2 Timothy 2:1-15 & Matthew 16:21-28

Soldier. Athlete. Farmer.

Having spent the last few weeks in Paul’s first letter to his friend Timothy, we now step into the second. The context is similar for Timothy, he is still in Ephesus, leading the church there. It seems, however, that Paul’s suffering has increased as he is imprisoned in Rome, and his reflections on that lead him to encourage Timothy to endure and persevere in the challenges he is facing, sharing Paul’s conviction that God is trustworthy, unchanging, and can be depended on to fulfil God’s promises.

This encouragement to persevere is there in the first verse that we have read this evening. Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I’m feeling a bit wobbly I don’t always find it that helpful to be told to “be strong”. If you’re not feeling strong, you can’t just magic it up from inside you, so what use is it to be told to “be strong”. Well, if that’s all it is, then not much, but that is not where Paul stops. He says, “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” This is not strength that we need to magic up from inside us, but a strength that comes from outside us, as a free gift from God. We can’t generate it, we don’t have to generate it, but strength flows from the grace of God as we open ourselves up to it.

Paul goes on to give three examples of perseverance, of endurance:

Firstly the soldier. I don’t know why, but I do have a bit of a soft spot for military films showing basic training – films like An Officer and a Gentleman, Heartbreak Ridge, and perhaps my favourite – Men of Honour. All of them show the perseverance and endurance needed by members of armed forces to get through training, and also what the outcome of that training is – that they are prepared for the combat and challenges that face them. If they do not persevere in their training and endure the hardships they face, then they are likely to come to harm, and so are others in their platoon.

A soldier is formed to work with others, under the direction of commanding officers in order to achieve the goal. They don’t just go about as individuals doing what they think is best – that way would lie chaos and defeat.

And why do they do all this? Because of the end goal – the defeat of the enemy.

Secondly, the athlete. I wonder if we have anyone here this evening who’s run a marathon? What do you think would happen to someone who attempted to run a marathon without doing any training? I think that they’d probably struggle, maybe injure themselves, and may not even finish. And what about competing within the rules. Well, you’d better watch our for Derek Murphy. He’s an accountant who lives in the US who has made it his life’s mission to catch marathon cheats:

For instance in 2017, for the Boston Marathon, he flagged a German runner who witnesses said took the underground from Woodland Station (just short of the 17-mile mark) to Fenway and jumped back into the race a little before mile 25. Murphy pulled up the runner’s splits and found he had missed the 18.6- and 21.7-mile checkpoints.

Murphy found the runner’s blog, which said he intended to finish all the major international marathons in less than three hours. While his other times looked legitimate, his splits in the 2017 Boston Marathon at around 15 miles, headed toward Heartbreak Hill, suggested he wasn’t going to make it under three hours. So apparently he resorted to desperate measures.

The runner was disqualified.

If an athlete doesn’t persevere through training and compete within the rules, they don’t win, but if they do, they can.

Thirdly, the farmer. Farming is hard work – just ask the folk out at Eyton -getting up early, working all hours, sowing the crops, watering them, weed killing, getting rid of the pests, harvesting, The lazy farmer, who doesn’t persist or endure, doesn’t get a crop, there is no food. But, if they do then there is rightful reward.

Three people from three different kinds of lives. But in all three, there’s a right way of doing things, it needs effort and dedication, and there is reason for doing it, a goal. The Christian life is similar, it needs endurance and perseverance, there’s a right way of doing things, and there is a goal in sight, a reward.

And why is it that we endure, for what purpose? Well, for Paul it was for the sake of the elect, for the sake of those that God is calling to salvation – to share in Christ’s glory. Paul had good news that he was compelled to share, so that others could benefit from it, and he instructs Timothy, and us, to remember it:

“Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David”.

This short sentence, just nine words, is such a masterful summary of the gospel. Each word and phrase carries such a depth of meaning.

Jesus – meaning God saves – It is God who takes the initiative to rescue creation from the consequences of sin and death – it is God’s action alone that saves.
Christ – God’s chosen one to rescue God’s people and is anointed to reign as King and priest, the one who is sovereign over all creation and who opens up the way for people to be in God’s presence.
Raised from the dead – Jesus died to free humanity from death and was raised, by God, to demonstrate that freedom and to enter into glory.
Descended from David – Jesus was a real human being, born of a woman, the Creator becoming part of the creation, the fulfilment of the promises of God made to David and through the prophets.

