October 9, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace alongside those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2.22)
When I was a classroom instructor teaching a Communications Application class, I challenged each student on the first day of the term to come up with a job where their success does not depend on others. It was a homework assignment so there was no classroom discussion. After several terms, everyone scheduled for this class knew the assignment was coming and yet “no one could provide an answer.” Why? There is no job that you can be successful at that does not include others! So what is the lesson of that lesson? The lesson is that we must learn how to truly communicate effectively with others in order to be truly successful in whatever we do. Paul challenged Timothy, in verse 2 of this chapter, to “entrust the things I have said to you to reliable people who then will also be qualified to teach others.” Our purpose on earth is to build community and strengthen it to the level of success that befits the kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven. Paul then uses three illustrations to help define this intent of the content of authentic discipleship: a good soldier, a competitive athlete and a hardworking farmer. It is important to note the adjectives Paul uses to call attention to the intent of the content of each position. They all strive for success recognized by others as purposeful for the good of others. In chapter 4, Paul will share with Timothy the satisfaction he has felt for “fighting the good fight, running the race to the finish and keeping the faith.” The result of this is the “crown of righteousness” which is in store for him as was promised by faith in Jesus Christ. But, it was not for him alone. It was for all who remain faithful in their longing for the return of the King. The intent of the content of the gospel is for others, many others, to know the crown of righteousness is waiting to be presented to them. But, it is not given as a reward or separating honor. This crown is given to signify the fulfillment of one’s sanctification, that is- being set aside for a special purpose in serving God and others for the sake of the God…and, subsequently, for the benefit of others before self.
We are made for others! We are not made for ourselves alone. Even if we are to follow the “second” creation story as presented in Genesis, chapter 2, where man is created as a singular being, the intent of the content of his life is to be in right relationship with God, the Heavenly Father and the Holy Other. That creation intent was apparently lost on man in light of the testimony of the rest of God’s creation. What did Adam see in all of creation but the pairing and community of “others.” They were all in the world for the benefit of Adam but he could not see their true benefit because he could not fathom that his greatest purpose was to be in singular relationship with God. So, God, created an other that was significantly designated for Adam. We might even consider that in Adam existed the fullness of the one who was to relate fully to the One. But, even in that One we know there was a common unity of three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. There was no uniformity of this “three in one.” Rather, there was unity in the harmonizing of the three identities blending together in one perfect presentation. I guess Adam was not nearly so objective as the Trinity about his identity and potential to fulfill his purpose on earth. God heard Adam’s conundrum (Genesis 2.20, “But, there was no suitable helper for Adam among all that God had created to help him do his work and be fulfilled by it”) and answered it with taking from Adam that which became his suitable helpmate, and vice-versa, Eve. Now, Adam could more easily objectify such harmony and unity for himself. The problem seemed that he didn’t apply such learning back to his first love which was intended to be “God alone.” We still have issues with that today, sadly, and it is manifesting itself in all types of “self”-centered identities which have no intention of honoring God as their first love. Now, Paul addresses what seems to be the struggle in Timothy. In verse 22, we hear “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace alongside those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” It would seem that Timothy, regardless of his age at that time, was still captured and challenged by youthful desires. I won’t even begin to reflect on those in this writing, but we all know the needs we have as we begin to explore and identify our intra-dependence before we recognize our true need for inter-dependence. I continue to get the feeling that Paul saw more of himself in Timothy and believed that Timothy should embrace the same as a disciple for Christ and a prospective apostle. We know, of course, that Paul, as would the other disciples, saw time on this earth as short. They believed that Jesus was coming soon in light of the worldly challenges presented against them with persecution and execution. Who wouldn’t cry out for Jesus to come and save them from the evils of the world so they could live in peace. The situation was filled with an air of defeat and longing. Paul, and other disciples, continued to wrestle with presenting the gospel hope in the communities of faith that were forming throughout the empire and perhaps beyond (consider that Thomas ended up in what is now India, a region not a part of the Roman Empire at that time.) They must hold on to their “first love” which was faithfulness to Jesus Christ as the “way, truth and life.” As Paul, and then the other disciples/apostles, were martyred the hope of Jesus’ return had to wane. John captured this with the remembering of Jesus’ words, “before the last disciple dies…” But, hope was not lost! It was not lost because the community of faith continued to bind itself together believing that God would not fail in His relationship with them in this world and in the next. To consider anything else would be of the “evil desires of one’s youth.” Those desires placed the need of self before others and found comfort in those like minds instead of the like mind, heart and spirit of fellow believers who stayed focused on the righteousness of God revealed in Jesus as the Christ.
The keyword in this would be “alongside, with others.” Timothy would not be able to stay the course, keep the command or reap the harvest by his own work. He had to pursue coming alongside others in order to experience his true identity as servant, friend and cohort of the gospel and the gospel community. In the first chapter of 2 Timothy, Paul mentions that their last meeting was filled with tears. We understand the tears of longing, sadness, loss and farewell. Now, in the time of Paul and in his relationship with Timothy, there needed to be a resolution to the sadness and to replace it with gladness. This “last” letter was not intended to be an emergency call but an urgent notification. As Paul had earlier written to the community of faith in Corinth, “When I was a child (immature in faith) I thought like a child, acted like a child and was for all intents and purposes childish. But, the time came to put childish things away and be a man (maturing in faith) to think like a man, act like a man and for all intents and purposes be “a man of God.” He also used the illustration of looking into a “mirror” that did not fully reflect who he was as a sign of his time. What he longed for was to see himself clearly and then he would know himself as he himself was fully known…by God in and through Jesus Christ. Most mirrors in Paul’s day were polished metal. The greater the polished state of the metal the more it reflected the image appearing in it. It took hard work, determination and patience to bring that metal to a mirror image. Relating to one’s spiritual life you can see the impact of that illustration. Paul, for the sake of Timothy, saw the urgency in getting Timothy to find his true image in Christ. In reality for Timothy, as it is for us, it is getting to find the true image of Christ in us. It is in His image, after all, that we were created by faith and then recreated by grace. There was, and is, no time for childish pursuits and the following of “evil” desires. And what are those evil desires? Well, Paul begins to list them out in the rest of his letter of urgency to Timothy. We can sum them up today by pointing out they are the “prioritizing of self before all others and most importantly before God.” We dare not recreate God’s image nor intent for our content into our own image or those proposed by the world of “evil desires” and call it “good and very good.” We must walk by faith and not by sight, believing for what we do not yet fully see but will one day come face to face with and rejoice that it is Jesus our Lord who loves us and has come for us to be alongside of Him where He is now.
You have always been looking out for us and calling us into the paths of righteousness for Your Name’s sake. Your love is unfailing and that is what we desire to receive and reflect- unfailing love. We pray that our level of commitment to serve You and others with unfailing love will bring to view the image in which we have been made- Jesus Christ. It is by His name and through His witness that we live, serve and pray today. AMEN.