Sermons

October 6, 2019

Well Supplied for Difficult Days

Brian Tabb (Downtown Campus) | 2 Timothy 3:10-17

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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 Timothy 3:10–17

Introduction

In the classic book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Peter, Susan, and Lucy Pevensie find themselves in Narnia in difficult days. Their brother, Edmund, has left them and followed after the White Witch, whose evil spell continues to hold the land in an endless winter. They must find Edmund and prepare for a fierce fight, but they don’t quite know what to do. At this point in the story, Father Christmas unexpectedly arrives bearings gifts for the children. A shield and sword for Peter, a bow and arrows for Susan, and a vile of healing cordial and a dagger for Lucy. He tells them, “These are your presents … and they are tools not toys. The time to use them is perhaps near at hand. Bear them well.”[1] These were presents with a purpose, to supply the children with what they would need for the coming conflict with the Witch.

The apostle Paul writes to Timothy at the end of his life to encourage his spiritual son to fulfill his gospel ministry. In chapter. 3, Paul warns that “in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” He does not sugarcoat the situation that Timothy faces. People love themselves more than God. They may look religious but deny God’s power. They oppose the truth and will seek to intimidate Timothy and bring him down. In vv. 10–17, Paul encourages Timothy to keep going in ministry by reminding him that he is well-supplied for these difficult days.

There is one command in our passage: “continue in what you’ve learned and have firmly believed” (v. 14). This is the main point of 3:10–17. Continue. Keep going. Stay the course. Don’t lose heart. Don’t get distracted from Christ and his call on your life. Press on in difficult days.

Our passage can be outlined in three parts:

  1. A faithful pattern (vv. 10–11)
  2. A sober promise (vv. 12–13)
  3. A sufficient provision (vv. 14–17)

Each of these three parts informs why Timothy and we must “continue in what we’ve learned.”

1.  A Faithful Pattern (vv. 10–11)

After a lengthy description of the difficult days and opposition Timothy faces in vv. 1–9, the opening words of verse 10 shift the focus back to Timothy (“You, however”). Paul reminds Timothy that he has followed the apostle’s life and teaching. The word followed here suggests much more than general awareness or interest, like following someone on social media or following a sports team. Paul means follow faithfully as a pattern. This is the language of discipleship. In 1 Timothy 4:6, Paul reminds Timothy “of the good doctrine that you have followed.”

Here in vv. 10–11, he reminds Timothy of his personal example as a minister of the gospel. Let’s pause to remember the sort of relationship Paul had with Timothy. In chapter 1, Paul calls Timothy “my beloved child” and says that he “longs to see” him that he might be filled with joy. Paul met Timothy in Acts 16 during his ministry in Lystra, and he asked the young disciple to accompany him in his mission work. The apostle had many coworkers, but none were as faithful as Timothy. They traveled together for years and shared the joys and sorrows of gospel ministry. Timothy is Paul’s spiritual son, his right-hand man, his protégé. So now near the end of his life, the apostle reminds Timothy of eight features of his life and teaching to encourage him to continue in what he’s learned.

  1. my teaching: Paul teaches sound doctrine that is trustworthy and true that magnifies Christ, in contrast to those who oppose the truth and deceive others.
  2. my conduct: Paul’s way of life confirms and illustrates the truths that he teaches.
  3. my aim in life: Paul lived with purpose, with resolve.
  4. my faith: Paul trusted Christ as his Savior and Lord.
  5. my patience: He waited well in uncertain, difficult times.
  6. my love: The love of Jesus changed and controlled Paul’s life. He cared deeply for other people with sincere, loyal, heart-felt, Christ-like love.
  7. my steadfastness: Paul endured suffering well; he kept going through adversity.
  8. my persecutions and sufferings: Paul recalls specific times in his ministry when he experienced serious opposition at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra (Acts 13–14). While many responded with joy to his preaching, others resisted and rejected Paul’s ministry. They reviled Paul, drove him out of town, and finally stoned him. Paul experienced trouble and suffering in every place he preached the gospel. So why does he mention these examples here in this letter? Remember that Lystra was Timothy’s hometown. Timothy joined the apostle’s ministry team shortly after he saw an angry mob pummel Paul with rocks and leave him for dead. According to Acts 14, Paul then went right back to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch to encourage the churches and remind them that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Timothy no doubt remembered Paul’s words and his ugly bruises. He chose to join Paul’s ministry at this very time. He knew the cost of following Christ and preaching with Paul.

Paul doesn’t only highlight the hardships of ministry. He also emphasizes that the Lord has “rescued” him time and again. This pattern of God’s deliverance in the past gives us confidence that he will deliver us in the future.

Paul sets an example of the sort of ministry that he calls Timothy to emulate:

  • Share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.—2 Timothy 1:8
  • Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.—2 Timothy 4:2.

Paul shows us here the basic pattern of Christian discipleship: “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). This is the first reason why we must continue in what we’ve learned—the pattern of life we’ve observed in other believers.

2. A Sober Promise (vv. 12–13)

The second reason why we must continue in what we’ve learned comes in vv. 12–13: Suffering and trouble are sure to come. Here we see two responses to the “difficult days” in vv. 1–9:

  • On the one hand, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
  • On the other hand, “Evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”

In difficult days, it is not an option to remain neutral, to coast, to enjoy the blessings of Christianity without embracing the cost of discipleship. Jesus told his disciples repeatedly to count the cost, to take up their cross daily, to expect and embrace suffering as we follow our crucified King. While I’ve never seen 2 Timothy 3:12 on a Christian t-shirt or inspirational throw pillow, this is a sober promise we need to believe and embrace. We should not be surprised by suffering in these difficult days. We may not presently face the threat of violence or imprisonment for our faith like many Christians in our world today, but we should not get too comfortable. We will face other sufferings and challenges as we seek to live a godly life in Christ Jesus.

