Sunday, October 30, 2016

"Bold Leadership" (2 Timothy 4:1-8)


How would you describe a leader?
What attributes does a good leader have?
Who are leaders?

Paul was clearly a leader in the 1st Century Jesus-following movement. Towards the end of his life, he was keen to see other leaders step up. Reading this text from 2nd Timothy, we are being invited into this call to leadership. And, especially in verses 2 and 5, we read descriptions of what leaders need to engage with. I will contend here that we are all called to be spiritual leaders within the community in which we live.


We began this month … considering the idea … that the love we have received creates a debt of love to others. Because God has imparted so much love in our direction, typified in what Jesus did for us – then our only response could be a love for neighbour … that factors in all their needs, especially their spiritual need. Then John talked about difficult truths concerning eternal destiny that should motivate us further concerning the spiritual needs of others. Rhett talked about the priority we should give to 'spiritual fitness', not only for our own benefit, but also, and most importantly, for the well-being of all those we encounter (and thus have the opportunity of sharing life and faith with). Last week Sylvia Fraser spoke about the hope that is so missing from so many people's lives – yet this is the very hope we have, the blessed hope of Jesus – that we should be able to share. Sylvia challenged us … that we will never really be able to share hope, until we rid ourselves of 'worldly passions' and become more pure channels.

We have been reminded of what it takes to make a difference in the world with the gospel of Jesus. It takes a full appreciation and sincere gratitude for the love of God available to all people. It takes an appreciation that the decisions made in this world have eternal consequences. It takes a commitment to prepare ourselves as best as possible, to truly become growing disciples of Jesus. It takes a whole lot of repentance from all those things of heart, mind and action, that are contrary to God’s ways. It takes a love of neighbour that looks beyond all sorts of offences, to the spiritual need that lies deep within everyone. It takes surety, courage and boldness; but also a confidence that God’s Holy Spirit is preparing the way. It takes the sort of humility and gentleness that allows us to connect genuinely with other people.

Can we engage with our neighbourhoods and community with bold leadership ... such that people around us will know that Jesus is alive and seeking them out? Can they see our hope and our peace?? Have you considered yourself to be a 'spiritual leader' in your street? What would it take to see yourself as this?? Our community, and society in general, needs spiritual leadership! We shouldn’t look to others, we certainly can’t look to politicians or any secular leader – it’s not their responsibility; we should look in the mirror. We worship and follow the greatest leader of all – Jesus – who in turn calls us to serve and to lead in human community today!

The great apostle Paul was keen that there would be other leaders (after he departed) who would follow in the way of sharing Jesus with integrity and effectiveness. A young man named Timothy was of particular interest to Paul. Timothy would have to be bold if
he was to make a difference in the difficult circumstances the early church was in. So Paul put up the challenge to Timothy – “Timothy is to carry on Paul’s ministry in a world in which there is no promise of eager response” (Gordon Fee). And as this is the living word of God, the challenge is also there for us today. This passage serves to motivate us (concerning our impact), in whatever circumstances we encounter, and in whatever places we find ourselves.


There is something here for everyone, as we all have a leadership role … whenever we are in any form of social interaction – family, work, school, community, church, etc. This is because we follow a man (called Jesus) who had impact wherever he went and whoever he spoke with or spent time with. This is a spiritual leadership enabled by the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity [goodness], faithfulness, gentleness, self-control); and empowered by the gifts of the Holy Spirit shared amongst us. As we are called to be witnesses to Jesus, we are necessarily spiritual leaders wherever we go.

This does NOT mean we are in charge. This does NOT mean we inflict our agenda on the unwilling. This does NOT mean we apply pressure. This IS a serving leadership, where our focus comes off ourselves, and goes firmly onto the well-being of others, and the well-being of a community as a whole. This is the sort of leadership where people recognise Jesus through true concern and compassion. This is the leadership where any words we might subsequently say, make sense on the basis of the life people have seen presented before them. This is the leadership where the results are actually the responsibility of the Holy Spirit – which  removes the possibility of both pride and anxiety. Yet, this is still the leadership that is prepared to move beyond comfort … into places of need, come what may. Where lives are dying, time is short.

Text – verses 1 to 4

In his time and context, how did Paul describe the nature of this spiritual leadership? As we live in the sight of God, and also minister in the company of Jesus (who is the ultimate judge of every one of us), in the knowledge of both his current and future kingdoms, this is what we should do: persistently proclaim the good news, in both good and bad seasons, always be on duty – being ‘on hand’ standing by, always being ready whether it suits us or not, whether it works to our advantage or not – and often it will not be to our personal advantage. The “patient teaching”, “encouraging” and “convincing” doesn’t sound too bad, and can be addressed in a gentle life-style evangelism type way. We are simply people who know the truth and live the truth, and progressively the truth becomes convincing. However, Paul includes another word, which is not so comfortable – do you see it there in verse 2 – “rebuke”.

In its mildest form, “rebuke” means to ‘correct’, or ‘set straight’. This effect can naturally come as part of the teaching and encouraging, but sometimes there are more specific behaviours that have to be addressed: where someone is going down a particularly destructive path, or having a bad affect or influence on someone else, spreading negativity, being violent or generally hurting others. So within the word “rebuke” is also the notion of ‘admonishing’ or ‘intervening’. Parents know all about this. This is speaking with great seriousness into tense situations. This is stating that certain attitudes or behaviour is wrong, and in some cases intervening to stop such behaviour. To “rebuke” is to ‘warn’ … in order to prevent an action or bring one to an end.

Yet even here, we need a serving mentality! To just say something is wrong, where there is no moral or ethical groundwork to consider it so, is likely to be unhelpful. ‘That’s just plain wrong’ … I’ve said it myself often; but that is because I have already formed (largely from the Gospel) the sort of moral and ethical code which determines something as being wrong. Other people, maybe increasingly, in this individualistic culture, are not there yet – like those referred to in verses 3-4, who have basically decided to just live for themselves.

The leadership skill here, is to provide “rebuke” in such a way that it connects with the hurt that is being caused to themselves and others, rather than the abstract offence it may be causing us (as if we were a Pharisee). This then can be seen as a positive input into their lives (and those being affected around them), rather than a bland negative criticism. This “rebuke” would also separate the behaviour from the person themselves. So, a proper “rebuke” would be, for instance … ‘do you see how you are hurting that other person’, rather than simply ‘you are a bad man’.

All “rebuke” should be aimed toward positive change, and ultimately to the open receipt of the gospel. What might it have been like … wearing another person’s shoes as they grew up?! This is a way of keeping open to God’s ‘unconditional’ love to all, especially when we feel uninclined towards certain individuals. This is how we stay open to the possibility of radical repentance.

All “rebuke”, if it is to be regarded as spiritual leadership, must be aimed at reconciliation between estranged parties, including between lost souls and their Creator God and Loving Father. As Kent Hodge (no relation) puts it, “There are always errors to correct in all of our lives, but these errors are to be corrected with and through a reconciling spirit”. Or as the prophet Isaiah put it, “You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in” (58:12b).

Offering “rebuke” can be very difficult and challenging. This is why we need to be careful listeners to God’s small voice. Offering “rebuke” is NOT likely to win many friends. We all like to be popular, but sometimes there are higher priorities to consider for the sake of others. Friendships can be strained when the high priority of spiritual growth (or community justice) necessarily needs to be addressed. But this remains the call of the Gospel.

Text – verses 5-8

Rhett reminded us, two weeks ago, that we should make sure we are prepared in advance for any situation or opportunity to help someone out ... this is our ‘spiritual fitness’ campaign. Philip H Towner writes: "It is 'available' Christians who will be able to seize the moment and win people for Christ or come to the aid of struggling brothers and sisters in the church". Being ‘available’ is likely more important than being ‘able’! This sort of ‘availability is described in verse 5.

(a)  Our constant availability (in season and out) wherever we are and whoever we are with, is assisted through being “sober” – meaning a whole lot of things ... being able to 'keep your head' (in all situations); being ‘cool’ under pressure (without acting rashly); being watchful, alert and discerning; having a 'presence of mind'; being well-balanced – using careful judgment and wisdom; being self-controlled (or better God-controlled) – spiritually attuned. This is being able to see in behind events … to where God has been active.

