Mature enough to walk away
2Timothy 2: Refuse to get involved in inane discussions; they always end up in fights.
Timothy, a young pastor, is urged by his mentor, Paul, to pursue maturity, focusing on things like righteousness, faith, love, peace, and prayer. He’s told to avoid “inane discussions” because they lead only to fighting. Obviously, Paul’s not talking about having serious discussions in which people have genuine disagreements and are seeking to understand one another’s positions. Still, the principle here is a good one. Believers need to avoid bickering with one another. The longer it goes on the more the two sides get entrenched. Ultimately, there’s a fracture in their relationship in which one side or both gets hurt. Others, sometimes the most innocent people of all, are drawn in and wounded even more seriously by the immature attitudes shown by people who they love, respect, and need. So, how can this mess be avoided? It’s easy, really. “Refuse to get involved.” Some things are worth the trouble and are, in fact, rather important. Most things aren’t. Paul wants Timothy to focus on the good stuff and walk away from the bad stuff. I’ll like my church better if I do that. In fact, I’ll probably like myself better too.
Take Away: Give your energies to that that really matters, file the other stuff in the “not-that-big-a-deal” file.
Passing the faith along
2Timothy 1: What a rich faith it is, handed down from your grandmother Lois to your mother Eunice, and
now to you.
Paul writes to his young friend Timothy from prison. He wishes he was free, able to travel, preaching the gospel, visiting friends he’s made through the years. How he misses Timothy. Despite the difference in their ages, they’re “joined at the hip” in ministry. Not only are these two men united in ministry, but Paul knows Timothy’s family and values the steady faithfulness of both his grandmother and mother. Now, Timothy has taken up the life of faith he first learned from these two women. How proud they must be of their son and grandson! I understand that as beings with free will that each person must make his or her own decision about spiritual things. However, I also know that having a godly heritage gives a young person a head start in spiritual matters. In fact, Timothy’s testimony could be mine. Today, I thank God for a faithful mother and grandmother who nurtured me in the faith. Both of these who influenced me for the Lord are now in heaven. Perhaps there’s someone who helped you to come to know the Lord early in life. If so, thank God for them. If possible, it might be a good idea to tell them how much you appreciate their godly influence on your life.
1Timothy 6: A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God.
The final chapter of this first letter to young pastor Timothy is about money. Paul’s concerned about church leaders who see their position as a way to make some easy money. Timothy’s warned to identify such people as quickly as possible to keep them from infecting the whole church with their “germs of envy, controversy…” and other equally bad stuff. Timothy, himself, as a man of God, is to pursue, not money, but “wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy.” Finally, Paul addresses how Timothy’s to deal with those who are already wealthy. He’s to warn them to not be money centered but, instead, to handle their riches in the same way the Lord handles his: with extravagant generosity, helping others out of their bounty. Even though this is a short course on the topic of money and the church we find here a well-rounded treatment of the subject. First, watch out for church leaders who are in it for the money. Second, the pastor must be careful to not get caught up on the pursuit of money. Finally, those who do have money are to handle it with care, letting the generosity of the Lord, himself, but their example.
Take Away: Money doesn’t have to be a curse – rather it can be a way in which we reflect the generosity of the Lord.
The social ministry of the church
1Timothy 5: Take care of widows who are destitute.
It’s a different culture and time so I need to be careful to find principles rather than try to apply specifics to passages like this. Paul instructs Timothy, first of all, to differentiate between younger widows, widows with family, and, what he calls “legitimate widows.” He thinks it’s best for younger widows to marry and get on with life. Families of widows are to take care of their own and not expect the church to do their job for them. However, the destitute widow, without means or family, is the responsibility of the church. Again, I need to look for principles here and not get mired down in specifics. For instance, family responsibility trumps church responsibility. Also, if my need can be handled through “more conventional” means, I’m to follow that route first. The church, I understand, has responsibilities to care for its people but it’s not to be the first solution. Paul gives Timothy a written policy to be followed here. If it’s followed, the energies and resources of the church won’t be hijacked by concerns that are best addressed elsewhere. On one hand, then, I have a fairly straightforward principle here. On the other hand, I have to admit that the practical application is quite challenging.
