Have you ever read or opened a letter addressed to someone else?
If you were here this morning, you may feel like this is deja vu or that I've been lazy not thinking of my own starter to a sermon. If you were here at church this morning you would have heard Dimitri using the same starter for beginning a series in 2 Corinthians. Well my wife and I laughed knowing the same starter I'd planned for this evening. However having lived in 4 houses in 6 years we could be forgiven for accidentally opening someones else's post. It's as if changing addresses and redirecting post has become our favourite past time. So I wonder if you've ever read or opened a letter addressed to someone else; well we're going to get a chance to do that now; to read a letter from Paul to Timothy, but it is also a letter to us.
If you see at the end of the letter ....
"Do your best to get here before winter. Eubulus greets you, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you."
The 'you' is plural. It was intended for other people in the churches to read too. So we're going to read this 'over his shoulder' as it were and see how it applies to us.
So this is a letter from Paul to Timothy. Paul was an apostle, which means someone who is sent and in the bible it generally means someone who is sent personally by Jesus. So Paul has met Jesus (not quite in the same way as the other apostles but you can ask me about that later) and Jesus has given Paul a job to do, he's sent him to do something, which we'll come onto in minute
So what about Timothy? Who is he? Well Paul has been Timothy's teacher for many years and is a bit like a father figure to him in the christian faith. That's why in v2 Paul calls him "my dear son." Timothy has learned so much from Paul and Paul has trained him and given him responsibility. They've been on missions together, Timothy has been sent out on his own and been imprisoned along with Paul. So he's not a wimp and he's not inexperienced, and Paul has given Timothy the daunting tasking task of sorting out the church in Ephesus which was going off the rails - I Timothy 1v3 Paul begins his letter by saying
"As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer."
Some say Timothy is really shy and is a weakling as he gets ill all the time. Some say 'no, he's been on missions' etc. He may be naturally more timid but perhaps he's not such a wimp but he's tempted to be timid especially when the people he has to face are not very nice and he's up against such impressive false teachers whose teaching spreads so easily; in ch2v17 Paul says
"Their teaching will spread like gangrene."
So what was this false teaching? What was their heresy? It probably involved the misuse of the Old Testament law by failing to see how it points to Christ, which may be why Paul reiterates the centrality of Christ in this letter. But one thing we can take away, as our temptation in the 21st Century may be almost the opposite but with the same failure; perhaps we are tempted to diminish the importance of the Old Testament. We may need to be reminded that the Old Testament is an integral part of the gospel. Later on in 2 Timothy 3v14 onwards Paul shows how the scriptures are useful for salvation because they point to Jesus. And remember; when Paul is writing the word 'scripture' he means the Old Testament as the New Testament had not yet been written. So the Old Testament is an integral part of the gospel. And perhaps that's why Paul mentions his Jewish roots and Old Testament forefathers so early on in this letter verse 3
"I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did,"
We may be surprised that Paul doesn't consider the Jews as enemies; writing them off as having missed the point, but actually says that they were serving God. So don't think that the Old Testament religion was bad. No. It is good. Why? Because it points to Christ. We certainly wouldn't say that Jews today are serving God. They've missed the point - they've missed Jesus even though their religion still points to him. We can of course say that the Jews before Jesus could get things right (obviously not all of them). The heresy (which Paul doesn't spell out) seemed to be Jewish or at least anti-gentile to some degree - Paul had to say in 1 Timothy that salvation was free and was for people from all backgrounds. They were probably Jewish converts who still based their teaching on the Old Testament but missed the point that it pointed to free salvation in Jesus; that the promise of salvation is based not on law, but on union "in Christ." We'll see more of this in a moment.
And now Paul is near the end of his life. He writes this letter from a prison in Rome, not from the relative comfort of house arrest which he's been in before, but now locked away in a dark dungeon verse 8,16 and17. So Paul knows he's near the end of his life and this is his last writing to the church. Chapter 4 verse 6-7
"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
So this is the situation the early church found themselves in; the apostles were all dying out. Those who had access to Jesus, who had seen Jesus and were sent by him were dying out. And you and I are in a similar position today. We don't have access to those who had seen Jesus face to face. We don't have apostles anymore but we do have what the apostles and the eyewitnesses wrote down.
So this is a personal letter to Timothy but like other letters in the Bible it is also for the whole church to read over his shoulder as it were. So in one sense 2 Timothy, which like 1 Timothy and Titus are nicknamed the pastoral letters because they are addressed to Pastors, is a private letter and in one sense a public letter; in other words the churches need to know what the job and standards of pastors are. For example - if you were looking for a pastor or considering being a pastor or serving in pastoral ministry then the pastoral epistles is where you'll find a job description or character spec.
So as we read through this letter we're going to see what a pastor should be like and see what Christian Pastoral Ministry is all about. I put it to you that you'll see Pastoral Ministry is Word ministry. Pastoral Ministry is Word ministry. It's all about the Word. And what is this Word all about? Well we begin to find out by seeing what Paul was sent to do; what Christ commissioned him to do.
"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus."
"the promise of life!" The goal of Paul's ministry is the fulfilment of this promise; the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus. God is a God who always keeps his promises. And he promises that we can have life. As Jesus says in John chapter 10 verse 10
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
God offers true life, real life, life in all its fulness, eternal life, life with meaning and purpose, but most importantly life how it is meant to be; life with our creator who created us and intended us to live life in reference to him. Not life our way; the way we think is best, but our creator's way with him looking after us and us obeying him. And that life lasts forever. It starts now, in this life and although in the Christian life there is suffering on the way I tell you I wouldn't want to be non-Christian again. I've been a non-christian (until I was 15) and this Christian life is so much better but we've also got life with God to look forward to after we die and that life will be perfect. There will be no more sadness or illness or anything bad; Revelation 21 says verse 3
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!"
