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Stand Tall, Suffer, and Keep the Faith

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Memorial Day Sermon
Stand Tall, Suffer, and Keep the Faith
So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who 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, 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. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who 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, 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. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
Again, consider what Oswald Chambers wrote, “All through history God has chosen and used nobodies, because their unusual dependence on him made possible the unique display of his power and grace. He chose and used somebodies only when they renounced dependence on their natural abilities and resources.”
If this is true (and it is!), then Timothy was the right man for the job. He was not endowed with a powerful body and iron constitution—he was frail. He was not bold but reticent. And he was not a natural leader. If the job was to get done, he would have to rely upon God. Everything would have to be the result of Timothy’s profound dependence upon God’s power and grace.
Timothy was surely heartened by Paul’s introductory remarks in which the apostle reminded him that he was in the apostle’s constant prayers and of his longing affection for his young disciple and of his confidence in the sincerity of Timothy’s faith. And Timothy undoubtedly took further heart from Paul’s reminder of the giftedness for ministry that he was to “fan into flame” and of the Holy Spirit’s gifts of “power” and “love” and “self-discipline” (levelheadedness) for ministry. These bracing realities primed Timothy for the solemn charges to stand tall, suffer, and keep the faith—heady exhortations that range through verses 8–14.
STAND TALL AND SUFFER (vv. 8–12)
The dual call to stand and suffer is immediately introduced: “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God” (v. 8). Stronger men than Timothy had wilted when faced with shame and suffering. The iron-willed, sword-wielding Apostle Peter had loudly declared, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” () but soon was ashamed to admit he knew Jesus and denied him outright before the soldiers and a servant girl as Jesus watched (cf. vv. 56–62). In those storied and (thankfully) fleeting moments, Peter fled the shame and suffering of Christ.
Stand Tall
The temptation for Timothy to succumb to shame was not a figment of Paul’s imagination. The cross of Christianity was a scandal. It may seem incredible that people would view Jesus as shameful. But both Jews and Gentiles viewed crucifixion (a penalty reserved only for the worst of criminals) as the ultimate emblem of disgrace and dishonor. Polite pagan company never mentioned the equivalent of the English word cross. The loathsome word was too obscene. And in the sophisticated Greek environment, the preaching of the cross was held to be absurd (cf. ). The idea of a Jewish peasant becoming the substitutionary atonement for people’s sins was laughable. Educated, urbane Greeks snickered at such crudeness.
There were also some in the Ephesian church (for example, Hymenaeus; cf. 2:17) who viewed Paul’s sufferings and imprisonment as public proof that the Holy Spirit was not with Paul. Paul’s enemies within the church believed that the resurrection (a spiritual resurrection) had already taken place and that those who had experienced it had been so endowed with the Spirit that their difficulties evaporated. Their theology was similar to today’s “health and wealth” preachers. To them, Paul’s sufferings and imprisonment in Rome were due to his shamefully unspiritual nature and the disapproval of the Holy Spirit.
But Paul urged Timothy not to succumb to such ungrounded shame, whether over the scandal of the cross or the ignominious suffering of Christ’s servants. Rather, he was to stand tall, as Paul himself did in that foul dungeon. Paul’s unbowed, towering posture is detected here in his subtle use of words as he describes himself as “his prisoner”—that is, the Lord’s prisoner! He is in Caesar’s dungeon, but Nero is not his captor—Christ is. And the apostle is proud, not shamed. Thus Timothy also ought to stand tall. “Be the man you are meant to be, Timothy!”
Suffer
The parallel call to suffer is explicit: “But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God” (v. 8b). Rather than being ashamed of Paul’s suffering, Timothy must stand tall and freely choose to suffer with the great apostle. Oswald Chambers was right when he wrote: “To choose to suffer means that there is something wrong; to choose God’s will even if it means suffering is a very different thing. No healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he chooses God’s will, as Paul did, whether it means suffering or not.”
