Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 10/04/1992
In First Timothy, the Apostle Paul was nearing the end of his life and was concerned for the Church. In Second Timothy, we find him at the end of his life and concerned for the Gospel. This is perhaps the most personal and most emotional epistle in all the New Testament. Perhaps because of its emotional nature, it is almost impossible to outline in a linear fashion as we did with First Timothy and have done with most of the other epistles that we have studied. But the fact that this epistle is not constructed in a linear fashion does not mean it is either without content or without logic. Several important themes are treated here, and they stand related to each other in a logical way. But the organization of this letter is not linear or logical but rather symphonic. That is, the themes are introduced and then reappear constantly in different orders, combinations, and arrangements, much like the musical "themes" (or tunes, or motifs) in a symphony. Therefore, it calls for a different approach, a different method of study, than the linear, verse by verse approach we usually take.
I think we can identify at least nine themes, or nine concerns, that the Apostle Paul has in Second Timothy. they all keep reappearing in different combinations throughout the book, and they are all introduced in chapter one, to which I will mostly limit myself in this initial survey. And all of them center around the Gospel.
The first of those themes is The Content of the Gospel. What exactly is this strange message so different from what any other religion is saying? It is supremely important that we get it right. So we see beginning in 1:8 that this Gospel is "according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel." This is the same emphasis as Ephesians, where we are saved by grace through faith apart from works, lest any man should boast (2:8-10).
Second is Opposition to the Gospel. How is it that the good news that salvation is offered as a free gift purely by grace is so often heard as bad news which engenders such fierce opposition? It was opposition from the Jews that had put Paul in this position where his martyrdom was imminent. And we also learn that "all who were in Asia turned away" from Paul at his defense (1:15). Paul wants Timothy to understand this opposition and be prepared for it in his own ministry.
Third is Suffering for the Gospel. Nothing is more prominent in Second Timothy, for Paul was about to undergo the ultimate sacrifice himself shortly as he wrote. So he calls us to "join with me in suffering for the Gospel" (1:8) and tells us that it is precisely because he was appointed a preacher of the Gospel that "For this reason I suffer these things" (1:12).
Fourth is The Source of the Gospel. Where does this strange and controversial message come from? What gives it its authority? It was "revealed" from heaven (1:10); we know whom we have believed, i.e., Christ himself (1:12); and we are to "retain the standard of sound words" which we heard from Paul himself (1:13). From God through his Son and his Apostle: this is a source we can trust indeed.
A fifth emphasis is The Rewards of the Gospel. What are the benefits that flow to those who receive it, and that make the suffering they are liable to experience for the Gospel worthwhile? Among many other things, they are nothing less than "life and immortality" (1:10).
Sixth we have The Power of the Gospel. God has not given us a spirit of timidity but of power (1:7); therefore we are not to be ashamed but to join with Paul in suffering for the Gospel "according to the power of God" (1:8). What exactly does the Gospel have the power, i.e., the ability, to do? To confer life and immortality, for one thing, and also to enable us to face suffering with confidence.
Seventh is Boldness for the Gospel. We are not to be ashamed of it (1:8m 12). Not being ashamed of it (or of Paul, in prison for its sake), we are to proclaim it boldly, to preach it "in season and out of season" (4:2).
Eighth is a concern for The Preservation of the Gospel. This message is so important that we must be sure it does not disappear. As Paul himself is about to disappear from this world, he wants to make sure that his disciples like Timothy will see to it that the Gospel does not disappear with him. So we are to "retain the standard of sound words" (1:13), guard the treasure entrusted to us (1:14), and commit it to faithful men who may be able to teach others also (2:2). Nothing is more important as Paul faces his own death than this.
Finally, we come to The Propagation of the Gospel. You might think of this as another way of looking at number eight, for the whole point of preserving the Gospel in its purity is so that it can be faithfully proclaimed. But we shall also look at it as a topic in its own right.
These then are nine of the themes or concerns that were uppermost in Paul's mind as he faced the end of his life, and which are interwoven throughout this epistle, his last will and testament as it were. But though they do not appear one after another in a logical sequence, they are related to each other in a logical structure. They are not random or unrelated, but form a unified message with the Gospel at its heart. I have tried to exhibit the structure of those logical relationships between these themes in the following sentence, my summary of the message of Second Timothy:
Because of the content of the Gospel, there will be opposition to the Gospel, which will often lead to suffering for the Gospel; but when we consider the source of the Gospel, the rewards of the Gospel, and the power of the Gospel, those considerations should give us boldness for the Gospel, in the preservation of the Gospel and the proclamation of the Gospel. That is an important sentence, so let me repeat it: Because of the content of the Gospel, there will be opposition to the Gospel, which will often lead to suffering for the Gospel; but when we consider the source of the Gospel, the rewards of the Gospel, and the power of the Gospel, those considerations should give us boldness for the Gospel, in the preservation of the Gospel and the proclamation of the Gospel.
Our purpose in these studies will be to examine each of these themes in turn, and in so doing both to understand them individually and to elucidate that structure and show its application to our ministry for the Lord Jesus Christ today. And we will begin this week with The Content of the Gospel.
Paul defines the Gospel in 1:8-10. It is the good news that God has provided for man in Jesus Christ salvation from sin, death, punishment, meaningless, futility, etc., through his death for sin and resurrection, to be received as a free gift by faith alone. It is, as we have seen, the same Gospel we find in Ephesians 2:8-10. Now, this is Paul's last public document, and he knows it. It is therefore his last word on the Gospel. What will he chose to emphasize in its presentation? There could be many things. He might emphasize the holiness of God, and how his righteousness is satisfied by Christ's obedient life and sacrificial death. He might choose to emphasize the love of God, which led Christ to die that substitutionary death. He might have chosen to emphasize the response of man in receiving that free gift through faith, repentance, and the confession of Christ as Lord. All these would have been valid emphases which he stresses at some point in his writings. But what he chooses to focus on here is the purely gracious character of the Gospel: it is by grace alone, not by works. He says it plainly in 1:9, where we are saved not by our works but by God's purpose. In 2:10 he stresses the doctrine of election, which again in its own way places all the cause of salvation in God's action, not ours. And in 2:25, it is God who grants even repentance, that part of salvation that is most clearly our act. All the stress here is laid on salvation as wholly the work of God. It is a gift. We can't earn it--we can't even receive it except as he grants us that receiving.
Why this emphasis? One might have expected Paul at the end of his life to be focused on salvation as the expression of God's love, which in one sense is a higher theme even than what he gives us. Surely this emphasis on sola gratia, grace alone, is the expression of Paul's concern with the preservation of the Gospel in its purity after he has left the scene and can no longer fight for it except through the writings and the disciples like Timothy he will leave behind. For this is that aspect of the Gospel most subject to misunderstanding and therefore to distortion and rejection. Why?
Why do men treat the Gospel as bad news, so bad that they have to reinterpret it to restore a place for their own works in its scheme or else reject it altogether? Because it is a frontal assault on man's pride. The Gospel is good news indeed, but it is only heard as good news if we are prepared to accept some rather bad news first. We are like a man going to the physician for a checkup because he has been having shortness of breath, serious fatigue, and chest pains. What does he want to hear? He wants to hear, "There is nothing major wrong with you. Be sincere in your desire for good health, and it will come. Maybe you should make a few minor adjustments to your diet and take up jogging." That is what the patient would perceive as good news. But the truth is that his heart is ripe for a massive coronary, and unless he has open heart surgery--in fact, a heart transplant--he is in serious trouble. If we give him the message he wants to hear, and he follows it, he is a dead man. But if he accepts the bad news, i.e., the real truth about his condition, then there is good news indeed: a new heart is available and the greatest surgeon who has ever lived is prepared to operate without charge. We shouldn't be surprised, though, if the patient objects to the diagnosis, doesn't want to hear it, or even rejects it. The surgeon's offer is good news only if he believes the bad news.
This is why Paul is so insistent throughout his writings, and here in Second Timothy, that we never compromise or water down the purely gracious character of the Gospel. For if we soft-pedal the principles of sola gratia and sola fide, grace alone and faith alone, if we tell the patient what he wants to hear, we are in effect telling him to take up jogging or else take the scalpel and operate on himself! And if he puts on that jogging suit he will be a precise picture of "the form of godliness without the power thereof" (3:5) which is the definition of all human substitutes for the Gospel. And he will remain spiritually dead, and we will be guilty of evangelistic malpractice.
But what if he believes the Gospel? What if he accepts the good news, puts himself in the hands of the Great Physician, and receives a new heart purely as a gift by God's grace? Well, then, under the Physician's care, following his directions, he will begin to recover his strength, to use that new heart in astounding ways. He may indeed then take up jogging and accomplish good works of heroic proportions. But when he does, he will say, "I have done nothing. I owe it all to the new heart I was given by Jesus Christ. My own strength, my own righteousness, would have led me only to the grave." He will be, in other words, a person who understands the Gospel and is not ashamed of it. May our study of Second Timothy help us to be such people, for the glory of our Lord and only Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams