Teach me how to share my faith.” He walked me through what was known then as the Roman Road and taught me how to share the gospel with people.
About a year later I had a college minister that similarly I leeched onto and he poured in me and invested in me. He is still a dear friend and older brother in the faith today.
Then I began to feel in a more pronounced way God’s call to ministry and there was a pastor at Dauphin Way Baptist Church, across the street from the college that I went to. I was a college athlete at Spring Hill and I would dash to practice from church where I would meet with Steve Lawson, who began to teach me how to preach. I asked him questions about preaching and I remember this. One day I said to him, “I appreciate the interest you have shown me and your willingness to let me look at your sermon notes and understand how to prepare a sermon.” He said, “Jason, if a man has $100 to invest in a business, he wants to invest it in a business that will give return.” He said, “There are many young men that I could give my time to, but I am giving it especially to you expecting that in a kingdom sense there will be a return on that investment.”
You need mentors, but as you have mentors, make sure their time given to you brings a return on a kingdom investment. In fact, to be in this room this morning and to study at this institution is a reminder in a broader sense of all who have invested in this institution and have been invested in you. Think about generations of Southern Baptists who have poured incredible financial resources into this place and even now those who support this institution year-by-year so generously through the Cooperative Program, through their prayers, through their kind and best wishes to us. Indeed, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. We look to mentors in church history—the great Whitefields, Calvins, Luthers, Spurgeons, Lotte Moons, Annie Armstrongs, and so many other who are there. We draw strength and encouragement from them, but listen, you need someone personally.
Some of you are here in seminary studying and you did not grow up in a structured and healthy local church. Maybe you did not grow up in church at all; you were converted in college or as a late teen and you find yourself here now, so you may not have shown up on campus with a network of support. I say to you, do not be content not having that. Seated before you is a group of faculty that love you and want to encourage you; administrators, myself included, who are happy to invest in you and want to encourage you and strengthen you in the ministry. You need that now. But listen, you need that as long as you are on this earth serving the Lord Jesus Christ.
A Sincere Faith
We see in verses 1 through 4 the affection of Paul as a supportive mentor giving himself to Timothy. Notice the second key in verse five. It is a sincere faith. Paul says, “I am mindful.” This is more than a compliment. What is taking place here? He is not just giving Timothy a compliment. He knows that Timothy is discouraged, so he is reinforcing within Timothy the root of the gospel. He is reminding Timothy that his faith is in Christ and that the gospel has transformed him.
He says, “I am mindful of the sincere faith within you. It came to you first from your Grandmother Louis and your mother Eunice.” We know that Timothy’s father was a Gentile, but here his grandmother and mother have no doubt invested in him, Paul says. And he says, “I know that sincere faith, I saw it in them, and I am confident it is in you as well.”
We only see dimly what the struggles of Timothy were from what we can reconstruct from church history and pick up on from these epistles in the New Testament, but we know there was a challenge, a dark night of the soul we may say, and perhaps Timothy finds himself so disconcerted, troubled, and vexed that he is wondering, “Is my faith even rightly placed? I see colleagues leaving and drifting away from the ministry and the faith. Am I next?” But Paul says, “I have seen your life and your faith, I have seen the way the gospel has taken root, I’ve seen the fruit of that gospel within you and I am saying to you, of course you are called. Of course the gospel is alive and well within you. I am confident and sure that your faith in sincere.”
What does it mean to have a sincere faith? It means for it to be authentic, not synthetic. It means to have a faith that is without hypocrisy and pretense. It means to have a faith that is true and real, to be truly converted.
If you are going to be faithful and persevere in ministry you better be very certain that your feet are solidly planted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, not just theologically or theoretically, but you have seen the grace of God work in your life and you are as confident that you are as confident that you are in Jesus Christ as a human being can possibly be. Why is that? Because if a minister does not have assurance of their salvation, how on earth can they preach and serve with confidence and point others to that same salvation?
How do you know that you are saved anyway? I think the New Testament gives us two primary ways. First, the objective assurance is, “Have I called upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ?” Has there been a time in my life that I have repented of my sins and believed in him and put my faith in him. Also, we see reinforced throughout the New Testament what we can think of as subjective assurance, that is the fruit of the spirit and fruits of conversion—a love of God, a hunger for his Word, an impulse to pray, a desire to fellowship with God’s people, and a passion for evangelism. The fruit of the Christian life is seen in us.
