He Cannot Deny Himself
2 Timothy 2:8–19,
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 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. The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself. Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”
Why This Message Is For You
The reason Paul’s words to a young, male, constitutionally timid pastor named Timothy are relevant for you — though you may not be young, or male, or timid, or a pastor — is that the foundations (the arguments and the reasons) that Paul gives Timothy for why he should embrace his suffering in the service of the gospel instead of running from it, and why he should press on confidently and courageously in his work, are the same foundations (the same arguments and the same reasons) that you should embrace your suffering in the path of obedience and not run from it, why you should press on confidently and courageously in your work.
So if you are not young, and not a male, and not timid, and not a pastor, don’t think this text or this message is not for you. It is. I say it with no fear of contradiction: what Paul says here, every one of you needs. So pray that God will make it powerful in your life.
We’re in a nine part summer series on Paul’s last letter before he dies, 2 Timothy. We’ve given the series the title: “To Him Be Glory Forever and Ever”: Unashamed of Christ and Ready to Suffer. The reason for the title will become increasingly obvious. Tom Steller will preach next Sunday, and then I will finish the last four messages in the series in August — which I am very eager to do. I love and need the message of this book. I hope that’s obvious today.
The Overarching Burden of Chapter 2
Our focus today is on verses 8–19 of chapter 2. Here’s what I think Paul is doing in these verses. He is giving five reasons (foundation stones, arguments) for why Timothy should embrace suffering for the gospel instead of running away from it, and why he should press on in his embattled work with confidence and courage.
Remember that back in verse 1 Paul had said to him, “Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” And then he told him to press on in his work of entrusting others with the gospel (verse 2). And then he said in verse 3, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” So that’s the overarching burden of this chapter (indeed this book) — that Timothy be strong in the grace of God in Christ, that he be courageous and confident, and that he press on in the work God has called him to do, and that when that path of obedience brings suffering he embrace it and not run away.
Five Foundations for Your Life
And now in verses 8-19 Paul gives five foundations for this kind of confidence and courage in ministry — and in your life! So the way I think you should listen to this message is by asking: are there foundation stones of truth that I should build into the bottom of my life to help me stand in the face of suffering? And to keep me going in what God has called me to do, even if it is embattled? And you will see in the last part of this text how painfully embattled Timothy’s ministry was.
Foundation Stone #1
Verse 8: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.”
Timothy, never let Jesus Christ be far from your mind. And he mentions two specific ways to remember Jesus. Remember him as risen from the dead. And remember him as the offspring of David. Why these two things about Jesus?
Because if he is risen from the dead he is alive and triumphant over death. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). Which means, Timothy, that no matter how serious the suffering becomes, the worst that it can do on this earth is kill you. And Jesus has taken the sting out of that enemy. He is alive. And you will be alive. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28).
The resurrection of Jesus was not a random resurrection. It was the resurrection of the son of David. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David.” Why does Paul say that? Because every Jewish person knew what that meant. That meant that Jesus is the Messiah (John 7:42). And that meant that this resurrection was not a random resurrection, but the resurrection of an everlasting king. Listen to the words of the angel to Mary, Jesus’s mother:
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31–33)
So, Timothy, remember Jesus, the one you serve, and the one for whom you suffer. He is alive and he will reign forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. No matter what they do to you, you do not need to be afraid.
So foundation stone #1 is that Jesus Christ, the son of David, is risen from the dead and reigns over the world forever. If Christ has conquered the last enemy, what can man do to you?
Foundation Stone #2
Verse 9: Paul says that this is the gospel “for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!”
Paul pulls no punches here. He doesn’t whitewash what Timothy may have to endure. He says, Look, we both serve the same gospel. And here is what it has cost me. Three things. I am suffering. In other words, it hurts. Second, I am in chains. Not just in a cell, but in chains. Third, I am accused of being a criminal — a evildoer. In other words, my suffering is not viewed as honorable or noble. I am accused publicly of being evil. That, Timothy, is what you may have to endure.
And then he gives the foundation for Timothy’s courage and confidence (at the end of verse 9): “The word of God is not bound!” I am bound. But the word of God is not bound. Timothy, if you ever have to sit in prison; if you ever feel beaten down and alone, and wonder if the cause you lived for was being defeated, remember, the word of God is not bound. The enemies of the gospel can imprison the preachers of the gospel. But they cannot imprison the gospel.
In fact, even the imprisonment of the preachers serves the advance of the gospel. “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. . . . Most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:12–14).
Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. He is alive. And he is king. And he cannot be stopped. He promised, “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world” (Matthew 24:14).
So foundation stone #2 is that chains or no chains the word of God is not bound. And it cannot be defeated but only advanced by the suffering of his servants.
Foundation Stone #3
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.”
You might think Paul is simply building on the previous foundation stone here, but look carefully at the words he uses, and ask why? He could have said, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the church.” Or, “I endure everything for the lost.” But he chose the word “elect”. Why? "I endure everything for the sake of the elect.” Because the tone of this text is one of triumph and confidence and certainty. That is how he is trying to help Timothy. The word elect means: God has a people. He has chosen them before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Timothy, in this ministry we cannot fail. God will call his elect.
We must be so careful when handling weighty doctrines like election. And Paul shows us how right here. He guards from two mistakes. One is the mistake of saying, “Well, if there are people chosen before the foundation of the world, then we don’t need to risk our lives to save them.” Paul says just the opposite: “I endure everything for the sake of the elect that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.” The certainty that there are elect does not make me stop preaching or stop suffering, it makes me confident that my preaching and my suffering will not be in vain. The elect will obtain salvation (see Acts 13:48; 18:10).