Take Away: The church has a role to play in social issues, but it generally isn’t the primary support organization.
Tending to my knitting
1Timothy 4: Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching.
A portion of the minister’s life is spent “up front.” The congregation gathers and the pastor opens the Word of God and begins to preach and teach from it. It’s tempting to come up with interesting stories or to ride whatever hobby horse is in play at the time, but instead, the minister is to keep his or her teaching in check. God doesn’t call people to the ministry to entertain with stories or to convince others that their political views are the same as God’s. The preaching and teaching is for the good of the kingdom and not an ego trip. Another portion of the minister’s (and everyone else’s for that matter) life is more private. The more successful the public ministry is the greater the temptation to cut corners when no one’s watching. If the minister drifts off from sound teaching, there’s a chance that someone will point that out. However, if character is lacking, things can get far out of hand before it’s found out. To some extent, ministers have a lot of help keeping a firm grasp on their teaching and preaching, but practically no help at all doing so with matters of personal character. Paul urges Timothy to tend to his knitting on both fronts. This is good advice for ministers of all times and places, and actually, good advice for all of us.
Take Away: The real “you” is the person you are in private when no one is watching.
1Timothy 3: Those who do this servant work will come to be highly respected, a real credit to this Jesus-
Paul describes the necessary qualifications for two groups in the church: leaders and servants. After describing the qualities of the servant in general, he presses on to describe the qualities of women servants in the church in particular. Actually, the three sets of qualifications are basically the same: people committed to their families, serious, dependable, reverent, generous, humble, and temperate. People like that, he says, will rise in influence and be loved and respected by all. A person who serves with such Christ-like qualities won’t have to promote self. Rather, the church will, maybe without even realizing it’s happening, promote them, granting them authority and prestige in the church. I’ve had the privilege of knowing some people who perfectly match this description. They are, without exception, “senior saints” in the church. Often, they’ve held elected positions in the past, but no longer serve at that level. However, when people in the church need advice or want someone to pray with them, these servant-leaders are sought out. While, in the Kingdom of God, we’re all valued equally, we’re valued for different reasons. These servants are valued for their steady wisdom and are viewed as leaders, not because they won an election, but because they’ve proven themselves to be “a real credit to this Jesus-faith.”
1Timothy 2: The first thing I want you to do is pray.
So, Paul, that seasoned Apostle, missionary, and pastor has some advice for his young pastor friend Timothy. Everyone, pastor-types and regular church folks, leans forward to listen to what he has to say. What’s of first importance? What is Timothy to believe in first of all? Paul zeros in on prayer. For this young pastor the lynchpin of his ministry isn’t preaching well-constructed, well-delivered sermons. It’s not church administration or solid doctrine or even visitation. He’s to be a man of prayer — an expert at it. Paul wants him to pray for people he knows and for people he doesn’t know. He’s to pray for their salvation and, if they have authority, to pray that they’ll rule successfully, maintaining peace in the land. Paul sets for Timothy an example and now Timothy is to set an example for his congregation at Ephesus. As a result, the men and the women in his congregation will focus on prayer. Let’s take these instructions to heart. Let’s “pray every way we know how.” Let’s remember that prayer “is at the bottom” of everything we do. Who knows what might happen as God’s called ministers and their congregations give themselves to fervent, persistent, faith-filled prayer!
Take Away: Prayer is to be our number one agenda item.
Competition for the title “Number One Sinner”
1Timothy 1: I’m so grateful to Christ Jesus for making me adequate to do this work.
