Bill McFarland

April 8, 2007


We would not expect a many who had spent his life preaching the gospel of Christ everywhere he could go to write to a man who had been his co-worker in that effort for twenty years or so and to say in his very last letter, “Remember Jesus Christ.”  Yet, that is exactly what the apostle Paul does. 

We have problems with our memories at different kinds of levels.  We may forget where we put our car keys or what our names are.  We may forget in the sense of losing focus and letting something else become the attention getter in our lives.  That can even happen with the Lord.  We can begin to pay more attention to our projects than who it is we are working for.  Or, we may forget in the sense of failing to make application of what we know about him in our everyday lives. 

That last means of remembering is really the theme that runs through the passage that we will study together this morning.  When the gospel of Christ is applied to our lives as individuals, one of the things that has to happen is what one writer calls the “paradoxical contrast between the pathway and the goal.”  When the gospel is applied in our lives, we begin to approach life in such a way that lowliness leads to exaltation.  Losing leads to finding.  Giving ourselves leads to gaining what we are looking for most.  Even death becomes the way to life, and defeat becomes the way to victory.

If you will watch with us the line of thought that runs through 2 Timothy 2:8-13, then perhaps you will see this theme and we can think through it today. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!  Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.  The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.”

Jesus: Dead But Risen

If the principle is the contrast between the pathway and the goal, there are three illustrations of it in what was just read.  The first illustration is found in verse 8, and it is the Lord Jesus Christ himself.  This is the only time in the entire epistle of 2 Timothy in which it says it in this order, “Jesus Christ.”  Every other time Paul refers to “Christ Jesus.”  The reason seems to be so that he can make the application of the fact that a person who lived in the flesh like us is the Messiah who has been raised up to rule as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Notice that Paul asked Timothy first to “remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.”  This is far different thing from saying, “I want you to remember that Jesus was raised up.”  We are not taught in the scriptures anywhere to make some sort of a special remembrance of the resurrection.  Is that a surprising thing to you?  But everywhere in scripture it is emphasized that we must remember Christ risen from the dead.  The idea is not just that he was raised up, but that he is alive forever more and that he holds the keys of death and Hades.  In Revelation 1, the apostle John is given the picture of that glorious one like unto a son of man, and he falls down at his feet as a dead man.  This great one lays his right hand on John and has him to stand up and he says, “Fear not, I am the first and the last and the living one.  I died and behold I am alive forever more and I have the keys of death and Hades.”  It is in that sense that Timothy is to remember Christ risen from the dead. 

Also, he is to remember Jesus as the offspring or the seed or the descendant of David.  The idea in this statement, of course, harkens back to Old Testament promise.  God promised David that he would raise up one of his sons and would put him on his throne, and that he would be the ruler of a kingdom that would exist forever.  When the announcement of the approach of Jesus’ birth was made by the angel in Luke 1, he said in verses 32 and 33, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

That picture of Jesus as the son of David becomes a great theme in the rest of the New Testament, so much so that when the book ends, the last thing the Lord says about himself is this, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star" (Rev. 22:16).

The gospel, then, which Paul preached, brings these two great themes together.  Jesus risen from the dead and Jesus the descendant of David, and the gospel says that by means of his offering himself up for us all, Jesus has become both of those things for all men everywhere and that all of us are accountable to him.  The victory was won as he humbled himself and let God raise him up.  The victory was won as he served so that God could make something of his service.  He became who he is by submitting himself to the Father’s will. 

It is interesting to me how many times in the gospel as preached in the New Testament these two thoughts come together.  In Acts 2, for example, as the gospel is first preached the apostles make the point that David had spoken as a prophet and that he, knowing that God had sworn to raise up one of his sons to rule, had spoken about Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 2:30-31).  In Acts 13:34 these two themes, the risen savior and the descendant of David, are brought together to say that in Christ God has presented to mankind the sure mercies of David.  Then, if you notice, even in the last book of the Bible we begin with him as “the living one” and end with him as “the offspring of David, the bright and morning star.” (Rev. 1:18; 22:16)  The way to life is through the humbling, serving, submitting Son of God, even in the case of Christ himself.

Paul: Bound But Not Bound

Paul goes ahead then to say in the next place that he himself as a servant of Christ is an illustration of the principle that life comes through losing oneself.  Notice how this works out in the next two verses.  In behalf of this gospel, Paul has become one who met hardship.  Notice that he says, “I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal.”  He is fettered; he is chained in a dungeon somewhere as an evildoer.  The only other place in the New Testament where this particular term for “malefactor” or “evildoer” or “criminal” occurs is in the story of the crucifixion of Jesus as Luke puts it down, where he says that Jesus was crucified between two criminals.  (Lk. 23:33).  Paul is saying here that he has gone about in preaching the gospel of Christ to try to be a blessing to people, and he ended up chained in that dungeon as a common evildoer.  Is there any victory or blessing in that? 

