January 12, 2020

2 Timothy 2:1-7: A Call to Faithfulness

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Series: 2 Timothy: Faithful to the End Scripture: 2 Timothy 2:1–7

2 Timothy 2:1-7: A Call to Faithfulness

Please turn with me in your Bible to 2 Timothy 2. If you’re using one of the Bibles we provide, that’s on page 834. We’ve been working through Paul’s second letter to Timothy passage by passage, and this morning we come to 2 Timothy 2:1-7. 2 Timothy 2:1-7: 1 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. 7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. 

On the top shelf of my bedroom closet, there’s a shoebox. And in that shoebox are a variety of items that have sentimental value for me. Most of them are pictures and letters. However, there’s also this watch—a watch my aunt gave me that was worn by my grandfather. I guess it’s what you might call an heirloom of sorts—even though I’m not sure whether or not it has significant monetary value. And of course there are a few other heirlooms in the family as well—everything from jewelry to fine china to war medals to coins and a few other odds and ends. And the idea behind these heirlooms is to maintain possession of them and keep them safe so that you can pass them on to future generations. 

And here in 2 Timothy, we see that that’s very similar to the way Paul views the gospel and the other things he’s taught Timothy. He tells Timothy in verse 2 of our main passage, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” That word “entrust” carries that idea of giving something to someone in order to have that person look after it and keep it safe and, in many cases, do something with it—as is certainly the case here. And, interestingly, this isn’t the first time Paul’s used the word “entrust” in this letter. Back in chapter 1 verse 12, Paul talked about the message that God had “entrusted” to him. Then in verse 14 of that chapter, Paul told Timothy to “guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” And now in the present passage, he’s telling Timothy to pass that on and “entrust” that same body of teaching to others. In fact, that’s the main idea we see in this passage. Paul urges Timothy to take what’s been entrusted to him and faithfully entrust it to others. Then the idea is that those people will turn around and entrust it to even more people. So in this verse, you really have four spiritual generations: Paul, Timothy, the “faithful men” Timothy teaches, and the “others” taught by those Timothy teaches. We might say that Paul was the spiritual father, Timothy the spiritual child, and then spiritual grandchildren and great-grandchildren after him. That’s God’s design for how things should work. He wants us all to pass on what we’ve learned to other people. 

And the way we do that, as we talked about a couple of weeks ago, is to form discipling relationships with people in which we get together with them regularly in order to help them grow toward spiritual maturity. That’s something God’s called every Christian to do. And part of helping others grow toward spiritual maturity is leading them to become disciple-makers themselves. That’s why our church’s mission statement says that we want to glorify God by helping people know Christ personally, grow to spiritual maturity, and become disciple-makers themselves. We put that on the front of our bulletins every Sunday in order to remind ourselves of just how central that is for the Christian life. And that’s exactly what Paul’s telling Timothy to do here in 2 Timothy 2:2—making disciples who will make more disciples and in that way passing on the truths he’s learned. 

Then, in the following verses, Paul uses three illustrations to help Timothy understand what faithfulness in doing that looks like. And each of these illustrations shows us a distinct component of that faithfulness. First, Paul talks about the focus of a soldier. Second, about the obedience of an athlete. And third, about the hard work of a farmer.

The Focus of a Soldier

So first, the focus of a soldier. In verses 3-4, Paul writes, 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. Now even if you’ve never served in the military, you’re still probably aware of the emphasis the military places on obeying your superiors. Soldiers are taught to follow the orders of their commanding officer and, in that way, to please their commanding officer. Likewise, Paul says, we as Christians should have that same laser beam focus on obeying and pleasing the one who’s over us—our Lord Jesus. And, on the flip side, he says we should be very careful to avoid getting “entangled in civilian pursuits.” What kinds of things to you think Paul might be referring to by that phrase “civilian pursuits”? That could be a lot of things, couldn’t it? It’s pretty broad. “Civilian pursuits” could be the comforts of the world—having a comfortable life. Or it could be the pleasures of the world, the treasures of the world, or anything else that stands in the way of you being who God wants you to be and doing what God wants you to do. Perhaps you’re obsessed with your career to such a degree that it’s eclipsing God in your life. Or perhaps you’re so into sports that your interest in sports is hindering you from being closer to God. Or perhaps there’s a particular relationship you have with someone that’s holding you back spiritually. There are a wide variety of things that could be considered “civilian pursuits”—really anything distracts us or detracts from us pursuing the disciple-making mission God’s called us to. 

