October 6, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.” (2 Timothy 2.5,7)
I would title this reflection: Rules of Engagement. I would do so only because yesterday’s focus was on the theme of being a soldier in the Lord’s army. As we read through the first seven verses of the second chapter of Paul’s additional letter to Timothy, we will find pertinent descriptions of the agenda given to Timothy for his ministry. Paul may have sensed an ebbing in intensity or a loss of focus in Timothy. His desire was to make this final push to keep Timothy from waning in his fervor to “keep the faith, fight the good fight and run the race to the finish” as Paul himself was doing. Paul will confess to this later in this letter as we read in a subsequent chapter (4.7f). This would be easy to do for Timothy in light of two important factors concerning his relationship with Paul: first, he hasn’t seen Paul in some time because of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome and their last meeting was certainly a tearful one; second, the likelihood that he would see Paul again was not great as the death sentence had been announced and access to Paul was virtually impossible. Jesus had the opportunity to strengthen and encourage His disciples before He was to be crucified. He reminded them of the prophecies concerning the fate of the Messiah. He shared with them the truth of the current culture and climate of Israel, its leadership, the world and its destitution. He promised them He would return in the fullness of time and in the intervening time the Holy Spirit of God would come upon them and work through them as a constant reminder of the gospel and His charge of love for God and humankind. In this letter, Paul seems to be doing something similar for Timothy. Therefore, Paul seems to give Timothy some talking points, an agenda, by which to remember him and remember himself as a mighty man of God. The promise of these talking points given by Paul comes in verse 7 “the Lord will give you insight into all of this.” By simple reasoning, we know that Paul is speaking of the Resurrected Lord whose promise of the Holy Spirit as counselor, comforter and guide is sealed for all believers by the witness of the resurrection itself. So what is Paul outlining for Timothy? What are his “marching orders” as a leader of the community of faith in Christ?
- Entrust the truth to those who are reliable people capable of teaching others. We can certainly hear the reflection of the Great Commission in this reminder. Jesus told His disciples, “Go, therefore, into all the world making disciples of every nation- baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them all I have commanded you.” Paul had to “fight” for his right to be called an apostle since he was not an “eye witness” to the ministry of Jesus from its beginning to its end. Yet, Paul’s transformation by faith following the revelation of Christ Himself to Paul on the Damascus Road and its confirmation by Ananias served as testimony to the claim of apostleship. Such a position assigned to him the ability to confer the blessing of the Holy Spirit on others and to teach them what it meant to be a follower of Christ, a disciple, literally a student of the Word of God. Paul seems to intimate that he is now affirming that position on to Timothy. Timothy was not just any church leader who could fall back on the authority of Paul in the communities of faith which Paul established during his ministry. Timothy was now a “teacher of teachers” and thus very much like an apostle with full authority to lead and be a leader of leaders.
- Recognize that you are fitted, and thus fitting others, in the service of Christ akin to that of a soldier in the army of the Lord. When I first hear the term “army of the Lord” my mind opens up to the image of angel armies such as what surrounded Elisha and his servant. They not only surrounded Elisha and his servant but they encompassed the armies of the King of Syria who was set to destroy Elisha. There are other mentions of the angel army in both the Old and New Testaments. But, Paul is not speaking of angel armies. He is reminding Timothy that he is one of many who are bound in the service of the Lord to fight against the powers of darkness in all of its manifestation. Timothy would have known of the description of the “full armor of God” which Paul had shared with and through the community of faith in Ephesus. Military language was a familiar context for those who lived in the Roman Empire. Roman soldiers were everywhere. Their presence served as a reminder of the “civilian authority” as opposed to the “divine authority” which the Church represented in a growing number of cities. The Commander-in-Chief of this divine army is none other than Jesus the Christ. It is Him that the Church must follow and Him the Church must please. They were to be that fragrant offering of faith, hope and love as Paul had taught those in the Corinthian community of faith.
- Follow the rules! Not only does Paul use the context of military presence (reflecting the Roman influence) but that of the “olympic” spirit of the games (reflecting the Greek influence.) Both competed for dominance throughout the empire. It was also a way of bolstering the male members of the community of faith in Christ to stay engaged in the Christian life. Their place in the grand scheme of the Church had been critical since the first. I say this not to approve of “male domination” but that our faith history from the beginning is littered with the failures of men to live by the rules of engagement as mighty men of God. Cheaters, slackers, backsliders all believe that somehow they can find their way into Heaven outside the rules established by God’s code of righteousness. The very image of the “thieves” who seek to gain entrance through a window or over the wall into the sheep pen since the good shepherd is on guard as the gate speaks to this truth. John outlines such rules to remind the faith community of Jesus’ declaration “I AM the way, the truth and the life and no one can gain entry to the presence of the Father except by Me.” Now Paul urges Timothy to not only run the race with fervor but with fidelity. “Following the rules of competition” authenticates the victory that is won. Anything beyond that is a commitment to “steal, kill and destroy” which is the objective of the enemy who has “crossed the line” of fidelity, righteousness and the truth which the Church professes.
- Finally, it is the “hardworking” farmer who should be the first recipient of the harvest. There is no such thing as “successful” easy believism or cheapened grace. “Faith without works is dead” (James 2.17ff) and “Works alone cannot save a person; only by faith can one be saved” (Romans 3 and Galatians 2). And while many would see the teachings of Paul and James as contradictory, I believe they are merely two sides of the same coin. Paul’s instruction to Timothy becomes the evidence of the fidelity of the teaching by both Paul and James. It is the “hardworking” farmer who went out to sow seed. The fruit of that hard work was a harvest of thirty, sixty and hundredfold. Only by faith could such a harvest be had. Only by hard work would such a faith be evidenced. So, Paul is not denying the place of works in the work of faith. But, it comes when one follows the rules of engagement as they have been taught by an apostle to other followers some of whom will be ordained as apostles by faith. There is such a rich word of encouragement which I see in Paul’s writing to Timothy.
And what of us, mighty men of God: teachers, soldiers, athletes and farmers of the gospel of faith? Are we not then inspired by the Holy Spirit to “fan the flames” to spread the Word? Paul did not tell Timothy to “fan the flicker” or “fan the coals.” Doing that would only cause the fire to die out. Rather, Paul sees the fire burning in Timothy, the passion for the gospel. He gives final instruction as to how to keep the flame burning hot, straight and normal. It is instruction to us as well, as mighty ones of God- men and women of faith.
Praise to Your Name, Heavenly Father. You have caused us to be stirred in the right direction. That which is right, good and true is food for those who hunger for righteousness and drink for those who thirst for life as Your love inspires. May Your Word, which is Christ to us, strengthen us, encourage us and enliven us in our decision to not only be followers of the Way but teachers of the truth so that we all may live with You forever. Breathe on us, o breath of God, and fan the flame of our desire to be Your children, good shepherds of the flock assigned to us in Jesus’ name. AMEN.