In his message at TGC’s 2018 West Coast Regional Conference, Ray Ortlund emphasizes the importance of enduring faithfulness and making sacred commitments to the Lord. He draws inspiration from the book of 2 Timothy and highlights the theme of God’s enduring faithfulness. Ortlund reads verses from 2 Timothy where Paul expresses gratitude to God and encourages Timothy to not be ashamed of the gospel. He urges ministry leaders to recognize their rich spiritual ancestry and find courage in their connection to God and the faith of previous generations. Ortlund also emphasizes the need for personal connection and genuine care for others, reminding listeners of the lasting legacy of faithfulness and the importance of imparting it to future generations.
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Ray Ortlund: Good afternoon. Great to see you. Let’s open the Bible. Second Timothy, chapter one. Second Timothy chapter one, verses three, through eight. You are at this conference, and during faithfulness because you care about where you’re going to be, and what you’re going to be 20 years from now, and most of us have lived long enough to know that 20 years and 30 years are nothing. So now is the time for all of us to make those few obvious sacred commitments to the Lord, that will serve His purpose of grace for us all the way to the very end. You are not fated to be a casualty. You can walk with God. Many have gone before you faithfully walking with God. And God is as near to you as he was to them. Second, Timothy, is a rich resource for weak Christians like us, who do not know what the future holds. But we want to live well. Second, Timothy is for weak Christians like us who are looking to the Lord for everything because he is enduringly faithful. Second, Timothy is one of my favorite books in the Bible. When some of my favorite verses in the Bible, here I read, for example, you then my son, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, that was my dad’s text, when he preached at my ordination in 1975. Here I read about a vessel fit for noble use, which I longed to be, even as you do to. Here, I read that when others turned away from Paul, he says, But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me. That is real. So we all have verses in the Bible that through the years become very precious to us, because the Lord has met us in those verses. And that’s what Second Timothy offers all of us here during our brief time together. So this conference together can become by God’s grace, a flag planting moment for our enduring faithfulness, all the way to the end. So I read from these wonderful verses, three through eight. I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors with a clear conscience. As I remember, you’re constantly in my prayers, night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you that I may be filled with joy. I’m reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice and now I am sure dwells in you as well. For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame, the gift of God which is in you, through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power, and love and self control. Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor have me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God. This is God’s word. Last Words are lasting words. Paul, as you know, expects to die soon. He says in chapter four, the time of my departure has come, not the time of my annihilation. Just departure, a change of address. But he’s leaving soon. Therefore, while he can, he hastens to say a few final things to this one who is so dear to him. Paul is in no mood for trivialities he never was. Here at the end of His earthly journey with everything on the line, Paul speaks only of those few essentials that will keep the early church vibrant into the next generation. So what’s on his heart? Whatever it is, that is the good deposit handed off to us as well. What stands out in these verses, we just read what comes first, in Second Timothy, the executioner might unlock the door of Paul’s cell at any time and take him away to the place of death, Paul has no time to lose what then takes primacy in his concerns to things, giving thanks. And providing guidance, the mind and heart of the apostle flow along these two lines, giving thanks in verses three through five and providing guidance, in verses six through eight. Paul isn’t panicking. He is seeing everything clearly. He knows what matters most and what will really help his young friend. So he’s facing death and interesting leadership to a younger man who feels inadequate. And what fills Paul’s inner being at this crucial moment is memories. precious memories. And he sees in those memories, power for good in the present. So he says in verse three, I remember. He says in verse four, I remember verse five, I’m reminded verse six, I remind you. As Paul looks ahead to his departure, he also looks back to his journey. He sees his life as part of and embedded in an unfolding history of redemption in a dying world. And his young friend Timothy must see his life embedded in the same drama. It’s our story too. We have more resources for enduring faithfulness, than the present moment, can contain. It’s that larger story that strengthens us for the long haul. So verses three through five first, giving thanks. I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors with a clear conscience as I remember you constantly in my prayers, night and day, as I remember your tears I longed to see you that I may be filled with joy. I’m reminded of your sincere faith a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice and now I’m sure dwells in you, as well. Now, at one level, Paul’s greeting was the standard form for a