Stay Strong and Pass it On
Have you ever bought something from the store, and you go to use it for the first time, and it just plain doesn’t work? And it’s pretty clear that it’s not that your model is broke, but that the whole design is completely flawed? Nobody had actually tested this thing to see if it would do the job. They just made it look good in the package so that they could sell a lot of units, and that was that.
I’ve had that experience few times, and it just blows my mind. Someone went to all the work to build the plastic molds and put this thing together and make fancy packaging and ship it to a store without caring whether it would actually do the job or not. I don’t know how those people sleep at night.
What’s worse than this, though, is the Christians and church leaders who have the same approach with ministry. Their whole approach seems to be to try to get as many people as possible to say “yes” to Jesus as fast as possible so that they can publish some impressive statistics at the end of the year. But they don’t seem to care whether any of those people who “came to Jesus” actually knew what that meant or whether they kept following Him for any length of time.
I’m sure there’s always been people like that, but the Apostle Paul was not one of them. At the end of his life, he was not gloating over how many churches he had planted or how many people he had preached the gospel to or how many people had responded to the gospel from his preaching.
No; his concern, as he got to the end of his life, was that all of those churches, and all of those people, would continue to do well and would make it to the end just like him. And that they would have a healthy, reproducing leadership structure where the truths he had taught would be kept safe and be entrusted to the next generation.
That’s proven by the fact that he’s writing this letter to Timothy, and by what he actually says to Timothy. Paul was not just concerned with his own faithfulness but wit Timothy’s faithfulness, and, as we’ve seen, 2 Timothy is packed with instruction on what faithfulness looks like and how to stay faithful.
Today, in the first two verses of chapter 2, we find two more important instructions on staying faithful. The first has to do with being strengthened. The second has to with passing on the faith to others.
And that’s where the title of this message comes from—“Stay Strong and Pass It On.” Those are the two main ideas in our passage.
But before we get to chapter two, there’s these three verses at the end of chapter 1 which remind us of what’s at stake. “You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes” (2 Timothy 1:15). From everything we know, Timothy was still in Ephesus, the capital city of Asia. So of course Timothy would be aware.
We discussed a couple of weeks ago how difficult this would have been for Timothy. Paul was like his father, and Paul was now an embarrassment. Everyone had moved on from this shameful prisoner with his shameful gospel.
We don’t know why Phygelus and Hermongenes were worth mentioning here. Perhaps they were ringleaders of this group that had turned on Paul. Perhaps they had been leaders in the church whose turning away was specifically painful to Paul and Timothy.
But they set the stage for 2:1 where Paul writes, “You then, my child.” “These guys have done their thing, but what about you? Don’t be like them.” They are an example of what not to do.
But they are not the only example here. Before he moves on there is one encouraging example to highlight—Onesiphorus, who often “refreshed” Paul and was not ashamed of his chains, as verse 16 said. He wasn’t embarrassed to be friends with a prisoner. He searched for and found Paul so he could take care of him, continuing his legacy of good service at Ephesus.
When Paul said that everyone had turned aside from him, that must have meant pretty much everybody, or everybody within a specific group. Because there were guys like Onesiphorus around. And he’s a positive example of the kind of person Timothy should be and should invest in, as we’ll see in verse 2.
And with these examples in the background, chapter 2 begins. “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1). If Timothy is going to be faithful and not fall away like Phygelus and Hermogenes, he needs strength. He needs to be strengthened.
Being strengthened by God or by Jesus directly is a theme we see several times in Paul’s letters. In Chapter 4 we’ll hear, “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me” (2 Tim 4:17). In 1 Timothy 1:12 Paul refers to Jesus as “him who has given me strength.” Colossians 1 and Ephesians 3 show Paul praying for strength for those churches. In Philippians 4:13 we have the famous saying, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” And now, Paul directs Timothy to be strengthened.
Now as we look at this particular verse we’re going to ask three questions about this strength. Why does Timothy need it? Where does it come from? And how does he get it?
Why Does Timothy Need Strength?
In answer to the question “why?” We can see that Timothy needs strength because faithfulness is hard. Paul served in Ephesus for years, preaching and teaching. Acts 19 tells us about all of the changed lives. Acts 20 tells us about his impassioned message to the Ephesian elders. And still, most of them turned aside from him. That’s how strong the pressures are.
