Look Backward, Think Forward, and Hold Steady
2 Timothy 3:10-16
By Paul Robison

The following names may mean little to you: Billie Scott, Naomi Scott, Electra Taylor, Winfred Carter, Granny Kemplin, Ed Higginbotham, Ed White, Don Shackelford, Clyde Richmond, and Dave May.  All of these people were or are Christians and a great part of my personal spiritual heritage.  Billie Scott was a caring teacher of the first grade class in Coleman, TX.  Naomi Scott was a fantastic VBS teacher in that same congregation.  We all got to baptize a pipe-cleaner figure of Jesus in her class!  Electra Taylor was my 4th grade public school teacher, who had her students memorize scriptures as part of her instruction.  Winfred Carter was an elder who had a big heart for Jr. High boys.  He was a Scout Master as well and periodically took our class on outings, like to one of the tall forest ranger's stations in our area.  Granny Kemplin was a VBS teacher in Valley View, TX who challenged all of us teens to read our Bibles regularly (3 chapters a day and 5 on Sunday was her formula to get through it in a year).  Ed Higginbotham was a high school teacher who did some preaching in a small rural congregation in Arkansas.  He often took a high school student with him so that he could get his feet wet preaching.  My how those brethren were patient, kind, and forgiving!  Ed White was a wonderful Bible teacher at the Cloverdale congregation in Searcy.  With his wonderful sense of humor and literary training, he could keep you spellbound as he explained passages from the Bible.  Don Shackelford led a summer campaign to Italy in which I participated during college years and encouraged me to think about becoming a missionary there.  Clyde Richmond was an elder and Bible teacher at West Memphis, AR; kindness must have been his middle name, and his lessons always had very practical applications, which he modeled in his own life while I attended graduate school.  Dave was an elder with practical insights who served in a Minnesota church that I attended periodically while doing more graduate work.  You see, in a sense, it's not an accident that I'm teaching and preaching today.  I was blessed to have known many great sisters and brothers who showed me personally the value and joy of living the Christian life and helping others to see that Jesus' way is best.  Now, your spiritual heritage may be very different, but most of you could probably recall at least 3 or 4 Christians in your past that had a great influence on you.  Isn't it interesting that God established time, and generations, and different ages so that everyone can be raised, and taught, and influenced by others?  Sometimes it's good for us to pause and remember our spiritual heritage.  Paul instructs Timothy to do the same thing in 2 Timothy 3:10-16.  This sermon is entitled “Look Backward, Think Forward, and Hold Steady”.  Paul gives three admonitions under each of these actions.  All this is designed to help Timothy keep his balance as he begins to wrap up his work in the congregation in Ephesus, which has been attacked by heretics over the past 4-5 years.  Paul wasn't a psychologist, but it's interesting to see how he encourages Timothy.
First of all, we see that Paul encourages Timothy to look backward.  Now notice verses 10-11: “But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured.  And out of them all, the Lord delivered me.”  Paul has just talked about the heretics in previous verses.  Now hear the contrast he makes when he says to Timothy, “But you.”  Timothy you are NOT in their camp.  “But you have carefully followed”--The words “carefully followed” mean to view something intently with the purpose of reproducing it.  One commentator observed: “[For] a long time, Timothy had been given every opportunity to listen and to observe Paul's life and teachings, finding absolutely nothing in either that was inconsistent with the whole; and therefore he had wholeheartedly followed the blessed apostle's example” (Coffman).  Paul's first admonition is this: “Remember my ministry!”  This is sort of like a general saying to a captain: “Look back on my career and continue to practice what you have learned.”  Now Paul gives a list of ten aspects that Timothy had seen personally, up front, up close.  Let’s quickly look at each of these aspects.  Isn't it interesting that Paul puts “doctrine” or “teaching” at the first of his list?  “Timothy, you know what I've taught, now keep on teaching it!”  Doctrine is mentioned first since it is important, but then we see how Paul immediately links doctrine to practical living and even suffering for Jesus.  Paul's manner of life was always Christ-like, exemplary, and industrious.  His purpose was to always spread the Gospel where it had not gone before; he preached to everybody, from a jailer to a governor.  Peter stressed hope, John stressed love, and Paul stressed faith.   Paul mentions “long-suffering” ten times in his letters, and he never ceased to marvel at how Jesus had been patient with him.  Paul taught us that if love is not motivating all our actions, then those deeds are worth nothing (1 Corinthians 13).  Paul was never one to give up when it came to serving others and building up the church.  His persecutions and afflictions left him with a battered and scared body.  What a ministry of service and sacrifice Paul reminds Timothy about in just a few words!  Timothy, reflect on my ministry and continue to carry it on “in the midst of this present--and coming—distress" (Fee)!  The second admonition is this: Remember my endurance.  “Which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra”?  