Friday, October 18, 2013

2 Timothy -- St. Paul, the Master Teacher

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord,
       It was during the last years of his ministry that Paul wrote to Timothy. Paul had a lot of experience and wanted to pass on his wisdom about life as a servant of the gospel so that Timothy could carry on with the work that he was about to leave behind. The two letters he wrote to Timothy give us an example of an older Christian training a younger one and also a picture of one Christian writing to a friend. Some of the details are quite down-to-earth. “When you come,” Paul wrote near the end of the second letter, “bring the cloak I left with Carpus..., also the books and above all the parchments.” We’re used to seeing important documents expressed in official language without ordinary feelings or homespun details. If private letters become public, they usually have to do with scandal or tragedy. As a general rule, nobody cares about the prime minister’s winter coat, but for 2000 years readers have known about Paul’s cloak. The public side of our way of life is often cold and rushed and unfeeling, while the genius of the Christian faith is partly our appreciation for down-to-earth, ordinary, homespun things. Our Lord had the common touch. So did Paul. As an apostle, he lived a public life, but he cherished everyday contacts and close friendships. This love for the personal is part of the church’s witness today. The Lord keeps us close to the earth, in touch with basic things and relationships. Perhaps the cold world will get the message. “I am reminded of your sincere faith,” Paul wrote to Timothy, “a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you.”  Paul cared about the private life of his student. Public life is built on the private. There shouldn’t be a disconnect between them.
       The letters also bring out Timothy’s humanness. He had many fine qualities: loyalty, a warm nature, stamina, and faith, but he had weaknesses, too. He was timid and fearful at times and no stranger to youthful lusts, possibly reluctant to take on important work. Paul admonished him, and the two letters are filled with instructions. “O Timothy,” Paul wrote, “guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by possessing it, some have missed the mark as regards the faith.” Timothy must have lived a busy life in the world, familiar with many of its twists and turns. Paul needed to caution him about what to stay away from.
       Timothy’s humanness is another hallmark of life in the church that goes along with our Lord’s emphasis on the personal. The Spirit gathers the church from ordinary, frail human nature. Secular society encourages the so-called best and brightest; the Savior calls sinners into his kingdom. He washes us clean in His blood; he declares us to be righteous and whole – just as if we had never sinned; he gradually strengthens us and transforms us. He calls unlikely people to be his servants, folks who are aware of their unworthiness. His love breaks down the greatest barriers of timidity and shyness. He chooses as his servants people whom the world would never pick. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Not in virtue of our works, but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace that he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago.” God has his own way of doing things. His actions – like the manger and the cross – astonish human ways of thinking. We rejoice that he includes us in his kingdom, along with Paul and Timothy.
       Now, as we all know, once he saves us through our faith in Christ’s blood and brings us into his kingdom, he teaches us. We are lifetime learners. Every teacher will tell us that there are different kinds of learning. One kind of learning takes place when we absorb new facts and information. Another kind is the development of skills. Both kinds of learning – facts and skills – are important. Our culture excels in passing knowledge and techniques on to us. But in Timothy’s case, Paul was interested in still another kind of learning –the shaping of his soul. Timothy had had experience working with the church; Paul assumes that he knows the doctrines and how to express them. Now, he puts Christian teaching to work to help the Spirit transform Timothy, slowly, patiently, maybe even invisibly, into a new person, aiming not at externals but things deep inside Timothy’s heart.
       Now, we’ll look at some of the highlights of Second Timothy to watch Paul, the master teacher, at work, bringing the Christian best out of Timothy.
       Another of Paul’s letters reports that Timothy passed through a spell of disappointment when he worked in Corinth. He may have wanted to lie low for a while to give emotional scars a chance to heal. Paul urged him, however, to rekindle or stir up the gift of God within him. “God did not give us a spirit of timidity,” Paul wrote, “but of power and love and self-control.” Discouragement is part of life, no question. Even young folks with fresh minds, unacquainted with life’s severe rough spots, can be cast down in spirits. Paul tells Timothy to lift up his heart.
