Tuesday, May 08, 2007

2 Timothy 4

[I will concentrate mainly on the first 5 verses, although we will look at the whole chapter]

“I have sacrificed all of my interests to those of the country. I go, but you, my friends, will continue to serve France. Her happiness was my only thought. It will still be the object of my wishes. Do not regret my fate; if I have consented to survive, it is to serve your glory.”
So said Napoleon to his most loyal troops, having lost the war, and about to go into exile. It was a heartfelt address, as he passionately pled for his followers to put his country first.

Paul is coming to the end of his letter in the knowledge he is coming to the end of his life. He sits in a Roman prison, aware that he cannot waste a single word. It is time to sum up what is in effect, his spiritual will. “He is writing within weeks, perhaps even days, of his martyrdom. According to a fairly reliable tradition he was beheaded on the Ostian Way.” (Stott) What will he say to his chief apprentice, Timothy?

On the weekend away, one of the things drawn to my attention was to notice the tone that Paul uses, which will help us better understand the seriousness of what is being said. "I charge you!" My dear brother, this is a command that I am issuing! For the Supreme Ruler, God, is my witness. But really, I am issuing this decree because I am ultimately under "Christ Jesus, who is the judge of the living and the dead" (v.1). You see, one day the King will come and make an inspection of His troops. If we understand this, we will be better motivated to serve Him and take what he says seriously.

What might we consider to be the main task of the leaders of the church today? Could it be to facilitate engagement with the social ills of today? Or could it be more political and to act as mediator? Or is it even to deliver beautifully crafted oratories which might lead to behavioural modifications? For Paul, the primary responsibility of a church leader today is to "preach the word" (v.2). That is the command – to proclaim, and the content of that proclamation is the Word of God. I hope I’m not being misunderstood here; I am a firm believer in integral, whole-life Christianity, and I think Christians should definitely engage in social justice issues and not treat politics as a dirty word. But according to Paul, writing with urgency, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the first task a church leader should prioritise is to be speaking God’s words, as it were, just as an ambassador might read out the message from the ruler of his country. Out of this flows everything else. Tim Keller talks about the gospel then being applied to all of life: “we see that the Christian life is a process of renewing every dimension of our life-- spiritual, psychological, corporate, social--by thinking, hoping, and living out the “lines” or ramifications of the gospel. The gospel is to be applied to every area of thinking, feeling, relating, working, and behaving”. (The Centrality of the Gospel, a highly recommended article!). But the work of the Word comes first!

He is to do it all the time, in season, out of season. Kobe Bryant is one of the most talented basketball players in the world; having recently scored an unheard of 81 points in one game. But he doesn’t take summers off, despite his prodigious talent and hard work during the season. Each day of the offseason, he will shoot hundreds of jumpers. Besides that, he also does weight-training and cardio-work. For the church leader, there is to be no coasting either. However, in real games, Kobe doesn’t just rely on jumpers to get his points but on an assortment of shots: the driving layup, the baseline fadeaway, the free throw. So a preacher needs to sensitive to his context and to handle the Word correctly without being wooden about it, to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort". There is a time for a strong message, there is a time for a compassionate one. Any good basketball player will also tell you that it’s usually best to 'let the game come to you' then to force it, as rookies tend to do. And so the church leader should have "complete patience" (v.2). This is not to be a cerebral exercise, but rather a demonstration of grace.

The NBA season is 82 games long, with frequent trips on the road. There will be nights when it’d be tough, even if you have a good team. Paul wants to prepare Timothy for the nights when the audience will be hostile, and who will not be keen on the decisions of the coach at all! Some may not want "sound teaching". Others may prefer the latest teacher off the press: Jom Paiper or Biryani McLaren. Still others may prefer the pulling power of myth to the transforming power of truth. (v.3-4).

Paul the veteran player wants the fresh-faced Timothy to play through the pain. The mark of a good player is one who is "sober-minded", he knows his limitations. He is wise

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise
- If, Rudyard Kipling
The godly leader also pays a price for his ministry. Suffering has been touched upon extensively in this letter. The one who have been called to lead will face burdens even as he helps others with theirs. He teaches, but he will not always be appreciated. He sets the example for those under his care with his desire to follow Jesus’ command to fulfil the great commission. "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few." (Matt. 9:37) And “thus with the words of the solemn charge in 4:1-5 Paul in effect brings to a conclusion his words of instruction regarding Timothy’s duties as a minister of Christ. The charge gathers up the concerns expressed throughout the letter and crystallizes them in nine memorable imperatives that begin with ‘preach the word’ and end with ‘fulfil your ministry’.” (George Knight)

Supposedly the epitaph of Alexander the Great’s grave reads: “A tomb now suffices for him, for whom the world was not enough.” He had all there was in this world, but left with nothing. Here we read Paul’s own epitaph. What an amazing testimony, one I’m sure we’ll all love to have! "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (v.7). Paul, the self-described chief of sinners, stood firm on the gospel of grace and trusted in God to bring him home. By all means, he is still very human. He is tired and weary; he longs for the company of his best friend (v.9). He laments the forsaking of some of his companions (v.10). He is a touch sentimental about old possessions ("books...parchments" v.13), and pragmatic ( "bring the cloak", v.13, for winter is coming {v.21}) The watchfulness and gentleness he has so stressed in this letter is evident even here, in his words against Alexander (v.14-15), and those who deserted him (v.16). For he is assured of his Father’s character, the God in whom he has more than enough (v.17). And as Timothy gets to the end of the letter, in the silence, he can probably hear Paul’s voice whispering in his ear again, telling him that their Father is the one and the same, the King who loved us and gave himself for us:

“The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”

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