And notice that the majority of these things aren’t even inherently sinful. Many of them are gifts God’s given us to enjoy. The problem is that we’ve allowed these good things to get in the way of the main things God’s left us here to do. That’s why Paul gives Timothy this reminder not to get “entangled in civilian pursuits.” So ask yourself, what “civilian pursuits” are there in your life? What good things are keeping you from being fully engaged in the main things God’s given you to do? A pastor named Tim Kizziar once observed that “Our greatest fear as individuals and as a church should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” In other words, it doesn’t matter how successful you are if you’re succeeding in the wrong things. Succeeding in the wrong things is actually a form of failure. So are you living a life that’s focused on Jesus and on the disciple-making mission Jesus has given us? What good things might there be in your life that are distracting you and hindering you from doing the main things? 

The Obedience of an Athlete

Then a second component of faithfulness Paul lays out for Timothy is the obedience of an athlete. In verse 5, he states that “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” Back in ancient times, athletes wouldn’t receive a trophy but rather a crown or, perhaps more descriptively, a wreath that was composed of foliage. But in order to receive this crown, the athletes would, of course, have to compete according to the rules. It’s not really any different from today. Every sport has rules you have to follow. For example, one rule that’s been adopted in many sports is that athletes can’t use performance-enhancing drugs. And if an athlete’s caught using performance-enhancing drugs, they’re severely penalized and perhaps even kicked out of the league. We all saw what happened with Lance Armstrong a few years back, right? “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules”—or, in Lance Armstrong’s case, I guess his “crowns” were taken away. And here’s what that means for us as Christians. We also have “rules,” so to speak, in the Bible. The Bible instructs us on how we should live. It tells us to do certain things and avoid other things. And it’s only when we follow those instructions that we receive the “crown” God has for us in the form of heavenly rewards. 

Paul also talks about this crown a couple of chapters later in 2 Timothy 4:7-8. He writes, 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. So notice that Paul calls it a “crown of righteousness”—that is, a crown given as a reward for righteousness. And notice also that Paul says Jesus gives this crown to “all who have loved his appearing.” It’s interesting that he doesn’t say Jesus will give this crown simply to those have believed in his appearing or accepted the fact that he’ll one day come back. Rather, Paul says this crown will be given to those who have “loved his appearing.” That’s one indication that someone’s truly a Christian and that they’re a healthy Christian. They haven’t just signed a doctrinal statement that says they believe Jesus will come back one day. They’ve set their hearts on his return. They yearn to see his face and behold his glory. Those are the people who will receive this “crown of righteousness.”

And when they receive it, do you know what they’ll do? Revelation 4:9-11 actually tells us. It says, 9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” So in this glimpse of heaven, Johns sees 24 elders who are in heaven and who have obtained crowns by serving Jesus faithfully take their crowns and cast them before God’s throne. Now why in the world would they do that? They’ve labored so hard and probably endured so much suffering to receive those crowns, and here we see them casting their crowns before God’s throne? Why? And the answer is that they’re so captivated by the beauty and majesty of God that they want to give him all they have. They recognize that he alone is worthy of glory and honor and that giving him their crowns is the least they can do for the one who gave his life for them. And I believe that’s what things will be like not only for those 24 elders but for you and I as well. And what a privilege that will be! What an unspeakable privilege both to receive those crowns and to cast those crowns before the feet of Jesus. 

So the question you need to ask yourself this morning is how diligently you’re striving to obtain that crown. Returning to our main passage in 2 Timothy, are you living as that athlete who competes according to the rules? Are you striving to pattern your life after God’s instructions in the Bible? Of course, keep in mind that this metaphor of a crown isn’t teaching that we earn a place in heaven. The Bible’s very clear that we’re saved through faith alone. Our entrance into heaven depends not on us but on Jesus—his merits, his achievements, his work on the cross, his resurrection. However, even though we don’t earn entrance into heaven, we do, in a certain sense, earn rewards in heaven. That’s where the crown comes in. So hopefully you’re pursuing that crown. As one commentator observed, “If athletes can train and compete for trophies and men’s applause, how much more should we train and sweat for that which is eternal.” Think about that as you determine how you’ll spend your time and how diligently you’ll pursue evangelistic opportunities and discipling relationships. 

