2 Thessalonians 1:1–4 (NRSV)
1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring.
2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 (NRSV)
11 To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the greatest questions of many in the church as we approach scripture is, “how does this apply today?” We read about the things that happened 2000 years ago, people were healed of diseases that even today we struggle with curing using the most advanced medical technology, people were able to communicate with people in languages that we not their native tongue even when they had no training in the use of that language. Things like this are not happening around us today. Well at times we hear about it, but it is not normative and we live in a culture that likes to have prescriptions and procedures for everything. So when we read much of scripture and our experience of life does not always seem to reflect. The stresses around us seem great. We have faith, we believe scripture, and the world seems to disregard all we hold dear. How exactly do react?
Throughout history people of faith have reacted in various ways. Some have taken up arms to fight, some withdrew to the wilderness seemingly disengaging the world, and some simply fell away. But there has always been a portion that of the faithful that have done something quite different, they did not join the world or retreat from the world; instead they engaged the world with the Gospel.
This is where this letter to the Thessalonians meets us and all the disciples throughout history. Like most letters, Paul begins with a focus on God. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is very important to consider this greeting because of the history that Paul has with this city. Many scholars actually believe that this is the first letter written by Paul to be included in scripture. This may sound odd to us because the title we know it as is second Thessalonians, and our logic says that the number two means that it comes after one. But many believe that the numbering system on the letters dealt with length and not time so since 2 Thessalonians is shorter it got second place even though it could have been the very first letter that Paul wrote. This matters because Paul did not leave this city in ideal circumstances. When Paul visited this Macedonian city he did not approach the Gentiles but he went to the Jewish synagogue to teach. While there many believed along with several of the God fearing Gentiles. But several from the community did not appreciate what was being taught and they incited a riot to rid their city of this trouble making teacher. Why would they, Jewish teachers from diaspora be that offended by the Gospel, especially when it was being presented by one of the greatest young Pharisees of their time? The gospel, the good news of Christ frees people from various forms of bondage, it inspires people to become who they were created to be as God knit them together in their mother’s womb, it sees all people as equal because we are all created in the image of God (Male and female). If we are to look at the testimony of Luke as he wrote about the Acts of the Apostles we see in the seventeenth chapter something interesting mentioned about who believed; Jews, God fearing gentiles, and not a few of the leading women (meaning several or many women believed). For those wishing to control and maintain domination over people the gospel poses a great threat, if one does not have to seek the approval of the synagogue rulers then the influence of those rulers diminish as the influence of Christ increases. And as the influence of those that reflect Christ increase they displace the synagogue ruler’s position within the community, and included in these are people who would never have influence under the Mosaic Law: Gentiles and Women.
These rulers of the synagogue were upset, power structures were threatened by this traveling preacher so what do they do, they go to the civil rulers and say that Paul is promoting a king above the emperor. They involved the government to overcome a religious dispute. Which brings us to the first expression people of faith resort to when they feel their belief system is threatened, they use violence. When Jesus was asked about his kingdom during his trial, they asked him directly what it was. Jesus’ answer was that his kingdom is not of this world. When those of faith attempt to use civil governments to promote aberrance to religious ideologies there are consequences, and usually the community of faithful are the ones that are hit with the responsibility when people push back. We cannot control and force morality, we cannot force a relationship, force may give an illusion of peace but once the force is removed people resort back to old ways, because force cannot change the heart.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. When Paul tells them this statement he is telling them first off that he does not hold a grudge against them and that the division that his forceful removal from the area might have cause is not going to stand. Grace and peace to you Paul says because in the kingdom of God there is no division between people and there is grace for all. When we withhold or neglect a relationship, when we neglect working toward peace and promote divisiveness this also distracts from the community of faith. This is the greatest argument against the monastic movements of ancient times, they would withdraw to the desert to focus on their faith, but while they were withdrawn to the isolated place they would not return to minister to the needs of others. I say this even though I have great respect for the monastic traditions, their discipline speaks to me, but I recognize the weakness within.
