Christian Leadership #3: Called to Hard Workon October 18, 2011
The Rev. Canon Dr. Brett Cane, October 16, 2011
18th Sunday after Pentecost; 8:30 and 10:00 a.m., Holy Communion
Christian Leadership #3:
2 Timothy 2:1-13 (Exodus 33:12-23)
Lord Jesus, you endured hardship when you walked amongst us; help us now, by your Holy Spirit, to grasp your call to hard work in the leadership of your people, that they may obtain your salvation and live in the eternal glory of God the Father. Amen.
Today, we continue our Fall series of sermons from Paul’s second letter to his young disciple Timothy whom he sent to Ephesus to oversee the Christian community there because it was in need of challenge and correction. I have pointed out that the teaching in this letter is very relevant to our parish as it enters a time of transition and change in terms of leadership in the light of my retirement in a few months.
In the previous sermons, we have seen that “A Christian Leader…Is Chosen by God” and “A Christian Leader…Is Gifted by God.” This week, we will see that “A Christian Leader…Is Called to Hard Work.” We will look at this under three headings: the challenge to hard work, the nature of hard work, and the inspiration to hard work. At the end of each section I will note, as I have done in the previous sermons, some points to ponder as you look towards new leadership – these are not only for those with the direct responsibility of making the selection (both interim and permanent) but to all members of the congregation because, as the letter shows us, you each have role in preparing for and receiving these leaders.
The Challenge to Hard Work
The thrust of today’s passage from 2 Timothy is Paul’s admonition in verse 3: “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (NIV). Other versions speak of “Join with me in suffering…”, “Endure suffering with me…” etc. We will be focussing on the reality of suffering with respect to persecution and betrayal as part of Christian ministry when we come to chapter 4; today, we will be looking more at the concept of endurance in the face of the challenges – the hard work – of Christian ministry.
The passage begins with, “You then, my son, be strong…” (verse 1). Why is Timothy to be strong? Became of the challenge Paul gave him in chapter 1 to “Guard the good deposit that has been entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14) and in the previous letter, “Guard what has been entrusted to your care” (1 Timothy 6:20). The Christian faith is powerful but it is also fragile – it can be twisted and perverted. Christianity is not just facts and doctrines but the challenge to live out the life of the Spirit. It is relational and so each generation needs to enter into the relationship. The true faith can disappear in a generation – “God has no grandchildren.” This is why Paul tells Timothy, “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (verse 2). The effective and accurate transmission of the gospel to others is a primary and challenging task for the Christian leader. And it is hard work!
But Paul gives an important proviso in approaching this formidable task: “You then…be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (verse 1). Timothy is called to be strong but it is a strength rooted in what God has done – not in his own power and abilities. We noted last time that the uniqueness of Christianity is grace – “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (2 Timothy 1:9) – this is what is in danger of getting lost in the transmission between generations. It is so easy for Christianity to be reduced to morality and self-effort. It is also so easy for Christian leaders, especially, to forget that success in ministry comes from God and the leader’s job is to set the stage so that God can work in people’s lives. This is why, before Paul goes on to give analogies for the hard work Timothy is called to do to, he points Timothy to the source of his ability to do any hard work – it is by God’s grace – not his own efforts. As he told Timothy in the previous chapter – “Guard (the Gospel) with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (1 Timothy 1:14).
But grasping this reality is not only essential for Christian leaders – it is also essential for every believer. It is so easy to live day-by-day in our own strength and only go to God when there are challenges or difficulties. Not only will this lead to problems we could have avoided, it completely misses the point that Christian faith is relationship rooted in grace – the grace of God. Acknowledging God’s presence and power in the ordinary, as Linda pointed out last week, is to be at the centre of our lives. This is to be the basis for engaging the hard work not only of Christian leadership but of Christian living!
Points to Ponder:
Look for a leader who realizes the seriousness of the task – the importance and hard work of guarding the Gospel.
Look for a leader who knows he or she can only do this by the grace of God – that strength to lead God’s people effectively comes from God through the power of the Holy Spirit not from his or her own abilities or charisma.
The Nature of Hard Work
Paul now goes on to describe the nature of the hard work Timothy is called to using three pictures or analogies taking from life: the soldier, the athlete, the farmer.
No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs; rather, they try to please their commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. (verses 4-6)
Paul has used these analogies in his letters before,# and they are good ones! While he is applying them here to Timothy as a leader, his use elsewhere shows they are equally applicable to every Christian.