The Hard Work of a Farmer

Then a final component of faithfulness that Paul mentions to Timothy is the hard work of a farmer. He states in verse 6, “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” That phrase “hard-working” in the original language means to toil with great intensity and to sweat and strain to the point of exhaustion if necessary. And many times, that’s what farmers do. They work extremely hard. Farming isn’t exactly a 9-to-5 job. I used to live in a very rural area where a lot of the people were farmers. And I remember at church one day, a man named Paul Bennett had to politely excuse himself from our worship service because he received word that one of his cows was giving birth. Apparently the cow didn’t get the memo that Sunday morning isn’t typically considered normal working hours. That’s just the way life is for a farmer. It’s a very demanding job that requires a lot of hard work. And according to Paul, hard work is also a part of our calling as Christians. In fact, a couple of chapters later, in 2 Timothy 4:6, Paul says, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering.” Just as a drink offering in the Old Testament would be poured out before God as an act of worship, Paul says that he himself is being poured out—no doubt a reference to his imprisonment and anticipated martyrdom. Paul was willing to be poured out as a drink offering for the sake of Christ. 

And that’s the way we should approach our lives as well. Don’t shy away from pouring yourself out for the sake of Christ and the advance of the gospel. You and I may never be subjected to imprisonment or die as martyrs, but we should still be pouring ourselves out as we labor with great intensity in the disciple-making mission God’s given us. You know, perhaps some of you are wondering why God doesn’t pour into you more than he does. Why doesn’t he give you greater comfort and allow you to experience a greater sense of closeness to him? Well, perhaps this is why. Perhaps, in a manner of speaking, there’s no room for God to pour into you because you haven’t been pouring yourself out for others. That’s what you have to do if you want the maximum measure of God’s grace and fullness in your life. You have to be faithfully engaged in the work he’s called you to and regularly pouring yourself out in labor and toil for the spiritual well-being of people around you. 

And please don’t leave here today with any illusions about ministry to others always being easy. Many times, it’s not easy. It is indeed hard work. You see, ministry to others is about relationships, and relationships require time, they require vulnerability and trust, and they can at times be messy. Sometimes people we care deeply about disappoint us and even turn their backs on us and hurt us. Ministry can be exceptionally hard work at times—much like farming. 

In addition to that, ministry’s also like farming in the sense that it’s often not very glamorous. Farmers do a lot of ordinary work—what that typically doesn’t get them a lot of attention. There aren’t any crowds cheering for them as they plow their fields, nor do they call a press conference when they bale their hay. Instead, they simply go about their business plowing and sowing and harvesting and fixing things and helping cows give birth. And in a similar way, ministry to others often isn’t very glamorous either. Meeting with someone before work at 6am every week as you seek to disciple them isn’t glamorous. Shoveling the snow of the elderly widow up the street isn’t glamorous. Steering a conversation with one of your non-Christian friends toward the gospel usually isn’t glamorous. 

And yet…it’s worth it. Because look at what Paul says about the farmer. “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” Back in ancient times, agricultural workers were often paid, at least in part, with a share of the crops they harvested. And likewise, even though ministry does indeed require hard work and is often not glamorous, there’s tremendous blessing to be found in enjoying the fruit of your labor. There’s tremendous blessing in watching young Christians grow toward spiritual maturity, tremendous blessing in seeing skeptics give their lives to Jesus, and tremendous blessing in seeing marriages saved and relationships reconciled and entire families transformed through the gospel. Honestly, guys, why would you want to do anything else with your life? What can compare to seeing God work through you in the lives of other people? 

