Unashamed Faithfulness

Paul was able to persevere in ministry because he had a big view of the gospel—and this passage beckons us to share his perspective.

Chris Hutchison on January 9, 2022
Unashamed Faithfulness
January 9, 2022

Unashamed Faithfulness

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Passage: 2 Timothy 1:6-14
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2. “Unashamed Faithfulness” - 1 Timothy 1:6-14 - January 9, 2022

Last week we began a series in 2 Timothy, which we’re calling “Faithful to the End.” This was the last letter written by Paul before he died, and in this Spirit-inspired letter we find the legacy of a man who was faithful to the end. And he wrote this to Timothy, a younger man who was struggling in his ministry and needed to be taught how to stay faithful himself.

And 2 Timothy both shows us what faithfulness is and tells us how to be faithful ourselves.

Last week there was a lot about relationships, and the very personal nature of this letter. And today we get right into the heart of Paul’s instruction to Timothy. This is how you stay faithful. Now this isn’t the last word—there’s a lot more coming in this letter—but today’s passage contains some of the key material in the book on faithfulness.

And what we find here is five specific commands relating to faithfulness. Five specific instructions for how Timothy is to be faithful.

And, mixed in and around those instructions, we’re going to see a series of reasons for those instructions. Paul doesn’t just tell Timothy what to do, he tells him why and how to do it.

And so we’re going to walk through these five instructions, stopping to pay attention to the reasons, and then at the end sum it all up and see how we might be in a similar spot to Timothy and what we should do with these commands.

1) Fan God’s Gift Into Flame

The first instruction comes in verse 6: “fan into flame the gift of God.” That’s the instruction. But right away we see that this instruction is book-ended in between two reasons. You can see that at the beginning of the verse: “For this reason,” and then there’s the instruction, and then verse 7 begins with “For,” or “because.”

So that’s this first reason? When Paul writes “for this reason,” what’s he talking about?

He’s talking about what we saw in v. 5 last week: Timothy has a sincere faith which first lived in his grandmother and mother and now, Paul is sure, dwells in him.

Paul was sure that Timothy’s faith was not an act. It was the real deal. And for that reason—because he was sure about Timothy’s faith—he reminds Timothy to fan into flame the gift of God.

The picture here is that Timothy has a gift from God but, like a fire, the flames have died down. The coals are getting darker. And Timothy needs to fan this gift into full flame again so that it operates the way it’s supposed to.

Now what is this gift Paul is speaking of here? We know from the rest of verse 6 that the gift was in Timothy through the laying on of Paul’s hands, and that could point us in two directions. It could be referring to the Holy Spirit itself. At specific times we see that God gave the Holy Spirit to believers when the apostles laid their hands on them. That wasn’t the regular pattern but it did happen at times.

The gift also could be referring to Timothy’s commission to ministry, even specifically his mission to ministry at Ephesus. Typically when someone was commissioned or ordained to a ministry those sending them would lay their hands on them. And other passages in Scripture encourage us to see ministries, specific spirit-empowered ministry offices as gifts from God.

And if you read the commentaries, there are some really good reasons to understand this gift one way or another. And I’m not sure exactly how to take it. But what’s great is that the passage works either way we take it. If “the gift” is the Holy Spirit Himself, then this passage reminds us that the Holy Spirit is not just an impersonal force that sort of takes over and we can just do nothing. The Holy Spirit is someone that we cooperate with. We need to walk by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit, like Galatians 5:16 & 25 tell us.

And so it could be that Timothy has not been doing that. And so Paul tells him to fan back into flame this gift of the Spirit that God has given him.

At the same time, this phrase could also be referring to Timothy’s ministry at Ephesus, a ministry which was no doubt meant to be empowered by the Spirit. And it could be that Timothy had been cooling off in his convictions, his passion, his ministry responsibilities. He had been giving into fear, like verse 7 suggests. Playing it safe. Toning it down. And so he needed to stir up his ministry like a fire.

And the reason for doing this was, as verse 7 says, that God has given to His children “a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Once again, there’s some uncertainly here. Is this “spirit” the Holy Spirit, or is is talking about the inner disposition the Holy Spirit gives us? And once again, it works either way, because it all comes back to the Holy Spirit anyways. Timothy needed to fan into flame the gift of God because the spirit God gave Him was not a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.

