A Hill to Die On
Topic: Priorities Scripture: Joshua 24:14–24:15, 2 Timothy 2:8–2:15
I learned a lot from my youth pastor when I was a teenager. Andy Crossgrove was his name. He’s a good man who now serves as the Senior Pastor of that church where he started as the youth pastor. Andy taught me about integrity. That I should seek to be the same person in all areas of my life: home, school, parties, church. He taught me how to share God’s word through leading lessons and preaching sermons. He taught me how to be a leader, in many ways. He also taught me the painful lesson of what happens when you make fun of someone who is going bald. It comes back to bite you. And Andy taught me a concept that I have held onto through all my college years, my time as a youth director, throughout my seminary experience. It’s been a lesson I’ve applied to my faith and beliefs and even my efforts to be a good husband and father. The lesson Andy taught me is learning what hills I am willing to die on.
I learned this lesson first when discussing aspects of the Christian faith. My youth pastor had noticed that I had begun to get pretty passionate about a lot of things. The right version of the Bible (which I no longer use), certain beliefs about creation (which I no longer hold), and a firm stance on music and media (which I have since left behind me). He saw that I had stacked up several soap boxes on which for me to stand and challenged me to consider what is really the most important aspects of my faith and life. It wasn’t his intention to quell any of my passions but rather to have me harness and focus my passions toward things which warranted it the most.
I think all of us can see the value of that lesson. We need to learn to prioritize in every other facet of our life. What jobs are the most urgent around the house? What projects at work need the most attention right now? Which show on Netflix am I going to start next? If we use this practice in everything else, it makes sense that we apply it to our faith.
And it seems that is exactly what Paul is encouraging our young pastor, Timothy, to do in our text this morning. We’re continuing our series through the Pastoral Epistles. The letters written by Paul help to encourage and equip two new young pastors named Timothy and Titus. This morning we’re in 2 Timothy 2:8-15.
Read 2 Timothy 2:8-15.
There’s a story of an accomplished artist who agreed to meet with a magazine columnist about his most recent gallery show and its incredible success. They met in his loft apartment and the writer went on and on praising this artist for his incredible imagination and profound talent. The artist received the praise and answered the other questions for the article. The final question the writer asked seemed almost like a wrap-up question, one she wasn’t at all that interested in asking but felt obligated to ask. “I’m sure this is a hard question to answer,” she said. “But what piece of yours is your favorite?” The artist responded quickly, as if he knew she would ask it, “Let me show you.” He took her back to the area of his apartment where he did his work. The room was littered with easels, blank canvases, and an assortment of brushes and painting knives.
The walls of the room were empty with the exception of one small framed piece of 8.5x11 paper. On it was a most unremarkable drawing, if you could even call it that. It was barely more than a stick figure representation of three people and what could have either been a dog or a cat. A square figure might have been meant to represent a house. The writer looked at it and, with a confused tone, said, “This?” The artist said, “Yes. As far as I know, this was the first time I ever drew what I could see. My mother gave it to me before she passed. It reminds me that the most basic element of art, the start of every piece I create, is sharing what you know to be true.”
It’s an inspiring story and teaches us the value of remembering the basics. And that is precisely how Paul starts off our text this morning. He begins with a word: “Remember” And it is an emphatic command. And what is he called to remember? This young pastor just beginning a period of ministry and service. Remember Jesus Christ.
It’s funny because you would think Jesus would be the last thing a pastor, or any Christian for that matter, would forget. But Paul is driving something home here. He’s setting the stage for a young man to become a servant to both God and the local people. To do that, Christ has to be the focal point. And the way Paul describes Jesus brings our attention to one of the most incredible and incomprehensible elements of our faith. Timothy is told to remember Christ as the one descended from David and raised from the dead. The fancy phrase for what Paul is describing is hypostatic union. There you go. There’s your theology word drop the next time you’re talking church and want to impress. It’s the way we try and understand what happened with the Incarnation when Jesus was born. It’s the puzzling reality of Jesus being both human and divine.
You have to love that Paul is able to say in 10 words what countless theologians have turned into hundreds of books that are made up of hundreds of pages. Jesus was descended from David. He has a lineage because he was born of a woman. He has ancestors. He has ties to the human race. He has facial features and physical distinctions that make him look like those he came from. Christ possessed true humanity, 100%. He was not God wearing a human costume. He was as human as you and I. He got hungry and had to wipe his brow when he worked too hard. He felt pain, both the soreness of feet from walking miles in sandals and the pain of being beaten and crucified. Christ was not immune to his own humanity.
But Jesus was also raised from the dead. He conquered death. He possessed the power to not be overcome by and finished by death. He was truly divine. Not some Christian version of Hercules who was part man and part God. Not a man with some really cool powers. He was divine. He was and is a member of the Triune God. He was present when all was made. The eternal Son of God.
