T-mail, Timothy mail is what weve got on our lectionary this morning. We are reading a little bit from a letter we think the apostle Paul wrote about 2000 years ago to a friend, to encourage him and to give him some advice.
They lived far apart, about 2000km as the crow flies in fact. As there were no airplanes in those days and no cars it was quite a long way to travel. Paul was a prisoner in Rome and Timothy a church leader in Ephesus. There werent any phones in those days, so the only thing they could do if they wanted to stay in contact was write letters to each other.
I imagine that if they had had email at the time, they would surely have used it to send each other messages that way.
Lets listen to part of the message Paul wrote to his friend Timothy in Ephesus, Reading 2Timothy 3:14-4:5
So the letter were reading this particular passage from this morning was written to a guy by the name of Timothy. We know from other sources that he was a one time companion of Pauls who travelled with Paul through part of the Near East, a part of the world that is now mostly located in present day Turkey. Timothy seems to have settled in Ephesus and Paul is, when he is writing this letter a prisoner in Rome.
Timothy is a church leader with a bit of a troublesome congregation. There were people who were teaching the wrong things, false teachers that seem to have caused a lot of argument and division in the congregation he worked with.
Typical issues that were raised at the time were the relation between Christian and Jewish practices and tradition, was Gods salvation for the world in all its fullness or just for a few highly spiritual individuals? Did matter matter? In other words: should we concentrate on the salvation of the soul or on the salvation of the whole world?
Paul argues that in Christ something new has begun and that new Christians arent bound to Jewish law or practice but that they are bound to Jewish scripture as an inspired revelation of Gods Word. He also argues that salvation is for everyone and for the world as a whole. Matter does matter according to Paul. God came down in the flesh to share our existence and bring salvation and he would not have done that if matter, the physical had not mattered to him. So salvation is not only something for the soul but something that concerns the whole world and all creation. And real faith does not only show through deep insights and profound philosophical knowledge but more than that it shows in a change of lifestyle characterised by such fruits of the spirit as peace, love, justice, compassion, righteousness and the like.
What Paul has to say to Timothy, is really something like this:
Stay firm and dont budge. Trust what youve been taught, youve had good teachers and they have given you trustworthy teaching. But not only that: from childhood onwards you have been made familiar with sacred writings that are able to instruct you about faith in Jesus Christ.Paul here of course referring to the Jewish scriptures, the part of the bible we call Old Testament or first Testament. In the days of Paul there wasnt a new testament yet and his letter had still to be canonised into our sacred writings. Timothy would have been familiar with the Jewish scriptures, was probably a Jew by birth.
All scripture is inspired by God says Paul (and not only some of it as some would hold at the time), a text that over the centuries has been used in all sorts of arguments but especially in the argument around the authority of scripture.
Something I dont want to go into too deeply but would like to say just a few things about:
Paul is not referring to the New Testament. It did not exist as yet.
Paul himself declared large parts of the Old Testament as not applicable to Christians because of the work of Christ. Food laws, a lot of the sacrificial laws had become superfluous according to Paul because of Christ.
So when he says that they are inspired he does not mean that there is no development in the understanding and application of scripture, he means that that what over the centuries has become to be regarded as sacred writing, writing that as become to be regarded as text where the voice of God can be heard, useful teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness by successive generations of believers should be heeded with the utmost care and reverence. These texts, says Paul help us, teach us, correct and train us and we should trust them so we may be equipped for good work.
So it is not just the knowledge of scripture that is important, it is the putting into practice in this world that make it really count.
Please Timothy, in Gods Name and in the Name of Jesus Christ: Stay with that and dont let go. Proclaim the message of Jesus life, death and resurrection and Gods love for the world shown through him. Be persistent, if people like it or not, convince, rebuke and encourage with patience when youre teaching.
And there is a bit of doom and gloom Paul sees coming as well, perhaps because hes seen it happen in other places as hes mentioned elsewhere in the letter: People will turn away from good teaching and find teachers that feel more user-friendly to them and appeal more to their imagination. By the time Paul dies in Rome there are only a handful of the congregations left that he established, most of the others have gone off to follow other teachings.
What would these teaching have been in todays situation and language?
There are those that will tell you that doing the right thing, behaving like a decent, proper human being is all that is needed.
There are also those who tell you that real Christians are bound to a whole host of rules and regulations they have to follow in their lives, or else
There are those who will tell you that happiness and enjoyment of life cannot be part of true Christian living and that we have to renounce all pleasure giving activity until Christ comes. The body a treacherous and sinful part of us, keeping our souls captive, always trying to lead us away from what is of God. Sex, good food, wine, nice clothes, are no things that go with a Christian lifestyle according to them. The body something that has to be castigated and negated so the soul can focus on Christ even more not diverted by any worldly distractions.
And there are those saying that true faith is only for special people that have had special experiences and come to special and very profound insight and knowledge into the mysteries of God.
And last but not least there are those who say that faith is only about you: about your feeling happy, comfortable and cozy, the message there to massage your ego into a rosy, pleasant feeling good about itself, telling you that, in the end, it is you that is important: Your well being, your comfort, your feeling good.
Paul says no to all of that. And when we read scripture and read the story of Jesus of Nazareth we cant really do otherwise: Hard work and proper decent behaviour is not enough to save the world. We need a bit more than that.
God so loved the world that he sent his only son, not only the souls that are in it. God created us for joy, healthy bodily pleasure and the enjoyment of life. Negating that part of us will not bring us closer to him. In fact it is in the body, the flesh that he came closer to us! Faith is not for a limited happy few, is not something that some master but most dont. Faith is something that is given by God to everybody that wants to receive it. Given in different ways, to enable different people to serve the Lord in different ways. Not one way being more and better than another. And last but not least: The gospel, the message is about us, about our well being, comfort and feel good factor, but it is never only that. Bringing well being and healing to us it than sends us out into the world to spread the news and bring the well being and healing we received to others as well.
Alright Timothy. Keep your feet on the ground, dont let yourself be confused by the others that go around preaching and teaching, hold on when times get tough, spread the good news and keep serving the people around you.
That message from Paul to Timothy, sent about 2000 years ago probably still applies to us: Stay sober, tough it out if need be, spread the good news and keep serving.
Perhaps we can recap that in an email to ourselves:
Trust what youve learned from good teachers
It is in the Bible youll find answers
Scripture is inspired by God it is worth listening to.
It will teach you about life, point you in the right direction, correct wrong ideas and help you practice the right sort of attitude and behaviour that will help you do the right thing.
In the name of JC and God please stay true to the message even when other people dont like it. Convince, rebuke, encourage with patience when youre teaching. Dont lose it!
It wont be easy. People will go for a message that suits them better than what we have to offer. Dont give in, even when it becomes hard to stick to your guns, endure whatever there is to endure, keep talking about your faith and the truth as you know it and do whatever God gives you to do. With kind regards and God Bless,