In Christ, we are chosen, saved, and kept by the gospel. Therefore, we should not be ashamed of it, even as suffering comes.
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Michael Horton: I’m so glad to be invited to share in the teaching ministry and to participate with you in hearing God’s word. Have a tremendous respect for the work that The Gospel Coalition is doing and run into people around the world who are affected by this wonderful ministry. So it’s a real pleasure to be here.
I’d like to direct your attention to our passage this afternoon 2 Timothy 1:9 through 18. Picking up where Ray Ortlund left off, we begin at Verse 8 of 2 Timothy 1.
“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, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
“You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.”
Well, as you know, Ephesus is the capital, was the capital of Asia Minor today’s Western Turkey. We’ve had this part of the world on the news lately with Andrew Brunson coming back to the United States. A good friend of mine who is an alumnus of our seminary, Turkish, is a pastor who is still there along with many other pastors who are suffering for their faith tremendously, who are challenged on all sides. And so this passage surely is a comfort to us, but especially to our brothers and sisters who are suffering in a part of the world that is still very hostile to the gospel.
Timothy is very gifted in knowledge. He’s also a very stalwart associate of the apostle Paul, loyal to Paul and to his message as we know. He was even willing to share and didn’t share in much of Paul’s suffering. And he’s committed to shepherding a difficult church. The church and emphasis that the apostle Paul even warned in Acts 20 would be threatened by wolves. What a serious and tragic thing to say as you’re leaving to the elders, I know that savage wolves will soon creep into your church and seek to devour you, not exactly calculated to win friends and influence people.
And I think Verse 8 is sort of like a thesis statement that Paul unpacks in the following verses, “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.” And so I wanna look at three things here because you know all passages come in threes just like announcements, the basis of suffering witness. Secondly, the example of suffering witness. And finally, the call to suffering witness.
First of all, the basis of suffering witness is the gospel itself. It’s amazing that the apostle Paul can hardly say anything about anything without reminding people of the very heart of the gospel. It’s never anything that Paul takes for granted. He can hardly say hello in a letter without summarizing the gospel. And for the super apostles in Corinth as well as here in Ephesus, Charisma was the name of the game. Yes, the apostles have something interesting to say perhaps. Go ahead and listen to them if you wanna sort of be the average Christian, but if you really wanna go on to the big things, the exciting things, listen to us. We have the extra. Paul might have the basic gospel, but we have the extra stuff. And if you want the extra stuff, if you wanna fly first class in the Christian life, you need to come to us.
And so the first thing that Paul says to Timothy is it’s not about you. The gospel is not about you. He said, “It is the testimony about our Lord.” You notice how all throughout the New Testament, whenever we come upon that word testimony, is a testimony concerning Christ. I think a lot of times we think of testimony, we associate that with talking about ourselves. Now, yet of course in connection with Christ, but when the apostles talk about the testimony of our Lord, they’re talking about that truth of which they were eyewitnesses, the testimony concerning the Lord and from the Lord, which as apostles, they could bear witness to infallibly.
And so Paul told the Corinthians, “We preach not ourselves, but Christ, and we are your servants.” According to Christ Jesus it’s not about us, it’s about Christ. It’s the testimony concerning our Lord Jesus Christ. But there’s another way to make it about us. It isn’t necessarily to flatter ourselves, but just the very opposite, to deflate ourselves. Maybe you felt like this. I felt like this at times in ministry, the church is too much for me. The criticisms are really getting to me. I’m a young man, I said that several decades ago, and I can’t handle the pressure. Maybe I’m not ready for this. But that’s just as much making it about us as it is for the super apostles to make it about their charisma, about their ability, about their leadership.
Now, Timothy and Paul would have had very different personality surveys. Paul was a bit of a bulldozer. You know, with his, some of his associates, he could rub them the wrong way. He was tough. Tough on John Mark. I mean, he was, Paul was difficult sometimes, whereas Timothy was timid. The downside of Timothy’s personality was that he would sometimes get very discouraged and sometimes let run over him. But Paul says, “Look, it’s not about us. It’s not about whether I’m a bulldozer. It’s not about whether you’re timid. Take your eyes off of yourself and fix them on Jesus Christ. Be humble about yourself and proud of the gospel.”
