Sermon Excerpts

Facing the Dark Days - Rev. Hector Cameron

“Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus.” - 2 Timothy 4:9-12

Paul’s placement of Timothy as pastor-superintendent of the Christian community at Ephesus, with its complex of always difficult and sometimes very vexatious problems, was an interesting one. Timothy had been, of course, specially set apart and endowed for the work of an evangelist by the laying-on of the hands, both of Paul and of the presbytery. He had already given excellent service to the apostle as his missionary companion over a considerable period, and had been sent as his trusted delegate on a variety of short-term missions to encourage and to steady churches, which were facing serious internal problems or else bearing the heat of persecution. There was in Timothy, too, something which appeared to Paul to fit him preeminently for the sort of work which Ephesus would demand. Speaking to the Philippians, he said of Timothy, “I have no man like-minded who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. But ye know him that as a son with the father he hath served with me in the Gospel” (Phil. 2:10—22). Leaving aside the minute details of interpretation, this tribute identified Timothy as someone possessed to a quite remarkable degree of unselfish and genuine Christian concern for the welfare of his fellow-believers, and, equally, for the furtherance of the missionary enterprises of the Church; and as going far beyond the general run of Christians in devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, if we take the apostle’s language literally, the description of Timothy was that he figured as a “coslave’’ of Christ, along with Paul himself.

On the other hand, Timothy was now faced with an unusually stiff and long-term exercise in missionary organization. Of him, Paul expected the establishment of the Ephesian church on a regular basis, the appointment and the training of officials as a main step in that direction, and the combating of a particularly subtle, and also stubborn, collection of false teachers. All this from a man who was still young, timid by disposition, frequently unwell and subject, we can gather, to depression, and deprived at a critical juncture of the benefit of the apostle’s close supervision and advice.

We shall consider four of the mainline reasons offered by Paul as inducements to Timothy, to apply himself both vigorously and unfalteringly to his assignment in Ephesus.

(1) The second coming of Christ, the righteous judge

“I charge thee before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom, Preach the word, etc.”

The general idea is that Timothy, if he is faithful to the charge about to be developed by Paul, will share in the glory of Christ’s coming and reign.

The servants of Christ are bound to concern themselves at all points in their Christian life and service with the solemn fact that we must, one day, every one of us, give an account to Christ, the righteous judge. And the consideration that, even now, the quality of our work is open to the scrutiny of Heaven, is stressed in the words, “I charge thee in the presence of God and the Lord Jesus Christ”.

At the same time, the Lord Jesus Christ is to be regarded as the unfailing Saviour of His people, as He is also their loved and respected Master, to give pleasure to whom must rank as a high incentive to offer the best in service. It belongs to Him to bring the good work He has begun in His people and which, also, He prosecutes through them to perfect fruition. He is the righteous judge (v. 8) who will make certain that the righteous man shall not fail of a proper and glorious reward; even if circumstances on earth may seem, at times, likely to frustrate it.

For Timothy, especially in the dark days which he was destined to face, there would come, inevitably, the temptation to view his work as a monotonous and meaningless round of routine procedures, or, on the other hand, as an unavailing series of distressing encounters with the forces of evil. It was imperative, therefore, that he should keep before him the truth that Christ is in undisputed charge of the Gospel’s onward movement.

(2) The Proper Christian reaction to dark and difficult times

Dark and difficult days were on the way for the apostolic church and in Ephesus, notably, the threatening clouds were already hanging low over the Christian scene. “The time will come” - Paul is completely frank with Timothy - “when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: And they shall turn away from the truth and shall be turned unto fables”. Yet, the last thing that we might expect Paul to do would be to paint the picture in sombre tones, merely in answer to some foreboding or other of his own heart, or because he believed a tragic cathartic experience of soul would, in the end, be good for Timothy. Paul had the mind of Christ and Christianity does not operate on such lines. His very next word - one of those celebrated Pauline “buts” - should alert us to something far removed from a gloomy contemplation of the turn of events for its own sake. “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry”. The verb “watch” carries the force of the “be sober”, and calls upon Timothy to maintain unruffled and alert commitment to all of his Christian undertakings, in distinction from running panic-stricken away from them. The command to endure afflictions repeats the exhortation of chapter 2:3, where Paul urges Timothy to “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ”. Because there is a war on Christ and His Church versus Satan - Christ’s followers must accept austerity and put up with hardship as rigours which are quite inseparable from the campaign, and as being experiences without which they cannot reasonably expect to share in Christ’s victories. We may summarise the main points of the apostle’s teaching as follows:

1. Christian ministers and Christian witnesses, in general, have, according to Paul, all the greater reason for maintaining a steady witness to the Gospel (fulfilling their ministry), all the greater reason for maintaining Christian teaching and promoting Christian evangelism vigorously and unfalteringly, in days when the professing Christian Church, over a wide field, is unsteady and uncertain.

