Making the List—2 Timothy 2:8-15. DBC. October 13, 2019. Dr. Denny
Introduction: It was morning in southern Poland and Auschwitz was just waking up. Elie Wiesel was only 15, one of the youngest prisoners in the concentration camp. His mother, father, and siblings had been rounded up from a little town in Hungary by the Nazis in 1944 and hauled off in a packed cattle car to the prison camp known for the billowing black smoke pouring from the extermination ovens that burned human sacrifices day and night.
One morning Elie woke up trembling with fear. This could be the day he would be sent to the ovens. Everyone in his barracks was ordered to line up outside. Then one by one, when a name was called, the prisoner stepped forward for inspection. Those deemed weak and useless for manual labor were ordered to the left. Those who could work were sent to the right. The left was the ovens. The right was 18 hours of hard labor. Elie recounts in his book Night that he stepped forward when called and then spontaneously began running back and forth in front of the inspector. He ran for his life hopping and jumping, proving his worth, demonstrating his strength and praying to a God he no longer believed in for help.
Background: When we turn to 2 Timothy in the NT we feel as if we are reading Night by Elie Wiesel. Paul, like Elie and his father, is imprisoned in Rome’s worst nightmare, the Mamertine jail (recently restored by archaeologists and open for tourists). Paul now bears the label of “criminal” κακοῦργος. The word was popular in the time of Nero who burnt the city down and blamed the Roman Christians. Paul is now in that category of miscreants who destroyed 70% of the city of Rome in the fire. He is bound to the walls of the prison in chains. He is condemned to death and he says “the time of my departure has come.”
And then comes the statement in our text today (2 Tim 2:15) that sends shivers up my spine. Paul says to timothy and to us today, Prepare to step forward and prove yourself to be a fit and ready workman ready to toil for the gospel. Make sure you get on the List. Don’t let them discard you to the ovens.
Paul gives us three insights into the heart and soul of an approved workman. See you think like Paul as I present them:
- See the Big Picture—Don’t get caught up on the details of your life. Look beyond your present troubles and see the big picture—see how your life fits into the overall plan of God. Paul could have focused on his chains. He could have spent the hours in the day pulling on the chains tethered to the dungeon wall, feeling his loss of freedom, feeling defeated and abandoned.
*It would like a man summoned to a rich man’s palace and given the commission to create a landscaped paradise on the 200 acres that rolled out before the castle. I want waterfalls, and orchards of white blossomed trees, and acres of lavender orchids. Now get started. And the man wanders into the field and pauses to smell a single dwarfed lily forgetting the vast undertaking before him. He can’t see the big picture. Just the lily.
Paul says I know I’m in jail, chained to this wall but I look beyond my immediate pain. After all, he says in verse 9—I might be chained to the wall but the Word of God is not chained. There it is! There’s the big picture forming in his mind. Now he’s looking to something bigger—to God’s guiding hand in the midst of the dungeon’s darkness. An approved workman sees the big picture.
- Build up your endurance. You’ve got to have. Endurance, Paul says, to be an approved workman. Otherwise, you will falter when the first storm comes. And in Elie Wiesel’s case, anyone who faltered in the work fields was shot on the spot. Endurance is essential for survival.
*I looked up to see how a boxer toughens his body for the grueling 125 rounds of a boxing match. He has to have endurance. One way was to work his abs in training. So now I’m going to tell you all a secret to those six-pack abs you all dream about every night. And don’t say you never get anything practical in my sermons. Here it is. How to get DBC six-pack abs! The technique boxers use is simple and effective. Here is what you need: An Amazon Basics Medicine Ball–$33 bucks and free shipping. Or any medicine ball. They range from 1 to 50 pounds. 2. A partner. You need someone who has room for improvement on the waistline. Now you and your partner stand about 3-5 five feet from each other. One of you takes the ball, grip it solidly and then toss it with power to your friend’s stomach. Now the secret is for the one receiving the ball to let it smack your stomach first then catch it. Do this a hundred time s a day for 20 years and you too can have the dream abs that will likely get you into the movies.
Paul tells us that an approved workman has a certain toughness, a measure of endurance to weather the storms that come in life.
- Avoid distractions: The final element in making the List of approved workmen is to avoid distractions. Paul remembers so many meetings he held over the years where people got into senseless meaningless arguments, “wrangling over words” was how he put in in verse 14. It’s just a waste of time, he said. Silly distractions just lead to ruin.
In Elie’s case, distractions on the work line would have resulted in a fierce whipping or worse. And Paul is telling us that we have work to do for the Lord and we don’t want to drift away into a world of distractions.
*When I had just gotten my little Irish Setter, Reverend, years ago, I began training him. I used to walk him along some country roads teaching him to heel. It took a while but he eventually got it down pretty good. His main flaw in the training was that as we walked along with me shouting Heel! He would often smell the most delicious daffodils on the side of the road and they would distract him. He was a connoisseur of smells and anything would do. But daffodils were one of his favorites. I would yell heel land he would stroll over and take a long smell of the sweet fragrance and then look at me with indifference.
Every month I get a little booklet in the mail that I don’t use. But it comes anyway. It’s called Angie’s List. It’s a magazine filled with approved workmen. It has their history, their services, their star rating and if you choose one there might be a discount. Everyone is approved. They’ve all made the list.
Angie’s list might have its. Purpose but I would like to recommend Paul’s List. To get on it you must learn to see the big picture when life squeezes you hard—you need to have endurance and you must be capable of focusing on the lesson at hand—avoiding distractions. Do this and you will “Make the List.”