On March 16th, 2013 (five years ago last Friday), I received an email that, in part, read:
The reason that I am writing is that I will graduate, Lord willing, this May with an M.A. in Pastoral Studies from Bob Jones University. My wife and I are currently seeking God’s will on where we should go/serve after graduation.
For the last year or so we have been involved in our church’s jail ministry…We would really like to pursue a ministry in the future that involves evangelism and discipleship…
Right now I feel that I need more experience and wisdom. I would really just like to serve along side someone else. Do you know of any ministry opportunities in your area?
A couple weeks later I was able to respond:
The deacons and I have talked about the possibility of bringing you on staff here for a year or two or three (depending on how long you need)…everyone is very positive about the idea.
That email eventually led to First Baptist calling Jon as the Outreach and Youth Pastor. In that capacity, he has done things like start the jail ministries, form the youth group and provide teaching and activities for them.
Also, many of the fellowship events this church has had in the last five years—skeet shooting, picnics, Friendship Dinners, and the like—have had Jon and Stephanie working in the background organizing them. Whether you realize it or not, their departure will leave a big gap to fill.
But beyond that, Jon and I became good friends and coworkers. I don’t know if I feel comfortable calling myself a mentor to Jon, but I like to think he learned few things from me. Jon has accomplished here what he laid out in that first email to do—to serve alongside someone else to gain experience and wisdom.
The thing is, I learned a few things from him as well. I suppose that’s the way of mentoring, it really isn’t a one way street—it runs both directions. The Bible says that, “Iron sharpeneth iron; So a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17).
And in the New Testament, Christians are encouraged, “…let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Hebrews 10:24).
Every Christian should have a person or people in their lives that they are teaching and that they are learning from. People who can sharpen you and whom you can sharpen. People who can provoke you to doing the right thing and whom you feel comfortable provoking to doing the right thing.
Is there a person in your life who can tell you a hard thing about yourself and you won’t disown them as a friend? Someone who has permission to be completely honest with you? Someone, when you ask them, “What are my faults that I need to work on” will actually tell you and not just say, “Oh, you are a great person”?
I am going to miss Jon; I’ll especially miss our prayer times on Sunday mornings before church. I am going to miss the iron sharpening iron of his friendship. But at the same time, I am glad that he is ready to move on and take on a church and ministry as a senior pastor.
I don’t imagine Jon and I will never talk to one another again, but there are some things that I’d like to say to him before he goes. And, really, these things are not just for Jon, but for us all.
Turn to 2 Timothy. This book was written by the apostle Paul shortly before his death. It was written to a younger pastor named Timothy, whom Paul had mentored. It’s one of my favorite books to read because it both challenging and encouraging to me.
It is such a rich book for me, that I found it hard to know which passage to choose…so I chose three passages. I’ve linked them together with the phrase: Endure hardship by being an approved workman and by preaching the Word. This is the message I want to leave with Jon, but it’s also a message for everyone.
2 Timothy 2:3 Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
2 Timothy 2:4 No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.
The phrase “endure hardness” (kakopatheō) means to “suffer hardship patiently.”
It’s the same word used in 2 Timothy 2:9 (“I suffer trouble”) and 4:5 (“endure afflictions”). A soldier would be very familiar with this sort of hardship…from the rigors of basic training (or whatever the Romans called it) to the horrors of battle.
A soldier would have to, in the words of Winston Churchill, KBO—keep buggering on. To do this, the soldier’s focus would have to be undistracted by the ordinary things of this life. A soldier is committed to something bigger than himself.
Paul tells Timothy, the young pastor he mentored, that ministry—the Christian life—is the same way. He would have hardships that he would have to endure like “a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
Hardship and suffering are part of the Christian life—even our Lord Jesus suffered. He suffered and died on a cross! We should expect to suffer for Jesus Christ. If someone calls us crazy for being a Christian, it should be a badge of honor for us to wear.