And that, in all its mysterious and frustratingly complicated beauty, is the doctrine of hypostatic union. The doctrine that Paul is talking about. The thing that Paul doesn’t want Timothy to forget because everything else hinges on it. Thomas Oden describes it this way: “Christ’s human descent establishes his humanity. His resurrection proclaims his deity. Only together is the God-man rightly conceived. Only if Christ is human can he feel our infirmities. Only if Christ is God does his death have atoning value for all humanity.”
I told you all that I have taken that lesson from my youth pastor and held onto it and applied it throughout my life. When it comes to my faith: Here’s my hill. As a pastor. As a father and husband. As a person. As a child of God. The hill I am willing to die on is the identity and person of Christ. Through that and when that is given clarity and focus and muscle all the other things align in the way they should.
It’s not that I ignore everything else about my faith. No, not at all. Doctrines like predestination, the authority of the Scriptures, understandings of heaven and hell, even my notion of true justice…all of these things are not neglected due to my singular hill but rather given proper clarity. Like light that is focused through a lense, these other areas of my faith are given the chance to truly shine. Because I know who Christ is.
And this hill can inform the other areas of our life. Our Old Testament text reveals the focus and passion of Joshua despite being pulled in so many directions. He was a husband and father, the leader of God’s people, the answer-man for so many. And yet, when he compels the people of God in how they will live he declares with unwavering strength that he and his family will serve the Lord. We can become better parents, better siblings, better co-workers, and better spouses when we stand on the hill of who Christ is. Because our role in the lives of all those people then becomes informed by the role that Christ plays in our own life.
And to wrap up, I want us to look at who Christ is and what our commitment to him should look like based on Paul. In verses 11-13 we get this unique poetry form from Paul. We learn the cost and the gain of placing Christ at the center, making Him the hill we die on. If we die to Him, we also live with Him. If we allow Christ to be the source in our life then we starve off the other competing sources. Our identity is no longer defined by how hard we work, whether our kids have told us they love us on a certain day, or if we’re where we thought we’d be 5 or 10 years ago. Those voices are silenced and the voice of Christ gives us meaning.
If we press on and endure and fight through the rigors and struggles of life with Christ ahead of us then we will also reign with Him. Even though the days of our life might physically or psychologically feel like plowing fields of stone, we can take heart that our God has preserved a place for us. When we face opposition and sudden tragedy, we take heart because though the moment may be crushing, our Savior is with us and holding us and promising us relief and life.
And then the last two stanzas of Paul’s poem give us something like what I’ll call the biblical equivalent of a sour patch kid. It starts off with a tough line that if we disown Him, Christ will disown us. If we make the conscious choice to put Christ behind us, to prioritize things before Him, then Christ will likewise disown us. We don’t like this. One thing I’ve come to find true of all church goers, whether they’re teens or adults, is that we don’t like a God that holds us accountable. We’d rather have a God that is happy with taking what we are willing to give. But that’s not who we serve and that’s not who saved us. In the same way that Christ allowed the rich young man to walk away, Christ will allow us to walk away from Him if there are things or people that we are unwilling to put before Christ.
But Paul’s message doesn’t stay sour. In fact, it ends with the sweetest relief I think we can encounter. If we are faithless, he remains faithful.
It’s hard to reconcile this verse and the last but one commentator likens it to the difference of deserting your duty versus having fear in your heart and considering the thought of deserting. We’d all agree those are very different things. Christ doesn’t condemn us because your faith wavers or because we sometimes ask tough questions. This is the life-giving news Paul gives to Timothy, likely a pastor filled with his own questions. It’s the news given to the one who loses a spouse and cries out in prayer asking God, “Why?” It’s the news given to a wayward church consumed with so much that we sometimes forget which hill is worth dying on.
The hill we die on should be something not only worth the sacrifice but someone who makes that sacrifice have an impact beyond only what we could accomplish. That hill should be someone we not only love but someone who loves us more ferociously and deeply than we could possibly explain. That hill shouldn’t be simply an ideal but rather the one who created us to even possess passion and conviction. Brothers and sisters, this is a time right now where there are plenty of hills filling up with people. Issues, rallies, elections, philanthropic endeavors. Many good and worthwhile things. And I’m not even saying those things aren’t worth sacrificing for. Instead, I would say that if they truly are worthwhile they deserve to be informed by and practiced from within a deep connection to Christ. Not taking the place of that faith for a matter of days or weeks.
I’ve had to consider my life closely in the past year. A fire in my home put me and my family out for three months. An almost in-the-bag opportunity ending in heart-breaking disorientation. A dizzying, albeit wonderful search for what God was calling me and my family toward. Finding ourselves community members in a brand new place with no connection to what used to be home. In all those things, one thing remained. I knew the Christ who went ahead me. I knew He was faithful behind and would be faithful before. That He would guide my family and lead my heart. That He was the hill worth dying on. For no other reason than that He went to a hill to die for me.