I have no doubt that those of you who have children love to watch your children grow, right? I love watching my three-month-old son Luke discover new things, like his hands, for example—those things are amazing. And in a few months, I know I’m going to love seeing the expression on Luke’s face as he tries food for the first time. Then I’m going to love seeing him take his first steps. It’s such a joy for parents to see their children grow. And ministry is the same way. What a joy it is to see the people in whom we invest coming to faith and then growing to spiritual maturity. So embrace the hard work of ministry to others. Like the farmer, you also will enjoy a share of the crops. 


And again, the idea behind all three of the illustrations Paul uses in this passage is, I believe, faithfulness. Paul’s trying to explain what faithfulness looks like as he talks about the focus of a soldier, the obedience of an athlete, and the hard work of a farmer. And faithfulness really is what we’re called to as Christians. Notice that Paul never tells Timothy—here or anywhere else—that he’s responsible for the fruit or the results of his efforts at ministry. Paul never says or even implies that Timothy needs to lead “x” number of people to Jesus or help “x” number of Christians grow to maturity or start “x” number of churches. Instead, he simply encourages Timothy to be faithful—to faithfully be who God’s called him to be and to faithfully do what God’s called him to do. 

And that’s good for us to remember when things seem to be happening slower than we would like them to. There are times when it’s easy to become discouraged and start wondering if our efforts at ministering to the people around us are having any effect. Perhaps we’ve been trying to point a certain non-Christian to Jesus for years and they still show almost no interest. Or perhaps we’ve devoted countless hours to discipling a Christian, and they still seem to be rather weak and immature and not nearly as motivated as we’d like them to be. Yet it’s during times like those when we need to remember that God simply calls us to faithfulness. 

Paul says it like this in 1 Corinthians 3:6: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” You know, when you’re trying to grow something like grass or flowers or a vegetable garden, you can do different things that encourage growth and that facilitate growth, but God is ultimately the one who brings that growth about. He’s the one who actively causes the laws of nature to work so that those plants grow. So you can plant and you can water, but it’s God who gives the growth. And it’s the same way spiritually. Do we labor with great intensity to see the gospel go forward? Yes. Do we actively share the gospel with people and meet with people in order to disciple them? Absolutely. Do we pour our hearts out in prayer for untold numbers of hours pleading with God to work in us and through us and around us? We sure do. And by the way, that’s why we’re going to have a prayer meeting this week. Yet we understand that the rest is up to God. The results are in his hands. We’re simply called to faithfulness. So are you being faithful? Are you being faithful with the time God’s given you and devoting that time to things that would honor him? Are you being faithful with the opportunities God’s given you to share the gospel with people and to meet with other Christians for discipleship? Are you being faithful with the money God’s given you and using that money in a way that would honor him? God doesn’t call you to achieve certain results, but he does call you to faithfulness. He calls you to be a good steward of all these things he’s entrusted to you. 

And the reason we do this isn’t just or even primarily the rewards we anticipate receiving in heaven. As desirable and as sure as those rewards are, there’s an even higher motivation Paul gives for being faithful in the ways he’s instructed Timothy. We find it in the verse that comes right after our main passage—2 Timothy 2:8. Paul tells Timothy to “remember Jesus Christ.” “Remember Jesus Christ.” In other words, remember who he is—the very Son of God, worthy of all praise and honor and glory. And remember also what he’s done—how he came to this earth as a human being and died on the cross in order to atone for our sins. Jesus paid our debt and suffered God’s wrath in our place. He then resurrected from the dead so that he’s now able to save everyone who puts their trust in him to do that. And it’s for these reasons and many more that the thought of Jesus should elicit the most profound awe and wonder and gratitude from our hearts and lead us to love him more than anything else. And it’s that love for him that compels us to devote our lives to making him famous. It’s that love for him that compels us to be ever so intentional about ministering to the people around us and leading them to Jesus and helping them grow. You know, the measure of our love for Jesus isn’t how it makes us feel but rather what it leads us to do and how it leads us to order and prioritize our lives. So “remember Jesus Christ” and let your love for him compel you to devote your entire life to the advance of his Kingdom and the glory of his name.

other sermons in this series

Apr 19


Mar 15


2 Timothy 4:6-8: Finishing Well

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Scripture: 2 Timothy 4:6–8 Series: 2 Timothy: Faithful to the End

Mar 8