2 Timothy 1:11&12 “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.”
There are many nations in the world, but one country, this nation, Wales is my nation and so it’s special to me. There are many houses in Aberystwyth but this house, The Manse, is different from them all. It is my home. There are many girls in the world but this girl is unique. She is my wife. There are many gods in the world but this God is special. He is Jesus Christ. There are many gospels in the world, much good news – healthy babies are born, and there are recoveries from serious illnesses, and peace after war, and happy marriages, many such gospels, but there is “this gospel” that is unique because it is the best news of all for the whole world to hear. You see how Paul has been writing about it in the verses preceding our text, that it was planned before the beginning of time, and revealed in the appearance of our Saviour Jesus Christ, the one who has destroyed death and brought immortality to light. The message Paul refers to as ‘the gospel’ in the very last word of verse 10 – the first time the word ‘gospel’ appears in this letter – but which word he repeats at the beginning of verse 11, “and of this gospel I was appointed a herald, an apostle and a teacher.” This gospel is so different from all the gospels in the whole world. It is supremely different in that other gospels tell men their duties, what they have to do, but this unique gospel tells us what God has done for us in Christ. It is special because the Creator of the universe himself, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has personally and divinely appointed favoured men to be the herald and the messenger and the teacher of this good news. Then let the whole world prick up its ears and listen to what God wants them to hear concerning this gospel! This is your duty, all of you whom God in his providence has brought to this place today to read these words about this gospel. You are duty bound to pay attention to it because it claims to come from your god and it prescribes your condition and it tells you how you can be changed for the better, eternally. Listen, I say, as though your very life depended on it, for it does, and then you are duty bound to respond in three ways as I shall endeavour to show you . . .
1. EVERY CHRISTIAN IS APPOINTED TO COMMUNICATE THE GOSPEL.
54 years ago I was being taught Systematic Theology by Professor John Murray and one day at the end of a class I went on to him and asked him if the Bible teaches that it is the duty of every Christian to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He thanked me for the question, and said how he enjoyed getting questions like that, and that he wanted time to think about it and he would give me his answer later on in the week. A few days later, after another class, he gave me this piece of paper (which I still treasure) on which he had written down 15 passages of Scripture with 26 verses from the New Testament. I am not going to read many of them to you, just a few which are quite telling and convicting. The first verse describes the situation in Acts 8 where persecution burst out against the church and we read in verse 4 that, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” All of them evangelized, and then the next verse Professor Murray wrote down was also in Acts in chapter 18 and verse 26 where we learn of two individual Christians, a husband and wife, who both communicated the gospel to a man called Apollos, and interestingly it is the Christian wife who is mentioned first; “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” Then in Paul’s letters John Murray referred to 2 Corinthians 5:19 – God “has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” And finally the professor noted the well known verse of Peter in I Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
So I learned from my godly teacher that there are a number of exhortations and examples in the Bible of mere Christians communicating their faith to others, but Paul in our text in verse 11 speaks of a three-fold commission that he had received to do so.
i] God appointed him as a herald. A herald went forth with the authority of his king to declare the king’s message to all the people of the nation. It was not an activity like the one in which I am now engaged, in a specific religious gathering and my speaking as a Christian to Christians. This is the town crier, in the full light of day, in the public square, to the sound of trumpet calling everybody who heard him ring his bell or the blowing of the trumpets to gather and listen to this royal decree coming from the place, telling them good news that they had not heard before. This is Pharaoh sending his heralds to run go before the chariot of Joseph crying out, “Bow the knee!” This is John the Baptist summoning all the people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. So we Christians are on a mission. We are to go into the world and we’re to proclaim the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. God has given him a name above every name and so let everyone who hears us turn from their sins and put their trust in him. That is the message of the Christian herald. We are looking for a response. This is no ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ encounter. Richard Baxter has expressed it so movingly at one place in his best book The Reformed Pastor – each time I read these words I am touched. Baxter says, “I marvel how I can preach slightly and coldly, how I can let men alone in their sins and that I don’t go to them and beseech them for the Lord’s sake to repent, however they take it and whatever pains or trouble it should cost me. I seldom come out of the pulpit but my conscience smites me that I’ve not been more serious and fervent. It accuses me not so much for lack of human eloquence, not for speaking an unsuitable word, but it asks me, ‘How could I speak of life and death with such a heart? Should you not weep over such a people and shouldn’t your tears interrupt your words? Shouldn’t you cry aloud and show them their sins and entreat them and beseech them to leave death and live?” God’s herald proclaims the great works of Christ and then proclaims our need to repent and believe in Jesus. I too am a herald of God and in the special sense of having a summons from the king to preach his message here. I have a fire in my bones. I thank God that he kindled it almost sixty years ago and he is the one who keeps it incandescent.
