So You Don't Burn Out!
March 7, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Second Timothy 1:8-14
Endure Trials Together!
1. Today I read to you [from] the letter Paul wrote to Timothy. Paul wrote it from jail. While pastoring the church at Ephesus, at this time, Timothy is called upon to lead several churches in Asia Minor in Paul's place. Paul writes the following to Timothy. "Therefore, you must not be ashamed to testify of our Lord or [because] I am a prisoner of the Lord!"
2. In a certain sense [his] words are pretty strange. Is it really possible for Timothy as a pastor to be ashamed to be a witness of the Lord? Is it possible for Timothy, whom we could probably call Paul's favorite disciple, to be ashamed of Paul who was imprisoned for the gospel? Since "to testify of the Lord," if translated literally, is "to be a witness of the Lord," we could also read this as pointing to the cross of the Lord. Thus, [the whole situation] might be worse than that. Is it possible that Timothy could feel ashamed at the cross of Christ? Aside from the fact of whether or not Timothy did actually feel "ashamed," when considering Timothy's situation at that time, Paul could not help but give him the message that he did.
3. In the passage just before the one that was read for today the following is written. "Based on that then, I urge you to let the gift of God, which was given to you when I laid hands on you, burn again. God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but the spirit of power, love, and sound judgment," (verses six and seven). What is being called in this text as "the gift of God" is the responsibility and the charge of the pastorate. [Paul's text] puts it as "to let it burn again," which means, in short, that [his fire] "had gone out."
4. He used to be fired up in the charge that God had given him. But, now Timothy was on the verge of being burned out. How did he get that way? We can glimpse a picture of it in our minds by reading the two epistles addressed to Timothy. For, Timothy's tasks as pastor took him to extreme distress. The church at Ephesus had a problem with heretical teachers. Timothy himself also had the problem of being young and inexperienced as well as the problem of a weak physical constitution. As he dealt with these problems firsthand, things were not progressing like he wanted them to. Amid all that, the fire that used to burn [in him] was also about spent.
5. Of course, we understand it is "the gift of God." He must have had the conviction that he was called by Christ and given the duty as pastor. But in his world at that time he was up against and suffering against numerous trials. He was wearing down. Whatever God's will might be, like most anybody else, he wanted to run away from [his] trials. He himself wanted to blow out the remaining fires and whatever else was there. Giving up his pastoral duties, he wanted to go back to his old hometown of Lystra. I'm sure he felt like that not [just] once or twice. Paul must have understood [Timothy's] feelings quite clearly and distinctly. For this very reason then, Paul says in this text to Timothy, "You must not be ashamed to testify of our Lord or [because] I am a prisoner of the Lord!"
6. Please consider it with me. If Timothy fled here, then wouldn't it be as if he were saying about Paul while he was in prison enduring hardships, "You have nothing to do with me?" Taking it another level then, wouldn't it be the same as [his] saying about Jesus, when he had shouldered upon himself the sufferings of the cross, "You have nothing to do with me?" So, in the final analysis, the cross of the Lord also ends up being no different from his being "ashamed of" Paul's sufferings too, when he had become a prisoner for the gospel.
7. Therefore, Paul says, "Instead, supported by the power of God, endure suffering with me for the sake of the gospel!" If you take pride in witnessing for the Lord and the Lord's cross, and if you take pride in me like this when I am a captive, then supported by the power of God, suffer with me! Haven't you been given the spirit of power, love, and sound judgment? So, endure the suffering with me! This is the way Paul was talking to him.
8. These are words with which we can really sympathize because when [it is our turn] to be confronted with hardships, when we are placed in distress, so many times we want to run away too, if we could. During this Lenten season when we think of the cross of the Lord, and when we think of the many disciples who have endured suffering in order to proclaim salvation, the words, "Supported by the power of God, endure suffering with me for the sake of the gospel!," will humbly be heard within our hearts.
Supported By The Power Of God
9. Whenever you don't run away from hardships, but stay put and endure it, it is, like Paul says, [you are] "supported by the power of God." We have to seek for the power of God, not in order to escape, but in order to carry the load we must carry, in order to endure what we must endure. And that power of God is given to us by faith. We are given it by that faith, in which we trust in and wait upon the Lord no matter when and where. [Here again] are the words from the Old Testament that was read for today. "Those who put their hope in the Lord obtain fresh power, and go up with their wings spread like eagles. Though they run, they do not become weak; though they walk, they do not tire," (Isaiah 40:31).
