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.