This said, suffering, rather than being removed by the gospel (as the health and wealth gospelers would have it), is actually part of the gospel. Jesus made this clear from the beginning when he forewarned his followers in the Upper Room:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” ()
In the same way, Jesus crowned the Beatitudes with suffering, in essence saying that when you have attained the seven blessed qualities of poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, spiritual hunger, mercy, purity of heart, and peacemaking, you will suffer! “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (). Suffering is part of God’s gospel blessing.
When Jesus called Paul on the road to Damascus, he immediately sent Ananias to him, saying, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (, ). And as the years passed, Paul would describe his ministry like this:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. ()
Paul encouraged the Colossians by telling them that suffering is a privilege: “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (). Likewise, he informed the Philippians about their privilege: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (). Later in 2 Timothy he will say again to his young protégé, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (3:12; cf. ; ; ; ). And Paul’s words were sealed with his own blood.
This first-century theology needs to be central in our twenty-first century theology. Persecution is inevitable for serious Christians. It is a privilege—“It has been granted to you … to suffer for him.” It is a blessing—“Blessed are those who are persecuted” ().
Suffering is never pleasurable. But it can be eased by the company of those undergoing the same thing. Timothy was called to join Paul in suffering for the gospel because what is so difficult alone is easier to endure (and even rejoice over) in the company of other believers. In the same way, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (). Suffering is not something any person or group chooses or endures in its own power, and that is why Paul calls Timothy to do it “by the power of God,” which Timothy had been given, as verse 7 said.
Praying and Living for the Gospel
Everything of God
The reason that Timothy (and Christians of any age) can rely on God’s power is because it is inseparable from God’s grace. Paul here sets forth the gospel in all its fullness by repeatedly holding high the gracious glories of the gospel in verses 9 and 10. William Barclay correctly declares of this section: “There are few passages in the New Testament which have in them and behind them such a sense of the sheer grandeur of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Sovereign grace. The power or ability to suffer in a godly way is rooted in God’s sovereign grace. “But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who 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” (vv. 8b, 9a). The gospel originated in God, and the gospel is totally the good news of God’s grace. It is not only the gospel of Jesus Christ but “the gospel of God,” as Paul calls it in . It is not based on anything we have done. It is all of grace—undeserved kindness from above.
As Paul puts it in , “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” And most famously he says in , , “By grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” If our salvation depended on anything in us, our position, based on any realistic estimate of ourselves, would be hopeless. All glory goes to God for his sovereign, omnipotent, sustaining grace!
Preexistent grace. The next phrase celebrates not only sovereign grace but preexistent grace: “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (v. 9b)—literally, “before times eternal.” Thus we understand that Christ existed before the beginning of time and that grace preexisted in Christ. This thought is expanded in —“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” And since God gave grace to us in Christ before history began, it is absolutely certain that salvation is not from our works. God the Father gave us grace in Christ before we did or could do any good works. Our salvation is due only to God’s preexistent grace.
Visible grace. Ultimately, God’s sovereign grace, preexistent in Christ, became visible and effective in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. “But it [grace] 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” (v. 10). The gospel is the good news “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (, ). This gospel is all-powerful. It can save anyone who believes, as Paul celebrates: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew; then for the Gentile” (). The glory of the gospel is that everything is of God. It is a gospel of sovereign grace, preexistent grace, visible grace that begins and ends in him.
Standing and Suffering
At this last mention of the gospel, Paul exults in his privilege. His soul dances at the thought of his call: “And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher” (v. 11). He was a kerux, one who sounds forth the evangel, the greatest news ever told. He was an apostolos, one sent with a specific commission from God. And he was a teacher, a didoskolos (his favorite word in the Pastorals), as he outlined the great doctrines of the faith, the apostolic deposit. And as he marvels at his privilege, he reflects on his suffering: “That is why I am suffering as I am” (v. 12a). “I am suffering because the gospel is so unutterably glorious. I am suffering because it is so powerful. I am suffering because it is the only hope of the lost.”
As he stands tall, he further exults, “Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (v. 12b). Think of it! Though he is entombed below ground in a dark, dripping cell, awaiting execution, though he seems to be a forgotten cast-off to the world, and certainly to his enemies, he vows, “I am not ashamed.”
