Fulfilling your ministry!
The faithful pastor runs with the end of the race in mind.
What will your life look like at the end of your days, when your ministry has been “fulfilled”? Maybe you are starting your ministry, but I want you to think about how you expect him to look at the end of your life.
When everything ends and you “fulfill” your ministry, what will you have achieved? What words will you have said? What legacy will you have left? Who will you leave in charge? Who will be by your side? What will worry you the most? Where will your confidence rest?
2 Timothy is the last letter of the apostle Paul. He writes this letter knowing that he has reached the end of his life. Paul has fulfilled his ministry (4: 6-8) and wants Timothy to fulfill his (4: 5): preach the word, not be ashamed, and endure suffering. Seeing the end of Paul’s life and ministry, we see that to fulfill our ministry we must understand what our needs are, what should concern us, and where our trust rests. When you begin your ministry, what is your greatest need? What is your primary concern? Where does your confidence rest?
Our great need.
If we are to fulfill our ministry, then we need friendships that are anchored in the gospel. It is true that Paul had needs at the end of his life. Sitting in a cold prison with the winter approaching, he needed his cloak (4:13).
In pastoral ministry it is easy to forget that we have physical needs. After all, we are whole people: body and spirit. When we neglect our physical needs, we deny the fact that we are called to glorify God with our whole body (1 Cor. 6:20). Throughout history Christians have buried the dead instead of burning them because we believe in the resurrection of the body. Even so, today many pastors functionally deny the resurrection of the body by neglecting their bodies. If we are to fulfill our ministry, then we must take care of our bodies, resting sufficiently and having a healthy diet. Brothers, do not neglect your physical and bodily needs.
But Paul’s greatest need at the end of his life and ministry is not physical; It is relational. Paul longed for relationships rooted in the gospel he had built throughout his ministry. Note how he asks Timothy three times to come and see him (4: 9, 13, 21). In fact, Paul begins his last letter by letting Timothy know he wants to see him, “to fill me with joy” (1: 4). Throughout his life, Paul had made many friends in the gospel. At the end of his life and ministry, Paul wants to have Timothy, his son in faith, by his side. Others had gone to minister in different places (4:10). Only Luke remained with Paul at this time (4:10).
Of course, Paul also knew what it was like to feel abandoned by those who called themselves his friends. Paul had already told Timothy that all “his friends” who were in Asia had left him, including Phygelus and Hermogenes (1:15). And now Demas, loving this world, had also deserted him (4:10). Also, in his first defense, many had abandoned him (4:16). This is a pity that we will all experience in the ministry: the reality of desertion and the abandonment of our supposed companions in the gospel.
In seeking to fulfill your ministry, some of the people who will hurt you the most are those closest to you.
If we are to fulfill our ministry, we need hard skin and soft hearts.
But note how Paul responds. Instead of responding in sinful anger or bitterness, he says: “Do not be taken into account” (4:16). Amazing! That is an important lesson. If we are to fulfill our ministry, we need hard skin and soft hearts. When attacks or accusations come, when we experience desertions or abandonments, we need to have a hard skin, difficult to penetrate, without returning evil for evil. Rather, we must respond with a soft heart. After all, you never know if the Lord will restore those friends with whom you had conflict.
We see this beautiful grace in Paul’s own life, is not it? Paul asks for John Mark (4:11). Do you remember Juan Marcos? He is the one who caused strong disagreements between Paul and Barnabas because of doubts about his usefulness in the ministry (Acts 15: 36-40). Even so, at the end of his life, this is the same person that Paul asks Timothy to bring because it is useful in the ministry.
My point is simple. Although Paul had many friends in the gospel (4: 19-21), his greatest need was to have fellowship with those close to him in the gospel. When you start your ministry and while you think about how you want to finish the degree, who will be by your side at that moment? Who will you want to have by your side? If we are to fulfill our ministry, we need friends anchored deeply in the gospel.
