Maintaining Spiritual Traction in a Shifting Culture (2 Timothy) – “Life’s Top Two” 1:13-2:2

Right click on audio player to download mp3 or to change listening speed

Maintaining Spiritual Traction in a Shifting Culture

Part 3 – Life’s Top Two

2 Timothy 1:13-2:2

Bruce A. Hess

Please take out your Bibles and turn in them to 2 Timothy. If you don’t have a Bible with you, there should be one under a chair in front of you and you can take that Bible and turn to page 165, in the back part, and you would be at 2 Timothy.

As Paul writes this letter, he is writing from a dungeon-like prison. I think it is pretty hard for most of us to imagine what goes through your mind when you have been cast into a dungeon-like prison, because so few of us, if any of us, have had a similar experience.

Chuck Swindoll does tell the story of someone who had a similar experience and that is Congressman Sam Johnson, from Texas. This is what part of his story entails; it was April 16, 1966 when he flew over Vietnam in an F4 Phantom Jet on his 25th mission. He was shot down over North Vietnam, suffering a broken arm, a dislocated shoulder, a broken back, which his captors used to torture him for information.

Here is part of what Sam Johnson said about that experience. He said, “I struggled to think cohesive thoughts. I turned my attention toward God. When the guards increased their patrols and their vigilance and my talks with Howie, another prisoner, had to be stopped, I could still talk freely to God. I knew with certainty that He was present in that dark, cramped closet of a cell. He listened when I prayed, this I knew without a doubt. He answered me. When Bible stories and verses of comfort came into my thoughts, I knew He placed them there. I was comforted and encouraged and I began to know my Creator in a way that I had never known Him before. I now know, in retrospect, that God’s intimate interaction with me was strengthening me and building my faith.”

At times like that, or anything like that, when you go through a deep trial or you are going through a deep difficulty, there are certain things that you learn. I remember going through that in my battle with prostate cancer. You go through this kind of a difficulty and what happens is, you just get perspective. You get perspective about life, perspective about death, perspective about eternity. Part of what happens is, you get this sense of true priorities.

In the face of a shifting culture, what should our priorities be? What is really eternally important? In chapter 1, verse 13, down through chapter 2, verse 2, Paul is going to zero in on the two things that are eternal in life and that is, God’s Word and people.

If you have your Bibles open, I want to read, beginning with verse 13, and invite you to follow along. Paul writes to Timothy and to us, and he says, “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you. You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains; but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me, the Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day, and you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus. You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Now, the title we have given to today’s message is, “Life’s Top Two.” I want you to just pause for a moment and think about it, when you look around the room, most everything we can see is temporary. Every once in a while it is just good to go through that exercise, the same thing is true at your workplace, it is true at your home, it is true at school, it is true in your community. When you take a look around, almost everything is temporary. There are only two eternal commodities in our everyday world, God’s Word and the souls of people.

The end is laid out for us in the New Testament. It says in 2 Peter, chapter 3, verse 10 that, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.”

Think about that. The earth and its work, this world that we know, is going to be burned up. In Revelation, chapter 21, verse 1, John sees there, and talks about how the first heaven and the first earth are going to pass away and there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

We need to be reminded of this, that everything really that we see is temporary, except, first of all God’s Word. In Isaiah, chapter 40, verse 8, which by the way, is the theme verse for the New American Standard Bible, it says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” Jesus Himself, said that same thing, He said ‘Heaven and earth will pass away but My words will not pass away.’

As we look around, everything is temporary except God’s Word and except the souls of people, the real person who lives inside of these bodies.

Jesus said this, in John, chapter 5, verses 28 and 29, “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming (this is coming in the future), in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil to a resurrection of judgment.”

See, people, the souls of people, are going to live forever and we all, every one of us, need to be reminded of that. I need to be reminded of that, our spiritual leaders of the church need to be reminded of that, every one of us need to be reminded of that. Why? Because it is just so easy to be totally detoured by other things. It is just so easy to be totally detoured by sports or by couponing or by video games or just accumulating stuff  or the pursuit of pleasure. By the way, none of those things are inherently evil, it is just that they are all temporary, you see. There are only two things that are eternal and when we major on that which is eternal, we make the wisest investment that we can in our life.

Paul’s message that he had for Timothy and for me and for you involves two basic points.

First of all, he is going to say, ‘Guard the truth,’ we see that in verses 13 and 14.

