Monday, December 20, 2010

Suffering in Second Timothy

Suffering and sacrifice just aren't a part of God's plan for you. True Christianity is all about having peace and prosperity and everything you want, or at least most of what you want most of the time.

No, I wasn't speaking for myself there. Yes, I was trying to give expression to what I hear a lot of these days. Sickening, isn't it?

For a few months now, I've been teaching a Wednesday-night adult class that's surveying the New Testament. A couple weeks ago, getting ready for our time with Second Timothy, I sat down and spent about fifteen minutes or more slowly (and I mean slowly) reading through this short letter. Here's some of what I noticed, or noticed again. . . .

It seems that by the time he writes this letter, Paul has managed to get himself into prison in Rome (1:16-17). At an earlier stage in his life, when he wrote to people like Philemon and the Philippians, Paul told them to get a room ready for him. Even though he was confined for awhile, he said he would soon be coming to see them (for example, Philippians 1:12-26 and Philemon 22-23) But this time around, usually referred to as his "second Roman imprisonment," he doesn't seem to be hopeful about getting out (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

Timothy, on the other hand, is apparently at Ephesus (1:18), which is where Paul had left him according to 1 Timothy 1:3. From the first letter, it seems like Timothy was having to deal with a lot controversy. The second letter continues this theme. In a situation like that, says Paul, Timothy must teach his people to avoid disputing over words (2:14). Timothy himself must have nothing to do with these stupid, senseless controversies. And, he must avoid falling into the trap of becoming quarrelsome. He should be kind to everyone (2:23-24).

Apparently, handling this sort of assignment will not be easy for Timothy. Why? Because he is not one for taking the bull by the horns, so to speak. Running all the way through 2 Timothy is the hint that this young evangelist is very uncomfortable with conflict. At the beginning of the letter, for example, Paul says that he remembers Timothy's tears (1:4). What Timothy had been crying about is not clear. But what does seem clear is that Timothy is prone to being timid. Paul needs to remind him that the Spirit that God gave to us is not one of fear, but one of power, love, and self-control (1:7). Paul goes on to tell Timothy not to be ashamed. Neither he, Paul, nor his helper, Onesiphorus, were ashamed (1:12-17). From there, Paul goes on to issue several related examples and words of encouragement:
  • be strong (2:1)
  • take your share of suffering (2:3)
  • I am suffering (2:9)
  • I endure everything (2:10)
  • You have witnessed my persecutions and sufferings. Now you endure (3:10-15)
  • endure suffering (4:5)
These add up to a powerful testimony about the necessity for Christians, and especially their leaders, to endure hardship for the Lord's sake. So here are some questions we started out with in class. Before I asked these questions, I told the group that it wasn't my intention to bring everyone down. I was my intention to cause them to think about some things that are inevitable:

1. What is the most difficult thing you've ever had to endure? I'm not asking about just anything that was hard or painful. I'm thinking about enduring hardship for the sake of someone else, or for the sake of something that was important to you.

2. What is the most difficult conflict you've ever had with another person or group of people?

3. In those circumstances, what helped you or inspired you to hang on?


Matt Curry said...

I believe that the tears Timothy cried in 1:4 were due to the fact that Paul was imprisoned, and under the death penalty in Rome. I believe this verse shows the closeness, and love that both men had for each other. Paul refers to him a "my dearly beloved son in 1:2. I don't see Timothy as being timid, nor do i see the inference in scripture. I see a young man strong in faith, who has been commissioned by Paul as a replacement of himself who needs strong encouragement to do the work. Paul even says of Timothy in " I have no man likeminded" (KJV) which to me shows that Paul believes that he is more than able for the task at hand. I do believe that Paul may have thought Timothy to be reluctant, and hold back from teaching the whole of the gospel perhaps due to timidity, or the fact the Ephesus was a beast of a pagan city, and could prove overwhelming to a young teacher like Timothy.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Hi Matt. Thanks for your comment.

With my post I don't mean to pick on Timothy or make him out to be something other than what he was. But as you have gathered from my post, I do think it's apparent from 2nd Timothy that the young man had his "issues" with fear. I don't think the many references in the letter, all of them pulling in the opposite direction, make much sense otherwise. When someone tells you, "The Spirit God gave you wasn't a Spirit of fear," he thinks you're probably wrestling with fear.