“Suffer for the gospel,” he says, “according to the power of God.” Not according to your own charisma or your own personal gifts, but according to the power of God. Same gospel that is itself the power of God unto salvation from beginning to end is God’s power for you, Timothy in the ministry. It’s not about you, but it is for you. The gospel is not about you Timothy, but the gospel is for you.” And this is something else that we need to hear, especially those of you who are regular preachers of the word of God. You know, we have to remember our pastors and pray for our pastors because they proclaim the Word of God to us week in and week out. They baptize others. They administer communion to others. They lead others in confession of sin, confession of faith in prayer, in praise, in petition. And they need, you need to be reminded that the gospel you deliver to others delivers you. The gospel is so powerful it can even save a preacher.
We have too much loose talk in the church today about our being the gospel. We turned the focus on ourselves, talk about our living the gospel, saying more than anything that we can preach. My wife disagrees with that considerably. She thinks that the gospel that’s preached from Genesis to Revelation preaches a lot better than me. That’s why we need the gospel, right? What the world out there needs is not more of us. They’ve had plenty of that. What the world out there needs is a gospel and a church that is regularly receiving the forgiveness of sins instead of putting itself up on a pedestal.
What is this gospel? Paul says, “God who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not because of our works, but because of His own purpose and grace which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began and which now has been through the appearing of our savior, Christ Jesus who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Even Timothy needs to hear Paul preach this gospel to him. It’s never something that can be taken for granted, not even by a gospel minister.
And throughout this passage, one of the things that strikes me is how the arrow points all the way down from God in Christ, by his spirit to us and out through us to a world that needs this gospel, regardless of what it costs us to proclaim it. It’s a God who saves and a God who saves us. This really encapsulates the whole message of the gospel, doesn’t it? He called us with a holy calling, and I think that’s how it should be rendered, not to a holy calling. There are other passages that clearly teach he calls us to a holy calling, but here think he’s referring to effectual calling. He’s referring to that holy call by the Holy Spirit himself who regenerates us through the proclamation of the gospel.
But that’s not where it begins. That grace that comes to us in the new birth was already planned by God before the foundation of the world, before the ages began Paul tells us. The doctrine of election is part of the gospel. It’s part of the good news. You wanna talk about really not making it about us, this doctrine really makes it not about us. It’s about God’s purposes and grace, which He purposed in Christ before the ages began, and that’s an important clause, “which he purposed in Christ.” All of our salvation we have comprehended in Christ. We don’t receive a particle of it outside of Christ. It isn’t as if election by itself saves, we were chosen in Christ, redeemed by Christ, called with a holy calling in Christ, not because of our works, but because of his own purpose and grace.
“Now revealed,” he says, “through the appearing of our savior Jesus Christ.” So all of this was planned in eternity, has now been carried out in time, revealed in a sort of inchoate way by types and shadows under the Old Covenant. Now it’s been revealed. The mystery hidden from past ages has now been fully revealed for all people and that is what is proclaimed in the gospel. The advent of Christ is the saving climax of history, his incarnation, his life, his death, his burial, his resurrection, his ascension, and his return. That’s the gospel. The gospel has brought life and immortality to light.
It’s interesting Paul usually talks about the appearing of our Lord in connection with his second advent in judgment. But here, he talks about it in connection with his first coming in grace and mercy. The gospel proclaims God’s gift of free salvation in Christ for all who believe. And what does that reveal? What does that gospel reveal? He tells us, brings life and immortality to light. Death is overcome. What an amazing thing to announce to the world. Everybody’s afraid of dying. I’m reading a book right now, about human beings are trying to become gods through technology. Actually defending this thesis, that more and more people are coming to the conclusion that we don’t need God because we’re becoming gods ourselves. And one day we’re going to be able perhaps to eliminate even death or at least extend life into unbelievable decades beyond the current life expectancy.
Well, we’re not alone here in wondering about whether death can be overcome. Plato said, “Well, the body just sort of is the prison house of the soul and our hope is the immortality of the soul.” Our hope is that that finally our divine part, our divine element, our soul, will be liberated from the body, and we’ll fly up words never again to be incarcerated in the chains of matter.
Now, the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the Epicureans. The Epicureans came up with an interesting slogan to sort of summarize their philosophy. You remember the Stoics of the Epicureans were the two philosophers Luke mentions as being present in the Areopagus when Paul was preaching the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here’s what the Epicureans put on their coffee mugs, “Don’t fear God. Don’t worry about death. What’s good is easy to get. What’s terrible is easy to endure.” Is that not America? I mean, isn’t that not exactly what you get even from a lot of TV evangelists? It’s amazing. That is so consistent with our suppression of the truth and unrighteousness.
