Romans 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that bring salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
But actually that is not the passage I have chosen to preach on. We are going to read from Paul’s second letter to the young pastor, Timothy, which is also about not being ashamed of the gospel.
Read 2 Timothy 1:6-14
What image you have of Timothy? Paul had deployed him to lead the church in Ephesus but it seems that he was facing a major temptation. He was afraid and the temptation was to retreat from proclaiming the gospel. He was embarrassed by the gospel and afraid to speak the truth boldly.
Do you think that is also true for many Christians today? Are many Christians a bit confused about what the gospel is, a bit embarrassed by the gospel and therefore silent? Here we have the words of Paul, the older Christian, Timothy’s mentor, teaching a young Christian about timidity.
- 1:4 refers to Timothy’s tears. We don’t know the reason for those tears but, given the rest of the letter, it is probably his fear and his reluctance to do the work that Paul had commissioned him to.
- 1:6 –Timothy had received the laying on of hands – probably referring to his commissioning to ministry. And he had received a spiritual gift – an empowering by God for this ministry. But he wasn’t using it! Why not? Paul urges him to fan it into flame once again.
- 1:7 – Paul says that the Spirit of God does not make us timid. That seems to be Timothy’s problem. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit gives us power. We will come back to that.
- 1:8 – Paul says “Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me His prisoner. But join me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” Ashamed of the gospel. This New Testament pastor was ashamed of the gospel! Both the gospel itself and Paul’s suffering were causing Timothy to fear. He wasn’t sure he wanted to be identified with Jesus or with Paul.
- 1:12 – Paul says that he is suffering because of the gospel but he is not ashamed of it. Why? Because he knows Jesus and he is convinced that Jesus will ultimately deliver him.
- 1:15 – he has been deserted by everyone. Why? Because they were also ashamed and afraid?
- 1:16 – Onesiphorus had helped Paul. Unlike the others, he had not been ashamed of Paul’s chains.
- 2:1 – Paul urges Timothy to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
- We could go on looking at Paul’s exhortations to Timothy to hold onto the truth and to proclaim it, in the rest of the letter, but we won’t. I am sure you get the picture.
Timothy was timid. Identifying with Jesus meant opposition. Timothy was tempted to pull his head down below the parapet; to play it safe. On the other hand, Paul was boldly proclaiming Jesus but suffering for it. Paul was in chains. Paul was being criticised. There is an interesting contrast here between Paul and Timothy. Being bold, and suffering, seem to go together. That frightened Timothy. And so, in the same way that Peter had denied knowing Jesus, Timothy was ashamed of associating with Paul.
There is a temptation for us to distance ourselves from the gospel message and from Jesus Himself. Speak up for truth and you will probably be criticised and so we are tempted to say nothing, or tempted to change the message so that it is less offensive.
For example, the Bible teaches that Jesus is the only way to God. Jesus Himself said, “No one comes to the Father, expect through me.” The disciples said that salvation is found in no one else for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). It is very clear in the scriptures that Jesus is God’s unique provision for the salvation for the world. There is no one else. Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
But are we willing to say that? Or do we fear being considered arrogant or fear being ridiculed? Are we tempted to fudge that teaching because we are ashamed of it? Do we prefer to just keep quiet?
Even the vocabulary of the gospel sometimes sticks in our throats. Some people choke on words like “saved” and “holiness”? Are we willing to talk about the consequences of rejecting God’s grace – death; separation from God? Do we feel comfortable talking about eternal life – heaven?
I use those words because they are the words that Paul uses in this passage. For him it is all about the gospel or, as he puts it in v.8, “the testimony about our Lord”. What is that gospel?
Look at v.9. “God has saved us and called us to a holy life.” That is the gospel. That is the good news. God has saved us and called us to a holy life. Paul doesn’t shrink from declaring that.
He hasn’t used the word “sin” but it is clearly implied. Why is there a need to be saved? What have we been saved from? Sin and its consequences. What does holiness imply? Turning away from sin. Dedicating ourselves to God. Even the idea of turning raises another gospel word: repentance.
Paul then says that we are saved not because of anything we have done but by God’s grace. It is simply the goodness and the mercy of God, not our worthiness. We cannot earn it; we just have to receive it. But even that can be offensive to people who want to feel that they earnt it. Are we willing to say to people that they will never be good enough; we must acknowledge our unworthiness and receive God’s gift?
Sometimes people think that God is hard to please and that He is biased towards punishing us. But Paul says God’s purpose is to save (see v.9). God made grace available before the beginning of time. Grace wasn’t some afterthought. God has extended grace to sinful people from before the beginning of time.
