We’re looking at Paul’s letter to Timothy and what it says about how to be ready for God’s service.
Timothy is the pastor of a church in Ephesus, but he’s struggling. There’s a lot of opposition to the Christian message from outside the church – and not a lot of support from some people within! This letter is to encourage him to serve Christ.
Last time we saw how much of that is connected to our union with Christ – he is in us; we are in him. You can serve him because he works in you, to strengthen you and enable you. And we all must, simply because we hope to lead people to eternal blessing, eternal life in Jesus. So these verses are about making yourself ‘ready’ for service.
Be focussed on Christ (14-19)
For Timothy and the church to be ready to serve God faithfully, he must first focus the church on Jesus Christ. Read 2 Timothy 2:14.
What is Timothy to remind the church of?
- Clearly, the things that are most important.
- The indwelling power of the Holy Spirit in all Christians.
- The wonder of union with Christ – safe and alive in him, him working in the world in you and through you.
- All achieved by God in Christ, and freely given by him to you and everyone who comes to him in faith.
“Remind everyone about these things” says Paul. And don’t get side-tracked into side issues. There are 3 imperatives (commands): Remind was the first. Work hard is the next: Read 2 Timothy 2:15.
Timothy has the responsibility to teach people about God. He must do that with a clear conscience, without shame, before God. He’s to work hard at it; put work in in his studies. And he’s to be a good worker, doing the word in practice.
And he’s to “correctly explain the word of truth” – literally, “cut a straight line for the word of truth”. There’s to be a straight line cut – straight from God’s word to your heart and mind. No wandering about; no side-tracks.
So the third imperative (command) is similar: Avoid babble. Read 2 Timothy 2:16-17.
God has told you the truth in the Bible. So teach that.
DIY religion can be fatal
Anything else is man-made and will lead to a lopsided view on how you’re to live – “more godless behaviour” (v16). And that spreads like cancer (lit. “gangrene”). I knew a man who used to cut his own bunions with a razor blade. One time, gangrene set in followed by sepsis and all the rest. Paul’s message is simple: DIY medicine can be fatal, and DIY spirituality is eternally fatal. Go to the Doctor; go to the truth and life as revealed in the Bible and nowhere else.
He gives an example of where this has gone wrong. Read 2 Timothy 2:17-18.
If you think the resurrection of the dead has already happened, you think “this is it”. You might think this is eternal life. So pain and death are confusing and hurtful. You might think you’re incapable of doing wrong or being wrong. Certainly your hope of a glorious future with Jesus will be badly damaged. By stepping away from the truth of the Bible, you have smashed up hope and lopsided views on how to live now.
But read 2 Timothy 2:19.
The background is Numbers 16:5, when Korah led a rebellion against Moses’ leadership. But God had established things as he wanted. Moses hadn’t invented it. Moses told Korah that the Lord knows those who are his, and the rest of the people who belong to the Lord were to turn away from Korah’s evil. Paul’s point is clear: He didn’t invent the gospel of Jesus, nor did Timothy. God has established his truth, the foundation of Christ. Jesus is the solid ground.
So the teaching of the Bible is to have a clear line to your heart, mind, emotions, spirit. And there is then to be a straight line from you to Jesus. No side tracks.
That’s true in our conversations about Christian things. Side issues won’t lead people to Jesus; be focussed. Things like politics, creationism, ghosts, etc – all interesting, but you need to point to Jesus.
Be ready for God’s service (20-21)
The next two verses give a household example of what it’s like to be ready for use by God: Read 2 Timothy 2:20-21. Do you have a favourite kitchen knife? A favourite pan? Maybe a favourite screwdriver, pen, knitting needles? Many of us have favourite tools for different things. Tools that are comfortable, familiar, and fit for purpose.
You’ve heard of “survival of the fittest”?
- It’s almost always used incorrectly.
- The idea is that the animal that is the best fit for an environment is most likely to succeed there.
- It’s about being best fit, not most fit.
- A polar bear is the best fit for the north polar regions.
- A camel is the best fit for environments with little water.
You are uniquely you. You are the best fit person in God’s kingdom to be where you are. The Lord has placed you where you are to do works he has prepared for you to do. You’re the best fit.
Sometimes it’s not clear what those works will be. You’re in a holding pen, waiting for your call-up. Waiting, waiting… and then he calls you up and applies you.
