Tuesday, April 03, 2007

2 Timothy: The big picture

I am reading 2 Timothy in the ESV. I printed it out so that it might feel more like a letter, and to give myself the liberty to scribble all over it!

To start off, I put myself in Timothy’s shoes, and what a pleasant surprise it gave me! The warm and personal tone of the letter is striking. As Timothy, I am Paul’s “beloved child” (1:2; 2:1). Anyone who has been separated from their friends by geographical distance will tell you that when they do get in touch, among the first things they do is to reminiscence about shared memories, and so it is here – Paul speaks about my family with familiarity (1:5), and we go over our catalogue of mutual friends (eg. 1:15,17; 4:10-12), some with fondness, others, sadness. As I read through his correspondence, I hear Paul the preacher, preaching Christ and the gospel (eg. 1:8-11; 2:8). I hear Paul the wounded, all too aware of those who have turned away from him, or from the truth (1:15; 2:17b-18). I hear Paul my friend, really wanting me to go and see him (4:9,21). And I hear Paul the victor (4:7), knowing full well that though death is coming, he has no fear of it. My guide and fellow worker here on Earth has not wasted his life.

I then read the letter again to get the general flow of thought. Below is a loose paraphrase of sorts which I hope captures what seems to be going on in the letter.

1:1-2 Greetings Tim,

1:3-7 Tim, I thank God for you, you give me joy! Your family’s a blessing. I know you’re sometimes hard on yourself, but God has gifted you, so be encouraged!

1:8-18 Look at what Jesus has done. Don’t be ashamed, he will see you through. Keep following him. God will come out tops in the end. Phygelus and Hermogenus may have disheartened you, but there are others who have done precisely this, like Onesiphorus.

2:1-13 So Tim, keep going! It’s hard work, but keep focused on Jesus. There’ll be hardships along the way, but He is faithful and will see you through.

2:14-26 Present yourself to God as one approved, and be united around the truth of the gospel. Don’t go astray like some others; the Lord will keep you. Keep being kind, being able to teach, and patiently enduring evil.

3 Be realistic, there are plenty of people who don’t love God out there, even if it’s not always obvious. Never mind them, but follow my example. Keep going!

4 ...and keep teaching the truths of the gospel! I’ve not got long, and I would dearly love to see you. But I have run the good race, and God will vindicate me. Here’s an update on everyone else. Do come as fast as you can. Grace be with you.

I think the big themes are fairly evident. There’s the constant exhortation to keep going, persevere, be encouraged (1:3-7; 2:1,22; 3:12). Paul also keeps urging Timothy to have confidence in words or truths that are “sound” and “trustworthy”(1:13-14; 2:11-13; 2:19; 3:16). Keeping faithful is another recurrent idea (1:13-14; 2:15; 3:10), and this seems to be in response to whom God is and what He can do (1:8-10,14; 2:19)

Indeed, the one phrase I noticed kept appearing time and time again is "in Christ Jesus". It occurs 7 times – 1:1, 1:9, 1:13, 2:1, 2:10, 3:11, 3:15 – and has variously to do with aspects of our new life in him. For example, in 1:1, it’s the “promise of the life in Christ Jesus”, in 1:13, it’s the “faith and love in Christ Jesus”, in 3:15, it’s “salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”. Furthermore, the phrase “of Christ Jesus” appears 5 times. My initial thoughts on this is that Paul wants to emphasise that we can do nothing apart from Jesus, but that the glorious truth of the gospel is that we are united with him, which gives us hope! Plus, we belong to him, and we serve Him ultimately. When we are described as being of Christ Jesus, He is variously referred to as our Lord, Saviour, Commander (implicitly), Judge and Sender.

For the next couple of 2 Tim posts, we’ll be looking at each section a little more closely, and I think it’d correspond to the way I divided it up in my paraphrase above (although I might further sub-divide chapter 3). But over to you! What did you see? Feel? Imagine? Did I miss something in my flow of thought? Are there any other big ideas you detect? What did you think about the repetition of the phrase “in Christ Jesus”? Is there any significance that Paul says “Christ Jesus” instead of “Jesus Christ”, or is it just a turn of phrase he chooses to adopt? What are you anticipating from this quick skim of 2 Timothy? Any thoughts from this quick survey how 2 Timothy might be relevant to us today?
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