Paul then praises the people of the Thessalonian church, saying that their faith has increased abundantly, through their afflictions. To the point that they speak positively about it when they speak about faith in other communities. This is a great testimony of this city, they are facing the same sort of persecution that Paul himself had faced, and this was reported back to him by Silas and Timothy when they again met up with Paul in Athens after he had been driven out of the area surrounding Thessalonica. Paul left in a hurry because the people were trying to kill him, and the two apprentice disciples stayed to continue to encourage those that had turned toward Christ. When they had finally returned to Paul’s side they sent wrote this letter to continue to encourage the church. Their faith had grown. When Paul speaks of faith in these letters it is a faith that goes beyond belief, it is a belief that saturates the entire body and influences every action. It is where they have entrusted every aspect of life to God, with the assurance that God the Father would bring glory and expand the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Then Paul, speaks of love. This is Christian love, they type of love that reflects the love that God has for his creation. The type of love that cares for other, even when they are not deserving of the love, or are not easy to even like. Paul says that everyone has a love for another that truly reflect the love of Christ. The term everyone is one that is very important in this passage, because it speaks of an oneness that is only found in God, it can also mean unanimous or all of them are participating in this activity. Through the stresses and fears of persecution these people continue and completely love other with the very love that Christ showed them.
Let that soak in for a moment. These people: Jews, God fearing Gentiles, and women, are growing in their faith and are completely living out the love of Christ within their community. While they are doing this they are being attracted by both the religious and the secular leaders. Even while these people are falsely accusing them of various crimes, primarily lack of patriotism, the followers of Jesus continue to love. Yes I mentioned that a lack of patriotism is a crime that these people were guilty of, because patriotism was a religion in this Macedonian city. This city was one that was very religious but of all their expressions of faith the most important was their temple devoted to Caesar worship. When we hear the stories in the Revelation of Jesus that John received while he was exiled to the Island, we hear a lot about the mark of the beast and how those that do not take the mark will not be able to participate in trade. The people of Thessalonica were experiencing this first hand. It was part of the community to pay respect to the emperor and eventually as the church grew laws were enacted that you had to present proof that you had participated. The reason this was so important to the city is because this was a free city, meaning they were allowed to rule themselves without direct oversight by the emperor. Their city was not occupied by soldiers and their governmental leaders were locally appointed and not commissioned by Rome. So when they were charged with a lack of patriotism people of that city were greatly offended, if word got back to Rome that this city was honoring a different lord than Caesar this could change their lifestyles.
Your faith has abundantly grown and you all express the love of Christ to others even when those you minister to are willing to prosecute you. The kingdom of God is not of this world, yet it is expressed in the world. Even though these people were facing great affliction they continued to selflessly love and encourage others to reflect the same type of selflessness. Though Paul was only there for a short time, they quickly grabbed hold of Christ and the hope found within His life and they lived it out in every way possible. Which brings us back to today. How does this passage truly apply to us?
The last couple of verses that we consider today Paul speaks of his prayer for them. He says, “We always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you and you in him.” This should be our prayer for each other as well. God calls us to a life with him, a life where we walk saturated in his glory just as our first parents did before the fall. Unfortunately our first parents sinned, they allowed something to distract them from their relationship with God and they drove a wedge down the center of that relationship. Being made in the image of God was not enough, they wanted to be equal with God, and they wanted control that was not theirs to have. God had set them up as stewards over all of creation but that was not good enough, they wanted to have full knowledge so they could make decisions outside of God’s direction. That is the totality of sin. Lifting ourselves to being a god over our own lives. Sin is not a singular transgression but a lifestyle of turning from God. Where repentance is a lifestyle of returning to God. Paul prays that the people of Thessalonica will continue to live in that lifestyle of repentance. That everything they do will be saturated in the power of God, that every relationship is approach out of the love that God has for his creatures and that was exemplified to us through the life of Christ. This is where we meet with those first century brothers and sisters.
