In this evening’s session (and after a wonderful dinner or barbeque ribs and chicken) Voddie Baucham preached from 2 Timothy. He expressed great affection for the book of 2 Timothy pointing out that it is written by a man who is about to die; he is about to be martyred. There are two striking things in the book: first, he asks Timothy to come to him quickly. He is about to die and desperately wants to see Timothy before he goes to be with the Lord. Second we need to notice what is absent. What is absent is Paul’s “flinching” at death. Paul is not afraid to die and is not trying to find a way out of this. He didn’t flinch at death because of the nature of the letter. It would not have been in keeping with his desired end if he flinched at death. The message of the book is this: “They are about to kill me for preaching the gospel. When they do, take my place until they kill you too.” You can’t flinch at death and then ask someone else to face it bravely.
Paul’s message is one with two prongs: first, the preservation and proclamation of this gospel, and second to endure the suffering that will inevitably follow as a consequence of doing the first. Baucham led us through a brief survey of the book looking for examples of these themes of “preserve and proclaim” and “endure.” Each chapter has these two themes within it.
The question he wanted to answer from the passage is this: why must we proclaim the gospel to ourselves?
He provided a variety of answers.
First – Because the gospel is not just what we preach, but also how we preach and why we preach. This is all we have, but it is all we need. We need to remember the gospel because suffering has a tendency to convince us to preach something else. Paul exhorts Timothy to follow the pattern but to understand that there is a power entrusted to you by whom and through whom you will guard it. Paul runs through two alternating patterns—things Timothy cannot trust in and things he must trust in.
Second – We see that Timothy was a converted man, that he had a wonderful heritage, that he had been called by God and set apart for the ministry, and that he was given a gift of God within him. Yet Paul did not say that he was to trust in his conversion, in his heritage, in the calling of God on his life or in the gift of God in his life. Instead, he calls on Timothy to remember that he is suffering for the gospel by the power of God. We are egocentric by nature rather than Christocentric. If we do not preach the gospel to ourselves we forget that the gospel is about Christ rather than about me and mine. We want a God who is omnipotent but not sovereign so that He only uses His power in the ways we want Him to. But the reality is that we serve a God who is sovereign so that when suffering comes we don’t fall into the knee-jerk reaction that insists something must be wrong when we suffer. If the sovereign Lord of the universe sees fit that you will suffer for the gospel, there is nothing wrong with that.
Third – We see here Paul’s brief encapsulation of the gospel. “He saved us and called us to a holy calling.” God did not save you and call you so you could then grab your sorry life and take it in the direction it was going before, only now with His blessing. He set you apart for Himself. You are His and no longer your own. When suffering comes we need to remember and believe that we’ve been set apart for God’s purposes…and His purposes may include this suffering.
Fourth – We did not earn this “setting apart.” I’m set apart by the grace of God. He saved me and set me apart; it is not because of my works. Why do I get upset when suffering comes? Because I’m not thinking gospel. The gospel says I’m not saved through my works but through the finished work of Jesus Christ. But I begin to compare myself to the people around me and compare myself favorably. When suffering comes my way and my first reaction is not to say that this is not about what I’ve done, but rather “God, haven’t you been paying attention to all I’ve done.” If I don’t preach the gospel to myself over and over and over again, my reaction is to look inward. When I remind myself of my sinfulness and the depths from which I’ve been saved I ask, “Why don’t I suffer more?”
Fifth – We remind ourselves of the gospel because only in the gospel do we realize that this is not as good as it gets. This is not ultimately what I was made for. Paul ends the way he starts in this letter with longing for the glory of heaven. Only in the gospel do I realize that my heavenly resume is much more important than my earthly one. Without the gospel I begin to live for here and for now.
In this letter Paul does not call Timothy to do anything he is not already doing himself. In and of ourselves we do not have what it takes to endure the kind of suffering that Paul was enduring. We don’t have the faith and courage and character necessary to patiently await our execution and to do so with dignity and honor. But the God who saved you is the God who keeps you. We don’t have the grace to live and preach the gospel, but the great news is that we do not have to. It is not us but Christ in us. We must proclaim the gospel over and over again because difficult days will come and they will have the tendency to frighten us into fearing men more than God; unless you have proclaimed the gospel to yourself consistently you will cry “Woe is me and where is God!” If we keep our minds set on Jesus and remember that He saved us and set us apart and did so for His own glory and by His own grace, and if we remind ourselves that He is the only means by which any who have suffered have been able to endure, we will proclaim and preserve the gospel on the one hand and endure the suffering that will come on the other. Preach the gospel to yourself!
After the session Keith and Kristyn Getty led us in several songs including a great new one which made its world debut tonight. It is titled “Creation Sings the Father’s Song.”
I’ll be back tomorrow with updates of talks from Jerry Bridges, Voddie Baucham and Alistair Begg.