To follow Jesus means that we risk hardship in our lives because of our commitment to him. A man might join the army in peacetime (to see the world or get money for college), but there’s always a risk that he might be called to battle during his enlistment. There’s always a risk that you might get more than you bargained for; and that’s also true for a Christian.
Jesus told his disciples that the world would hate them because the world hated him first (John 15:18).
Becoming and being a Christian these days is more and more risky, especially if you don’t hide your faith under a bushel (or to use a military metaphor, if you don’t go AWOL as a Christian). Every Christian faces this temptation to hide and clam up and avoid facing hardship, or even just being teased and embarrassed.
Jon, if you are faithful to preach the Word, you will offend people. You may offend unbelievers who visit the church, or at a funeral. But you will also offend Christians and even church members who don’t want to hear the Word plainly preached—who only want their ears tickled on Sunday morning.
How do we endure hardship as a Christian?
…BY BEING AN APPROVED WORKMAN
2 Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
The word “study” (spoudazō) has the idea of being diligent, zealous, and eager to do something. Timothy was to be eager and diligent in studying God’s Word, zealous to find truth and to find it correctly.
People make two opposite mistakes when they come to God’s Word. The first is that they don’t come to it with a diligent eagerness. They read their chapter or verse, close the Bible, and go about their day. They don’t have any love for learning the Bible.
This is sad, because in our day and age, we need to be learning God’s truth to counter the mass of information we receive daily from all around us.
Today, it is super easy to only have five minutes of Bible learning and many hours of music, news, talk shows, and entertainment that all teach something contrary to the Bible. And you may never know it is contrary to the Bible because you don’t know enough Bible to recognize it as unbiblical.
To battle this first mistake, we need to diligently apply ourselves to reading the Bible (and listening to it with an audio Bible). We need to commit ourselves to also reading good Christian books and listening to radio teachers that can continue to teach us God’s Word throughout the rest of the day to counter the flow of information that we get from the world.
The second mistake that people make with God’s Word is that they might be eager and diligent to study it, but they do not do so correctly. They do not “rightly” divide the word of truth. They take verses out of context and use them to support their own ideas. Or they zero in on a difficult verse and use it to interpret clear verses instead of the other way around.
They do not follow the grammatical-historical method of interpreting the Bible. What is that? It’s simply the matter of reading the words of the Bible in the context that they are meant to be read, using the rules of grammar, and understanding the history and culture in which they were written.
The end goal of proper Bible interpretation is to understand what the original author was saying to the original audience. Then we can make a correct application to ourselves today.
Why is this eager diligence in the study of God’s Word necessary? So that you will be “approved unto God” and “not ashamed.” And that will help you endure hardships that come your way. You will be confident in your Bible. You will…
15 …be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: (1 Peter 3:15)
In our culture, people are more open about their skepticism and doubts about God—that’s a good thing, but it’s uncomfortable for us as Christians. Be prepared by studying to show yourself a workman that does not need to be ashamed when you face the hardship of a culture that doesn’t believe in Christ.
We endure hardship by being an approved workman…
…AND BY PREACHING THE WORD
Paul gives Timothy a final charge. He says…
2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
As Christians, and especially a Christian pastor, we are to “Preach the word.” This is something that we must always be ready to do, “in season, out of season.” We must preach with “longsuffering,” patiently teaching people the “doctrine” of the Bible even when it seems that nothing is happening.
The word of God, when it is preached rightly, will “reprove, rebuke, exhort.”
Preaching the Word correctly will challenge people to move forward. It will challenge false teachers to repent of their false teaching. It will challenge unbelievers to repent of their unbelief. It will challenge believers to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
How do you do this? It comes out of being an “approved workman”; from studying the scriptures carefully. Your private study of the Bible is the foundation for preaching the Word. This is true whether you are a pastor, or a Christian who has an opportunity to speak at the coffee shop or in a ministry like Sunday school or the at the jail.
Jon, you already know this, but let me reinforce it. The best way for the preacher to preach the Word is to preach expository sermons—verse by verse, book by book through the Bible.
While other forms of teaching are fine—following a topic systematically or teaching on a current event—the main form of teaching should be this expository method for a number of reasons:
1) The preacher doesn’t have to waste time finding a topic for this week’s sermon—the next sermon is simply the next passage in the book you are preaching through. The time saved can be spent actually studying the passage.
2) Preaching consecutively through the Bible forces the preacher to deal with passages he would rather skip. It also keeps him off from his favorite soapboxes. It gives the congregation the whole word of God, not just our favorite and most comfortable verses.
3) Studying the passage carefully and preaching what it says helps the preacher to keep from ranting. And when the preacher is kept from ranting his personal views, the Word of God is freed to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort” in of itself. In a word, preaching consecutively through the Bible helps the preacher keep the authority for his sermon grounded in the Bible.
If someone complains that they got their toes stepped on, it’s more likely that it’s because of what the Bible says and not what the preacher ranted about.
4) Finally, preaching through the Bible makes the preacher grow and learn from the Spirit. When a difficult passage comes up, you have to figure it out. Week after week, you have to rely on the Spirit to teach you instead of just preaching what you already know.
There are other reasons, but we need to ask the question: why does Paul want Timothy to preach the Word? Because, he says,
2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
2 Timothy 4:4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
- People will not want to be convicted, but only to be comforted.
- People will not want their sinful nature impinged upon, but they will want their evil to be called good.
- People will not want their way to Heaven to be limited to only Jesus, but they will want to be told that, if they are sincere in whatever they believe, they will be safe.
With fewer and fewer people believing the Word, those who are left will have to be more and more knowledgable and able to rightly handle the Bible so that we can meet them in the marketplace and show them God. And that can only happen if the preacher faithfully preaches the Word.
How does preaching the Word help us to endure hardship? By teaching us what God says about us and the world we live in. Jesus, for instance, told his disciples that the world would hate them because it hates him (John 15:18).
Therefore we shouldn’t expect apologies from the world when it insults us. We shouldn’t be surprised at the hatred the world will dole out. Hearing the good preaching of the Word will teach us not to be thin-skinned, but to be like the disciples, who, when they were told to shut up about Jesus “…departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41).
Another way that preaching the Word helps us to endure hardship for Jesus is by showing us what our true hope is. Our hope should not be in politics or rights or tax cuts. Our hope should be the same as it was for Paul at the end of his life—
2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
2 Timothy 4:8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
Friends, the Lord is a “righteous judge” and each of us will have to meet him one day. There is absolutely nothing that you can say that would convince him to overlook your sins. If he did overlook anyone’s sins (like a grandparent overlooks the sins of grandchild), he would cease to be perfectly righteous.
The only way anyone can appear before the righteous judge is to be perfectly righteous themselves. And the only way to be perfectly righteous is to receive the gift of salvation and righteousness offered in Jesus Christ. Jesus lived a perfect life, and died a totally innocent man, all to pay for our sins.
Did he really die for our sins? How can we know he wasn’t just another victim of Roman crucifixions? Because he isn’t dead anymore—He is risen! The resurrection is the proof that Jesus’s sacrifice was sufficient to pay for our sins.
Our only hope of standing before the Judge on that day is by having Jesus Christ at our side to say, “Father, this one believes in me…his penalty is paid and my righteousness is his righteousness.” Have you placed your faith in Jesus Christ today? Jesus is our only hope of eternal life.
And eternal life is the hope that we cling to endure hardships here on earth. We know that one day all the wrongs done to us will be made right and we will live a happy, blessed life forever.
Your true hope is what you think about and dream about the most. If you only touch your Bible on Sundays, your hope will gravitate towards something other than what the Bible teaches. We must remind ourselves daily of what the Bible says so that we keep our hope firmly grounded.
Jon, as a preacher, be like Peter the preacher, who, when it came to the teaching of hope that Christians need to hear, said…
12 …I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. (2 Peter 1:12)
Jon, even though many Christians will already know what you teach, they still will need reminded to walk in those things, and to cling to the hope we have in Jesus Christ. Only then can they and you endure hardship as good soldiers of Christ Jesus.