Dear Timothy

We need Paul to show us faithfulness. We need Paul to teach us faithfulness. And we get both, in good measure, in the pages of 2 Timothy.

Anson Kroeker on January 2, 2022
Dear Timothy
January 2, 2022

Dear Timothy

Passage: 2 Timothy 1:1-7
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I’m going to begin this morning with a confession that the past couple of years have been hard for me. And I’m not referring to the past couple of years in the way that you might be thinking. What I’m referring to is the number of prominent Christians in the past two years who have either walked away from their faith or whose private lives have been uncovered and destroyed their reputation.

And I know that there’s been all kinds of stories like that throughout history but it seems like in the past two years it’s hit closer to home. It’s been hard to see men whose lives and ministries have been particularly helpful or meaningful to me completely deny their faith in Jesus with either their words or their actions.

And I’d be lying if I said that this hasn’t been hard, if it hasn’t caused some struggle for me, at times significant struggle. At times I’ve almost wanted to ask “Who is next? Who else among the ones I respect is just pretending? Who else is just putting on a front, selling Christianity like a product, hiding some ugly secret?”

And once you start to ask questions like that, you’re not too far from beginning to doubt and question everything you’ve believed to be true.

As I’ve been working through all of this, one thing that really helped me is to remember that the news stories about these public failures simply do not tell the whole story. Yes, there’s been some heartbreaks over the past few years, but how many pastors and leaders and men and women have just continued to plug away in quiet service? How many have died trusting Jesus, following him faithfully to the end of their life? How many faithful lives have never made the headlines because there was no scandal to report, and sadly we’re not too interested in stories like “Faithful servant goes to their grave still trusting in Jesus.”

It’s so easy for us to get discouraged when we just look at the news reports, and when we study the stories of those failures, trying to figure out where they went wrong. We might need to do that sometimes, but isn’t it just as important, even more important, to consider the stories of faithfulness, to watch the people who made it, and to learn from them?

That’s why I’m so thrilled that today we’re beginning a twelve-week series in 2 Timothy. 2 Timothy is the last letter written by the Apostle Paul before he died. And it is a monument to faithfulness. As Paul will write in the fourth chapter, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Here is a man who made it. And I want, so badly, to be able to say those words at the end of my life. I want to learn from Paul how he made it.

Paul’s life had been the opposite of easy. He writes this letter in prison in Rome, perhaps only weeks away from death at the sharp end of a Roman sword. Roman prisons could be no better than an underground holding tank through which the raw sewage flowed. Paul’s life on earth had probably never been worse. And yet he’s hanging on. He’s still faithful.

And what I love about 2 Timothy is that it doesn’t just describe Paul’s own faithfulness. It also gives Timothy instruction on how he was to remain faithful.

You’ll remember, from our time in 1 Timothy a couple of years ago, how Timothy had been left in Ephesus to oversee the church or churches there, dealing with false teaching and ensuring that the church or churches were conducting themselves properly. And from what we can tell from this letter, some time has passed, maybe even a few years, and Timothy is most likely still there, and the job isn’t getting any easier. And Timothy is starting to lose his courage. He may have always had a more timid personality, and now he’s being tempted to back down, to cool down on his convictions, to be ashamed of the gospel preached by Paul the prisoner. He’s starting to show signs that maybe he won’t be faithful in this mission.

And Paul is probably concerned that he’s going to lose yet another member of his team. He’s already had so many heartbreaks watching people he had served with wander away. “You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes” says 1:15. “Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth” (2 Timothy 2:17–18). And then listen to these heart-wrenching words from chapter 4: “Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me…. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!” (2 Timothy 4:9–11, 14-16).

Paul, this great apostle, who has spent his life pouring into others and working to develop a team of co-workers, comes to the end of his life very, very alone. And as his concern for Timothy comes through in this letter, it’s not hard to imagine Paul thinking “not Timothy, too. Please, don’t let me lose Timothy.”

And so Paul takes up pen and writes Timothy a letter that spurs him on to courage and boldness and faithfulness.