It will be amazing! - it will be perfect! - it will be beyond our imaginations! For a moment just imagine all the colours of the rainbow. Imagine that there are colours you haven't even seen been before. You can understand -ions! That's what we have to look forward to. That's what we've been promised! And the world doesn't want us to believe that. The world thinks this life is all there is and that this is as good as it gets so we might as well eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. This Christmas I was talking to my non Christian brother about that quote from Ecclesiastes and was trying to explain how daft it was. He thought it was a rather good principle to live by! You see if this is all you have, if there is no afterlife, then it makes perfect sense to be a hedonist and live for pleasure - to live for the here and now. Just as our latest 21st century prophets state in their trying to make sense of life "If I die now before I wake up ask myself - did I give enough love?...Do you really love life?" and "Tonight we gotta live for, We gotta live for these days" Take That 2014. What are we living for? What are you and I living for? You see sometimes our sights are too low. Sometimes we settle for less. Sometimes we're too easily pleased. We're happy with the fake or the counterfeit instead of wanting the genuine article; the real thing - real life. Sometimes we are contented and we even run after the things we can see; the tangible things, the here and now, rather than keeping our eyes fixed on the promise of what is to come our way.
Here's another quote, this time from a wise old Christian,
"It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." (CS lewis 1949)
Do you see what a promise we have? It's life, everlasting life, beyond our finite imaginations. And Where is this life to be found? Verse 1
"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus..."
in Christ Jesus. Christ the messiah, the anointed one, the promised king who would save his people
It is IN Christ. It is found in Christ - in union with HIM. Alone. Only. In him alone. No one else. No other religion. No other way of doing things. Not our own way but God's way. In Christ. The promise of salvation is based not on law, but on union in Christ. If we are saved we are united to Christ, to Jesus the King and nothing can separate us from him; what a promise we have! What a certain promise! If we want to have life after death, if we want to live forever, if we want to have a fulfilled and satisfied life we can only find it in Jesus.
What a message! We are on the road to death and destruction and that's what we deserve because we've not treated God as God, and yet God gives us verse 2 Grace, mercy and peace. God doesn't treat us as we deserve, he is merciful to us, Instead of being enemies with God we can be at peace with God and with each other. And only through Jesus. What a message
The promise of life that is in Christ Jesus. And that is the goal of Paul's ministry - the fulfilment of the promise; the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus. Paul might be an apostle by the will of God but we're all messengers, pastors in particular, but we are all servants of God who tell people of this promise of life! God has promised us that we can have life instead of death. What a great message have to proclaim! What a ministry! There is nothing better in life. Giving people the chance to have eternal life - what could be better? And what a great life we all have if we bear this message, but it's not an easy life, it's a very hard life as we'll see in the coming weeks in the rest of the letter.
It's also a sincere life; Pastoral Ministry involves serving with sincerity. Have a look at Paul in verse 3.
"I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers."
Paul can say he has served God with a clear conscience. How many of us have clear consciences about how we serve God? I know I haven't. Are we not sometimes lazy or selfish or uncaring? We've served ourselves. We've put our own housing and careers and kids' schooling before God, our own DIY projects, our own hobbies. Paul is chained and accused but has a clear conscience. Can we say we've served God with a clear conscience? Are we bold enough like Victoria Wasteney who shared her faith with a muslim colleague and has recently been disciplined by the NHS? Will we shy away from declaring our trust in Christ Jesus and proclaiming the life that can be found in him? At the end of our lives are we going to be able to say that? Thanks be to God that every one of our sins has been laid on our Lord Jesus and we are given his righteousness.
And look at how he prays night and day for Timothy, constantly. And verse 4 - He longs to see him, and he'll be filled with joy when he does again. In Paul's letters you'll see he is so tied to the people he serves. And here's another thing you'll notice about Pastoral ministry; it involves sharing your life with people. Paul's involved. He cares. He loves them. It's emotional. There's nothing wrong with crying, unless you're always crying, but it's emotional serving others and teaching them this message of the promise of life in Christ Jesus. Pastoral ministry is emotional. Paul thanks God for Timothy and he longs and yearns to see him again. Paul remembers Timothy's tears. We don't know for certain but we presume it was at their parting; when they last saw each other. I wonder if there is anyone influential in your life whom you miss? When was the last time you cried that you wouldn't see your overseer for a long time or perhaps ever again, or a spiritual mentor of yours. What are your relationships like? Paul is in the squalor of a dungeon and knows he's not got long left and yet if Timothy was back with him he would (end of v4) "be filled with Joy" - how personal? Relationships. Relationships can bring such Joy. He's in the squalor of a dungeon and knows he's not got long left and yet he can be filled with Joy. See how we can help sustain each other and encourage each other? Do you see that? And notice; this is the younger encouraging the older, the student encouraging the teacher. It's not just one way is it? Paul trained up Timothy. They went on missions together. Paul taught him, but its not just one way. It's not just the bible preacher imparting wisdom to the rest of us. We can encourage the bible teachers. We can fill with joy those who have taught us and those who teach us. Now its worth noting that not all a teacher's students fill them with joy. Later in this letter you can check out the guys who deserted Paul causing him much pain, but Paul and Timothy's relationship was mutually productive. Are yours?
So in summary, as we look over the shoulder of Timothy, what are we to take away from this part of Paul's letter to him?
What do we learn about pastoral ministry?
That it is a Word ministry
That it involves the Old Testament pointing to Christ
That it involves a message - the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus.
That it involves relationships.
That it is a involves serving with a sincerity of conscience.
That it is emotional - involving sadness and joy
and That it is a personal ministry
And its a ministry for all of us