My Beloved Child
2 Timothy 1:1-7
4th Sunday After Epiphany – January 29, 2017
From time to time as we read our Bibles, we can feel like we’re listening in on a private conversation. We felt that way, for instance, when we studied Jesus’ prayer to the Father before going to the cross (Joh.17). We can feel like that when we’re reading David’s prayer of confession (Psa.51). 2Ti. is like that, too, much more than 1Ti. In both letters Paul is talking to Timothy about his shepherding responsibilities in the Ephesian church. But 2Ti., probably written a couple or three years later, finds Paul in very different circumstances. He probably wrote 1Ti. after being released from his imprisonment in Rome that’s described at the end of Acts: 2830 He lived there two whole years at his own expense, Luke wrote, and welcomed all who came to him—held captive, yes, but in some sort of house arrest that wasn’t entirely unlike normal life. But here in 2Ti. he is 29 … suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. … This difference in description is a big reason why some believe Paul was imprisoned in Rome more than once, and that he really is on the verge of being executed as a martyr as he writes 2Ti. His closing words in c.4 just magnify this impression. Listen to the emotion: 46 … I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day…. 9 Do your best to come to me soon, Timothy. …
With this setting in view, we can hear similar emotion in (Paul’s) opening words. This letter is much more than just pastoral instruction! This is Kingdom collaboration wrapped in personal relationship! This is spiritual family! This is Paul getting Timothy ready to carry on without him—in ministry, and in life. This is Paul reminding Timothy who he is in Christ, and reminding (Timothy’s) hearers that he’s worthy of being heard. He’s part of the family and he’s been called to this work by God! Both Timothy and the Ephesians need to remember this. And it also seems like Paul needed to say it just as much! So, let’s make one observation, then ask one question.
A Relationally Warm and Vocationally Rich Greeting
Paul begins a bit stiff (Guthrie 137), affirming his (apostleship) as usual, but to one who really didn’t need any reassurance of it. Still, this immediately sets the context as centering in on their shared calling in gospel ministry. But it also gives Paul opportunity to mention the overall aim of this calling, and a theme in this letter: 1 … the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus. Paul is shackled in prison (2:9) and nearing death (4:6-8). And he’s urging Timothy to press on in a calling that in all likelihood will lead him to the same fate (3:12). Yet, as he does so, he’s reminding Timothy of the promise of life… in Christ…! (1)
And from there he immediately warms up: he calls Timothy 2 … (his) beloved child. He pronounces (God’s) blessing of grace, mercy, and peace (2) upon him. He expresses his heart for Timothy, and his confidence in (Timothy’s) standing before God (5) and his ability in Christ (6). That must have left his younger friend feeling strengthened in his work. Look what he says about Timothy. First, I thank God (3) for you. Then, I long to see you, knowing that when I do I (will) be filled with joy (4). There’s no feeling in the world quite like that, is there—knowing that someone is filled with joy when they see you? We spending a fair amount of time these days on FaceTime with our twenty-one-month-old grandson in CA. When his picture first appears on the screen we express our joyful greeting—communicating how (we) long to see (him), that (we) may be filled with joy! And you know what he does? He immediately starts bouncing and running around and squealing! That (sort of) is how we all respond when we know someone is filled with joy in (seeing us). Finally, Paul said, I am reminded of your sincere faith.
The Apostle Paul is reminded of (Timothy’s) sincere faith! Paul (serves) God with a clear conscience (3). He prays for Timothy somewhere between regularly and constantly. And as he prays, he’s (thankful) to God for Timothy. As mentor and father in the faith, he’s proud of Timothy! The work they’d done together had borne fruit of all sorts and, in Christ, Timothy was up to his calling! Plus, (Timothy’s) legacy of faith (5) is similar to (Paul’s) (3). Both have a faithful ancestry that is interwoven with their story. Neither of them is his own man. Both had models and mentors in the faith, entirely apart from one another, who helped make them who they are. They’re both part of a family that is more important here because of its spiritual legacy than because of its physical line. There is a family resemblance of sincere faith that exceeds the miracle physical resemblance. For Timothy it was from his (mother’s) side—his father was likely not a believer (cf. Act.16:1). But Paul sees in Timothy a spiritual resemblance to his mother and grandmother that has to be spotlighted.
This spiritual resemblance is still a remarkable thing to note in our day. Here at Grace Church, our second pastor, Rich Kerns, was so committed to discipleship that his name still comes up as we talk on the subject today. His spiritual resemblance lives on in a generation of men in this body, and he passed away back in 1994! That is a remarkable spiritual legacy. But also, imagine, then, what it would mean to the men who knew and loved Rich—strengthening joy it would bring—to know that Rich was proud of them in their growth in and service of our Lord Jesus Christ, and his body, the church! Timothy was hearing here of his mentor’s heart for him. And his mentor was the Apostle Paul!
