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2 Timothy 3:10-17: DON'T LEAVE THE PATH Print E-mail
2 Timothy
Sunday, 07 August 2011

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“DON’T LEAVE THE PATH.”  These are the final words that Gandalf gives Bilbo and his comrades before they head into the darkness of Mirkwood forest in J. R. R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit. 1  The wizard had led them on this adventure to find treasure and now he was leaving them before they entered the terrible forest, which was known to be a place to avoid.  Yet, they had to go through it.  They could not go around it for even worse enemies were on both sides.  The only way to continue their adventure was to go through the forest.  And Gandalf gave them one very important command: “DON’T LEAVE THE PATH.”  It seems like a simple command.  You would think that they would keep it.  But you do not have to read the book to guess what happens.  In the next chapters we are told of them leaving the path and of all the terrors they faced as a result.  In spite of the warnings, they did not stay on the path.

If I were going to sum up what Paul is saying to Timothy in our passage this morning (3:10-17) I could simply quote Gandalf’s words: ‘Don’t leave the path!’  As we have seen over the last couple of weeks, Paul is concerned about Timothy straying from the faith.  Paul has not written this letter to give Timothy a whole new set of commands to follow (or doctrines to believe).  Rather, Paul has written Timothy to encourage him to stay true to what he already knows.  He has written to remind him of the true faith.  In light of the false teachers in Ephesus who are trying to lead others astray, Paul writes to Timothy to say: ‘Don’t leave the path.’  We see this exhortation in verse 14a.  Look at that with me.  At two points in these verses (v. 10 and v. 14), Paul contrasts what the false teachers are doing with what Timothy should do.  Timothy is not to be lead astray by them.  Rather, he is to continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed.  Paul wants him to stay the course and gives him some instructions for how to do that in these verses.  So then, how is Timothy to continue in what he has learned and believed?

First, he is to embrace suffering (v. 10-13).

In contrast to the false teachers, which Paul has written of in 3:1-9, Timothy is keep following after Paul.  Yet, this will mean suffering.  The necessity of embracing suffering as a believer is a repeated theme in this letter.  In 1:8ff, Paul encouraged Timothy to not be ashamed of the gospel and to share in suffering for the gospel.  Likewise, in 2:3ff, Paul tells Timothy to be a good soldier who is willing to share in suffering.  Believing and preaching the gospel as Paul did will lead to suffering, which is what Paul points out again in verses 10-11.  Look at those with me.  The list of characteristics in verse 10 contrasts the characteristics in 3:2-5.  They are a good summary of Paul’s life and ministry.  Timothy is to continue in Paul’s teaching, he is not abandon the gospel.  He is to behave and act like Paul in obedience to Christ.  His aim and purpose is to be that of Paul’s, namely honoring Christ by preaching the gospel to any and all, no matter the cost.  He is to be patient and loving and steadfast in his ministry.

Yet, he must embrace the fact that such a ministry will lead to persecutions and sufferings.  Paul mentions the ones he faced in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, which are recorded for us in Acts 13-14.  Lest we be tempted to downplay these, Luke tells us that the persecutions eventually led to Paul being stoned and drug out of the city of Lystra because they thought he was dead (Acts 14:19).  Paul notes that he was able to endure these persecutions because the Lord rescued me.  Yes, he had to endure, but he knew that the Lord would be his strength and deliverer.

Yet, perhaps you are thinking: ‘Sure Paul suffered, and Timothy faced suffering, but what does that have to do with me?’  Look at verses 12-13.  Here’s a promise that we rarely hear people claiming.  We have a tendency to try and soften what Paul says: ‘Perhaps he only means certain believers, radical believers.  Perhaps only preachers and teachers.  Perhaps only missionaries.’  Yet, Paul says: Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.  I cannot tell a new Christian what their life will be like in detail, but I can tell them that if they truly are followers of Christ they will face persecution.  They should expect it and embrace it.  The only way to avoid it is to forsake Christ and leave the path.  These last days will continue to be filled with men who oppose the gospel and those who believe it.  They will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  Thus, persecution will come.  Paul encourages Timothy to stay on the true path by embracing suffering.

How can we embrace suffering?  Well, in one sense we must avoid two extremes: pursuing suffering and avoiding suffering.  We are not called to go out and look for hard times.  That is not what Paul is saying here or anywhere else.  Yet, we cannot run from it either.  We cannot make decisions based on whether or not it will lead to suffering.  No, we must hold fast to the gospel, keep following the example left by Paul, and be prepared to suffer.  Like we said last week, we should not be surprised by the evil that surrounds us.  We live in enemy-occupied territory.  And unfortunately we live in a Church culture that often wants us to forget that.  Thus, when the Lord calls us to do something that might involve suffering, we conclude: ‘Surely the Lord doesn’t want me to do that, it will be hard, it will be costly, it will hurt.’  Yet, if we read our New Testaments then none of those things should surprise us or deter us from obedience.  Again, we must remember that we are following a crucified Savior, a man of sorrows, who embraced suffering at every point in His ministry.  Like Paul, like Timothy, like all those who have desired to live godly lives before us, we must expect and embrace suffering.  We must never let it drive us from the true path of following Christ.

