Ministry is Sacrifice (2 Tim 4:6-8)

Over the last two days we’ve seen Paul warn Timothy that if he fulfils his commission to be a faithful teacher, he’ll face opposition. He’ll need to endure. And so, at the end of this charge to Timothy, he reflects on his own life. His endurance. And the sacrifice that is Christian ministry.

Ministry is sacrifice

2 Timothy 4:6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.

Paul knows what real ministry is all about. He’s in prison, facing trial, and he knows the outcome will not be favourable. He’s awaiting death. He refers to at as his “departure” – the Greek word being a common metaphor for death, that of a boat being untied ready to take the occupant across the River Styx to the underworld.

His situation is described as being “poured out like a drink offering.” A drink offering would accompany a sacrifice, and Paul is now being poured out ready for the sacrifice to happen.

If we enter God’s service, we have to realise that it involves “carrying our cross daily”; being “poured out like a drink offering.” To give until there is nothing left to give. So why would we do this? Why do we pour ourselves out for the gospel? What should be our motivation?

Follow Jesus’ example

Throughout this passage, Paul is making allusions to Psalm 22. It is a famous Psalm, one that Jesus cried out the first line of when on the cross (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). It was a Psalm about feeling deserted while in the middle of great suffering. That’s why Jesus found it appropriate for his situation. And I’m guessing Paul alludes to it for the same reason, as he is being “poured out” awaiting death:

Ps 22:14-15 ‘I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me… you lay me in the dust of death.’

By alluding to this Psalm, Paul is making it clear that he’s following in his saviour’s footsteps by giving his all for the gospel – even though it means his own death.

Are you prepared to do that?

Who would, if it were not for Jesus’ own amazing sacrifice for us. That’s why a regular reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the most powerful motivation to sacrifice ourselves in his service. That’s why we sing about the cross so much at church. That’s why it’s a good idea each day – every time you pray – to start by thanking Jesus for his sacrifice on our behalf. Make it a habit. Because it’s what drives us, it’s what motivates us to live the life God intended us to live.

Pursue what is honourable

And to do so is honourable. In verse 7 we see Paul almost writing the epitaph, the inscription on his own tombstone:

2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

He’s fought the good fight, continuing his frequent athletic metaphor. He’s finished the race. what could be more a more noble, honourable calling than to live for the service of God?

What would you like to see on your tombstone? What would you like people to say at your funeral? (Apart from “look, he’s moving!” of course.)

Some of my favourite real tombstone inscriptions:

  • Here lies Ezekial Aikle, Age 102, The Good Die Young.
  • I told you I was sick!
  • Here lies an Atheist, All dressed up & no place to go.
  • In  Cripple Creek, Colorado: Here lies Zeke, The Second Fastest Draw in Cripple Creek.
  • On the grave of a dentist: Here lies JOHN D. CUDD, Filling his last cavity!
  • In memory Alpha White (apparently quite a large woman): Open wide Ye Heavenly Gates, That leadeth to that heavenly shore, Our father suffered in passing through, And mother weighs much more.
  • Here Lies Joyce, She’d rather not – but had no choice.

What would you like to see on your tombstone? What would you like people to say at your funeral? Would you like it to be said that you gave yourself up for the most noble cause imaginable? That you endured until the end? That you achieved something that will last into eternity?

Focus on the future

In verse 8 Paul reminds us to focus on that future in eternity:

2 Timothy 4:8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Although serving God may be difficult now, motivate yourself both by remembering what Jesus has done for us in the past, and focusing on what he has promised us in the future. The “crown of righteousness” that will be awarded to us – not on the basis of our merit, but on the work of Jesus in our place.

Elite athletes endure their torturous training regime not by dwelling on how difficult it is, but by focusing on their reward. They imagine themselves receiving their medal and the adulation of the world. There’s short-term pain, sure, but they remind themselves of the long-term gain.

Well that’s Christian ministry. We are investing in the glory of God by working hard for him now – a glory in which he has graciously promised we will share. When it gets difficult, don’t dwell on the difficulties. Focus on the reward. Picture yourself in the age to come, face-to-face with God, with him saying “well done, good and faithful servant, come and enter my rest.”

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