Now, people don’t pass away, people die. I know it’s California. We don’t allow people to die in this state. They pass away and then we put them in places that we never see unlike the old days when you walk past gravestones, tombstones that reminded you of your death. Now, we don’t like to be reminded of our death, not in this culture. We’re forever young. But this gospel brings life and immortality to light, not a longer life, not a better life. It puts to death this life and raises us in the likeness of Jesus Christ. Finally, life. And notice Paul says, not just by his resurrection, we’ve attained this, but which is true enough, but by the gospel. Because it is as the gospel itself is proclaimed that we become immortals. That gospel is proclaimed and we pass from death unto life. There is no miracle greater than that. And it is all through our savior, Christ Jesus.
Paul is always bringing that all of his summaries of the gospel back to that very point, all of our salvation is hidden in Christ Jesus. All of the solae, the solas, Scripture, Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, to God alone be the glory really find their apex in Solo Christo, by Christ alone. That really is the heart of the Apostle’s message. That’s the foundation. That’s the basis of our suffering witness in the world today.
And then secondly, the example of suffering witness, he says, “Don’t be ashamed of the gospel or of me his prisoner for I have been appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher of this gospel, which is why I suffer as I do.” But I am not ashamed for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.”
Why is Paul not ashamed? For Paul, it’s not just a truth. It’s not just a principle, it’s his own personal salvation. He’s not like Socrates willing to die for a great principle. He knows that his own salvation is hanging in the balance of whether this gospel is true. And so because he’s a super confident guy, rather he’s confident in God’s promise that what He begins, He will complete. Not that Paul as a stoic says whatever I start, I always finish. That’s just the way I am. But that he’s confident that whatever God starts, God will finish. Who’s keeping what in verse 12, “But I am not ashamed for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that he’s able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” I think that what Paul is saying here is the gospel that God has entrusted to him as an apostle will go on saving him and Timothy and everyone who hears it, regardless of the obstacles that the world puts in his way. If salvation is in God’s hands, then so is the gospel ministry.
Here’s a relief for you pastors. It’s not your ministry. It’s not your church. Christ said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Why? Because the gospel is the power of God and the salvation for everyone who believes. And furthermore, he says that he will be able to guard that which I’ve entrusted to him until that day. And there I think he hasn’t mind something close to what he’s talking about in 1 Corinthians 3 that at the last judgment there will be a testing of everybody’s ministry, that you’re going to have ministers who followed the pattern of the super apostles and they’re gonna watch their ministry go up in smoke as it’s tested by God’s searching wisdom and truth, whereas those who have been faithful to the apostolic message are going to rejoice in the work that the Holy Spirit has done through that ministry. Again, it isn’t about you.
Sometimes we shift our cocky self-confidence from our personal morality and piety to our orthodoxy, right? I know that I’m gonna continue. I know I’m gonna stay on top because I went to the right seminary or because I have the right theology because I have the right confession. I have the right doctrine, but Paul’s confidence was in Jesus Christ. His confidence was that God would preserve him and God would preserve the gospel. That saves him as well as Timothy and the rest of us. You need to hear this gospel yourself. You need to be brought again and again to see your dire need of Christ and his self-sufficient grace. That’s why it’s so important to come to conferences like this. We need it too, don’t we?
And so here’s the thing, the same gospel that saved you from the wrath of God, brothers and sisters, the same thing that saved you from the wrath of God is the gospel that will save you from the fear of man. So don’t be ashamed of me, his servant. Why would Paul say that? Don’t be ashamed of me his servant. Why would somebody be ashamed of an apostle in prison? I think for a lot of people in Paul’s day, especially for the super apostles, you know the message was, “Hey, look, if you’re not having your best life now there’s something wrong with your message.” You know, obviously, if he is in chains in Rome, there’s something defective. You wanna follow him? You wanna have the same fate?