So think of Paul’s statement like this. Let’s say Timothy was a race-car driver and Paul was his manager. And they’re out for a race and every lap, Timothy is driving slower and slower and slower. And he’s getting more and more timid and staying further and further away from the other cars.

And finally Paul flags him over and says, “I know that you’re a good race car driver, so you put that pedal to the metal. You’re not driving a ride-on lawnmower out there—I put you behind the wheel of a turbocharged V8. So drive like it.”

And that’s basically what Paul is telling Timothy here, in different words. You’ve got genuine faith, Timothy! You’ve been given a gift and you’ve been given a spirit that is one of power and love and self-control, not fear. So act on it! Act like it! Fan it into flame.

There’s a theme here we’ll come back to later, which is that of cooperating with God. God has empowered us by His Spirit, but we need to respond to the Spirit by walking in His power.

And that’s Paul’s first instruction to Timothy here. Because you’ve got genuine faith, and because you’ve been given a spirit of power and love and self-control, fan into flame the gift God has given you.

2) Don’t Be Ashamed

The second instruction Paul gives Timothy comes in verse 8, where he says “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8).

In this verse, “the testimony about our Lord” refers to the teaching about Jesus and specifically the gospel. And Paul says not to be ashamed of the gospel, nor of Paul who was in prison for the gospel.

Now this word “ashamed” was a big deal in the ancient world. In many ways the culture of the day was built on the concepts of honour and of shame. And you want to know one of the most shameful things in the ancient world? Dying on a cross. Another really shameful thing? Being a prisoner. So you want to know what was super shameful? Being in prison for preaching a message about a crucified king.

The gospel was super embarrassing in the world of the 1st century. It was foolishness, like 1 Corinthians 1:18 says. Believing in the gospel of a crucified Jesus which was preached by a man in prison was craziness.

So picture Timothy. The years are wearing on, his ministry is getting tough, and people are moving on from Paul. Verse 15 says that “all who are in Asia turned away from” Paul (2 Timothy 1:15). We hold Paul in high regard, but they didn’t. They had moved on from Paul. He was old news and embarrassing news.

So we see that this shame was causing people to move on from Paul and move on from the gospel itself. And Paul knows that Timothy is vulnerable to this. He’s vulnerable to wandering away form the truth because of how shameful it is. And so for Timothy to stay faithful, he needs to reject that shame. Refuse to be ashamed of the gospel or of Paul who preached it.

So as Paul helps Timothy understand how to stay faithful, he encourages, even commands Timothy not to be ashamed.

3) Share in suffering

And from here he very quickly he moves on to the third piece of instruction. Don’t be ashamed, “but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.”

What’s important for us to see here is that there’s a connection between these two instructions, because there is a connection between shame and suffering. If you embrace this shameful message of a crucified Jesus preached by an imprisoned Paul, and you personally refuse to be ashamed by it, other people are still going to think it’s shameful. And you’re going to suffer as a result. People aren’t going to want to hang out with you. You might lose friends. Your church might get smaller. You might get made fun of or worse by the community around you.

Suffering goes hand in hand with faithfulness to the gospel, and and Paul knows better than anybody else. He’s going to tell Timothy in chapter 3, that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). He knew that faithfulness equals suffering.

So, Paul writes in verse 8, Timothy needs to embrace this suffering. Don’t be ashamed, but “share in suffering for the gospel.” And notice here that he doesn’t just say “suffer for the gospel.” He says, “share in suffering for the gospel.” Another way we could translate this phrase from the original language is “suffer together.” In other words, suffer together with Paul. Rather than being ashamed of Paul, Timothy needed to join him in unashamedly suffering for the gospel.

That’s a tall order, isn’t it, especially coming from someone in prison waiting to die. Choosing to share in suffering might land Timothy in the same spot. And that’s why it’s so important how verse 8 finishes up. This “sharing in suffering” is not something we do on our own. We share in suffering “by the power of God.” And because God empowers us as we suffer for Him, Paul can invite Timothy to suffer with him. But Paul doesn’t stop there. And in verses 9-12 Paul launches into one of his big, wonderful descriptions of the gospel which stands here as one big reminder of what the gospel actually is and why we should be willing to suffer for us.

Verse 8 ended by talking about God who empowers us as we suffer, and picking up on that, verse 9 says that God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace.” This is just basic, glorious, gospel truth. Christians are people who have been been saved and called by God, not because of anything good we’ve done, but because of God’s own purpose and grace. If you’ve been saved by God, it’s not because of anything good you or your family did but simply because God wanted to save you.

But as verse 9 goes on, this picture of salvation by grace grows even bigger as we’re told that this grace was given to us “in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” The grace that saved us was not first given to us when we believed in Jesus. Rather, the grace that saves us was given to us in Christ before the ages began—in eternity before this world was created and before time existed.

Paul is pointing here to a beautiful truth which the Scriptures describe several times, which is that our salvation was planned out by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit before creation had even begun. Titus 1:2 says that eternal life was promised by God “before the ages began.” Ephesians 1:4 says that God “chose us in him [that is, in Christ] before the foundation of the world.”

And all of this tells us that our salvation is not just just a transaction that takes place between God and us when we first believe in Him. Our salvation is a part of a transaction that took place between Father and Son before creation even existed.

But Paul isn’t done, because he goes on to share how this eternal, ancient grace has shown up in human history now, as verse 10 tells us—this purpose and grace has now “been manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus.” Long promised by the prophets, the grace has finally shown up in space and time with the arrival of Jesus.

And what did Jesus do? He, as verse 10 goes on to say, “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Death itself has been disabled by Jesus. That’s why Paul isn’t terrified even though he knows the Romans can and probably will kill him. The power of death to separate him from God has been abolished by Jesus. And in it’s place, eternal life has been brought to light. Before Jesus, death reigned. After Jesus, death is out of the picture and eternal, incorruptible life shines forth.

And He did this through the gospel—the good news that Jesus lived a perfect life and died in our place to pay for our sin and rose again to conquer death and reigns today as king over God’s people.

And it’s this gospel—this good news—which God told Paul to preach and teach and proclaim everywhere, as he says in verse 12.  And that’s why he suffers as he does, verse 12. He is suffering because he has been proclaiming this big and beautiful and eternal and powerful message of the gospel. He is willing to suffer because the gospel is so big and beautiful and eternal and powerful. And, as we see from the rest of his life, suffering was actually one of the key ways that the gospel was spread through His life.

And we can just stop and say right here that one of the big reasons why Paul was able to persevere in ministry is because he had a big view of the gospel. If your view of the gospel is small—if it’s just “Jesus forgives my sins and helps me be a good person”—then you are vulnerable to shame and you’re vulnerable to quitting when suffering starts. You’re vulnerable to backing off when your neighbours start to look at you funny. You’re vulnerable to keeping the gospel hidden because it’s all about you.

But if you know that the gospel isn’t about you, and that it is something huge and eternal, and that all of human history fits in to this eternal plan of God to show love to His son by giving Him a perfect bride, then you won’t be fussed when your neighbours don’t like it or even if you end up in jail because of it.

And yet the secret to faithfulness is even more than just a big view of the gospel—it’s knowing the God of the gospel. That’s what Paul explains in v. 12. Yes, he’s suffering. “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.”

Paul is not ashamed because he knows Christ. He knows whom he has believed. And, he is convinced that God is able to guard until the day of Christ’s return what has been entrusted to Paul.

Let’s unravel this a bit. Paul understood that the message of the gospel had been entrusted to Him. He had been entrusted to preach and teach and proclaim this big, eternal message of God’s grace in Christ. And even though he suffers for this gospel, he’s not ashamed because he’s convinced that God is able to guard what had been entrusted to him.

God is guarding Paul and this message that He’s entrusted to Him, and God is not going to let his life and his ministry and his message go to waste.

Robert Yarbrough puts it this way: “Paul’s point is that he has received a message to preserve and promulgate. It has brought him to a trial that will cost him his life. But God is with him in it all and will not permit either God’s investment in Paul or Paul’s commitment to God’s trust to be squandered.” [Robert W. Yarbrough, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, ed. D. A. Carson, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; London: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos, 2018), 363.]

Paul knows that God didn’t give him this big, eternal message of the gospel, and told him to spend his whole life preaching it, only to let it go to waste as Paul dies along in a Roman prison somewhere. He’s going to make sure that this message of the gospel, entrusted to Paul, stays safe and fruitful until the day of Jesus returns.

And do you want proof that God did this? Just look around you. Here we are, 2,000 years later, reading Paul’s words and believing this gospel that He preached. God did and continues to guard until the return of Christ this beautiful, big, eternal message of the gospel.

And talk about a reason for faithfulness. You can be faithful because God Himself is guarding the message. God Himself is making sure that your life and ministry and words are young to be preserved and won’t go to waste.

So, take a deep breath! We’ve seen so much in these verses. And remember, all of this is given as reasons for Timothy to be unashamed and to gladly share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God. Timothy will be able to do that as he remembers how great the gospel is, and how great the God of the gospel is.

4) Follow the pattern of sound words

Now we’re very close to how this section finishes up. But before we’re done Paul gives Timothy two of his most specific instructions yet. In verse 13, coming right from the heights of verses 9-12, he tells Timothy, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

This is a direct command to be faithful. And not just faithful in a big, squishy sense. Not just faithful to an ideal or to some ideas. No, faithful to the specific words that Paul taught to Timothy. “Follow the pattern of the sound [or healthy] words.”

This big, eternal, glorious message of the gospel comes to us in words. Paul has taught Timothy those words. And Timothy is not supposed to be creative or try to invent new, cool things to do. No, Timothy is to simply follow that pattern of sound words without messing them up.

5) Guard the deposit

And finally, in verse 14, “By the Holy Spirit, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” Paul had been entrusted with the treasure gospel, and he had passed that treasure on to Timothy. And Timothy, by the Holy Spirit’s power, needed to guard it. Needed to protect it. Needed to keep it safe.

Now let’s remember that the gospel message is not kept safe by hiding it away somewhere. The gospel message is kept safe by, as we’ll see in the next chapter, passing it on to others who will pass it on to others. But as we do that we need to make sure we’re getting it right. Preserving the truth, keeping it free from getting messed up by holding faithful to the pattern of sound words.

And in view of everything that Timothy has been told, this faithfulness is what he is being called to.

Big Ideas

So we’ve walked through the passage and seen some really big thoughts and ideas. Let’s sum them up before we go any further.

First, let’s review the five instructions or commands given to Timothy: fan into flame the gift of God, don’t be ashamed of the gospel or of Paul, share in suffering for the gospel, follow the pattern of sound words learned from Paul, and guard the good deposit entrusted to him.

And mixed in with these commands are reasons for these commands. Timothy needs to obey these commands to be faithful because of his genuine faith, the spirit God gave him, the great truths of the gospel, and the ever-present enabling power of God.

This passage has shown us what what faithfulness looks like. Faithfulness looks like an eager, zealous, unashamed life of suffering as we follow and guard the truth of the gospel.

And this passage has shown us how faithfulness works, how it actually happens. Faithfulness is not automatic. Faithfulness comes as we recognize and lean on what God has done and, in response, do what He has told us to do. And so Timothy is to fan into flame the gift because of what God has already given him. He is to suffer by God’s power. He is to guard the deposit by the Holy Spririt because God is able to guard it.

So who is responsible for us remaining faithful? God or us? And the answer, from this passage, seems to be that we will be faithful as we choose to obey God in His power.

Of course, from the perspective of heaven, this is all of God, because it’s only by God’s grace and we would have faith in the first place and the desire to be faithful. But form the perspective of what’s in front of us right now, faithfulness comes as we cooperate with God and act in His power.

Faithfulness Today

And as we step back and process this passage as a whole, considering what it teaches us, it’s not too hard for us to wonder what we’re supposed to do with this. Even though these were specific instructions written to Timothy, every single one of us needs to do these things. We need to fan into flame what’s been given to us, we need to refuse to be ashamed of the gospel and the writings of Scripture, we need to embrace suffering for the gospel, we need to follow the pattern of sound words recorded for us in Scripture, and we need to protect the truth of the gospel from compromise so that we can pass it on to the next generation.

