Truths to Sustain Ministry

12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

The title of today’s message is, “Truths to Sustain Ministry.” When I use that word, “ministry,” I’m not talking about full-time vocational work as a pastor, or missionary. It’s common for us to say things like, “He’s going into the ministry.” Or, “He works in the ministry.” And in those cases, we typically mean ministry as vocation. But the truths we’re going to look at today in 1 Timothy aren’t just for pastors, or church leaders. Because every one of us, as part of the body of Christ, is called to ministry.

In the New Testament, when the word “ministry” is used, it most commonly means “service.” It is to serve others, to look after other people’s needs. And because we’re all called to ministry, we all need truth that we can cling to when our ministry gets hard.

Christ calls us to engage the lost. He calls us to love, serve, and sacrifice for those who are lost. He calls us to sacrifice our comfort zones, sacrifice those little personal bubbles we like to stay inside. He calls us to engage the people around us who need hope, who need Him. And that can be a hard thing to do.

In this letter of 1 Timothy, Paul is writing to a minister of Christ who’s in a really hard spot. He’s having a tough time in his ministry. This is evident because of what Paul wrote at the beginning of this letter. Look at verse 3, of 1 Timothy 1. Paul writes…

3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. (1 Timothy 1:3-4)

We see that Timothy was facing a hard situation. He was in the town of Ephesus, which was the place where God had called him to serve. And he was among the people that God called him to serve. And yet, despite being right where God wanted him to be, he found himself in a time of crisis. We know that’s true because this is apparently the second time that Paul has had to tell Timothy to stay put. He told him once while he was going to Macedonia, and he tells him again in this letter, in verse 3, “Remain at Ephesus.”

Timothy must have been truly desperate to leave. But why? What made things so hard for him that he was ready to give up? Well, he was facing people in Ephesus who were teaching false doctrine. And these false teachers were really making life hard for him, because Timothy was faithful to the truth. So he’s trying to serve others, trying to love them, trying to proclaim truth, but despite the good things he’s doing, he’s facing some heavy opposition. And this opposition is weighing him down, it’s making him want to give up. He’s grown weak, and he’s grown weary.

Have you ever been in Timothy’s shoes before? Have you been opposed by someone for speaking the truth? Have you been ridiculed by someone for trying to live according to Scripture? Is there a person in your life that you’ve tried to serve, that you’ve tried to show the love of Christ to, and yet despite your best efforts, all you seem to get in return is hatred? It kind of makes you want to give up, doesn’t it? It makes you want to stop ministering to them. You probably want to put some distance between yourself and that person. Maybe you’ll keep praying for them, but besides that you want nothing to do with them. That’s where Timothy was. But Paul still urges him to remain where he is, and keep pressing on. He wants him to continue doing the Kingdom work that God assigned to him.

Now, even though Paul is urging Timothy to stay put, to not run away from this hard situation, it’s not like he doesn’t care about him, or doesn’t care about his problems. In the introduction to this letter Paul calls Timothy his “true child in the faith.” He obviously loves him, so I’m sure he was empathetic towards him. But Paul’s empathy doesn’t provide Timothy a free pass. It doesn’t give him a “Get out of ministry free” card. Paul doesn’t hear about Timothy’s problems and say, “Wow, maybe God doesn’t want you serving in Ephesus after all. Surely if He wanted you there, things would be easier, and you wouldn’t be facing all these problems.” He is empathetic. He does demonstrate care and compassion. But not in a way that excuses Timothy from obeying God’s call on his life. He won’t let his child in the faith give up on the mission that God gave him. Instead, what Paul does is speak truth into Timothy’s life. He speaks truth that will provide Timothy with the kind of rock-solid hope that will sustain his ministry, sustain it even in the face of opposition.

What is that truth? Joshua already read it, but let’s read again, 1 Timothy 1, beginning in verse 12. This is what Paul encourages Timothy with. He says…

12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

What we see in these verses is that, in order to encourage and strengthen Timothy in his continued work, Paul reminds him of three important truths. Three truths to help Timothy press on in ministry.

First of all, Paul reminds him of the lowly nature of all sinners. He reminds him that all sinners are lowly in nature.

You know, often times we might expect too much from unregenerate sinners. We may hear news stories about some horrific things taking place in the world, and one of us might say, “I just don’t know how anyone could do anything so evil!” Now, certainly, we should grieve over the sin of the world. We should grieve over the horrible things that happen in the world because of sin. But let’s not forget what the Bible teaches about mankind. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” Without the grace of God, everyone would be desperately sick in their sin. None would be saved.

As those who have received grace, who have been saved and given new life in Christ, we should be disgusted by sin, just as God is disgusted by sin. But we shouldn’t expect the world to live the way that Scripture commands. I mean, you and I have been made new, and we’ve been given the Holy Spirit to dwell within us, yet we still do a poor job of living by Scripture! How can we expect the world, those who are still slaves to sin, to live the kind of moral, God-honoring lives that we don’t even live out very well?