ii] God appointed him as an apostle. Now this word ‘apostle’ means a sent one, a messenger, and we have to think of it in two ways, firstly we consider it to be Apostle with a capital ‘A.’ That is, one of the twelve. A companion of Christ through his ministry and an eye-witness of the resurrected Christ and one who received authority to go and speak in the name of Jesus so that what they said was what Christ was saying to the hearers, or to the church. Paul can say, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Christ?” and of course, on the road to Damascus he had seen the living risen Lord Jesus. So when people heard Paul preaching they were listening to the words of Christ through him, so that believing the apostle was believing Christ. An Apostle with a capital ‘A’ was a foundational gift that God gave to the church so that they could write the gospels and Acts and the letters and the book of Revelation and that the New Testament would then be the foundation of the millions of gospel churches that are all over the world today. The congregation is built on the foundation of the apostles. So the climax of our worship is to turn to this letter of Paul to Timothy and ask, “What is the apostle of Jesus Christ saying to us at this moment?” When you are building an extension to your home you do not lay one foundation, wait for it to set and then on top of it lay another foundation and wait for it to harden, and then lay another and another and another. One strong foundation is sufficient for any building. God has given us a might strong foundation, four gospels, twenty letters, the book of Acts and Revelation and if you build your life on that then the most powerful storms can rage but your house, your life, will stand because you are building it on the foundation of the Apostles of Jesus Christ. So God appoints the apostles and their message as the substance of the gospel we are to communicate. We are not to think, “Well, I imagine Jesus Christ as this . . . and my understanding of the gospel is this . . .” No. God has given us his word through the apostles and what they have written we speak and that alone. We are not to add to it Rome’s so-called sacred traditions. Or the Church of the Latter Day Saints Book of Mormon. They are not needed and not helpful. We find whenever a book like the Koran is added to the Holy Scriptures then the Scriptures go down and down and the Koran or any other religious books go up and up. So there is the foundational testimony of the Bible the words of the prophets and apostles. There is no other gospel but the New Testament gospel and there can be no other Christianity but New Testament Christianity. This is the apostolic faith. The apostles formulated the gospel and they bequeathed it to the church.
But then there are places in the New Testament when ordinary Christians are called apostles, that is, messengers, sent ones. For example Barnabas is called an apostle in a couple of places in the book of Acts though he was not one of the Twelve. He was an official spokesman sent out by the church. KeithUnderhill was a messenger sent out by this congregation to Kenya. But every one of us is sent out into Aberystwyth with the gospel, into schools, the university, the offices, and the farms and in our different families, and as neighbours in the street where we live, and as we wonder who we are going to meet each day as God providentially leads us, we are each of us messengers of Jesus Christ and so the benediction at the end of every service is a reminder of this commission we’ve got. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with you all” as you now take this gospel and go into Aberystwyth as the messengers of God. All your sufficiency to be good apostles is the utter reality of this fact, that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are with you all for another week as his messengers to a town in need!
iii] God appointed him as a teacher. It takes time and patience and wisdom and prayer to persuade a person to become a Christian. There is such muddled thinking about what a Christian is, and so many objections to the gospel. Some of you send copies of my sermons for years to people who are interested in Christianity, but who do not understand what it is all about. I was reading one of my favourite missionary magazines this week, Vision For Europe, and there I read the story of a woman in Polandnamed Mariola and how she became a Christian. She was raised as a Roman Catholic with prayers to Mary, litanies, living rosaries and paying for masses so that dead ancestors spent less time in purgatory. Increasingly it all became irrelevant to her, failing to touch her heart. Then family tragedies, and illnesses, and surgeries made her think again of the God she did not know, and after one time in hospital and a major operation she returned home and was open to talking to an evangelical Christian friend, Rose, whom she had known since they were in school together forty years earlier. She brought her to a Bible study in another woman’s home, named Zosia who became another friend. The Bible studies were led by a man named Krzystof. She says, “He prepared Bible studies in such a way that helped me know God better, although I was the only one in the small group who was a novice. These meetings helped me greatly in my understanding of biblical truths.” Then her friend Rose spoke to her also.
Mariola says, “We started our conversation about recent days and my illness, and that gave her the opportunity to share with me about God, his only Son, the salvation which is a free gift of his grace, to be received through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who came to this world to be our Redeemer and Saviour, the spotless Lamb of God whose blood cleanses the sins of repenting men and women, the only way our sins may be forgiven. Christ had died for my sins – this was the most precious truth. My sins could be forgiven and I could have eternal life. From then on I spoke with Rose about spiritual things and she explained to me things I did not understand in the Bible. As time passed I was granted an assurance of God’s love, his forgiveness and my salvation. The Lord Jesus came into my life and his power has changed it. The more I know him, the more I love him and want to please him and be obedient to him. I desire to hold on to the Lord Jesus Christ with all my strength because he is the only way to justification, redemption and reconciliation with God.” That is how Mariola became a Christian, as people taught her the gospel message, her friends Rose and Zosia and a man leading a Bible group named Krzystof. They were all teachers of the gospel, some informally and others formally, and that again is how people come to know God for themselves as we chat to them and listen to them and explain our understanding of Christianity to them. Jesus has told us to go and teach men and women what he has told us and that he will be with us as we do so. So every Christian has been appointed to communicate the gospel. Pray for providential leadings and that you will be ready when the opportunity comes. Then speak according to your light and power, and make known the message and don’t be afraid. A stammering tongue and nervously spoken words can become mighty powerful under God.
2. EVERY CHRISTIAN IS APPOINTED TO SUFFER FOR THE GOSPEL.
Paul says, “That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed,” (v.12). Our Christian friends in the middle east are suffering greatly with tens of thousands fleeing from their homes, refugees from the cruelties of ISIS. That is one of the reasons why Christians suffer, through the hatred of other religions. We know something about the persecutions that believers are enduring in the world. We live in an age of instant communications, and we get information very quickly and easily. Human rights groups, Christian agencies, secular news outlets, as well as personal friends will keep us informed if we want to know the facts. But do we? Should we? Some Christian friends say frankly that they don’t want to know. They point out that there is very little we can do practically to rescue or relieve our brethren in other parts of the world. Why force ourselves, they ask, to read heartbreaking accounts of the pain of others when we can do nothing for them? We want to be able to sleep at night. So why fill our minds with shocking stories or ghastly images?
Well, they have a point. We need to be careful. There are real dangers in reading accounts of persecution. My friend and esteemed preacher Stephen Rees says that he can see three. In particular.
i] It is possible to develop an unhealthy appetite for horror. The Bible writers were very restrained when they wrote about the cruelties that human beings inflict on one another. We know that in Manasseh’s day, the streets of Jerusalem ran deep with the blood of innocent victims. But the Bible gives us no description of what they suffered. The writer of Hebrews talks about men of faith who were “stoned, sawn in two, killed with the sword” (11:37). But we are given no close-up descriptions of what they endured. Some Christian writers have given graphic descriptions of the agonies of crucifixion. But when the gospel writers wrote about the death of Christ, they gave almost no detail of the physical tortures of the cross. There is nothing in the Bible to feed a sensationalist or sadistic fascination with human suffering. Then there is another danger . . .
ii] It is possible to become hardened to the suffering of the people we read about. Horrors constantly repeated can become commonplace. There is such a thing as compassion fatigue. TV viewers watch one more report from a famine district or a war zone, yawn and go off to make a cup of tea. Josef Stalin is reputed to have said, “One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic”. God forbid that our brothers and sisters, going through the fire of persecution, should ever become mere statistics. Again there is another danger . . .
iii] Constant exposure to accounts of persecution may leave us overwhelmed and paralysed by fear. We may feel that the kingdom of Christ is threatened, that the church is in danger of being crushed, that the war is being lost. We may become demoralized when we see the casualty figures. We may forget that Christ is advancing to victory, that those who die under his banner are more than conquerors (Romans 8: 37); that the martyrs, far from being defeated, sit on thrones and exercise kingly power with Christ (Revelation 20:4).