And it’s this different setting that gives 2 Timothy a somewhat different flavour than 1 Timothy or Titus. Those two books have some personal material but are largely concerned with instruction for the church. 2 Timothy is far more personal in nature.

And that’s why, when we did that series on the church two years ago, we made the decision to leave 2 Timothy for another time. We really needed to focus on the church in that series, and I’m so glad we did, but I’m also very glad that we’re now returning to 2 Timothy for this much more personal look at Paul and Timothy and the call to faithfulness.

And this very personal nature of this letter is on full display here today in these first five verses, which are just soaked with relationships. And they introduce us to a major theme in 2 Timothy, which is that faithfulness is not a solo project. Faithfulness is a group effort. We need each other.

And so what we’re going to do this morning is look at the three relationships mentioned in these verses, and consider the different aspects of those relationships which are described for us. And as we see what these verses have to teach us about relationships, we should know that all of this is pointed in the direction of faithfulness, helping us link arms with each other as we help each other stay faithful to Christ.

1) Paul and God

The first relationship we want to notice in these verses is Paul’s relationship with God. And that’s right there in the opening verse: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1).

Paul was not doing what he was doing for his own sake. He was an apostle, a spokesman, for Jesus Christ. He was one of only 13 men who were official witnesses of the resurrected Christ. Many others had seen Jesus but these 13 were the official spokesmen of Jesus.

This was an office with a lot of authority. The apostles spoke for Jesus, delivering authoritative instruction to the church, and one way they did that was by writing and overseeing the New Testament. But it’s also important to remember that being an apostle was very personal. The people who had this office did so because of their very real, very personal relationship with the Jesus. And I don’t think it’s any mistake that, at the opening of this last letter, with so much unfaithfulness surrounding him, Paul begins by drawing attention to the fact that he was an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God, and according to nothing less than the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus.

Paul was not in ministry because of any other people. I remember a pastor once telling me that being a pastor is just all about loving people. And I just wonder how many disappointments it takes before that tank starts to run a little dry and it becomes harder to keep doing what you’re doing.

You know what kept Jesus going in the garden of Gethsemane that night? Surrendering to His father’s will. And that’s what Paul points to here for himself. He was an apostle of Jesus by the will of God. He knew the Jesus who he represented, and he knew the Father who had called him to be an apostle of His son, and he loved the promise of the life that was in that Jesus, and he was serving God with a clear conscience (v. 3), and that relationship with Christ is what kept him going.

2) Paul and Timothy

The second relationship that we see here in this letter is that of Paul and Timothy. And that relationship comes to the foreground in verse 2: “To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (2 Timothy 1:2).

Paul and Timothy had a warm, father-son kind of relationship.

But before we get to those aspects of their relationship, we can’t miss that verse 1 is actually a part of this greeting to Timothy. And knowing this close relationship that Paul had with Timothy, we might expect this letter to open up with something like, “Paul, your father in the faith, to Timothy, my beloved child.”

But no, it begins with Paul’s very formal introduction of himself as an apostle. He’s basically pulling out his badge. And to Timothy, this would have been a reminder of Paul’s authority. A reminder that Paul writes this letter as an authoritative spokesman for Jesus. And though Timothy and Paul have a close relationship, Paul is not afraid of giving Timothy authoritative commands when Timothy needs them. He’s going to do that in this letter and that’s why he starts off on that note, reminding Timothy of the authority behind these commands.

So if you’re taking notes, this is the first aspect of Paul’s relationship with Timothy we want to note. It was an authoritative relationship.

I think this is really important to highlight because, in Western culture, we tend to think that authority and genuine relationship are at odds with each other, that they don’t really work together. And that’s probably because we tend to think that authority usually a bad thing. We’ve somehow gotten the idea that all authority is authoritarian, and that authority is unhelpful and damaging.

I see this attitude at work in parents who want to have a good relationship with their children and so avoid any hint of exercising authority over them. Instead, they might work really hard at just being their child’s friend. They seem to think that if they have to use authority then something must be wrong.

