Witness

Text: 2 Timothy 1:8-14

I’m very excited to preach today. I want you all to know that this is my first time ever doing this to a group of adults in a church setting. Over the years, I’ve preached many times to high school and junior high students through various ministries I’ve been involved with, but this truly feels like a first for me. I remember when Ryan first proposed being an elder with what would become Table Rock Church, and when he mentioned that the expectation would be that all the elders would preach, my first thought was to eject. “Sorry brother, I don’t think I’m comfortable with preaching yet.” But I can now say that I’m sincerely excited and while nervous, I’ve been eager to share with you what God has been teaching me. I’m also glad to have a room full of friends. You all make it far easier. 

So as our first sermon series for our young church, we’ve been working through our church values. We’ve already heard sermons on spreading, prayer, and leadership, and today I get to share about witness. Ryan started this series by preaching about spreading, reminding us that the command to spread is really just partnering with God in what he’s been doing since creation began. Two weeks ago, David Lund preached about prayer, and how at Table Rock we desire to be a praying community and that God loves to answer prayers that make him look good.  And last week Don preached about leadership, with the main thing being Jesus + Nothing = Everything, and that we want to encourage leadership among our church body, that we would be leaders for Christ. And now today, I have the pleasure to preach about witness. 

So our witness…to be honest, I think I’ve had a bad understanding, or at least an incomplete view, of what we as Christians mean when we talk about our witness. I thought for a long time that it was synonymous with spreading. We witness to people about the gospel, and our goal is spreading the gospel, those seem like the same thing. While there is certainly some overlap, we mean different things when we use these two terms. 

So what does witness mean? In our everyday use of the word, the definition is, “one who sees and can provide an account.” I like that…one who sees and can provide an account. We who call Jesus our savior and trust in His finished work on the cross have seen the good news and can give an account of its power in our lives. Our witness is our day-to-day functioning as believers, our daily living out of the gospel. 

I recently ran across a cool story about something called the Blind Cafe Experience. In this traveling event, people buy tickets to eat, discuss prompts that are provided, and listen to a live musical performance in 100% pitch black darkness. To make it more interesting, the cooks that make the food are blind, as are the servers. It’s an experience in which people with visual impairment have essentially said, “come experience what I know. Come see what it’s like to experience life as I know it.” They’re a witness to being blind, and from the accounts I have read and listened to, it truly is a phenomenal experience. 

This is much like what we’re doing with our witness as Christians. We want to draw people into what we have seen as the most fulfilling, joyful, glory-filled aspect of our lives. We want people to experience what we already have—that trusting in Christ as our savior and submitting our life to Jesus as the ultimate authority in our lives changes everything. 

We’re going to use the text 2 Timothy 1:8-14 to investigate a bit deeper what we can learn about witness. This text was written by Paul in a letter to his beloved friend and ministry partner, Timothy, a man that he had mentored in the faith and in sharing his faith. We’re actually going to start at the end of the passage with the provocative command to guard the good deposit. I’m going to try to answer three main questions: 

1) What does it mean to guard the good deposit? 

2) Why do we do it? 

3) How do we do it? 

To understand what it means to guard the good deposit, we have to look at what the word “guard” means, and what the “good deposit” is. Let’s think about the word “guard”. We guard what is precious to us, what we find most valuable. For some things, it’s instinctual even. Just as a mother duck guards her chicks and protects them, we guard our own children to protect them from being hurt or exposed to things that could endanger them. We guard documents and valuables by putting them in a safe because they’re important to us. Think of capture the flag. You have those on your team that are designated to be on the offensive and to go and find the opponent’s flag, and then you have people who are left in the area where you’ve hidden your flag to guard against the opposing team. The act of guarding is a defensive engagement. You’re keeping something valuable from being taken or attacked, and what we value most we guard with the utmost vigilance and tenacity. 

