“Timothy…was being thrust into a position of responsible Christian leadership far beyond his natural capacity.”
John Stott wrote those words in his introduction to a commentary on 2 Timothy. He could have replaced Timothy’s name with mine.
And the more pastors I get to know, the more I’m starting to think that this is the lay of the land.
What does it mean to say, “I’m a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ”? At least this: “I’m a daring doer of otherworldly work.” Or, in more everyday terms: “There is no way I can do this on my own.”
Maybe I’m just speculating here, but I’ve got to think that’s a little of what went through Timothy’s head when Paul wrote:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. – 2 Timothy 4:1-2
Complete patience, Paul? Really? Being commissioned in front of Heaven’s court is enough as is, but this instruction alone is enough to make me cry out for mercy.
And Timothy was no super-pastor. Stott points out three of Timothy’s liabilities: (1) His youth, (2) his weakness, and (3) his timidity.
So what does Stott think is so important for us “timid Timothys”? Not a self-help how-to. Not “three easy steps to overcome anxiety.” Not “bootstrap theology.”
What then? The Gospel of Jesus Christ. Stott writes:
“Paul’s preoccupation in writing to Timothy was with the gospel, the deposit of truth which had been revealed and committed to him by God.”
Are you young? The Gospel of Jesus Christ is unfathomably ancient. Paul’s charge to Timothy two thousand years ago is just as powerful for pastors today, but in the mind of God, this redemption was planned “before the ages began” (2 Tim 1:9).
For all the legitimate benefits of pastoral experience, there is only one experience essential to ministry: an experience of the death-defying, soul-saving, utterly undeserved grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8). There are certainly Biblical qualifications for pastoral ministry that aren’t granted automatically when a person is saved, but there is only one essential experience: regeneration by the Spirit of God.
Whether you’re in your early twenties or you’re a fifty-year old pastor in a church of seventy-year-olds, the Gospel overcomes the liability of “youth.”
Are you weak? The Gospel of Jesus Christ is miraculously powerful. When Paul was “bound with chains as a criminal,” he gloated, “But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Tim. 2:9). In fact, the Lord Jesus Himself told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (1 Cor. 12:9).
Weaknesses, setbacks, illnesses, and every other testament to the fallenness of creation provide grand opportunities for God to show off. God delights to do His life-giving work through weak vessels, so that there is no question about the work’s supernatural origin.
Whatever has got you groaning in pain or frustration, wherever you feel your finiteness, the Gospel overcomes weaknesses with divine power.
Are you timid? The Gospel of Jesus Christ is unflinchingly bold. Paul tells of a time when he himself might have been timid. He writes:
At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. – 2 Tim. 4:16-17
The Lord strengthened Paul in a vulnerable hour when he might have been tempted to let his boldness fail.
Maybe you’d describe yourself as an introvert, or you’re just unsure of yourself. Maybe you’re a seasoned pastor who is concerned that you won’t be able to keep up with ever-changing ministerial “wisdom.” Whatever anxieties or inadequacies we face, the Gospel overcomes timidity with the boldness to bear a cross and face public shame.
What does it mean to be a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? It is to behold the eternal, miraculous, courageous cross of Christ and, with unveiled face, be transformed.
Let us boast with Paul:
“The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” 2 Tim. 4:18