2 Timothy 1:1-4
Here we have Paul in prison writing a letter to a young pastor named Timothy. His goal is to encourage him to “rekindle” his faith in God. To do this he wants him to draw on the beginning of his journey of faith back when things were more “sincere”, which means remembering what he received from his Mom and Grandma in terms of faith. Paul does this because he and Timothy share the same call of the gospel to be a “preacher”, “apostle”, and “teacher” (v11). Furthermore, Paul does this in order to call Timothy out of his “shame” and “timidity” and into the “power”, “love”, and “discipline” (or “prudence” as N.T. Wright says) of the spirit of God.
Several things stand out to me as possible preaching paths here.
First, there is the obvious question of leadership. I find Leonard Sweet’s use of Derek Siver’s TED talk called “How to Start a Movement” to be helpful . The idea that leadership is about being a first follower is a rich imagery for grasping the nature of servant-leadership. All we’re ever trying to do is point people away from ourselves to the one who was crucified and raised. To see that power, love, and prudence take their cues from the cross. Paul’s take on kenosis in Philippians 2:7 is a good place to end up if you go down this preaching path.
Second, there is the question of preserving the faith. Paul begins by putting this in the context of ordination. He talks about “gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” Indeed, a sermon on ordination itself is probably not very fruitful unless you’re talking to a bunch of pastors. Although, understanding the role of ordination in the church is important. In the ordinary weekly gathering this could lead to exploring the tension between preserving verses innovating (or renovating) the faith. What does Paul means when he calls Timothy to “retain the standard of sound words” (v13)? What constitutes soundness? Furthermore, in verse 14, what are we to “guard”? What is the “treasure”? The church in western culture is facing a constant tension of preserving, innovating, or renovating our theology and ecclesiology. How does this passage help us navigate this?
Third, and in connection the question of preservation. The whole thrust behind Paul’s words to Timothy is preservation. Maybe there’s a need to lay down some theological groundwork about the story of God. Paul references “Christ Jesus from all eternity” but then indicates that something new happened when Christ was “revealed” by his “appearing.” It would be helpful to go back into the story of Israel and explore their expectations about what the Messiah was for and how a crucified Messiah was hardly what they had expected. How does this shape what preservation, innovation, and renovation means? One question to explore is why this “gospel”, i.e. good news? What does gospel mean? What is the good news?
Fourth, and still connected to the previous two paths, is the generational differences and gaps we face today. Perhaps it’s valuable to trace out the last few generations of people in our culture — the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. Paul talks about Timothy’s Mom and Grandma as being foundational to his faith. Is there a difference between then and now? If so, what is it? We notice that Timothy is still struggling to endure even thought he had such faithful people in his life. Is this something we should always expect from generation to generation? Is there something qualitatively different about the first century and our post-Christian context in North America? Many parents in your churches are probably wondering what it means to hand on the faith to their kids. How does this passage open up this kind of conversation?
Fifth, and related to the third and fourth path, is this question of we say about Jesus. I’ll always remember a moment in one of my evangelism classes where the professor kept pressing the point that part of what evangelism means is that at some point we’re going to have to say words about Jesus to someone else. This came up within a larger conversation about mission and witness where words like practices and “just being present”and justice were tossed around. It was a good conversation, but I haven't been able to shake the reality that something about what it means to be a follower of Jesus means that I say something about it. This hit me even harder when my kids were born. What will I say about Jesus? How will I talk about God? Will it stick? Will they stay a part of the church? How does our learning how to speak, or making the story our own help them learn how to do it?
Sixth, there is this question about what it means to be a Christian in public. The timidity and shame Paul and Timothy face lies in the Greco-Roman world of the first century where power and prestige came from being a social insider. Outsiders would be scoffed at and excluded from the social network of preferential treatment and honor. That Paul was in prison meant that he was excluded (2 Tim. 2:9). He was an outsider. Perhaps it’s why later on he mentions that many people turned away from him (2 Tim. 1:15) or harmed him (2 Tim. 4:14). That Paul mention Timothy’s tears could be seen as him asking Timothy not to abandon him, too, in his hour of need. Timothy seems especially to be struggling with facing up the cost of discipleship.
Seventh, and finally, there is the question of suffering (v12). This relates to the sixth path above. How is suffering central to the gospel? What does the story of Jesus tell us about suffering? In what sense is suffering expected if we’re to follow the way of the cross? Depending on your context, you may consider how one talks about suffering in an affluent society. How does Paul’s conviction about the gospel sustain him through this suffering (remember he’s in prison, lonely, and nearly abandoned). What “day” is he looking forward to in hope?