Who remembers who Timothy was? We talked about him in last week's message. That's right, he was a young pastor serving the church in Ephesus. We have the two Timothy books in the bible, they come from Paul who was writing to encourage him and give him insights from his own life concerning pastoring a church. I have some experience with that practice as for over 10 years now; I've been receiving pastoral letters from an experienced pastor passing on some of his knowledge and insights. Let me read the start of one: “Dear Gordy, Here I am—just getting a good start in my meditation time when I get a notion to write to you. I was thinking about how easy it is to get discouraged as a pastor. “My congregation is so small”, “Other congregations are growing—and I'm growing backwards.” The issue is not the size of the congregation but the character size of the pastor.”
My letters end simply, “Peace, Truman” as his name finally shows up at the very end. Note, Paul begins offering peace, grace and mercy, the final line of this letter from Paul is this, “Grace be with you”
So let's compare what Truman does for me with what Paul was doing for Timothy...remember, Paul wasn't writing the bible per se, he was writing a letter. It turns out that the letters he wrote make up a good chunk of the scriptures, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I kind of randomly mentioned last week that Paul wrote to instruct, encourage, and warn Timothy in his ministry. That's not all he wrote for but let's look at those three from both Paul and Truman.
Instruct. By far the most common topic in Truman's letters were to share wisdom he had gleaned from his 50 plus years in the ministry. He sent a lot of instruction in his letters and I used some of it. His biggest item which he wrote often was for me to preach without a manuscript. It is an admirable goal and the best preachers do that. But I also know my limitations and one limitation I have is finding the right word at the right time. I talk myself into dead-ends without a manuscript. Off subject... Paul instructs throughout his letters, but we are looking specifically at 2 Timothy today. “Rely on the power of God” he wrote. As I talked last week, there were many opportunities for a young pastor to become discouraged. Time and again we, young or old, must be reminded that we don't do any of this on our own. Paul instructed Timothy to “ Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me.” We could go on through the letter picking out individual items of instruction. But the object here is to point out the purpose of the letter, to instruct Timothy but also each of us. I am not the only person doing ministry here. Each of you who serve as elder or deacons or on committees are held to the standards of which Paul writes. When you read the letters written to Timothy, and they are good ones to read on your own, take the instructions to heart for your work in the church. A little more from one of my pastoral letters; writing about intellectual and spiritual renewal, “Renewal is a legitimate goal for anyone who might (I'm not saying you are) be stuck in a rut.” Truman instructs me on the importance of learning and experimenting in the ministry.
Paul wrote to encourage Timothy. In the letters from Truman I read from, that is a main objective. Here's another line, “I've been asking myself, 'Is there anything I can do to give support to Gordy as he moves deeper into his First Presbyterian Church ministry?' Probably not, but I can try.” That trying is very encouraging in itself. Paul offers encouragement to Timothy, calling him his beloved child. Reminding him of his legacy of faith through the generations, Grandmother Lois, mother Eunice. He encouraged with this statement, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” Remember this, I want to come back to those three virtues; power, love and self-discipline.
Thirdly, he wrote to warn Timothy. I focused on this last time, the warning against the love of money; about covetousness, about using the ministry for personal gain. Nothing jumped out at me in today's reading but if we jump ahead, hear what Paul wrote concerning staying true to doctrine, “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” I hear that quoted often today as the message has changed. Typical 200 years ago was the famous sermon of Jonathon Edwards, “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God” frightening the listeners with the awful judgment of God. Last week again, the wealth and health messages. We, I, have turned to much more focus on grace and perhaps have turned too far from the high cost of sin. No matter the presentation, the truth is that it is God's grace that saves. The message the pastor gives is intended to turn our hearts and minds back to God but it must build upon the message of Jesus Christ and not simple platitudes. Sin is important to face; so important Jesus went to the cross to defeat its power over us. So the “just feel good” message misses the cost of redemption and the cost of discipleship.
Paul knows Timothy! He knows his strengths and his weaknesses for the tasks before him. This letter takes his personality into account and from the way he approached Timothy, it appears Timothy was a bit timid. Shy maybe. When we think of preachers, we don't usually think shy and timid. But interestingly, the majority of pastors are shy or timid or at least introverts which doesn't necessarily mean shy. When I went to seminary, one of the personality tests I was given revealed my shy and quiet nature. The interviewers for admission expressed their concern and I was able to answer with certainty that when I was in the role of pastor, the initiative required would be there. There is a certain authority that goes with this role. In fact, Amy Levinski was visiting with me last weekend and we talked about her internship down in Redwood Falls. She said, “the people are very friendly, but they talk to me like I'm a Pastor!”
Paul reminded Timothy to trust in the Lord for the gifts he'd need. He wrote, “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” There are those three items again, power, love, self-discipline. The spirit of power suggests the Holy Spirit, but this spirit is written with a lower case s. It refers to an inner quality or strength, the character of a Christian seeking to serve God in this world; not just pastors for we all have the calling to share the good news of Jesus Christ. But I’m convinced the Holy Spirit is a necessary and fundamental part of the power we have to overcome our shyness, our timidity in the face of challenges from the world. I will never forget when Arlyce invited Mrs Koenig to come hear me preach. Mrs. Koenig had to see with her own eyes that her former student, the quiet, shy, timid, mostly invisible Gordy Pennertz was actually in the pulpit, preaching. The spirit of power to overcome that timidity.
God included in that gift to overcome timidity the power of love. Love for our fellow human beings can drive us to acts of sacrifice, of care-giving, of self-giving. I don't know if you have had the chance to read the newsletter yet. In my article, I make the point that information and interaction with others can drive out fear of the unknown. And then love has the chance to bring us together with strangers and outcasts overcoming a natural hesitancy in many of us. John wrote in his epistle, “if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. ( 1 John 4: 12) There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.(1 John 4:18) We are bold for the gospel because we share the love God has put in us with our neighbors, both those we know and those we don't. The exercise of power is only done correctly when it is done in love. Doctrine and rules don't win people to Jesus. I like what Ravi Zachareus said, “Convictions that are ungirded by love will make the possessor of them obnoxious and the dogma he professes repulsive.” What we know, the power of our convictions, needs to be shared in love.
The third item seems a little out of place with the others. Self discipline. Other translation say self-control, or a sound mind, soberness, sensible... The idea is that Timothy...we...should be living a well ordered life. For me, that's important because my life is often going in many different directions. Without self-discipline, without order I would never get a sermon written, a bible study lesson plan done, the confirmation lesson of the week ready, home communion shared, visits made. This is part of the instruction that Paul was sharing. I'm sure Timothy's ministry looked far different than mine, or yours. But we find the advice still fits. And that's the power of scripture. Looking ahead two weeks again, Paul wrote in chapter 3, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” I'm not convinced that Paul knew he was writing scripture when he wrote this letter to Timothy, but it appears the Holy Spirit knew and so these words written to a shy, timid first century pastor speak to us twenty centuries later...teaching us and training us for the tasks we face as members of the Church.
I hope these reflections on this first century letter can encourage us to spend some time in our bibles, finding truths to help us live today. Scriptures were not written in some magical “hand of God” controlling the hand of the author. Paul here wrote a letter to his friend and coworker. The Holy Spirit worked to make it God's word passed down to us; teaching us more about how we live this life of faith. We find out more about the person and work of Jesus in the words of the gospel. Reading the Word get us to spend time with our Lord and Savior. Then we may grow in power-given by the Lord. Grow in love-that our lives may touch others with the power of the gospel. Grow in self-discipline, that we may wisely use the hours we are given; and may grow in piety and in harmony in our lives. Amen.
God of Grace and God of Glory 420 PH