And the other mistake he guards us against is saying: “Well if Paul must preach and suffer to persuade lost people to believe in Jesus and be saved, then there can be no eternal election. All there is is people’s own choice." But Paul says the opposite: “I endure everything for the sake of the elect that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.” My commitment to suffer for the gospel does not mean no one has been chosen to believe it. It means I am God’s instrument to save those who are.
And then he adds one more phrase to encourage Timothy to press on in his work: “. . . that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” Remember, Timothy, you are leading the elect to eternal glory. And you are one of them. And therefore you too will have eternal glory. Or as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Don’t begrudge your short suffering in this life. It is preparing for you an eternal weight of glory.
So foundation stone #3 is that the victory of the gospel is sure not only because Christ is risen as the eternal king, and not only because the word of God is not bound, but also because, from all the undeserving sinners in the world, God has chosen a people for eternal glory. Endure everything, Timothy, and you will be the instrument of their salvation.
Foundation Stone #4
Verses 11–13, “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself.”
You can tell Paul is giving a foundation stone for Timothy’s confidence because he begins in verse 11 with “The saying is trustworthy.” You can bank on this, Timothy. It is sure. Rock solid. Build your life and ministry on this.
What is sure? God’s promises of triumph through suffering are sure. And God’s warnings of lostness through unbelief are sure.
Promises of triumph: Verses 11b–12a: “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.” Jesus is risen. Jesus is the Son of David. Therefore you will live with him (verse 11) and you will reign with him (verse 12), if you are united with him in his death and if you endure to the end in faith (Mark 13:13, “The one who endures to the end will be saved”). This is sure.
Warnings of lostness: Verses 12b–13, “If we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself.” I have heard verse 13a used often to say that if we are faithless he will still be faithful to us. We will be saved. That is not what it says or means. For two reasons. It is parallel with verse 12b, “If we deny him, he also will deny us.” That’s a quote from Jesus in Matthew 10:33, “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” This is a threat of lostness, not a promise of salvation. And verse 13a simply says it another way, “If we are faithless [deny him, reject him], he remains faithful” — not to us as if he were bound to save an unbeliever, but to himself — “For he cannot deny himself.”
This is a virtual quote from Romans 3:3–4, “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar.” The point is that God saves those who believe because belief glorifies his trustworthiness and God cannot deny that he is trustworthy. He cannot deny himself. He saves those whose faith magnify his name. For he cannot deny the infinite value of his name.
So the fourth foundation stone of Timothy’s confidence is that the eternal life and the eternal reign that God promises to those who endure is rock-solid certain. The saying is trustworthy! God cannot deny himself. If you trust him and don’t throw away your faith, you live. If you throw it away as worthless, you lie, and you die. We’re not playing games, Timothy. God is gracious, trust him, be strong. Take your share of suffering.
Foundation Stone #5
When I got to verse 14 my first impression was that Paul is done now giving foundation stones for Timothy’s confidence and courage in the face of trouble, and now he is building on these stones with more instructions for how to minister. But when I got to verse 19 I realized: No, that’s not what he’s doing. He's still giving foundations. Verse 19: “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.’”
So it seems to me that what Paul is doing in verses 14–19 is describe for Timothy how embattled and messy his ministry is going to be, call him to be a faithful handler of the word, and then give him one last foundation stone for confidence that it is all worth it and God’s purposes cannot fail.
So let’s draw things to a close by simply reading through these verses, and pointing out where Paul is going.
Remember that in verse 2, Timothy is to entrust God’s word to faithful men who will teach others. Now he says in verse 14, “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.” We are going to see in just a minute that this does not mean words are unimportant, but that some of them are so important we should not wrangle about them but cut them off, like gangrene.
Verse 15: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” This will be costly, and sometimes people will not want to hear what you say (4:3–5), but don’t give up.
Verse 16: “But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk [notice how significant words are] will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying [“saying” — these are words and they are matters of life and death] that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.” “Upsetting" could be misleading. It doesn’t mean “upsetting” like “annoying, or bothering.” It means upsetting like the boat turned over and people drowned. Unchecked gangrene kills. Don’t get into word-fights over gangrene. Deal with it for what it is.
Now, at this point Timothy may feel daunted again. This is more than I can handle. If false teachers like Hymenaeus and Philetus can slip into the church and start ruining people (verse 14), what am I supposed to do? So Paul gives one more foundation stone for Timothy’s confidence in the ministry of the word.
Verse 19: “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.’” Timothy, when you fret about how much sin, and how much false teaching there is in the church, remember this double-sided seal. A divine side and a human side.
On the divine side: “The Lord knows those who are his.” You can’t see their hearts, God can. There is no question in God’s mind. He knows his own.
And on the human side: “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” You will know them by their fruit.
These are the foundation stones of Timothy’s courage in the face of suffering — and yours.
Foundation stone #1: Jesus Christ, the son of David, is risen from the dead and reigns over the world forever.
Foundation stone #2: Preachers may be bound. The word of God is not.
Foundation stone #3: God has his elect in this world, and your ministry will be the instrument that brings them to eternal glory.
Foundation stone #4: God cannot deny himself. Trust him and your salvation is as sure as his commitment to his name.
Foundation stone #5: This divine seal, “The Lord knows those who are his.” And the evidence you are his: “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”