We have a choice to make every day of our lives: we can either live a life of sin which is a life of rejection of God where we seek to rule ourselves and others, or a life of repentance and reconciliation where we seek that God will rule our hearts. Our world does not understand the life of repentance because so the life of sin has so saturated our hearts, we only know force and retreat. We live by these codes especially in a culture where looking out for number one is dominated. But there is another way.
Last night I watched a movie, Sticks and stones. It was a made for TV Movie, and a made for Canadian TV movie at that. You see Albert wanted to watch hockey so I searched my streaming channels for hockey movies that I hoped would distract him long enough for me to do some work. Unfortunately I ended up watching this movie instead. This movie spoke about the strained relationship between the US and Canada early in this Century when the USA invaded Iraq. A peewee hockey team from the United States was invited to play in a hockey tournament in Canada and were met by protestors who surrounded their bus, threw drinks on them at a hockey game, and booed the American anthem when it was sang. When it came time to play their own game even the game officials made these kids feel the scorn of the nation by penalizing them for every infraction to the point that eventually the team walked out. Well one boy who from Canada observed the acts of his nation and was heartbroken. He took it upon himself to try to restore peace. His father told him that it was not his job and the boy answered if I don’t do it who will? The story revolved around the idea that peace can only occur when one side makes the effort to lay down the weapons and to seek reconciliation. How did he rebuild this in the movie? He influenced his province to sponsor a friendship tournament inviting the offended team back to Canada to play, but to do so he had to personally go to America and build friendships with those who saw him as an enemy.
Yes it is only a movie, but it moved me. The ways of the world would have demanded something different, but God’s kingdom is not of this world. God came from heaven and made friends with us. Showing us a different lifestyle and that lifestyle of worship, prayer and service to other changes everything. It requires us to entrust our lives to God, to relinquish the control we thought we might have, and allow God to lead us where he calls. It requires us to lay down our own ideas and instead encourage someone else. As Jesus said, they will know that you are my disciples by your love for one another.” Do we love? Do we protect the reputation of other? Do we reflect Christ or do we reflect the ways of the world?
2 Timothy 4:6–8 (NRSV)
6 As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, 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 From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
2 Timothy 4:16–18 (NRSV)
16 At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
When we consider the letters that Paul wrote, the ones that were written to individuals are probably the best. I say that not because they are filled with great theological teachings, in fact these personal letters are filled with some of the most controversial words written by Paul. Of course most of those words could be appreciated if we take into account the cultural context of the area and that this is personal advice from a teacher to a disciple to avoid controversy and promote unity in the local meeting. But these letters are filled with passionate encouragement to young ministers from a greatly respected mentor, they are filled with the intimacy of a father to a son.
How many of us read these letters in that way? Paul responds to the frustrations of Timothy, he is frustrated because this church Ephesus is filled with competing ideas and he must constantly bear witness to the hope that he has through various rejections. The people of Ephesus enjoy the largest temple devoted to the goddess Diana, who according to mythology refused the perceived natural norms for women and was empowered to live a life on her own. This played out in the community as well, which caused tension in both the Roman and Jewish world. It was a port city so filled with great wealth, so ideas of wealth and economics came into the church. Concepts of magic, and those seeking signs and wonders all filtered into the church. From all sides Timothy was caught in a defensive mode, while trying to encourage people to follow the true gospel of Christ. Paul knew the struggle because he was also a soldier in the same fight. He knew the discouragement that reared its head in Timothy’s life.
So Paul encourages Timothy to continue to walk in the faith that he knew. Continue to live the life of discipline that he learned from childhood. He encouraged him to continue to read the scriptures, because they are inspired by God and are useful in the teaching and encouragement of others, just as it was in encouraging Timothy himself. Paul tells Timothy to not engage in the wrangling of words as the other teachers did. He says this because when we take the bait of the debate those that listen hear only the argumentative nature and not the encouragement. Paul instead encourages Timothy to teach and encourage those in this city by living a life of faith reflecting the love of Christ in the marketplace, during the dispute, and when providing ministry to others.
As I was studying this week, I spent time rereading these words of encouragement. It reminded me a great deal of the many conversations that I have had with people I respect. While living through a time of great stress where I needed to make a major decision, the words of my mother mimic the words of Paul. She spoke with great love and compassion but maybe not quite as eloquent. The first response from my mom would be, “did you pray about it.” Like Paul, my mom focused on discipleship before anything else. Usually with the urge to pray was some sort of testimony of how God had worked in her life. While playing high school sports, well I should say practicing high school sports since I rarely played in a game, I would often find myself on the opposite side of positive because I loved to play yet rode the bench. My dad would always tell me just to play the game, run my hardest, to keep my eyes on the ball and my hands up. These words resemble that of Paul’s while he encouraged Timothy to remember, and continue. As the discouragement distracted me, my dad would refocus my attention to what was important. Remember what you learned, remember to have fun, remember.
When jobs discouraged me and things were not going the way I hoped, when I was not getting the sales quotas, when it seemed like what I was saying was hitting a brick wall, my parents would encourage me to not resort to trickery, but to just speak clearly and honestly, because people will recognize the value when presented with the truth. The interesting thing is that I rarely missed a goal even when thing looked the worst, and often would end the month as the sales leader when I spent the majority of time discouraged.
Paul reminds us that life is tough, but we should do our best to ease the tension instead of adding to it. How can you as a follower of Christ bring hope into the situation, and are we seeking the Kingdom of God in the situation here on Earth as it is in heaven. I love the words Paul wrote to his young apprentice. They are practical, and help keep us all focused on what is really important. The Meeting is not the place for political stances to take root, it is not a place for debate, it is the place where we can all come together to encourage people for diverse areas of life to remember and continue.
The most inspiring thing about these words are that Paul wrote the words of this letter months if not days before his execution. He says that he is being pour out as a libation, a drink offering. This term we usually attach to the ancient Jewish temple customs but it is used though out ancient cultures. It does not matter if it is pagan or Jewish all religions used this custom. It was where a portion of the wine was poured out either in the flames or on the ground in thanksgiving or oath. But in some extreme cases in pagan rites the one giving the offering would mix blood with the wine to seal the desired blessing. We have seen this sort of thing being done even today, when people buy a drink for a deceased loved one, or when they open a bottle and pour the first bit onto the ground as a way to thank God for blessings.
What Paul is saying is his life is nearly over, his mission is coming to a close. His blood will be spilled to ensure the desired and awaited reward that is his in Christ. You see Paul was executed around 67 AD, and this letter was written within a year prior to that date. All of these words of encouragement were written to this young apprentice while the mentor was facing his greatest trial. This speaks volumes about true discipleship. Paul lived out the words that he taught, when he encourages the church to do nothing out of selfish ambition of vain conceit, he actually lives it out. While Paul was facing the trial that would claim his very life, he was more concerned with encouraging his dear friend Timothy than with gathering character witnesses to speak at his trial. In fact he is encouraging his friend even while he is expressing his farewell.
He continues to point Timothy to Christ, as he says his life is about to be poured out he says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race I have kept the faith.” He is saying to Timothy, do not worry about me I have my reward in Christ, I have the crown of righteousness. This reward is available to all who long Christ’s return. So in essence Paul is telling Timothy again to remember and continue just as he has before. He says look at how I spoke, look at how I lived and remember and continue to do the same continue to speak the hope of the kingdom that is guaranteed by the resurrected Christ.
But Timothy has doubts. His friend and mentor is in chains. His disciples stretch across the Roman Empire and many have turned away and have embraced other forms of faith. Some have begun to imitate the traditions of Rabbinical Judaism, others have embraced angel worship, and some have even become hybrids of pagan rituals interpreting faith as a form of magic while abusing the gifts that God had given for the common good of the community as means for personal gain. Timothy is jaded by those former disciples, those that have left the traditions that Paul established and entrusted to their hands. Yet Paul still encouraging Timothy says, I am deserted and alone as I was in the beginning, but do not hold this against them. Why does he tell Timothy this? Why would he tell this one faithful friend not to hold a grudge against the ones who abandoned their spiritual mentor? Because to hold the grudge would weaken the kingdom of God, to enter into a battle against those who claim Christ divides the church, causes it to look weak and the gospel is void. When we fight against ourselves and allow division; the forces that oppose Christ gain strongholds against us. Our witness is tarnished and the influential mantle we once carried has passed from our shoulders and has been given to others.
