The Main Thing (2 Timothy 2:1-13)

Big Idea: Your work is to multiply disciples. So pay the cost as you’re strengthened by God’s grace.


One of the hardest things in any role is a lack of clarity about what we’re supposed to be doing. According to the Harvard Business Review, it’s a serious problem:

Poor organizational design and structure results in a bewildering morass of contradictions: confusion within roles, a lack of co-ordination among functions, failure to share ideas, and slow decision-making bring managers unnecessary complexity, stress, and conflict.

If this is true in business, it’s also true in the church. When I candidates at the second church that I pastored, I was handed a three-page job description with 19 duties and even more sub-points. It even broke it down into a tidy 40 hours:

  • 20 hours a week to pulpit preparation, preaching/teaching
  • 5 hours a week to associate pastor relationships and cooperative team planning
  • 5 hours a week to personal leadership interaction and development
  • 10 hours a week to leadership, family counseling, hospital, and home visitation

I never had a single week that looked anything like that. The bewildering demands of ministry keep anything from being as neat. On the other hand, there wasn’t a chance that I would be able to fulfill three pages and multiple points of job descriptions.

What is most important in ministry? While roles vary, I want to suggest that it’s important to have clarity about the main thing in ministry. So I want to look at 2 Timothy 2 with you today. In fact, I want to look at three things: what it’s all about, the cost, and what it will take.

What It’s All about: the Multiplication of Disciples

First, what it’s all about. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:1-2:

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Here we have one of the simplest descriptions of the central task of ministry: the multiplication of disciples. Paul describes four generations of multiplication:

  • Paul had it
  • Timothy heard it from Paul
  • He’s told to entrust it to others, to faithful men
  • They are to teach it to others as well

Imagine if this was common. Imagine if it was normal within the church to be able to spot four generations of gospel multiplication. That which we’ve received, we are also to pass on to others, who will pass it on to others, and so on. N.T. Wright says:

The gospel which must be handed on is the most revolutionary message ever heard … Handing on the tradition safely is the only way to make sure that the next generation, too, is summoned, whatever it costs, to follow the radical gospel of King Jesus.

What does this look like? Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, gave a commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014. He spoke to 8,000 students. Listen to what he said:

That great paragon of analytical rigor, Ask.Com says that the average American will meet 10,000 people in their life time.

That’s a lot of folks.

But, if every one of you changed the lives of just ten people—and each one of those folks changed the lives of another ten people—just ten—then in five generations—125 years—the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 800 million people.

800 million people—think of it—over twice the population of the United States.  Go one more generation and you can change the entire population of the world—8 billion people.

If you think it’s hard to change the lives of ten people—change their lives forever—you’re wrong.

I’ve been thinking about that. According to Ed Stetzer, the percentage of self-identified Christians had fallen 10 percentage points, from 86 to 76, since 1990. It also showed that the “Nones” – those who claim no religious affiliation – rose from 8 to 15 percent in the same time period. He says, “As the trend continues, we will see the ‘Nones’ continue to grow and the church lose more of its traditional cultural influence. Christians will likely lose the culture wars, leading to difficult times ahead for us.”

But we also face a great opportunity. Growing Health Churches has just around 180 churches. If we took Paul’s command seriously, and 5 people from every one of our churches asked God if they could reach 10 people with the rest of their lives with the gospel — just ten — and then this process was repeated, in just six generations we will have reached 800 million people with the gospel. Go one more generation, and we will have changed the entire population of the world.

It begins here: with the simple multiplication of disciples. You and I will only ever reach a limited number of people, but that’s okay. If you reach a few, and then they reach others, and so on, we will have done our job.

And so that’s what I want my ministry to be about. You can forget about the three pages of job descriptions. I want to multiply the gospel to the next generation, so they can do the same, and so on. At its core, this is the heart of ministry: making disciples, who will make disciples, and so on.

But there’s a cost.

The Cost: Enduring Hardship

Why don’t we do this? Paul is realistic about what it will cost. He writes in verses 3-7:

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Timothy 2:3-7)

Paul uses three images. If you had lived in this day, you would have been connected in some way to one of these professions. Each of these professions involves suffering. Each of these professions tells us something about what it takes if we are to multiply disciples within our ministries.

