Thursday, April 05, 2007

2 Timothy 1:1-7

Paul. It’s hard to get rid of our notions of him. He’s the uber-Christian, the one with the dramatic conversion story and the trailblazing missionary exploits. He’s the formidable intellectual, a writer more prolific than even the current Bishop of Durham and a lawyer more accomplished than Raja Aziz Addruse (Phil. 3:5).

But as always, in his greetings he prefers to identify himself chiefly as an "apostle of Christ Jesus". Not only that, however, but he doesn’t see that status as one he attained. No, the stress here is on God’s work and also God’s faithfulness. This is interesting in light of the big themes we saw from our quick survey of the whole letter a couple of days ago – to keep going and to remain faithful. Here is Paul’s motivation, one he will keep urging Timothy (and ultimately, us) to keep remembering. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, there is promise of life to be found in him! I don’t want to wander too far away from the letter at hand, but I’m sure we can all think of how this is so – we already have new life in Jesus, in one sense, and we can also look forward ultimately to new life in the New Creation. Any follower of Christ can rest assured that this is true.

The next paragraph (v.3-7) is pretty personal. Paul reflects on the past – “remember…remember…reminded” with joy and thanksgiving. This is because of Timothy’s "sincere faith", and he also gives thanks for the spiritual legacy that Timothy inherited. It seems as if Tim's family has played an instrumental part in helping him come to faith. I currently attend an Anglican church where infant baptism is practised. While I don’t agree with this doctrinally, I can appreciate the thinking behind this – that it’s a sign of belonging to the covenant community, and an encouragement to the parents to bring up their children in the Lord. I grew up in a home where only one of my parents was Christian, and I’m always grateful that my mum persevered in bringing me to church and reading a (really nice!) children’s Bible with me.

Now these three sentences become even more remarkable when we recall where Paul was. That’s right, he’s in prison, on death row! Yet the beginnings of his letter are other person-centred – he remembers Tim in his prayers constantly, and we’ll later see in the opening paragraph that he is concerned with encouraging Timothy as well. I know one way we might take these few sentences is with despair (I certainly can identify with those who do) – here is proof that Paul belongs to a higher tier of Christians, one we can’t aspire to! But instead, I think we can actually be encouraged when we hark back to earlier in the letter, verse 1, where Paul clearly tells us it’s nothing to do with him, and also by Paul’s human side on display here – I don’t think you can accuse him of being unfeeling and 'all-spiritual'! Verses 6-7, which we’re about to come to, is also written to encourage us in grappling with our inadequacies.

Paul has just laid the foundation for what he is about to say next (“For this reason...”). He’s mentioned the "promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus" and has been remembering the God-given ("I thank God..." v.3) spiritual heritage of Timothy. Now Paul goes: “Yeah Tim, we’ve evoked some good memories there, huh? Thinking about these, how about kickstarting that gift that you have?” Now we run into an interpretive difficulty – what exactly is this "gift of God"?

I confess when I first read it, I automatically assumed that it was basically Paul telling Tim not to be too reticent about whatever leadership or ministry gifts that he had. That was my natural reading. However, a friend reminded me that it is possible that it could also mean the Holy Spirit. And certainly, it could be read in the latter sense. For one thing, Paul immediately, in the same sentence, then goes on to say that God "gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control". For another, the sentence preceding talks about Timothy’s faith that dwells in him, and we know from other parts of the Bible that it is the Holy Spirit that does the regenerating work in us. Actually, the two options here spring out of the same root, since Timothy’s leadership/ministry gifts would also have been endowed by the Holy Spirit. The question, more precisely, is whether the gift of God here refers to his regenerating work, or his enabling work. (Or we could dodge the question and claim a multivalent reading – it’s both! :-> ) I turned to Stott for help; and he is typically cautious, he does not rule out the latter, but he thinks it best to opt for the former, it is “the authority and power to be a minister for Christ”.

Paul has a reason for his words, and that’s in verse 7. I have a certain kinship with Timothy here. Like Tim, I think I can be pretty timid. I’m not a natural risk-taker; I tend to always err on the side of caution. I have a reputation for being the atas pagar (on the fence) guy, which is both a strength and a weakness I think! I have been told, more than once, that I’m a natural teacher, but it’s a gift I don’t always explore. Yet Paul says we can and should be bold because of what we have. Power here doesn’t imply some sort of triumphalism of course, as the rest of the letter will make plain, but it means that we can have confidence in a God who is “so big, so strong and so mighty!”, in the words of the children’s song. For me, personally, this is something that I need to meditate more on.

Quite a bit to chew on here! I hope my comments have been useful. Is there anything any of you out there want to add? What is your take on the “gift of God”? And how has this encouraged you; any more insights into how this translates into our lives for today?

1:8-18 is next!
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Anonymous Chang Wei Hao said...

