In a magazine called Christian Reader Erma Landis writes:
“For decades, anyone living within five or six miles of the hat factory in Denver, PA set their watches and clocks by the sirens the factory set off five days a week. At 5:30 a.m. the wake-up siren would begin the day. The lunch and quitting time sirens would follow at their designated times.
“The siren system was eventually disbanded. But one day a friend of Landis was reminiscing with the time keeper about his job. He asked the man who would sound the siren, ‘What did you use to determine the exact time?’ With a twinkle in his eye, the man reached into his pocket and pulled out a child’s Mickey Mouse watch.”
That day everyone learned an important lesson: Some experts are not as authoritative as they seem.
Setting one’s clock is certainly not a major issue in one’s life. But the authority you choose to be the standard for how you live your life is of the greatest importance. That’s why we must demonstrate care in choosing who or what is to be the guide for our lives.
As we begin to study this second letter of Paul to Timothy, a good question to ask is “Why should I listen to you?” The Apostle Paul will be giving us specific directions on how we are to live our lives. As a result we may begin to wonder “Why should I listen to this guy? What kind of authority is he?”
If you are asking that question, then today you will have your answer. In these opening verses the Apostle Paul shows us that he is an authority we can trust. We can set our lives according to what he says because he is a man who has been gripped by Christ’s authority, who has been invested with Christ’s authority, and who dispenses well Christ’s authority.
Christ is the creator of the universe and head of the church. As a result He is our ultimate authority for all matters of life. So we must listen not to men, but to Christ, and him alone. And in order to convince us that we should listen to him the Apostle Paul shows how Christ’s authority under girds his authority.
When we look at our passage we find that we can trust Paul because he is a man who has been gripped by Christ’s authority.
I. He has been gripped by Christ’s Authority
The very first word we read is the word “Paul.” The word Paul means “little.” So our letter starts out “The Little One.” But Paul didn’t always think of himself as “The Little One.”
We know from the Bible that Paul used to go by the name Saul. Saul was most likely his Hebrew name and Paul was most likely his Roman name. It wasn’t uncommon in those days for Jews to have a Jewish name and a roman name. And earlier in his life Paul preferred the name Saul.
There is something big about the name Saul. Saul was the name of the first king of Israel. To have the name Saul was to glory in the excellence of Israel. It was perhaps a mark of the greatness of Judaism. It was Hebrew pride.
But in the book of Acts we read about how Saul/Paul encountered Christ on the Road to Damascus. It was a clash of the titans. Here comes big Saul mounted on his horse and suddenly Christ appeared to him in all His splendor. Saul was thrown down from his horse—in the posture of prostration and humility. His eyes were blinded because he was not in the slightest bit worthy to look upon the exalted Christ. A few pages later you see Saul (the great one) now being called Paul (the little one).
This man had been gripped by the Authority of Christ. No longer did he flaunt himself as Saul, the Great Hebrew. He no longer glories in his excellence. The only thing he flaunts now is how little he is in comparison to Christ.
Humility is one of the hardest virtues to develop. That’s because we are always comparing ourselves with other people. When you compare yourself with other people you will always come out on top. For some reason we always see the flaws in other people. And somehow we are blind to our own limitations and defects.
But when you truly encounter Christ you cannot make such a blunder. When you come face to face with God, your imperfections and limitations become immediately clear. The richness of His glory drives you to your knees. The inexpressible greatness of his divine majesty cuts off any self exaltation. His supreme being weighs upon you. The pressure is so extreme that you cannot even lift your face to behold him. When you are truly gripped by His transcendent authority you come to grips with your “littleness.”
Paul was just such a person. He recognized that he was “the little one” in comparison to Christ. And because he understood his littleness, he may speak as Christ’s agent. Because he understood the authority and supremacy of Christ in such a personal and experiential way, he has the authority to speak on Christ’s behalf.
Proverbs 11:2 says “With the humble there is wisdom.” Isn’t that true? Who would you rather take advice from: Someone who flaunts their resume? Someone who always introduces himself with his title and position of rank? Or would you rather listen to someone who says, “I don’t know much, but I do know this much: I’m not much, but Christ is.” Most likely you are going to listen to the humble guy—the guy who knows where he stands and won’t stand anywhere else.
Since Paul has been gripped by Christ’s authority, we know that he knows where he stands. And since we know that he knows were he stands, we may trust what he is going to say in this letter.
But his words are trustworthy not only because he has been gripped by Christ’s authority. They are also trustworthy because Paul is invested with Christ’s authority.
II. He has been invested with Christ’s Authority
After he introduces himself as “The Little One” Paul says something about his office. He says that he is “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus.”
This is to make sure that we know that Paul does have some clout. Once we see “The Little One” we might be tempted to brush him off. But he points out that he has authority to speak because Christ has invested him with authority in the church.
I just said that titles and positions are not everything. But make no mistake: they certainly are something. A General in the Armed Forces ought to be saluted. A father and husband ought to be respected. That’s because they are positions of rank and influence. Here Paul is pointing out that he holds a position in the church that entitles him to our attention.
He announces that he is an apostle. An apostle is a person who represents someone else. Literally translated, the word apostle means “sent one.” Apostles are ones sent by Christ to represent Christ (or to speak on behalf of Christ). In those days they didn’t have Network Television to get a sovereign’s messages out. They had to send messengers out to make the king’s proclamations in different lands and regions. And that is what an apostle of Christ does. He goes forth on behalf of King Jesus to make His proclamations known.