Paul tells Timothy, that the Lord stood by me and gave me strength. By telling him this he is saying to Timothy that the same will be true for you, as long as you remain focused on what is most important and as long as you continue to walk the pathways of life with Christ. It reminds me of the prayer that Jesus prayed the night of his betrayal as he withdrew to the garden. He prayed thanksgiving that the words that God wanted to make known to the world were made known through Him. He prayed that those the Father gave to him would continue to carry those word out into the world and that the Gospel would spread and that His joy would be made complete through that. He then prayed that the Father would protect them because the evil one would seek to hinder the words from reaching the ears of those who had not yet heard. Right after he prays that the disciples would have divine protection he then speaks about being one just as God the Father and Son are one, united in Spirit and purpose, united in desire and joy, united in sorrow and hope. Unity is God’s desire for us. He wants us all to focus on what is important in life, and let those things that divide us fall away leaving only one thing. That one thing is the joy of God which is His glorification and the redemption of all of mankind. The return of relationship and the hope of reconciliation.
Paul has tasted that joy, he tasted it because while he was still a sinner, while he was still an enemy of God, one who was persecuting the very people God loved, God revealed to him that Jesus died for him. Jesus died for the enemy, He died for those who reject his ways and he did it because his joy is not complete without the communion He desires with His creation. And He died and rose again to give us that hope that life can be restored.
Do not hold it against them, Paul tells Timothy. Do not hold it against them because they do not fully understand. Yes they might know some of the truth but often we only see dimly. Jesus too made a claim such as then as he hung on that cross, he cried out to God, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Forgive them. Who was Jesus talking about? He asked the Father to forgive the religious leaders because out of their desires to do right they marginalized the very people their laws were meant to protect. He asked the Father to forgive the soldiers who followed the orders passed down from their superiors that were given to protect the peace and people of the empire but also resulted in the death of many. He asked the Father to forgive the Jew and the Gentile, the powerful and the weak. He asked the Father to turn the face of wrath away from them, and us all because we do not know what we are doing. Paul tells Timothy that it would do no good withhold forgiveness because they do not realize what they are doing, just as Paul himself did not realize what he was doing until it was revealed to him. How often we look back on our lives and wish we would have made a different decision at some point; we did not know what we were doing. But there is hope, because Jesus took that cross for us. And on that cross He stood in our place before the judge and said forgive them and let me stand for them.
Remember what is most important. Remember that it is through Jesus that all of creation and all of human history is perfected, that all of it is His and all that we are is a blessing received from Him. Remember that it is through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we have hope, not through the strength of our own actions. Remember that by faith, by fulling entrusting our lives to him we have our true identity. And we can grow in that identity if we take on the life and lifestyle that Jesus lived: by making it our custom to join together to worship, by withdrawing often to prayer and communion with God in the isolated places, and by ministering to needs of those in the community. Take on the lifestyle of Christ, entrust all that we have to the king of the universe, and rest in His hope.
Paul speaks to his friend in the twilight of his life and reminds him, that in the end the only things that are truly important are the things that God holds as being important. God left the throne of heaven to live among mankind to bring hope and reconciliation to all of creation. Not empires, or careers, but lives of his creatures. He came to restore what was once lost through our rebellion, a rebellion where we thought we could know good and evil. We still struggle with that rebellion we struggle because we fail to remember that God loves. And those who call upon God and are known by his name reflect that nature, and Love looks to encourage the good in even the most unlovely. Paul says I have finished the race, but you are still running, the kingdom is still expanding over all the earth so let us continue our leg of that race: remembering, continuing, and reflecting the love of Christ to others.
