26 Jun 2019

Poured Out Like a Drink Offering: Paul, Timothy, Psalms … Living the Story

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: 2 Timothy, A Gathered People, Bobby's World, Church, Exegesis, Hermeneutics, Holding On, Journey, Ministry, Preaching

Good afternoon from the Land by the Bay. After doing our morning Psalm reading (Pss 126-130), I took the opportunity to read a little in 2 Timothy and Titus. As I read Timothy, especially, thoughts from the Psalms kept shaping how I read Paul. It was an instructive though unplanned exercise.

When we read all of 1 Timothy and then go on to 2 Timothy, we get the feeling that Timothy’s situation has gone from bad to worse. Reading the second letter it is not a stretch to say that Paul is worried about his “son in the faith.”

There are a number of images that, I think, distort our “hearing” 2 Timothy (as they do 1 Timothy). The biggest false image is that of Timothy as basically an insecure teenager. This is hardly the case. Timothy is Paul’s son because Paul converted, and circumcised him. He is a younger compared to Paul, not because he is 17.

If these letters are written in the early to mid AD 60s (I realize a number of scholars date them considerably later), Timothy has been in ministry with Paul for over twenty years. He has been sent by Paul on missions to deal with troubled spots (i.e. Corinth) and has even cowritten several letters with Paul (2 Corinthians; Philippians; Colossians; 1-2 Thessalonians; Philemon) Timothy is not a green behind the ears padawan learner. Recognizing Timothy a “combat veteran” of ministry highlights the seriousness of the situation that Timothy is in.

Paul’s model for ministry, it seems to me, is the righteous sufferer in the Psalms and the prophets. It would serve us well to have Psalm 55 and the life of Jeremiah in our minds as we work through 2 Timothy.

Psalm 55 could be prayed by both Timothy and Paul. And both are living the ministry of Jeremiah.

Paul opens his letter to Timothy by talking about heritage. We often miss it, or I have many times, in our social setting, but this is an appeal to honor by Paul. Paul says, basically, in 1.3-12, Timothy you have a family name to live up to. Paul says that he serves God “as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience” and Timothy has the same Jewish heritage in his mother and grandmother. Timothy comes from a family with a history of steadfastness and faithfulness. Indeed Timothy has a “sincere faith.”

Based on that heritage (an honorable Jewish heritage I might add), Paul says “fan into flame the gift of God.” This surely refers to Paul’s plea in 1 Timothy 1.18f where Timothy was set aside for this kingdom task. This plea sounds radically different when directed to a tired, frustrated and possibly ready to throw in the towel twenty+ year veteran, than when filtered through the false image of Timothy as late teen or possibly twenty something young man. The life has been sucked out of Timothy!

Then Paul returns to himself as a “model” sufferer. Paul is not ashamed to suffer and neither should Timothy. Suffering is not a badge of dishonor but of honor when done in the tradition of the prophets and the Messiah himself. Timothy is exhorted to “not be ashamed” and to “join with me in suffering.”

It is important to remember the social context here. Paul’s suffering is only in part at the hands of non-believers. As in Psalm 55, it is the people who have gone to worship, people who we thought were our friends, that have become the instruments of suffering in both Timothy and Paul’s life. This is why Paul tells Timothy that his friends Phygelus, Hermogenes, Onesiphorus and Demas have all deserted him. It is as if Paul is telling Timothy …

DON’T YOU GIVE UP ON ME TOO!

Paul has koinonia with Timothy in these struggles. But he is not ashamed and neither should Timothy be.

So Timothy rather than be ashamed, needs to be true to his heritage and be strong in the message of the Gospel. Paul uses the phrase “pattern of sound teaching” (1.13). With advance apologies to some, this phrase is not about church structure. There is not an iota about church structure in 2 Timothy. The sound/healthy teaching is how the Gospel transforms our life by God’s “purpose and grace” (1.10).

This phrase, “sound teaching/healthy teaching” occurs right after Paul’s plea for Timothy to have fellowship with in suffering.

Join me in suffering FOR THE GOSPEL, by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace” (1.9-10).

A few verses later, Paul tells Timothy, “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2.1). Then again

Remember Jesus Christ raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal” (2.8-9).

This message is found in the Scriptures that Timothy learned from his heritage in his youth … the Hebrew Bible (likely in Greek translation) (3.14-16).

Timothy will find the resources to deal with the conflict and the courage to carry on in the Scriptures that he grew up with.

