What would you write to the one person who you sincerely think should pick up the work you had begun so faithfully carried out if you were expecting that quite soon you would be, as Paul delicately put it, “poured out as a libation” in martyrdom? Does that help us understand why Paul uses such emotionally charged language? Where there things that Paul knew, or feared, about Timothy?
I wonder how long it will be before one of the first things that will have to do with regard to his passage of Scripture is to describe to a new generation what is a letter. For some, a letter is an alpha character on a keyboard. Does the phrase “taking pen in hand” actually communicate anymore? Well, anyway, 2 Timothy is officially an Epistle, another word we now have to interpret. It is a letter, a communication from the Apostle Paul, to a man named Timothy. Paul met him either in Derbe or Lystra and by that time Timothy was a Christian faith a student of the Scriptures and was well known among for his good nature and benevolence. He traveled with Paul to places such as Troas, Berea and Athens. Paul felt he could easily rely upon Timothy. Ephesus meant a lot to Paul but because of the tumult caused by Demetrius he left the church in an unstable condition. Being unable to return he wanted Timothy to continue his work. One way to see 2 Timothy is as warnings and suggestions on how to address the problems Timothy would find there. Guided by it, Timothy managed to correct many errors and to strengthen the church. He became the Bishop of Ephesus and served them until at eighty years of age he was beaten to death for his faith.
Some scholars understand II Timothy as Paul’s Last Will and Testament. Classically, a testament is a very special kind of communication, the last words of a hero of the faith who is facing death. It is a common literary device like Jacob blessing his heirs through the last chapters of Genesis; most of Deuteronomy to recapitulates Moses experiences leading Israel; David has a brief deathbed oracle in 2 Samuel 23. In 2 Timothy, Paul closes the story of his life and work and leaves his last instructions to Timothy.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2To 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. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5I 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. 6For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8Do 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, 9who 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, 10but 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. 11For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12and 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. 13Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us. II Timothy 1:1-14
What would you write to the one person who you sincerely think should pick up the work you had begun so faithfully carried out if you were expecting that quite soon you would be, as Paul delicately put it, “poured out as a libation” in martyrdom? Does that help us understand why Paul uses such emotionally charged language? Where there things that Paul knew, or feared, about Timothy? He recalls to Timothy the laying on of his hands. We recall how in a similar way Jacob laid hands on Ephraim and Manasseh to bless them and Moses laying hands on Joshua to designate him as his successor. Whatever the precise meaning of the gesture, Paul invokes this scene as part of his reminding Timothy of their spiritual kinship.
Then he points to two sets of family relationships. First he writes of Timothy’s family of origin – his grandmother and mother – and his concern that Timothy continue the family tradition of faithfulness. Lamin Sanneh, a missions scholar, says that the Apostle Paul understands that there is no inherent conflict between the personal and communal aspects of faith. We are all born into a family. We are born into relationship. We grow and live in relationship. And we die in relationship. Our western notion of personal independence and autonomy distorts the truth about us. Transposed into African, the Cartesian formula Cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am,” would read Cognatus ergo sum, “I am related, therefore I am.” In answer to the question “Who are you?” an African would answer, “I am my mother’s and father’s child, of the lineage of so-and-so, of the house of X and Y, of the tribe of Z.” The Bible is replete with such biographical material. Jesus is introduced in the Gospels by two different reports of his lineage.
Faith does not just arouse and satisfy the craving for individual gratification or fill our hunger for self-esteem, important as those things are. Faith connects us with others, grants us our identity by which we can respond to God’s call. And so Paul affirms Timothy’s faith by naming his grandmother and mother and his own name.
There is also a ‘spiritual’ family through which Paul connects himself with his ancestral faith and then connects Timothy to that same covenant relationship. This expression of the faith isn’t new –it is a continuation of the ancient faith of Judaism. On both sides of Timothy’s lineage, the physical and spiritual, “a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” courses in his veins. As Paul and his ancestors worshiped God with a clear conscience and Lois and Eunice exemplified sincere faith. Timothy stands in a tradition of unwavering discipleship, and Paul urges him not to let his heritage down.
Reading between the lines, it strikes me that Paul is fearful that Timothy has been drawn away from his roots. He urges him to ‘rekindle’ the gift of God that is within him. The Greek word for “rekindle” is a wonderfully picturesque word. It consists of three words–the preposition “ana,” which means “again,” the word “zoe,” which means “bring to life,” and the verb “poreo,” which means “to light a fire.” Paul urges Timothy to bring a certain fire back in his life, a fire that apparently once blazed brightly. Why would someone’s gift lie dormant and unused? Sometimes we are overwhelmed by life’s realities and have no time or scope to use the gifts. Occasionally, we squander the gifts, either by inattentiveness or pursuit of paths we know are not helpful to ourselves. Other times we just retreat from life.
I once had an organist who was a natural, extremely talented. She was so certain of her technical skills that she stopped practicing. She showed up for choir practice and then for worship on Sunday. We talked. I was concerned that she wasn’t using her giftedness is a way that brought glory to the one who entrusted her with it. Now may be the time for you to rekindle the gift entrusted to you. Your life will be less satisfying and unfulfilled in faith if you ignre the inner tuggings of your heart to rekindle the gifts that have been entrusted to you. Are there ministries you feel called to explore? Are there voices you are trying to tamp down? Which gift do you need to rekindle today? The world will be grateful for your expressing the gifts you know are yours–and you will feel a deep and abiding sense of personal satisfaction. Paul’s counsel to not be ashamed of the Gospel is counsels not only helpful with respect to the specific point he makes (not being ashamed to admit our faith), but has a more general application. For many of us, shame is an ever present and dominant emotion in our lives. We are ashamed of so much from our past, much of which we had no power to control. People are often ashamed of their family of origin or the types of behavior that went on in that family, some of which they were powerless to affect. People are ashamed about their education, their injuries or failures from youth that still “stay with them” today. There are also the shames of the present, things we may actually done to others or failures that have been ours or even bad decisions we have made. The Apostolic advice is for us not to be ashamed may be easier said than done. That which removes the shame in the passage is knowledge of “the one in whom I have put my trust” . Christ, then, is the great shame-remover. In the majority of cases, I would say that this, along with conversations with trusted other people, will allow a person not only to “rekindle the gift” but to feel that the shame that has so long bound a person need not control his/her destiny or future.
God’s great desire for our rekindling the gift of of eliminating our shame is not simply to have gifted and unashamed people running around. No, it is that we might better guard the great treasure that has been entrusted to us.
In this passage of scripture we have the voice of an exhausted apostle speaking to us of the accumulated stresses and sufferings of decades given over entirely to proclaiming the good news of Jesus. The letter knows well that those who persist in loyalty to Christ will encounter hardship, even to the point of death – but such is to be expected, and Timothy (and we) can rely on God to lead faithful followers beyond shame and fear into the fullness of the limitless life made possible for us through Jesus Christ.