PROCLAIM THE LEGACY OF LOVE
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
2 To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12 and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
If you knew that you would probably be dead in the next three months, what would you want to say to your friends and family? What, if anything, would you want to say about your faith? Paul (or someone in the Pauline school) writes this letter to Timothy, his beloved companion, to encourage him in life and in the faith. Paul seeks to articulate and claim his core beliefs and encourages Timothy (and us) to be faithful to the new way of life that Jesus offered.
Paul was swimming upstream. Christian values, then and now, invert secular understanding, are often misunderstood and are viewed as foolish and naive. For example, power is secularly measured by your ability to dominate and control. Wealthy is better than poor, free is better than slave, men are better than women etc.. But, by whatever criteria, it was, and is important to be a top dog. Everyone else is a loser. Nobody in their right mind would choose to be an underdog. In Paul’s day imprisonment, by definition, was shameful. It meant you had no power and you had no status in society. And religiously, imprisonment meant your claims to righteousness were like spitting into the wind. Who could be righteous and be a prisoner? Your God wasn’t very good at protecting you. Who would listen to a prisoner on death row telling you how to live? It was only slightly less crazy than believing a crucified man could redeem and save.
It is in the context of these inverted, counter cultural values that Paul writes: “Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God.”. Instead of control, dominance, and ranking in the world, Jesus taught that love and regard were what mattered. He taught that human helplessness and vulnerability were neither marks of shame nor signs of God’s abandonment or disfavor. Jesus taught that presence is redemptive. Jesus did not ‘fix’ anything by secular standards. He offered himself, his whole self to be present with us. It is an expensive and vulnerable way of living.
Jesus’ way, his truth and his light did not separate or rank people but fully engaged them. That’s a high calling and one that runs contrary to the way the world works. No wonder Paul was swimming upstream. But the same value conflicts exist today. In real life we admire the competent but we are close to the vulnerable. Love requires that we value what others (and ourselves) have to offer. And perhaps, even more radically, assumes that everyone has value in the sight of God. But, if you can already do everything, there is no room for others except as an extension of yourself. If you are sure you are right, there is no room for dialogue. And ultimately if you need to be certain, there is no room for God.
So, as a practical matter, how do we pass on such values? How do we share the gospel? Paul begins with family. Love is first and foremost an experience. We can ‘understand’; we can write volumes of interpretive books about love but the living of love is always different than understanding. I can read and understand how to serve a tennis ball but actually doing it is quite another matter. Lois and Eunice loved Timothy before Paul knew him, before his laying on of hands or the naming of God’s spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Paul said it far more eloquently in 1 Corithinans: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
Our faith begins with the experience of being loved. Before creeds, formulas and competing theologies is love. All too often we put the cart before the horse and insist upon agreement instead of offering curiosity and regard. The question, ‘Are you saved?’ is rarely asked for information. It is far more likely a way to discriminate—with the not so subtle message that unless you understand faith like I do, you are a lesser person. And unfortunately the misuse of religious language has led many of us to a hesitancy—even aversion to using such language.
I asked our Faith in Real Life groups, when, if at all, they said aloud, “I do this because of my faith—or—I do this because I am a Christian.” Very few had said such a thing outside of a Christian group—and even there, not very often. Such a statement was far more likely to be internal rather than public—after all we are Presbyterians.
My sister captured a common sentiment when she commented that she would rather teach by example—’They’ll know we are Christians by our love’ rather than speak her faith. But increasingly the connection between loving behavior and faith is harder and harder to assume. Bible stories are hardly ever used as object lessons for children. Fewer and fewer people actually know the stories. And the ones that people do know end up being sources of disbelief. `Why would God kill his son?’; ‘ Why would God allow…?’; ‘We know the world wasn’t created in seven days’. And on and on. These are very good questions and they require words to address them. Many times we do not have those words.
One way to avoid all of that confusion is to say, ‘I can be spiritual without being religious’. And it is true. Our challenge is to build explicit, non judgmental bridges between our convictions and our behaviors. This requires us to educated. It requires us to be respectful in the face of skepticism and dismissal. Both tasks are difficult at best. But that was what Paul was calling Timothy to do.
When my grandchildren are fighting, I am most likely to roar into the room and tell them to ‘knock it off’ followed by a lecture about how they should know better. The ensuing enforced peace is short lived at best. This week, I read (and I cannot remember where) about an educator who was suggesting interventions when a child hits another. She spoke to the offending child with the words, ‘You must feel terrible when you lose control like that.’ She claims that most children respond with a yes—after which she can say to the child, ‘Let’s work together so that doesn’t happen.”
I am sure her way does not always work but I would say her way is a Christian way. She does not use violence to teach peace. She shows regard and seeks a third way. There are dozens of ways to respond to the conflicts of life. Learn to differentiate between secular ways and Jesus’ ways. Use your faith to decide which you will choose.
Do not be ashamed. Hold to the standard of sound teaching…Guard the good treasure entrusted to you. If your faith matters, do the work. Figure out how to pass it on. That is Paul’s testament and legacy for Timothy and for us. Let be so.
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