"With or Without You?"
Winston Churchill was once asked to speak at the leaving assembly of his old school, Harrow.
When the time came, Churchill stood up and said this...
"Never, never, never, never, never, give up..."
And then sat back down!
Well Churchill was a great man,
...and I'm sure that he could say those words better than I ever could,
...and in a way they are inspiring.
But they're not very helpful are they?
It's good to be reminded that we should never give up, but the question is how?
How do you keep going and not give up?
Gayles and I once had the privilege of chatting to a 74 year old grandma who had recently run a marathon! And she told us, it's not the 26th mile that's hard. It's the 16th and the 17th and the 18th. Paul knew when he wrote this letter that he was at the end of his race. Turn over the page and look at what he says in 4:7-8. Paul knew that he was near the end of his race. It's easy to keep going when the end is in sight, but how do you keep going when you're still in the middle? How do you keep going when you're on the 16th and 17th and 18th mile? Because that's where Timothy was...and it's where most of us are too, in our Christian lives.
And that's why Paul wrote this letter. To urge and encourage his young friend and colleague Timothy not to give up but to keep on going. That's what we saw if you were here last week in 2 vv 1-7 Keep going, he says, endure, work hard and you will receive your reward,...like a soldier, or an athlete or a farmer.
And he sums it all up in v11-13. Do you see what he's saying? If we live our lives for God, and if we keep going to the end, then on that day we will reign with him in the glory of Heaven. But if we give up, if we disown him, or we're faithless, well then God will disown us. He will be faithful to his judgement, and we will have no place in heaven. Never, never, never, never, never give up. That's what Paul is saying.
But the question is how? How can we keep going in the Christian life when it's hard and we're in the middle and the end is not yet in sight? Well, we'll find the answer, Paul tells us, if we remember the gospel. So let's pray and ask God to help us do just that tonight.
At first v8 seems a bit strange? Timothy had spent years with Paul. He was a pioneer missionary, the co-author of many books in the NT, and a church pastor. Timothy new the gospel as well as anyone. So why does Paul tell him here to remember the gospel? Well I think it's because even when we know what the gospel is, it's still easy to forget what the gospel means. And so Paul goes on to mention 2 things that Timothy was in danger of forgetting about the gospel, and they are two things that I think we are often in danger of forgetting as well. And the first is.
1. You can't stop the gospel.
Do you remember what happened when King Herod found out that Jesus had been born? He ordered all the baby boys, in and around Bethlehem, who were two years old or younger to be killed. When Jesus grew up and began to teach the people, again, many times people tried to seize him and kill him. In the end, of course, the Jewish leaders did succeeded in crucifying him, but 3 days later Jesus rose again, revealing that it was all part of God's plan. Then in the book of Acts we read how the authorities continued to try to stamp out the spread of the gospel by persecuting, imprisoning and even killing Jesus' followers. And again what we discover is that persecution only lead to the gospel spreading out even further and even faster. But that didn't stop people from trying to stamp it out! When Paul wrote this letter to Timothy he was in prison in Rome. The Romans tried to stop the gospel by stopping Paul. And what happened?
Paul wrote letters that spread the gospel all around the world. Do you see? People have always tried to stop the gospel. But whenever they tried to get rid of it, the gospel only spreads further. Why? Because you can't stop the gospel. Look at v8-9.
Paul was supposed to be the apostle to the Gentiles. He was supposed to be the one to take the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth, and instead he was in prison. But he doesn't complain, and he doesn't despair! Because he knows that nothing can stop the gospel! He knows that the Romans can stop him, and bury him in prison underground, but they can't stop the gospel, they can't bury the good news.
Because it's God's gospel! "Remember Jesus Christ" he says to Timothy "raised from the dead, descended from David."
Of course you can't stop the gospel. Not even death could stop God's son Jesus! So do you really think a little persecution or opposition will stop God's plan for salvation?! The gospel is unstoppable. Nothing you and I or anyone else can do, can stop God's plan of salvation being carried out. Remember the gospel Timothy, says Paul. You can't stop it, or slow it down, or alter its course in any way. Why? Because it's God's gospel. The gospel of Jesus, "raised from the dead, descended from David."
That's the first thing, but that's not all. Look at v10
The whole Bible clearly teaches the same thing. That God already knows who will be saved.
In fact the Bible makes it very clear that God has always known who will be saved, because he chose them even before he made them. Look at what it says in Ephesians 1 vv 4-5
"For he chose us[Christians] in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will."
"The elect" in v10, are those people whom God has chosen, or predestined, to be his children. And Paul is reminding Timothy, not only that God's gospel is unstoppable, but it's outcome is unchangeable. God has already chosen those who will be saved. He knows the names of all those who have and do and will believe in him. And so Paul knows that nothing he can do will change the number of people who will be in heaven forever.
Let me say that again, because it's really important, and just like Timothy we forget it all the time. Paul knows that nothing he can do will change the number of people who will be in heaven forever. No amount of hard work on his part will mean that more people are saved, and no amount of laziness on his part will mean that less people are saved.
Because it's God's gospel,
And he has already chosen those who will be saved.
Now that is a wonderful truth. but it's not easy to get our heads around. And one of the big questions it raises is this. If God already knows those who will be saved, and he does, and if nothing that you or I or Timothy or even Paul can do will ever change that list, and it can't, then why should we bother evangelising? What difference will it make?
