Hello from a new state! Since my last blog post, I have moved 9 hours and 2ish states away from home, celebrated my 21st birthday, and started the 215 Residency at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY. After coronavirus delayed the residency’s start date by two months, it’s relieving to finally be where I’m supposed to be. In fact, the 215 Residency, named for 2 Timothy 2:15, is actually (sort of) what inspired today’s post.
In my time at Bible college, our course on the “Pastoral Epistles” to Timothy and Titus was one of my favorite classes. I often left class thinking how cool it would have been to be Timothy. Now that I’ve graduated and am actually trying to do this thing, Paul’s letters to his budding ministry protégé have taken on renewed significance in my life. 2 Timothy is chock-full of instructions and guidelines for living as a minister of the gospel. As I’ve reread the letters in the last few days, I was struck by their pertinence not only for vocational ministers, but for all of us in 2020. Even the very next verse after 2:15 hits a little too close to home.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene.” – 2 Timothy 2:15-17 (ESV)
Next time you’re on Facebook, I have a challenge for you. Start a mental tally counting any post that could be categorized as “irreverent babble” or “empty/godless chatter,” and once you get to five posts, call it a day for social media. (Bonus points: if you catch yourself thinking “Yeah, I’m going to convince everyone to see reason by posting this comment,” post 2 Timothy 2:16 instead and then call it a day.)
“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” – 2 Timothy 2:22-26
It’s interesting to note Paul’s emphatic warning against quarreling, of all things. With baseball canceled, quarreling has become America’s new pastime. What stood out in particular from this passage (largely because our residency director pointed it out) was Paul’s alternative to quarreling. He instructs Timothy (and, in this case, you and me) to replace quarrelsomeness with kindness – but not a wimpy kindness. We’re called to a kindness that patiently endures evil, is able to teach others, and gently corrects our opponents when necessary. We’re called to a disarming kindness that can enter conversations or comment sections to point towards the Truth.
Correction necessitates confrontation on some level, and we must trade quarrelsomeness for kindness if we’re going to navigate it well. Of course, sometimes this correction will still be received with quarreling, which I suspect might be why Paul includes “patient endurance” in the list. This endurance in kind engagement with those with whom we disagree might just be used to bring someone to their senses. Of course, we should be prepared for the possibility that it won’t, since Paul also informs us that
“in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” – 2 Timothy 3:1-3:5
Just because we’re kind doesn’t mean we forego discernment in our community. In letting us know what to expect, Paul gives a checklist of character traits to identify in people we’re to avoid. May this be a useful tool with which we evaluate ourselves, our friends, our politicians, and anyone else we associate with our witness.
If we’ve been warned that we’ll face difficult people, we’ve definitely been warned that we’ll face with difficult trials. Wouldn’t you know it, Paul had some guidance for those times, too.
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:12-17
As a pastor’s kid who grew up in church, I appreciate Paul’s reassurance here. “You’ve been acquainted with this since childhood. I know things are crazy, but we expected it, so now remember what you already know and continue in your hope!” Hearkening back to chapter two, he provides the framework for proper teaching and correction: the same “sacred writings” that Timothy already knows. Not only is there reverence for the Scripture breathed by God Himself, but also practical appreciation for the words that equip Christ-followers for every good work.
Growing up, and especially at Bible college, I often heard people make comments about their love for Scripture, and never fully understood them. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve always liked the Bible – like, it’s always been cool. I’ve been impressed by God’s ability to communicate through it, by the connections waiting to be made, or by the depths of a good word study. I’ve been awed by moments of clarity that exceed what I’m capable of on my own. I’ve wanted to know Scripture more and better; Ozark Christian College trained me well for that. I’ve generally found it useful (or at least believed it to be). But it wasn’t until recent months that I started to actually love it. The other day, in a new office at a new job, I found myself wishing I could fast-forward to the next morning when I knew I’d have time to sit and read for a while, and I realized I love it. I love it in the way I love a conversation with a wise teacher or friend, but I also love it in the way a sailor adrift at sea loves the raft that carries him through a storm.
I don’t say that to make Scripture-reading into something sappy; that excitement and dependence took a long period of discipline to cultivate. The feeling could, I suppose, fade much faster than it grew, but even if it waned, Scripture’s profitability would not. It has proven itself useful time and time again. Hopefully 2 Timothy’s application to our current climate has provided evidence of this. Whether faced with myths, controversies, conspiracy theories, or outright heresies, Paul points back to Scripture as our standard for truth and guide for action.
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” – 2 Timothy 4:1-5