The soldier: The image of the Christian as a soldier is not a popular one today because of its negative overtones of violence and triumphalism. While noting these concerns, however, we need to recognize that as Christians we are in the midst of a great battle against the forces of evil that stand against God and his love and goodness. In Ephesians, Paul tells us that we struggle “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” and that we are to “put on the armour of God” (Ephesians 6:12-13). In Exodus we are told that “The Lord is a warrior” (Exodus 15:3) and Jesus is shown in Revelation as having a “sharp double-edged sword” come out of his mouth (Revelation 1:16). In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he tells him to “fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 1:18). Acknowledging we are in a battle is realistic and so the imagery of a soldier is helpful.
In terms of this analogy we think immediately of the soldier’s need for discipline and endurance under difficult conditions but Paul focuses on two more specific aspects of military life: the need to be single-minded and accountability. First, “No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs” (verse 4) – a soldier mustn’t get sidetracked. Here we could think of being preoccupied with seeking comfort and security or dealing with the worries of life. What is the focus of your energies each day? Yes, you need to have the necessities of life, but is your chief concern to “Seek first the kingdom of God,” as Jesus says, assuring us that then, “all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33)? But there is a more subtle way of being side-tracked. It is allowing good things to replace the best. This is seen in church life. It is so easy to get so involved in the “Work of the Lord” that we forget “The Lord of the Work.” This is why Paul goes on to tell us, secondly, that the soldier “tries to please their commanding officer” (verse 3). We are accountable to Jesus. The hard work of Christian leadership and living is built around a relationship and our responsibility and dedication to one who loves us and sacrificed his life for us. The Christian is like a dedicated soldier.
The athlete: The picture of the athlete moves us on to obedience: “Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules” (verse 4). Of all areas of life, athletics involves strict rules to be followed and standards to be obeyed. We are all too familiar with news stories of athletes failing drug tests because they were trying to take short-cuts to victory. Trying to find loop holes, taking the easy way out or cheating is not an option for the Christian leader or believer. Having been saved by grace can lead us to think that we can breathe a spiritual sigh of relief and do whatever we feel like! I have said before – we have been freed from sin not because we have done right but so that we may be freed to do right! The hard work of Christian leadership and living is built around following God’s rules and methods as the way of holiness and wholeness. The Christian is like an obedient athlete.
The farmer: The final picture is that of the farmer and “the natural law (that)…the one who does the work deserves the first share of the produce”#: “The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops” (verse 6). Paul’s focus is on the connection between hard work and rewards. Tom Wright says, “Beware of the temptation to engage in the Christian life like a kind of absentee landlord, expecting the benefits without having to do any of the hard work…if you want rewards, get on with the work.”# Like the farmer, you need to put in long hours, sweat and get your hands dirty. I often quote the training protocol for directors at Pioneer Camps – first you have to do toilet duty! I was very impressed that Prince William “did toilets” both when he was a cadet at Sandhurst and when on a sort of “missions trip” to Chile. For us, it means not only engaging in hard work where our private lives or church activities are concerned, but in the public sphere to “challenge the assumptions and practices of the world”# as Paul and Timothy were certainly doing in the Roman Empire. The hard work of Christian leadership and living is built around getting directly involved in the dirtiness and challenges of life inside and outside the church. The Christian is like a hands-on farmer.
John Stott summarises the nature of hard work Timothy (and we) are called to: “The dedication of a good solider, the law-abiding obedience of a good athlete and the painstaking labour of a good farmer.”# This runs counter to appeals to faith which focus mainly on “what Jesus can do for you” – a consumer-oriented religion. The true faith leads to deep commitment and service. This is not something we should pass over lightly, but reflect upon deeply as Paul tells Timothy: “Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this” (verse 7).
Points to Ponder:
Look for a leader who is not afraid of hard work – who is dedicated to Jesus, is not always looking for the easy-way out and is willing to get involved personally in what needs to be done.
Look for a leader who does not preach a “consumer gospel” – but one of deep commitment and service in all spheres of life – personal, church and community.
The Inspiration to Hard Work
Now, to do hard work, we need encouragement! So after letting Timothy know that the hard work he is called to do is in the strength that God provides and what that hard work involves, he then gives inspiration to Timothy to persevere in this hard work: “Remember…” (verse 8 ) and he gives five sources of encouragement in quick succession. Two are personal examples, two are God’s word and God’s people and the final one is from the words of a hymn.