Why? “Because I know whom I have believed.” Certainly Paul knew what he believed as well as any Christian who has ever lived. He authored at least thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. But he stresses whom he has believed in and continues to believe in (perfect tense). There is no wavering, no doubt—only the profound confidence of perpetual faith and a constant relationship with God. Thus he stands imperially tall, unashamed.
Why else is he not ashamed? “I … am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (v. 12). Paul lived with the certainty that God would guard his life’s commitment to the gospel until the great day of Christ’s return and final judgment (4:8). Paul was absolutely certain that his gospel deposit would be protected right up to and at the judgment, where God would assess everything to his glory. So Paul towered unashamed. God would vindicate him!
John Calvin remarked, “We should always remember that Paul was not philosophizing in the dark, but with the reality before his eyes.” This was real life. He stood tall because he intimately knew in whom he believed, and he remained unashamed because he knew that God would guard his life’s investment until the judgment.
What Paul was doing here by letter was extending his apostolic hand out of his Roman prison, across the boot of Italy, across the Adriatic Sea, across Greece, across the Aegean to Ephesus and was beckoning Timothy to join him in standing unashamed while suffering for Christ. His hand still reaches out through the centuries to Christ’s followers.
The glorious gospel never demands less. As a young preacher from Zimbabwe so memorably expressed it:
I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit’s power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made; I’m a disciple of His! I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.… I won’t give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus.
It is a great day when by faith your heart says yes to whatever the gospel brings and you join hands with the apostle. Will you do so today?
KEEP THE FAITH (vv. 13, 14)
Paul concludes this section with his famous charge to Timothy to keep the faith by living out two parallel commands. First: “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus” (v. 13). Second: “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (v. 14).
Keep it. By urging Timothy to keep his instruction as the pattern for sound teaching, Paul set the theological parameters for the preaching of the gospel. But Paul was especially concerned about how it was done—about Timothy’s attitude—that it be “with faith and love in Christ Jesus.” The attitude with which Timothy maintained his orthodoxy was almost as important as the orthodoxy itself. How different church history would have been if the church in succeeding generations had taken this to heart. How different the church would be if this were true today.
Guard it. The second imperative—to “Guard the good deposit”—goes a step further. It is the same note that was sounded at the end of 1 Timothy: “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith” (, ). Timothy must always be loving. But at the same time he must be perpetually vigilant—like a soldier. Timothy must be tough!
But this is not the task of Timothy alone. He must do it with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And here the appeal comes full circle. It began in verses 6, 7 with an appeal to Timothy to live out his ministry through the power of the Holy Spirit. Then followed four commands: 1) “Do not be ashamed.” 2) “Join with me in suffering.” 3) “Keep … the pattern.” 4) “Guard the good deposit.” Now again he returns to the Holy Spirit’s enabling power: “Guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
There was no doubt that Timothy could do this. He was a prime candidate because, in Oswald Chambers’s words again, “All through history God has chosen and used nobodies, because their unusual dependence on him made possible the unique display of his power and grace. He chose and used somebodies only when they renounced dependence on their natural abilities and resources.”
God is looking for a few good “nobodies”—people who know they cannot succeed in serving him in their own strength. These are the people who are able to stand tall and who will unashamedly testify about Jesus. Like Paul they are unashamed of the gospel because in their weaknesses they rely on the Holy Spirit. These are the people who join in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. They are humble because they see gospel grace for what it is—sovereign grace, preexistent grace, visible grace in the Lord Jesus Christ—all of God and not ourselves. They are so overwhelmed by the gospel that they both suffer and stand tall. These are the people who keep the pattern of sound teaching and guard the gospel. Their weakness is the occasion for God’s power, their reticence for his loving aggression, their need for the help of the Holy Spirit.
R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), 176–184.
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles. I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur stood a lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Many of those who were rescued and also others from the surrounding area wished to become associated with the station and to give their time, money, and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The lifesaving station grew.