We saw this last week—that Timothy couldn’t be faithful by himself. And so Timothy is going to need strength from outside of himself if he’s going to be faithful. Because faithfulness is that hard.
Where Does This Strength Come From?
The next question is “where does this strength come from?” And we see that verse 1 tells him to be strengthened by “the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Strength comes from, or by, grace.
Now this context, the word “grace” is not necessarily referring to God’s saving grace, but to God’s grace that enables us and gives us power to serve Him. It’s the same use of “grace” that we find in 2 Corinthians 9:8, which says “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” It’s a grace that empowers good works.
Or 1 Corinthians 15:10, which says: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
So in these verses “grace” is referring to God’s “gracious enabling power” as commentator George Knight put it.1George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992), 389.] which comes to us and gives us the strength to live for Him and be fruitful and faithful.
But let’s make sure we notice that this enabling power is gracious. This strength, this enabling power, is not something we deserve. But God gives it anyways.
Isn’t that good news? Isn’t it easy to look at faithful people and just assume they were better than everybody else? And we might wonder if we won’t make it because we’re not as good as them, or maybe we don’t deserve God’s help to be faithful.
Guess what? We don’t deserve God’s help to keep us faithful. But God is full of grace and He loves to help us way beyond what we deserve. Just like he poured grace out on us when we were first saved, so now He gives us all of the grace we need to press on until we receive the fulness of the eternal life He promised to us.
And so Timothy—and you and I—can freely come to seek this “gracious enabling power” from Jesus Christ. That’s where the strength comes from.
How Does He Get This Strength?
We have a third and final question on this matter of strength, and it’s this: how is Timothy supposed to access this strength? All this verse says is “be strengthened.”
That language is important because it tells us that Timothy does have a role to play in accessing this strength. It doesn’t just say, “you will be strengthened.” It says, “be strengthened.” The strength doesn’t come from Timothy, but he does need to access it.
It’s like setting food in front of a hungry man, and saying, “be filled with food.” The food might be a gift of grace, but he still needs to eat it.
Now how does that actually work when it comes to grace? How is Timothy supposed to access this strengthening grace—and what about is?
This verse itself doesn’t tell us, but we know from other places in Scripture that God has given us “means of grace” which are the channels through which we receive the strengthening grace of Jesus. Prayer is one of those means of grace. We just say that Paul prayed for spiritual strength. And God answers those prayers. Prayer is a means of grace, one of the ways that we access God’s gracious enabling strength.
Abiding in Jesus by receiving and trusting in His words would be another was we access His grace. In John 15:4 Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” And in that context, “abiding” points to relying on Jesus’ love and trusting in the truthfulness of His words. Resting in Jesus, receiving His love, and relying on His words as 100% true.2John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2006), 64.
That brings us to the way that Scripture is a means of grace. Scripture gives us the words of Jesus which we abide in, and by which we are then strengthened.
Later on in 2 Timothy we’ll read how Scripture is profitable “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:17). God’s word is a means of strengthening grace.
The fellowship of God’s people is another means of grace. Hebrews 10 talks about the importance of meeting together and encouraging each other as we stay faithful until Christ’s return (Hebrews 10:24-25). The Lord’s supper is a means of grace, as we together remember proclaim that Christ has died and is risen and is coming again.
Now it’s important we recognize that none of these “means of grace” work in-and-of-themselves, like a vending machine. The grace is found in Jesus, whom we abide in by faith. But Jesus has appointed these means or channels by which He meets us and strengthens us by grace.
I’ve watched plenty of people walk away from Jesus and in each case, they were almost completely neglecting the means of grace. No time in God’s word, no time in prayer, no time with God’s people hearing the word being preached, eating the Lord’s supper together, encouraging each other. And it’s not surprising when someone in that spot completely walks away. We simply don’t have the strength to be faithful apart from being regularly strengthened by Jesus.
So that’s verse 1. Be strengthened. And what Paul says to Timothy applies fully to every single follower of Jesus today. We all need to take this to heart and put it into practice.