I’m not saying that we excuse anyone’s sin. Everyone is fully responsible for their own sin. But at the same time, no matter how sinful a person may be, we never have the right to act like we’re above them, to think that we’re above them. Without God’s saving grace, I would probably be the one, or you would probably be the one, doing those horrific things that shock and disgust us so much. So we should always be gracious and understanding when ministering to other people. Counting them more significant than ourselves.

The way Paul reminds Timothy of the lowly nature of sinners, is by writing very transparently about his own sinfulness. Paul writes about who he once was. He says in verse 13, “formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.”

As sinners, we don’t really like talking about our own sins, do we? It’s much easier to point out other people’s sin. But that’s not what Paul does here. He mentions his own sin. And he didn’t have to take this approach. One way he could have taught Timothy this same truth, about the fallen nature of mankind, is by putting the focus on Timothy’s sin. Since Paul was so close to him, I’m sure he could have quoted a whole list of sin issues that Timothy had. And that likely would have gotten the same point across.

It still would have showed Timothy that he shouldn’t give up on those people in Ephesus, because he was a sinner, just like them. But Paul didn’t go that route. Instead, what he does is very humbly point to his own sin. He doesn’t sugarcoat it. He says what kind of person he truly was before being saved. He says he was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.

By pointing this out, Paul’s reminding Timothy that no one is outside the reach of Christ’s saving grace. It’s like he’s saying, “Timothy, the people you’re dealing with in Ephesus may be blasphemers, they may be persecutors, they may be insolent opponents. But so was I. That’s who I used to be. And yet, Christ saved me.”

This would have given Timothy hope that his ministry wasn’t in vain. Even though he was facing opposition, rather than fearing the people who opposed him, or being angry with them, he could have hope for their salvation. Hope that they too would, by the grace of God, enter into the family of God.

This is a hope that we should never let go of. No matter who the person might be. No matter how much they’ve opposed us, no matter what kind of wicked things they’ve done, no matter how many times they’ve already rejected God, may we never lose hope that our God might save them. Because He saved us. If He can save sinners like you and me, He can save anyone. So our job is to press on ministering to them, serving and loving them, no matter what.

The second truth that Paul reminds Timothy of is the exalted nature of Christ.

Christ’s nature stands in stark contrast to the nature of sinners. His nature is exalted, it’s perfect in every way, it’s completely free from sin. While the default nature of mankind is none of that. It’s imperfect, prone to wickedness.

When we fix our eyes on Christ, we see just how far we fall short of His holiness. By fixing our eyes on Him, we can see accurately what our place is in relation to Him. And what our place is in relation to other people. We’re all down here on the same level. Christ isn’t; He’s exalted. We’re not the high, mighty, centers of the universe that we so often think we are. Christ is.

Just as Paul highlighted his own shortcomings in this passage, he even more so highlights the glorious attributes of Christ. Paul called himself a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. He called himself the foremost sinner of those Jesus saved. Let’s see what he says about Christ. If you would, look at your Bibles with me, starting in verse 12.

In verse 12 Paul mentions the “strength” that comes from Christ, he calls Him “Lord,” and he refers to Him as being the judge. Verse 13 speaks of the “mercy” that comes from Christ. Verse 14 mentions His “grace,” and the “faith” and “love” that are found in Him. Verse 15 tells of His saving work, showing us that He is the Savior. Verse 16 speaks of His “perfect patience.” And verse 17 calls Him “King of the ages,” “immortal,” “invisible,” “the only God.”

This is the character of Christ. This is His exalted nature. Paul understood just how glorious Jesus is. How beautiful. How radiant. When Timothy needed encouragement to persevere, to continue in the ministry God had given Him. Paul provided that encouragement by pointing him to Christ.

One of the many miracles God works for His followers, is He makes us more like Him. The attributes of Christ that we just looked at, many of them are things that He gives to us. He makes us merciful, He makes us gracious, loving, and patient. As we behold Him, we are transformed into His likeness. And as we’re made like Him, we’re given everything that we need to sustain our ministry. We’re given the patience that we need on the hard days. We’re given the grace and love that we need to show the love of Christ to those who are lost.

The third, and last truth Paul mentions, is the mission of Christ. So first was the lowly nature of all sinners, then the exalted nature of Christ, and now the mission of Christ. 

Christ came to earth for a specific purpose. He came on a mission. Verse 15 tells us what that mission was. It says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” He came to save sinners. Is that our focus as we interact with unbelievers? With people who are hard to get along with? Is our deepest desire for them that they be saved? Or do we just want them to treat us kindly, and not persecute us? To leave us alone, even?