As adults, many of us just tend to cringe any time someone else shows any sign of authority over us. That’s been very clear over the past couple of years, hasn’t it been? It seems that for some people, their guiding principle has just been to do the opposite of whatever they’ve been told to do. And freedom and rebellion have become sadly confused with one another.

And this opposition to authority sadly shows up in churches, sometimes even churches like ours. We’re okay with suggestions and ideas but when someone starts telling us what we must do, that’s when the hair on the back of the neck starts to stand up, doesn’t it?

But what I hope we can see, even from these first two verses here, is that godly authority is a good thing, and godly authority is not at odds with warm relationship. Paul could flash his apostolic badge one moment, and embrace Timothy in a warm hug the next moment. And we’re going to see more of this dynamic at play in the rest of this letter.

So that’s the first aspect of Paul’s relationship with Timothy: it was an authoritative relationship. The next aspect of their relationship, which we see in verse 2, is that it was a parental relationship. And, more specifically, it was a paternal relationship, which means that it was like the relationship between father and son. “To Timothy, my beloved child.”

Paul was not Timothy’s actual father, but he was his spiritual father. We read back in Acts 15:39 that “Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:1). The fact that his mom is called a believer but his father is just “a Greek” is very suggestive that his dad wasn’t a believer.

Many of you know what that’s like—to not share your faith with one or both of your parents. It’s difficult, because you love your parent so much, and yet you don’t share what is the most important thing in the world to you.

And one of the things we glimpse in Timothy’s story is that, as wonderful as it was to have a godly mom, which we’ll wee celebrated here in a few moments, Timothy still needed someone to play that role of godly father in his life.

Once again, this is an important reminder in today’s culture. God did not just create parents. He created fathers and mothers. And he designed us to flourish with both of them in place. And so while Timothy had a good mom, God provided the spiritual father-figure that he was missing as Paul took him under wing and became the godly dad that Timothy needed so much. And 2 Timothy is in many ways is a “dad talk” from Paul to Timothy, full of masculine firmness.

But this masculinity is not opposed to warmth and emotion. That’s yet another terrible idea we’ve have here in the West—that tough masculinity is cold and distant and free of emotions. And that’s just not true. Look at how Paul refers to Timothy as his “beloved” child in verse 2.

And that word “beloved” leads us into the third aspect of Paul’s relationship with Timothy, which is that it was a warm relationship. That gets even more clear in verse 3. Most Roman letters had a section of thanksgiving at the beginning of the letter, and here Paul thanks God for Timothy whom he remembers “constantly in my prayers night and day.” He really cares about this guy, praying for him all the time. And then, verse 4, “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy” (2 Timothy 1:4).

Paul loved Timothy and remembering Timothy’s display of emotions makes him want to see him. He knows that just seeing him would fill him with joy. Think of where Paul was: in prison, likely in terrible circumstances. And what he longs for is not a comfortable bed and clean clothes, but this person whom he loves. Even there in a gross prison he would be filled with joy if he could just see Timothy.

So this relationship between Paul and Timothy was an authoritative relationship, it was a parental relationship—and more specifically a paternal relationship—and it was a warm relationship, filled with emotional life.

3) Timothy and His Mother (and Grandmother)

So far we’ve seen Paul’s relationship with God, and Paul’s relationship with Timothy. The final relationship to consider here is that of Timothy and his mother and grandmother. This shows up in verse 5, where Paul writes that he is reminded of Timothy’s “sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.”

Timothy had a mother and a grandmother who are known to us for one thing: they had a sincere faith. And by God’s grace, they passed this sincere faith on to Timothy.

We learn in chapter 3 that this sincere faith was coupled with instruction in the faith, when we read “how from childhood” Timothy had been “acquainted with the sacred writings,” which refers to Scripture (3:15).

You don’t need to come from a solid, godly home to be a solid, godly person. But isn’t it true that God often does use solid, godly parents to influence their children in profound ways? And that makes sense, given the closeness and the length of time spent together in those particular relationships.

