Thursday, May 10, 2007

2 Timothy: The big picture revisited

Here are all the 2 Timothy posts in one place:
Two Timothy
2 Timothy: Introductory Matters
2 Timothy: The big picture
2 Timothy 1:1-7
2 Timothy 1:8-18
2 Timothy 2:1-13
2 Timothy 2:14-26
2 Timothy 3
2 Timothy 4

And so we come back to the letter as a whole again. We’ve run through the whole gamut of emotions: joy, grief, wistfulness, resoluteness. The shadow of death hanging over Paul is palpable. But another shadow also hangs over him, one that also signifies death, in the shape of the cross. For he knows that the way of the cross is the way of suffering. Yet paradoxically it will also ultimately be the way that leads to God, the Giver of all life. And it is the way of the cross that he wants his friend and apprentice, Timothy to follow. But not just to follow, but to teach it. And not just to teach it, but to then entrust it to others.

So before we rush to make all sorts of applications to various things in our lives from this letter, we need to ask ourselves: do we see this? Do we see the shadow that shapes this letter? Do we see the importance of the "gospel", the "sound words", the "sound teaching", the "deposit"? Do we see the Lord Jesus in this letter? He who "abolished death", brought "life and immortality to light" (1:10), who gave us "salvation through faith" (3:15), who "strengthens us by his grace" (2:1), and who will "judge the living and the dead" (4:1)? Don’t miss Him. He’s there, and Paul would hate it if we fail to locate Jesus in our rush to change our behaviour. Perhaps we’re thinking: right, Paul says not to be ashamed of the gospel, so I’ll resolve to be a little bolder next time I’m out with my kakis. Or we might hone in too closely on 1:3, for instance, and think to ourselves – wow, Paul sets for us a model example here in our prayer lives! I resolve to pray more!

These are not wrong things to be thinking and doing, but Paul doesn’t want us to miss the forest for the trees. He is after all, the apostle – that is, the sent out one, the messenger, the mouthpiece – of Christ Jesus. Before we turn the gaze unto ourselves, and subsequently, outward into the world, we look upwards. And once again, be awed by Jesus, who humbled himself to death, even death on a cross, and in so doing, lovingly reconciled those who were enemies, deserving of wrath, back into the arms of the Father. We recognise, first and foremost, our dependence on Him.

This letter is written for all Christians, but it is especially addressed to those who might humbly be called to serve the church in leadership. Thus, applying 2 Timothy to ourselves is not as straightforward as it might seem. We have to work a little harder. Not all of us are in leadership. So some words here are not immediately applicable to us. Yet we can still think about how it works out in our lives. Perhaps we can support faithful ministers of the gospel, those who are labouring in difficult situations. Take Pastor A. We can encourage him: reminding him of the "hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops" (2:3) or be willing to follow his lead when he "does the work of an evangelist" (4:5) We can make life easier for him, helping him by not getting involved in "irreverent babble" (2:16). As lay members, we might resolve to have a firm commitment to truth, not to have "itching ears" (4:3) and choose to run away from Pastor A the moment we hear something we know will cost. It’d look different in different contexts, but hopefully this has provided a glimpse.

Perhaps we are in leadership in some form. Maybe pastoring a church, but it could very well just be caring for a small group. We are to take care especially of "rightly handling the word of truth" (2:15). On occasion we might have to "correct our opponent with gentleness" (2:25); maybe a belligerent Christian friend has said some things that do need to be addressed, and so we need to carefully respond, always keeping in mind God’s glory, which will then govern both the way we might say something, and the conviction we have.

But there is plenty here for all of us too to take heed. When Paul writes: "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (3:12), he surely cannot be restricting this to Christian leaders only. Some of them might be on the frontlines, but Jesus has made it clear: everyone following in his footsteps will not have it easy. And while we rightly condemn some forms of “Bible-bashing”, we need to keep paying attention to Scripture, if 2 Tim 3:16 is to be taken seriously.

But let’s turn back to the final verse again. "The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you." This is Paul’s final recorded words. And he once again, redirect the eyes of our hearts to what’s really important. Stott tells us that whereas the "you" in verse 17 is singular, the "you" here is plural. “It is directed to the whole church. It is directed to us today.” Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. I once was lost, but now am found.

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