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.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for those who have touched your life in Jesus’ Name – and if possible thank them too!
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 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.