What does it matter if I tell someone the gospel or not? If my words won't change who will or will not be in heaven on the last day, then why should I bother?
And Paul gives Timothy and us the most amazing answer, and it's the second truth we often forget about the gospel of Jesus. You can't stop the gospel, he says...
2. You can't stop the gospel, he says but you can be a part of it
Some Christians over the years have said something like this...
"I believe in predestination. I believe that God has chosen those who are his, and that nothing I do or don't do will change that. I know that God will save those he has chosen with or without me, so I won't bother evangelising."
And it sounds quite spiritual, maybe it even sounds Biblical, and it's called, if you like to know these things, Hyper-Calvinism. God doesn't need me to evangelise, so I won't. It sounds Biblical...almost. But Paul says, it's nonsense!
Does Paul believe in predestination? Certainly he does! Does he believe that God has chosen his elect from before the beginning of time and that nothing he does will bring more people into heaven, and nothing he fails to do will mean less people in heaven? Absolutely! But does that stop him evangelising? Not at all! Look at v10
Paul was willing to endure everything and anything to tell people the gospel. He was shipwrecked, he was flogged, he was beaten and now he's imprisoned, all because he is desperate to tell people the gospel.
And the hyper-Calvinist would say, well Paul, don't you knowy ou don't have to go through all that! It's ok.
The people that God has chosen will be saved with or without you? And what would Paul say in reply? He would say yes I know that! Yes, I know that nothing I do will bring more people into heaven and nothing I fail to do will mean less people are in heaven. Yes, I know that God has chosen those who will be his children, and yes I believe that the gospel is unstoppable and that God will save those he has chosen with or without me.
I know all that.
I know that God doesn't need me, and that I could keep quiet, and that those God has chosen could hear the gospel from someone else. But I want them to hear it from me! I believe that the gospel is unstoppable, I believe that God can save people with or without me, and I want him to do it with me!! Now, I know this is hard for us to get our heads round, but it's so important that we do. Because when you're trying to keep going, when you're living life as a Christian and you're in the middle of the race, when you're trying to reach out to people and tell them the gospel of Jesus it's easy to fall into one of two traps.
The first trap is that telling people the gospel becomes an unbearable burden. We start off by thinking 'I must tell people the gospel, and I must share with the kids in my youth group or the members of my family the good news otherwise how will they be saved?' And that's a great attitude to have, But then some of the young people stop coming to our youth group, or our own children stop coming to church, or someone we know and love dies without us ever having told them about Jesus, and we are left wracked with guilt.
We beat ourselves up, and can never find peace, because we know that we could have done more.
We could have worked harder and prayed more and told them the gospel more often. And so we ramp up our efforts and try harder and harder and harder. And telling people the gospel of Jesus becomes an unbearable burden fuelled by guilt and not joy.
If we've fallen into that trap then we need to remember that you can't stop the gospel.
Ultimately salvation is God's work and not ours.
No amount of our hard work will bring anyone one into the kingdom of heaven, and no amount of our laziness will keep anyone out.
You can't stop the gospel, God will save those he has chosen with or without you.
But there is an equal and opposite trap that we can also fall into, and perhaps it is the more dangerous one for us today. And it is the trap of thinking, 'if God's going to save people with or without me, well then I won't bother telling people about Jesus.' We read a letter like 2 Timothy, and we're the first to say, 'Ah yes, but this was written to Timothy and not to me.' We like to tell ourselves, that some people are gifted by God to be evangelists or pastors, but that's not me. We think to ourselves, 'Of course there should be missionaries, but not me.' Of course someone should tell the youth in the church about Jesus, but not me.
It's ok, you can't stop the gospel, God will save people with or without me.
If you've fallen into that trap, well then you may be right...but you've completely missed the point, and you're missing out. No you can't stop the gospel, but you can be part of it! Instead Paul models for Timothy, and for us, the right way to think. He doesn't live in fear and guilt. He doesn't carry a burden that's not his own. He knows that God's work of salvation will be done with or without him. But he also passionately wants God to achieve his plans WITH him! He wants to be the one God uses, and so he's willing to endure anything to tell everyone the gospel. God doesn't need Paul, or Timothy, or you or me to carry out his plan. God's gospel is unstoppable.
So as he sits in chains in prison, Paul doesn't despair, because God's gospel is not chained.
But he also doesn't give up, because he loves God and he desperately wants to be part of God's plan! How do you keep going as a Christian? How do you keep going when you're in the middle of the race, and it's hard work?
You remember the gospel. You remember that the gospel is unstoppable, and you remember that you can be a part of it. What greater privilege or motivation to keep going can there be than that?
Let me finish this evening by asking you a question. What are you looking forward to about Heaven?
Most of all I'm looking forward to seeing God face to face, and catching up with old friends!
But something else thrills me, and that's the possibility that one day in heaven a stranger will come up to me, or someone I've long forgotten, and they will say, 'Dimitri you didn't know this, but God used something you once said to bring me here.' And then we'll embrace, and praise God together.
God will save those he has chosen. You can't stop it and you can't change it, but you can be part of it.
God will save people with or without you.
So...which will it be?