And that was Timothy’s story. He was raised by a godly mother, with a godly grandmother in the picture, who trained him up in the faith and passed on to him their sincere faith in God.

We don’t know almost anything else about Lois and Eunice. But we do know the most important thing about them—that they had sincere faith. Not the false faith that hangs on for a while before wandering off in search of greener pastures. But the sincere faith that holds steady and passes itself on to whomever it can.

And through their Bible-saturated relationship, Lois and Eunice had passed this faith on to Timothy.

Lessons for Us

Now there’s so many connections to be made here which we’re going to pick up on next week. “For this reason,” verse 6 begins, and everything that follows is connected to what we’ve seen here.

But for the sake of really soaking in what’s here for us to see today, we’re going to stop and consider what we can learn from these three relationships and the different aspects we’ve seen within them today.

1: Parents and Grandparents

Let’s start with the last one—let me speak to you moms and grandmothers, and, by extension, dads and grandfathers. What your children and grandchildren need from you is sincere faith. That’s the one thing that Paul mentions here about Lois and Eunice because that’s the one thing that really matters when all is said and done.

So many parents, including so many Christian parents, are burning themselves and their children out trying to pass on so many things. Trying to help their children succeed at so many things, while paying little attention to what matters the most.

Can I remind you this morning that what matters most in this life is what will matter most when this life is over? And that’s just another way of saying that what matters most in this life is having a sincere faith. That’s more important than any success or skill you can pass on to your children or grandchildren.

Parents and grandparents, at the dawn of a new year it might be worth asking yourself, what is your dream for your children or grandchildren? What do you want for them? And how is this desire and dream showing up in real priorities, on calendars and credit card statements? You can say that you want them to have a sincere faith, but how is that showing up in the way that you spend time and money with them, or the kinds of priorities that you’re allowing them to establish for themselves as they grow older?

Ultimately, whether or not our children or grandchildren have sincere faith is between them and the sovereign Lord. We can’t make this happen. But we do whatever we can to be people of sincere faith ourselves, and to create environments in which that faith is naturally shared with and nurtured in them.

2: “Parents” and “Grandparents”

The next group that I want to speak to are those of you who have the opportunity to invest in others in a fatherly or motherly or grand-fatherly or grand-motherly way, even if the person you’re investing in is not actually your actual child or grand-child.

Remember that Timothy wasn’t Paul’s actual son. But that didn’t stop Paul from investing in him as a spiritual father. And, in fact, Timothy was not the only person Paul did this with. Paul had no children of his own but was a spiritual father to many. And in fact, because he had no children of his own he had the opportunity to invest in so many.

Now some of you need that encouragement today, an encouragement to go be a spiritual dad or mom or grandparent to someone who needs that role in their life. But I also know that as I say these words, it might be easy to be scared off by them. It might sound too big and intimidating for you to step into a role like that.

And so let me encourage you with my own story. My parents split up when I was eight and I functionally didn’t have a dad from that point on. And it was hard. My mom tried really hard but I needed a dad.

And the Lord took care of me in so may ways, so much so that I don’t think of myself as a fatherless kid. And one of the main ways that he did that was through other people stepping into my life, like Paul with Timothy.

But here’s the thing: as I look back there was not one person who came in and became my one, main, spiritual father. Instead, there were many men who each played their part. And most of them didn’t go out of their way to do it. They just noticed me and included me in their life at certain moments. I remember the day my pastor was going out to shop for anew vehicle with his son and he just brought me along. And that was so huge for me, and he only did it once. And I could tell you story after story like that.

I’ve told you before the major impact a number of ladies had on my mom when she was in her 20s as they simply invited her into their homes as they did life. And that’s actually all Paul did with Timothy. Paul was doing his missionary thing, and Acts 16:3 just tells us that he brought Timothy along.