Yet, it is possible that (Paul’s) imprisonment was unsettling to Timothy. It may even have been a bit embarrassing to him (8). But Timothy needed to put that aside and continue on in the work he’d been called and equipped to do. He had received a spiritual gift (from) God… through the laying on of hands (6) that needed to be put to use in his current assignment. It seems like Timothy may have been relying on other abilities or approaches there in Ephesus, and so needed to be (reminded) not to be afraid to use the spiritual gift he’d been given (7). And Paul used some vivid imagery in that (reminder): 6 … fan into flame the gift of God which is in you…. Blow on the embers! Carefully tend to the fire that God has ignited in you! Paul is telling Timothy to trust God that the gift he’s been given is the one he most needs in this ministry assignment. And he should be putting it to use. It seems like at crunch time Timothy may have been forgetting that the best he can do is to exercise the gift(s) he’s been given by God to serve Him and strengthen the body! Far too often we can do the very same thing.
What can we learn from this warm, rich greeting about gospel ministry and life in the church?
Two observations: first, clearly we can learn what Timothy is learning here. When God calls us, He equips us. And we shouldn’t move away from that equipping when times get tough. You’ve got to go with your strengths. You dance with the one that brung you. There are all sorts of clichés that express conventional wisdom and common sense on this point. But this isn’t just common sense! This is the work of God in us. 1Co.127 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. God gives us (gifts) to be used for the good of the body and the achievement of His purpose. And these are no ordinary (gifts). They’re tools. We may even say they’re weapons fit for war. And 2Co.104 … the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. God (gifts) us with just what we need for the calling we’ve received, and we need to use those (gifts) in our calling!
What (gifts) have you received from God? Are your using them for His glory in the assignment He’s given you? And when ministry gets tough for a season, do you keep pressing on, using those (gifts)? Or, like Timothy, do you need to 6 … fan into flame the gift of God…? When God calls us, He equips us. And we need to use that equipping!
A second lesson we can learn from this introduction to 2Ti. comes from observing how Paul presented this greeting, this encouragement of Timothy. We’re called and equipped to function in community. This passage is saturated with relationship. We’re reminded of the spiritual father/son relationship between Paul and Timothy (2), and also of 2 … God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Son. We’re reminded of (Paul’s) ancestors (3), and also of (Timothy’s) (5). We’re reminded of the intimacy of Paul and (Timothy’s) relationship as we hear of (Timothy’s) tears and (Paul’s) joy (4). We’re reminded that (Timothy’s) calling and gifting for ministry, so front-and-center here, was identified and affirmed in community (6, … the laying on of hands…). Neither Paul nor Timothy are what they are on their own. Other have not only made contribution to who they are, but are part of who they are on every level. As one person summarized in Preaching Team meeting this week: Of course I need you, because you’re part of me!
Relationally warm and vocationally rich though this letter is—targeted to prepare Timothy to carry on in life and ministry without his beloved spiritual father, Paul—it is also a reminder to the church in every generation of what it looks like, what it takes, to keep pressing on in our gospel calling even when the days grow dark and lonely. And while the content of this letter will surely give us faithful direction and correction regarding sound doctrine and teaching and the reliability of Scripture, clearly it is also Kingdom collaboration wrapped in personal relationship! It also shows us spiritual family, and (reminds) us that we—each of us—are not alone in this work! We’re bound together by our common faith in Christ—the promise of life that we’ve received in Him, and by the gifting we’ve received to fulfill our (calling) in Him (cf. 4:5).
So, God is present with His people—saving, calling, gifting, guiding…, and granting us grace, mercy, and peace (2). He places us in community with one another such that, even if we have no faithful ancestors according to the flesh (cf. 3, 5), we’re folded into a spiritual family with an exceedingly rich heritage—past, present and future! We’re placed in community with others who (fill) us with joy as we see them, (pray) for them, remember them. We’re placed in community with others with whom we serve, (gifts) fitting together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle—with others who can remind us to fan into flame the gift of God whenever the fire dies down!
This is the body of Christ, my friends. Paul is leaning hard into the richness of relationships within the body as he begins to give is final instruction to Timothy. And we need to hear this instruction today. Our lives need to center around the instruction we hear in this letter. How much darker do the days need to get than those we are seeing right now in order for us also to see that it is not time for alternative abilities and approaches? These are the days for (God’s) people to fan into flame the (gifts) God has given, and put them to use together!