The letters to Timothy and Titus are all about pastoral leadership. Paul has entrusted congregations to these men and now he writes them letters of encouragement and instruction. The Apostle writes, not always as an overseer, but sometimes as a fellow pastor, a man called by God to proclaim the gospel and shepherd the Church. He pictures himself as one of Jesus’ favorite trophies of grace. That is, he, of all people should be declared too bad, too lost, too committed to sin to ever be saved. In his grace and mercy though, the Lord has done just that. He not only saved Paul but he called him to proclaim the gospel message. Every time he preaches his life is speaking more loudly and eloquently than his words. He sees himself as example number one of just how gracious, forgiving, and merciful God is. If that’s true, then even as I read these words 2000 years after they were written, the very fact that they were written by this “Public Sinner Number One” speaks as loudly as what he actually writes. Still, having said all that, I’m compelled to add that any minister worth his or her salt shares Paul’s confession of unworthiness. To some extent, no one can properly proclaim the gospel, or even get saved in the first place, unless they read Paul’s words and think, “not so fast on that ‘Sinner Number One’ stuff Paul, let me tell you my story.” The bottom line is that if not for Jesus none of us would have a chance. Those called to the ministry, of all people, can join Paul in his thanksgiving to Jesus for making us “adequate to do his work.”
Take Away: Anything “adequate” about us is evidence of the Lord’s grace at work in our lives.
Dealing with freeloaders
2Thessalonians 3: If you don’t work, you don’t eat.
Having dealt with the issue concerning the Second Coming Paul turns his attention to a more immediate concern. From the establishment of the Church years earlier, Christians have been wonderfully generous. That’s true concerning their relationship with outsiders but even truer of their relationship with one another. The Church is like a family with each person valued, loved, and cared for. Some are more materially blessed than others but in blessing some the Lord has blessed all. However, that mutuality has drawn some to their number who come to get rather than to share. This, apparently, has been a problem from the beginning. Paul reminds them that twenty years earlier when he was their pastor that he set an example of pulling his share of the load and also had a rule in place that everyone else did the same. This was such an important concept that Paul sat an example: working his fingers to the bone for the church and then moonlighting to help with the expenses of the church. It’s a balancing act in which those who have genuine needs are cared for but at the same time those who won’t do their part are encouraged to do so. It’s a challenge for the Thessalonians and it’s a change for the church today. On one hand, we have “no work, no eat.” On the other hand we have the instruction to not “treat him as an enemy.” The Apostle tells them to sit down with such a person and explain to them that we may not all be able to contribute an equal amount but we can all do whatever it is that we can do. Allowing people to be freeloaders in the church (and, I think in society as well) isn’t doing them a favor.
Take Away: We need the wisdom of the Lord to show compassion to those who need a helping hand and at the same time insist people do what they are capable of doing to care for themselves.
The Antichrist and the last days
2Thessalonians 2: Don’t let anyone shake you up or get you excited over some breathless report or rumored letter.
The congregation at Thessalonica is, in the words of Elvis, “All shook up,” over some gossip that Paul says Jesus has already returned and they’ve missed it. Paul reminds them of what he told them about this topic while he was with them. The events surrounding the Second Coming will be too big to miss. Two huge, worldwide events will dominate all else: a great Apostasy and the rise of a very bad person who’ll pretend to be God Almighty. The spirit of this personification of evil is already evident in the world, so they already have an idea of what it will be like but when the real deal comes no one will be left wondering whether or not “this is it.” The Apostle hurries to reassure them that everything’s going to be okay. Just when it seems all is lost Jesus will appear and without any difficulty at all, will handle this bad guy. Paul tells his readers he’s not all that concerned about this stuff. After all, he has bigger fish to fry. Just what is that? Why, it’s putting his time and energy into thanking God for what he’s doing and is going to do in their lives. So, what am I to do with “end days” concerns? I’m to be aware that some bad things are coming to the world. I’m to remember that Jesus is coming back and he’ll handle it all with ease. Especially, I’m to keep my eyes on the Lord and use my energies in living for him and in him and not let myself get worked up over stuff I barely understand in the first place.
Take Away: I trust the Lord, not my knowledge about how everything will happen at the end of time.