Ministry in the life of the church is both a blessing and a heartache. There are surprising triumphs of grace and there are gut-wrenching rejections of it. We tend to want to focus on the one rather than the other. However, when we read the Apostle Paul we see that he actually focuses on both. In a letter aimed to encourage Timothy to be a faithful pastor who fans into flame his gifting (2 Tim. 1:6) and fulfills his ministry (2 Tim. 4:5) the intentional reference of the “good” and the “bad” must be seen as helpful tools for this aim.
Remember the Tragedies of the Gospel
In his second letter to Timothy the Apostle is trying to get the young, somewhat timid, and reluctant pastor to faithfully persevere. In each chapter however, he includes a monument of apostasy and / or disappointment (1:15, 2:17, 3:1-9, 4:10, 14). In the first chapter he references Phygelus and Hermogenes and their public apostasy. Along with them, all others in Asia turned away from him. This must have been tremendously discouraging for the Apostle. Yet, he points it out to Timothy.
In any case Paul saw the turning away of the Asian churches as more than a personal desertion; it was a disavowal of his apostolic authority. It must have seemed particularly tragic, because a few years previously, during Paul’s two and a half years’ residence in Ephesus, Luke says that ‘all the residents of Asia’ heard the word of the Lord and many believed (Acts 19:10). Now ‘all in Asia’ had turned away from him. The great awakening had been followed by a great defection. Stott, Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (p. 45).
Paul is reminding Timothy not only of the reality of the situation on the ground but also of the importance of tending to his own soul. Timothy must be certain that he is all in for this work. He must take it seriously. It will be hard. People will leave. Your heart will be shredded. Welcome to ministry. Remember the tragedies of the gospel.
Remember the Triumphs of the Gospel
But he also includes very encouraging reports. Consider Onesiphorus who served Paul by searching for him, refreshing him, and not being ashamed of him (2 Tim. 1:16). What a great story this is. Paul was abandoned and neglected. He was tattooed with the stigma of a fool and bound to be ostracized by society. Anyone who came to him would also be contaminated by the social stigma of being a fool. Timothy himself was dealing with being ashamed of Paul’s sufferings. Onesiphorus on the other hand pursued Paul, searching for him, and then when he found him he refreshed him. What is this if it is not a remarkable work of grace? This guy loved the gospel and the gospel workers even more than this present world. Little wonder the Apostle prayed for him and his family with such fondness (2 Tim. 1:16, 18).
Paul is doing more than simply updating Timothy with the status of various people. He is trying to promote faithfulness in ministry. He wants Timothy to do the requisite Word work (2 Tim. 1:13-14). He must hold on to the apostolic message and guard the truth of the gospel it is this, and only this, that will ensure that he fulfills his ministry. But, to do this he points out the tragedies and the triumphs of the gospel. He wants Timothy to smell both the spiritual road kill and the blooming flowers. It needs to be real for him. He must work tirelessly to prevent the first and promote the second. This is a good lesson for us as well. Faithfulness comes not just be seeing more faithfulness, sometimes it comes when we see faithlessness.