Secondly, he is going to emphasize that we should focus on people, in verse 15 down through chapter 2 and verse 2. When you focus on people, there will be disappointment and we see that in verse 15. When you focus on people, there will be encouragement; we see that in verses 16-18. When you focus on people, there needs to be investment in them and we see that in chapter 2, verses 1 and 2.

So, let’s look at the first thrust that we get from Paul and that is, we need to guard the truth. Look at verse 13, he says there, “Retain the standard of sound words.” This is a command. It is given in the present form, in the original language, which communicates this is to be an ongoing priority in your life, in my life, that we retain the standard. He says this is a standard that you heard from me. He is talking about how God had given revelation and truth to Paul and he, of course, had taught that same truth to Timothy. He says, ‘This is the standard, this is the model, this is the prototype, this is the divine template of truth.’

I like the way the NIV puts it, “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching.” He says that we need to retain the standard. The implication is, don’t tamper with it, don’t delete from it, don’t remodel it, don’t modernize it. As we talk about living in a shifting culture, that is happening more and more. This culture now wants to modernize what it means to be married. It wants to modernize what it means to be a family the way that God designed it. We live in a culture when it comes to something like substitutionary atonement, big phrase, but what it really means is that the only hope we have of forgiveness is the blood of Christ.

In this culture we have people who want to begin to tinker with [try to “fix” or change] that a little bit. ‘Well, that just sounds a little too narrow, I don’t think we really…wait a minute now…’ You either take the whole idea of the inspiration of Scripture that this book is God’s book and we have His message clear here and there are people who want to come along and twist that a little bit, turn that a little bit, ‘Oh no, there are a lot of mistakes here, you know, and you’ve got all this cultural baggage and prejudice…’ We need to retain the standard.

By the way, how we retain the standard is important. He goes on to say we need to retain the standard “In the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” How we retain the standard is very, very important.

Have you ever known anybody who had a really strong head knowledge of truth? I mean, they really knew the Bible well, but what they do as they teach the Bible is, they come off very arrogant. They are very harsh in the way that they teach the Bible, often belittling other people. ‘I can’t believe you are so uninformed, I can’t believe you’re not getting it, I mean come on.’ See, we are not only just to retain the standard, but how we do it, we are to do it in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.

There is a second command that comes in verse 14, and that is, we are to guard the treasure entrusted to you. I want to freeze frame for a moment and ask the question, ‘Why?’ Why is that important? Why is it important that we retain the standard, that we guard the treasure? Why is that especially important as the culture drifts? Why is that? Why does he bother even telling us these things? Well, the Scripture holds the key to eternity, doesn’t it? It is the truth of the word of God that will determine everyone’s eternal destiny, whether there will be a resurrection to life or a resurrection to judgment.

The Bible tells us that there is a broad path, the six lane highway, that leads to destruction. There is a narrow path, sort of the two lane highway, that leads to life and the Bible tells us the whole thing pivots around the person and the work of Jesus Christ. That is why he says we need to retain the standard, that is why he says we need to guard the treasure. By the way, this verb here, that is translated ‘guard,’ carries with it the idea of guarding something carefully.

It was back in 1990 we first began to travel into Latvia, when it was part of the Soviet Union. There was great need of financial assistance with believers here. So, what we would often do in those days, because you didn’t have reliable banks, we would actually carry large amounts of cash on our person.

I remember one time when I was going into Latvia, I had this money belt that went around the front part of me and then the basic pouch with all of the money was in the small of my back. I remember, we had landed in Copenhagen, on our way into Latvia, and we went through customs there, being checked through security, and we, of course, we had to go back through a metal detector. In those days, those metal detectors were different than the way today’s work. They just detected, you know, metal. You would go through the metal detector and everything was fine, but this time I went through the metal detector and the gal there, the agent, decided she was going to pat me down. So, she started patting me down and she noticed this thing. She said to me, ‘What is that?’

I quietly said to her, ‘It’s money.’

Then she said, ‘Show me.’

Now, I am in this open airport area and I felt like there were a thousand eyes on me when I lifted up my shirt, I had to detach this thing, turn it around, open it up for her and show her all of the money. After she saw it, she said, ‘That’s fine. You can go on.’ But, I felt this responsibility to guard something of value. It was a treasure, really, to the people in Latvia.