Pass It On
Now, let’s consider verse 2. Stay strong and pass it on. Being strengthened by Jesus’ grace, Timothy was to pass it on. Or, as verse 2 says, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
This is a very important verse in 2 Timothy because it shows us that being faithful is not just about us staying faithful.
I’ve seen some people who seem to think that being faithful is all about them. They are kind of like spiritual survivalists. They tend to live very isolated lives, cut off from the rest of the world and often the rest of the church. Spiritual hermits whose only hope is to wait it out and stay pure until Jesus comes back.
But that’s not actually biblical faithfulness. Paul did not tell Timothy, “be strengthened, and go live in the desert by yourself.” That’s not what it looks like to be faithful.
Being faithful is not just about you making it. Faithfulness is about the gospel making it into the hands of the next generations.
It’s about guarding the deposit so that we can pass the deposit on to others. It’s about keeping the faith so that we can pass the faith on to others.
Now I hope this isn’t a new idea. We’ve seen it in the parable of the talents, where the guy who was just interested in keeping his one talent safe was judged for that. What we’ve been given is meant to be invested. We’ve seen this in the great commission, where Jesus told us to make disciples of all nations. Being faithful to Jesus obviously means being faithful to His commission.
And we’ve seen it in Paul’s life and writings. He was so concerned to pass on what had been entrusted to him. That’s what faithfulness looked like to him.
And so one way that we can picture this is to think of a relay race. A relay race is where you have a whole bunch of runners and they run their part of the track and then pass their baton on to the next guy who runs their part of the track, and on it goes.
And in a relay race, it doesn’t matter how well you run or how tightly you hold the baton if it doesn’t make it into the hands of the next runner. And that’s one way of thinking about Christian faithfulness. We run so that we can pass on what was first passed on to us.
That image of a relay race is actually really helpful as we look in more detail at verse 2 here which describes the gospel truth, like a baton, being passed along from one person to the next.
The first person to carry that baton was Paul. And he passed that baton on to Timothy. We heard about this last week when Paul wrote about the “pattern of sound words that you have heard from me” and “the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:13-14). Both of those phrases speak about the message that Timothy received from Paul, the message about Jesus, the son of David, who had come to keep God’s promises, die to pay for His people’s sins, rise to conquer death, and rule as king over His people. And this message included teaching about what it means to live as citizens of Jesus’ heavenly kingdom here on earth today.
This message, this deposit, this pattern of sound words, was entrusted to Timothy from Paul.
Paul describes this again in verse 2 when he talks about “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses” (2 Timothy 2:2). The gospel that Paul passed on to Timothy wasn’t some secret message—it had been spread widely and publicly and Timothy has many witnesses to its truth.
And so Timothy, having received this apostolic teaching from Paul, is supposed to pass on the baton by entrusting it to faithful men. That word “entrust” brings to mind the idea of a “deposit” or a “trust” from chapter 1, and reminds us that the gospel is something precious that ultimately doesn’t belong to any one person. It wasn’t Paul’s, it wasn’t Timothy’s. It’s been entrusted to him, not so he could keep it, but so that he could entrust it to others.
So he needed to do for others what Paul had done for him. Pass it on.
But not just to anybody. It had to be passed on to faithful men—those who were trustworthy, reliable, and faithful themselves to the message of the gospel. Men like that were going to be hard to find in a place like Ephesus, where basically everybody had moved on from Paul.
And so an implication is that a part of Timothy’s job was not just to wait around for faithful men to show up, but to help train and disciple and develop equip men to be faithful so that he could pass the gospel on to them.
Now notice that, in our relay race here, we’ve seen three stages or three runners. First, there’s Paul, and he passed the baton of the gospel on to Timothy. And a big part of Timothy’s job is to pass that baton on to others, which includes helping them become the kind of people who he can entrust with the baton.
Three groups. But the race isn’t done. There’s a fourth stag here, in the last phrase of verse 2, because those faithful men need to be “able to teach others also.” Timothy will pass on the gospel to them and they will pass on the gospel to others. Notice that we’ve got four groups now. Paul to Timothy, Timothy to the next group, and the next group to the next group… and on and on it goes.
This is what faithfulness looks like. Not just making it yourself, but passing it on.