(b)  We also need to be settled in any personal suffering – exhibiting peace and hope despite difficult circumstances. In this we can be a great witness, and offer good leadership to the struggling. We should expect some degree of suffering, and be prepared to creatively deal with it – being positively expectant of God's provision.

(c)   Doing the “work of an evangelist” is broader than being an evangelist (which is more a specific gifting). This is being a witness, a follower of Jesus, and a spiritual leader, with a definite view toward people coming to know Jesus (as their Saviour and Lord). It is so easy to just hope for the best concerning others, but it is much more intentional to imagine … what a blessing it would be … if they came to know and follow Jesus. We can each ‘work like an evangelist’ according to our own personality and gifting – all with a team approach.

(d)  The last phrase is the one that most captured my attention – “carry out your ministry fully”. What does this mean?? Not leaving anything to chance, giving full attention to our calling; being wary of distractions (that unnecessarily bring dry spots or periods of unfruitfulness), creatively dealing with disappointments so they don’t lead to discouragement.

This is in a time and culture, where, generally speaking, there is a preference for what suits me - this being where the quest for the common good has been lost. This was already a perceived reality in the first century (v.3-4). Where the boundaries have been blurred, it's easy to drift. It's also easy to defer to what is right before your eyes, rather than looking beyond to the things of the Spirit, to the things that we don't easily see yet remain the most important. The highly visible clamours for our attention, while the less visible is missed. An alternative mindset is, “It’s not worth a thing, if it’s not for the King”.

Paul, nearing the end of his time, provides himself as an example of “fully carrying out a ministry” (v.6-7). A "libation" refers to pouring out wine or other liquid on an altar as a sacrificial offering, meaning that Paul had poured out his life … he has given everything to his ministry, right to the end, and ultimately at considerable cost. Paul has remained true both in the soundness (truth and quality) of his ministry as well as the length of his ministry; right to the end - he kept on serving through all the circumstances that befell him. Paul had completed ALL that he was given to do.

Paul didn't say this in pride, but to inspire Timothy with what is required. And not just Timothy … “but also to all who have longed for his [Christ's] appearing” (v.8). Paul hoped that bold leadership would inspire bold leadership. The "crown of righteousness" here refers to an endorsement that righteousness has been sought, developed and practiced in the life of Paul (refer TNTC p.188) – not a reward, but an endorsement of a reality already brought about through the grace of God. Paul had been loyal to a trust placed in him. Paul had also remained true to the Gospel.

We are to live as if we know that the things of this world are temporary, all its pleasures are passing, and it is the eternal things that count for the most. Paul says his commitment was thoroughly worth it! The "crown" is for those who have longed for Christ's "appearing", such that they have been available for spiritual leadership. This doesn't mean they wanted to escape, but rather that they lived an inspired life in anticipation of Jesus' return (NTCS p.208).


The reason for the seriousness of all this is given in verse 1. God and Jesus are present with us. We can't live in a careless way, because the way we use our lives is being observed by the highest court. Embracing the Kingdom of God and making disciples until Jesus returns … is our most pressing job description. Bold spiritual leadership understands that we can be highly effective instruments of God's redeeming power.

People around us are always seeking. Our prayer and our desire is that they will seek in the right places. There are many other places people can go, and other alignments people can make – those temporary feel good activities. Our calling to spiritual leadership is to make Jesus the first and most significant port of call. Bold leadership doesn’t blame people for making the wrong choices, but rather becomes available to realign and reconcile people toward God’s invitation to a relationship with the Divine.

There are questions that beg to be answered. There are dilemmas to be overcome. There are gaps to be filled, and the challenge is for you to fill them. That is the essence of the high call of spiritual leadership. There is a purpose for your being here. You are meant to answer something, solve something, provide something, lead something, discover something, compose something, write something, say something, translate something, interpret something, sing something, create something, teach something, preach something, bear something, overcome something, and in doing so, you improve the lives of others under the power of God, for the glory of God.  (From: Claude Alexander, Bishop of The Park Church in Charlotte, North Carolina USA.)

This is something for us to consider every day – it’s Jesus that we live for every day. We follow Jesus by emulating his love for neighbour.

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