We have been banking with Arvest Bank here in town for many, many, many, many years, in fact, really, all of the time we have lived here, and we often work through the branch in the west part of town, at 36th and Main Street. We’ve gotten to know the bank managers fairly well. Can you imagine what would happen if I walked in there one day and the bank manager came over to me and said, ‘Bruce, I’ve got a little job for you to do. I have gotten to know you well and I trust you. Here, I want you to take this pistol and I want you to guard the bank’s money 24 hours a day for the next week. We are all going on vacation.’

Now, you can imagine how I would feel about that. ‘You want me to guard all the money in the bank 24 hours a day for the next week?’ I would feel completely inadequate. But, if the manager went on to say, ‘We are going to give you all the resources you need to pull it off.’ [accomplish]  Now, I am thinking, ‘Okay, now I can have some people in here who really know how to guard all of this money.’ I would have a totally different attitude and God says to you and to me, ‘Retain the standard, guard the treasure that is going to affect everybody’s eternal destiny.’

We might feel just a little inadequate, but you notice he goes on to say there, in verse 14, “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure.” See, by myself I might feel, if I really understand the ramifications of all of this, very inadequate, it may be a daunting task, but remember, God doesn’t call us to do anything He doesn’t give us the resources to pull it off. That is the person of the Holy Spirit who dwells inside of us and can give us the ability, the enablement, to retain the standard and to guard the treasure.

So, the first thing he says to Timothy and to us is, guard the truth.

The second point that he wants to make is that we focus on people.

Over the years, at Wildwood, we have had the privilege of having a number of young individuals who we have had as interns and I have always had an opportunity to meet with them and share some information with them. Among the many things I would say to them, I have said this to them, ‘If you are really going to be able to survive in ministry, you need to remember that people are strange.’ I say, ‘You’re strange, I’m strange, there are a whole lot of strange people hanging around this place.’ Sometimes people get the idea: ‘Well, when I get involved with the church, when I am dealing with followers of Jesus, I have left all of that strangeness behind.’ No! No! So, if you just remember that people are strange, there won’t be as many shocks that come.

When you focus on people there will be disappointment. We see that in verse 15. It says, “You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.” Now, what does he mean…we need to remember when he is talking about Asia, he’s not talking about Asia as we think of Asia, he is talking about the Roman province of Asia Minor, which is largely the area where we have Turkey, today. He says, “All who are in Asia Minor turned away from me,” and we are looking at things and we think, ‘Wait a second, now, you say at the end of this letter that Luke is with you, we know that Mark and Timothy are still on your team. You say in chapter 4, verses 10 and 11, that Titus and Tychicus have left there, in Rome, to go do ministry, so what is with this “All who are in…” Well, he is delivering hyperbole, here, for the sake of emphasis.

Here is what Paul is saying, ‘Compared to my first imprisonment, in Acts 28, this is way different.’ He is saying the vast majority of my friends, the vast majority of my ministry partners have abandoned me. And, he says, ‘Among the ones who have done that are Phygelus and Hermogenes.’

Anybody, when reading the Bible, ever have a little struggle with pronouncing some of the names we see there? Sometimes you feel like, ‘Man, I have just got to get that exactly right. I need to be accurate about it.’ You know what is funny? You can see that there are all kinds of different ways to pronounce some of these names. You say, ‘Where does that come from exactly?’ Well, part of it is the fact that the names are written in Greek and then they are put into more of an English form. For example, if you look at Greek, the first name is pronounced ‘Foo-gel-os.’

If you look in the Greek, the second name is pronounced ‘Her-mog-a-nace.’ If you look at the Englishized version of it, we might say, ‘Phygelus’ or ‘Hermogenes’ that is more the Englishized version. So, I just don’t want you to worry about it, alright? Don’t worry about the name pronunciation.

So, who are these guys? The answer is, we have no idea. We don’t have any information about them. Timothy obviously knew who they were. Here is, I think, Paul’s message for us. When you focus on people, you will run into folks like these. Like Phygelus and Hermogenes. You will run into folks like these, don’t be surprised. By the way, don’t be like these guys and don’t let people like that sour you on focusing on people.

When you focus on people there will be disappointment and also when you focus on people there will be encouragement. Look at verses 16-18, “The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains; but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me, the Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day, and you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus.”

Now when I read through those verses, several things jump out at me and I want to look at them. The first thing that jumps out at me is in verse 17, when it says, “When he was in Rome,” we look at that and think, ‘Big deal, when he was in Rome.’