Sometimes the way we treat unbelievers is inconsistent with the way Christ treated them. We can be prone to condemn sinners. We know that the just penalty of sin is death, and so rather than longing for their salvation, we condemn them. We can be prone to ignore sinners. If we’re honest, we know that, no matter what they do, at least our future is secure. Because we’re saved. So it’s easy sometimes to ignore them. We can be prone to give up on sinners. Often our service to them isn’t well-received, our words of truth aren’t well-received, so we can grow weary of serving and loving them.

We can be prone to condemn, to ignore, and to give up on sinners. But Jesus Christ came to save sinners. He came to set the captives free. He came to save horrible, wretched, unworthy sinners, just like us! There’s no one too dirty to be washed by His blood.

God became flesh not so that He could save the partly-depraved, not so He could save just those who really stood out as being worthy of saving. No, Christ shed His blood so that He could have anyone that He chose. None are outside of His reach. In fact, what we see throughout Scripture is that Christ loves to show off the enormity of His grace by saving the kind of people that the rest of us want to write off as hopeless. He saves the kind of people that we’re tempted to give up on. Who are we to give up on people? Who are we to give up, when it’s fully within the power of God to save them?

Christ’s death guaranteed the salvation of every pre-destined person. Now, we don’t know who all of those people are. We don’t know who, specifically, was chosen for salvation. But we do know that those people are out there! They’re waiting for a minister of Christ – like you, like me – to introduce them to their Savior. To show them who God is, both as we share the gospel with our words, and as we live out the gospel in our deeds.

We have future brothers and sisters out there in the world, just waiting to hear about the love of a Savior. How can we give up? There are people out there that God has chosen, that Christ died for, to cleanse them of their sins, and they don’t know it. They haven’t met their Savior yet. And we can introduce them. They may even be those people, those unbelievers who give us such a hard time for being Christians. They may be those who persecute us.

Paul told Timothy not to give up. And we can’t give up either.

I’d like for us to look at one more passage. It’s in 2 Timothy 4, if you’d like to turn there.

Timothy did press on in ministry. The truths Paul reminded him of helped him to press on. The funny thing is, Paul is the one who seemed to face even harder things in his own ministry. We read so much in Scripture about the troubles Paul faced, the opposition he faced. Things got pretty dark for Paul. Yet he never gave up.

In 2 Timothy 4, he’s writing near the end of his life. The people who opposed Paul had done all kinds of horrible things to him. And as he writes this, his enemies finally had him exactly where they wanted him. He was imprisoned, and soon he would be executed for being a minister of Christ.

In our culture today, there is an increasing amount of opposition to Christians. We are likely to face more persecution in the next twenty years than we have in the last twenty. We might even be in a situation like Paul’s. We might be facing death for our faith. We may be in a situation like Timothy’s, facing opposition on all sides. Will our ministry be sustained?

Look at what Paul writes in verse 16, of 2 Timothy 4. He’s in prison, he’s about to be executed, but it gets worse. He writes, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me.”

It’s one thing to be opposed by your enemies. But here, at this time, even the church had abandoned Paul – the church, his family. Here he is, in one of his greatest times of need, facing death, and he has to do it all alone. His loved ones, those whom he’d sacrificed so much for, they had deserted him. 

Ministry can’t be sustained by an empty hope that things in this life will get better. They might not. Paul faced a lot of hardship, and he may have been tempted to think, “Well at least it’s going to get better in this life.” But here he is, at the end of the line, and even the church turns away from him.

Our ministry can’t be sustained by empty hope, by lies. But it can be sustained by the truths that Paul encouraged Timothy with. The truths that he reminded himself of in this time of great need. Listen to what he writes next.

He says in verse 16, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me.” But then he goes on. He says…”May it not be charged against them! 17 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. 18 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.”

Paul remembered that all men are sinners. He remembered the lowly nature of mankind. He remembered that he was a sinner, and so in humility he didn’t count others’ sins against them. Instead, he was gracious and compassionate toward them. He said, “May it not be charged against them!”

He remembered that Christ was with Him. He says, “The Lord stood by me, and strengthened me.” He remembered the glorious attributes of Christ, and he knew he would be sustained by Christ.

And he remembered Christ’s mission, to save sinners. He says, “That through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.” He remembered Christ’s mission, why Christ came to this earth, and so he made it his own mission to seek after the lost. He made it his mission to seek after those who needed Christ, no matter what it cost him.

As he held on to these truths, his ministry was sustained to the end. He could have joy and hope because of what God had done for him. Because he knew he was a sinner, because He knew Christ was glorious, and because he remembered: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

As a result of Paul’s labors, many, many people were brought out of darkness, and into the light. And at the end of his life, his Lord brought him safely into His heavenly kingdom. Just as He will do for us, as soon as our work is done.