Here are my notes from last nights LightHouse.
1. What is Gospel Ministry?
2. What is false ministry and how would you spot it?
3. Who engages in gospel ministry?
2 Timothy is Paul’s farewell letter to Timothy, it is a very personal letter from an older gospel minister to the young gospel minister he has mentored and discipled. Paul warns, exhorts and encourages Timothy not to give up but to continue in gospel ministry despite its hardships because of the resources at his disposal and the prize he has in view.
As we study this letter we will see the nature of Gospel ministry, its realities, battles and hardships but also how it is not down to us but rather is facilitated enabled and dependent on God who is able. It’s tempting to think this is a letter for pastors and elders, and there is an application on that level, though it also helps us as a church see what we ought to be looking for, encouraging and praying for our leaders and in new leaders. But there is another sense in which this is Paul writing to someone he has discipled, and it helps us see how relational following Jesus is and the priorities and goals such relationships have.
1. Gospel Ministry is hard but full of hopeHow does Paul start his letter? (1)“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God...” He is chosen and appointed by God to be a witness to the life of Jesus. Paul, as he writes, is at the end of his life, we might expect him to write from a nice cosy home for retired ministers, but he is in prison. What’s worse is this isn’t like his imprisonment at the end of Acts. He was released from there and then engaged in more missionary work before being rearrested, but now he is not being held under house arrest and he is not free to move around.
(1:16)He is in chains and he feels isolated (4:9-13)and lonely, he has experienced opposition(4:14) and having had his preliminary hearing(4:16) death appears inevitable(4:6-8). In fact church history tells us that this second imprisonment was in the time of Nero and not long after writing this letter Paul is beheaded in Rome.
Gospel ministry is hard; it doesn’t bring earthly reward or comfort but opposition, hardship and struggle. But Paul isn’t down. How else does he describe himself? “in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus.” Paul isn’t just given a task to do but the gospel that compels him to tell people about Jesus is the gospel that has won his heart and captured his vision with its hope. Even as he faces his death for the gospel his hope is secure; 4:8 “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award me on that day...” Paul isn’t facing death he is awaiting life, he longs to go and meet the righteous Judge having faced the corrupt judge.
Gospel ministry is hard but it is full of hope. Paul doesn’t hide either of those facets of gospel ministry in his letters. We need to know that gospel ministry is going to be hard or we will give up on it when it gets hard, when we face opposition. But we also need to know the hope we have so we see why we persevere, why enduring opposition is worth it.
2. Gospel ministry is people ministryI’m sure you’ve heard phrases like ‘My job would great if it wasn’t for the pupils/customers/clients.’ We may even have thought it ourselves. We even sometimes think it of church; ‘I love the church it’s just people I struggle with.’ A friend of mine once put it like this ‘It’s hard to soar like an eagle when you’re surrounded by turkeys.’ All those phrases get at the same thing – people are hard work. Life would be easier if it wasn’t for everyone else.
As we work through 2 Timothy its surprising in some ways that Paul doesn’t say something similar. (1:15)Phygelus and Hermogenes deserted him as did everyone else in Asia, (2:14-3:9)there are false teachers being accepted by people in the church, (4:9)Demas has deserted him, and Alexander has done him much harm. You could forgive Paul for saying Timothy don’t trust people, just get your head down in the office study the bible, teach it, but don’t invest too much in people they will only let you down and hurt you. But nowhere in his letter does Paul say that!
In fact he says the opposite; it is impossible to do gospel ministry without engaging with, committing to and loving people because gospel ministry is people ministry.
I wonder what struck you as we read these opening 7 verses, here’s what struck me, it’s the deeply committed relationship between Paul and Timothy. How does he described Timothy(2) “my dear son” and look how he continues “night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers... I long to see you...” You get a real sense of the deep relationship forged by their shared gospel ministry. Paul is Timothy’s spiritual mentor, he has disciple him in the faith for years, they have ministered alongside each other, Timothy is his child in the faith. And even as his ministry is about to end in glory Paul is concerned for Timothy; his endurance, struggles and the need for him to keep fighting the fight.