Well, Ephesus was 1200 miles from Rome. And, you know that in that day they did not have buses, they did not have trains, they did not have cars, they did not have planes. So, how do you go, what is almost like halfway across the United States, from Ephesus to Rome? You walked. That is quite a little time investment, wouldn’t you say? “When in Rome.” Wow! He came all the way to Rome.

The second thing that jumps out at me is also there in verse 17. It says that, “When he was in Rome he eagerly searched for me and found me.” You remember the historical background, at this time one half of the city of Rome had burned to the ground and you are showing up and you are trying to find somebody. It reminds me of the picture you would see of Haiti when they had the earthquake there. You are going to show up and you are going to be looking for someone when half the city is down. It wasn’t an easy job. There were no internet sites that you could go on like you can today where you could type in Oklahoma Department of Corrections, then you type in somebody’s name and ‘bing’ it pops right up where they would be imprisoned. “He eagerly searched for me and found me.” By the way, that was a dangerous thing to do, because, you see, Paul was now viewed as an enemy of the state of Rome.

He says, in chapter 2, verse 9, he was viewed as a criminal, and you are going around and you are asking all these various authorities, ‘Where’s Paul? Where’s Paul? Where’s Paul?’ Well, they may wonder if maybe you’re not another one of those enemies of the state.

The third thing that jumps out at me is in verse 16 where he says that, “He often refreshed me.” You know, in that day they didn’t have all these well organized meals that they would serve to prisoners, you could barely survive on the food they provided. So, when someone would come to visit someone in prison, they would bring food and supplies and that was very physically refreshing. He often refreshed me, I think not only physically, but no doubt, emotional refreshment came to him. Can you imagine Samuel Johnson, in North Vietnam, if one of his friends was able to come and visit him in there? How refreshed he would be in his spirit?

Because of that, verse 16, he says, “The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus.” You know, double kindness on his family for allowing him to travel 1200 miles to go through the search to find me, to refresh me. And, he says, in verse 18, ‘The Lord grant mercy on Onesiphorus that day,’ double kindness from the Lord on him for doing what he did.

We all need spiritual supporters, especially in difficult times. I think part of the message for us is, when we have those people, we need to treasure them, we need to thank them, we need to pray for them.

I think part of what he is saying to us is, as you focus on people, you will experience people like Onesiphorus, you will. It will be encouraging. I think he also is saying to us that we need to be like Onesiphorus. We need to be someone who encourages someone else and brings refreshment in their life.

When you focus on people, there will be disappointment, there will be encouragement, but there also needs to be investment. He has talked about these other guys, but the focus in verse 1 [Chapter 2] goes back to Timothy. He says, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” This is all structured in a way that communicates that we need to allow ourselves to be filled with His grace. We need to rely on His grace, we need to live by His grace. And, we need His grace, and we need His strength as we focus on people. I am very, very thankful for the grace that you have extended to me all of these years here at Wildwood.

“Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Then, notice what he says in verse 2, now look carefully here, he says, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  Did you notice that there are four spiritual generations in that verse? You see, the chain began with Paul, and Paul invested in Timothy, he is the second link in the chain. Then, he says to Timothy, ‘What you need to do is, you need to entrust these things to faithful men,’ that is the third link in the chain, who then will be able to teach other people also, so you have four links in the chain.

As you are here today, I hope you realize that you are a link in the chain. We are a beneficiary of someone who brought the gospel to us or shared the Scriptures with us. You see, I would not be here today if it were not for people like Dean Hatfield and Chet McCalley and Gil Rugh, who built and connected me to this chain. The idea of all of this is for each one of us to keep the chain going. See how that works? Keep the chain going.

You know, races are won or lost at the passing of the baton. Someone handed you the baton and you are to be, and I am to be, passing the baton off to the next person. “Entrust these things to faithful men.” I like the New Living Translation here, it says, “Teach these great truths to trustworthy people who will be able to teach others also.” See, this is part of the process that we are to be about, investing in people.

Jesus said it from the beginning, He said, “Go and make disciples.” Part of our job is to “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Matthew, chapter 28, verse 20.

Men and women, the next generation needs to be inculcated with God’s truth. The next generation needs to be inculcated with the gospel because we, in turn, are going to have them pass the baton off, in a time that we will probably never see. That is why there is a priority to build into our children, to build into our youth, to build into our students. It is a call that all of us have. It’s not just my job, it is all of our jobs. To share the gospel. To share what we have learned about the word of God. To share what we have learned about life.

Our youth can do that with our children and our college students can do that with our youth and our adults can do that with our college students and our youth and our children. The older families can do that with the younger families. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, to invest in people.