letter in his culture. But in his commentary, J and D. Kelly notes, quote, the deep and spontaneous affection that Paul’s words radiate, and quote, which proved that it was proposed no merely conventional formula. Paul was never perfunctory. In prayer or in friendship. Let’s notice that the most obvious thing about these verses and I’ve never seen it so clearly before is in my preparation for today. The most obvious thing about these verses is the relational and emotional richness we’re being allowed into here. In this profound friendship Paul does not yet teach doctrine as vital as that is. Second Timothy is not like Ephesians first doctrine, then life here. Paul starts with life. Christian life in its beautiful humaneness. He speaks of gratitude, tears, longing, joy, sincerity, and so forth in this opening passage. It’s as if Paul and Timothy are falling into each other’s arms. Why is that Paul’s unembarrassed tone from the start? Because what Timothy most needs right now is a sense of personal All solidarity with the people he respects the most. In all this world, Timothy most needs to know. He isn’t alone as as he faces a future marked by suffering. Then, surrounded by his own great cloud of witnesses, Timothy can run his race with enduring faithfulness. Dead fathers in the Lord still live in the courage of their spiritual sons. In verse three, Paul goes back into his own history so that Timothy can see himself as the grandson of rich spiritual ancestry. I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers, night and day. Paul turns back and looks into his own deepest roots. He goes back to David, to Moses to Abraham, he reveres the faith that came down to him even filtered through Jewish tradition. It’s very interesting. And in Acts, chapter 23, Paul says, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees, not I was a Pharisee. He says, I am a Pharisee. Unlike some preachers today, Paul did not unhitch the Christian faith from the Old Testament. And for him personally, personally, Christian conversion did not take his Jewishness away. It made Jesus the Lord over his Jewishness and over his conscience, both of which he continues to honor. In Romans Paul asks, then what advantage has the Jew and reminds us that the Jews were given the historic custody of the oracles of God every time I pick up my Hebrew Bible, and for that matter, my Greek New Testament, I am holding in my hands, a treasure passing down to me today 1000s of years of conscientious care and heroic sacrifice, we today are not cut off, detached, isolated on our own, we are the heirs of the ages. That’s not how the Roman Empire sees Paul. The Roman Empire sees Paul as a criminal worthy of death. But Paul sees himself as a conscientious wholehearted, all in follower of the way of God. In a world gone mad. He is chained in prison. And even we see in Second Timothy For second by friends, their abandonment deeply hurt him. He pleads in verse eight, it’s very touching. Do not be ashamed of me. Verse 15, all who are in Asia turned away from me. chapter four verse 10. Dimas in love with this present world has deserted me. chapter four, verse 16. Add my first defense. No one came to stand by me. That was hard. We all know that pain. When people we thought we could count on, let us down. What did Paul do with that disappointment? He went down deeper, he went back further. No one can take from you, where you come from, and who you belong to, and how you have obeyed the Lord and put Him first when it was hard. If you happen to hate your life in 2018 You can go back in heart and mind to 2017 and keep going further back if need be back into the inspiring history God has given you then you’ll have a place to stand in a world of uncertainty. Moishe Rosen, the founder of Jews for Jesus once told me Ray never abandon your principles. If your friends ever forsake you. Your principles will they’ll be there to keep the company. And the principles that are the most sacred to us come to us through the people who are the most precious to us. It’s why I keep in my Bible, this photo of my ordination at Lake Avenue Church, in 1975, with my dad there and other men of God. I know. It is law, as long as I remain faithful to the beliefs and principles that have come down to me from the Bible, filtered through the Reformation, on down through Lake Avenue Church of Pasadena, my Sunday school teachers, my Wheaton and Dallas profs, and above all of my dad, I just know. I cannot lose my way. The apostle Paul is teaching all of us here to assemble in our minds, our own spiritual genealogy, like the genealogies in the Bible because they tell us who we really are, even when we ourselves aren’t so sure. which inevitably happens. So I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors who nurtured me in 20th century evangelicalism looking back I see Billy Graham, Carl Henry, Wilbur Smith, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, John Stott, Festo, Ken venturi, William still Hudson RVD, Bruce Waltke, Bill environnant, bright and my dad and mom and others. I do not have to face life on my own, they are very present to me. They are my great cloud of witnesses inspiring now, to live for Christ by His grace, oh, I will not betray them and I will not betray the future generations that will need me 20 years from now 200 years from now, and they’re going to need you stop thinking of your life in such a small category. You matter more than you know. You’re gonna matter to people aren’t even born yet God is enriching you in your journey. With spiritual fathers and mothers in the Lord and for the rest of your life, their memory will keep whispering to you and your deepest being day after day. You are not crazy you are not crazy to believe the