When we began to shoot for teams, I knew what we all wanted—to be on that guy’s team. He was the tallest and the most skilled in basketball. He towered us in height. He destroyed us in mastery. We all wanted to be on his team. It assured us that we would win easily. Since he was unstoppable, we were unstoppable.
The struggle and pain of the game would be worth it knowing that we would ultimately be victors. This is the approach of Paul in 2 Timothy 2:8-10. If we can realize that Jesus is the ultimate player, His word is the ultimate power, and the game is a sure win, we will do our best to join the team and get in on the action.
Of course, Paul is not talking about sports, but ministry. He says that every ministry, if it is a gospel ministry, will consist of preaching, suffering, and enduring. Notice these three elements in the passage:
- “as preached in my gospel” (2:8)
- “for which I am suffering” (2:9)
- “I endure everything” (2:10)
By preaching the gospel, Paul simply means that we are to pass on the truth of God’s word to others (2 Tim. 2:2). This kind of ministry almost always introduces persecution and hardship (2 Tim. 3:12). Therefore, in order to assure that God’s truth is entrusted to others, we must endure this suffering until the mission is accomplished. In order to energize us for this kind of ministry, Paul provides three motives to endure, each correlating to three elements of ministry.
You are Preaching for the Preeminent Lord
The first element is to preach for the preeminent Lord. We are also to preach Christ and for Christ. This is our mission. This is the aim of all ministry. Here is the motivation: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel” (2 Tim. 2:8). “Be continually mindful of Jesus Christ” is what he is saying. Think on Christ always and every moment. When preaching, think on Christ. When suffering, think on Christ. When enduring, think on Christ. He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Anointed One, the Promised One, … the Preeminent Lord.
Because He is Victorious over Death
The first thing about Christ that should motivate us to preach the gospel is that He is “risen from the dead” (2 Tim. 2:8). Suffering has been mentioned at least five times in 2 Timothy so far. Suffering is scary and unwanted. So, if we are to fulfill our ministry of suffering, the best motive we can have to consider the one who suffered most and suffered for us. Jesus Christ suffered. Identifying our suffering with His suffering certainly has its value, but that is not what Paul does. He points to His victory over death—the end of suffering.
When suffering runs its course, we either find ourselves dead or quitting before it gets too bad. Suffering is meant by Satan to discourage us from continuing in ministry. But Jesus suffered and died, and He rose again proving to us that He is victorious over death. Everything about our faith and ministry depends on this reality. Consider Paul’s argument:
“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ … And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins … we are of all people most to be pitied … but in fact Christ has been raised from the dead … For as by a man came death, but a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive … the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:12-28).
We can be motivated to preach the gospel (of Christ, of resurrection) by remembering that Christ suffered, and died, and rose again victorious over death. Preach the preeminent Lord. He is victor over suffering.
Because He is Ruler over All
The second thing about Christ that should motivate us to preach the gospel is that He is “the offspring of David” (2 Tim. 2:8). This refers to His kingship. In the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as the “son of David” nearly 20 times. David, who lived about 1,000 years prior to Jesus’ birth was prophesied to by Samuel concerning a promised king whose thrown God would establish forever.
“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever’” (2 Sam. 7:12-16)
This is a clear foreshadow of Christ. Jesus was called the Son of God (Matt. 3:17). He founded an eternal kingdom (2 Pet. 1:11). He built a house for God (1 Cor. 3:16). He was disciplined by man with stripes of punishment for the sake of sins placed upon Him (2 Cor. 5:21; Is. 53:5; 1 Pet. 3:18; Mk. 10:45). And, as the adopted son of Joseph, He was the offspring of David (Matt. 1:1). Jesus is the promised king whose thrown will be established forever. You can be motivated to preach the gospel because the One who you preach about is the ruler over all things—including those to whom you preach.
You are Suffering for the Powerful Word
The second element is to suffer for the powerful Word. Paul says, “for [this gospel] I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal, but the word of God is not bound!” (2 Tim. 2:9). It would seem, as Paul looks down as his chains and we look down at our suffering, that our ministry is over. But this is not so. The Word of God is powerful.
