Paul writes a second letter to his protégé and spiritual son Timothy for a reason. Just by looking at chapter one you can see generally why– Timothy is in a bit of a rut. He’s weary and tired from the work he’s been doing particularly by not having his mentor and father Paul around to encourage him on. More than not being there as a motivator and friend, Timothy’s only news of Paul is that he’s suffering in prison. In some form or another, we all have found ourselves (if not right now) in a similar spot of spiritual discouragement.
Now I know I’ve written about weariness, what it looks like to run this race of Christ, and even the violent oppression that comes when actively living out the Gospel. But I think Timothy’s case is much more specific than what I’ve addressed, Paul’s response to it is much more focused than what I’ve written, and the topic can’t be exhausted anytime soon.
How do I know when I’m in a similar spot of discouragement like Timothy’s? I start asking questions. Lot’s of questions. You see, it’s not the man who’s full of joy and happiness who is going to meditate into the late hours of the night why he’s feeling the way he does. You never hear a woman yearning for the answer to her question of why everything is going so well. “Why, oh why! Why is everything going according to plan?”
If you’re like me, then we’re like David as we see him writing the Psalms. It’s always pretty clear when David is in a spiritual depression or period of discouragement:
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” Psalm 42:5, 43:5
As David writes his songs, he’s constantly questioning God, himself and others around him when he has spun into his (frequent) depressions which usually were brought on by hardships around him.
“How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” Psalm 13:1
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” Psalm 22:1
Even as Job endures hardship:
“Why did I not die at birth, come out of the womb and expire? Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse?” Job 3:11-12
If you’ve found yourself asking questions like this, Timothy can relate. For him, the questions centered around the calling that he had received from God to live the tremendously hard lifestyle of an early Christian. He’s supposed to be proclaiming the Gospel and news of Jesus to everyone, yet it’s this Gospel that’s causing him to suffer and putting his mentor into shackles. If this was good news, why was it making their lives a living hell?
I think we all have these moments, and if you haven’t then you will. The moment comes when the “Jesus Way” is opposite of the “Easy Way.” When the road of the Cross leads you toward ridicule and not praise, suffering and not comfort, prison and not freedom, death and not the fantasized life of growing old while rocking in a wicker chair on your porch as the sun sets. The fork in the road will appear if it hasn’t, dividing into separate paths what you desire and think you need with what God demands of you.
Yes, a perfectly loving father of a God would do this. Yes, there are biblical and non-biblical historic accounts of it. Timothy, along with any other Christian who were able to say at the end of their lives like Paul does at the end of this letter, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” are examples of men and women who have come to that fork in the road and chosen God.
But how? Why? There are countless places in scripture we can go to answer this but I want to just stick to how Paul exhorts Timothy to get through this discouragement, or what I’ll dub the “rocky road” in the first chapter of 2 Timothy.
“… as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.”
One of the reasons that Timothy got through his weariness was because he had someone who was lovingly invested into him, who would be willing to pray for them day and night and take the time to encourage and build them up. No one could console you better than Jesus himself, but it was through Paul that Jesus worked to provide that consolation in a physical form to Timothy. (Col. 1:24)
What’s this mean for you? Plug into a Christian community if you haven’t already, and look around for older Christians. They don’t have to be antique, but it certainly helps to have a “Pauline” figure who’s been around and fought his or her good fight for a little while. When you find them, begin building that relationship. Paul’s relationship with Timothy, which I talked about in my last post, didn’t happen over night. It took a while of running the race with each other, but it had to have started somewhere.
I know some of you whom I’m writing to don’t have a Christian community and this wisdom seems useless. But begin praying for a person like this and working harder to find and be a part of a Christian community– it can be life for your faith to have one, and death without one.
“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self control.”
It is the Holy Spirit, which God has given us as Christians, that empowers us with the same strength, encouragement, and hope that Jesus himself had while enduring the sufferings of the road to Cavalry. Paul is reminding Timothy that he indeed has been given a Spirit and that the Holy Spirit is not one of fear. It is of power, love, and self control. Be reminded of spirit which dwells inside of you, that very same dosage that Jesus had, which is the power of God to get you through the rocky road.
“Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord.”
There’s a conscious decision in our minds to either be ashamed, or not to be ashamed of something. Paul is telling Timothy to do the latter for the Gospel. Yes, it is God that empowers us to get through the rocky road that would otherwise be impossible without his help, but that doesn’t mean we don’t do anything. Actively affirming to ourselves the message of the Gospel and what Christ has achieved on the cross is vital, especially when that truth is the motivating factor of walking the rocky Christian road to begin with.
“Share in the suffering for the gospel by the power of God.”
Here’s a hard part to it– don’t run from the hard things that come up. Paul says, “Share in the suffering,” which can interpreted as “take it when it comes.” Why? Paul rejoices in his sufferings, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produce character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” (Romans 5:3-5) Hebrews 2:10 explains how Jesus was made perfect through suffering. Suffering, like the training leading up to a marathon run, isn’t bad; it’s just uncomfortable.
“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is talking about his written and spoken word, the former of which we have in our possession today. The Bible is the most important tool we could have as we walk on the rocky road. It is a navigational map and instruction manual for life– “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105 Heck, it’s where all of these ideas were gathered from to begin with! Read it, meditate on it, follow it. Paul will say later on in the letter to Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” (v. 7)
That’s it. Thank God for Timothy who’s learning of this rocky road was documented for us. The road that Jesus calls us to walk on is hard, but not impossible. Others have done it and are doing it now.
“Know that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:9-11)