How are we ashamed today? I think we could be ashamed of the gospel, both in terms of its message and in terms of its messenger. We’re gonna be ashamed of the message because it just doesn’t make sense to people. It’s not as if we just walked the streets of Fullerton this afternoon we’d find 8 out of 10 people getting the doctrines of grace. You know, what do you think religion is? What do you think about religion? Let’s just make people nicer and friendlier and to end this, that and the other thing, and it’s really so you can get in touch with I guess the higher power of some sort. But the minute you start talking about the gospel itself, people have appointments
It’s a very precise, divisive, universal claim that’s totally counterintuitive to our moral reasoning. It’s irrelevant to most people because their sin is irrelevant. It’s not a relevant solution because they aren’t yet conscious of the great plight that it answers. But I think we’re also prone in this culture to be ashamed of its messengers of its heralds. You know, there was once a time when families would set apart their most favored son to enter the ministry. They would make sure that he had whatever he needed to be equipped with the best education they could possibly provide and that son would go off and be a pastor. But today, very often we hear even Christian sometimes say when their sons wanna become pastors, you sure you don’t wanna be a lawyer? Medicine?
More specifically, if the authorities were doing this to Paul, even though he’s a Roman citizen, what will he do to you? Especially those of you who aren’t even Roman citizens? What? What will happen to you if this is what’s happening to Paul? So better to keep it private. You can have a great personal relationship with Jesus in private. Just don’t take it to the market. Privately, intensely devoted, publicly blending into the crowd. “Timothy, you need to follow my example.” Paul says, “Both in the apostolic message I proclaim and also in my apostolic example.”
And then finally, the call to suffering witness, “But share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.” What a difficult thing to be told. Timothy share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God. Now, Paul and Timothy were called to the same ministry, but they didn’t hold the same office. One was called as an apostle. This is the extraordinary ministry unique to the apostolic period, a period of receiving the deposit, receiving the full revelation of the gospel. That deposit we have in the New Testament for which Paul says, I was appointed and apostle, but then there’s the ordinary office and Timothy belongs to the first generation of ordinary ministers. It’s an ordinary calling not of receiving the deposit, but of guarding the deposit.
It’s really significant how differently Paul talks about his own calling versus that of Timothy and other ministers. When Paul talks about his own confidence in his calling, what does he say? I’ve seen the risen Christ. I’ve seen Christ ascended in glory. He spoke to me, he taught me his Word. I beheld his majesty. I was called immediately, indirectly. I wasn’t called by Peter. I wasn’t called by any of the other apostles. I was called directly by Jesus Christ.
But he doesn’t tell Timothy when he’s kind of weak in the knees, “Now, remember your Damascus road experience.” Instead, what does he tell him? “Remember your Grandma Lois and your mother Eunice. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, Timothy, that I might 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.” What an encouragement, but this is all mediated. Now, this isn’t direct Jesus standing in front of Timothy. This is through the testimony of the saints, the ministry of the word of God through the saints.
Then in Verses 6 and 7 he says, “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. Remember when I laid hands on you,” but ultimately he says, “Do not neglect the gift that you have, which was given you by prophecy when the Presbytery laid hands on you,” 1 Timothy 4:14. So Paul was called directly by Christ immediately, not through the church, but everyone else is called by Christ immediately, indirectly through the church.
Paul lives from the memory of being called as an apostle by Christ. Immediately Paul gives the deposit. Timothy must guard it and we’re all Timothy’s. None of us is a Paul. Our job is to guard it, not to add to it, not to subtract from it, but to guard it. And that’s why Paul says in verse 13, “Follow the pattern of sound words, thus sound words that you have heard from me in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” The pattern, the pattern of sound words. See, Timothy is a follower. He is called to follow the pattern of sound words that you heard from me. In Christ, the sovereign of the church, the king of the church, the apostles are the human authors the ambassadors who bring those sound words to inscripturation.
Our faith isn’t necessarily founded on exactly the same experiences. Yes, we must all be born again, but the Holy Spirit works with marvelous diversity in all of our lives, doesn’t he? Some people have a really radical experience of conversion. Other people don’t remember the time that they didn’t believe in Jesus Christ. It’s not the same experience that unites us as Christians. It’s the same doctrine. It’s the same gospel and not just sound words, but Paul even refers here to the form of sound words. There is a right way to say things and perhaps here he’s even referring to an early creed or an early formula that we know early formulas were circulating in the apostolic community,
“But you can only do this by the Holy Spirit.” He says in verse 14, “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” You can’t just do this in a business-like way. You can’t rely on your orthodoxy. You can’t say that just because you signed the right creed or confession, you’re proclaiming the right truth. You have to always be asking yourself, not just what do you believe intellectually, but what are you proclaiming? What are you trusting in? You have to depend entirely on the Holy Spirit who inspired these words to illumine your heart continually to understand and preach it faithfully. God will guard us and that frees us to guard the gospel.