Soldier – A soldier’s life involves endurance and focus. Last year I got into watching Downton Abbey. One of the episodes revolves around one of Lord Grantham’s missing cufflinks. It sounds gripping, doesn’t it? But at the start of season two, Matthew, one of the characters, is at war in a foxhole. It’s the Battle of the Somme in which more than a million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history. Bombs are going off. Cufflinks no longer matter when you’re at war.

And that’s what Paul is saying here. We’re at war. If we are going to multiply disciples, we are going to have to realize that we’re no longer in peacetime conditions. Spurgeon said, “When you sleep, remember that you are resting on the battlefield; when you travel, suspect an ambush in every hedge.” Again, “The present world is the battlefield; Heaven is a place of complete victory and glorious triumph. This present world is the land of the sword and spear; Heaven is the place of the white robe and the shout of the conquest.”

Being a soldier during wartime is no picnic. It wasn’t when Paul wrote to Timothy, and even today it’s far from a day at the spa. The elements of war are unforgiving, unpredictable, and uncomfortable. Much is demanded and little is given in return. To exist and succeed in this type of environment, the soldier must be able to consistently endure hardship without complaint and always remain focused on his task.

Once a battle begins, the soldier is in it until his job is done. He can’t take a break because he is hungry or tired. There’s no time off. No sick days. He can’t let his mind wander, and he can’t be distracted by the chaos around him. (Stephen Graves)

But that’s not the only image. We’re not just like soldiers.

Athlete – A soldier’s life involves discipline and obedience. Talent is not hard to find, but it is not enough. If you want to compete, there are rules to be followed. I ran a 10K recently, and saw someone take a shortcut at the turnaround loop. They never went all the way around they pylon. The race staff stopped them and made them come back and do it right. If you take a shortcut of even a few feet, they don’t know that you ran the full course, and you’re disqualified.

It’s like that with athletes. If you don’t follow the rules, you’re suspended or disqualified. And it’s like that with making disciples as well. It involves discipline. It involves daily obedience in the small things so that our lives line up with what we’re trying to do.

Ultimately, discipline in any area is really just a series of choices. For athletes, it’s about saying no to the burger and yes to the grilled salmon. No to a late night out; yes to the early morning film session. For the rest of us, the choices may not be so cut and dried, but discipline is still about consistently making the small right decisions that make up a life or career of right choices. (Stephen Graves)

But there’s one more image:

Farmer – A farmer is all about hard work and patience. Kent Hughes writes:

The farmer’s life involved: 1) early and long hours because he could not afford to lose time; 2) constant toil (plowing, sowing, tending, weeding, reaping, storing); 3) regular disappointments—frosts, pests, and disease; 4) much patience—everything happened at less than slow motion; and 5) boredom.

Sounds like a pastor’s life, doesn’t it? Early and long hours, constant toil, regular disappointments, and much patience. I once told someone that the only part of this that I don’t experience is boredom, but then he told me that he does.

If we are to multiply disciples, this is what it will take. The ministry of the gospel requires strain, struggle, and diligence. Ajith Fernando writes:

If the apostle Paul knew fatigue, anger, and anxiety in his ministry, what makes us think we can avoid them in ours?…Tiredness, stress, and strain may be the cross God calls us to. Paul often spoke about the physical hardships his ministry brought him, including emotional strain (Gal. 4:19; 2 Cor. 11:28), anger (2 Cor. 11:29), sleepless nights and hunger (2 Cor. 6:5), affliction and perplexity (2 Cor. 4:8), and toiling—working to the point of weariness (Col. 1:29).

Paul adds at the end of this passage: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 3:7). Don’t rush over this. Consider what it will cost if you make the multiplication of disciples the center of your ministry. It will take endurance, focus, discipline, obedience, hard work, and patience. That’s why we often don’t multiply disciples. Consider the cost. It’s worth it.