And so perhaps God has a special, long-term, parental relationship between you and a spiritual son or daughter like Paul had with Timothy. But in my experience that’s quite rare. More often, you will just be one of those people in someone’s life.

Let me put it this way: you may not be able to be everything to someone, but you can be something to someone and perhaps even a few things to a few people.

And please know that all of this isn’t just for people who are “needy” like I was. In my last conversation with my mentor Marvin he told me that, when his kids were younger, he and his wife prayed for someone older for each of their kids who would take a special interest in them and invest time in them. He was a pastor and a good dad but he recognized that other people had things to offer his kids that he and his wife couldn’t, and so he prayed for others to invest in them.

So I encourage you to take notice. Look around you at those who are younger than you in whom you can invest. Start by praying for them. Prayer is mentioned here in verse 3 and is what makes this whole thing work. And then just invite someone to join you as you do life and ministry. Take a step towards intentionally investing in others.

What would it look like as a church for us to take seriously the faith of the next generation, and to realize that we all have a part to play, and then to actually do our part? Whether it’s just taking others with us as we do life, or setting aside regular times for intentional conversations, or having a formal mentoring relationship, we each do what we can and watch God do the rest.

And my encouragement today is to just take a step in this direction.

3: All of Us

Now there’s one more stop before we’re finished today. So far we’ve touched on parental relationships, and we’ve touched on the many ways that each of us can invest in those younger than us, but I want to end here with an encouragement for all of us in all of the different ways we relate with each other to recognize just how important our relationships with each other are.

We need to work so hard to remember this, because we live in the individualistic West where it’s all about us. And we so often think about our relationship with God like this. In fact, if I was to ask you about your relationship with Jesus, odds are you’d probably think right away about Bible reading and prayer—personal spiritual disciplines between you and Jesus alone.

But as we think about our relationship with Jesus, why would we not think about our relationship with Jesus’ body, the church? Why would we not see that our relationship with Jesus and our relationship with others are forever connected?

We see that in verse 4 where Paul tells Timothy that he wants to see him so that he might be filled with joy. This is the Paul who wrote, in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” He knew that real joy must be joy in God.

But he also knew that joy in God is not just a solitary experience. Because God made other people, and put us in His church, our joy in God is connected to our relationships within His body. He knew that the Lord uses other people to bring us joy in Himself.

And so, we need each other. Our relationship with God is not a solo project. Our relationship with God and our joy in God is tightly connected to our relationship with God’s people, the church. Remember, we’re the body of Christ, building itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16).

And as we think about the importance of all of these relationships, there’s a bunch of different ways I could encourage you to apply this. I could talk about small groups or membership or mentoring or any number of other ways that we can be deliberate and intentional and committed in our relationships with each other.

But I’m going to focus on what we’re going to do next: celebrate the Lord’s supper together. 1 Corinthians 10 says, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16–17).

The Lord’s supper should be a celebration of the unity that we share together, because the same Jesus who died for your sins also died for that other person’s sins. The same Jesus who loves you loves that other person.

And I know it’s so easy for us in the individualistic West to make the Lord’s supper about us as individuals. And so I want us to do something a little bit different today. As the elements are being distributed and the band is playing a song, you’re welcome to sing along. You’re welcome to pray quietly. But you’re also welcome to ask the person beside you if they can pray for you. Dads, you’re welcome to pray for your families. Friends, you’re welcome to pray with each other. Out loud.

And then, when we go to eat and drink together, I’m going to invite us to hold up the bread, and look at one or two people near you who are also holding up the bread and say to them, out loud, “The body of Christ, given for you.” And then, when we hold up the cup, find another person or two doing the same and say to them, “The blood of Christ, shed for you.”

Not everyone here today will be sharing communion, and that’s okay. This is only for those who have trusted Jesus as their saviour and are following Him as their Lord.

But if communion is supposed to be a celebration of our shared fellowship in Jesus, that doesn’t work if we’re only ever looking at the floor in front of us. So we’re going to try this this morning as a way to put into practice that we are the body of Christ, and that our relationships with each other really, really matter.