That grace is in Christ Jesus. Grace was always God’s attitude but it was revealed in the appearing of Jesus. In Jesus, our Saviour, God’s saving grace is made available. He is God’s means of salvation.
v.10 – Paul says Jesus destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Those are key gospel words: on the one hand, death, on the other, eternal life.
That is the gospel as expressed by Paul in verses 9 and 10 – sin, grace, repentance, salvation, holiness, eternal life. In v.11, he says, “Of this gospel, I was appointed a herald…”
Paul was a herald of the gospel – loudly proclaiming it. Timothy was embarrassed by it and fearful.
Today there are many versions of the gospel that are different from the biblical one. People might say that the gospel is about how we treat the Syrian refugees. Of course Christians will be passionately concerned about people in need and issues of justice. But that is not the gospel. The gospel is about our salvation from the curse of our sin by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The gospel is about being rescued from death and receiving eternal life. That is what John 3:16 says: God gave us Jesus so that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life. Some believe the gospel is about how much God wants to bless us. Yes, God does want to bless us but look at what this passage says about being willing to suffer. The gospel isn’t about having an easy life. The gospel is the call to live a holy life of suffering in the service of Jesus.
Timothy wasn’t sure that he was willing to suffer for this gospel. So what did his mentor say? Did Paul say, “That’s OK. We are all different. You are not cut out for suffering. God understands that”?
Not at all. Being a coward is not an option for Christians. Paul urges him on to boldness. “Be strong. Be disciplined. Proclaim this message boldly. Suffer.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
Look at 2:11-12: “If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
12 if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
What is Paul saying to Timothy? Jesus said the same things. Those who lose their lives will find life. Those who are ashamed of Him will find that Jesus is ashamed of them. Those are tough truths.
But notice something else in this passage: every time Paul calls Timothy to be bold he also says that God will enable him to do it. Yes, it is frightening but God can do what we cannot do for ourselves.
For example, in 2:1 Paul commands Timothy to be strong “in the grace that is in Christ Jesus”. Timothy is not strong in himself but he is urged to experience the grace of God that can make him strong.
In the verses we read, when Timothy is told to use the gift he has received, in 1:6, the key thing is that it is a gift of God. It is a divine empowering that has been received supernaturally through the laying on of hands. Paul simply tells him to use what God has given.
In v.7 Paul says that the Spirit does not make us timid. Timidity is not some sort of Christian virtue. On the contrary, the Spirit gives power. Spiritual maturity and vitality is marked by power. Not human power; Holy Spirit power. As Timothy ministers, the Holy Spirit will work through him powerfully impacting people’s lives. The same can be true for us and if it isn’t currently true, we need to be on our knees saying, “God fill us with your Spirit. Empowering us by the Holy Spirit.” Our weakness is no excuse. God has given us power. Do we need more of God in our lives?
In v.8 Paul tells Timothy to join him in suffering for the gospel but he is to do it by the power of God.
In vv.11, 12 Paul says that he has been appointed a herald, apostle and teacher of the gospel. Can he just be quiet? No, even though speaking leads to suffering, He has been commissioned to declare the gospel. And he doesn’t shrink back from it. He is not ashamed of it. Why? Because he knows Jesus and he trusts Jesus to one day give him the rewards of his service. He can do it because of Jesus.
In vv.13-14, Paul tells Timothy to guard the pattern of sound teaching that he had heard from Paul. Timothy might have been tempted to water it down; to change it, but he can’t. He must guard the truth. But again, guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
What would it have been like for Timothy to receive this letter? He was struggling and not sure he could be bold. He was afraid. His inclination to distance himself from the gospel message is described as being ashamed of the gospel.
Paul telling him to be strong and to preach the gospel in season and out of season probably would have made no difference at all except for the following:
- Recognise the reality. Maybe he hadn’t thought of it as being ashamed of the gospel. That is a reality check. Would he really be ashamed of the gospel – especially knowing that he ran the risk of Jesus being ashamed of him? Is it a reality check for us too? Is my silence evidence that I am ashamed of the gospel?
- Choose the eternal not the immediate. Paul, his spiritual father and mentor, was willing to suffer for the gospel. Why? Because he was looking ahead to a better day that he believed Jesus was keeping for him and so he would suffer now in order to receive that. As he said elsewhere, he believed our current suffering was nothing compared to the glory that would be revealed. Timothy had to ask himself how well he knew Jesus and how much he trusted Him.
- Trust God to provide. All the strength Timothy needed was available in God. His fear showed a lack of dependence on the Holy Spirit and a lack of faith in God. He had slipped into a worldly type of Christianity where he was relying on himself, but he was being called back to a Spirit-empowered, God-trusting, Jesus-honouring, adventurous faith. Maybe he remembered that that was what he really wanted.