2. Whenever there is a general drifting away from solid Christian instruction, that is the very time to take special steps to defend and promote the doctrine of Christ. Says Paul, “preach the word”, the original, undiminished Gospel of Christ. “Be instant in season, out of season”: i.e. be unfailingly at your post as pastor, teacher and evangelist, whether or not the times are propitious and whether in your immediate environment you are met with encouraging reactions, or, equally, the reverse. And, of course, even a saint, proverbially, can be provoked to say and do unsaintly things. So, Paul enjoins Timothy to “reprove, rebuke and exhort”, by all means - in the situation emerging, it would be completely necessary - but let him do it “with all longsuffering and doctrine”. Christian courtesy and affectionate patience are always, under God, powerful inducements to people to give to the Gospel a reasonable hearing.

3· And do not forget to “do the work of an evangelist”, is Paul’s next advice. Just because the days are becoming dark, and people themselves are becoming dark in relation to Gospel truth, the duty of maintaining an evangelistic initiative, and not simply the duty of holding the Christian fort as it stands, will be of prime importance. The temptation is strong, at such times, for the orthodox Christian community to turn in on itself. The temptation is strong to, so to say, keep the pot of churchly activity just simmering until revival takes place. No, Paul would say, such an attitude is quite wrong. It is here and now, if ever and anywhere, when the difficult days are actually upon us, yes and growing, that Christians must address themselves to the inalienable duty of evangelizing the world.

4· Timothy, moreover, would be compelled to witness people forsaking his own faithful ministry in favour of teachers who would cater for people’s “itching ears” and who would accommodate what doctrine was offered to people’s “lusts”, succumbing, that is to say, right, left and centre, to popular demand and suppressing, in the process, the Biblical insistence, both on personal holiness and on the exclusive Gospel-way of salvation. Timothy, however, must not be induced by that painful experience, to relax either his standards or his efforts. A cheap convert here or there might easily enough be obtained. But at what a cost to his loyalty to Christ and to the true salvation of his hearers! The temptation to pique and self-pity would, on such occasions, too, be human enough. Thus, Paul recommends Timothy to “watch”, to be sober, to be quite unrelenting with himself in the direction of holding to his Gospel perspectives. For the sake of genuine Gospel results, he must endure such afflictions and make full proof of his ministry.

5· It is instructive, incidentally, to see how much weight Paul lays on the place of Christian doctrine, and the study of it, as a prime factor in the strengthening of Christians for their duty. “Consider what I say”, he exhorts, when, in chapter 1, he calls upon his young colleague to behave in his Christian witness after the style of a good soldier, a dedicated athlete and an industrious farmer. “Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.”

This means that spiritual strength will come to the Christian through careful attention to doctrinal considerations. We have no right to expect a spiritual uplift, the surge of Christian optimistic feeling or a better resolution to face difficult undertakings, however much we pray and however much we seek the Spirit’s help, without careful and continual meditation on the teaching of Holy Scripture. The continuance of Christian courage is guaranteed only in the closest possible conjunction with the continuance of Christian Bible study.

(3) The logic of Paul’s death for Timothy, his colleague and successor

Paul produces further support for the charge which he gives to Timothy to be faithful to his ministry, from the fact that he, himself, is now ready to die as Christ’s martyr. “Watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry: For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.” The duty of faithfulness on Timothy’s part takes on urgency from the impending removal of his senior colleague from the missionary scene.

The apostle saw no virtue in concealing the fact from Timothy that the old and cherished partnership between them was on the point of being broken up irretrievably. Such concealment would, at best, have secured only a cheap and short-lived and paper-thin protection from reality for young Timothy. For himself, distasteful the mere article of death, and such a death, might be - he had, above all else, a sense of grateful satisfaction at having, in Christ’s strength, fought a good fight, and finished his course, and kept the faith. And he had nothing but confident expectation of receiving from Christ’s own hands the victor’s crown. One or two points are deserving of special notice.

