Do you know anyone who has left the ministry? I recently read a statistic that said 1800 pastors leave the ministry every month. One major reason for this is discouragement. Many of us have even been discouraged to the point that we have thought about quitting. Some of the greatest leaders in the Bible have been at this point. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, there are several indications that Timothy is discouraged and experiencing what we call “ministry burnout” (1:6-8, 13-14, 2:1). Paul on the other hand, is near the end of his life of ministry. He is writing from his second Roman imprisonment (A.D. 67) and is facing death at the hand of Emperor Nero (4:6-8). It is in this context that Paul, as Timothy’s mentor, sends his final words of encouragement to the young pastor. In 2:1-13, Paul charges Timothy to endure in the ministry.
After exhorting Timothy to be strong and to train new teachers in the church (vs. 1-2), Paul gives Timothy three models for ministry (vs. 3-7). The first model is the soldier’s purpose. Soldiers possess a singular commitment to the battle or assignment at hand. The minister of the Gospel must also be solely committed to his purpose. The second model is the athlete’s principle. No matter how well-trained or talented the athlete is, he must play by the rules or be disqualified. Like an athlete, the minister must not “take shortcuts” or disobey God’s rules if he is to succeed. The last model is the farmer’s productivity. Through hard work and commitment, the farmer is able to eventually enjoy the yield of his crops. All of these models show long-term, serious commitment to a cause. Paul wanted Timothy to meditate on these truths (vs. 7) because this is the type of commitment required in the ministry.
Paul then gives Timothy the ultimate motivation for ministry: making Christ known to others (vs. 8-10). He provides his sufferings as an example to Timothy of endurance for the sake of preaching Christ. While writing this letter, Paul was in a cold prison cell (4:13), in chains (2:9), expecting execution (4:6), and abandoned by his close friends (1:15; 4:9-12, 16). Paul was motivated to endure this intense suffering in order to bring others to salvation in Christ (vs. 10). The minister of the Gospel can never justify giving up because of Romans 10:14, “how shall they hear without a preacher?”
Paul then gives Timothy a glorious motto for ministry (vs. 11-13). This saying includes four promises concerning our commitment to Christ. First, those who have crucified themselves with Christ (Gal. 5:24) will also live with Christ in heaven. Paul is speaking here of the spiritual death of the old nature at salvation. Second, true believers who endure suffering for Christ will reign with him in his kingdom (Matt. 19:27-28). Our earthly sufferings cannot compare to the heavenly glory awaiting us (Romans 8:18). Third, false believers who eventually deny Christ will be denied by Christ. Finally, Christ is faithful even when we are not. Christ’s love and mercy remains extended even in our weakest moments. These are comforting words for a struggling servant.
Ministry is a hard road; we know this up front. Jesus calls us to take up a cross, not an easy chair. In addition to the difficult nature of Christian service, Satan and his minions are hard at work to discourage and immobilize Christian workers. Following the wisdom of Jesus, we should “count the cost” of serving Christ and then; obey the models of ministry, remember the motivation of ministry, and rejoice in the motto of ministry. Ministry is a marathon, not a sprint, so “let us run with endurance the race that lies before us” (Hebrews 12:2).
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, February 20, 2013.