gospel you are not crazy to serve like to keep on and keep on and keep on and keep on. And then keep on you will be drawing strength from this divine investment in you for the rest of your days. And then you will do the same for the next generation. Your faithfulness will still be making an impact long after your expiration date so we see therefore why Paul is wise to be so personal here at least. I hope you think he’s wise I mean is Paul being Paul okay with you? Were you hoping for something else? Second Timothy, the Gospel coalition were you hoping maybe for a more detached to always cerebral, always formidable always on top of it. Apostle Paul. Do you respect what Paul front loads in Second Timothy? Looking at some reformed believers today, I wonder when was the last time you said to anyone I longed to see you can you say to anyone I remember your tears. way today use social media to show people how wrong they are. Paul wrote a letter to show Timothy how rich he was. And the Apostle Paul excuse me is not departing from what really matters. He two values, doctrine and order, but he values this also. Paul understands the total human reality that real Christianity is and how to impart it to the Next Generation, he is being both sincere and shrewd in this passage, both heartfelt and helpful. Man, I love Reformed theology. And I hope you do too. But sometimes, I have to admit I’ve got reservations about reformed culture, that is the patterns and habits and relationships and tone and feel and vibe among some reformed Christians. Sometimes I wonder if we’re putting the next generation on a starvation diet when it comes to relationships and feeling and the fullness of being human in Christ. Charles Hodge was reformed safe to say, right. But he was not like some of us today. In 1829, his his address to students of a theological seminary Hodge wisely said, whenever a change occurs in the religious opinions of a community, that change is always preceded by a change in their religious feelings. The natural expression of the feelings of true piety is the doctrines of the Bible. As long as these feelings are retained, these doctrines will be retained. But should the feelings be lost? The doctrines are either held for the sake of form or rejected according to the circumstance. And if the feelings again are called into life, the doctrines return as a matter of course, what was Hodge saying? He was not asserting that feelings matter more than doctrine. He was just observing a reality that our feelings influence our doctrine. We pastors know this, if a church’s heart is tender and warm toward the Lord. If a church is emotionally healthy, and relationally rich, that church will tend to love the Bible and stay on track theologically, and bear fruit within during faithfulness. But if a church’s heart cools toward the Lord, and becomes detached and aloof and proud, if they’re rich fellowship together fades into mere social courtesies. As we pass like ships in the night, without deep and meaningful connection, that church becomes doctrinally unstable. What Paul and Hodge understood and what we must understand is that the tone of our hearts toward the Lord and the tenderness of our fellowship with one another, these powerful intangibles create a never inevitability. That’s a hard word. These powerful intangibles create inevitability in our theological future. There is a reason why faithful pastors work so hard to cultivate one devotion and rich fellowship in their churches. It isn’t an optional add on, it isn’t frosting on the cake. Our future is at stake, either in daringly faithful or easily breakable. So you guys, who are all doctrine and all discernment and all scrutiny, and you’re so pure that only a select few are good enough for you. You think you’re safeguarding the future, the truth is you are diminishing our future, and you’re not a lot of fun to hang out with right now. Real Christianity is a total human reality, both head and heart, both doctrine and culture, both accuracy and beauty. And both standard fall together. Some of us need to change the priorities of our ministries, starting today. Guarding the good deposit long term demands more than not changing your church’s doctrinal statement. Guarding the good deposit demands, our multifaceted all. I remember seeing a chart in a book on the history of American Presbyterianism and I’m not picking on Presbyterianism because all our denominations are like this, but the chart revealed a complicated pattern of church splits. Guys if doctrine is all we need, I can’t account for that history because Presbyterian doctrine is glorious. Why then are there so many of our churches that are tense and divided brittle? If we’re gonna stay together and go the distance and guard the good deposit we need more than doctrine, not less we need more and during faithfulness raises our standards. I have to believe by the time Timothy had read down to the end of verse five with his own immediate family history standing out in his memory, his saintly grandmother and mother standing there in his mind living proof to him of how to live for Christ when life is hard to bear. Do you think at that moment, Timothy would be less motivated and less equipped and less serious and less fortified or more helped to stand strong, no matter what the cost all the way till the end? The answer is obvious. When we’re staring at in these sacred verses, is the beauty of gospel culture. Maybe one reason we sometimes fail to capitalize on the power of gospel culture with gospel doctrine is that gospel doctrine is more in comparison, more cut and dried. It’s a matter of wording. It’s external to us. It is to be analyzed by us, but gospel culture. When we start to build that out, it searches us more