Sunday, 6 November 2016

Live for the Gospel - 2 Timothy 1

In Paul's second letter we will see that the underlying theme is the same - Paul is keen for Timothy to tackle teachers who are leading away from Christ. But before he gets to that take note of the importance of personal relationships. In v1 Paul understands his call from God as an apostle, but Timothy is important to him as his dear son.

In v15 Paul laments colleagues who have deserted him, and feels a sense of loss. This is the risk in discipling people and being a leader - people can simply walk away from you, and there is no escaping that this hurts. Thankfully he can be grateful for Onesiphorous who stuck by him.

Paul prays for Timothy 'constantly': as a discipler it is good to keep a few people close in your prayers. A nice touch is Paul's rehearsing the heritage of faith in Timothy's mother and grandmother. Into this came Paul, who ministered to Timothy personally - seeing him empowered with a gift for service. God gifts and empowers, but typically he does that through us, forming and strengthening relationship bonds between us rather than growing us in relational vacuums.

Paul is keen for Timothy to use his gift, to see it grow bigger rather lying dormant. The Spirit gives power, love and self-discipline, but we should note that this more often than not leads to suffering for the gospel, which we shall think more on later. Paul is keen for Timothy to join, to be active in the work of declaring the good news, working in the power of God. Paul knows he needs Timothy, as well as others - the world cannot be told the good news of God simply by a few lone rangers. That is why active participation is important for us as a church - we need every member to be active in their discipleship, and active discipleship will mean stepping out and joining us in the mission we have locally.

God empowers because it by the power of God that we are saved and that others get saved. It is not any cleverness on our part (v9), but because of God's grace and purpose. Note this grace was given before the beginning of time - sometimes Christians seem to get this wrong, effectively believing that somehow God had a change of heart along the way! No - grace was in the very character of God from the outset, but becomes completely clear in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Now it is clear to see, it is up to us to announce it to the world. Paul describes himself with the words herald (a news announcer), apostle (someone commissioned to take a message and see it acted on), and teacher (someone to unpack and explain the implications).  Yet such work can easily land you in trouble, as it did with Paul. He embraces suffering and imprisonment, because he is confident of God's eventual victory which will vindicate him. Paul can look  ahead to 'that day' in v12 (also v18).

Stepping back a moment, we therefore see a time- or story-line: God (gracious from the beginning) creates → fully reveals in Jesus → brings things to completion. We will consider this in our teaching themes next year!

Yet for now Paul suffers, and would not be surprised if Timothy and other gospel sharers suffered too. The bottom line is that for Paul suffering for the gospel is no cause for shame (see v8 and v12). The contrast of desertion/friendship in v15-18 is related to this - some may see our suffering and be ashamed of us, but Paul nonetheless is determined to continue. In fact he is calling Timothy and us to join, even if it leads to suffering.

Suffering refines faith. Recall our current key question - if our faith is based simply on a bargain or a pledge, then under suffering we may well give up. Yet if we have learnt to simply trust, we can understand God will walk with us even in our suffering towards that day. Paul is confident because when God empowers us, gifting us for service, it is like He is giving us a deposit. We know that deposits guarantee eventual payment or completion, and so in the same way the work of God in us guarantees that God will see us through.

Timothy is to therefore guard his gifting, the deposit given by God, living for the good news in the now whatever that may bring, assured that God's purposes will prevail. We would do well to take Paul's advice to Timothy on board, and live ourselves for the sake of the gospel.

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