I. Here, Paul’s steady purpose throughout the epistle, that of urging Timothy on so as to give his ministry in Ephesus his undivided and active attention, is not, for one minute, being forgotten by him. The apostle has not suddenly turned autobiographical in any sort of isolation from what he has been saying. He is not even preparing Timothy simply for his death so that the young man will not be too personally upset when it actually happens. No, rather like a wounded field commander, whose own time on the battleground is about up, he is anxious to devote the short time that is left him to deploying the forces still on the field to maximum advantage. The leadership is being transferred from the shoulders of the aged apostle to that of his youthful subordinate. The last thing Paul wants Timothy to do is to give way to overmuch sorrow as a result of his chief’s departure from the scene. And he has in mind the furtherance of the Gospel’s cause, even more than concern for Timothy’s personal comfort.

2. If the removal by death of the admired and loved leaders of one generation, people on whom we have so much depended in earlier days, has this effect upon us, that it inspires us to take up those duties upon which the once strong, but now nerveless, fingers have finally lost their grasp, and urges us to view more seriously than ever before our existing Christian work, then it is well. Paul would approve.

3· In Paul’s martyr testimony, there is implicit the assurance that Timothy, too, with the same divine help, will succeed in fighting the good fight, in finishing his own course and in keeping the faith; let the forces of evil at Ephesus, or anywhere else, do their worst. Timothy will require not to be taken off his guard and not to think that some strange thing is happening to him, by the discovery that there is a fierce fight to be fought and a strenuous race to be run, and that the faith has to be kept inviolate when profane hands reach out to wrench his testimony away from him. Paul’s God will prove to be Timothy’s God throughout.

(4) The implications of Paul’s attitude to the experience of loneliness

Paul at Pome was as open to the temptations projected by loneliness, and the painful experience of desertion, as any man. It is a cry from the heart of a Christian man in great need of fellowship, when he says to Timothy, “Do thy diligence to come shortly to me…. Do thy diligence to come before winter.” Certainly, he had good friends overseas, some of whom he specially mentions: Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. They were at Ephesus with Timothy, as possibly, by now, was Tychicus. Several of the others he mentions were away on far-flung missionary errands: Crescens, Titus and Erastus. Demas had disloyally forsaken him. Trophimus he had left at Miletum, sick. Luke was with him indeed, but he could scarcely keep Paul company all the time, nor assist him with every problem. Eubulus, Pudens, Linus and Claudia and “all the brethren”, who no doubt had visited him at one time or another, and were resident in Pome, must have been limited in their contacts with him - perhaps (in the light of v. 16) too often from fear. They were probably not able, in any case, to provide the sort of fellowship which a man of Timothy’s calibre, experience and closeness to Paul could provide at this juncture.

This allows an interesting commentary on fairly normal Christian experience. How often in a trying situation does the Christian, who may be at the height of his devotion to the Gospel of Christ nevertheless, find himself deprived of helpful fellowship. Some of his best Christian friends - the ones who could be of most value at the time - are in some distant place or are, perhaps, sick. The result is the same. And those Christians who are nearer at hand and mobile are either not presently available or are not, for some reason, capable of giving the quality and the degree of sympathetic encouragement necessary. And how specially painful when some previous fellow-campaigner (like Demas) has walked out on one, having succumbed, perhaps, to the attraction of worldly considerations. Paul was not complaining. Rather, was he illustrating his need and forewarning Timothy, at the same time, that this might very well be his line of experience sooner or later. Timothy must, thus, be prepared to take his share of the hardship, which, one way or another, was inseparable from being a servant of Christ ( I : 8) . Faced with this situation, Paul asked Timothy for three items of help and each separate request made is not without instruction for all Christians.

1. Company. Timothy was to come, himself, bringing Mark as well, and he was to do so before the winter storms would make sailing out of the question. One Commentator underlines at this point the interesting fact that Paul, who “loved the appearing of Christ” (v. 8), longed, at the same time, for the coming of Timothy. It is being more spiritual than the apostle Paul! - for people to claim that they can dispense with human fellowship since they have Christ. We neglect Christian fellowship at our peril. Christ ministers to His people through their Christian friends. And we require to adjust our doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, by the apostolic doctrine implicit in this chapter, that that same Holy Spirit generally comforts the Christian through the fellowship of other Christians.

