This Epistle lesson can be divided into two parts, both with rich content, both richly setting up proclamation of the Law and the Gospel. Verses 1-7 comprise the first section. Here, the Apostle admonishes more than encourages Timothy to rekindle the “gift” with which he was endowed upon his ordination by Saint Paul (1 Timothy 1:6). Our curiosity would like to know precisely what that “gift” was Paul mentions. The context seems to give both insight to the identification of the gift and why Paul was admonishing Timothy to “stir up” the gift.
Two factors are at play: (1) What a divinely gifted Timothy is now capable of understanding and proclaiming about the reality which has broken into the world, and (2) the societal upheaval the Church’s values are forcing upon the life of Timothy and all Christians. Timothy is struggling with the latter and it is affecting the former. This double helix will unfold in the text that Timothy’s gift was the ability to interpret Scripture (i.e., the Hebrew Scriptures as there was not a New Testament of which to speak) and teach God’s Word (now inclusive of the Gospel of Christ–the New Covenant) with power, but also the authority and ability to shepherd a congregation. The “gift” to be rekindled was a combination of both.
The reason for the admonishment was Timothy seemed to be exhibiting some timidity about these things because the scandal of the Gospel was manifesting itself through the disincentives of being a Christian and being a leader of Christians—including Paul’s very own imprisonment and others pressuring Timothy to assume his place in society’s cultural structures. These societal norms, where young men do not teach older men and honor is measured by status and standing, were being exploded by those who followed Christ, not Caesar. In the eyes of the Empire, Paul, the very man who ordained Timothy into service to Christ, is dishonorably incarcerated. This is reflecting on Timothy as he is preaching the lordship of a condemned and crucified Jew–the “dishonorable” message Paul commissioned him to declare, seriously subverting all cultural norms. Not to mention, it was a treasonous message as well. That, too, is pressing upon the conscience of Timothy.
In his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle warned not to let others look upon him dubiously because of his comparative youth (1 Timothy 4:12). He had to intervene with the Corinthians, too, so they would not dismiss Timothy’s authority because it did not comport with their societal norm (1 Corinthians 16:10-11). Now he tells Timothy how the Spirit which is at work in him, empowering him for authentic pastoral ministry, is not a spirit of fear or timidity, but a spirit of power, love and prudence. The success of his pastorate depends upon the exercise of all three.
Timothy’s incipient wavering (though not going quite so far), draws inviting connections with today’s “comfortable Christian” (who does not rock the boat by asserting the truth of the whole counsel of God) and “convenient Christianity” (where one is happily Christian, predicated upon the condition it does not espouse any expectation which may run counter to the cultural tide, and so engender the possibility of embarrassment, distinctiveness, or peculiarity). Here, the Law may do its work or, more truthfully, the Holy Spirit may apply the Law accordingly.
Timothy has been given gifts to fulfill his office by way of the assertion of truth. This requires backbone and bravery. Luther said as much in his lifetime. Originally writing in Latin, Luther said, “The Holy Spirit is not a skeptic. The very mark of a Christian is the way of assertion.” Assertion, yes, but a loving assertion. The young pastor has the ability to do and speak things that change situations, to give wisdom which proves compelling, to address sin and corruption, and to bring healing and hope where it is most needed. This ministry of the Gospel, this standing in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, is demanding business and is entirely unsuitable for the weak-willed or those who compromise with the zeitgeist of the day.
In the second section, versus 8-14, the Apostle presents to Timothy, again, just exactly what has turned the world upside down—the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Through the lens of the living Christ, Timothy must learn to see, understand, interpret and engage the world. This reality and the gift imparted to him are sufficient to shake off his apprehension and embolden him for the task at hand.
NT Wright provides a number of helpful insights into the content of this pericope. First, he explains how the world of Paul and Timothy had a highly developed set of codes for honor and shame; a carefully graded system of social power and prestige. It was the ultimate, “suck up society,” where you curried the favor of the one above, because society demanded it and because it reflected well on you. This understanding saturated the culture of the Empire.
Enter one Apostle Paul—chained prisoner, outlaw, outcast. In that society, he was a bottom-dweller. The stigma of imprisonment (still very much present today) was all over him and, to make matters worse, there was also the notion of, “guilt by association.” Wright draws the implication:
The reason he was in there was because what he had been doing and saying was seen as an offense to the people in power. He was announcing a royal message, a ‘gospel’ which clashed, head-on with the royal message on which the Roman empire was built: the announcement that Caesar was Lord, the promise of his power to save the world, the prospect of his royal appearing in a city or province that obeyed his rule. ‘Paul in prison,’ meant, ‘Paul out of favor with the power-brokers of his day.’
Now think of Timothy, his apprentice, having to operate in a milieu like that. Even being part of the Church seemed to have nothing but societal disincentives, much less leading the Church. There was no doubt pressure for some to disassociate from Paul and, therefore, from Christ and His Church. The antidote to this temptation—then and now—is to recognize and assert all-the-more the power Paul referenced in verses 1-7: God’s power, brought to light through the resurrection of the crucified Christ (1:10). God’s Word, God’s Spirit, God’s Kingdom reality overrides and upends all earthly powers, structures and so-called norms. Thus, Paul states it plainly: “Do not be ashamed then of testifying about our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but [take your] share in suffering for the Gospel by the power of God” (1:8).
Wright then offers a fitting conclusion to our pericope:
This is the main theme of the passage: if Timothy really understands the nature of God’s power [i.e., resurrection power!], he will learn to line up his sense of true honor and share in relation to God Himself, instead of in relation to the fickle, shifting and, at best, secondary earthly powers.
Concordia Theology- Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching 2 Timothy 1:1-14.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 2 Timothy 1:1-14.