Here’s the sermon by Dr. Karl Böhmer held during Morning prayer at the LTS chapel of St. Timothy on 2 Tim. 2:1-7
1 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 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. 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. 7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
One of the great buzzwords of our time is “multitasking.” Multitasking is the apparent ability to do more than one thing at the same time. Multitasking brings to mind pictures of multi-armed people typing emails, drinking coffee, chatting on the phone, taking care of babies, planning the next meeting, and all at the same time. The human mind is a wonderful thing, they say, able to do so much if you only train it. But I have serious doubts about how efficient multitasking really is when I see people trying to manage even just two things at once, like driving while sms’ing on their cell phones, or taxi drivers trying to pick up passengers on both sides of the street at the same time. I suspect that Wiley’s Dictionary is correct when it defines multitasking as “messing up several things at once.” More and more, business gurus and social science are realizing that multitasking drastically decreases efficiency, inhibits creative thinking, and makes for stupid decisions. Why? Because multitasking fosters distraction, and distraction is a recipe for failure. It’s a soccer player keeping his eyes off many soccer balls at the same time.
Now St. Paul is writing here to his protégé, the young pastor Timothy. He is writing to him from prison shortly before his death. Even so, Paul’s main concern is the church of God. In ch. 1, Paul reminds Timothy of the gift he received at his ordination, and the urgent need to use his gifts for the testimony of Christ, to evangelize, to go about the holy calling of preaching Christ Jesus, Law and Gospel, guarding the deposit of sound doctrine given to him by the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, Paul is saying: The fields are ready for harvesting, the world is in urgent need of the sound Gospel, and that’s the reason you were ordained. So preach it! Live it! Be the minister of Christ you are gifted to be! False teachers are turning away from sound doctrine. People are burning with love for themselves and for money rather than the love of God, they will itch for false teaching because it tickles their fancy and strokes their vanity. But the ministry is about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified! So that’s what you are about!
Now listening to Paul talk in our text about the soldier and the athlete and the farmer sounds almost as if he is calling Timothy to multitask. As if Paul is saying: Timothy, you are a pastor, and there is a lot to be done. You’d better learn to multitask, my friend. As if Paul is saying: Timothy, you are a minister and God’s many people have many needs for you. So make sure that you perform 24/7 and that you work yourself to the bone, because burn-out is such a noble sacrifice. As if Paul is saying: Remember, only you are the pastor, so make sure that you control every decision that gets made in the church. Oh, and if you have time, maybe get an apprentice or two to boss around, that always makes the impression that you’re in command.
Actually, Paul isn’t saying any of those things. Not one. No, Paul says: Timothy – you can’t do this alone. So don’t try. And don’t make it look like you’re carrying the load alone. Focus instead on training other pastors. In other words, get busy teaching theology students. What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. This sounds an awful lot like seminary training, doesn’t it? Paul is telling Timothy to select faithful candidates, suitable men who will be good teachers and good preachers, and to give them formal teaching in the Gospel and in the ministry. So many churches these days think it’s just fine to allow anyone to teach and preach. So many people just stand up of their own accord and arrogate the pastoral office to themselves. Is it any wonder that the office of the ministry is looked at with derision in this country? Is it any wonder that we have churches in South Africa where pastors drink petrol or pour boiling water on themselves and get their congregants to do the same? Or pastors zipping off to heaven on a jolly jaunt and taking selfies to prove it? Other churches insist on ordination, but ordain just about anybody, regardless of training. You can go online and get ordained free within minutes these days. And we find even in our day and age a strong movement even within the confessional Lutheran church to move away from seminaries altogether, as if seminary training is old-fashioned and out-moded and just so passé, far too theoretical for today’s fast-moving praxis-based church. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, here in our text we find St. Paul commanding and commending formal education in theology, in the things of God. So that’s what we want to do as we seek to be faithful to Christ. We find that this is the model that Scripture uses all along, ranging from the sons-of-the-prophets theology schools in the Old Covenant to the multiyear discipleship training curricula of the New, and here 2 Tim calls for formal theology studies of suitable men for the pastoral office as well. And not just as a once-off thing; these men are to go and teach other faithful men also, etc.
One of the most obvious reasons for this is that no one man can be pastor of all God’s people by himself, although some like this idea very much, or at least the power and prestige it seems to promise. No, this is not the model of Scripture. No, the truth is that the need for solid preaching and sound ministry, the need for encouragement and education in the things of God, the need for counseling, the needs of the hearers and the needs of the Gospel-starved world are simply too great for one pastor to supply. Now the answer is not to learn to multitask better, which would really mean sanctioning distraction and inefficiency. No, the answer lies in the formal training of faithful pastors, and in training them well, and in replicating this process around the world. It means choosing the rifle over the shotgun. It lies in being focused on, dedicated and committed to one thing, and one thing only. The pastor goes about the ministry of Christ on this basis and in this strength for one goal, and one goal only: For the sake of the elect. For the salvation of those whom God calls to eternal glory with him. The pastor of God does not say to the sheep: “Follow me and let me be your shepherd,” and then fleeces them and slaughters them and steals them blind, like other would-be shepherds are wont to do. No, the pastor serves for the sake of the elect.
Not by his own strength! That is why St. Paul emphasizes: Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The grace of Christ, the promise of Christ, the power of Christ, the ministry of Christ, the life of Christ, the blood of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, Christ and him crucified, this is the grace, the deposit, the teaching that has been entrusted to you; be strengthened by it, safeguard it and entrust it to others also. For that one goal, the pastor endures suffering, if needs be; not because suffering is good for you per se, but for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of Christ, and for the sake of the elect. He remains goal-directed on Christ and on giving the gifts of Christ. He avoids distraction; he is a soldier who gives all and takes all in order to please his general; he is an athlete who trains hard, fights with determination and abides by the rules to win the contest; he is a farmer who works diligently for the harvest, and for that reason receives also the first share of the crops. This is the single-minded devotion of the pastor. All this the pastor is only in and by the Gospel of Christ and his forgiveness. This goal is attained only by the power of God in Christ. This is the Holy Office of the ministry, the pastor’s vocation. So the Lord has ordained it, to this end He teaches and ordains qualified men. It is because the pastor knows that it’s not all about him, but about Christ and his elect, that he serves all the more with that focus, knowing that Christ will give success in his way and in his time and will finally make all things well. Amen.