Jesus: The first personal example Paul gives as encouragement is Jesus himself: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David” (verse 8). Jesus is the ultimate example of one who gave his all in the face of opposition to the death, but who was vindicated by being raised to life. Here is both the hope of ultimate victory and also the reminder that God has the last word – he is in charge no matter how bleak things may seem! God has the power to take our efforts which seem weak and defeated by the world and bring life out of death.
I have experienced this in two significant situations – one was the birth of Crosstalk Ministries Day Camps 32 years ago. I had been involved in another children’s camping venture for seven years. I had worked hard with many others to turn the camp around to become a Christ-centred and Biblically-based camp. We had given our lives for that ministry and had seen God work powerfully. Then through a variety of circumstances, the direction of the camp was changed. I was devastated – all that work – all that sacrifice – my heart was broken and I knew I had to move out of that situation and ministry. It was then, because I was studying and so had time on my hands (!), a clergy friend suggested we develop a ministry of children’s day camps. Well, the rest is history – out of the death of one ministry came the life of another. Since then, Day Camps has involved up to 30,000 different children and youth and adults, with 10% of those making Jesus their “special friend.” Life out of death – God uses the suffering of his people to bring about his purposes.
Paul’s adds a rare reference to “descended from David” which brings in two more elements of encouragement – one that God’s promises (here, of a righteous king) may seem long in being fulfilled but they will come to pass eventually. Plus, as we saw two sermons ago, in the world’s eyes David was the least likely candidate for God’s leadership as was Jesus – God can take what is despised or small in the world’s eyes and use it to his glory – so with Timothy, so with us!
Paul: Paul uses himself as the next personal example of inspiration for Timothy: “This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal” (verses 8-9). Timothy had not met Jesus in the flesh but he did know Paul – and saw first-hand of his perseverance under suffering and hard work. In six other places in this letter# Paul uses himself as an example for Timothy. We are not perfect – and Paul wasn’t either – but we do serve as examples for others. Let that both inspire us to persevere in the hard work we are called to do but also remind us to look around at the examples we have to inspire us. This church is full of them for me!
The Word of God: The third source of inspiration is the word of God: “But God’s word is not chained” (verse 8). Isaiah wrote: “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field….The grass withers and the flowers fall…but the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:6-8). As God’s word sustained the Israelites in exile in Babylon, so it will sustain us in our trials now – so read it! We will look more at this in two weeks’ time.
Love for God’s people: The next source of inspiration is crucial for anyone who wants to lead God’s people: it is the value and worth of God’s people themselves. “Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory” (verse 10). If you want to be a Christian leader and stand firm in the midst of all the pressures and challenges of the task, you must have a love for God’s people, the Church. This is what Paul had as can be seen from all his letters; for example from his letter to the Philippians: “I thank my God every time I remember you…It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart” (Philippians 1:3, 7). Without this God-given love Christian leadership is empty and ineffective. I thank God that he has given me this love for you – it is what keeps me going in the midst of the ups and downs of parish life.
A closing hymn: Paul ends his sources of inspiration for Timothy with the words of a “trustworthy saying” which was probably a well-known Christian hymn or song:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
if we are faithless,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself. (verses 11-13)
These words summarize much of what Paul has said. “Dying with him” refers to our death with him to the old life signified through baptism and the new life he has given us which overcomes our weaknesses by his strength. The call to endure points to the need for hard work which will be rewarded but we may have to wait until Christ returns. The point about being disowned if we disown Jesus seems harsh but no harsher than Jesus himself: “Whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:33). This stresses the seriousness of the task to endure and the danger of deliberate and total abandonment of God – giving up on him. But there is encouragement right away: “he remains faithful” – our “faithlessness” here does not mean losing our faith but refers to our wavering and failures. It is in our weakness and helplessness that God will remain faithful to us and pull us through. God will not give up on Timothy. God will not give up on you.
Points to Ponder:
- Look for a leader who keeps his or her eyes on Jesus for their inspiration.
- Look for a leader who has good role models to follow.
- Look for a leader who knows the power of the word of God.
- Look for a leader who has a love for God’s people and holds them in his or her heart.
- Look for a leader who will not give up on God and knows that God is faithful in the midst of our failure and weakness.
This is the person who knows that “A Christian Leader…Is Called to Hard Work” and is willing to engage in it!