personally. It exposes our inadequacy, it shines light on our failings or fears, our personal limitations and what we’re just not good at. If my ministry consists of gospel doctrine, only, I will probably find a way to dominate people with my accuracy, and my forceful personality and my learned teaching, and I will settle for being as I see it. Impressive. That is a failure. But if I allow into my ministry, gospel culture to I can’t be impressive. I have to become vulnerable. I’m exposed. But Reformed theology calls us all so eloquently to that very humility, doesn’t it? So gospel culture isn’t frivolous, it is biblical, and serious and powerful. Paul knows we will not go the distance without this totality, doctrine and culture. We, without this totality will fragment and blame and withdraw into our warring camps with a smug rightness that God cannot bless. It is compelling book, the God who was there, Francis Schaeffer put it bluntly, there is I heard him say this 50 years ago this month at Wheaton College. There is nothing more ugly than an orthodoxy without understanding, without compassion, but with uncompromised gospel doctrine. tenderly embodied in the humaneness of gospel culture, we are lifted to carry the work on into the next generation. come what may? That’s why these verses are here. God is so wise, He knows our need before we ask. That’s his gratitude. Now secondly, providing guidance verses six through eight. providing guidance verses six through eight. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you, through the laying on of my hands for God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self control. Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord. That is who Jesus really is. As opposed to the misconceptions in the south where I am. We have our own diminished miniaturised bobblehead Jesus Jr. So the testimony of our Lord in Nashville requires the mission of our churches MAKING THE REAL JESUS non ignorable in our city and far beyond. In keeping with this, Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me, his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God. That’s fascinating. When a Christian friend, in this case, Paul, when a Christian friend comes under attack, God calls us to share in his suffering, by the power of God. We are wonderfully bound together, woven together in the goodness and the wisdom of God. We are not autonomous, we are not isolated. We are not individual, only. Church politics, however, might tempt us to look the other way, when another Christian of faithful Christians getting hammered. Look the other way and just keep a safe distance in hard times. But when a Christian friend is in danger of standing alone, God is calling us we can see here to suffer for the gospel by His power. God is calling us to sacred suffering by identifying with Christians who are under attack, not because they’ve been foolish, but because they’ve been faithful. That’s their crime. And that’s why these verses are in the Bible providing guidance for our solidarity on dark days, so that’s why Paul calls Timothy to keep refueling his own spiritual fire verse six, fan into flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. And what was that gift Timothy received? At his ordination? Something of Paul’s great heart entered Timothy’s heart, a spirit of power and love and self control. Every minister is buffeted by intense feelings of failure and futility, especially on Mondays. Timothy was in his commentary in this passage, HCG mole, one of my favorite commentaries, commentators, calls Timothy a man of the gentlest, and most sensitive spirit, the best pastors are always like that. Here’s something surprising, even quirky about faithful pastors that some people might not understand. A Fruitful pastor can connect well, with men and women and children, because, at a deeply intuitive level, his psychology his structures within are both manly, and womanly and childlike, both robust and sensitive and not saying he is effeminate. He is a manly man who might have a concealed carry permit. But many pastors are just more tender hearted than the average guy. So they suffer in ways that some men do not and other guys, sometimes even elders, honestly don’t understand. Now, I’m not saying there’s any basis for self pity, the opposite. It is a privilege that God gives to enable a pastor to understand the wide range of people he serves. But the temptation confronting a tender hearted man is to feel overwhelmed by the work of the ministry, so the Lord understands the need. He enters in with a special charisma for these men that will help them along the way Paul calls it, the gift of God. In verse six and a spirit in verse seven, that is a passion, a rugged confidence, a deep durability within Timothy needs to know as we all need to know. If the Lord did not call us into the Christian ministry in our churches did not ordain us so that we could then cower before the buffet things of serving the Lord. Paul is guiding Timothy into a bold self understanding with a deep resolve, because even after Paul dies, Timothy still won’t be alone. He has been wonderfully defined not only by being raised under the care of a godly mother and grandmother, but also by being ordained under the care of a courageous pastor and courageous elders. The difficult days ahead are not a threat to Timothy. The difficult days are ahead or the whole point of his ministry. Our hard times are what we’ve been prepared for all our lives. In our childhood schooling And then teenage sports, going to university academic training, seminars and so forth. God has been entered all preparing us to suffer well, for his sake via his power to remain calm under trial, gracious under criticism, resourceful amid