2 Timothy 1:8-14 ESV
The Lectionary is beginning to look at Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy today. This is a strangely personal and revealing letter to have been included in the Scriptures, and functions somewhat as a valedictory for Paul as the time for his departure draws near. It is Paul’s last letter, and probably dates from 64 or 65 AD.
Here, I think, Paul had two things he wanted to reinforce in Timothy. First, he wanted to make sure Timothy would never become conceited because he had a very specific call from God, and second, that Timothy would never be ashamed of the message or the suffering it requires. This call to balance is key to the spiritual health of anyone who seriously plans to pursue a call in ministry.
Paul says the calling is not because of our works. That is, there’s nothing awesome that you’ve done before or ever will do that made God choose you in particular. God’s attitude about those who minister is probably something like the statement Bill Cosby allegedly places in his father’s mouth: “I brought you into this world, I can take you out. Don’t make no difference to me. I can make another one just like you anytime I like.”
On the other hand, the ministry of preacher, teacher, and apostle is a high and awesome trust, and we must not take lightly what God has done. “He is able to guard what he deposited in me.” My paraphrase here highlights a literal reading of the word the ESV translates as entrusted. And again, at the end of the passage he warns Timothy to use the power of the Holy Spirit to guard what God deposited. It is the same Greek word in both cases, and it indicates that God has trusted you like you trust your banker.
If Timothy can keep in balance the tendency toward conceit (because of the lofty calling he has received) with the tendency toward shame (because he will be imprisoned, beaten, abused, and possibly tried as an enemy of either the state or the religion of his people) then there is hope for his ministry to flourish.
How will Timothy achieve this balance? By following “the pattern of sound words” that Paul had given him when he preached the gospel to Timothy. Paul and Timothy were often traveling companions. Timothy was as close to Paul as any human being ever was. Did Paul sit around preaching to Timothy in his spare time? No, probably not. But Timothy was there over and over to hear Paul preach to others.
Back in the late 1960s, before I did any formal musical study, I sang Handel’s Messiah under the baton of a man named Richard Vogt four Christmases in a row, beginning when I was 14. I also sang Messiah under two other, perhaps more polished choral groups when I was in college and then in grad school.
Everyone interprets the piece differently. In 1990, when I began to bring groups together at Christmastime to do Messiah, I thought about how I would like to have the choir sing Messiah. I have played recordings of the 16 years my groups did Messiah, and people who knew Dick’s interpretation always marvel at how, phrase-for-phrase, tempo-for-tempo, it could have been Dick himself conducting. I never studied his conducting methods. I never studied with him at all. I just absorbed his ways, and I’m a better choral musician for the experience.
The same is probably true of how Paul preached to Timothy. The gospel is passed on best when the teaching is the least methodical, the least pedantic. Yet there is a pattern to the sound teaching of Christ: life-on-life discipleship.
The other way Timothy will achieve balance is by following the pattern of sound works he saw in Paul. Paul tells Timothy not to be ashamed of suffering for the Gospel because suffering, ignominy, even anonymity and the loss of all things (Philippians 2) are the way of Christ.
The words must be a sound witness for Christ and the works must be sound witness for Christ. Both must be present in balanced amounts or you simply don’t have the Gospel of life (now) and immortality (for ever) made light (manifested) in Jesus Christ.
Do you want to really live and have an impact for Christ in all you do? Don’t be either conceited or ashamed about what God wants to do with you and say through you. And if you’re still unsure of what that might be, go out and find yourself someone who is speaking Christ and living him and stick to them like glue.