A few verses down, Paul says, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). I think I’m there. It will take this sort of willingness to suffer if we are to multiply disciples. When we get to this point, we’re getting close to being ready for this to happen.

But then Paul says to draw on God’s help. It’s the only way that we’re going to be able to continue focusing on the main thing. We’ve looked at what our ministries should be all about: multiplying disciples. We’ve looked at the cost: suffering. There’s one more thing that Paul says:

What It Will Take: Being Strengthened by Grace

This passage is sandwiched by the gospel. If we are going to do this, it will be because we get the gospel. Paul says in verse 1: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus…” (2 Timothy 2:1). It’s in the present tense. Keep being strengthened by the grace that’s in Christ Jesus. We cannot manufacture the endurance, focus, discipline, obedience, hard work, or patience we need. The only way we can do this is if we are drawing on God’s grace. It’s our only hope.

And then Paul ends with a summary of the gospel in verses 8 to 13. Think about Jesus! He says. This is the good news: Jesus Christ is the predicted, long-awaited Messiah. He has been raised from the dead. He lives. He fulfills the Old Testament messianic prophecies. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. As the risen Lord, all authority in heaven and earth is his. He is victor. He is all-powerful. Paul clings to this. It’s the reality that gives him strength.

Even better, Paul reminds us that although our role is important, we are not ultimately the hope. In verses 11 to 13 he says:

The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

if we endure, we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, he also will deny us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself.

(2 Timothy 2:11-13)

Paul ramps up the pressure in the areas of conversion, endurance, and apostasy. In a succession of statements, we’re called to do our part, expecting that God will respond appropriately. The first two promise divine blessings; the third stops me in my tracks with its severe warning. Disowning Christ has eternal consequences.

Not good.

The problem is that I know my track record. I would never want to deny Christ, but I get nervous when something as important as this is left up to my track record, which is spotty at best. That’s why Paul’s next line is so surprising and relieving:

…if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself.

(2 Timothy 2:13)

Paul breaks with the act-consequence pattern. There’s some debate about what he means. Some take it as a warning: God will be faithful in denying those who deny him. While that is possible, it sounds more like a note of hope to me: because God is who he is, he remains faithful despite our weakness. Apostasy is one thing; our faltering weakness is another.

This is not theory. This is the story of my life. I am often unfaithful; despite this, God persists in his faithfulness to me. Samuel Rutherford wrote in the 1600s:

Often and often, I have in my folly torn up my copy of God’s covenant with me; but, blessed be His name, He keeps it in heaven safe; and He stands by it always.

Our obedience is important. Our confidence, though, is ultimately not in our obedience, but in the faithfulness of the God who guards us. That’s good news indeed

This isn’t for the faint of heart? Actually, it is for the faint of heart!

Do you feel burdened, exhausted, and weak? Don’t resent your weariness, but take heart because of Christ! In your weakness you have an opportunity to exalt Christ in everything because he is exalted over all things. (Gloria Furman)

The only way that we’re going to be able to pay the cost to multiply disciples is if we’re strengthened by God’s grace. So root yourself in the gospel. Think about Jesus. It’s the only thing that will keep you going in the challenges of ministry.

I still get confused about my role at times. Now that I’m a church planter I think it’s even worse. I’m bivocational. I don’t have a lot of admin support. I’m a fundraiser, a preacher, a leader, a pastor, an administrator, a cleaner, and more.

I wear a lot of hats, but in the end there’s one hat to rule them all. I want to be all about multiplying disciples. If I fail at that, I fail at everything. So I want to pay the cost and suffer. I want to endure everything for the sake of those who haven’t yet heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. In order to do that, I want to strengthen myself in the grace that’s in Christ Jesus.

Let’s pray.

Father, give us this single-minded focus. We are about a lot of things, but our work is to multiply disciples. So we want to pay the cost as we’re strengthened by the grace that’s in Christ Jesus.

So I pray that you would help us do this. Help me in Liberty Village, Toronto. Help each of these brothers and sisters to do it in their communities. I pray that at the end of our lives, there will be some disciples who are making disciples because we made it our focus to disciple them. And I pray this would ripple throughout generations to come. I pray this all in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada