Fight the Good Fight - A Life of Ministry - An Exposition of 2 Timothy 2:1-7
(I gave this message at First Christian Church Wilton Manors Florida on July 10, 2016)
This morning I want to look with you at the first seven verses of 2 Timothy 2, a letter written by the Apostle Paul to Timothy, a young pastor. Paul had a special relationship with Timothy. He was more than a mentor. In verse two of chapter one, Paul referred to Timothy as "my beloved child." Elsewhere, he called Timothy a "fellow worker." (Romans 16:21) and wrote that Timothy served with him in Gospel ministry "like a child serving his father."
Timothy had been a missionary companion of Paul during most of his second and third missionary journeys. These were difficult days for the church at large. Paul spoke of his suffering for the gospel, as he was "bound with chains as a criminal." (2:9 ESV) You see, this was the last letter Paul ever wrote as his ministry came to a close. Written from a prison cell in Rome, shortly before he was executed by the Roman Emperor Nero.
And so Paul writes in the concluding chapter "...the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (4:6b, 7 ESV) Paul writes words of instruction and encouragement to this young pastor Timothy as he faced the challenges of living the Christian life and serving the church in difficult days.
As Timothy faced persecution Paul wrote in chapter one verse eight, "...do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner." Then as Timothy faced false teaching from within the church, Paul exhorted Timothy in verse 13, "What you have heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teacing..." and verse 14, "Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you..." That is the context of this letter.
I need not remind you of the increasing hostiility of our government and culture at large towards the gospel of Jesus Christ and His church, nor of the danger of false teaching in the church. So Paul's words instruct and encourage us as we live the Christian life and "fight the good fight" to use Paul's words.
We begin at verse one of 2 Timothy chapter two. Notice first of all Paul calls Timothy to a life of dependence, verse one, "You then, my child, be strengthened [or empowered] by the grace that is in Christ Jesus." (ESV) Pauls begins with the best new possible. God has not left us to fight the battle on our own. As we live the Christin life on a very personal level and as we fulfil the ministry God has called us to, here's the good news, it does not depend on our own strength! As Bradley Jones points out, Timothy is "...to be made strong by depending on the empowering Christ whose grace is unlimited."
"Be strengthened" verse one, is a present passive. That means two things. In the passive voice the subject is the recipient of the action of the verb. Paul is saying, Timothy is the recipient of the empowerment. In other words, it's not what you do, it's what the grace of Jesus Christ does for you and through you. So Paul is saying, let the grace of Jesus Christ empower you. Let Jesus Christ live his life through you! You see, both the source of the strength and the means of obtaining the strength do not depend on Timothy but on the grace of Jesus Christ.
Secondly, the verb “be strengthened” is in the present tense. That speaks of continuous action. Paul is saying to Timothy allow yourself to be strengthened over and over and over again.
Did you notice the the second word of verse one “you then"? It is often translated “therefore.” It links what he is about to write with what he has just written. So this is the idea. He is challenging Timothy to “be strengthened” as we have just seen, based on what he has already written in chapter one.
Look at chapter one verse seven, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." (NIV) Then notice verses eight throug ten,
"So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life —not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. You see we endure suffering by the power of God."
Just as we have been saved by the grace of God, we are called to a holy life by the grace given us in Jesus Christ before the beginning of time. In other words, our salvation and our life of ministry are birthed and and sustained by the grace of God.
Dr. A. B. Simpson founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance put it this way,
"A precious secret of Christian life is to have Jesus dwelling within and conquering things that we never could over-come. It is the only secret of power in your life and mine. Men cannot understand it, nor will the world believe it, but it is true that God will come and dwell within us, and be the power and the purity and the victory and the joy of our life." (Days of Heaven upon Earth)
The first step of course, is coming to God for salvation. Have you repented of your sin and put your trust in Jesus Christ for His forgiveness and salvation? That is where life in Christ begins. If not, this morning I urge you to turn from your sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness and eternal life.
Now Paul continues in verses two throu seven by presenting four metaphors, that of a teacher, a soldier, an athlete and a farmer, that challenge us as we fight the good fight in a life of ministry.
Notice with me first of all, the life of a teacher. Paul calls Timothy, to what I call a life of continuity, verse two, "what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also."
Look back over two thousand years and think about how we today have had the opportunity to hear the truth of the gospel. What made that possible? Simply this, someone faithfully and accurately passed down to us the truth of the gospel, that someone had passed down to them
It’s called continuity. Merriam-Webster defines continuity as, “uninterrupted connection, succession, or union." You see, thousands, even millions, have preceded us in a long chain of believers that have passed down what they received from someone before them. For some of us it was our parents who faithfully taught us the gospel they had learned from someone before them, in many cases their parents.
In the 2008 Beijing Olympics you might remember how both the U.S. women and men’s 4 by 100 relay teams failed to make it past the first round of competition. In each of those races the baton was dropped in one of the handoffs between two runners. For the United States, who usually dominate that event, it was an unprecedented failure.
The present generation and future generations depend on you and I being faithful in teaching others what we have heard so that they can teach others who in turn can teach others. We who are believers today are evidence that the continuity Paul spoke of has workded! Thank God for that uninterrupted succession of witnesses to the gospel.
Moses applies this truth, to the family, the home in Deuteronomy 6:6-7, "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise."
A life of ministry begins in the home. We are to disciple our children! Applying Biblical truth to everyday living at home, at work, and in every situation of life. What are you passing on to your children and grandchildren? If you are a father or mother or a grandparent you have a responsibility to maintain the continuity of the gospel in your home, in your marriage to your children and grandchildren. Reaching the next generation who will in turn reach their generation who in turn will reach their generation. And of course this principle of continuity applies to the discipling of leaders, as well as believers in the church today.
Secondly, Paul uses the metaphor of a soldier. He calls Timothy to a life of dedication. Notice verses three and four, "Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him."
In 1 Timothy 1:18 Paul encouraged Timothy to “fight the good fight” (NIV) or “wage the good warfare” (ESV). Notice three implications about the Christian life and ministry from the metaphor of a soldier. First of all, this ought to be obvious, we are at war! That is what soldiers are trained for. That is what they do! That’s their business. Without an enemy there would be no need of soldiers.
This is the consistent witness of Scripture. Going back to the very beginning. After God exposed the sin of Adam and Eve and the deception of Satan, He said, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Genesis 3:15 ESV)
This is known as the first gospel, the first announcement of the coming Savior - the Messiah. It set the stage for the epoch struggle between good and evil, between God’s children and Satan and his forces that has raged from the beginning of human history since the Fall.
Friends, when you follow Christ and choose to live for Him, you are stepping onto a battle field. You have moved up to the front line. You’ve entered a war zone. If you think otherwise, you have been misled and have put yourself in a very vulnerable place.
In several other places Paul not only uses the metaphor of warfare to describe the nature of Christian life and ministry, but he defines the ministry of the church as spiritual warfare. Let me give you a few examples.
Do you want to know what you are up against when trying to reach lost people with the gospel? 2 Corinthians 4:4 (ESV), …the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."
We have, however, been equipped to face these strategies of Satan, 2 Corinthians 10:4, 5 (ESV), "For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ."
In Ephesians six, verses ten through thirteen, the definitive passage on spiritual warfare, Paul writes, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm." (ESV)
If you are a Christian living for God you are positioned on the front lines of that spiritual war.
Secondly as a soldier you should be prepared for a life of hardship and suffering, verse three, "Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus." The word translated "share suffering" (ESV) or “endure hardship” (NIV) in verse three (ESV) (synkakopatheson), is made up of three words, kakos = bad + patheo = suffer + syn = together. Hardship and suffering are part of a soldier's life. That's part of going to war.
During the Gulf War, we saw video images of soldiers sleeping out in the open in raging sand storms or in tent like structures. You've read reports of soldiers fighting for days on end with little or no sleep. You've seen the images of the wounded and the dead.
This is what characterizes the life of a soldier, danger, sacrifice, deprivation, hardship and inconvenience. Paul himself lived a life of hardship/suffering. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 (NIV) he wrote,
"I have worked much harder, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked." (NIV)
You might not be called to that degree of suffering, or experience exactly that kind of danger. The hardship you suffer might be different than what I suffer. But the history of the church illustrates this Biblical truth. The Christian life and ministry involves sacrifice, hardship and suffering. The prosperity gospel that has saturated cable television and proliferated across this land is a false gospel. It’s unbiblical, unethical and comes from the world of make believe. It has led millions into false expectations and perhaps even a false salvation, a false security even the presumption of faith.
Well, how are you going to stay the course? You’re in a war, facing hardship and suffering.
Thirdly Paul says, the life of a soldier is a focused life, verse four, "No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits [affairs], since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him." (ESV)
Notice the focus of the soldier, the concentration. The imagery here is of one who is willing to exclude certain things in life for a greater cause -- to please the one in charge. Civilian affairs or pursuits are merely "the affairs of everyday life” as one translation reads (NASB). There is nothing wrong with civilian affairs. But to a soldier they can become a liability. Here’s the point. A soldier must be willing to give up certain things that can distract him from carrying out his responsibilities as a soldier.
Shortly after joining the Navy, the new recruit asked his officer for a pass so he could attend a wedding. The officer gave him the pass, but informed the young man he would have to be back on base by 7pm Sunday. “You don’t understand, sir” said the recruit, “I’m in the wedding.” “No, you don’t understand,” the officer shot back, “You’re in the Navy!”
Paul calls us to maintain the continuity of the faith. To a life of dedication like a soldier. And thirdly, to live a life of obedience. Paul now turns to the metaphor of an athlete. Verse five, "Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he compete according to the rules.' (NIV)
Literally (Marshall’s interlinear) “if anyone wrestles”. The verb here is "athleo" from which we get our word athletics; “to strive, contend, be a champion” Is the meaning. It’s referring to athletic competition. Paul is comparing the Christian life and ministry to the life of an athlete.
Notice first of all the discipline and desire required of an athlete. When I think of athletics the first thing that comes mind is the discipline required to be successful. And right alongside discipline is desire. Paul points out that athletes compete to win the prize or crown. In other words, even if it’s just a pick up game of basketball on an outdoor court, you play to win! And those who are involved in organized competition know the discipline required to prepare for competition.
I lived in Gainesville for 16 years. One of the benefits of living in Gainesville was the athletics. Two of my favorite sports to watch were track and field and swimming. The University of Florida excelled in both. Over thirty years ago, a UF student from Great Britain by the name of Chris Snode was training in Gainesville for the 1980 Olympics. Here was his training schedule. At 6 am, for two and a half hours, he had diving practice. After classes, early in the afternoon he went to weight training and then to Florida Field to run up and down the stadium steps. Then, from 2 to 5 pm there were three more hours of diving practice. That’s discipline motivated by desire!
Athletics was one of Paul’s favorite metaphors of the Christian life. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." (ESV)
Secondly, Paul says an athlete must compete according to the rules. Every sport I know of has a very specific set of rules that govern the competition. Back in 1996, I was watching the U.S. Olympic trials held in Indianapolis. One of the women swimmers was competing in the 400 meter medley. In that event the swimmer swims 100 meters in four different strokes, the butterfly, breast stroke, backstroke and freestyle. After winning the event she was stunned when she was informed that she had been disqualified because she had made an improper turn during the race.
At the 2012 London Olympics an Algerian middle distance runner was expelled from the Olympics because early in the 800 meter run he just stopped running! He had failed to provide a “bona-fide effort” required of athletes in Olympic competition. It was reported that the Algerian team had forgot to pull his name from the 800 meter heat in an attempt to save him for the 1500 meter run. He was later re-admitted and won the gold in the final of the1500 meter race.
How seriously do you take your Christian faith and your Christian ministry? John MacArthur has said, “Discipline is the mark of maturity.” The disciplined athlete makes right choices, prepares carefully for the game, turns away from anything that will hurt their competitive edge, that will dissipate their strength, or will disqualify them from the competition.
Paul calls us to a life of continuity as a teacher; a life of dedication, like a soldier; a life of obedience and discipline like an athlete.
Lastly, Paul calls Timothy to a life of hard work verse six. "It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops." (ESV) Paul turns to the metaphor of a farmer. The key word here is “hard-working.” The A&B lexicon says it is to “become weary, tired". It means to “work hard, toil, strive, struggle.” This is what characterizes the life of a farmer especially in Paul’s day. There was no mechanized farm machinery, no modern pesticides or fertilizers. There was the frost to fight. At times too much water. At other times too little water. Insects and the weeds to deal with. It was back breaking labor. But of course there was a reward, the harvest of a crop.
Listen to Paul’s own testimony, 2 Timothy 4:7-8, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth here 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." (ESV)
Friends, that is our expectation as well if we follow his example and fight the good fight. I close with this illustration to encourage you. Never underestimate how God can use you, or the part you play in His plan.
It all started with a Sunday School teacher by the name of Mr. Kimball, who in 1858 led a Boston shoe clerk to give his life to Christ. The shoe clerk, Dwight L Moody, became an evangelist. While in England in 1879, he awakened evangelistic zeal in the heart of Frederick B. Meyer, a pastor of a small church. F. B. Meyer, while preaching on an American college campus, led a student named J. Wilbur Chapman to the Lord. Wilbur Chapman, engaged in YMCA work, employed a former baseball player Billy Sunday to do evangelistic work. Billy Sunday held a revival in Charlotte, N.C. A group of local men were so enthusiastic afterwards
that they planned another evangelistic campaign and brought Mordecai Hamm to town to preach. During Hamm’s revival, a young man named Billy Graham heard the gospel and yielded his life to Christ. You know the rest of the story.
God will use you, in your home, your church, your community. And it will all be possible because of His grace as you fight the good fight.
© James P McGarvey All Rights Reserved