Today’s lesson, from 2 Timothy 2, could easily be treated as two pericopes: verses 1-7 and 8-13. However, the Lectionary holds them together and so shall we.
The Apostle, sounding something like a military officer reenlisting his personnel, warns Timothy against avoiding or shirking the central challenge of witnessing to the Gospel of Christ Jesus. That is his primary vocation. It is his cheerful duty–the efficacy of which belongs to the Lord. Notwithstanding the likelihood of social and political castigation, if not endangerment of life and limb, Timothy should recall how his ordination vows (his initial enlistment, if you will) were not stated with, “purpose of evasion.” The young pastor was conscripted for battle and a battle it shall be. Like our Lord Jesus says in Luke 14:25-33 regarding the cost of discipleship, especially the sort of disciple who shepherds disciples, it is an all or nothing deal: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33). Being a pastor, priest, evangelist, missionary, and Christian educator requires courage, focus, and resolve.
Paul is talking about military-level allegiance here, the strongest kind of allegiance sworn to a king. Yet, this loyalty is set in contrast to the tasks of the Roman solider because the task of Christ’s legionaries is to herald the good news: their King, Jesus, has won and it is He who is the world’s rightful king. So, it is a different mission with a different set of orders than the Roman legionary. But they hold in common this notion—both are to be ready and willing to obey their sovereign’s orders faithfully and without any mental reservation because both are engaged in matters pertaining to life and death, allegiance and rebellion, peace and enmity.
The military allusion will come in handy as Paul employs three overlapping images in verses 4, 5, and 6 to illustrate what he means. The first point is a military one, too. The performance of duty, distinguishing labors, indeed, acts of valor before the Commanding Officer, are all done amidst military endeavors, not outside of the line of duty and not amidst civilian tasks. This idea corresponds with conscription into the service of Christ: being a servant of Christ is an all-encompassing vocation. ‘Timothy,’ Paul seems to say, ‘don’t get sidetracked by another life. Christ is your life. You’re never off duty. You’re never something other than, first and foremost, a Christian servant of King Jesus.’ Timothy and all ambassadors of Christ, anyone who would teach and preach His holy Gospel, have been called to an uncompromising, yet cheerful, confrontation with a world that holds contrary allegiances to other gods (e.g., Mammon=money; Aphrodite=sex; Mars=war; Narcissus=self-worship, etc.). With a pantheon such as these wreaking havoc among humanity, those given to the work of the Gospel cannot allow worldly pursuits to obscure or eclipse the challenge of the Gospel. Spiritual warfare is not an on-again, off-again matter, so being a called and ordained servant of Christ could never be a matter of convenience or compartmentalized.
The second image employed by Paul arises from the domain of sports. Organized athletics were a feature of the Roman Empire. Everyone would have known how all such events and games were bound by certain rules. So, too, with living and working as a Christian–no matter what kind of society you live in. We are not to be conformed to the patterns (ungodly values, ideals, allegiances and behaviors) of the unbelieving world. You are an ambassador of the King and obligated to the Kingdom’s ethic. Run the race according to the rule and reign of the King, in the joy of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit. There are no short cuts to pastoral care and gospel ministry. Run to the completion of the race. Run to win. And winning is to do the will of your Lord… which is not, “your best life now,” but, “taking up your cross daily and following [Him]” (Luke 9:23).
Farming rounds out the third image. Here, the insights of Tom Wright are helpful:
Often, in both the ancient and modern worlds, the main laborers on a farm would be tenants but the landlord would own the crop–and might not give the actual workers more than a small share in it. Paul appeals to a kind of natural law, a universal folk wisdom: the one who does the work deserves the first share of the produce. The point is clear. Beware of the temptation to engage in the Christian life like a kind of absentee landlord, expecting the benefits without having to do any of the hard work. By the same token, if you want the rewards, get on with the work.
And here is where the Theology of the Cross turns everything the world values upside down. The nature of the work entails suffering, not necessarily health, wealth and prosperity. Western Christians need to hear this again and again, especially where the values, ideals, allegiances and behaviors of the baptized have so melded with those who have no allegiance to Christ and His Kingdom. This is so much the case that they are often rendered indistinct when it comes to all matters of consumption, life-issues, ideological and anthropological progressivism, laziness and comfort, assertion of personal rights, insistence on private lives, classism, racism, and elitism. It seems as if, in some notable measure, Timothy-syndrome is the malaise which has settled on Western Christianity: avoid all disincentives to being a Christian by domesticating Christianity within the culture. Be indistinct. Do not draw attention to yourself by this Gospel, this allegiance, this worldview, this way-of-the-cross life.
Then comes the full force of verses 8 and following. The reality of the Resurrection necessitates integrity to what you believe, teach and confess:
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 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. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him;
if we endure, we will also reign with Him;
if we deny Him, He also will deny us;
if we are faithless, He remains faithful—
for He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim 2:8-13).
The objective reality of the real, historical resurrection of the Son of God means nothing, absolutely nothing can be the same. There are radical implications for the person who owns the fact of the Resurrection, nay, has come to participate in the Resurrection through Holy Baptism in which justification is declared concerning the baptized and they, too, are spiritually raised from death. The fact of the Resurrection carries with it the reality of regeneration for the baptized. Timothy must not look back, cannot domesticate these things, but must rather cede to them. To what end? So, Christ’s kingdom-people, “may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).
The good news of eternal life, not just at the point of death, but experienced and enjoyed in the here and now through baptismal life, this news of being in Christ’s Kingdom and governed by Christ’s Spirit is the unbounded Word of God. It is a power that is off-the-hook and unleashed. So, Timothy, do not live like you can put it in a drawer and take it out when convenient. Instead, look at me, Paul, and likewise, “endure everything,” for the sake of the Gospel and Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Remain agreeable to the words of our Lord: “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).
These texts powerfully preach the Gospel to believers, but also the second and third uses of the Law, calling for repentance and conformity to the will and ways of our gracious and loving Lord, “for the sake of the elect” (2 Timothy 2:10). Justification with regeneration: This reality calls for kingdom living, not as an option, but as the consequence of salvation and recreation; namely, our sanctification.
Concordia Theology- Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching 2 Timothy 2:1-13.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 2 Timothy 2:8-13.