I wonder what you picture in your mind when you think about the ministry of the Apostle Paul? Is it big events, thousands packing venues to hear the gospel preached, is it of him as a big name speaker? But as you read Acts you see him in conversation with and discipling, Timothy, Lydia and the jailor in Philippi, Jason and others in Thesslaonica where he lives alongside them and so on. As we read Paul’s letters to Titus, Timothy, Philemon and the churches we see loads of discipling relationships – Aquila, Priscilla, Appollos, Luke, Mark, Onesimus, Crescus, Tychicus, Erastus, Trophimus and so on.
Gospel ministry for Paul is not impersonal, it is not hit and run, it is intensely relational, it is disciples discipling disciples. It is brothers and sisters in Christ committed to one another and working the gospel into the lives of one another.
As we go through this letter you can’t avoid it – Gospel ministry is relational ministry. You see it here in his longing to see Timothy, in his concerns and fears for Timothy, in his desire to see him not just come to sincere faith, but go on and grow, to use his gifts to their full potential to glorify God.
This is so counter cultural, not just in the world but in the church. We live in an age when bigger is better, when being too personal, too committed, too involved are all viewed negatively. We live in an age that highlights individualism at the expense of community, that encourages communication at the expense of conversation, that prizes detachment at the expense of commitment. We need to remind ourselves that the gospel is a message about a restored relationship which also restores relationships. That we don’t decide to become Christians but begin to live life alongside and committed to other disciples.
Gospel ministry is relational; that is what makes it hard but it is also what makes it joyful.
Paul’s life is overflowing with relationships, with disciples he is discipling, or others whose ministry he partners in or who partner in his. How about us?
Lifelong committed loving gospel centred relational discipleship is gospel ministry.
3. God calls and God enablesI think one of our big fears about engaging in gospel ministry through these relationships is getting burnt out. The statistics on ministry burnout are quite frightening... And maybe you have felt it yourself. I don’t thing gospel ministry is the problem, I think so often we do ministry not gospel ministry
The pressures of gospel ministry are not new – Paul writes to Timothy because Timothy feels them, and he is worried about Timothy giving up. He is worried about Timothy becoming just another statistic, another gospel minister who gives up his ministry.
What is his remedy? (6-7)He says recognise you are gifted by God, maximise the potential of your gift but do it in God’s power don’t rely on yourself! Its brilliant isn’t it – why would we burn out? Because we rely on ourselves, we minister to others out of our own strength not out of God’s strength, we minister to others thinking we have to save them rather than trusting God’s word to point them to Christ who saves them! We engage in ministry but not in gospel ministry!
Don’t think that this is let go and let God though because notice the reminder he gives Timothy; “I remind you fan into flame the gift of God...” Timothy God has given you a gift and your job is to keep it burning brightly, to utilise it, develop it, glorify God as much as you possibly can with it.
But (7)not because you can do it in your own strength but because of him who gives you his Spirit to enable you to do that. God gives his Spirit so that Timothy does not retreat like a coward from ministry – that is how that word timid was used, of someone who ran away from battle. Timothy, the Spirit God has given us isn’t a spirit of cowardice. Gospel ministry is hard, it’s relational, it’s a war but God gives his Spirit so that you don’t run away but glorify God. The Spirit is the one who enables ministry in three crucial areas.
Power – Luke 24:49 Jesus promises his disciples they will be clothed with power from on high, a promise reiterated in Acts 1:8 and fulfilled at Pentecost. The disciples who before cowered in a locked room are emboldened and empowered to proclaim the gospel and preach it from the rooftops in the middle of Jerusalem. It’s the power to proclaim Christ, demolish strongholds, fight sin, pursue godliness, endure suffering and run the race.
But for gospel ministry Timothy doesn’t just need power he needs love. Why? Because power alone leads to manipulative leadership, that is not the way of gospel ministry, so that Spirit will enable Timothy to love. Agape – active love modelled on God’s active love for his people. Gospel ministry is loving ministry, a love not based on feelings but grounded in the gospel.
And lastly Timothy is empowered with the Spirit who gives self-control – a discipline which gives wisdom in any and every situation, so that when everything around you is coming unglued, when chaos is everywhere you keep your focus on the gospel.
Gospel ministry whatever that looks like for us is destined to fail if we rely on our strength and our abilities. We do not have the capacity to serve in our own strength and why would we when God has given us his spirit so that we serve in his power, in his love and with his self discipline.