So what is it that we’re called to guard in this passage? The “good deposit”. Paul here is instructing Timothy and us to guard the precious truth of the gospel. We’re to value this truth in our lives to such a degree that we guard it as we do all other things we hold precious. The gospel has saved us from being separated from God in both this life and in eternity, what could be more precious than that?

A few years back, Boise had a pretty intense fire along Amity which burned many acres and destroyed 13 homes. We know it as the Oregon Trail Fire or the “Sweetwater Fire”, and it was driven by sustained high winds that made fighting the fire extraordinarily difficult. This was before I was a firefighter, but at the time, my parents lived in a house right on the edge of a subdivision where the flames were marching toward. I went over there as soon as I heard what was going on, and I helped my parents pull some artwork off the walls and load up the family photo albums, important documents, and other valuables into their car. These were the things that they wanted to preserve for future generations. As we drove away, I was sure their house was going to burn to the ground (it didn’t by the way). What would you load into your car if you thought you had ten minutes before your house burned up? What are the heirlooms and items you hope to pass on to your children and grandchildren? Those are the things you’re guarding, and they’re probably really great things. We’re called to guard the gospel in our lives with that same love, care, and passion. So, back to our first question of “what does it mean to guard the good deposit?” It means we passionately preserve the gospel as the most sacred thing in our life. 

Now that we know what it means to guard the good deposit, and we know we’re talking about this in terms of our Witness, let’s go back to the start of our passage in 2 Timothy, chapter 1, verse 8, 

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God…” 

It seems that Paul gives us two choices concerning how we act toward our faith in the gospel: We can either be ashamed or not be ashamed. 

When we’re ashamed of something, we hide it from the light of day. We shield, cover, or camouflage it and desperately hope it’s not noticed by anyone. We are ashamed of our sin, our shame, our acts and words that fill us with regret and which we hope nobody ever knows about. Being ashamed is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be a conviction by the Spirit of God to tell us that what we’ve done is not okay. The feeling of being ashamed can drive us to the cross and seek forgiveness. However, if there’s anything we should not be ashamed of, it should be the gospel, right? But when we’re ashamed of the gospel, we keep quiet and hope nobody questions us because we don’t want to be embarrassed by our faith. We don’t want to be ostracized by our peers. We don’t want to provide a poor witness to the truth. We don’t want to sound ignorant or  lose a debate over world views.  I think we’ve all experienced this at some point. I certainly have, and it feels awful every time. I picture the hurt on my Savior’s face when I am ashamed of Him and what He’s done for me. Being ashamed of the gospel is as empty and terrible a feeling as I have ever experienced, which makes this a poor choice among the two that Paul provides.  

The other choice is to not be ashamed, but you likely caught that this isn’t quite how Paul phrases it. Instead, he says that we should “share in the suffering.” So our choices are to be ashamed, which is a pretty lousy choice, or to suffer. Let’s see, do I want a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, or do I want my thumb to be cut off? That’s what this feels like! And if we think about Paul’s suffering, it only makes it worse! When he wrote this, he was in prison. Paul had also been shipwrecked, he was stoned and left for dead, he was persecuted and chased out of town. So it’s a bit confusing that this is the choice that Paul gives us: choose to be ashamed of the gospel, or choose to suffer. Those don’t even seem like related choices, we expect choices like this to be opposites, do you want to go with me to the store or stay home? Or in this situation, to be ashamed or be proud, or be ashamed or be bold. Those seem like opposites. But the choice is to be ashamed or suffer.  Why is this how he phrased the two options? 

The reason, we’re told in many different places, including later in 2nd Timothy, is because if we choose to not be ashamed, it will inevitably bring suffering into our lives. The two are inextricably linked. If we choose to be bold for the gospel, or to be proud of the gospel, we are very much choosing to suffer. Suffering is an inevitable outcome of choosing to not be ashamed. Paul says in Chapter 3 verse 12— 

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” 

We’re to count the cost of not being ashamed, which is, for every believer, going to invite suffering into our life. 