Second, he is to trust Scripture (v. 14b-17).

Paul once again touches on a repeated theme in the letter.  He encourages Timothy to rightly handle the word of truth in 2:15.  Here again, he wants him to hold fast to what he has been taught in the Word.  He speaks of this heritage in verses 14b-15a.  Look at those with me.  Timothy grew up in a Jewish home and was therefore familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures.  It is very likely that his mother and grandmother taught them to him as part of their legacy of faith (see 1:5).  Paul encourages Timothy to continue on the true path by holding fast to the Word that he has been taught ever since he was a child.

Going on from there, Paul lays out in a few short verses why the ministry of the Word is so important.  First, he mentions that the Word will make one wise for salvation.  Look at verse 15b.  We need to note that the sacred writings are a reference to the Old Testament Scriptures.  Yet, how does the Old Testament make us wise for salvation?  The Old Testament, and the Law in particular, makes it clear that we are sinners in desperate need of a Savior.  Even if we reduced it to just the Ten Commandments, where would that leave us?  We cannot even keep those.  Thus, the Old Testament makes us wise by humbling us and showing us our need for faith in Christ Jesus.  It drives us to the cross, needy for forgiveness and reconciliation, which only come through the life, death, and resurrection, of Christ.  Second, Paul notes that the Scriptures are profitable for our sanctification.  Look at verses 16-17.  Timothy was facing fierce opponents to the gospel, but he had the Word on his side.  And it is enough.  In fact, when you look at ministry in general, the Word is what we need.  What are we going to teach?  Scripture.  How are we going to rebuke and correct?  Scripture.  How are we going to train and disciple?  Scripture.  As I said in my first sermon here at Trinity: the people of God need the Word of God. 

I remember hearing Paul Washer, the founder of Heart Cry ministries which seeks to assist pastors in foreign countries, speak about a phone call he received from a person who wanted to go and ‘give their life’ for people in a certain country.  Washer asked the caller: ‘How much do you know about the Bible?’  The caller replied: ‘Not very much.’  Washer then told him: ‘The people there don’t need your life, they need the Word.  Go and spend time studying and learning the Word, then call me back.’  We can be enthusiastic about ministry, enthusiastic about serving others, but if we do not hold out to them the Word of God, then our enthusiasm will not be worth that much.  People need the Word for salvation and people need the Word for sanctification.  Only through the Word will people be competent, equipped for every good work.

Why is the Word so important?  Because it is breathed out by God.  This is where we get the term ‘inspiration.’  To say that the ‘Bible says’ is to say ‘God says.’  Even though Paul is primarily referring to the Old Testament Scriptures in verse 15, this does not mean that verse 16 cannot be applied to both the Old and the New Testaments.  Paul (see 1 Timothy 5:18) and Peter (see 2 Peter 3:16) understood that the Scriptures were still being written in their lifetimes.  They viewed these writings as authoritative as the Old Testament Scriptures.  Thus, when Paul speaks of all scripture in verse 16, we can include the New Testament in that term.  Paul teaches that all of the Bible is breathed out by God.  Because of divine inspiration, we can believe and trust that the Bible is inerrant (without error), authoritative, and sufficient.  It is the Word of God and we should trust it with all of our ministries and all of our lives.  So then, don’t doubt the Bible, don’t try to be wiser than the Bible, don’t add or subtract.  No, simply trust it.  Read it, study it, memorize it.  Hide it in your hearts.  Pray that the Spirit will illuminate your minds to understand and apply the Word to every area of your life.  It is sufficient, you can trust it.

Paul writes to encourage Timothy to stay on the path.  He wants him to continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed.  In order to do this, Timothy must be willing to embrace suffering and to trust Scripture.  My challenge to you today is simple: DON’T LEAVE THE PATH.  If you have never turned from your sins and trusted in Christ, then hear me: you are not even on the path.  In fact, you are on the wrong path that leads only to death and destruction.  Turn from your sins and trust in the One who took on flesh and died on cross for your sins, rising again on the third day.  Trust in Christ as your Savior.  If you are a believer, then you must fight to stay on the path.  The false teachers in this world will continue to challenge us.  They will continue to tempt us and try to lead us astray.  But as for you, you stay on the path.  You hold fast to the Word of God, entrusting your life and ministry to it.  And when suffering comes, you embrace it, showing others that your treasure is Christ and not any comforts that this world has to offer.  In the end, if we are going to know Christ and follow after Him as our Savior, then we must embrace suffering (like He has already done for us at the cross) and trust in His Word.  May we never leave the path of following Him, knowing that His grace sustains us.  Amen. 

1 J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997), p. 127.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 16 August 2011 )

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