Whether you’re a church leader like Timothy or not, this work of faithfulness belongs to each of us. We see that in the book of Galatians, right, where Paul holds the churches of Galatia accountable for being faithful to the gospel. Not just the pastors, but everybody.

And this is so important and relevant because you and I live in a time where, just like for Timothy, the truth of the gospel is getting more and more unpopular and it is going to get easier and easier for us to be ashamed of the gospel. Political correctness rules the day today. “That’s true for you, but not for me” rules the day.

And certain teachings of Scripture are getting harder and harder to stay faithful to. Canada just passed a law against “conversion therapy” which was so poorly written that it basically says that for us to simply tell people what the Bible teaches about gender and sexuality, and to encourage people to live in alignment with Scripture instead of their own desires, can be against the law. We are there already. It has happened. It may not be long before simple faithfulness to the basic truths of Scripture lands us in prison like it did for Paul.

And the pressure for us to grow ashamed is only going to grow. I’ve already seen it happen. I’ve seen guys who looked solid wander away from the gospel because it was just too embarrassing to hold on to the Bible’s teaching on these matters of gender or sexuality.

But isn’t it true that, here in Canada, the gospel has been offensive, shameful, even embarrassing, for a long time? Just think about the teaching that Jesus is the only way to God. That the only way to be saved is by faith in Him. That all other religions or philosophies of life are false and Jesus is the only truth. That we are sinful and not good enough for God on our own. That we all deserve a bloody cross. That our nice, polite Canadian friends and neighbours are going to hell unless they repent and come to Christ. These are all just basic gospel truths which are very uncomfortable to believe in 2022—but haven’t they been uncomfortable things to believe for a while?

And I wonder if this is one of the reasons why we have such a hard time sharing the gospel with others. Because, deep down, we are ashamed. We know that if we are open with the gospel, we might lose from friends. And we don’t want to suffer for it.

It’s not going to get any easier. Our culture is coming for us. Parents, your kids are being more and more indoctrinated at school. It’s going to get harder and harder to keep the gospel as our little secret. And so if we’re going to be faithful to the end, we need to refuse to be ashamed but embrace suffering for the gospel.

And if we’re going to do that, then we need to get that the gospel is not a tiny little message that’s all about me and my private world. The gospel is a big, huge eternal message that’s all about the Father and the Son covenanting together before time began to save a people, and then the Son appearing in time so that He could ransom His people through His death on the cross of judgement, and rise again to stomp on death and rule as king over planet earth, and that through this message of the gospel He is gathering His chosen ones into His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against us and we will reign with Him forever when He returns.

The more we see the gospel like that—centred on God and soaked with His glory—the more shame and suffering we’ll be able to endure for the gospel.

So this morning ask God to help you see how big the gospel is—so that you’ll be willing to suffer for it and willing to stay faithful to it.

And as you pray this, don’t forget that none of this—the faithfulness or the suffering—is something we do ourselves. All of this is empowered by God.

This is such an important truth that comes out in the story of Paul but also of more contemporary people like Richard Wurmbrand and Corrie ten Boom, men and women who have suffered for the Lord in extraordinary ways. Their stories make it very clear that though they were suffering, and though their suffering was intense and painful, God sustained them in their suffering by His power.

Isn’t it true that one of the reasons we often run from suffering is that we’re afraid of what will happen and how we’ll respond? We’re afraid we won’t be able to bear it? And what we need to believe is that His empowering strength will be there for us when we need it.

I remember when my mom had cancer all through her body, and the particular thought of the cancer spreading to her brain was the most terrifying thought to me. We had been warned it might happen and I literally couldn’t handle the thought. I was so afraid.

But then it did happen. And it was very hard. But God empowered us for that suffering. We found out on a Friday and two days later I was up in a pulpit doing what I’m doing right now, and when I look back I think “how did I even do that?” and the answer is that God empowered us. We pressed on in His supernatural power.

And the same will be true of the gospel. It’s not going to get any easier for us to follow the pattern of sound words in Scripture or to guard the good deposit of the gospel. The less we are ashamed of the gospel the more we will suffer for it. But in invite you this morning to believe that, as we suffer, God’s strength will sustain us. God’s Holy Spirit will empower us.  God will be enough for us.

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of Paul his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.

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