In time some of the crew became concerned that the station was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more commodious place should be provided as the first refuge of those snatched from the sea. The emergency cots were replaced with beds, and better furniture was purchased for the enlarged building. The station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely. Fewer members were now interested in leaving the plush station to go to sea on lifesaving missions. So they hired surrogates to do that work. However, they retained the lifesaving motif in the club’s decorations, and a ceremonial lifeboat lay in the room where club initiations were held.
One dark stormy night a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick and obviously from distant shores. The station was in chaos. The event was so traumatic that the people contracted for outbuildings to be constructed so future shipwrecks could be processed with less disruption.
Eventually a rift developed in the station. Most of the members wanted to discontinue the station’s lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to their normal social life. Some insisted, however, that rescue was their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But the latter were ignored and told that if they wanted to keep lifesaving as their primary purpose, they could begin their own station down the coast, which they did. Over time those individuals fell prey to the same temptations as the first group, coming to care more about comforting one another than rescuing the perishing. After a while a few, remembering their real purpose, split off to establish yet another lifesaving station. And on and on it went. Today if you visit that seacoast, you will find a number of impressive lifesaving stations along the shore. Sadly, shipwrecks still occur in those waters, but most people are lost.
“The Life-Saving Station” is a parable with deep historical roots that reach all the way back to the coast off ancient Ephesus. Paul’s great fear was that the vibrant lifesaving station in Ephesus, the principal lighthouse in Asia Minor, would put out its light or forget its mission. Indeed, there had been shipwrecks from even their own number, men like elders Hymenaeus and Alexander who had abandoned “faith and a good conscience” (1:19). These interior defections so early in the lifesaving ministry of the church at Ephesus were the reason Paul wrote Timothy, who was to “command” such men “not to teach false doctrines” (1:3).
Now at the beginning of chapter 2, Paul gives explicit instructions to the Ephesian churches on how to pray and live so that the lifesaving gospel will continue to go out to all people—praying and living for the gospel. Paul’s concern was that false teaching by the likes of Hymenaeus and Alexander was turning the Ephesian congregations into elitist clubs that focused on “myths and endless genealogies” instead of the life-giving gospel (1:4). His concern is easily seen in this section because he uses terms that stress the universal range of the church’s responsibility—verse 1, “prayers … for everyone”; verse 4, the divine desire for “all men to be saved”; verse 6, Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all men”; and verse 7, which emphasizes ministry to “the Gentiles” and not just the Jews. The universality of the gospel—the fact that it is for everyone—is Paul’s passion.
A CALL TO PRAYER AND HOLY LIVING (vv. 1, 2)
Prayer. Paul begins with a shot at the exclusivist attitudes being taught by the false teachers: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone” (v. 1). Clearly, the scope of Christian prayer is to be expansive and expanding. John Stott, long-time pastor of All Souls in London, has observed how far short of this the church often falls.
Some years ago I attended public worship in a certain church. The pastor was absent on holiday, and a lay elder led the pastoral prayer. He prayed that the pastor might enjoy a good vacation (which was fine), and that two lady members of the congregation might be healed (which was also fine; we should pray for the sick). But that was all. The intercession can hardly have lasted thirty seconds. I came away saddened, sensing that this church worshiped a little village god of their own devising. There was no recognition of the needs of the world, and no attempt to embrace the world in prayer.
Such restricted sympathies must never be tolerated corporately or privately. Our prayers must embrace the globe as well as our nearest and dearest. I cannot help but recall F. B. Meyer’s account of awaking early one morning at a conference with A. B. Simpson (founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance) and discovering Simpson weeping in prayer as he clutched a globe. May his tribe increase!
Living. Along with this general exhortation to wide-ranging prayer, Paul added, “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (v. 2). This was not a prayer to live a quiet middle-class life, free from stress, as some critics have charged. Paul never encouraged that. Rather, he warned in 2 Timothy, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (3:12; cf. ). His prayer here for those in authority implicitly asked for peaceful conditions in which Christians could freely live out exemplary lives, so the unsaved would speak well of Christ and their teaching. Indeed, Paul used identical language in , exhorting believers “to lead a quiet life … so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders.”
