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Gospel Life with Good Friends

Published: 6 months ago- 3 December 2023
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SERMON MANUSCRIPT

INTRODUCTION

I can be hard to get to know. I am an introvert, so I am really bad at introducing myself, I am quite comfortable being alone and reading a book. I can come across as stand-offish, I am not a bubbly, enthusiastic person, I have been told I always look unhappy I have what they call resting jerk face. Don’t misunderstand I am not an unhappy person, at least most of the time, but I’m not necessarily the easiest fellow to get to know. And yet, despite this, God has blessed me with quite some incredibly good friends. This is Will; I met him at a very difficult time in my life when my mother had left my father due to violence and infidelity. I was struggling with where God was in the midst of all this and his response was, in part, to send Will into my life. Now Will didn’t really know me at all, but we did go to the same church. I was 13 and he was a sophomore in college and he saw that my mother was struggling, that our family was struggling. And he stepped in and, well he guided me through adolescence, he turned me away from foolishness, he got me more involved in church, he took me hunting and fishing, he taught me to play soccer, he even set me up with my wife, Alexa. He was a friend to me; and quite candidly he renewed my belief in God in a time when, humanly speaking, that faith was in danger of being extinguished. God administered his presence and wisdom and grace to me through him. I would do anything for that man and I think, to this day he would do anything for me and my family. And Will isn’t the only friend like this God sent my way; Here is Kate and Arkadiy, here is Seth, Anthony, Dustin and Nathan, This is Jonathan and Erimar, and I could say much the same about all of them. And this is to say nothing of course of Alexa … No wait, that isn’t the right picture of Alexa, it was this one… No that’s not quite right either… That’s the one.

We have been studying 2 Timothy together and have labelled this series Gospel Grit; I like this title for the series. Paul is doing it tough, and he is quite sure that he is not long for this world; yet still he seeks to see that the mission goes on, that the gospel goes forth, that the new-creational presence of God continues to expand to offer hope and peace through Jesus to all who would call on him and follow him. Paul’s concern is for Timothy and for the health and well-being of the church. Paul certainly has grit that is born out of the gospel. It’s a good series title, Gospel Grit; But there is also this other theme that I have noticed running through this letter; and I think it is friendship. He calls Timothy his beloved child and he thanks God whenever he remembers Timothy, he is filled with joy at Timothy’s sincere, authentic faith. Paul has laid hands on Timothy and has watched Timothy grow in power and love and self-control. Paul calls Timothy to continue Paul’s own legacy of faithful gritty gospel work reminding him that God is the one at work through Christ Jesus our Savior. Just listen to some of the encouragement and instruction that Paul gives to Timothy in the letter:

1:1-Paul… to Timothy, my beloved child.

1:13-Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.

2:1-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. Share in the suffering as a good solider of Christ Jesus.

2:15-Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

3:14-But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing form who you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings… .

4:1-I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ… preach the word; be ready in seasons and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching… as for you always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry

Now I do see that a lot of this sounds almost like a father to a son or a mentor to his student; and certainly that is part of what their relationship is; It is not less than that, but here at the end of the letter and probably the end of Paul’s life, he just says to Timothy, Do your best to come to me quickly. Paul is mostly alone, and while I do think he is still Timothy’s mentor, I also think that Paul wants to see his dear friend one last time before the end. It is interesting to me then, that Paul has just finished on this dramatic note, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith and there is now laid up for me the crown of righteousness. That would have been a great way to just end the letter. Go out on a high note. But Paul keeps going. And the very next thing he says after he claims victory is, come Timothy, come quickly and get Mark and bring him with you. So why this last section, why not end in verse 8? Well ultimately, and I think this is the main point of this passage, I think that Paul knows and wants Timothy to know that The good fight of the gospel-driven life is best fought with good friends by your side. And we will see this main point fleshed out in the text in five ways (But don’t worry they will be short). First,