2 Timothy 3:14–4:5 (NRSV)
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
4 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2 proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5 As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
Last week we were all urged to remember, again we meet a similar them. Not only are we to remember but to continue. The word continue, probably gives each of us a different feeling when we allow these words to percolate into our hearts. It means to remain, abide, tarry, stay still, or to stay within a sphere. If we were to consider this in our lives what would it say to us?
As I approached this passage this week in prayer, the concept that continued to come to mind was that of discipline, very similar to the encouragement that Paul gives in other letters about training the body like that of an athlete. He says remember, and continue, remember what this is all about and continue to live this out in your life. All week as I read through this I continued to have images go through my mind of my past and the history of our tradition of faith. It reminded me of the principals that the earliest Friends embraced.
Throughout our Friends history there has been one common theme that has run from its very beginning. Live the faith you proclaim. When they were faced with the hypocritical lifestyles of their contemporary culture they realized that the ceremonies and structures of the church were often empty of truth. They looked at the priest who often regarded the parishes as not places to serve but as property to inherit. Many parish priest would take on several churches giving them substantial incomes that were guaranteed by the crown, and they would not even show up to give sermons on the Lord’s day. This is where the argument against the clergy emerged, it was not that they felt that pastors should not be paid but that the life of the clergy did not reflect the faith they proclaimed. When they approached the various mysteries of the faith such as baptism and the Eucharist they noticed that there was a disconnection between the spiritual and the physical, people would enter the steeple houses participate in the celebrations and then go out living a life that was the exact opposite of what they proclaimed. So they removed the rituals, which gave no visible sign of your faith except how you lived your life.
There is something powerful in that type of expression of faith. There is something very authentic to it something that cannot be denied. It takes the whole person into account and not just what they do within the church building. This lifestyle of faith prompted many Friends to do great things in their communities. I have often given the example of the Cadbury family and how they approached the struggles of a growing business. They could have used the same business models of the rest of England at that time, they could have hired employees paying them next to nothing while gaining profits for themselves. But they did not take that approach. They looked at the teaching of Christ and the apostles and they looked at the statements about masters and slaves and they interpreted them into their own context, they were the masters of the business and their laborers were for lack of better terms slaves. The teachings of the apostles was that masters were to treat their servants with dignity and respect, they were to care for those in their charge reflecting the love of Christ so that their testimony to them would not drive them away from the kingdom but attract them to it. So the Cadbury’s along with several other Quaker business went above and beyond their cultural duty and they paid their employees’ wages that were much greater than their competitors’, they also built housing for their workers, built schools for their employees children, they cared for the whole person so that through their actions Christ’s love would shine through. The interesting things about this is that everyone said that their businesses would fail, but that is not what happened in most cases the Friends’ business ventures became the leaders in the industry.
Remember and continue Paul tells us. Continue in what you have learned and believed. Paul is telling this young minister to live what he believes out in the world. Remain in that sphere even when you are out buying groceries in the market, remain in the sphere of Christ even when you are in a dispute. Continue to express the love of Christ in every encounter you have. Knowing from whom you learned it.
Why is it important to remember and know from whom you have learned it from? Humility is important. If we forget where the blessings of our lives originated we might be tempted to regard ourselves in a light that is contrary to the truth. It is important to remember where it all begins. My faith did not come from myself, but it was one that reaches back generations, yes I had to take hold of it in my own life but if my great grandfather was not faithful, if my grandfather was not faithful, if my father and my mother did not remain faithful, I would not be standing here today. If my Sunday school teacher did not teach me I may never have come to Christ. If my church family did not love me even when I fell into a lifestyle that was contrary to what scripture taught I would not be here. My faith is my own, but it has been encouraged and influenced by a multitude of saints who took on the cross of Christ and determined to live that out in their own lives. But it is not only my life of faith that has this heritage.