You may face pressure at work to compromise your convictions about what is right. You may be battling a serious illness or chronic pain. You may be caring for a loved one with special needs. Each of us must deny ourselves and follow Christ daily. We must be ready for adversity, which will refine and reveal our faith in our suffering Savior.

3. A Sufficient Provision (vv. 14–17)

After surveying the two responses to difficult days, v. 14 shifts the focus back to Timothy: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.” Continue implies that Timothy is already doing this. He’s already following Christ, following Paul’s example, preaching the Word, and encouraging the saints—he needs to keep going, to persevere in the face of challenges. This verse reminds us that we do not simply learn about the truth; we must firmly believe it and experience true conviction and assurance.

Here, Paul reminds Timothy that he knows who taught him. “From whom” in Greek is plural, which signals that Paul has in mind multiple teachers. The apostle has already drawn attention to his own discipling influence on Timothy. The reference in v. 15 to Timothy’s childhood suggests that Paul also has in mind here the formative influence of Timothy’s believing grandmother and mother, Lois and Eunice, who acquainted him with the Scriptures and modeled true faith. (See 2 Timothy 1:5.) Mothers and grandmothers, be encouraged as you intentionally nurture, pray for, and teach children about God and his word. Your labor in the Lord is not in vain. You are sowing seeds now that, we pray, in time will bear gospel fruit. 

These verses prompt me to thank God for my mom and dad’s godly example and influence on my life, and for many faithful teachers and mentors over the years. I am also reminded of the incredible privilege and responsibility I have to disciple and teach others: as a dad trying to show Christ to my children, as a professor seeking to train students how to read and apply God’s word, and as one of the elders charged with shepherding the flock and teaching sound doctrine.

The Christian faith cannot be instantly downloaded; we learn through the instruction and example of other people—parents, pastors, teachers, campus ministers, Christian friends. But v. 15 reminds us that it is not our human teachers but the sacred Scriptures themselves that ultimately make us wise for salvation. 

After mentioning the “sacred writings” in v. 15, Paul offers a powerful explanation of the Scriptures’ (1) divine source, (2) usefulness, and (3) sufficiency for all of life. 

  • The Scriptures’ Divine Source:
    “All Scripture is breathed out by God.

We rightly refer to the Scriptures as God’s word. They are not just inspirational, like a beautiful song or poem. They are inspired by the one, true, living God. God has spoken, and his words are trustworthy and true because he is trustworthy and true. The Scriptures make us wise unto salvation and benefit us because they are from the God who speaks with authority and who saves to the uttermost.

  • The Scriptures’ Usefulness:
    Profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

God has given us his word for our good, and here we see four ways that the Scriptures benefit us.

(1) God’s word is useful for teaching—it is the supreme source for sound doctrine, the authoritative standard for what is true.

(2) God’s word is profitable for reproof or “rebuking” (NIV). God’s word is supremely true and holy, so it exposes sin and falsehood and calls for repentance and true change.

(3) God’s word is useful for correction. It does not just point out our faults; it aims to correct and restore us.

(4) Moreover, God’s word is profitable for training in righteousness. It guides and instructs us to live in a way that pleases God and reflects his righteous character.

We’ve considered the divine source and benefits of the Scriptures. Now verse 17 explains God’s ultimate purpose or aim for giving us his holy, inspired, authoritative word: to make us complete and equip us for everything we need.

  • The Scriptures’ Sufficiency for All of Life:
    “That the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Put yourself in Timothy’s shoes for a moment. Your spiritual father and beloved mentor, Paul, is in prison and will soon die. You feel the burden of responsibility and the pressure of mounting adversity, and you probably feel very alone and anxious. Your spiritual father is leaving, but your heavenly Father has given you his Holy Spirit and his Holy Word—that’s sufficient for what he has called you to do. So continue in what you’ve learned and firmly believed.

Application

Friends, we are well supplied to keep going in these difficult days. God has given us mature believers as examples to follow. He has graciously told us ahead of time to prepare for suffering. And he has given us his word, which makes us wise for salvation and equips us for good works. “How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word.”[2]

So press on, Christian. Don’t lose heart. Continue in what you’ve learned and firmly believed.

[Prayer.]

Communion

In 2 Timothy 2:8, Paul writes, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.” Remember Jesus Christ. That is what we do together as a congregation as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. This Table reminds us of what we have learned and firmly believed, that we may continue to follow Jesus in and through the various challenges we are facing. We have good news! The Lord Jesus laid down his life for us. He died in our place, suffering the penalty we deserved. He canceled our impossible debt before God. His wounds have paid our ransom. He reconciled us to our Maker, that we might know him not as Judge but as Father. Then he rose again, victorious over death, and he is now interceding for us before the Father. Friends, as we take the bread and the cup once again, let us remember that Jesus Christ paid it all, that he is all we need.

_____________

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, repr. ed., The Chronicles of Narnia (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), p. 108.

[2] John Rippon, “How Firm a Foundation,” 1787.

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