Yes – because he does this out of his conviction that the word of God is not bound.  He may be bound; he may be chained, but he is convinced the Lord’s word is not chained.  The idea behind this picture also has a great Biblical background.  The great prophet Isaiah, for example, makes this point twice in his writing. First, he says here, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”  (Is. 40:58). Paul may be withering there in the Roman prison, but the Lord’s word won’t!  Then in Isaiah 55:10-11, it says, "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” 

This works out in Paul’s case in two ways.  One is that even there as he is imprisoned, there are other people who certainly spread the word forth.  While he himself might be persecuted, it works out for the progress of the gospel.  In Philippians 1:12-14 Paul says, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.  And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”   They tried to bind him, but they couldn’t bind the word!  The other is that even when everybody else forsook him, the Lord stood by him and strengthened him so that through him the message was fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles heard it (2 Tim. 4:17). 

Paul, mistreated himself, but convinced the Lord’s word would continue to progress and win the victory, kept on serving for two reasons.  One is because he believed in the life-giving gospel, and the other was for the sake of the chosen, the elect.  People have the opportunity to be chosen in Christ, but they have to hear of Christ.  So Paul suffers what he suffers for the church’s sake (Col. 1:24).  The gospel to him meant that he ought to do something just for the sake of people the Lord could save.  There is an unselfishness there, and there is a thinking that, “My actions may have an influence and may impact other people.  Whether they make it to heaven will depend partly on my influence in their lives.”  So Paul endures even suffering because of that.



All of Us: Dying To Live

The third illustration of this principle that you find in this passage becomes all of us who are Christians.  All of us!  There is an overriding principle that runs through the last part of this saying here, “For he cannot deny himself” (v. 13b).  The truth of all the rest of it depends on that one statement.  He cannot deny himself.  It applies to all the four “if” clauses that are here.  The Lord will be true to himself.  One writer made the observation, “To be false to himself is something which even omnipotent God cannot do.”  Way back in the days of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness in Numbers 23 in the episode of Balaam, one of the things that’s said in verse 19 makes this very point.  It says, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.  Has he said, and will he not do it?  Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”   “God will be found true even if every man is a liar” (Rom 3:3).  Titus 1:2 says that God cannot lie.  He cannot because of who he is.  Righteousness and truth are a part of his nature, and he therefore will operate consistent with himself.

Here’s what that means to us.  “If we have died with him …”  This is a word that has to do with one act in the past.  When I made that good confession and when I was buried with Christ, I in a sense, died.  I was crucified with Christ; now I live for him; he lives in me (Gal. 2:20).  And Paul says because the Lord can’t deny himself, if we died with him, “we will also live with him.”  We will live with him now as we imitate his example.  We will live with him after a while as he raises us up and makes us like his glorious body, when we see him as he is and are made like him.  (1 John 3:2). 

The next statement is “if we endure, we will also reign with him.”  The word “endure” means to patiently wait, to be steadfast in what we do, to keep on.  The idea that this brings up is that being a Christian won’t always be easy, and there may be hardship to be borne.  But if we endure, we will also reign with him.  The easiest way to understand reigning with him is to remember all of the passages that talk about a crown being given.  There is in 2 Timothy 4:8 “a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to those who have loved his appearing.”  There is in 1 Peter 5:4 the “crown of glory.”  There is in James 1:12 the “crown of life.”  Depending on the Lord’s faithfulness to himself and because of his promise, if we endure we will reign with him. 

The third statement is “if we deny him...”  The dying with him is a past word, the enduring is a present word, denying him is a future possibility in the original language.  If we deny him, he will also deny us.  We want God’s faithfulness when it comes to his promises.  But friends, God can’t be a God whose promises you can trust unless he is also a God whose warnings you must respect.  The same God who will see to it that we live and that we reign is also a God who will be true to himself if we deny him.  If we are faithless, he remains faithful.  H.D.M. Spence put it this way, “He cannot treat the faithless as though they were faithful.  He cannot act as if faithfulness and faithlessness were one and the same thing.”  This is not a make-believe world.  The principle is that if we will endure, if we live with him, then he in faithfulness to his promises, sees to it that life is ours.  But the way to victory, the way to exaltation, is to humble oneself.  That loyal submission is what God in the end honors and blesses. 

The same writer of these words here once found himself in prison in a town called Philippi for doing nothing other than trying to help people.  At about midnight he and his co-worker at the time, Silas, were in that dungeon singing and praying.  An earthquake hit and everybody’s bonds were loosed.  The jailor left them and was ready to take his life because he had failed in his job.  Paul stopped him from that destructive course of action.  The man wanted to know what he could do to be saved.  He was told to believe in the Lord Jesus with all his house.  Then he was taught about Jesus so he would know what it was he was to believe and then he changed his mind and washed the stripes that he had inflicted.  That same hour of the night he was taken with his household and was baptized into Christ.  I can’t see any reason why they would have done that if it hadn’t been what they were taught to do. 

That is how we need to begin in our response in giving ourselves to the Lord.  Then we need to see to it that we live for him, we endure, that we own him instead of denying him in our everyday lives.  And where we fail, we still can come to him and ask him in prayer to forgive us and help us.  If you are here today and you need to obey the Lord and come home to him, if we can help wouldn’t you let it be known while we stand and sing together.