So there is agonizing suffering for the cause of Christ which often comes from the contempt of other religionists. But why should we suffer for the gospel? I like something that John Stott said about this and found it to be very helpful and moving. Listen to him speaking at the Keswick Convention on this very verse; “Now why do you have to suffer for the Gospel? What is there about the Gospel that men hate and oppose, and on account of which those who preach it have to suffer? Surely the answer is this, that God saves sinners in virtue of his own purpose and grace, and not in virtue of any merit and goodness of their own. And it is the undeserved freeness of the Gospel which offends. Natural man hates to have to admit the gravity of his sin and guilt, his helplessness to save himself, the indispensable necessity of God’s grace and of Christ’s sin-bearing death to save him; and therefore his inescapable indebtedness to the cross. The natural man hates it. This is the stumbling-block of the cross; and there are many preachers who succumb to the temptation to mute it. They preach man and his merit, instead of Christ and his cross. And why? They do it in order to escape persecution for the cross of Christ. No man can preach Christ crucified faithfully, and escape opposition and persecution.”
John Stott says, “When I was a student at Cambridge University God taught me the hatred of the human heart for the Gospel in a very dramatic way. I was speaking in my rooms to a young man, a fellow-student, and I was trying to explain the gospel of the free gift of God in Christ. I shall never forget how he shouted at the top of his voice, three times: ‘Horrible, horrible, horrible!’ God gave me at that moment a little insight into the human heart. The human heart hates the gospel because it is free, and it cannot be deserved. That is why we are called to suffer for it” (John Stott at Keswick, p.104, Keswick Classics, 2008).
We cannot avoid the offence that the Christian gospel gives to the natural man, and we are not to try to avoid it. The Bible tells us what we are to do. (I gratefully got all this from Stephen Rees).
i] We are commanded to sympathise – to enter into the experience and feelings of our brothers and sisters, our fellow-members in the body of Christ. “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, for you also are in the body…” (Hebrews 13:3). We feel – or should feel – a natural sympathy with all human suffering. But God’s purpose is that his people should feel a more-than-natural sympathy with each other. He has made them one by joining them all to his Son Jesus Christ. As each is joined by the Holy Spirit to Christ the head, they become a single body, an organic unity. And within that body, “if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Christ the Head suffers with each of his suffering members .“Saul, Saul, why do your persecute me?”, he asked (Acts 9:4). Whatever pains Saul inflicted on any of Christ’s people were felt by Christ himself. And the other members of Christ’s body are supposed to feel the pain too.
“How sweet, how heavenly is the sight, When those who love the Lord
In one another’s peace delight And so fulfil his word!
When each can feel his brother’s sigh And with him bear a part;
When sorrow flows from eye to eye And joy from heart to heart…”
Of course, the first place where we experience that shared sorrow is within the local church. The people we know best are inevitably the people whose pain we feel most acutely. But if we are joined to Christ, we should increasingly share his pain for all his afflicted members, throughout the world.
Reading accounts of what is happening to believers in North Korea or Iraq causes us pain. It leaves us aching. And that’s a pain we need to feel. It is essential to our growing relationship with Christ and our growing relationship with his people that we should share his pain and theirs. As we enter into the suffering of our fellow-believers, we are being delivered from the self-centredness we have inherited from Adam, and we are growing into the other-person-centredness of Christ.
ii] We are commanded to pray. “On Him we have set our hope that He will deliver us again; You also must help us by prayer…” (2 Corinthians 1:11). Paul pleaded for the prayers of his fellow-believers when he was facing persecution and he believed that those prayers were answered. How should we pray when we hear about situations of persecution? We should pray that our fellow-believers will be given grace to stand firm and bring honour to Christ, whatever befalls them. This was the first thing Paul asked for at times when he was called to suffer for Christ. “Pray also for me that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains” (Ephesians 6: 19). And he was sure that such prayers would be answered: “I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, this will turn out for my deliverance as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death.” Again and again Paul was given courage to stand boldly for Christ – and he was sure that God gave him that courage in answer to the prayers of others. We should pray that God by his Spirit will give the same courage to persecuted believers today.
We should pray too that persecuted believers will be delivered from their sufferings – that the persecution will be cut short. Paul tells us to pray for those in authority that they will rule well, “so that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life” (1 Timothy 2:2). He asked the believers in Rome to pray that he would be “delivered from the unbelievers in Judea… so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy…” (Romans 15:32). The Lord Jesus has told us to pray daily, “Lead us not into trial but deliver us from the evil one”(Matthew 6:13). In many situations, we cannot guess how God will deliver believers from their trials and temptations, but we are sure he will hear our prayers and act. The Iron Curtain fell and persecution was cut short for many believers in Eastern Europe. Lots of people were astonished by the turn of events. But it was God’s answer to the prayers of believers across the world.
We should pray not just for our persecuted brothers but for those who persecute them. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you”(Luke 6:27). And he showed us by his own example how we should pray for them: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 22:34). We should ask first for grace to be given to persecuted believers to pray in that way, and then we should join them in praying for their persecutors.