Passing It On - For Church Leaders
Now let’s talk a little bit more specifically about what this verse means for church leaders. And the reason I bring up church leaders is that this verse does apply to elders in a church in a specific way. Just think of that phrase “able to teach” in verse 2. Does that ring a bell at all? Who in a church is supposed to be able to teach, and is responsible for the teaching? It’s the elders, right?
In 1 Timothy 3 we read about the elders being able to teach—not in the sense of all being able to preach publicly, but knowing the gospel and being able to communicate it with others. Titus 1:9 explains is this way: an elder “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
And so here in 2 Timothy 2:2 when Paul speaks about faithful men who are able to teach others, he is specifically talking about elders. He’s reminding Timothy of one of his big jobs at Ephesus—finding and training and establishing godly leaders who will help the church stay healthy into the future by holding on to the Apostle’s teaching and passing it on to others who will then pass it on to others.
That’s what pastors and elders are supposed to do. And this is why you’ve heard me say before that leadership development is a part of my job description. As a pastor, as an elder, guarding the full-orbed message of the gospel and passing it on to the next generation is a significant part of what me and the other elders are supposed to do.
Looking back, I wonder if some of you were surprised that we hired an intern when I hadn’t even been here four months. But I hope that doesn’t surprise you as much anymore, because you know by know that this is how I think, and how I think we should all think.
Whether it’s through formal means like practicums and internships or whether it’s the reading and the conversations we do together as elders or the many mentoring relationships happening in this church or through the men’s studies that we’re starting up at the end of this month, this is what it means for us as a church to be faithful. We must be developing and reproducing godly elders who will go out and do the same for others.
We work to help men be faithful, and then we entrust them with the apostolic deposit, all of the gospel truth about who Jesus is and what He did and what it means for us today, and then we equip them to pass that truth on to others.
So that’s a key way that we apply this passage. There are four of us currently serving as elders and I hope many more who will serve as elders, and this verse outlines a big part of our work here at EBC.
Passing It On - For all of Us
But that’s not where it ends. This passage is not just for elders. It’s for all of us. And here’s why: the specific responsibility that pastors and elders have is simply one part of the general responsibility we all have to pass on the faith to others.
Jesus told us all to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Ephesians 4:15 says that the body grows as we all speak the truth in love to one another. And so elders training other elders to carry on the gospel is just one part of what God has given us all to do: passing along to others the gospel-centred message of His word that has come to us. That is what faithfulness looks like, for all of us.
The truth of the gospel does not belong to us, it did not start with us; it was around long before us and it will be around long after us if the Lord waits to return. Our mission as God’s church is not to be creative or cool but to be faithful to the gospel by equipping others to be faithful to the gospel. And this is a mission that belongs to each one of us.
I remember leading a mens group years ago and I played them a video about a church that had slowly died out and then turned into a museum. And I asked them, “What’s preventing our church from dying and our building becoming a museum or performing arts centre in 25 years?”
And all of their answers involved the church staff. They started going through the staff saying things like, “Well, he’s getting old, but you and those other guys are pretty young, so you’ll be able to keep this thing going for that long.”
And I had to tell them that was the wrong answer. The real answer is that they were the ones responsible for the health of our church into the future. It is not their pastor’s job to make sure that the gospel keeps getting passed on from one generation to the next. It’s a job that belongs to all of us.
This is our mission as a church: making disciples who will be faithful to the gospel and who will go make other disciples who will be faithful to the gospel. That’s our job. That’s what “faithfulness” looks like for each one of us.
Now many of you know the ways that we accomplish this mission. Sometimes, we use programs to do this. Awana and small groups and Sunday school and the Bible studies for men and women and young adults—and, especially this time together on Sunday mornings—are all ways that we work together to make reproducing disciples.
But we also know that these bigger “program” settings are just one way to help us do the real work, which is people like you prayerfully speaking God’s word to others. And you don’t need a program to do that work. In fact, some of the best discipleship work happens outside of this building, in homes and offices and coffee tables and restaurants, as people meet together and speak God’s truth in love to one another.
That’s what happened with Paul and Timothy. Paul simply took Timothy along with him and, in the context of their normal relationship, helped equip him to carry the message of the gospel and pass it on to others.