The indisputable fact is, the best argument for and against Christianity is Christianity—or more precisely, how Christians practice their Christianity! Christianity lived out can make inroads where few other things can.
As far as we know, Thomas Huxley, the famous agnostic, never put his faith in Christ, but he did experience some degree of conviction. Toward the end of his life, Huxley was a guest at a retreat in a country home. Sunday came, and most of the guests went to church. Naturally, Huxley did not go. Alone, he approached a man known to have a simple and radiant Christian faith. Huxley said, “Suppose you don’t go to church today. Suppose you stay at home and you tell me quite simply what your Christian faith means to you and why you are a Christian.” “But,” said the man, “you could demolish my arguments in an instant. I am not clever enough to argue with you.” Huxley gently replied, “I don’t want to argue with you; I just want you to tell me simply what this Christ means to you.” The man stayed and did as Huxley had requested. When he finished, there were tears in the old agnostic’s eyes.
When we observe how the church of Christ has prayed and lived down through the centuries, there is little doubt that the slow progress of the gospel is due to prayerlessness more than anything else. God works powerfully through prayer.
In fact, prayer brought down the Berlin Wall. In May 1989 at Leipzig, in the historic Nicolai Kirche (St. Nicholas Church) where the Reformation had been introduced exactly 450 years earlier, a small group began to meet in one of the church’s rooms to read the Sermon on the Mount and pray for peace. The group expanded and moved to a larger room and finally began to meet in the church’s nave, which began to fill up. Alarmed, the Communist authorities sent officials to attend. They threatened the gatherers and temporarily jailed some. On prayer nights they blocked the city’s nearest Autobahn off-ramp. Then on October 9, 1989, some 2,000 individuals crowded in to pray for peace, and another 10,000 gathered outside. And soon the Berlin Wall came down. Coincidence? No. This was the kind response of a caring, all-powerful God to the prayers of his people.
Think what would happen to the witness and power of the church if a great mass of Christians began to pray for everyone with unified passion and focus! Mighty walls of unbelief would fall, and personal witness would penetrate strongholds with incredible power. Lifesaving stations would rescue the perishing.
THE AWESOME GROUNDS BEHIND THE CALL (vv. 3–7)
The grounds for Paul’s call to pray for all people are threefold—first, God’s desire (vv. 3, 4); second, God’s work (vv. 5, 6); and third, Paul’s missionary call (v. 7). This triad forms one of the most significant missions and evangelism passages in the New Testament.
God’s desire. “This is good,” says Paul (referring to prayers “for everyone”), “and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (vv. 3, 4). Thus Paul assaulted the exclusivism that had engulfed some of the lifesaving stations in Ephesus—the “Us Four and No More” clubs. Their mission field had become “the frozen chosen,” their mission that of instilling a deeper-life chill, lowering the temperature of their souls. This kind of spiritual elitism feeds on the classism and racism and tribalism and nationalism that comes so naturally to us sinful human souls.
It was this kind of thing that so maddened William Carey when his church leadership told him, “Young man, if God is going to convert the heathen, he will do it without your help or ours.” That response drove him out of his church and on to India, where he became the father of modern missions. (My wife and I named our youngest son William Carey Hughes in honor of the universality of the gospel and as a hope for his life.)
Now it is a fact that the Scriptures, and Paul in particular, teach divine election. Paul says in various passages: “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved” (), “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (, ). “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (; cf. ; ; ; , ).
But the Scriptures also teach the complementary truth so clearly stated in verse 4: God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” This, of course, does not mean that God wills everyone to be saved. If he did, all would be saved because no one can resist his will. What we have here is an expression of the divine desire that brought about the Incarnation and Christ’s death on the cross—“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (). We see it in the drama on the cross where Jesus, with his arms nailed wide as if to embrace the world, prays over the soldiers who crucified him: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (). And later he promised the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise” ().
This divine desire informed and drove Paul to engage in a worldwide mission. It is not our responsibility or capability to solve the puzzle of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. It is our task to preach the gospel universally—to every tongue and people regardless of class or rank. It is our mission to proclaim what God wants us to proclaim. Lifesaving was Paul’s business—and it is ours.
