We encourage our children to study hard to get into a good school. We encourage our family and friends to exercise and eat a balanced diet to stay healthy. We encourage our colleagues and teammates to work closely together to get things done. But how often do we encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to be faithful to the Gospel? How do we do it? Is it biblical to encourage one another to be faithful?
Here’s a passage from 2 Timothy where Paul exhorts Timothy to be faithful to the Gospel: “6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2 Timothy 1:6-14).
I. Paul encourages Timothy to stir up the gift of God that was in him. Stir it up as fire under the embers. It is meant of all the gifts and graces that God had given him, to qualify him for the work of an evangelist, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the extraordinary gifts that were conferred by the imposition of the apostle’s hands. These he must stir up; he must exercise them and so increase them: use gifts and have gifts. To him that has more shall be given, Mt. 25:29. He must take all opportunities to use these gifts, and so stir them up, for that is the best way of increasing them. Whether the gift of God in Timothy was ordinary or extraordinary, he must stir it up, otherwise it would decay. Observe, The great hindrance of usefulness in the increase of our gifts is slavish fear. Paul therefore warns Timothy against this: God has not given us the spirit of fear, v. 7. It was through base fear that the evil servant buried his talent, and did not trade with it, Mt. 25:25. Now God has therefore armed us against the spirit of fear, by often bidding us fear not. “Fear not the face of man; fear not the dangers you may meet with in the way of your duty.” God has delivered us from the spirit of fear, and has given us the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. The spirit of power, or of courage and resolution to encounter difficulties and dangers; the spirit of love to God, which will carry us through the opposition we may meet with, as Jacob made nothing of the hard service he was to endure for Rachel: the spirit of love to God will set us above the fear of man, and all the hurt that a man can do us; and the spirit of a sound mind, or quietness of mind, a peaceable enjoyment of ourselves, for we are oftentimes discouraged in our way and work by the creatures of our own fancy and imagination, which a sober, solid, thinking mind would avoid, and would easily answer.
II. He encourages him to count upon afflictions, and get ready for them, v8. Observe,
1. As Christians, we have no reason to be ashamed of the gospel of Christ. We must not be ashamed of those who are suffering for the gospel of Christ. Timothy must not be ashamed of good old Paul, though he was now in bonds. As he must not himself be afraid of suffering, so he must not be afraid of owning those who were sufferers for the cause of Christ.
2. Mentioning God and the gospel, he takes notice what great things God has done for us by the gospel, v. 9, 10. To encourage him to suffer, he urges two considerations:-
(1.) The nature of that gospel which he was called to suffer for, and the glorious and gracious designs and purposes of it. It is usual with Paul, when he mentions Christ, and the gospel of Christ, to digress from his subject, and enlarge upon them; so full was he of that which is all our salvation, and ought to be all our desire. Observe,
[1.] The gospel aims at our salvation: He has saved us, and we must not think much to suffer for that which we hope to be saved by.
[2.] It is designed for our sanctification: Christianity is a holy calling; it is the calling to which we are called, to labour in it. Observe, All who shall be saved hereafter are sanctified now.
[3.] The origin of it is the free grace and eternal purpose of God in Christ Jesus. Our salvation by it is of free grace, and not according to our works, and therefore we must not think much to suffer for it. This grace is said to be given us before the world began, that is, in the purpose and designs of God from all eternity; in Christ Jesus.
[4.] The gospel is the manifestation of this purpose and grace: By the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who had lain in the bosom of the Father from eternity, and was perfectly apprised of all his gracious purposes. By his appearing this gracious purpose was made manifest to us.
[5.] By the gospel of Christ death is abolished: By taking away sin he has abolished death (for the sting of death is sin, 1 Co. 15:56), in altering the property of it, and breaking the power of it. Death now of an enemy has become a friend; it is the gate by which we pass out of a troublesome, vexatious, sinful world, into a world of perfect peace and purity; and the power thereof is broken, for death does not triumph over those who believe the gospel, but they triumph over it. O death! where is thy sting? O grave! where is thy victory? 1 Co. 15:55.