  1. Good Friends can be a great comfort when the good fight gets hard
    1. Come quickly Paul says and bring Mark and, if you can, bring my warm coat and my parchments. The expression here communicates urgency; spare no expense, come as quickly as you can. Paul is near the end, and he wants to see Timothy again. Yes I think to give him final instruction and encouragement, but also, I think, Paul is mostly alone and it would do his heart great good to have a friend or two and a warm coat. Scholars have spent a bunch of time trying to figure out if there is anything behind the request for a coat and parchments. Sometimes we scholars are quite stupid; you know what I think, I think Paul was cold and wanted a warm coat and perhaps a bit of scripture for comfort.
      1. Illustration: A British publication once offered a prize for the best definition of a friend. Among the thousands of answers received were the following:
        1. One who multiples joys, divides grief, and whose honesty is inviolable.
        2. A watch that beats true for all time and never runs down.
        3. One who understands our silence.
        4. The winning Definition read:
          1. A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.”
      2. Application: For we who are followers of Jesus, friendship is not simply comfort in hard times; it is a reminder that God is always with us and that through fellow followers of Jesus, we give and receive, exhortation, instruction, counsel, wisdom, forgiveness, empathy, and comfort. Friendship is the gospel embodied; are you that for someone? Is someone that for you? Have you been a good friend lately? Have you offered friendship to anyone recently? Is there someone in your life who could say to you or to whom you could say, come as quick as you can, I am in need. Good Friends can be a great comfort when the good fight is hard.
  1. Second, when the good gospel fight is going tough, good friends won’t abandon you.
    1. Demas’ abandonment puts Timothy’s faithful friendship in context.-Paul tells us that the reason why he wants Timothy to come quickly and bring Mark along is because Demas has deserted Paul. It is actually not easy to know if Demas has abandoned the faith altogether, or merely abandoned Paul in his hour of need, much like Jesus’s disciples during his trial. Calvin thinks this is likely, he suggests “We are not to suppose that he completely denied Christ and gave himself over again to ungodliness or the allurements of the world, but only that he cared more for his own convenience and safety rather than for the life of Paul.” I think Calvin probably has it right and either way this interpretation is most instructive for us. I don’t know this congregation well yet, but I suspect for most of us we are not in danger of just completely abandoning the faith. Desertion would more likely look like apathy, spiritual lethargy. Allowing ourselves to slowly drift away from service and turn to comfort and hide away the “offensive” bits of our faith from our neighbours and co-workers. Allow ourselves not to abandon the faith but to become spiritually sleepy, content not in Christ alone but content in our quite comfortable lot in this age, this world.
    2. It was the great wizard Albus Wulfric Percival Brian Dumbledore perhaps put it best, “Dark and difficult time lie ahead. Soon, we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” I love the way that is phrased, it is not what is good and evil… .but what is good and what is easy. So often it is not that we actively choose evil over good, the far greater temptation is to take the path that is easy, the one that offers the least resistance, the least chance of hardship and loss; that which will not disturb our suburban slumber. Paul calls Timothy to his side and shares this desertion with Timothy for his instruction and for ours.
    3. In the movie Tombstone, one of the greatest Westerns of all time, Wyatt Earp is after the bad guys and his friend Doc Holiday is by his side, helping him against some pretty bad odds. But Doc was very sick, he had Tuberculosis and what he needed was rest. One of the men riding with Wyatt, after seeing how sick Doc Holiday was asks him, Doc, you ought be in bed, what the heck are you doing this for anyway. And Doc simply said, Wyatt Earp is my friend; the man responded, heck I’ve got lots of friends; and again, quite simply, Doc just says, “I don’t.” And that was the end of that conversation.
      1. Application: Doc was there with a gun to help his friend; friendship in the gritty good fight of the gospel will not be a friend with a gun but it will be a friend who always has your back. One who will always be there to point us toward the gospel in whatever form is needed at the time. We are not told if Timothy made it to Paul, but I think it quite likely that he at least tried. Timothy is not like Demas, instead Paul trusts that, unlike Demas, Timothy will come and provide encouragement in the gospel for his benefit and aid. Would you do the same? Would you risk Rome’s wrath by associating with a known trouble-maker? Would you take the expense of a risky and long journey to visit Paul?
  1. Third, friends provide synergistic aid for the mission of the gospel.
    1. Many commentators note with interest that Paul tells Timothy to bring Mark along since he is useful or helpful in service or ministry. We don’t know for certain, but this is likely the same Mark that had abandoned Paul early on in his ministry and caused Paul and Barnabas to have a falling out. I really like knowing that Mark is now a trusted and useful co-worker. Bring him along, Paul says, he is useful in ministry. I would quite like it if someone described me that way. When you come, bring Brandon along, he’s useful in ministry. Not amazing, not brilliant, not rich, or good looking, no danger there, but he is helpful to me in my ministry. John Mark might have stumbled early one, but he was, in the end helpful in ministry. As was Timothy. Here is what Paul says about Timothy in Philippians:
      1. I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’sĀ proven worth, how as a son5 with a father he has served with me in the gospel.