Why didn't Paul refer to more recent persecutions in Philippi, Ephesus, or Rome?  Why did he go back to first days when Paul and Timothy had met?  One preacher answers these questions in this way: “Apparently Paul's purpose was to concentrate on sufferings that had left an indelible impression on the young man.  Paul had been driven by persecution from Pisidia and Antioch (Acts 13:50), and he had to flee from Iconium when a plot to lynch him was uncovered (Acts 14:5-6), and Timothy was in Lystra when Paul was stoned.  Rocks crashed against Paul's skull, and he fell blood-spattered and broken beneath the rubble.  He was dead, they all thought, and his murderers departed, leaving his body to his followers.  How the believers [must have] mourned.  What would they do without their beloved Paul?  Suddenly, Paul popped one eye open, then the other.  'It's all right, brothers!  No funeral today!  Let's get out of here!'  And 'he got up and went back into the city' (Acts 14:20).  What a memory for Timothy!  How that must have played and replayed in the young man's heart.  Remembrance of these things [molded] him for faithful [endurance]" (Hughes).  Paul's endurance despite hardship after hardship and spiritual battle after spiritual battle is remarkable!  His third admonition is this: Remember our Deliverer!  And out of them all, the Lord delivered me.”  This encouragement sounds much like Psalms 34:17: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.”  God had delivered Paul from beatings, from shipwrecks, from prisons, from riots, and from those waiting to murder him.  “Timothy, with this kind of a track record, keep in mind that God will deliver you in the difficult moments!”  “Timothy, look backward: remember my ministry, my endurance, and our Deliverer.”  Beloved, we need to look backward too at times.  We need to remember this congregation’s ministry.  Think of all the previous members and what they have contributed to this congregation!  Think about their doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, and afflictions.  We stand on the shoulders of these past brethren, so let's carry on their legacy!  Remember their endurance!  We haven't reached our 90th birthday by accident.  This church has had its hardships and spiritual battles.  Those brethren persevered, and we must keep on keeping on as well!  Remember our Deliverer.  God has blessed this congregation greatly, and He will continue to deliver us from Satan and troublesome situations!  Let's keep petitioning Him for His interventions, His guidance, and His ways of defeating evil with good!  Remember, but keep advancing!
Then, we see how Paul encourages Timothy to think forward.  Now notice verses 12-13: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. ...”  Paul’s first admonition is: Expect persecutions.  This passage very clearly says that as those who try to live for Jesus, we will suffer persecution.  Perhaps Paul's memories of his persecutions in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra also made him think about something else he did there.  Acts 14:21-22 states: “And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying: 'We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.'”  By looking forward, Paul is arming Timothy for the trials that he will face.  Jesus declares in John 15:19: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own.  Yet because you are not of the world, therefore the world hates you.”  He also affirms in Matthew 10:22: “And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.  But he who endures to the end will be saved.”  He closes the Beatitudes with these words: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).  Christians are in a spiritual war, and the sons of darkness will sometimes react violently to those who are the sons of the Light.  Persecutions of any sort, physical, verbal, social, emotional, should not surprise us and shake our faith.  Paul's second admonition is: Expect evil to get worse.  “But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse.”  Paul was not trying to scare or discourage Timothy, but he had lived long enough to know firsthand that with every relaxation or downfall of the Christian ethic, “a new wave of terror [often] follows” (Coffman).  The heretics had already been very harmful to the church in Ephesus, but Paul arms Timothy again that it may not get any better in the near future.  Paul’s third admonition is this: Expect others to be deceived: “... deceiving and being deceived …”  There is one certainty in the Christian warfare: Satan will never stop his deceptions.  He will continue to deceive both unbelievers and believers until Jesus comes again (Revelation 12:9).  “Timothy, others will be led astray, but you remain strong in your service for the Lord!”  Sometimes, we may need to think forward.  We should probably expect more persecutions and be arming our children and grandchildren for them.  Has evil gotten worse in our world over the last 20 years?  Can we still claim to be a Christian nation (and that's Christian in the broadest sense)?  A former U. S. Attorney General wrote this: “We must, then, take seriously the possibility that perhaps nothing will be done to reverse the direction of our culture, that the degeneracy we see about us will only become worse.  The impetus is now with modern liberalism. ... If these trends of modern liberalism continue, the dead of night still lies ahead” [Bork].  Has that prediction, written 16 years ago, become true?  Satan's deceptive ways are still alive and well.  Our great hope is that King Jesus is still in control, but thinking ahead should cause us to live soberly and godly before our wicked culture.