And don’t think that he came by this position on his own. Paul makes it quite clear that he did not earn the position with his own cunning or through self promotion. He got it “by the will of God.” God appointed him to this work. God invested him with the authority he needed to serve in this capacity.
In a lot of places you can get your place of rank by simply having enough money. All you have to do is slip a few hundred dollars to the right person and—wala: you’re the head of such and such a department or lord over thus & such a region. Paul didn’t get his authority that way. It came straight from God, by an act of God’s own will.
He has authority because he is an apostle (one sent by Christ). He has authority because this office came to him by the will of Christ (i.e. it was God’s desire that he serve in this way). And he has authority because this office is “according to the promise of life that is in Christ.”
What exactly does that mean? “The promise of life” is the salvation that comes through Christ. Christ, through his life, death, and resurrection, secured eternal life for his people. But those people need to be organized and led. They can’t be just running around here on earth like a mob. They need leadership. They need people to guide them.
That’s what Paul means when he says that his office is “according to the promise of life that is in Christ.” The logical conclusion of the salvation of God’s people is the leadership of God’s people.
Don’t forget that! We live in a day where people buck against authority like crazy. And the problem exists in the church too. Church officers are dismissed without a second thought. People will say, “Hey, I’m a Christian. I love Jesus. All I need to do is follow Jesus. I don’t need these elders or deacons telling me what to do.” Well that’s not true. Christ has appointed church leaders that you are to follow. Moreover they are there because salvation demands it! Leaders are there because it is “in accord with the promise of life.”
And this letter must receive your full consideration because it comes from one who is a divinely appointed leader/messenger. You better listen to Paul because when you listen to him, you are listening to Christ.
You must listen to the Apostle because he is gripped by Christ’s authority. You must listen to him because he is invested with Christ’s authority. And you must listen to them because he dispenses well Christ’s authority.
III. He dispenses well Christ’s Authority
No one would listen to a person who doesn’t use his position right, would they? You wouldn’t willingly listen to someone who was a tyrant. No. You want someone who not only holds a place of authority; you want someone who rightly uses his authority. Well the Apostle Paul is that kind of person. He not only holds a place of authority, he dispenses well his God given authority.
Look at the second verse. Look at how loving Paul is when he greets Timothy. He says, “To Timothy, my beloved Son. Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”
You notice the affection. These are not words of a tyrant. These are the words of a loving father and mentor. Timothy had been under Paul’s tutelage for some time and a strong bond had developed between them. And so he greets him with the utmost affection. Then Paul bestows a blessing—a blessing of grace, mercy and peace. He exercises his God given authority in the most meaningful way possible: He prays for the prosperity of his young disciple.
A position of authority is obviously a great privilege, but it is also a great responsibility. To whom much is given, much is required. Those of us who God has appointed to be superiors must never seek our own welfare first. Instead we must seek first the welfare of those who are put under their care. It does not matter if we are an elder, a mother, an employer, a husband or a big brother or sister, we are given that lot in life because God wants us to look after those under us. He has given us that place of prominence so that we might demonstrate Christ’s superlative love.
And what is the chief way that Christ exercises his authority? Certainly it was in laying down his life for his sheep. But it is also expressed in his continual intersession for us. Throughout his life on earth, Jesus prayed. Set times were appointed in the day for prayer. Sporadic nights were given to prayer. And even now, as he sits at God’s right hand in heaven, His chief work is prayer. Until He comes again He will never cease coming to His Father on the behalf of his people.
Paul then, uses his authority well when he prays for Timothy. What better things could Paul seek on Timothy’s behalf? He asks that Timothy may receive Grace. Grace is that unmerited favor of God. He asks that God would rain down all from heaven all that Timothy needed in life, but had forfeited because of his sin. Mercy is that sweet blessing that keeps God’s wrath from being poured out. Peace is the wholeness / or complete wellness of person. It is the financial, emotional, physical health that enables a person to carry out one’s duties in life.
This prayer is not just a formalized greeting. It is a superb illustration of how one is to use his God given authority. Paul not only occupies a place of authority, he exercises his authority with the utmost proficiency. And as we see Paul’s competence in handling his authority, we must consider well what he says in the rest of his writing. We may listen to him because his authority is not being used for his own welfare. It is being used for our welfare and for our greater prosperity in life.
In his book In the Eye of the Storm, Max Lucado tells the story of a captain who had to submit to a greater authority.
Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge in order to keep eye on all activities. Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.”
“Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out.
The lookout replied, “Steady, Captain,” which meant they were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.
The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: ‘We are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.’“
Back came the signal, “Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees.”
The captain said, “Send: “I’m a captain, change course twenty degrees.’“
“I’m a seaman second-class,” came the reply. “You had better change course twenty degrees.”
By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send: ‘I’m a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.’”
Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.”
The captain changed his course immediately.
If you are asking the question, “Why should I listen to you?” You have your answer. Paul is the lighthouse grounded upon Christ. Our God has invested him with authority so that he may serve as a beacon who will direct us how we must navigate our lives here on earth. He knows where he stands: He has been gripped with Christ’s authority. Therefore he will not venture to lead us astray. Let us then act like that sea captain and humbly submit to his every word.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.