Our Bittersweet Gospel Mission

Text: 2 Timothy 4:9-22

These verses give us a window into the struggles and joys of gospel ministry. They show us – through one man’s example – that the gospel mission is bigger than one man. Even the great Apostle Paul needed help, he needed people, not just for help in spreading the gospel, but he needed help having his own heart encouraged by others. As Christians called to the gospel mission, we are also called to one another. In relationship. Living life together as a family. That can be a great blessing, but it can also a great challenge. And as we will see, that’s exactly what God intended.

1. Our Gospel Mission is Relational  (vv. 9-13; 19-22)

In these first few verses, we see different people, different relationships. But all play an important role in Paul’s life and ministry:

  • Timothy is one of his closest human relationships, and he longs to see his son in the faith one more time before he dies. As Paul’s situation becomes more desperate, his desire to see Timothy grows.
  •  Demas was once a co-worker in ministry. Now he has abandoned Paul, and apparently abandoned the gospel. (More on him later.)
  • Crescens and Titus are on gospel mission in different cities.
  • Luke is the only one who remains with Paul. “The beloved physician”, the author of the gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, Luke is one of Paul’s closest friends and often his lone companion in the darkest of times.
  • Mark, as a young man, once traveled with Paul on a missionary journey. But Mark apparently got homesick. This caused Paul not to want him on their next journey. But something happened and their relationship was reconciled. Now Paul asks for Mark by name.
  • Tychicus is the faithful brother who delivered this letter to Timothy in Ephesus and likely took his place so he could go to Rome and visit Paul.
  • Prisca [Priscilla] and Aquila, a married couple, were two of Paul’s closest friends. Paul stayed in their home in Corinth, making tents for a living. They hosted a church congregation in their home. Paul called them “my fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 16:3).
  • Household of Onesiphorus was mentioned back in ch. 1. He is the one who traveled to Rome (at his own peril) looking for Paul. This is the second time Paul mentions his household, meaning Onesiphorus is likely dead.
  • Mentions and greetings from others we don’t know much about: Erastus, Trophimus, Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, and Claudia.

Notice the vast variety of gospel relationships in these verses. Relationships we can all recognize: Some close friends who are with you no matter what. Some friends are called away by God to other cities. Some friends you have for a while, and then they move away, or they move on to another church.

But in all of this, we need to pause and give God praise. If you have one or two good friends, one or two brothers or sisters in Christ who encourage you, who are there when you need them, who you can confess sin to, who will tell you the truth even when you don’t want to hear it, who will drop everything to pray with you and for you…then you are blessed. Stop and give God praise for those friends. They are more valuable than gold.

And those friends are not given only for our comfort. God grants us these kinds of faithful friends so that we will be on gospel mission together. Because our mission is relational – we need each other. We need help being disciples, and we need help making disciples. And we have the joy of doing this mission together.

2. Our Gospel Mission is Risky  (vv. 10, 14-16)

To love is to trust. To trust another is to risk something. Whenever we open our hearts and our lives to another, there is a chance of being hurt. And since our gospel mission means sharing Christ with others and opening our lives to others, that means we will be hurt. Paul shares three examples of his relationships that were harmful or painful:

  • Demas. Once a faithful co-worker, co-laborer in the gospel mission, now Demas has deserted Paul because of his “love for the world”. We can’t be sure, but this sounds like not only a turning away from Paul, but also a turning away from Christ – His love for Christ being replaced by a love for the world (which usually means the things like money, prestige, sinful pleasures, etc.)

These can be the most painful – those relationships where there is mutual trust and affection. And then the heart of one person changes. The temptations of the world draw them away. What you once had in common – a love for Christ and His mission – begins to change.

That doesn’t mean our love for that person changes. But the relationship dynamic has to. For Demas, his motive for leaving Paul was not for other ministry work. It was for selfish and sinful desires. This was painful for Paul, but he could not let that stop his mission. Paul chose to continue to follow Christ, even if Demas did not.

  • Alexander. He was a metal worker and a local business man. He’s likely the same Alexander mentioned in 1 Timothy ch. 1 as one who has made shipwreck of his faith, and along with a man named Hymenaeus. Paul had to excommunicate both of them.

Unlike Demas who abandoned Paul and went his own way, it seems that Alexander did not take the church discipline very well, and decided to make it his personal mission to harm Paul and the gospel itself. Some historians believe it was Alexander who informed on Paul and turned him into the Roman authorities that resulted in his imprisonment.

So Paul mentions Alexander in this letter, not as a side note of his personal trials, but as a warning to Timothy: “Beware of this guy. Stay away from him. He’s dangerous. He has done much damage.” As a Christian, you will come across these kinds of people. Those who not only disagree with you, but who find a certain pleasure to personally oppose you, slander you, and want to do you harm. And as much as you would want to, don’t get sucked into the revenge game. Don’t try to return evil for evil. One of the hardest things Jesus commands is to love our enemies, and to do good to those who want to do us harm.

  •  Fearful friends. When Paul was first brought before the Romans, before he was put in prison, that would have been the time for friends to come to his defense, to vouch for his character, to plead with the authorities on his behalf. But Paul says no one came, no one stood by me, all deserted me.

We don’t know why they didn’t show. Maybe they were afraid. Maybe they had families and kids and they didn’t want to put them in danger. Whatever the reason, notice how Paul responds. It’s different than Demas or Alexander. These absent friends are still brothers and sisters whom Paul loves, but for whatever reason, in the moment, they did not stand by his side. For these, Paul says, “May it not be charged against them!” Here at the end of his life, Paul knows holding onto a grudge will only hurt him. So he chooses to forgive. He chooses to love.

We can’t do that our own strength, but in the strength Jesus gives us. He was abandoned by his friends, He was killed by His enemies – the only truly innocent victim. Look to Him, the one who suffered for you, on your behalf. Find your strength in Him.

3. Our Gospel Mission is Rewarding  (vv. 17-18)

In the midst of all those who abandoned Paul and left him to fend for himself, there is one who never left him.

[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.

In the depths of the darkest prison, where humanly speaking he should be filled with fear and despair, instead Paul tells young Timothy – my earthly friends may have left me, but I have a Friend that sticks closer than a brother, a Friend of Friends who promised to never leave me nor forsake me. He’s the Friend that knows what it is to be abandoned, even forsaken by God the Father on my behalf. Jesus endured that abandonment so that I would never have to. Jesus faced betrayal and slander and abuse on my behalf. He is trustworthy – His name is Faithful and True, and He is near us in our darkest moment, in our most desperate trial.

Jesus strengthened Paul and even rescued Paul from danger so that the gospel would continue to be proclaimed to the Gentiles – to all who were not born under the old covenant, those who would likely know nothing about the God of the OT. Jesus rescued Paul because he wasn’t done with Paul. The gospel still had to go forth.

There is no trial, no circumstance that can steal your salvation, or steal your gospel purpose. But because you serve a Loving, Sovereign Savior, everything that happens in your life – whether it was intended for good or ill, God will ultimately use it all for the good. You’re not going anywhere until your gospel mission is complete. That is God’s promise to you, and that is a gift worth celebrating!

Jesus has called us to take risks, to get out of our comfort zones, to love, to trust, to enter into the lives of others and invite others into your life.

Don’t live your life in isolation. Don’t live crisis to crisis, barely hanging on. God has called each of us – not only to go forth with the gospel, but to enjoy the God of the gospel, to find our joy and our hope in Him, right here and now. And for us to enjoy His generous gift of godly relationships and friendships – to grow us more and more in His image, to be the kind of friend He has been to us, as we take His good news to all the world.


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