There is just so much of the good news packed into this simple sentence, and it is for the sake of this good news, and the life that it brings to people, that Paul calls us to persevere.

He then rounds off this encouragement to endurance with a fragment of verse describing the stages of Christian life. It may be a fragment of an existing hymn or poem, or more likely, given how closely fitted it is to the themes that Paul is illustrating, a verse written by Paul for this purpose.

If we died with him, we will also live with him.

This picks up themes from Jesus’ teaching and from Paul’s other writings. How did Jesus put it in Matthew? “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” There is something at the core of Christian faith and belief which is to do with us dying to ourselves, to so identify ourselves with Christ, that we die with him – so that we might live with him, forever in eternity. This is what conversion is – the death of the old life, the old way of thinking, the old way of being, the old way of doing, and a new birth into a new life – with new ways of thinking, being, doing. It is not possible to live the new life without the old one dying. We can only live one life at a time.

If we died with him, we will also live with him

If we endure we will also reign with him.

If the previous couplet describes the beginning of the Christian life, this describes the continuance of the Christian life. Again we get this ongoing theme of endurance – of perseverance. Keep going. I am reminded of the parables of the sower and of the wise and foolish builders. Endurance has many facets – in the face of persecution, pain, yes, but also endurance in faith against culture and the attritional effect of the world’s way of thinking and being – Will we remain distinctive or will we lose our saltiness? Will we take a stand for what we believe in the face of scorn, disbelief, misunderstanding? There is a reward if we endure, as Jesus says, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory … and then he will reward everyone according to what they have done.”

If we endure we will also reign with him

If we disown him, he will also disown us.

On the flip side is the warning. If we do not endure, if we disown Jesus, then we will also be disowned on the day of judgement. On Thursday we celebrated Ascension Day, when Jesus returned to heaven. When we say the creed we declare that we believe that he is going to return one day, to do what? “To judge the living and the dead.” On that day those who have disowned Jesus will be disowned by him and will not enter life, will not reign with him.

If we disown him, he will also disown us.

If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

Hold on a minute, I thought that we’d just decided that those who disown Jesus will be disowned. What’s the difference between disowning and being faithless? How come disowning gets you disowned but being faithless doesn’t?

Well it seems like Paul, having started with the conversion of a new Christian has, in the middle lines, set out the best case and worst case scenario for the a Christian’s ongoing walk of faith. To start with we got the best case- endure and reign, then we got the worst case – disown and be disowned. Now we get the middle case – addressed to those who haven’t really endured or persisted but haven’t gone as far as actively disowning God and their faith. There would have been quite a few folk in Ephesus like this – they’ve faced persecution because of their faith and gone a bit luke warm, or faced illness or grief and wondered if God is really good, or had their head turned by some of the false teaching we’ve talked about in previous weeks. So what’s in store for them them? Paul has good news for them – despite these human failings and fallings God remains faithful – if we remain in Christ then we are in God and God cannot disown himself. We see this at work in Peter’s life. In the bit of Matthew we read, we hear Peter trying to persuade Jesus not to go to Jerusalem, not to go to death. Later on we witness Peter denying Jesus in the courtyard outside Jesus’ trial. Peter was faithless, but he was restored.

If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

So, through this verse we have a see a flow, a pattern – a reminder of the Christian’s new life in Christ, and an encouragement to persevere, a reminder of the reward that comes from perseverance, a warning of the consequences of completely disowning Jesus, and an encouragement that there is forgiveness for our stumbles – just because we have not endured up to now doesn’t mean that we should give up – we can endure in the future and still receive the prize that is promised.

In all this Christian life, in new birth, in enduring, in getting up again, we do not do it in our own strength. Where does our strength come from?

Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Our strength comes from God. If this evening, you need to die to self for the first time, or anew, and lay hold of the life that is in Christ, then do that. If you are weary of enduring and need to be encouraged to hold on, to keep on keeping on then hear the encouragement here. If you are on the edge of disowning God, then hear the warning of the consequences of that. If you need to hear the encouragement that you can be restored, then hear that, get up and know yourself to be forgiven, for there is good news to share. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.


  • hadenmaiden wrote:

    I love reading your sermons online, Tim. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and stimulating/provoking thoughts amongst your readers. It’s a real treat when I can’t get to hear you in person 😉

  • Thank you for the encouragement 🙂

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