Because it is Divine in Origin
When suffering for the powerful Word, it is important not to skip over the most obvious thing we know as Christians—the gospel is the “word of God.” Let that soak in for a moment. The message we give to others is only as strong as the One who originally spoke it. The Greek language is certain. The source of the word is God. It originates in His mind. He spoke it. He backs it up. One preacher said that God’s speaking is His doing. And you can take that to the bank.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16–17)
God’s Word is powerful because God is powerful. Hebrews 4:12 says that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts of the heart.” We can motivated to suffer for the powerful Word because it is God’s Word—divine in origin.
Because it is Unstoppable in Nature
This next point is the consequence of the last. If God is all-powerful, then His word is all-powerful. Throughout Scripture we find this to be true. God mediates and accomplishes His purposes by His Word. It is by nature able to do whatever it is intended to do. God made this clear:
“So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Is. 55:11)
Looking down at his chains, Paul might of thought for a second that the ministry of God has been snuffed out. Looking down at your suffering, you might think that things have ended. “But,” says Paul, “the word of God is not bound!” Yes, the messenger of the Word is bound, but the Word itself is not. It is unstoppable. While facing tremendous suffering, Job admits, “I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). “For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” (Is. 14:27).
When suffering for the powerful word of truth, remember that it is the divine Word of God and by nature unstoppable. You may get snuffed out, silenced, fired, killed, sent away, muted, but God’s Word will never return empty handed. It always accomplishes what it is sent to do.
You are Enduring for the Promised Elect
The third and final element is to endure for the promised elect. Paul says, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). To endure everything in this case means to suffer all things needed to suffer in order to accomplish something. Paul is saying that there is nothing he wouldn’t suffer for the sake of the elect. What would motivate Paul to endure everything for them?
Because they are Chosen by God
Who is the elect? This is probably the best place to start. The word “elect” in the Greek mind refers to something of choice, special selection. It was usually used outside of Scripture to refer to things and people of quality. They were the best of people, the most costly of things.
Paul’s use of the word is undoubtedly carried over from the Old Testament. Here, it is used in a number of different ways. God chose a specific place for worship (Deut. 12:5). Moses was called God’s chosen servant (Ps. 105:23). Israel was God’s chosen nation (Is. 65:9). A cursory read will reveal a wide range of people and things that God specifically chose for various purposes. However, it was a common thread in the Old Testament that the nation of Israel was God’s chosen people. Furthermore, we discover that His sovereign choice of Israel (and Moses, Abraham, Jacob, etc.) was a decision made independent of any outside influence (Deut. 7:7-8). In other words, God did not choose Israel because they were a fantastic bunch. They weren’t. He didn’t look down the corridors of time to see how holy they would become. They didn’t. Rather, we find God choosing based on His own pleasure and purposes. He choses people, not because they are the best of quality, but in order to make them best of quality. He makes them costly.
Paul applies this to Christians in the New Testament. He tells the church in Colossae to live godly “as God’s chosen ones” (Col. 3:12). Writing to Titus, He says out of the box that he is an apostle “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords to godliness, in hope of eternal life” (Tit. 1:1-2). He argues to the Roman believers that no one can bring genuine allegations against God’s elect: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (Rom. 8:33). Better yet:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Rom. 8:28–30)
The elect are those chosen by God to become His people. They are those who will be saved and glorified by the costly work of Jesus Christ. They will ultimately be recipients of God’s special love (2 Tim. 2:1; cf: 2 Tim. 1:9-10).
Because they are Waiting for You
If God has chosen people “to obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” then what is He waiting for? You. You are the agent through which God will bring the gospel to those whom He has elected to receive it in faith. Think of the implications here. All who God has saved and will save were already saved in His mind and whatever His mind decides will happen. God “gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” this salvation and He is merely waiting for creation to catch up with His purposes! What motivation! What encouragement!
With this in mind, evangelism is more than strange and awkward conversations where by God is proclaimed to a sinner who more than often rejects Him. Personal evangelism is the spiritual work of activating faith in those whom God has elected. We are going person-to-person flipping switches to see if the power is on.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:4-10)
Motivated by God’s Work
Here’s the thing. Our ministry is God’s ministry. He does the work. He causes the change. He makes it grow. When we suffer for ministry of God, we do not suffer alone nor do we suffer in vain. Christ is the risen King of all things. His word is unstoppable and will accomplish what it intends to accomplish. And, the the elect are waiting for us. God has prepared their hearts. He has made them ready. He hands us the gospel and says take it to them. I’ve already done the rest. Be motivated to fulfill your ministry.