I have learned so much more in my life. This weekend while we made a quick trip home to attend my high school’s homecoming celebration, (we went because my older son James was in the homecoming court and we needed to celebrate that) I was reminded of those teachers that encouraged me. There was one teacher in particular who was important to both my brother and I, whose granddaughter was also in the homecoming court. This teacher encouraged us to learn, and we disliked her for it yet I remember her name. I remember her classroom and I can even remember discussions that we had in class. These discussions had a profound impact in how I would eventually approach life as an adult. But there is even more, I drove around the countryside helping my dad move equipment from one field to another and I was reminded of my bus driver who was a grouchy old man most of the time, but who would always take the fun route whenever weather permitted, I remember every Halloween where he would give each of us farm kids a full sized candy bar and tell us to put it in our bags before he picked up the city kids. I remember the days that I would walk out into the field to jump onto the tractor with my grandfather, who would sing old country songs and tell me about why we worked the ground and what the various buttons and levers would do. I look back on my life and I realize that I am not my own man, that I am a product of various people who invested their lives into mine so that I could become who I am.
Remember and continue, knowing who was involved. Paul then goes on to remind Timothy that from childhood you have been learning, you learned scripture and what it meant and how to apply those teaching in the world. How those scripture and those who encouraged you brought you to a place where you were able to recognize the salvation present in Jesus. Remember, and remain in that sphere, knowing from whom and what you learned this all from. And then teach it.
“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” This scripture is one of the most important statements among the Protestant traditions. It speaks to us about the importance of the scripture. But I wonder if we fully understand what it is saying? I have heard it quoted so many times that the words seem to blend together as my mind fades out, because usually attached to this statement is some proclamation that I am wrong and need to change my ways. This is usually because the verses are taken out of context. Paul tell his young friend that he should remember and continue in the faith that he embraced from his childhood. That he should remember those who taught him and encouraged him along the path of life with God. He then tells him that all of scripture is inspired and useful. It is useful to equipping others equipping them for every good work. When we use texts of scripture to teach others, we should use them to encourage them so that they will more fully embrace God’s work on earth. They are not to be used as weapons to cut down our enemies but as tools to build up those who need bracing and encouragement. If there is a need to rebuke it should be quickly followed by words of hope and encouragement. So that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient and equipped.
Why does Paul spend so much time encouraging this young man? Why does he send him two letters of encouragement? Timothy was once a companion on the missionary journeys with Paul, and through the course of those journeys they decided that Timothy should remain in Ephesus to continue to work that was started there. Ephesus was not an easy town to minister in. It was one of the most important cities in Asia Minor. In many ways it was the gateway that connected the eastern portions of the empire to the west. And was a city that was influential in various areas. Because of the worship of the goddess Diana, women had greater freedom in this city than in other areas, because it was a sea port they city had wealth, and it was also an athletic center. It was a city that was filled with distractions and ideologies, and because of these the gospel of Christ was being skewed and the faithful were being pulled in various directions. Timothy willingly stayed knowing the struggle he was going to face, and it was overwhelming him.
So Paul reminds him to remember, continue, and equip. His job is not to save the city his job is to encourage those who claim to be part of God’s kingdom to continue to embrace that faith and to be equipped to do the work set before them. This is why this letter is important to us. It encourages us to stop looking at the large picture which can often overwhelm us and to look at what is most important, investing our time and energy in the individuals we interact with daily. Paul is encouraging this young pastor, encouraging him to remember who he is, where he came from, what brought him there and to help others find that same hope, and then to help them do the same.
Remember and continue. Even though the world seems to be spiraling out of control, remain focused on what is most important. Continue to invest your lives into the lives of others. Encouraging and equipping them to do the same. Live your life fully embracing the ministry that God has given you, while you work, while you shop, while you cheer your children on at a ballgame, or while you walk with friends at the mall. Love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and live the love of Christ with others. This is all that matters, if we do this fully, if we remain faithful in this lifestyle we will see God work miracles all around us. We will see people find the truth and embrace it and we will see them turn from lives of hopelessness to hopefulness. Remember, continue, and carry on.