The aim – for Timothy, you, and me – is to be ready. To be the Lord’s favourite, best, ready-to-use tool for the job!
How to get yourself ready?
We have a Christmas plate on a shelf in our kitchen. It’s very specific. It has a Christmas tree on it. It’s never used. When you need to use it it’s not ready (needs to be cleaned). If only it could get itself ready!
If only you could get yourself ready for the Lord’s service! Paul says (v21) “if you keep yourself pure… you will be ready”. So you don’t need to be brilliant, single, married, young or old.
Remember, you are already in a place where the Lord can use you. The aim is to be ready when he wants to use you. To be ready for the Lord to use is a character issue – not about skills or gifts.
So, with a godly character:
Win people, not arguments (22-26)
We’ve seen we need to be focussed on Christ in our thinking and speech – no side tracks. And we’ve seen we’re to be ready for Jesus to use to lead people to him.
- Because many people do get sidetracked away from Jesus – by life, worry, prejudice.
- But we saw in 1 Timothy that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and that God wants everyone everywhere to be saved and know the truth.
- So we want those we speak to to be persuaded of that truth. The goal is in 2 Timothy 2:25-26 (read).
But you won’t persuade someone only by arguing with them. Someone could be fully persuaded by your brilliant powers of language that the earth really was created by God in just 6 days, or 7 billion years, or whatever – and still go to hell. In truth, people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.
Timothy’s character was to be winsome, demonstrating the kindness and winsomeness of Christ.
- And guess what? Your union with Christ enables that.
- As you grow in Christlikeness, you will grow in his kindness and winsomeness.
Jesus ate with sinners. Disreputable women wept at his feet. Children flocked to him and he welcomed them. But those same people today often feel unwelcome in Christ’s churches. You personally, and us together, must embody Christ to the world – in all his loveliness, kindness, winsomeness.
Character is key
Your own godly character is key. Read 2 Timothy 2:22.
- Notice the energy. “Run from… pursue…”
- Run from youthful lusts: Certainly sexual sins (including porn), but also silly ambitions and childish dreams (like wanting to be the Next Big Thing). Settle and focus.
- Pursue righteousness. Do right and put right where you can.
- Pursue love. Not that others will love you, but that you will put effort into loving other people – especially the unlovely
- Pursue faith. Actively step out in faith; trust aspects of your life that you generally keep under your own control to him.
- Pursue peace. Remembering that true forgiveness always involves cost, forgive others and be at peace with them – even at cost to yourself. God did it for you.
- And interestingly, he says that you should do all that with people here. With the Lord’s people.
Practice righteousness, love, faith and peace here with us.
So he says it again: Read 2 Timothy 2:23.
When you want to see someone come to know Christ for themselves, focus conversation on Christ. Getting involved in arguing about other things is pointless. Besides, remember that people who have not come to know Christ are actually under the sway of the devil. They’re trapped by him and don’t know it. Your heart should reach out to them in love; don’t whip them with a sharp tongue. Win people, not arguments.
Read 2 Timothy 2:24.
You’re to have that attitude with everyone, and particularly those who don’t know the Lord.
- They might be rude. They might be family.
- But they won’t be won over by you being rude back.
- What does it look like in practice? “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do…”
To win people
And the hope is always to win people to Jesus: Read 2 Timothy 2:25-26 again.
That’s the goal. We saw last time (2 Timothy 2:10) Paul say I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen. But that enduring may be require you to turn the other cheek to those who would do you harm. But your union with Christ enables you; the Holy Spirit of power, love and self-control is within you.
We don’t all go around every day telling people about Jesus. No-one expects that of you. But what we’ve seen from this passage is:
- When you do have opportunity to discuss spiritual things, be sure to speak about Jesus – try not to get side tracked into things that aren’t going to help in the long term.
- Second, the Lord has placed just you where you are. You want to be ready to be used by him and the best fitting tool for the job!
- Third, that readiness is more about your character than your skills: flee sin; pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. Don’t hold unbelieving people’s rejection against them – be kind, forgiving, and loving, in the hope that they might be saved.
And whatever you do, remember that you don’t do any of it under your own steam.
Go in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the strength of the Lord Jesus, in the love and eternal purposes of the Father.