So Paul addresses, again, in the second half of chapter 2 those factions in the Ephesian church that are destroying it, and killing Timothy. From 2.14 down to 2.26 notice the massive emphasis on arguing and contentiousness. The words we often quote, devoid of context,

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2.15)

This statement is sandwiched between statements on abusive fighting (v.14) and “godless chatter” (v.16). Correctly interpreting the Scriptures is directly connected to not fighting. Those who want to use Scripture for wrangling are incorrectly handling the word of truth. Paul mentions, as examples, the infamous Hymenaeus again and adds Philetus (who probably are either elders or teachers in the Ephesian church). These men are listed as types of false teachers who are full of “godless chatter” on the resurrection. But the major emphasis, the thrust, in 2.14-26 is an expansion on what Paul said in 1 Timothy 1.7f.

Lots of people, such as Hymenaeus and Philetus, want to be teachers, but simply do not understand the Bible. Here we learn that the improper use of Scripture leads inevitably to religious fights. Paul tells Timothy (who knows the Bible) “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments” (2.23).

The purpose of Scripture is to transform us into loving servants of the Lord. It is not to turn us into rabid sectarians.

The horrific description of the last days in 3.1-9 is not a prediction of the “end times.” It is a description of Timothy’s present. Paul and Timothy were living in the last days. The language, “lovers of money,” “abusive,” ungrateful,” “unholy,” “form of godliness,” could easily have been said by Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Habakkuk about God’s people who love the “forms of religion,” but could care less about loving and sacrificing for one another.

The language in 3.1ff, therefore, describes God’s people not pagans. It is not pagans that have a form of godliness yet deny its power. That distinction belongs to the Ephesian church (cf. Rev 2.1-7). This description is of people who have turned the Bible, and therefore the church, into a war zone (again 3.1 comes on the heels of 2.14-26 and Paul did not break these chapters apart). And Timothy is caught smack in the middle of this congregational war.

So Paul returns, with Timothy, to the use of Scripture. Precisely because Timothy has the Hebrew Bible he should know that those serving the Lord will, like Paul himself, “be persecuted” (3.12). But Timothy also knows, because he has a heritage, that Scripture makes us “wise unto salvation.”

This is traditional Jewish scriptural language itself. The Psalms tell us that the torah of the Lord makes “wise the simple.” In the Scriptures, that Lois and Eunice taught Timothy as a child, Timothy will be “thoroughly equipped” to do what he is supposed to do, and endure what he has to for the sake of the kingdom. He will be able to “keep [his] head in all situations” and “endure” to the end (4.5). (For more on the very traditional Jewish way in which Paul describes the Hebrew Scriptures see my article, 2 Timothy 3.16: The Spiritual Gift of Wisdom unto Salvation in the ‘Old Testament.‘)

He will be faithful, even as his mother and grandmother have been faithful. He will be faithful, even as Paul is faithful.

Paul is being poured out as a sacrifice. And in the final analysis, Timothy will not desert Paul as had his other companions. Not only did they desert him but some have done him “great harm” (4.14). So Paul is showing Timothy he has a name and heritage to live up to. But sometimes we can pray Psalm 55,

But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
as we walked with the throng at the
house of God …

My companion attacks his friends;
he violates his covenant.
His speech is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords

(Psalm 55.13, 20)

Sometimes it is not the unbelieving world that does the minister in. The sad truth is sometimes it is churches that bring about their destruction.

Paul is seriously concerned about his friend Timothy. He does not want Timothy to become a Demas. How do you survive ministry in a hostile situation?

  • Remember your heritage.
  • Remember your Messiah message.
  • Remember you have fellowship and communion in suffering.
  • Remember the Scriptures of old by seeing your own life in and through them.

Of course “remember” is the most basic word in the Bible for being “faithful.” Paul is, to use an image that I do not think is stretching it, stressed out over Timothy and his situation. Paul’s solution is to remind Timothy that he is part of a Story that is far larger than himself.

May you and I also remember that we are part of a Story that is as large and grand as the universe itself.

Shalom.

2 Responses to “Poured Out Like a Drink Offering: Paul, Timothy, Psalms … Living the Story”

  1. Darryl Willis Says:

    I’ve always viewed these texts as Pauline–at first because that’s what I was always told growing up in CofC. But even after grad school, I still couldn’t give up on Paul being the author. I dunno, perhaps it’s my prejudice, but it still READS like Paul. 8^)

    Thanks for the article! Great thoughts!

  2. Dwight Says:

    “Paul uses the phrase “pattern of sound teaching” (1.13). With advance apologies to some, this phrase is not about church structure. There is not an iota about church structure in 2 Timothy. The sound/healthy teaching is how the Gospel transforms our life by God’s “purpose and grace””
    Exactly!
    This scripture has been misused forever in the church. Paul and Timothy’s struggle is in cementing Jesus in the people around them, not correct procedure, which delves into the endless chatter or noise that overwhelmes the real truth of the Word.

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