God’s sovereign work. The second ground behind God’s call to pray and witness to the lost is the work of God that is here given confessional expression: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time” (vv. 5, 6). Everything rests on God’s work.
God’s unity. It rests on his unity—he is “one God.” This truth has been perverted by some to support their exclusivistic delusion—“He is ours, and not anyone else’s!” However, the fact that he is the one and only God supports the universality of the gospel—he must then be the God of both Jews and Gentiles. Our exclusive faith (there is one God, and no other) leads necessarily to our inclusive mission (the “one God … wants all men to be saved”).
God the Son’s mediatorship. Our exclusive God has an exclusive mediator—“and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (v. 5). Literally this reads, “One also is the mediator between God and man.” Jesus is the only go-between. Because he is both God and man, he can represent both sides equally. In effect, Jesus answered in his person the cry of Job, “If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both” (). Jesus lays one hand, so to speak, on the Father and the other on his children—he is our “mediator.”
God the Son’s payment. The final element of God’s divine work is the infinite ransom paid by God the Son, “who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time” (v. 6). His payment is effectual for all who believe. As Paul says later in 4:9, 10, is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.”
So we see from this pulsing confessional statement that everything is of God! This inspires us to live a life of prayer and mission. The desire of God—“who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of truth”—is to be our desire. We are called to be lifesavers.
Third, Paul’s commission. As a final argument Paul referenced his own special role in the spread of the gospel—“And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles” (v. 7). The fact that God chose Paul to preach the gospel to the Gentiles is proof that God desires to reach all people and proof of his children’s obligation to pray for and reach out to everyone.
According to this (vv. 1–7), the local church has a global, lifesaving mission. According to verse 1, the church is to pray for all people. According to verse 7, it is to proclaim the gospel to all people. The universal concern of the church arises from the universal concern of God. As John Stott says so well:
It is because there is one God and one mediator that all people must be included in the church’s prayers and proclamation. It is the unity of God and the uniqueness of Christ which demand the universality of the gospel. God’s desire and Christ’s death concern all people; therefore the church’s duty concerns all people too, reaching out to them both in earnest prayer and in urgent witness.
We are to be God’s people, joyfully declaring Christ’s glory among the nations!
A CALL TO A SAVING LIFESTYLE (vv. 8–10)
Paul concludes by saying nearly the same thing he had already said regarding praying and living when he introduced this section.
Praying. “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing” (v. 8). He assumes they will pray with upraised hands, but his concern is not about body posture but about the attitude with which they will pray. He wants them to be free from anger and quarrels. He wants to see unified petitions go up for everyone—for the whole world! What grace this would produce in mission!
Living. He also wants the church to give careful attention to lifestyle—“I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes” (v. 9). Paul is not categorically forbidding women to style their hair or wear jewelry or nice clothing. Rather, he was forbidding the imitation of the elaborate new hairstyles and extravagant dress of the Roman court as depicted on the Roman coins in circulation at that time, as S. M. Baugh has shown in his definitive study of Ephesus in the first century. These styles connoted the excessive luxury and licentiousness of the Roman court. “Today,” Baugh says, “it is the equivalent of warning Christians away from imitation of styles set by promiscuous pop singers or actresses.” Paul’s overriding concern was that the way Christians deported themselves would not detract from but enhance their gospel mission, so that they adorn the message “with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God” (v. 10).
Everything in life is meant to enhance our carrying out God’s desire for “all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth”—down to the attitudes with which we pray and the way we dress.
Today thousands of lifesaving stations have turned into social clubs. Their architecture with crossed masts pointing to heaven and pulpits at the bow tell us what they were once meant for. Ships still founder on their shores, but no soul has been saved for years. There are no prayers for the perishing. There is no outstretched hand. No one wants to risk their present comforts.
How wonderful, then, are the lifesaving stations where prayers are offered for the lost, where lives are ordered so as to reach the lost, and where people long for “all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), 56–64.
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