So between these two options, why would we want to choose to share in suffering for the sake of the gospel? And this brings us to our second question. Why do we guard the good deposit? 

Let’s start by going back to thinking about what we guard. There is a hierarchy of things we guard. In the scenario of your house burning down, if I reduced the amount of time you had to load your most precious things into a car to only five minutes, what would you pack now? Five minutes isn’t much time. This would likely mean you’d have to prioritize the most meaningful items. If I reduced the time to only one minute, you’d likely escape with your life and the clothes on your back. You value your life more than a photo album or a painting on the wall.  

So where does the gospel fall in this hierarchy of value? Hopefully, the reason we guard the gospel is because we love it supremely. When we properly understand the gospel, it supplants everything else as the most important and precious thing. John Newton, when he was nearing the end of his life, said, “Although my memory is fading now, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great savior.” He knew why to guard the good deposit: because he loved the gospel. 

We should love the gospel because we understand that it changes us. As we walk out our lives with Him, we can look back and see ways the Lord has changed us. This is evidence of God’s grace in sanctifying us, or making us more like Christ. Things that I used to value are no longer important because He’s changed my affections. We love the gospel because we understand that it brings us the greatest joy. I’ve always particularly liked the imagery of a God-shaped hole in each of us. People try to fill that hole with all manner of things: work, beauty, acceptance, hobbies, sex, drugs, money, having fun, materialism, and on and on. The only thing that adequately fills the hole and provides peace and lasting joy     is God. All these other pursuits to fill the hole are not even akin to trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, it’s trying to fill a basketball hoop sized hole with a toothpick: it’s wholly unsatisfying and inadequate. When we have experienced the joy and satisfaction of knowing Jesus, though, everything else does not compare because it changes us and satisfies like nothing else can. We guard the good deposit in part because we supremely value the gospel. 

While I firmly believe what I’ve said about why we guard the good deposit so far is well grounded in Scripture, it isn’t the reason Paul provides in our text today. The reason Paul gives for why he suffers is found in verses 11-12. 

“…I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed…” 

Paul suffers precisely because he believes that Christ was the Savior of the world, and he preaches it! He does this because he’s experienced the amazing grace of the cross, and he loves the gospel. However, this is a cause and effect reason. I’m suffering because I was caught preaching and teaching the gospel. To discover his motivation for why he preaches and teaches, despite the prospect of inevitable suffering, we have to look to other letters from him, and also later in 2 Timothy. If you’d like, flip the page in your Bibles to chapter 2, verse 10. 

“Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”—2 Timothy 2:10.  

To understand this passage, we have to know what Paul means when he says ‘the elect.’ He’s talking about those people who currently believe in the gospel and those who don’t yet believe but will come to believe because of the Holy Spirit’s work through using our witness. Paul is willing to endure whatever torture, persecution, hardship, and suffering that comes his way because he knows that people outside of Christ will be separated from God in hell, separated from every good thing they’ve ever known: companionship, beauty, comfort. When someone dies that doesn’t place their faith in Christ, their destiny is to be removed from God’s goodness. Paul takes this very seriously, and we should too. His heart breaks for people. We should receive great motivation to live in a manner worthy of our calling, or in other words be a good witness of the gospel, when we consider that friends and family that don’t know Christ have a destiny in hell unless their affections toward Jesus change. That’s such a hard truth, and it’s very difficult for me to verbalize. Yet, it’s at the heart of the gospel. Apart from a consequence like hell, what does a person need salvation from? This should encourage us to want to live out our faith boldly. 

Earlier, we collectively read through Matthew 5:14–16. This is such a great passage on witness. Dear church friends, I want you to hear God reminding you and me in this, hear him speaking these verses to each of us personally: 

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” —Matthew 5:14–16

The light of the world, Jesus, has made us to be the light! So shine brightly brothers and sisters! We get to live differently, in a way that people ought to notice, that God may be glorified and people would be saved. 

