“But the Word of God Is Not Bound!” (2 Timothy 2:1-13)

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
October 10, 2010

“But the Word of God Is Not Bound!” (2 Timothy 2:1-13)

Today we continue in our Epistle readings from St. Paul’s letters to Timothy. The first thing I want to note about this text is, it doesn’t apply to you! “What?” you say. “It doesn’t apply?” Yes, that’s right, this text from 2 Timothy does not apply to you. Not directly, that is. You see, Paul’s letter to Timothy is what we call a “Pastoral Epistle,” that is, it’s written specifically for pastors, in this case, from the Apostle Paul to his younger assistant, Timothy. He’s giving encouragement and instruction to Timothy for his work as Paul’s representative, overseeing the work in Paul’s absence. So this is a “Pastor to Pastor” sort of letter, not directly applicable to laypeople in every respect. But hold on, don’t worry, we’ll get there.

Now as a pastoral epistle, part of the encouragement that Paul gives Timothy is to be ready to “share in suffering” as a preacher of the gospel. That’s the kind of suffering Paul himself is undergoing even as he writes this letter, writing as he does from a prison cell in Rome. As he says: “for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal.” But–and now here is where this text very much does apply to all of us, clergy and lay alike, as we shall see–even though Paul himself is bound with chains, he adds: “But the Word of God Is Not Bound!”

“But the word of God is not bound!” There is great encouragement here for all of us, knowing that God’s word cannot be chained up and stopped, no matter how much the powers of this world may try to stop it, no matter how many preachers of the gospel are chained up and persecuted and put to death. For God cares for you so much that he has brought this life-giving, liberating gospel down through centuries of opposition and right to your doorstep here today. That’s what we want to dwell on here for a few minutes this morning, namely, the unbound word.

A little background is in order, to set the stage. This epistle, 2 Timothy, is probably the last letter that Paul writes, not long before his death. And Paul knows it. The time is around the year 66 or 67. Nero is the emperor at the time, the head of the Roman Empire, the most powerful nation on earth. This is at the height of the Neronian persecution, when Christians in Rome were being arrested and imprisoned and put to death. Paul is one of those who has been imprisoned, and at this time–an older man now, after a long and strenuous career as the greatest missionary and theologian the church has ever known–Paul is locked up in a Roman prison cell, dank and dark, in chains now, shackled, not like when he was under house arrest previously. This is Paul’s final imprisonment, he’s awaiting death now–execution, martyrdom for being a preacher of the Christian gospel. And so this is his final letter.

He’s writing to Timothy, his younger assistant, his dear son in the faith, who had been with Paul for a number of years now as one of his closest and most trusted assistants. Paul had left Timothy in charge of the work in Ephesus, that large and very important city in western Asia Minor. And here in this letter, Paul is first of all giving Timothy encouragement. Paul knew that Timothy needed courage. By nature and temperament, Timothy seems to have had a problem with timidity. So Paul wants to strengthen Timothy for what he might face in the days ahead, as Paul is taken out of the picture and the persecution spreads across the empire.

“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” What will strengthen Timothy for the suffering he will face? One thing: “the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Which is why Paul repeats this encouragement a few lines later when he says: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.”

And so this is what will strengthen and encourage you, my friend, for whatever you may face–suffering, uncertainty, trials of any description. For Paul and Timothy, as preachers, it was persecution they would endure. You and I, whether as pastor or laypeople–we too will face persecution for the cause of Christ–maybe not violent, maybe more subtle, like unpopularity, the negative opinions of friends or relatives, the ridicule that Christians get in our culture and media. These are things that would want to chain us up, if not literally, then figuratively. These are forces that would bind us up and box us in.

“But the word of God is not bound!” The same gospel that strengthened and encouraged Paul and Timothy has come down to us! This is the good news that liberates us, sets us free from the fears that bind. “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

The gospel, the good news of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus–the gospel is really the most powerful force on earth. Emperors cannot stop it. Chains cannot bind it. The gospel of salvation in Christ is moving forward, marching forward, liberating captives along the way, setting them free from their prisons of sin and death, unchaining the captives long held under Satan’s sway. That’s you. That’s me. We have been redeemed, set free by the blood of Christ, as the life-giving gospel declares. The word of God is not bound, and indeed it sets free all those who are bound, and gives them life and courage and freedom, the strength even to suffer death for the cause of Christ.

The unbound word, alive and active and setting people free. Pharaoh couldn’t stop it. Nero couldn’t stamp it out. Castro couldn’t crush it. Mohammed, Mao, Stalin–all have failed. Persecution, martyrdom, the blood-red sword–unable to stop the advance of the gospel. The more subtle instruments of Satan–ridicule, philosophical “enlightenment,” pop culture that has no use for what they sneeringly call “organized religion”–none of this has been able, or will be able, to stop the spread of Christianity. For Jesus himself has told us, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Why? Because this is God’s plan for the ages. This is the one and only message of salvation that God intends for all people everywhere. This is the salvation that God has for you.

What are the fears that would bind you? Is it the fear of death? Of suffering? Maybe not death or suffering because you’re a Christian, but just the general suffering and death that comes to all people, especially as we grow older. What is binding up your soul? Depression? Loneliness? Is it the chains of guilt, over some nagging sin, in thought, word, or deed? We can become shackled in soul, if not in links of iron or fetters of steel.

If that is you, then hear again the good news: You then, God’s child, “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.”

Yes, Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, has brought God’s grace into our world. The gifts he brings are forgiveness, life, and salvation. These gifts he won for you by his innocent suffering and death, his holy blood shed on your behalf on the cross. His blood covers all your sins, blots them out, removes them, takes them away. Your guilt has been lifted, and Christ’s own righteousness has been placed in your account. The chains that bound you fast in Satan’s domain have been broken, and you are free. And the result is liberation and life. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and he will raise you too, all you who trust in him.

The word of God is not bound, and neither is anyone who receives and believes this word. Paul was a free man, even as he was facing death. Timothy was a strong and courageous man, even as he struggled with his natural timidity. You will find strength and courage to face whatever sufferings or trials come your way, as you are “strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus,” as you “remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.”

God has loved you so much that he gave preachers like Paul and Timothy the strength to “endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they”–that we–“also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” That God-given endurance has led to the same gospel, that same unbound word, coming down to us today. From Paul to Timothy to men like Athanasius and Luther and Walther, the word of God has not been bound but has had free course and been preached to the joy and edifying of you, Christ’s holy people.

And so we will obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. You can depend on it. You can stake your life on it. The saying is trustworthy: God is faithful, he remains faithful, and he will bring it to pass. The gospel continues to move forward and set people free. Emperors may try to stop it and stamp it out. Tyrants may try to chain up the preachers and intimidate the flock. But. . . . “But the word of God is not bound!” And neither are you.

Published in: on October 9, 2010 at 11:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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