The epistle to timothy was probably the last Paul wrote b4 his execution... like a dying father's last words to his son, no wonder its so intimate and yet urgent in laying out his heart in what's most important :)

I think the 'gift' is Tim's calling as a pastor/evangelist, just a wild guess haha

2:14 pm  
Blogger mad_scientist said...

I can type this because my thesis deadline has been postphoned for 10 days ... thank God! ;-)
And yes, if it's too long, you may chop it up, or chop me up - if you can, that is; my thesis has left me in pieces!! :-D

2 Timothy is a letter that shows more clearly the personal aspect of the apostle Paul that can be overlooked when looking at the other letters. There's so much to be said from even this one section, but as requested, I will only highlight certain portions that struck me in my context of where I currently am.

1) Even leaders are humans too

Well, from this part and others, we may learn to avoid the mistake of putting Paul up like some huge bronze statue towering infinitely over us all. As Paul himself put it, he is who he is by God's will and empowerment, not because he's such a big shot.
But in our modern times - the current leaders that we know; do we place them on a pedestal? And see them as great men of God who seem flawless, who need no help from us normal folk? Just as Paul has a human side to him, so do they ... just as Paul desired companionship in that harsh hour, so do they when the road develops bumps ... and so on. Even Jesus, in His time of agonising in Gethsemane, brought along His 3 closest disciples with Him when He went to pray in His anguish. They're human you know, even the front-runners of His Body. Don't forget that.

2) Being personal in discipling

And translating that to another aspect - Paul had a remarkable and real relationship with his apprentice and disciple, Timothy. In the aspect of building people and training disciples in the Lord, we can make the mistake of being overly impersonal in how we relate to either our leaders or disciples. It's more than just teaching them principles, reviewing verses, going through with them over the past week and etc ...

See how Paul wrote the letter. Just in this passage alone, he uses the phrases "dear son", "constantly remember you in my prayers", "I long to see you" and so forth. He actually had a real relationship with his disciple. It wasn't some business-like transaction or solely dealing with "spiritual" matters - he knew his family, treasured his friendship and so on. Yet neither did he swing to the other extreme of just being good buddies with Timothy - it was a wholesome relationship covering both the spiritual and the physical world. A good example to emulate.

3) The gift of God section

Hmm, about the "gift of God" . . . as you said it, I also automatically assumed it meant God's endowment of ministry and leadership abilities for use in the Body. So did my other Bible study groupmates. And I can't see the difference between the "regenerating" work of the Spirit and His work of "enablement" as an explanation of "gift of God". Perhaps you might want to enlighten me?

Talking about timidity ... I guess I'm also infected with the same syndrome. Some people have said God can grant you much, but fear of hardship or men's disapproval or commitment will render it all useless as you'll just be shivering in a corner doing nothing.

In the opposites given against timidity, I wondered why Paul chose to lump together "power", "love" and "self-discipline", till I came upon a good summary of the 3.
""An effective disciple of Christ must have the Holy Spirit's empowerment for service - no amount of study, teaching and experience can take its place. Yet, that power for service must be expressed out of love for God (or it'll be mechanical @ out of wrong motives) and in a loving spirit (or it'll cause unnecessary hurt and damage in the Body, cf 1 Cor. 13). And self-discipline is the main deciding factor between success and failure once the other factors are sorted out.""
Great piece of advice if you ask me.

Well, that's just my 2 cents on this section.

6:47 pm  
Blogger BK said...

Hi Dave and Mike,

Thanks for commenting. Let me try to clarify on the "gift of God". I think the difference between the enabling work and regenerating work is that the former is to do with spiritual gifts, while the latter refers to when Tim actually came to faith, i.e when he converted!

So, let's say I think that gift means the latter. I would argue that the sentence follows naturally on from verse 5, where Paul talks about Tim's "sincere faith". "I am reminded of your sincere faith...for this reason I remind you to fan into flame this faith that you received[gift of God]" would be a paraphrase. Furthermore, I would argue this fits into the rest of v.6-7 as well, since
1. in Acts, laying of the hands is often associated with the reception of the Holy Spirit, which in turn is to do with conversion.
2. therefore, the Holy Spirit indwells in us, and he is after all the Spirit that forms our character, so yes, a "spirit of power and love and self-control".

It's an interesting argument, but at the moment, like you guys, I still concur with the former; but certainly people have every right to be persuaded by the latter. Firstly, I think the language of "fanning into flame" still fits more naturally with the gift as spiritual/ministry gifts. The "laying on hands" argument can go either way, since the laying of hands has also to do with commissioning, as in 1 Timothy 4:14. As for the Spirit being the Spirit who empowers and changes us, that's a moot point, whichever interpretation you take both will agree on this. Also, in light of the historical circumstances (Paul dying, persecution), the reading of gift as spiritual gift just feels more natural.

Either way God still gets the glory and the Holy Spirit is still identified as the One who does the work!

9:36 pm  

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