Text: 2 Timothy 1:11-18
We come to the second instalment in this series on Paul’s 2nd Letter to Timothy. Paul is in prison in Rome. He is cold (‘bring me my cloak’), bored (‘bring me my books’), and lonely (‘everyone has deserted me’). He is staring execution in the face (‘the time has come for my departure.’)
Paul predicts a time of terrible persecution for the Christian church, and a large-scale falling away from the faith. Yet the great apostle has by no means given up hope, and is still looking to build for the future. And in this letter, the last of his known writings, he gives warning, encouragement, guidance and instruction that are as relevant to his successors in our own day as they were in to those in his.
I am particularly struck by a theme that runs all the way through our passage. It is the theme of ‘not being ashamed’ of the gospel.
This theme is introduced as early as v8, where Paul urges Timothy, ‘do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner.’
Then in v12 Paul declares: ‘I am not ashamed.’
Moving on to v15 we read of many who evidently were ashamed – of Paul, certainly, and possibly of the gospel itself. ‘Everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes’.
Let me just pause on this, because it’s slightly puzzling. The ‘province of Asia’ covered an area of modern Turkey roughly the size of England and Wales. It included not only Ephesus, where Timothy was at the time, but all seven of ‘churches of Asia’ that are referred to in early chapters of Revelation. According to Acts 19 it was in this region that Paul spent nearly 3 years during his 3rd missionary journey. He had seen great success from his ministry there. Does Paul mean that everyone in that area had now turned their back on him?
2 Tim 4:16 clarifies this for us – ‘At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.’
Here’s the likely scenario: When Paul had first been imprisoned in Rome, he had had the opportunity to mount his own defence. He been relying on Christian leaders in the province of Asia to come and testify on his behalf. But they all let him down. We can only assume that they felt ashamed to be associated with him and his message.
There was, however, one notable exception to this whole-sale desertion:-
v16 – ‘Onesiphorus…was not ashamed of my chains.’
Previously, when Paul had spent those nearly 3 years in Ephesus, it was Onesiphorus who had repeatedly come to his aid, v18. And now that Paul was in prison in Rome, this man had made his way there, sought Paul out, and refreshed him with food and companionship, v16.
So there we have this running theme of ‘not being ashamed’.
It is, in fact, a theme that crops up more widely in the New Testament. Jesus himself warned: Mk 8:38 – “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
We see, then, the grave danger of being ashamed of Jesus and his message, and the challenge of resisting that danger.
How can we do that? What does it mean to be unashamed Christians?
(a) Guard the gospel
V13f – ‘What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching…Guard the good desposit that was entrusted to you.’
I don’t like labels. I don’t mind being called an ‘evangelical’, because that means that I am, or at least aspire to be, a gospel Christian. But what about the label ‘conservative’? If it means that we are reactionary, hide-bound, and constitutionally resistant to change, then it would be a very unwelcome label. But if it means that we seek to ‘conserve’ the biblical faith, to preserve it, to guard it against unhealthy denials and distortions, then you can count me in. Because that’s exactly what Paul was urging Timothy to do.
But the gospel is not like some fragile piece of jewellery that is to be protected under lock and key in a museum. Guarding the gospel is more like maintaining an engine in tip-top working order. Paul recognised this when he declared himself in v11 to be herald, apostle, and teacher of the gospel. As a herald he must announce it and publicise it. As an apostle he must take take it to wherever he has been sent. As a teacher he must impart its truth with clarity and freshness.
Timothy had gospel work to do too, and so do we. Will we take our part in guarding the good deposit? Will we ensure that we have a sound grasp of the terms of the gospel? Will we encourage and support the work of the gospel at home and abroad?
Will we do all this ‘with faith and love in Christ Jesus’? (v13). And ‘with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us,’ v14?
If so, we will be on our way to becoming Christians who are unashamed.
(b) Suffer for the gospel
So, we have made up our minds not to be ashamed of the gospel, but to guard it. What can we expect to get out of it? What’s in it for us? Suffering! V8 – ‘Join with me in suffering’.
‘Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,’ 3:12.
I think is a word that we need to hear today.
Sometimes, it doesn’t amount to much more than embarrassment.
A philosophy lecturer is speaking to a group of 1st-year students. “Nobody believes in heaven and hell any more,” says the lecturer. “Or maybe they do. Does anyone here believe in heaven and hell? Put your hands up if you do. You take a deep breath, and up goes your hand. You glance around. Of the hundred or so students, just one other has put up their hand. You rather wish you’d kept your hands in your pockets.”
But its becoming more serious than that. We hear about the ‘suffering church’ in many parts of the world. But there is a scepticism in our own country that increasingly borders on hostility.
I quite often refer to the so-called ‘new atheists’. I do so not because they have any interesting new arguments. I do it because of the intimidating tone that they adopt, and the way they encourage others to do the same. Earlier this year, Richard Dawkins addressed a ‘Reason’ rally in the US. He told his cheering audience what to do with people of faith: ‘Mock them. Ridicule them! In public!’
In an atmosphere of increasing hostility it is not easy, especially for young Christians. The sense of rejection can be very hurtful. It is not comfortable finding yourself at odds with your family or friends because they do not share your beliefs or sympathise with your moral choices.
This is where we need one another. I was speaking to a young person the other day who described herself as a ‘modern Christian’. This entailed, amongst other things, spending the last two years without any regular Christian fellowship at all.
The famous evangelist C.L. Moody visited the home of a person who had stopped attending church. He went over to the roaring fire. He took a flaming coal out of the fireplace. He put it down by itself on the stone hearth. Within a few moments, it stopped burning. He didn’t need to say very much; he had made his point.
Let us remember to meet together,’ says the writer to the Hebrews. ‘And all the more as you see “the day” approaching.’
And let us remember Jesus. Let us ‘fix our eyes on him, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame,’ Heb 12:2.
Which brings me on to a third characteristic of the unashamed Christian.
(c) Rejoice in the gospel
Let me ask for a second time: what’s in it for us? What makes all this worth while?
Well, Paul can testify to a great deal of divine help along the way. He can say, for example, in 4:16f that even though so many of his friends deserted him, ‘the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength…I was delivered from the lion’s mouth.’
But Paul also kept his sights clearly focussed on the final outcome. V12 – ‘I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.’
Note the ‘whom’, the ‘what’ and the ‘when’.
‘I know whom I have believed.’ It is quite something to be able to say with confidence, ‘I know what I have believed’. But how much more it is for Paul, and for us, to be able to say, ‘I know whom I have believed’!
What is it that Paul had entrusted to God? Everything. All of his hopes and fears. All of his opportunities and dangers. His very self. And we can do the same.
And how long will the Lord guard Paul for? Until ‘that day’ – What day? The day of the Lord. Yes, we can say with Paul, whatever lies between this present day of struggle and that final day of victory, he is able to keep that which we have entrusted to him until that time when all pain is lifted, all shadows flee, and faith is lost in sight.
And so we come to this table, and eat this bread and drink this cup, and we proclaim the Lord’s death until that day when he comes in glory. We do so unashamedly, taking our part in guarding the gospel, suffering for it, and rejoicing in it.