Why does that matter? Not only ultimately because if a person is not rooted and grounded and confident that their faith in Christ is authentic, sincere, and true, not only will it limit and mitigate one’s ministry, but get this, how tragic it would be to spend your life preaching and pointing people to heaven but to miss it yourself. Or, even more so, warning people of the warnings of hell but wake up one day to find it. Seminary student, are you certain you are saved? Seminary employee, are you certain you are saved? Men and women in the room, none excluded, are you confident that you are in Christ and that you faith in sincere?
Paul says to Timothy, “I know you I’ve served with you I have seen you, discipled you and poured into you, and I am confident of this this. That faith that you mother and grandmother exhibited and that faith in you in a sincere and true faith and I am confident that it is in you as well.”
Do you want to persevere in ministry? Find yourself a strong supportive mentor and make sure there is a sincere faith within your heart. If you are in the room today and a question has been raised in your mind, do not let the sun go down without resolving that with a friend, professor, or with me. Do not let the sun go down without resolving that.
When I was first being called to ministry I had a good friend and we were both in college then. He had been in ministry and we were about 20 or 21-years-old. He was imminently qualified to be a youth pastor because he was a youth. He was telling me how to do ministry. His name is Scott Slayton and we wound up going to seminary together years later and he pastors a church in Alabama.
I knew nothing about the Bible. When I would speak or preach, I was one step ahead of the hounds every week. All I know about the verses I preached was what I learned the days leading up to the time I would teach or preach them. As I was around him and got to know him, I thought man, he is a youth minister, but I am not sure if he knows Christ. I did not understand theological categories to process all of this, I just had a misgiving in my heart about him.
Then, a few months later, we were at an old-fashioned, outdoor preaching event. We went just to go and be a part of it with a friend of ours who was preaching. And in the middle of the invitation he grabbed my arm and said, “I am going forward because I am not saved.” He could have suppressed that out of shame and embarrassment, he could have sought to not deal honestly with integrity in his heart where he was with Christ because of what his youth group or church may have thought of him. And what happened? He was gloriously saved. What happened? God called him to ministry all over again. We went to seminary, he is serving a church and he is marvelously used by Christ. He called me a few months ago and reminded me of that very scenario, though I had not forgotten, and said, “Thank you for pointing me to Jesus then.”
I say that to say, if you find yourself with questions, do not worry about what other people think. I can tell you what they will think. They will rejoice with you when you settle it. Make sure your faith in Christ is sincere.
A Continual Kindling
Notice verse 6, thirdly. What I want to think of as this third key is a strengthening call. “For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” What is going on here? Some exegetes think that is a reference to his conversion. Others think it is a reference to kindle afresh the spiritual gifts. And still others think it is a reference to his call to ministry. I lean toward that third understanding that Paul is here charging him in ministry to kindle afresh the ministerial gifts that God has given him and entrusted to him.
Verse 6 says it was expressed to him through the laying on of hands. This is not in some mystical transfusion of power, but in a sense of recognition of God’s work in Timothy. This is one of the verses where we get the idea of ordination where we lay hands on someone and pray for them as a sign that we believe God is setting them apart for ministry.
Notice what God says here, “I remind you to kindle afresh God’s gift in you.” I want to encourage you to underline those words in your Bible if you have not already. What does that tell us? Again, I believe it is telling us that the call to ministry and God’s gift in our life is not a static enterprise. It is not merely something that we experienced, felt, or surrendered to in times past. It is living within us dynamically and it is something that we should cultivate, be concerned about, cherish, and nourish as much as I care about, concern about, and nourish the five children God has given me.
Paul tells Timothy, “Kindle it afresh.” Keep the fire alive, we might say. Stir it, keep it afresh and alive, kindle afresh the gift of God. Let me tell you, the more closely you link those two phrases, the better you will be. “Kindle afresh the gift of God.”
Do you believe that God has called you to ministry and has endowed you with gifts for ministry? The gifts we see expressed in the New Testament and meeting the qualification we see in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. God has given you something precious that he discriminated when he gave it out. He gave it to select individuals to serve his church. What is your responsibility? Cherish it, deploy it, leverage it for the Kingdom, and kindle it afresh.