For thirty five years Henrietta Mears taught a college Sunday school class at the First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California. Now, I want you to just think about that for a moment. For thirty five years she taught a college Sunday school class, all five feet, four inches of her. And, over those years, as she invested in those students, sent out over four hundred young men and women into Christian service, including the U.S. Senate Chaplain Richard Halverson, including the founder of Young Life, Jim Rayburn, and including the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, Bill Bright.

At one particular point in time, a rather unknown, very young evangelist came and sought out Miss Mears. He was really struggling, theologically, because one of his closest evangelist friends had abandoned his belief in the infallibility of Scripture. This young evangelist was really questioning himself, what he believed, so he came to talk to Henrietta Mears about that. She shared with him reasons for believing in the Bible’s infallibility. She said, ‘I refuse to compromise or conform to current theological thought.’ And her gentle, but strong convictions made a deep impression on this young evangelist as he stood at the faith crossroad in his life. He decided that he, too, would hold onto orthodox Christianity. It wasn’t long after that decision that Billy Graham held his pivotal Los Angles crusade that catapulted him to world-wide ministry.

See, when you are investing in people, here is the amazing thing, you never know who you are investing in. You never know if the individual is going to be the next Richard Halverson, you never really know if the next person is going to be the next Bill Bright. You have no idea whether the next person is going to be the next Henrietta Mears. See, investing in people, men and women, is a thousand times more strategic than investing in your IRA or your 401K. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do that, but you want to talk about strategic, investing in people is ten thousand times more strategic.

So, here is the question, who are you investing in? Who are you passing the baton to? We should never lose sight of Life’s Top Two.

As we move away from the Scriptures today, we want to talk about some life response we can all have. I am going to suggest two things.

First, by way of life response, we should treasure God’s word. The sixty-six inspired books, the treasure, the standard that He has given to us, we need to read it, we need to study it, we need to apply it, we need to live it. You might take some time to look at Proverbs, chapter 2, the first eleven verses. Just look at the effort we should give when it comes to treasuring God’s word and the benefit that will come to us when we do that.

So, we need to treasure God’s word. Second thing, we need to cultivate spiritual relationships. I am going to say something that is fairly blunt, but it is important. Did you know that being a follower of Jesus means a whole lot more than just coming to church on Sunday? I want you to be here, but it is about more than that. You are a link in the chain. We need to cultivate spiritual relationships, we need to invest in others. When you invest in others, that takes time and it is going to have its ups and downs, trust me about that. But, it is an eternal investment.

We need to pass the baton to an new generation. You know, it is a vital, exciting role when you think about it. Man, I can have an influence for the next generation, which then can have an influence with the next generation. That is exciting!

We need to cultivate spiritual relationships. I think that means that we really need to be an Onesiphorus. Invest in people. Those things together, God’s Word and the souls of people are the wisest investments we can make in our life.

Let’s pray together. Father, we want to thank You again for the truth of Your word, we thank You for all this great truth, the reminder, it is so easy to get detoured and distracted, and miss out on retaining the standard, guarding the treasure, passing it on, investing in people. May we be people, Father, that really do remember Life’s Top Two, Your Word and the people around us. And may we honor You as we invest in those things. And we pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Questions for Reflection: (week three)

–It was said that it is easy to be totally detoured from Life’s Top Two [God’s Word and People] by sports, couponing, video games, accumulating more stuff, pursuing pleasure (none of which are wrong in themselves).  By which are you most prone to be detoured?  Explain…

–Name some examples in the culture today where God’s Truth is being tampered with, remodeled, or “modernized.”  What is the Enemy’s strategy?

–Since we are called to “Retain the Standard” and “Guard the Treasure” of God’s truth, what are some practical, everyday ways to do that?

–Have you ever had a friend abandon you in a time of great need?  Share some details and how it had an impact on you

–Have you ever had a friend who stood closely with you when others didn’t?  Share some details and how it had an impact on you.

–Do you have a friend in the midst of difficulty or despair?  How could you best encourage them right now?  Pray for the Holy Spirit to identify one person with whom you could be an Onesiphorus now.

–Where did you learn about the Gospel and when did you put your trust in it?

–Who filled the role of spiritual forerunner for you?  Who built into your life and how did they do it?

–We all need spiritual supporters, especially in difficult times.  Who has filled that role for you?  How can you treasure, thank, and pray for them?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *