WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?
Listen: Click to listen
(to save a file simply right click the link and select 'Save Target As...' or 'Save Link As...')
Imagine you were writing a letter to a trusted colleague, or perhaps thinking of what you would like to say to them – what you would want them to know. Someone who is more than just a colleague though. Someone who has been like a family member to you. Someone who you trust implicitly. Imagine you were writing a letter to such a person and you knew it might be the last chance you had to write to them. What would you say?
This is the situation which the end of this letter to Timothy is addressing. Paul wrote this letter to encourage Timothy to stay in Ephesus. To oversee churches there. To combat teachers who were in it for themselves. Teachers who were teaching something other than the good news of God’s grace. Teachers who were lording it over others. Teachers who were stirring up strife and dissension, to the point where even prayers were being prayed in anger.
What might God have to say to us through the end of this letter? Things are coming to a bit of an end here in the life our church, the seasons of our church. Our church picnic marks the beginning of summer. The beginning of a time when we’re not going to seeing each other as often as we’re used to. We’ve looked at the church as a family. We’ve looked at God’s grace. We’ve looked at training for things of eternal significance. We’ve looked at how we worship together.
And now we come to the goodbye. Let’s ask for help as we prepare to listen for God’s voice.
What would you say to someone if it was the last time you might be writing to them? Paul starts by reminding Timothy of his identity. But as for you, man of God. You belong to God. God’s man. This was a title used through the OT for people like Jeremiah, Moses. Traditionally it was an appellation for leaders for sure. Man of God. Woman of God. You belong to God. I don’t think we’re called to restrict this to Christian leaders though. For the follower of Christ we can say with Paul, “the God to whom I belong.” We keep this uppermost in our hearts and minds no matter what situation we’re in. When Paul was in the middle of a shipwreck, he remembered the God to whom he belonged. I said that this name is used in the Old Testament for leaders, and we might think that we’re no Moses or no Jeremiah or no David. As I heard someone say recently, we’re all David in a way. Do you know what David’s name meant? Beloved. Claim our identity in Christ as beloved children of God. Keep this in front of us every day.
The next instruction concerns what to do. Shun all of this. Shun what? Envy. Dissension. Slander. Base suspicions. Imagining that godliness is a means of gain. Material gain that is. Shun these things. On the flip side though is the positive command. We need these positive commands. Too often it seems that Christians have become known for what they’re against more than what we are for.
So pursue these things. Righteousness. As we heard when we looked at the words of the prophet Habakkuk, the Biblical idea of righteousness is fulfilling the demands of a relationship. Fulfilling the demands of a relationship that God has initiated with us in the person of Christ and wants to nurture within us through the person of the Holy Spirit. Responding in a way that is right and good when we consider how much God loves us. Living out our relationships with those around us every day. Pursuing godliness. This word that’s been used throughout this letter, translated godliness, or religion. Tending to our relationship with God in the many different ways we tend to it. Together in worship. Together in small groups. On our own in prayer and spending time with God’s word, listening for God’s voice. Praising. Thanking. Remembering. Being reminded.
Then comes Paul’s trifecta. Faith. Faithfulness on our part. Trusting God who time and time again has proven himself trustworthy. Our God who keeps every promise that he makes. Our own faithfulness based on God’s. Love. Taking it back the foundations. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:10-11) Leaving ourselves open through that pursuit of godliness – of being transformed into the image of Christ and letting the nature of God work in and through us.
And enduring. This life is something we’re called to be in for the long haul. We’re going along in this faith caravan together. We’re stones being built into a spiritual house together, and it’s a long process. You might say longer for some than others it seems – but thank God that God is patient with us. He’s been patient with me, that’s for sure. We might have expected hope here in the classic “faith, hope and love” that Paul is famous for. It’s really much the same though. Let our hope endure.
Let us be gentle. This is in direct opposition to the people who were stirring up trouble. The people who thought that their way, or the way that had been revealed to them alone, was the only way. The people who sought to hold sway. The people who were in this for their own gain, fame, or acclaim. Remember the gentleness of Christ. The one who made this promise – “Take my yoke upon you…”
Remembering at the same time that we’re called to endure in a fight. “Fight the good fight of the faith.” The imagery here is again from sport. It can refer to running or boxing/wrestling. If this imagery seems overly violent, we must always remember that our fight is never against people. I like to quote Donald Miller on this kind of thing. He wrote, “This battle we are in is a battle against the principalities of darkness, not against people who are different from us.” This is the battle in which we are engaged, in which we are charged to endure.
The fight that we’re in is against the powers and the principalities. Our weapons and defenses in this fight are described by Paul in his letter to the people of Ephesus. The belt of truth. The breastplate of righteousness. Whatever shoes will make you ready to proclaim the good news of peace. The shield of faith. The helmet of salvation. The sword of the Spirit which is the words of God. This life is not for the faint of heart. It requires discipline. Training ourselves the way athletes train. Taking hold of life eternal.
Life eternal is not just the afterlife of course. Life of the ages. Life the way we were created to live it, in loving communion with God the creator of all things. “Life that really is life” is how Paul describes it later in the chapter.
Life that is truly life. Life that really is life.
This is what we’re talking about.
The life that we’ve been called to as followers of Christ. The invitation that is extended to you if you’re not a follower of Christ. Take hold of this life. Jesus’ call echoes through the centuries. It echoes through the ages. “Follow me.” Take hold of the life for which Christ has taken hold of you. Hold on. Be steadfast. Immovable. Unwavering. Paul puts it like this in his letter to Philippi – “Not that I have already attained it or reached the goal, but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
In so taking hold, look back on the past. Look at the present. Look to the future.
“Take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” It’s argued whether Paul is referring to Timothy’s ordination here or to a baptismal rite. Either way, the point is the same. This charge is not solely for ministry professionals, though those that hear it remember in it their ordination. The call to know God and make God known in our words and deeds is on all of our lives. Remember your baptism (and if you’re not baptized and considering it, consider this significant aspect of it) – making the good confession in front of many witnesses. Look even further back though to Christ’s confession made before Pontius Pilate. Not just the words that he used, though those as well. “My kingdom is not of this world.” “Are you the Christ?” “You say that I am.” The answer to the question “What is truth?” which was not given in words but in silence as Christ was taken to the cross to show the ultimate truth – that he loved us even unto death. That it was through self-sacrificing, self-denying love that the world would be saved, is being saved, will be saved.
Hold onto these things. Look to the present. You made your confession in the presence of God, Paul writes Timothy, “Who gives life to all things.” Present continuous tense. Who gives life to all things. Who is the very source of life like those oxygen masks we talked about six weeks ago in the airplane. Look to the source of life in our everyday. We’re going to be looking at parables of Jesus over the summer. Stories that showed how things of the Kingdom of God were to be found in the every day – a woman looking for a coin, a man sowing in a field, a young person riding the subway, a man doing the weekly grocery shopping. Stay connected to the source of all things every day.
Remember our hope. We’re ending at the beginning. Christ Jesus our hope is what we read in chapter 1 verse 1. Our hope of what? Of Christ’s appearing. Of Christ’s return. “Keep the commandment without spot or blemish until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time…”
Our past. Our present. Our future. Hold onto these things. Words fail to describe them. We are left once again with praise. It is the only thing left to do Praise of the one who is “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion.”
Let us continue to praise God together until the day we praise him in eternal chorus!