10. In today's passage as well, Paul declares trust in God in the following way, "For the sake of this gospel, I have been entrusted [with the duties of] a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher. For that purpose, I am thus undergoing suffering, but I am not ashamed of it. I say that because I know the one whom I am trusting and am confident that he is able to keep whatever has been entrusted to me until that day," (verses eleven and twelve).
11. Paul was ordained as a preacher of the gospel. He was entrusted with the gospel by God. Isn't keeping what has been entrusted the responsibility of the one to whom it has been entrusted? Yes, it is. We normally see it that way. But, Paul is saying something curious here. God entrusted the gospel to Paul, however, he says, God himself keeps it. Paul says that God, in whom he trusts, keeps what has been entrusted to him. In other words, God gave the mission and the task to Paul, and God himself will be responsible and will cause him to execute the mission. For how long? "Until that day." That is, [God will do so] till the end of days. That's right, God will keep it till the end. Paul puts his trust in that.
12. Of course, we get the insight, as we see in this text, into why Paul did not burn out. Since God entrusted it, God will keep it. Since it was a mission that God gave, God will cause him to complete it. Since enduring is the will of God, God will support him and bear the full responsibility. In this way then, Paul "knows the one whom he trusts." So, he will not burn out. Paul is not thinking everything depends on his actions. Had he thought like that, he would have ended up exhausted in no time. But, that's not [how he thinks]. Everything depends on God's deeds. He knows that. What a person ought to do first of all is to trust in God.
The Grace Of God Comes Before Everything
13. When you think about it, before we even do anything, the fact itself that we exist as believers in Christ is not based upon our own deeds, but on the work of God's grace. Even Timothy too, who was feeling burned out, must recall this fact. Therefore, Paul states in verse nine, "When God saved us and called us through his holy invitation, it was not based on our deeds, but it was based on his own plans and grace." And Paul says furthermore that "This grace was given on our behalf in Christ Jesus in eternity past, and now, it has been made plain through the appearing of our Lord Christ Jesus."
14. Don't you think something astonishing has been written? I readily understand the part about "It has been made plain through the appearing of ... Christ Jesus." Truly the grace of God fully appeared in his son Christ when he had become a human being on this earth. I understand that okay. But, do [we] understand the part before that? "This grace was given on our behalf in Christ Jesus in eternity past." Our heads cannot possibly understand where it says, "in eternity past."
15. However, the reason Paul ventures to use such a phrase is he can only express through this kind of phraseology what [a wonder] grace is. In short, Paul is wanting to say that grace was at the beginning. When it says, "eternity past," there is nothing before then. At the least, it means that grace was there from the very start. Nothing we can think of goes forward apart from the grace of God. Because we live in a world of constant give-n-take, even when it comes to the grace of God, we are inclined to think, "Because I did such and such, grace was given." However it is not "because I did such and such." It because "this grace was given ... in eternity past." Grace comes first of all above all else unconditionally. Paul was always focusing his attention on that truth. And he is trying to get us to focus our attention on that [same] grace.
16. This God has first of all unconditionally given [us] grace, and God has appointed me for the gospel. This God has entrusted the gospel to [us]. And since he is the God who has begun all things from grace, he can be expected to keep unconditionally whatever has been entrusted [to anyone of us] to the very end. Paul knew that the one in whom he was believing was that kind of Being. Therefore, even though he had been experiencing suffering, he doesn't regard it as a shame. He dares to stay put. He doesn't think I'd better abandon my mission I've been given and run. And more importantly, nor does he wind up burning out.
17. Paul prays and desires that Timothy be the same way like him. "With the love and faith that is given by Christ Jesus, model the wholesome words you have heard from me! Keep through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us the good things which have been entrusted to you!," (verses thirteen and fourteen). Timothy must certainly keep "the good things which have been entrusted" [to him]. Timothy has a task that was given to him. But, the one who will bring it to pass is God himself who has begun all things by grace. God himself dwells in us and will fulfill the tasks given to us. Therefore, "it is by the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us." Trust in God's grace which goes ahead in all things, and trust in the Holy Spirit who dwells within us." This indeed, for us as well, is the key to why we will not burn out.