And here’s the thing to guard the gospel is to give it away. To guard the gospel is not to, is not to hide, it is not to walk it away in a safe. To guard the gospel is constantly to preach the gospel. There’s no difference between the mission of the church and the message of the gospel. The mission of the church is to proclaim that gospel. And when people say, well, you know we have the right doctrine, but we’re not really interested that much in mission, you have to scratch your head and say, “Tell me what you think the gospel is.” The gospel is an inherently missionary document. To guard the gospel is to give it away, get the gospel right and get the gospel out, that’s what Paul’s encouraging Timothy to do.
There’s one person who isn’t ashamed. And here Paul doesn’t refer to his own example, but the example of a person otherwise we would never have known about in the early church. Abraham Kuyper used to talk about the little people, and he wasn’t condescending. He was talking about the fact he himself had been converted by an elderly woman in his church who had very little education, and here he was this great preacher and theologian in the church, but he wasn’t a believer. He was at that point, a liberal and she led him to Christ. And he forever after that, had a really high place in his thinking for the little people as he called them.
Onesiphorus is one of those people. Versus 15 to 18, “You’re aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me. Among them are Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. But when he arrived in Rome, he searched for me earnestly and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day, and you will know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.”
If you ever had close friends or associates who abandoned the ministry, who broke your heart, who really let you down. You are sure they would be with you to the very end that they would go to the okay corral with you on any day of the week, and then something came along, whether it was that they no longer believed the gospel or because they had made choices in their life to depart from Christ’s commands and they abandoned the ministry, perhaps even abandoned the faith. That can be incredibly disillusioning and disheartening, but none of us can say all of California abandoned me. Paul says, “Everyone in Asia.” You know, seriously, a continent? You see, of course he’s speaking hyperbole here, but he’s saying really it’s been mass defection, mass apostasy in churches I helped plant.
Remember that the next time a particular denomination wants to establish its absolute authority and doctrinal purity on its age. These were churches planted by the apostles directly, and Paul wept for Galicia. Paul wept for Ephesus. Paul had every reason to believe that people like Phygelus and Hermogenes might come to his defense at his trial in Rome, but they didn’t. They were afraid. They didn’t show. But this one guy, we don’t know whether he was an officer in the church or a member, but he loved Paul and what’s more important to Paul, he loved his gospel so much that he came to Rome and he turned over every stone until he found Paul in this little cell ensconced by so many walls, and he really ministered to Paul.
Paul doesn’t tell us how he ministered to him, but it was really touching. It really encouraged Paul during this discouraging time. Maybe Timothy needs to be reminded about Onesiphorus and his example, the simple man who loved Paul, but more importantly, loved Paul’s gospel. Timothy has done that, but maybe Timothy needs that encouragement even now. He doesn’t wanna take Timothy away from his work and Ephesus. Goodness knows Ephesus needs Timothy to stay there, but he does expect Timothy to take his eyes off his own miserable self and fix them on Christ just as Paul is fixing his eyes on Christ as he awaits his own execution.
So finally, to summarize. The logic of this argument, the logic of this argument about the persecution that is inevitable, the suffering that is inevitable for anyone associated with the gospel is that it all good gifts come from God. It’s the gospel of God from God in Christ. The gospel is about Christ. It’s for us, but it’s not about us. Christ as he is clothed in the gospel, it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit and through Paul as an apostolic Harold that we with Timothy can guard that deposit today. Brothers and sisters, you are chosen, you are saved and you are kept by this gospel. Therefore, do not be ashamed of it. Embrace it for yourself and guard it by giving it away.
Let’s pray. Our great father, we thank You that all good and perfect gifts come down from You in Your son and by Your spirit. That we have the whole Trinity working for us in this unfolding saving plan, which comes to its climax in the advent of our Lord, who has brought life and immortality to light the gospel. Help us Father to guard this gospel by giving it away knowing that the purpose for which You’ve saved to us is the same purpose for which You are saving others. In Jesus name. Amen.