You’ve never met him but his ministry influences our church every day. His name was Dr. John Lawrence and he was my mentor in ministry. He entered my life at a time when I was out of church, wondering if it was worth the risk to go back. On a youth retreat at the NC Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell, similar in function to Falls Creeks, he walked and talked with me and let me see a more gentle face of Baptist life. Several years later when I understood my call to ministry he was there to encourage and support me. I vividly remember a conversation on being a pastor when he told me; “Many people make it too hard. You do one thing and the rest will follow. That one thing is to fall in love with the people. If you love them you will want to be with them when they are sick and hurting; you will want to be with them when the celebrate a new marriage or a new birth, you will want to pray for them because you will want God to move in their lives; you will want to work on sermons and Bible studies because you want them to grow in God. Just fall in love with the people and everything else will follow.” I took him seriously and have tried to shape my ministry by falling in love with the people God placed in my life in ministry. It is my prayer you see that spirit of love in the way I serve with you and beside you.
It was John’s voice that offered the sermon at my ordination. He challenged me to bear the marks of Christ. The message was so challenging that I wanted to stop him half way through – to let me work on the first set of marks – and then we could come back together and hear the rest of list and then I would go out and work on them too. In John’s later years, as his strength and health waned, I had the opportunity to love and encourage him. He told me that he was proud of the man and the minister I had become, and I wanted him to see his finger print in all that I did. He died while Beth and I were serving overseas, so I did not get to go to his funeral. If I had, I would have probably told those gathered that I was still working on the list of the marks of Christ he called me to so many years before. I am thankful for the role John played in my life and for his permanent mark on my way of ministry.
I think that Paul and Timothy had this same kind of relationship, but maybe even closer. First and Second Timothy are letters that Paul wrote to Timothy to encourage him and challenge him. He saw God working in Timothy and he expected much from the young man that he loved and invested in The early church understood that these letters offered something special not only to Timothy, but to all who were trying to walk the way of God.. In our focal passage we hear the mentor Paul speaking gently, but strongly to the young minister Timothy. We hear Paul as he writes; 3I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.
I can almost see Paul’s face. He wants Timothy to know that he remembers. He remembers Timothy’s face and Timothy’s life of faith every time he prays. He remembers Timothy’s tears. He remembers his Father like relationship with Timothy and longs to see him. The very idea of being together in conversation again brings Paul joy. This is intimate language and emotion. It reflects a very real and personal investment in Timothy’s life. I fear that sometimes our church relationship, while valuable and important to us, are not as deep and abiding as they could and should be. Can you imagine what it would feel like to have someone invest like Paul did in Timothy in your life and faith walk? Can you image the kind of support and encouragement you might feel? Can you imagine what it would be like to know that someone is praying for you every day – night and day? Can you imagine investing your life into someone else faith journey were you love and encourage them; where you pray constantly for them; where you dash to church to see them because you could not wait to see them and see how God was working in their life? I wonder why we would settle for less.
Paul continues; 5I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. Paul reminds Timothy of the testimony of his mother and grandmother that served as his first witness of faith. These grand women of faith have shown him the way. Paul uses a great phrase to talk about Lois and Eunice’s faith. In the NIV we hear of a faith “which first lived in your grandmother…and your mother.” Truett Seminary professor Hulitt Gloer tells us in his commentary on this text that this word “‘lived’ literally means ‘to be at home,’ indicating the depth and extent to which their faith has become an integral part of their lives.” (1) So think about this verse again, I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which you saw first at home in the lives of your grandmother and mom. I believe this same sense of a faith that is truly at home in your everyday life is truly alive in you. This image of faith is profound. What do you think a faith that is at home – settled in – cozy and comfortable – sitting by the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate kind of at home- would look like? Who are the faces that come to mind when you think about those who were your witnesses of faith? What are the voices that ring in your ear as you think about those who helped you hear the way of salvation through Jesus Christ? The strongest illustrations are the ones from your own life that stir you to memory and encourage you in faithfulness. This is the kind of faith that finds its natural expression in the way we lived life and related to others. Paul saw this kind of spiritual legacy alive and living in Timothy’s life and wanted for it to become contagious.
“Because Paul is confident that this excellent faith has been passed down to Timothy, he’s writing to remind Timothy to keep his zeal for God aflame.” (2) He writes; 6For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. Paul’s imagery is unmistakable. Like a campfire that must be stoked back to blaze in the cool of the morning hours, Paul wanted Timothy to fan the flame of his gift from God – to express himself in faith in ministry with absolute abandon. A mother celebrated her son’s new faith. With joy she tells one of the older grand leaders of the church, “My son is on fire for God.” He tilted his glasses down the bridge of his nose and peered over them and pronounced. “Calm down woman! He’ll cool off soon enough.” Do you remember when your faith burning brightly and you could feel the warmth of its glow? Do you remember the moments when you were ready to do anything – to go anywhere – to give anything for the sake of God? So how is your fire burning? Does it need to be fanned into a blazing fire again or are you content to lives with the smoldering coals and the dying embers?
The faith and the spiritual gifts that defined Timothy were given to him for a purpose. The same is true for us. Paul reminds the young minister, and reminds us through him, that; God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. Timothy knows of the crucifixion of Christ, has witnessed the imprisonment of Paul, and knows the reality of persecution of people of the Christian faith. (3) It is easy to forget this in the safe confines a room like this one. But when we hear testimonies like we did last week from Yassar – a testimony of pain and persecution in our time – it gives us a glimpse of what Timothy must have to deal with every day. Perhaps the question that might draw us in asks how many of us sometimes find ourselves claimed by fear, paralyzed with uncertainty. How many times to we worry about potential outcomes that never come to pass? How many of us fear rejection or isolation or failure? How many of us wonder if we have enough resources or if we can really trust that God is with us? Paul wants Timothy – wants us – to be clear, emotional and spiritual fear is not given by God. God gives something very different, a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
Paul wants Timothy to press on, to move forward boldly, with absolute abandon.
• Instead of fear, God offers power for the work at hand. Timothy does not serve out of his own power – his own strength – his own wits – but out of a spirit of power given by God.
• Instead of fear, God offers love, a love that can forgive and transform. The kind of faith that burns like fire – the flame of faith in born in a love that changes everything and everyone it touches.
• Instead of fear, God offers a spirit of self discipline. This is the kind of self discipline born in a faith that it is a home in our everyday lives and our every day decisions. This kind of self disciple empowers our witness just as Timothy was shaped by the witness of his grandmother and mom.
I can imagine the smile on Paul’s face as he looked over these words and thought about Timothy. He remembered him and the faith he saw in this young minister and dreamed for that kind of faith to become a contagious movement across the early church. His desire for this young minister is the same that God has for us this morning. Remember those who shaped your faith story and cling to those memories; remember when your faith burned hot and reclaim it; let go of the fear and live out our live in the power, the love, and the faithfulness we find only through the spirit of God. Be encouraged. Your faith matters – your testimony matters – and God is ready to work in you and through you. Live lives of faith with total abandonment to God. Live in the spirit of power and love.
Pray with me, and hear again the pray of abandonment that we prayed together responsively earlier in our service. Let this prayer become your own.
Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.
(1)W. Hulitt Gloer, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus. Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary, (Smyth and Helwys: Macon, 2010), p.221.
(2)Available online at http://www.homileticsonline.com/subscriber/commentary_display.asp?installment_id=93040556&item_id=93053162 on September 17, 2010.
(3)Heard as a common theme in a number of different print and online commentaries.