Written by Pastor Ed
Letters to Timothy: The Words of a Mentor
September 14, 2014
I Tim. 1: 12-17
II Tim 4: 1-8
I learned early on in my ministry that age is a relative thing. One of my parishioners was a 96 year old gentleman who was blind. I was introduced to him and then visited him from time to time. One day he said to me, “You sound like a young fellow. 60’s maybe?” At the time I was 27 and I didn’t have the heart to tell him my actual age, so I just said, “Well a little younger.” But I realized that to someone 96, someone in their 60’s was young. And of course, to a child, anyone over 30 in old! One of the nursery school children was asked how old her mom was and she said, “She’s old. She can still walk, but she’s old.”
Now we don’t know the relative ages of Paul and Timothy, but Paul clearly saw Timothy as a younger leader in the church, and one whom Paul took under his wing to mentor and train for leadership. We read about Timothy joining Paul and Silas in Acts 16: 1-5.
Paul[a] went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the believers[b] in Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went from town to town, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily. (Acts 16: 1-5)
Thereafter in Acts we read of Timothy in numerous places, either accompanying Paul and Silas, or sometimes left behind or sent on ahead to places that needed some extra help or that Paul couldn’t go to himself. At one point Timothy had been sent to Corinth, but it is unclear how he was received there, as it was Titus who was sent on a second journey to Corinth.
In any case, among the letters ascribed to Paul are these two letters addressed to Timothy. While there is some question among scholars as to whether Paul actually wrote them or if they are later letters ascribed to Paul, that is beyond our scope for this morning. They are obviously written later in the development of the church, since there were offices of deacons, which were early developments, but also bishops, a category that only came later as the church became more organized.
These are personal letters from a teacher to a beloved student, child as he is often addressed, and they contain many personal instructions for Timothy to pass on to the churches he was dealing with. Now frankly, some of those instructions have lost their meaning over the centuries, and some have been taken as universal truths, when they clearly are meant for specific situations which we aren’t privy to at this time.
So for example, we don’t know what kind of list widows are to be put on, if they are “real widows” or even what that means. And Paul’s comment that women will “be saved through childbearing” has left most commentators stumped as to exactly what that means. Unfortunately, Paul’s comments about women in these letters have in the past been universalized and used to keep women from exercising their gifts of teaching and ministry. Thankfully we have recognized that this was a localized situation that Paul was speaking to, and that women were often leaders even in the early church.
Of course, other people have used Paul’s advice to Timothy to “no longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” to answer those who advocate abstinence from alcohol, which also universalizes advice that was clearly specific to Timothy and that cultures practices.
But aside from all kinds of specifics we could spend time on and have some fun with -as I did on one occasion when I argued that II Timothy was really about a fishing trip- what is the overarching theme on these letters, and why should we pay any attention to these personal letters from Paul to his younger protégé? Well, above all, the letters to Timothy are about encouragement to teachers and leaders.
First of all, Paul insists that it makes a difference what you teach. Again and again Paul warns about false teachers and about those who want to argue about words and doctrines. He notes in II Timothy that there will be times when people will find teachers that teach what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear. And there will be other teachers around as well. These, Paul says, you need to correct with gentleness. (II Tim. 2:25)
And again Paul includes one an early creed of the church in chapter 3.
What you teach matters. It mattered then, and it still matters. Last Sunday we heard a bit about the new curriculum developed by MennoMedia called Shine, which replaces the Gather Round material. This is material developed in cooperation with other Anabaptist denominations using Anabaptist writers. Why is that important and why should we be using Anabaptist material in our Sunday School?
Well, for the same reason that Catholics use Catholic material or Lutherans use Lutheran material. Each of us approaches the Bible with some different emphases, and concerns and if we want our children, and adults, to understand what we believe and why, then it is important to teach that. What is interesting is that other denominations are finding our Anabaptist material to their liking and it is used almost more by others than by our own Mennonite congregations. I hope we will continue to use it.
And just as important as what you teach is how you teach and who you are as a teacher. While Paul emphasises the importance of correct doctrine, he also stresses the importance of who Timothy, and others, are as persons and as teachers. Thus he gives instructions for who is qualified to be a leader, a deacon or bishop, in the church. And while the specifics he outlines may have changed, the overall qualities are still important.
And he urges Timothy again and again to serve as an example to the church, both in what he teaches and in his conduct as a teacher. Be a faithful interpreter of the scriptures, be persistent, but not quarrelsome. Be gentle with those who oppose you and don’t let them dismiss you just because you are younger. Do not be ashamed of the one in whom we have put out trust. In summary,
“Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture,[e] to exhorting, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.[f] 15 Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (I Tim. 4:12-16)
On the cover of your bulletin is a picture drawn by Nora, a participant in this summer’s VBS. Nora is from California, and was in town with her parents and brother visiting her grandparents and attending Stampede and Folk Festival the following weekend. They found our Stampede breakfast on-line and stayed to hear Barry Luft. And then wondered if they could send the children to VBS for something to do during the day.
Now, I doubt that Nora will remember too much of the content of that week, but what she will remember, reflected in the picture she drew of God, is that she was welcomed and learned that God and God’s people are loving and welcoming. Nora’s mother told me that her husband had assumed they would be bored and not want to come the second day. I suspect the kids will be clamoring to make sure their visit next year also coincides with our VBS!
“Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Whether it’s in our teaching or in our other roles in the church, may we always set an example for those who are watching, so that we can say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (II Tim. 4:7)