By the grace of God I have friends whom I can call when I face difficulties in life and ministry. Do you have brothers like that? If not, cultivate those relationships now. Find brothers with whom you can see yourself to pray in your city. Meet frequently. Encourage each other But, especially, seek to cultivate friends anchored in the gospel among the pastors (elders) of your own church. Some of the most significant relationships that the Lord has given me are those formed among the elders of my church.
Our primary concern
Of course, at the end of Paul’s life and ministry, he not only thought about himself, feeling sorry for his situation. Do not! Paul’s central concern continued to be the continuation of the gospel ministry. That’s why I wanted Juan Marcos (4:11). Paul was concerned that the gospel ministry would continue through others (4:12). Observe how at the end of his life he leads others, orchestrating a faithful ministry in the places where Paul still had influence (4:10, 12). Remember, Paul is in prison. And yet his greatest concern is not to get out of prison, but the gospel continues to spread.
Paul was also concerned about his own growth in this gospel (4:13). In other words, he continues to do what he urged Timothy to do: grow in the words of God that make us wise for salvation (3: 14-17). Paul still seeks to be a man of God who is a worker approved in the gospel ministry (2: 15-18). That is why he asks Timothy to bring him the books and scrolls (4:13). Paul understands that the need to grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ never ends. Brothers, if we are to fulfill our ministry, we must realize that we will never need to read and study the Scriptures. We need to continue learning, to be corrected, to be trained in justice. So, now establish a regular Bible reading plan and study the Scripture.
Some of the most significant relationships are those formed among the pastors of my church.
Paul is so concerned that the gospel ministry continues, that he warns Timothy about the opponents of the gospel (4: 14-15). In other words, Paul wants to make sure that after he has left, the gospel continues to spread, and he wants to equip Timothy to be prepared for the opposition. As you begin your ministry, think of pious and faithful brethren to whom you trust the gospel so that they also train others (2: 1-2) for the gospel ministry to continue. That should be your primary concern. After all, you do not know how much time the Lord will give you in the ministry. So, train others from now on.
Our greatest confidence
Even so, the confidence to fulfill our ministry does not rest in us. Our greater trust must rest in the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, when others leave us, it is the Lord who is on our side. That is what Paul experienced (4: 16-17). Paul had a particular calling to make known God’s plan for salvation; that is, his calling was to take the gospel to the Gentiles. He was faithful to that call, but his trust was not in himself, but in Jesus Christ.
While others, like Alexander, opposed him and did him great harm, it was the Lord who rescued Paul. The Lord had rescued Paul from the “mouth” of the governmental authorities, from “the mouth of the lion” (4:17), and from all evil against him (v. 18, also 3:11). If we are to fulfill our ministry, we need to understand that, in today’s culture, it will become increasingly difficult to be a pastor. But we also need to understand that the doors of Hades will not prevail against the Church of Jesus. Jesus will build his Church, and the gospel will move forward, either through us or through others. At the end of the day, like Paul, we need to trust that Jesus will save us from this evil world (4:18) when he brings us into his presence. It is Jesus who will restore all things; it is Jesus who will return and reign in the eternal kingdom in the new earth; it is Jesus who will make all things new. Our “failures” and “successes” will not change God’s eternal plan in Jesus Christ. We are privileged participants in that eternal plan to proclaim Jesus as the risen and exalted King above all things. He is our hope, and our trust must rest in him.
We need the Lord Jesus Christ at the beginning, middle, and end of our ministry (4:22). Where is your confidence? Do not let it be in your own gifts, abilities, creativity, or intelligence. Do not let it be in your own success, fame, invitations to conferences, or leadership opportunities. Let your trust rest in the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone must receive all the glory (4:18).
As you prepare to begin your ministry, think about how you want it to end. Start with the end in mind. Who is there with you at the end? What is your biggest concern? Where is your confidence? Let’s build deep, lasting, and gospel-centered friendships with siblings we can call at any time and who will be with us in good times and bad. Let’s leave an evangelical legacy that continues beyond our ministry by training others who will train others as well. And let’s put our trust in our Lord Jesus Christ, not in ourselves, our ministry, or anything else. Grace be with all of us (4:22).
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