“I give up!”
I suppose those words could be quickly uttered at just about any time but that’s especially true for those of us who are engaged in the work of ministry. Last week I was part of a conference call with other pastors in the mid-Atlantic area and listened to one brother describe his discouragement in the work of ministry that was fueling his thoughts to perhaps leave the work in the particular local church for another. Many are at the tipping point and ready to give up.
It’s apparent that the Apostle Paul’s ministry protege was prone to this same kind of discouragement. It’s no wonder when we consider the things that both Paul and Timothy faced. In fact, just moving through Paul’s second letter to Timothy reveals four of the greatest discouragements in the work of the ministry. These are the four great dangers to any pastor–really to anyone engaged in ministry.
Departure/Defections from the Truth (2:16-18)
It’s difficult, if not impossible to quantify the greatest discouragement in the work of the ministry, but this has got to be at the top. There are people who simply walk away, or, as Paul puts it “swerve from the truth”. These are the people who come and then they just as quickly go. These are the people who seem to have a vital relationship with Christ only to show that they never really knew him. You can pour your life into these kinds of people but, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).
Dangerous Times (3:1-13)
In 2 Timothy 3:1, Paul says that we are living in dangerous or difficult times. The word here is the word that speaks of violence. He is referring to spiritually violent times. Following that in verse one he goes on to list 26 characteristics that make these times to dangerous or difficult.
Shepherding the sheep is not always the sweet and soft pastoral avocation of going through flowery meadows, and beside still waters; sometimes it means leaving the fold, and going out on the mountains wild and bare, and grappling with the wolf, and allowing the wolf to bury his fangs in you in order to save the lamb (G. Campbell Morgan).
Desertion from Us (1:15; 4:10, 16)
Friends…family members…people we’ve led to Christ…brothers and sisters whom we’ve discipled… Paul had a once-trusted companion named Demas who just left him. There were others who just deserted him. This is a particularly painful wound that often breaks us like nothing else and can bring callousness to the hearts of spiritual leaders and perhaps be the leading factor in “pastoral drop out”.
Departure from Godliness (4:3-4; 10)
People will not endure sound teaching. That’s the promise of the Scripture. There are people like Demas who love the world so much that they cannot bear with Him long. This willing departure from godliness and righteousness is perhaps the final nail in the pastoral coffin.
These are things that weighed on Paul and Timothy and have weighed on every minister of the Gospel since the establishment of the church. These are the things that, when applied long enough and with enough pressure, lead to the fateful words, “I quit!”
However, God does not abandon us to hopelessness. Quite the opposite! He gives us strength to endure and Paul communicates that to Timonty and us and he says, “Get your strength from “the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1) .
In the next post, we will explore what it means to be getting your strength from the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
I’ve really benefitted from listening to Eric Alexander’s sermon on this text and have used his message to help form the basis for this post.