There is this point too. Paul had, earlier in life, enjoyed marvellous fellowship with the apostles and other members of the apostolic missionary establishment. But those days were past. Darker, more deprived, more meagre days, so far as Gospel fellowship was concerned, had arrived. Paul knew well enough, also, that he could not put the clock back. He could not return simply through wistful reflection to the earlier state of affairs. But what we find him actually doing was developing what fellowship he could, by inviting Timothy and Mark to come and join him for that purpose. And Christians in our own time, some of them able to recall days of outstanding fellowship, instead of wistfully harking back for ever to those days, would be better employed in taking steps to develop fellowship on a more modest scale here and now, and wherever possible.

2. Warm clothing. Paul owned an overcoat which - whether with typical ministerial forgetfulness or not! - he had left with his friend Carpus at Troas. With the winter temperatures, even of Rome, in mind, he foresaw that it would be a handy article to have by him. He did not expect the Lord to work miracles unnecessarily. Timothy could stop off at Troas and collect the coat for him. As well as catering in an obvious way for his own need, Paul may very well have been serving advice to Timothy, who had certain impractical weaknesses in his make-up, never to undervalue the factor of common sense in the pursuit of his ministry.

It is not unreasonable to suppose, in the present context, that, apart from making a very effective gesture towards forestalling a loss of body temperature, which, if it happened, would also complicate his temptation to feel deprived and forlorn, the apostle Paul, knowing his man and well aware that there would be others like him to follow, was consciously placing an instructive estimate before Timothy on the importance of being practical in the Christian life. Getting things done that need to be done, however down-to-earth their nature, is not at all unrelated to the furtherance of the most spiritual objects of the Gospel as a whole. And the calculus of level-headedness, given its proper place by the Christian alongside the doctrinal and spiritual interests of his life, cannot but enhance his preparedness for the Lord’s next call upon him.

3. Books and parchments. This could, conceivably, refer to the Old Testament Scriptures and to some of Paul’s correspondence. We cannot be sure. Calvin comments that “this passage commends continual reading to all godly men as a thing from which they can profit”. It may well be costly in terms of loss of morale and of a sense of Christian purpose for any Christian to be twiddling his thumbs, or doing something else equally ineffective, when he might be getting down to some worthwhile reading. Finally, the apostle’s testimony to the Lord’s standing by him when, for whatever reason, he had been deserted by his Christian friends at his first appearance before Nero, is intended, without doubt, for Timothy’s special attention as the pastor-evangelist in Ephesus. Such forsaking could happen - might very well happen - to him too. In that event, the Lord would stand by him, as He had stood by Paul.

The Lord had, however, done more for Paul on that occasion than supply him with courage and protection, and suitable words of defence. He had strengthened him so that “all the Gentiles might hear”. We may suppose that it was not simply Caesar and the officials of court, and the military escort, who were present at the trial. There would, very likely, have gathered a large assembly of curious onlookers. And what the Lord did precisely was supply Paul, in his most grievous misfortune, with the largest congregation of Gentiles he had been privileged to address in many a long day, and equip him to present to them a very full account of the Gospel of Christ. And the same Lord, let Timothy take note, was able and ready, in his case too, to turn his sorest strait into an effective Gospel opportunity.

Not only this, but Paul was satisfied that the Lord would “deliver him from every evil work, and preserve him unto his heavenly kingdom.” Paul did not allow himself to think that the successful negotiation of one severe onslaught from evil sources was the end of that story. There would be more, and very likely worse, to come for himself, yes, and for Timothy too. But what did it matter? The Lord had delivered his servant “in six troubles: yea and in seven there should no evil touch him.” It was for Timothy to grasp (it is for all Christians to grasp), that everlasting salvation is the birthright of every believer. For every successive evil work - its proportions do not matter - there is more than ample deliverance held in readiness by the Lord to meet the evil. Timothy had every conceivable reason for making full proof of his ministry, in hope and confidence.

Rev. Hector Cameron was Minister in London, Lybster, Drumchapel, Wick, Dornoch, Aberdeen and Killearnan.

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