limitation and brave in the hour of death so that we can show people today that God is enough for anyone suffering anything. If I could change one thing in the Bible, it would only be the requirements for a pastor and in the New Testament, He has got to have played high school football. What a great experience for me, God was in it. God showed me how good it feels to suffer. When you’re on the team. Hey, it’s the fourth quarter y’all the divine coach has us on the field, we’re not sitting on the bench. Doesn’t matter what play calls. We’re on the field. And God has lit that fire in your soul. You didn’t earn it, you don’t deserve it. It’s his gift. It’s all of grace. If you feel inadequate, there’s a really good reason for that you are inadequate and so am I. But the flame of God burns within you. Maybe it was kindled as a boy who had faith, like Timothy or maybe you were an adult convert whatever your story fan into flame the gift of God which is in you factored into flame again and again. Whenever you burn low, the Lord will always understand your need. And whenever you come to him and your weakness, he will never despise you. I love how Don Guthrie puts it in his commentary here. Every Christian minister needs at times to return to the inspiration of his ordination, to be reminded not only of the greatness of his calling, but also the adequacy of the divine grace which enables him to perform it. Indeed, every Christian worker engaged in hours however small a task requires assurance that God never Commission’s anyone to a task without imparting a special gift appropriate for it. God is saying to you today what defines you is so much bigger than the crisis does your God is saying I have shaped human history. To bring you to this moment. I have prepared you to fight the battle of your generation. I have been working with you, guiding you, investing in you caring for you watching over you every day of your life all the way to this moment and I will continue. And I will fortify the next generation through you so that your fire burns a path into a tomorrow you will never see and that gift of God burning within you is why you will never be satisfied with less than what only God can do. You have not set your heart on managing a religious institution as if it were a community center. Your heart burns to see what only God can do. So go ahead and step out for the gospel sake and see what God will do for you. You haven’t gotten an education by accident. You weren’t ordained for nothing. You’re not at this conference by chance. God is working on his purpose. But his power in you is not mechanical or automatic. Stir yourself into a man of flame helping your church to become a people of flame. That gift of God’s grace is your destiny. And I believe that’s Reformed theology at its best. BB Warfield, in an essay on the shorter catechism the Westminster shorter catechism tells a true story. I don’t know when this happened. He doesn’t say it’s Sounds to me like the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. When most of the city crumbled, burned down, there were looters riots and so forth. Warfield writes this what is the indelible mark of the Westminster shorter catechism we have the following bit of personal experience from an officer of the United States Army. He was in a great western city at a time of intense excitement and violent rioting. The streets were overrun daily by a dangerous crowd. One day, this man observed approaching him another man of singularly combined calmness, and firmness, whose very demeanor inspired confidence. So impressed was he with this man’s bearing amid the surrounding uproar, that when he had passed, he turned to look at this man, only to find that the stranger had turned to look at him. On observing his turning, the stranger once came back to the man and touching his chest with his forefinger demanded without preface, what is the chief end of man? Hope perfect in the middle of the earthquake. On receiving the countersign man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. Oh, said he, I knew you were a shorter catechism boy by your looks. Why that’s just what I was thinking of you was the rejoinder. And Warfield comments it is worthwhile to be a shorter catechism boy. They grow up to be men. And better than that they are exceedingly apt to grow to be men of God. The Lord has brought us together today, for every one of us to let go of our hesitancy and our unbelief and to give our Savior and Lord and unqualified yes to whatever the future might hold, he has supplied us richly with every essential, we have our Bibles, and we have our backgrounds. The Bible is perfect, and our backgrounds are imperfect. But even our imperfect backgrounds encourage us because the flaws and failings and imperfections that we see back in our forebears, prove to us that imperfect people can be faithful to God because He is faithful to them. So today is our day to let go of every excuse. And embrace the call of Christ by His grace for His glory. And then 100 years from now. Historians will be compelled by the facts to describe our generation with these two words and during faithfulness. All right. Now we know what to do. Lord be with you. Let me pray for you. Lord, we pray for a mighty outpouring of your gracious Holy Spirit upon this generation. And upon this assembly. We pray for your wonderful work here on the West Coast. We thank you for every faithful church, prosper their work, oh Lord, by Your power. Let there be a new era of blessing on the West Coast of the United States of America. And for that end, Lord, we offer ourselves to you in complete surrender. And we thank you and we bless and praise your holy name. Amen.
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