How do we expect such prayers to be answered? There is only one way that persecutors can be forgiven. They “don’t know what they are doing” – so they must be told! God must send them gospel messengers as he sent messengers to the people who had crucified Christ (Acts 2:33). They must be brought to repentance and they must seek forgiveness through Christ, just like the people of Jerusalem so long ago (Acts 2:37-38). Jesus’s cry from the cross was answered by the salvation of three thousand of his enemies on the day of Pentecost. Can’t we expect to see equally wonderful answers to prayer today?
And finally we must pray for justice to be done. Yes, we pray for persecutors to be forgiven and saved. But we know that there are some will remain stubborn and hating to the end. So we pray that God will deal with them in justice. The Old Testament psalmists pleaded with God again and again to judge and punish wicked people who persecute the innocent. But such prayers for justice were not just for Old Testament times. Jesus gave us the example of a widow who prayed, “Give me justice against my adversary” (Luke 18:3). And he assured us, “Will not God give justice to his elect who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you he will give justice to them speedily” (vs 7).
Is it wrong to long and pray for the wicked to be punished? It can’t be. “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ ” (Revelation 6:9-10). The saints in heaven, free from sin, plead for God to bring vengeance on their persecutors.
iii] We are commanded to prepare. The Lord Jesus warned that every one of his followers should expect persecution and be ready for it. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). He knew that he would carry a cross to a place of execution. He said that each of his followers must be ready to follow him to that same place. “Behold I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you…Brother will deliver brother over to death.. you will be hated by all for my name’s sake…” (Matthew 10:16-23). The apostles repeated those warnings. “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings…” (1 Peter 4:12). Almost every book in the New Testament speaks about the persecution believers must expect to face.
And yet so often we assume it will never happen to us. Why? Because we live in the UK. And we are used to freedom. For three hundred years, believers here have had almost unrestricted freedom to worship, to witness, to follow a Christian lifestyle. Indeed the laws of the land have given us many privileges and protections. We are shocked when we hear of open-air preachers being arrested or nurses being sacked for witnessing to patients. “These things can’t happen here!” And we assume that if we protest in the right quarters and lobby with enough vigour, we can make sure that freedom will persist.
We need to be reminded that persecution is the norm for Jesus’s followers. We have every reason to think it will come to us – and maybe sooner than we expect. Looking at the experience of believers around the world forces us to see that we are not immune. If the Lord allows believers in Pakistan, in Indonesia, in China, in Sweden to suffer, why should we be exempt? “Be sober-minded, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world…” (1 Peter 5:8-9). Awareness of the suffering of others helps us to be prepared for our turn when it comes.
God will prepare us for it. He most certainly will. There was once a Christian preacher who was tried by the Inquisition and condemned to be burned at the stake. He was full of apprehension that he would never be able to endure the flames and would be filled with terror and deny his Lord. So he tried himself the night before by holding his finger in the flame of the candle and he could hardly keep it there five seconds, it was so painful. “I will disgrace my Lord,” he said to him; “I will deny him!” But when the day dawned and they took him to the stake he did not flinch. He continued to trust in God and preach him from the flames. God gave him grace and strength when he needed it, and not before.
3. EVERY CHRISTIAN IS TO BE UNASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL.
“Yet I am not ashamed,” (v.12) says Paul. Do you see that he mentions this concern again? He has just exhorted Timothy not to be ashamed of bearing witness to the gospel nor ashamed of Paul (v.8). There must have been a wave of persecution breaking over the infant church. Horrible and unspeakable things were being done to the young believers. They were being mocked and hated and tortured. Yet Paul kept preaching his gospel. He was not ashamed of believing Christian truths and persuading other people to leave temples and synagogues and follow the Lord Jesus. “I am not ashamed of asking wives to make a decision that will mean their husbands will divorce them, and that children will be thrown onto the streets by their parents. You do not have to live but you have to obey God. There was once a boy whose family came to this church but he was deeply ashamed of attending with them each Sunday, and so the only way he would come with them was if the rest of the family got into the car and then drove around the corner and he came down the back lane and got into the car there, where none of his friends could see where he was going. The first sign that he had embraced the gospel and become a Christian would have been his walking calmly out of the house with the family, not slinking off to church in embarrassment, but going in peace to the house of God. Do not be ashamed of the good news of Jesus Christ.
10th January 2016 GEOFF THOMAS