We can combine our reasons for why we guard the good deposit and choose to suffer into one simple thought: Jesus is worth it. Nothing compares, He loves us perfectly as nothing else can, He sacrificed himself so we can be forgiven and saved from wrath. Anything that comes our way cannot distract us because Jesus is worth it

So we know what it means to guard the good deposit—it means we value and cherish the gospel supremely. And we now know why we are to do this—because Christ is worth it. Now, how do we do this? 

It’s so easy to be discouraged in this, isn’t it? How do I live a life that honors God and makes him the singular most important thing in my life? Do you ever feel like Paul, who said, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” I know I often experience what Paul here articulates. I want to be that city on a hill, but I routinely fail at it. I don’t speak lovingly to my wife or my children. I fall into the culture at work and get caught up in discussions that don’t honor the Lord. I catch my eyes sinfully darting at other women. I examine my heart and see pride motivating my behavior. When I think about my witness, I am often convicted that my witness is found lacking. Friends, if you can relate, we have much encouragement in our passage today if we look carefully.

In verse 9, Paul tells us that God

“saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our work but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus…” 

I thank God that we aren’t saved because of the good things we’ve done. I want to be clear here: even the best things in my life don’t make me righteous in any way. The truth is that even acts that seem like the very best acts in my life fall far short of sufficient in terms of saving myself by my own effort. The God of the universe, you see, calls for perfection, and none of us can achieve that. And so I praise God that we haven’t been saved by our work but because of God’s own purpose and grace! 

And God didn’t save his weak and needy people only to leave us to suffer alone. No, he not only saved us, he sustains and empowers us! Just as we couldn’t save ourselves by our own power and determination, we can’t be a good witness without God either. This point is easy to skip over as we read this section, but it’s emphasized several times.

Look at verse 8—

“share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.” 

See in verse 12—

“I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” 

And in verse 14—

By the Holy Spirit  who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” 

This is no accident that Paul embeds within this text three times these reminders to us that we’re not alone in this pursuit of living out our faith in our witness. The answer to how we guard the good deposit is simple: God’s work in us. We’re not capable. This is part of the sanctification process: He does the work. We walk it out, step by step, but the ability to live as that lamp on the stand that gives light to all in the house is provided by God. So…ask for it. Ask the Lord to help change your witness that you would be a light for him. Remember David Lund’s words to us two weeks ago? God loves to answer prayers that make him look good! He is faithful to give gifts that bring glory to his name.

Finally, Paul also says that we can imitate him. Look at verse 13— 

“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” 

We can learn from others! I have grown so much in my faith and ability to follow Christ because of other Christians. When I see boldness, I am emboldened. When I see humility, I am humbled. When I see kindness, I am encouraged to be kind. When I see others being hospitable, I want to do likewise. How do you notice others shining their lights? Do what they’re doing! That’s what Paul is saying. He says, “look at my life and see the joy that I still have despite every circumstance… and follow my lead.” 

More importantly, who’s lead is Paul following? Jesus’s. And this is the most remarkable thing of all. Christ went before us in this too! Discouragement vanishes when we look at the example of Jesus. The God that created, then gave up his position in Heaven in order to become a lowly man, walk out this life in perfection, and then willingly died that we can live. That perfection and power now resides in us. We don’t need to harness up our will, grit our teeth, and simply try harder. We have something far more powerful than self-determination to rely on. It’s God who does this work for us, in us, and through us. He is glorified when we live our lives as a witness for him. 

In our daily living, we want to live in such a way that we are a bright shining lamp, that gives light to all in the house. We do this by loving the cross, loving our salvation, loving what Jesus has done for us. We guard the good deposit by holding the gospel as our most valuable possession. This will cause suffering, but we embrace that because we love people and want to see them know the Lord. And the power to do this is given by God. He receives the glory, the credit, and the praise.