Change: Timothy

Change: Timothy
A Message on 2 Timothy 4:1-5
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 8, 2021
By Doug Wintermute

2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NRSV)

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2 proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3 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, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5 As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

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As we continue our sermon series on “Change,” today we will be looking at a person that was very instrumental in the early church: Timothy.

Timothy was a young protege of the Apostle Paul and worked closely with Paul during his missionary journeys. It is believed that Timothy grew up in Lystra, which is in what is nowadays Turkey. Lystra was on a main road that went through the cities of Ephesus, Sardis, Antioch, Iconium (modern day Konya, Turkey) and then to Lystra.

According to those that study these things, it is believed that Paul met Timothy when he stopped in Lystra on his second missionary journey. Paul stopped in the town on his first journey and helped establish a church there of people who followed Jesus Christ. And his second time through he meets Timothy, hears lots of good things about him from the local people, and then takes Timothy under his wing to become his protege and help establish churches.

Timothy wasn’t your normal apostle for several reasons. First off, he was young.

Scholars don’t agree on exactly how old he was when he started helping Paul (scholars rarely agree on anything, right?), but most say around late teens or early 20s. In the culture of the time wisdom came with age, and because Timothy was young some people didn’t take him seriously simply because he was young.

In those days the older men (sorry about that women, but that’s the way it was) would gather at the gates of the cities and talk about things and dispense wisdom. To be one of those wise elders you had to have a lot of life experience and, of course, be older. It was a prestigious thing and generally not available to the younger men.

Paul certainly knew about the disadvantage Timothy had because of his age. If we look at the preceding book of the Bible to what we know as 1 Timothy we find Paul writing this: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12

Another thing Timothy had against him was that fact that was of mixed heritage. His mother was Jewish and his father was Greek, and that was a problem. The Jews considered themselves to be God’s people and considered anyone who wasn’t Jewish to be a Gentile. And Gentiles were frowned upon by the Jewish people. Jews were supposed to marry other Jews only.

In Deuteronomy 7:3-4 we find this written about the Hebrew people’s relationship with the people they were to drive out of the promised land, the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites: “Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.”

Timothy’s mother didn’t follow that law, though, and married a Greek man. Even though she maintained her Jewish faith before becoming a follower of Jesus, there was an asterisk by her name. Timothy’s parents were not only from two different cultures, but they also spoke two different languages and had two, completely different religions. And neither culture accepted the other, meaning Timothy grew up without a sense of culture belonging that most others of that time had. In many ways he was a persona non grata.

So Timothy has two strikes against him: he was young, and he was of mixed heritage. As a result he started out with huge obstacles to overcome as an evangelist of Jesus Christ. So because of that Timothy said to himself, “Well I might as well just give up and let other more qualified people tell people about Jesus.” Right?

No. Just the opposite. He threw himself into the work of telling others about the saving grace of Jesus Christ, devoting himself completely to spreading the Good News. He traded a relatively safe life for a life full of change and the unknown. To badly paraphrase Robert Frost, Timothy took the more difficult road, full of change and challenges.

In our world today we live in an age of specialists. Take medicine, for example. Most of you know that my dad was an old-school doctor. When I was growing up he built his own 30-bed hospital (and I mean that literally) and he was the only doctor there. He did everything. He did surgery, saw people in the emergency room, delivered babies, made rounds, and even went on house calls. He served as a primary care physician, OB/GYN, surgeon; ear, nose and throat; podiatrist, pediatrician, cardiologist, dermatologist, internal medicine, emergency medicine, oncologist, orthopedist, gastroenterologist, and probably a bunch more that I can think of right now.

We have all kinds of specialists today. Unfortunately that mindset carries over into our spiritual lives as well. We think that Christianity is only for the specialists and therefore think we don’t fit in anywhere. We say, “Well, I’m not comfortable in sharing my faith. I don’t know the Bible that well. If I try to share my faith with someone and they ask me a question I may not know the answer and I don’t want to mislead them. So I’ll just keep my faith to myself and let the specialists handle it.”

But that is just the opposite of what we are called to do as Christians. We are called to spread the good news, just as Timothy was. We all have different gifts, given to us by God, but each one of us are to use those gifts for a specific purpose: to make disciples.

Paul knew the challenges Timothy faced, but he didn’t use those challenges as excuses to keep from calling him to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ and, in doing so, making disciples.

Instead, this is what Paul tells Timothy: “I solemnly urge you: 2 proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.”

Did you catch that first part? “I solemnly urge you…” The NIV translates that as “I give you this charge…” The King James translation begins the whole paragraph with “I charge thee.” The Contemporary English Version says, “I command you…” And The Message paraphrases it as “I can’t impress this on you too strongly.”

All of those phrases imply that Paul is not just asking Timothy nicely to do something. Paul doesn’t say, “If you want to,” or “If you feel like it.” No. There is an urgency, a much stronger language that is used.

Paul follows that up with, “proclaim the message.” In other words, tell people about Jesus Christ. When we hear that we think primarily of speaking, but I believe it means much more than that. Yes, talking is something we should do, but there are many non-verbal communication techniques that we should use as well.

There’s an old saying: “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.” (That quote is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but the truth of the matter is he didn’t say that. Bummer.) The gist of that quote is that while our words are important, if we don’t also live out the gospel then our words are meaningless.

The late author Brennan Manning says at the beginning of the DC Talk song, “What If I Stumble,” “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

Like Timothy, we are to proclaim the Good News in both word and deed. That means both. We still need to proclaim to others the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are to tell others the big changes we have experienced as followers of Jesus Christ. And we are to live as if those changes are important as well.

Next Paul says, “be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.” This is important.

That applies to us today as well. Back when I was a “civilian” and just a church member and not a pastor, Pam and I attended St. Luke’s UMC in Jacksonville. There was a woman that worked at the Kilgore newspaper that I worked with regularly as part of my job in public relations at Kilgore College. I invited her to church over and over and over. I did that for four years. Four. Years. And then one day she visited, and then again, and then ended up joining and becoming a faithful member.

Like Paul tells Timothy, we are to be persistent. Not in a bad or overly aggressive way, (like those robo calls about your car’s extended warranty), but what I like to call lovingly persistent. Too often today we try once or twice and then give up. When it comes to spreading the Good News, though, we are to be lovingly persistent.

Paul tells Timothy to be persistent “whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.” As followers of Christ we are to be ambassadors for Jesus regardless of what is happening in the world around us. When times get tough, say a world-wide pandemic, people need Jesus more than ever. But let’s not forget the good times, either, because it’s during the good times that people often forget about God and fall away.

The last phrase that Paul uses in that sentence to Timothy (and to us) is “convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.”

There are some challenges to that phrase. For example, our human nature likes to rebuke. There is something in our psyche that makes us feel superior or even almost giddy to point out other people’s failures or how they messed up. There is some judgement involved. But in doing so we often overlook the log in our own eye as we point out the speck in someone else’s eye.

We are to rebuke lovingly. That doesn’t mean we can’t disagree. We can, and we should. And we should stand up for what is right and make our voices heard. But we should do so in a loving way. As Paul writes in Philippians 4:5, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.”

In addition to telling Timothy (and us) to rebuke, Paul also tells him to encourage. This is one of the easiest and most effective things we can do, but often we pass up opportunities to do so every single day.

For example, if you have been out to eat at a restaurant you know that restaurants are having difficulties getting enough people to work. It really has been a challenge. Instead of complaining about it, be encouraging to the people who DO show up to work. Tell your waiter/waitress, “Thanks for working so that we can enjoy a meal here today. We really appreciate it.” And then, of course, give them a tip that says “thank you” as well.

Volunteer for our Mini Methodist program which will start next month. A lot of the kids that come to Mini Methodists don’t receive much encouragement in their lives. You can see it on their faces. You will be shockingly surprised at how an encouraging word can transform them. It is so powerful, and many of them need to hear those words so badly.

Paul finishes with, “with the utmost patience in teaching.” Oh, there’s the “p” word. Patience. Yikes. You do know that when you pray for patience God will, instead of giving you patience, provide opportunities for you to practice that patience, don’t you? Oh, it’s so difficult.

We live in an instant gratification world. We can get on Amazon and get almost anything in the world delivered to us on our front door step in two days. We can not only email with people clear on the other side of the world, but we can video chat with them in real time. It seems like we have instant everything. And yet there is a spiritual discipline to practicing patience.

That’s why I like gardening. Nothing happens instantly in gardening. Gardening is about patience and hope. And the rewards are soooooo good! (My dad said the two things in life that are the hardest to find are true love and vine ripe tomatoes.)

We should be patient with people as we share the Gospel with them. Like us, they are a work in progress. Plant those seeds of love, hope, and faith, and be patient, Keep planting those seeds, but do so with patience.

Paul finishes out the scripture we read today with these words: “…always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.”

As Christians, we should live out those words. We are all evangelists whether we want to be or not. When we become Christians, we become Christ to others. For the unchurched, the only Jesus that they may ever encounter is the Jesus they see in us. It can be good, or it can be very un-Jesusy. We have that choice. Being a Christian is not a part-time responsibility. It is full time, 24-7.

My challenge to you this week is to live out Paul’s words to Timothy: “…proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.”

And why should we do that? Paul tells us: “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, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” Folks that time isn’t coming, it is here. Boy, is it here.

Therefore we should “…always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.”

Jesus gave his life on the cross out of his love for us. We should live our lives like Timothy out of our love for God and for others. Plant those seeds. God will water them, the Holy Spirit will grow them, Jesus Christ will save them.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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