There’s a short little book in our library called “One-to-One Bible Reading.” And the idea there is that you would just invite someone to read some Scripture with you and talk about what it means for your lives. It’s something that any Christian should be able to do. It’s a tool you can use with a peer or a mentee or even someone older than you. And it’s a great way to do this work that this passage is calling us to. And, by the way, there’s two copies back there so two of you can check it out today.
I also think about mentoring, which focuses on someone older passing it on to someone younger than them. I used to think that mentoring was this big intense thing where you spend every waking hour with someone who basically became your personal disciple for the rest of your life. But it doesn’t have to look like that. Mentoring can simply look like a conversation every few weeks where you share part of your life and God's truth with someone else.
It was over two years ago that we had Marvin Brubacher from MentorLink Canada come to do a weekend workshop for about some of our ministry leaders here at EBC. He passed on a lot of ideas and values and tools that weekend, but let me sum up the big idea from what he had to share: take a step towards being intentional with passing it on.
If you’ve been saved by Jesus, you have something to pass on to someone else. If you’ve been following Jesus faithfully for some years, you have something to pass on to someone else. And so don’t just wait for it to happen. Take a step, even a small step, towards being intentional about passing it on.
You might not be ready to say to someone, “Would you like to meet once a month for the next year in a mentoring relationship?” But you probably can take someone out for coffee, and ask them what God has been doing in their life, and share what He’s been doing in yours, and share some Scripture that’s been meaningful to you lately, and ask how you can pray for them. And what if you made it a point to do that with someone, whether it’s the same person or someone different, every month or two?
Or maybe it’s getting three or four people together and reading a book together, or discussing your Bible reading together. Or maybe it’s regularly having people into your home and asking them how they are doing and how you can pray for them and using the opportunity to encourage them with God’s word.
Or, like we talked about two weeks ago, there’s the powerful practice of just bringing others with you as you do life.
Sometimes this focus on passing it on means re-thinking opportunities that already exist in your world. Are you a parent? Your weeks are filled with opportunities to teach and disciple and pass on the faith to your children. Our library is filled with gospel-centred children’s books and family devotionals designed to help you do that. We’ve got a book back there called “Bible Reading with Your Kids,” which is written to help dads train their children up in the Lord.
Are you married? How are you encouraging your spouse with God’s truth? Whether it’s doing devotions together or praying together or just writing out some Scripture in a card for them, to matter what kind of marriage you’re in you’ve got opportunities to share God’s truth with your spouse.
Do you have friends that you meet with regularly? What can you do in those kinds of settings to encourage each other in the Lord? What happens when you approach your relationships with your discipleship glasses on?
I’ve just given you a whole bunch of ideas because I know that we have a very diverse congregation, at all different stages in life, with all kinds of different opportunities and relationships facing each one of us.
And my heart here is just to give you some ideas and maybe one of them will stick and you’ll think “yes, I can do that.” Or, perhaps, realize that you’ve already been doing this and just didn’t realize it because it didn’t look like what someone else was doing.
There’s no one-size-fits-all method to disciple-making. However, what is one-size-fits all is the call to make disciples. The call to speak the truth in love and build up the body of Christ. The call to invest in other people. That is for every follower of Jesus.
And so as we end here, I’m going to call you to take a step towards doing this. Take a step towards passing it on.
For some of you, this means just taking another step in a long line of steps that you have been taking for a while. And praise God for that! If this is you, thank God for using you in His work. Ask God for His strength and ask Him to keep you faithful and steadfast as you play your part to build others up in the faith.
For others of you, taking a step might mean taking a first step, or one of your first steps. It might mean working to make a relationship more intentional. It might mean starting a new relationships. It might mean asking someone to read a part of the Bible with you. It might mean joining a small group. It might mean any number of the ideas that I’ve just shared.
For others of you, taking a next step might mean asking someone to more deliberately invest in you. It might mean asking someone to mentor you, or just spend time with you, asking them questions, reading the Bible together, because you know that you need to grow.
But whatever it is, my exhortation to you is that, this week, you take a step towards intentionally investing in others for the sake of the gospel.
Passing on the faith will not happen by itself. And if we have come to know the gospel, we have a holy calling to play our part in equipping the church to pass the gospel on to others. And so invite you to respond and take a step this week—whether it’s a new step or just one more step in a long line of steps.
Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and play your part in passing on the faith to those who come after you.