Sometimes we come to these places in the Bible that defy our ability to lay out the text in a logical progression of concepts and propositions, and instead, what is given is the layering of one life upon another, of one story upon another, the sharing of experiences in the hope that growth and encouragement will take place.
The letter under our consideration this past Sunday is just such an example of this.
It is a tale of two cities, Rome and Ephesus.
It is a tale of a father, and his spiritual son.
It is a tale of
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus…
(2 Timothy 1:1, ESV)
Friend, Paul is near the end of his life. Many scholars believe that this letter is probably the last thing he he wrote before his death, before he was beheaded because he proclaimed Jesus unapologetically and fearlessly. So as he writes, he does so in the shadow of the executioner. He does so with the knowledge that his time is likely coming to an end.
And he is “suffering acutely from the boredom and the cold of prison life, in a dismal underground dungeon with a hole in the ceiling for light and air, suffering acutely from loneliness (John Stott).”
It blows me away and breaks my heart that a man who had given so much to so many finds himself with no one to stand by him, and no one to comfort him. Think of the stories of his exploits that we have heard in our study of the Whole Story, all the way back to the book of Acts, through all the letters we’ve already read and considered these past months.
And despite that, at his first defense, no one came to stand by him, but all deserted him—the totality of Asian believers have (almost unbelievably) turned away from Paul.
Over and over in this letter we can hear the pain in his voice as he recounts so many who have turned away, so many he had invested in, so many who have abandoned the faith, pursued the world, and left him.
And he’s cold, for he had left his outer, heavier cloak with his friend Carpus, in Troas. And winter is coming—it is only going to get colder. And he has no books, and above all, he has none of his parchments of Scripture to comfort him. And he is likely tired, and hungry, and because of all this, he is discouraged. I can hear it in his voice when he shares how badly he wants to be visited, how badly he longs for the company of those closest to him, who still are pursuing the cause of the good news of his King, Jesus. That someone would come soon.
Someone like Timothy, his beloved child (1:2), his spiritual son.
Timothy is the reason he writes this letter. Timothy is the one who appears constantly in Paul’s mind, night and day, as he goes to the Father in prayer. Timothy, who is so often ill, and needs a little wine to help aid his frequent stomach problems. Timothy, who while gifted, is still so young in the faith and in ministry. Timothy, who is feeling the weight of pastoral leadership in a difficult city, and difficult church, with strong personalities coming against him. Timothy, whose flame of faith is flickering, in danger of going out.
And if that happens, what of Ephesus? What of the countless souls languishing in darkness? If Paul dies, and if Timothy turns away and does not hold fast, what of the kingdom? If Timothy does not entrust to other men the good deposit that has been entrusted to him, the flame of the good news may go out in his city, and people will perish, apart from Jesus. They will suffer an eternity of torment because Timothy was unwilling to endure a life of suffering.
So Paul writes. He writes with hands and fingers shaking from the cold, a body aching from laying on a stone slab, but with a heart on fire for Jesus and filled with love for Timothy, and the hope of the good news for the next generation, and the generation after that, and the generation after that.
In this letter, the tales of two cities converge.
Two lives converge.
The stories of a father and his son converge,
as the apostle pours out his heart to enflame his son for Jesus, and those Jesus means to save.
With those two men, in those two cities, living those two stories, imagine what it would be like for Timothy to have someone rush into the house, “Timothy! I’ve a letter from Paul!”
Imagine the countless thoughts that must have rushed through his mind, how his heart rate must have doubled, as he unfurled a parchment, wondering what his spiritual father may have to say. Would he challenge? Would he rebuke? Would he encourage? Would there be some bit of advice, a breakthrough for ministry?
As we open our Bibles to 2 Timothy, that is what we hold in our hands, contained for us in the larger story found in this book. An urgent communique just as much for us, as it was for young Timothy, over 2,000 years ago. Just as precious, just as necessary, just as life-giving.
I invite you now to watch or listen to my sermon from Paul’s second letter to his spiritual son, Timothy. And if you’d like some additional resources on this book, head on over to the Bible Project page for this part of the Whole Story.
May God use his Word to inspire you to help just one other person move one step closer to Jesus.
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