       We find encouragement ourselves in Paul’s admonition. For one thing, Paul offers the hope that burned-out spirits can be revived. God’s Spirit gives new life to tired souls. The point is to ask him for renewal, to stick with him, to seek his help. The Savior promises through Isaiah to renew the spirits of God’s people so that we soar like eagles. You see, while God likes fresh blood in his kingdom, he also relies on experienced folks who know the gospel and who have received God’s comfort so many times that it’s second nature to offer it to others. Just when we think we can’t take another step, God zooms in and refreshes us. This must be what Timothy felt when he read Paul’s letter – uplifting from the hand of God for continued, even enlarged service. Because he had passed through a dark valley, he knew what others go through. Because God had revived him, he knew that help was available. He knew just what to say to point them to God. What a fruitful servant the renewed Timothy must have been.
       In the second place, Paul advised Timothy not to be ashamed of testifying to our Lord. Paul doesn’t mean that Timothy has actually ever been ashamed of the Savior. He is simply encouraging him never to be so. He gives him the strongest of reasons to speak up for the Lord, for Christ abolished death, he wrote, and brought life and immortality to light. Timothy should concentrate on the main point. He should trust that God will protect until the last day the truth about Christ he has given to Timothy. Then he will never find a reason to be ashamed of the Lord.
       The same is true for every other Christian. The world tempts us; we hear lots of different opinions; human beings are by nature proud and love to do things on our own. But one thing even the proudest person knows he can’t do is abolish death and create everlasting life. Only God can do that, and because of his grace and his love toward us, he put his power to work on our behalf. He shares his immortality with us. He died so that we might live forever. When we keep this in mind, the problem of being ashamed of the Lord doesn’t come up. Even the most reticent of believers, equipped with the truth about Christ and the hope of immortality can be an effective witness for the Lord.
       Paul then encourages Timothy to accept his share of suffering for the gospel like a good sodier, to be strong in the grace that is in Christ. Christian living brings challenges to the flesh. These challenges involve sacrifice and sometimes public disfavor. Paul was in prison when he wrote his second letter to Timothy. Nevertheless, he advised his assistant to persevere.
       The church has a lot of wisdom about suffering. We never enjoy the dark days that come our way, but the Lord brings good out of them. He carries us through. He sees to it that we derive benefits from stormy days. Accepting hardship for the Lord chastens us; it refines our faith. Welcoming adversity for the sake of the gospel allows us to experience a small portion of what our Lord passed through for us.  It weakens our hold on earthly things and encourages us to look for the better life that is coming.
Paul didn’t promise Timothy that his days would flow along smoothly without bumps, but he did invite him to look ahead to receiving a reward from the Savior for his faithful service. A successful athlete who competes according to the rules wins a prize, Paul said. A farmer has the first share of his crops. A good student gets good marks and the hope of advancing to another level. Part of our reward for keeping faith with the Lord comes in the present life – inner strength, increased understanding, the habit of hope and joy in all seasons. But a greater reward is to come. The Lord broke the bonds of death and brought in the hope of everlasting happiness for all believers, a kind of happiness we can’t really understand right now, but that God encourages us to look ahead to. Paul encouraged Timothy to hold onto God’s promise of blessedness in eternity as the younger man prepared to take up where the apostle would leave off. The same applies to us. It’s easy to let the troubles of each day obscure our vision, but this is not what our Lord intends for us. He instructs us to hold onto the big picture – the rewards of faith now and the great reward that is to come.
       Someone summed up all of Paul’s admonitions to Timothy under one theme – endurance, which is one of the great Christian qualities, the ability to persevere in spite of hardships. God creates new people by giving frail humans a surprising capacity to bear up. The point is this – endurance is not our own doing, but a gift from God. For believers, it’s another word for faith. From time to time, we all ask how we can possibly stand such and such a thing. God puts us into situations where we know that on our own we would crumble. He teaches us to rely on him. Without our knowing it, he is shaping our souls along good solid lines so that we will be worthy of the reward on the great day to come. The Lord answers our questions about endurance. Yes, we will be able to bear up, he teaches us. We will survive and endure and give a strong testimony to him. We will be good servants and faithful witnesses, because this is his will for us – the direction in which he leads us. We will thrive in the faith now and sing his praises on the last day. In His name we rejoice. AMEN.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.  

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