Over the years, knowing those in ministry and watching temptation and inclinations in my own life, I can tell you when I am failing to kindle it afresh it tends to be in one of two ways. It is either to where I am all service, all output and little input, to where I am letting responsibilities of a ministry assignment or academic semester or any other thing that is good, I am letting the output demanded by that stage of life in ministry eclipse the input I am taking in from God’s Word, his people, prayer, and the spiritual disciplines.
Conversely, there are other times and places where I have been so given to intake, study, reading, and prayer, but I do not have an active ministry so I have found myself frustrated because I was not actually using, leveraging what God had given to me, and serving with full force as God had equipped and called me to do.
Kindling it afresh, I think there is a happy medium there where what is flowing from us is first flowing in us from God’s Word and from prayer. It is flowing from being encouraged by God’s people and practicing the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life and from being mindful and intentional about that gift.
I once knew a guy who was very forgetful in ministry. He could never hardly remember anything. But it was funny, he could never forget a tee time. He loved to play golf. I knew him for many years and he never ran late for a tee time. He was always early and would have his golf clubs set out the night before.
But it was amazing how many other things in life he could forget and one day I challenged him. I said, “Brother, I refuse to believe you are that disorganized because I noticed you are remarkably organized every time you have a tee time at the greens.” He was humble and chastened and he acknowledged likewise.
Why is that? Because we tend to remember and value that which we cherish. I want to encourage you even conceptually to make sure you are cherishing in a biblical sense that call. As you realize how elevated the gift of God is for ministry, you will more intuitively and intentionally kindle it afresh day-to-day. God calls; the minister surrenders; the church affirms; and now in this season the seminary equips. But you, pastor, minister, counselor, servant of God, you must strengthen that call season-to-season by kindling it afresh.
A Strong Spirit
Notice the fourth key with me. It is what I would simply refer to as a strong spirit. In verse 7 he says, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” I love this construct of the contrast of what God has not given us and what he has given us.
First of all, it is not a spirit of timidity. What does it mean to be timid? It is to be fearful. That could be fearful toward ministerial adversaries, gospel adversaries, cantankerous church members, critics at large, people, or a sense of fearfulness about whether God will provide or people will respect you if you serve in ministry. Whatever it is, God has not given his servant a spirit of fearfulness.
By the way, if you are a fearful person in your bones, I warn you now, you may not last more than 10 minutes in 21st century ministry anyway. If you are a fearful person in your bones, there will be more than enough items from your flesh that you can be fearful over: disgruntled church members, a belligerent culture, constrictions on religious liberty, and all the challenges of sexual liberation we see before us, and so much more. The church does not need weak-kneed ministers. What does the church need? It needs ministers with a strong spirit.
Notice what Paul says. What has God given you? He has given you a spirit of power. I love this word. It is the idea of forcefulness and a willingness to be direct. But that forcefulness is rightly calibrated by the love of God. What complements that? It is a spirit of discipline.
What does that mean? He is not referring to punishment here. He is referring to that sense of self-discipline because ministry is big stuff. Ministry is serious stuff. It is not for the perpetual adolescent who just wants to coast through life, play video games, and go from one form of entertainment to the next without getting down to the nitty-gritty and seriousness of gospel work. Perpetual adolescence is of the devil and may it be distant from this place. God has not given us that.
If you are in ministry, he has given you a spirit of power. Power in the truth and gospel. It is a spirit of love. Love for God’s people, a love of God overflowing and a discipline that enhances, strengthens, and complements these things. Ministry, after all, takes a little grit at times. Let us not be in short supply of it, those of us who were called. We need a strong spirit that projects and sustains our call to ministry. If ever the words of Martin Luther in “A Mighty Fortress” ring true, they do now.
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His Name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
The strength is not yours. We are to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. What do I pray? I pray that what is taking place here is a spark and embers will become a flame that would move like a prairie fire throughout the country and beyond imitating from this place with ministers who are not only good for a semester or a few years until complications, children, difficult church members, or something else comes up and crowds it out, but a generation of ministers who persevere in faithfulness to the end. It does not just happen. It comes when we have strong, supportive mentors. It comes when we are a people of sincere faith. It comes when we have a strengthening sense of calling. It comes when we are strong at heart.