After looking backward and thinking forward, Paul encourages Timothy to hold steady.  Let's look at verses 14-15: “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”  Paul's first admonition is this: Continue in previous instructions!  “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of ...”  One commentator observes: “But against such a background of militant error, the Christian leader must stand firm on what he knows of the truth, like a rock resisting the increasing fury of the waves.  [Timothy is to continue in the sense of abiding true to the teachings that he had learned in the past.]  In contrast to the [heretics] with their constant efforts to advance to something new [or to promote novel teachings], Timothy [was to] be satisfied with what he has already received” (Guthrie).  Continue in previous instructions.  Paul's second admonition is: Continue in your teachers' footsteps!  “Knowing from whom you have learned them.”  Like many of us, Timothy had a wonderful spiritual heritage.  Paul knew that Timothy had been raised by godly women who taught him the Old Testament scriptures from his childhood.  He compliments Lois and Eunice in the introduction of this letter, 1:5.  Timothy had worked with Silas (Acts 17:14), Erastus (Acts 19:22), and with Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater (Romans 16:21).  This makes one wonder: “How much influence did these men have on Timothy as well?”  Whatever the case, Paul tells Timothy to continue to run the Christian race in the light of their teachings.  The sources of Timothy's teaching were reliable sources; they had helped Timothy not to be deceived (Guthrie).  Continue in your teachers' footsteps!  Paul's third admonition is this: Continue in the Scriptures and in the Gospel!  “And that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”  The Scriptures are the Old Testament, but they must be unlocked with the key of Christ (Kelly).  The Scriptures provide true wisdom and help to counter Satan's deceptions with God's revealed truths (Spain)!  The Scriptures are both the sword of the Spirit and each Christian's offensive weapon (Ephesians 6:17).  “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12)!  Continue in the Scriptures and in the Gospel!  We also need to hold steady.  We need to continue in our previous instructions.  We too must be like lighthouses shining forth the truth of the Gospel against the darkness of our culture!  You know, if we could persuade every person in this city to become a Christian and practice what Jesus teaches, wouldn't that make an enormous difference in what the life of this community would be like?  Continue in your previous instructions!  Continue in your teachers' footsteps!  Remember those godly folks who taught us and encouraged us!  Let's continue to imitate them and pass on THE faith that they taught and modeled before us to the next generation!  Continue in your teachers' footsteps!  Continue in the Scriptures and in the Gospel!  The old hymn has it right: “How precious is the Book divine, by inspiration given!  Bright as a lamp its precepts shine to guide my soul to heaven.  Holy Book divine, precious treasure mine!  Lamp to my feet and a light to my way to guide me safely home” (Fawcett)! “'Is not My word like a fire?' says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29).  Continue in the Scriptures and in the Gospel!  Hold steady!
“A fierce battle was raging during the Civil War in the 1860s.  General Sherman was leading the northern troops on a path from Chattanooga to Atlanta and on to the ocean.  He was burning everything in his path.  In time, he was involved in a strategic battle at Fort Altoona.  The confederates, under the leadership of Captain Hood, knew the North would receive new supplies at Fort Altoona in order to continue their march past Atlanta and on to the ocean.  So the confederates attacked Fort Altoona.  As the battle raged, General Sherman was on a nearby mountain with field glasses watching the scene.  A message from inside the fort was received that more men and supplies were desperately needed.  These were supplied, and the battle for Fort Altoona continued.  As the battle raged, the captain inside the fort received a message from a reflective mirror on top of the mountain.  General Sherman was saying, 'Hold the fort, for I am coming.'  Christianity is warfare.  We are in a serious battle for the souls of men.  And, a message from the Captain of our Salvation says; 'I am coming soon.'  If we're going to be ready when He comes again, we have got to be holding the fort against Satan's attacks while reaching the lost in as many ways as possible” (sermoncentral. com).  Have you enlisted in the Lord's army?  Have you confessed Jesus as the Captain of your salvation and been immersed into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to become a soldier in His army?  As a soldier, have you continued in previous instruction, continued in your teachers' steps, and continued in the Scriptures and the Gospel?  If you have become wearied and are no longer holding steady nor holding the fort, then confess these sins and get back in the battle.  The Captain of our Salvation stands ready to forgive.  Look backward, think forward, hold steady!  Let’s exalt Jesus!