  1. Paul and Timothy and Mark were not less than friends but they had a friendship that was formed around mission and calling and purpose, they loved Jesus and followed hard after him and as a result their friendship was not just comfort in times of need and joy in solidarity; it was a friendship that drove the gospel into each other’s hearts as each of them separately and together sought to see Jesus’s name and story spread far and wide. If our friendships in Christ end at comfort and support and do not also synergistically cause the gospel to go forth as a result, that friendship has veered off the track somewhere. Now this does not need to look like you and your friend doing open air evangelism on the street corner in your spare time. But if you are not asking your friend how their walk with Christ is going, how they are struggling with that sin you know about, how their marriage is, how they are, in Christ, you need to recalibrate.
  1. Friends provide wisdom and warning when faced with opposition.
    1. Alexander the metalworker now comes into play, our villain. Paul warns Timothy against him. It is quite possible that the language here, the harm he did, was that he was the one who falsely accused Paul which has caused Paul’s current predicament. Paul does two things here; first he warns Timothy that his man is not just an unbeliever who thinks Christians are just weird in a live and let live way, he is not just one like Demas who desires comfort above service to Christ, he is someone who is actively and maliciously opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul says, this man can and will try to do damage to the mission of the Gospel. Paul warns his friend, this guy is a real foe. But Paul also, I think, reassures Timothy that this person is not outside God’s control or attention God sees him and he is a fair judge. Paul assures Timothy that he need not be afraid of him nor bitter or enraged against him even when he attempts to cause harm to Timothy or the church. God will mete out to Alexander what his evil deeds deserve. So Paul gives warning but also reassurance and wisdom.
  1. Finally, A Good Friend will always Model Jesus well for his friends.
    1. Now Paul does something interesting in vv. 16-18. On the surface, it looks like Paul is just letting Timothy know how his trial is going and maybe trying to put a good face on it for Timothy; but the language here is quite interesting. Look at verse 16, Paul says that at the first part of his trial everyone deserted or abandoned or forsook him? Can you think of someone else who was forsaken or abandoned? Indeed, the same word here for deserted is the word that Jesus cries when he asks, My God My God why have you forsaken me.
  1. That is quite interesting given what Paul goes on to say. At the end of verse 16 He asks the Lord not to hold it against those who abandoned him perhaps just as Jesus forgave his disciples, particularly Peter, when they abandoned him and perhaps also as Jesus asks God to forgive those who crucified him for they did not know what they were doing. And if that were not enough, the language of being delivered and rescued from the lion’s mouth is also interesting is it not? Can anyone guess where being rescued from the lion’s mouth comes from?
    1. The language of rescue and deliverance is from likely from Psalm 22
    2. Paul has taken the crucifixion of Jesus and literally shaped his own trial and impending death around it and around this Psalm. Paul’s life is caught up in Christ’s in every imaginable way. And for Timothy, Timothy saw his friend, and mentor and spiritual father remain true and faithful and steadfast. Paul’s death would have been sad for Timothy, but not tragic. Paul was telling Timothy, my death is wrapped up I the victory of Christ’s own resurrection. The God of the universe raised him from the dead and that same power is here with me in my cell and it is at work in you Timothy so that you will be able to present yourself to God as one approved.
  1. I had a friend named Cyril, and honestly he was an unlikely friend. On one level we did not have a lot in common. He was a stickler for the rules, and I like breaking rules. We knew each other through mutual friends. But through a strange turn of events, the year that Alexa and I got married, we lived in the same building as he did. And Cyril, he had a spiritual gift and it was hospitality. He was always coming over with cookies and movies (back before streaming) and fried rice and whenever we would go over to his place he was just so welcoming and hospital, you couldn’t help but like him. Later we moved out of that building and about an hour down the road to Wheaton College. But Cyril still came over to our house every weekend and he would bring cookies and little gifts and we played board games with Cyril every weekend. It was this really weird thing, the first years of our marriage as we were getting to know each other, Cyril was always there and he was always generous with his friendship. He became our friend and he modelled the generosity of Jesus to us as a young married couple. Years later, Cyril was living a few hours away from us in Pennsylvania and we had heard that he had a headache for several days and went to the hospital to get it checked out. He had a clot in the back of his brain, and all of us from Moody came to visit because it looked serious. We got to see him and while there he looked at us and struggled a little but told us that it was okay, that he was at peace, that he knew where he was going and he was ready. He died about a week later. I miss Cyril, I miss my friend, but I am also happy that I can stand up here and share with you that Cyril, 2000 years later was like Paul both in life and death; he was a friend who modelled his life and his death on Christ. Do you have a friend like that? Are you a friend like that for someone else? Do I consider how my life affects my friends’ walk with Christ or is the individualism and the me-centeredness of this culture so ingrained in me that I have fully bought into the lie that my life is mine to live as I please, it has nothing to do with anyone but me?

CONCLUSION

Paul ends the letter with greeting to, you guessed it, more friends and co-workers. Paul does this in a lot of his letters, greets people. It’s pretty standard for ancient letters, but it is also the word of God isn’t it. Here is a divinely inspired historical record of Paul greeting friends in Christ. That passage, in 4:7 is famous isn’t it, it’s a great turn of phrase, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race I have kept the faith. But you know, I always read that as a modern American, I think I imagined Paul sort of as Clint Eastwood all alone on the prairie saying this, as if Paul was a lone-wolf who single-handedly caused the spread of the Gospel throughout all of the Roman empire. But he wasn’t that was he, he had friends, co-workers, brothers and sisters in Christ. The good fight of the gospel-driven life is best fought with good friends by your side. For comfort, for counsel, to have our backs, to point each other back again and again to Christ. The point of this passage and sermon is not a moral imperative, get a friend like this or you’re living in sin or not following God’s will. But this morning I will say, if you have friends like this, cherish that and fuel it as a gift from God. If you do not, it is not a bad thing to pray for. But if you do not, you are not alone for, there is verse 17, and with these words I end, “But the Lord stood at my idea and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.”