[6.] He has brought life and immortality to light by the gospel; he has shown us another world more clearly than it was before discovered under any former dispensation, and the happiness of that world, the certain recompense of our obedience by faith: we all with open face, as in a glass, behold the glory of God.
(2.) Consider the example of blessed Paul, v. 11, 12. He was appointed to preach the gospel, and particularly appointed to teach the Gentiles. He thought it a cause worth suffering for, and why should not Timothy think so too? No man needs to be afraid nor ashamed to suffer for the cause of the gospel: I am not ashamed, says Paul, for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. Observe,
[1.] Good men often suffer many things for the best cause in the world.
[2.] They need not be ashamed, the cause will bear them out; but those who oppose it shall be clothed with shame.
[3.] Those who trust in Christ know whom they have trusted. The apostle speaks with a holy triumph and exultation, as much as to say, “I stand on firm ground. I know I have lodged the great trust in the hands of the best trustee.’ And am persuaded, etc. What must we commit to Christ? The salvation of our souls, and their preservation to the heavenly kingdom; and what we so commit to him he will keep. There is a day coming, and it will be a very solemn day, when we must give an account of our stewardship (cf. Lu. 16:2), give an account of our souls: now, if by an active obedient faith we commit it to Jesus Christ, we may be sure he is able to keep it, and it shall be forthcoming to our comfort in that day.
III. He encourages him to hold fast the pattern of sound teaching, v. 13.
1. “Have a pattern of sound teaching” (so it may be read), “a short form, a catechism, an abstract of the first principles of religion, according to the scriptures, a scheme of sound words, a brief summary of the Christian faith, in a proper method, drawn out by ourselves from the holy scriptures for our own use” or, rather, by the pattern of sound teaching I understand the holy scriptures.
2. “Having it, hold it fast, remember it, retain it, adhere to it. Adhere to it in opposition to all heresies and false doctrine, which corrupt the Christian faith. Hold that fast which you have heard of me.” Paul was divinely inspired. It is good to adhere to those patterns of sound teaching which we have in the scriptures; for these, we are sure, were divinely inspired. That is sound speech, which cannot be condemned, Tit. 2:8. But how must it be held fast? In faith and love; that is, we must assent to it as a faithful saying, and bid it welcome as worthy of all acceptation. Hold it fast in a good heart, this is the ark of the covenant, in which the tables both of law and gospel are most safely and profitably deposited, Ps. 119:11. Faith and love must go together; it is not enough to believe the sound teaching, and to give an assent to them, but we must love them, believe their truth and love their goodness, and we must propagate the pattern of sound teaching in love; speaking the truth in love, Eph. 4:15. Faith and love which are in Christ Jesus, in and by whom God speaks to us and we to him. Timothy, as a minister, must hold fast the pattern of sound teaching, for the benefit of others. Of healing words, so it may read; there is healing virtue in the word of God; he sent his word, and healed them. To the same sense is that good deposit which was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us (v. 14). That good deposit was the pattern of sound teaching, the Christian doctrine, which was committed to Timothy in his baptism and education as he was a Christian, and in his ordination as he was a minister. Observe, The Christian doctrine is a trust committed to us. It is a good thing, of unspeakable value in itself, and which will be of unspeakable advantage to us; it is an inestimable jewel, for it discovers to us the unsearchable riches of Christ, Eph. 3:8. It is committed to us to be preserved pure and entire, and to be transmitted to those who shall come after us, and we must keep it, and not contribute anything to the corrupting of its purity, the weakening of its power, or the diminishing of its perfection. We must not think to keep it by our own strength, but keep it by the Holy Spirit; and yet we must use our best endeavours to keep this good deposit, for the assistance and indwelling of the Holy Spirit do not exclude men’s endeavours, but they exist together.
Let us exhort one another with the song “Courage Brother, Do Not Stumble!”: