11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time – he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:11-16 ESV)
In the teacher – student relationship, artisan and apprentice, drill sergeant and new recruit there is a desire for one to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes to another by a variety of means over time. What needs to happen is the transmission of the subject material and proficiencies but this never occurs into a tabula rasa, a blank slate, an empty vessel but into a people with their own situations, talents, abilities and limitations. Good transmission, teaching, mentoring, forming, shaping thus requires depth of content or experience and also an awareness of the recipient. I think we all have stories from school about a teacher who made what was taught memorable for us which means they know they stuff and they knew us.
In the Christian calendar we pause to consider today St Timothy whom we don’t know much about but whom the Apostle Paul knew very well and in his mentoring, teaching, caring, working with Timothy we get to see via two letters what is important not so much in their relationship but in how they both stand shoulder to shoulder looking at Jesus. Most of the New Testament are documents written to communities but today’s Second Reading comes from one of the few documents written to an individual – and we are overhearing, eavesdropping, reading later what has been left because the material is worth sharing – most of it is about early church congregational life but today’s reading is personal, Paul speaking to Timothy about Timothy, and we are listening in to understand, learn, appreciate, and translate what Timothy got in the first century for us in the twenty-first century.
A little about Timothy. He is Christian convert whose mother and grandmother were very important in bringing him to faith. A person of mixed nationality – his father is a Gentile, his mother Jewish – he becomes involved and associated with Paul and Silas – possibly replacing John Mark – and travelled with Paul and undertook many tasks for Paul coming and going over the years, representing Paul when required, but always preaching Christ and pointing to Christ. He is associated as part of the ‘writing team’ of many of Paul’s letters and is regarded as a ‘son in the Faith’ and it is obvious that Paul regarded Timothy most dearly and sought for him to come to Paul in prison when it seemed Paul was finally to be executed. No one knows whether Timothy made it in time. He is later associated with Ephesus as bishop and is reputed to have been martyred there an old man.
So what does the older pastor tell the younger pastor?
That life and ministry – but let’s focus on life – living – is always moving – there is fleeing and pursuing – and there is fighting (though the English translation is a tad unfortunate, I think, while the word does have a fighting part it also has a more athletic, running, striving, enduring part) and there is also taking hold and confessing part. So you have fleeing / pursuing and striving / taking hold or confessing. Peter would describe this living and movement as growing. The point simply is that living is not static. We move away from some things (eg. the love of money) and we pursue, strive for what is good for us. It is a basic part of life that what we take in – food – affects our health and performance; words and attitudes – affects our attitudes and behaviour. We know that things are either good for us or not; that we are in control of them or they are in control of us. Living is always about fleeing or restraining from stuff that hurts us and harms others and going towards stuff that enriches us and helps others. This movement might be best seen and experienced in fasting periodically.
Paul is taking this basic life reality on Planet Earth and applying it spiritually in the relationship with Jesus Christ. And this is true of the new born, the newly baptised and those who are very old in age and baptismal years. This sort of dynamic never stops.
Paul is reminding Timothy of his baptism – we presume as an adult – when he confessed the Faith in Christ but note how Paul moves Timothy to Christ Jesus directly and his confession of himself before Pilate and if you unpack that you have the story of Timothy’s salvation and the story of your salvation and my salvation – given to us personally in our baptism.
What does this mean for Timothy? Now there is a keeping the relationship that God has established in Christ – Paul uses the word ‘commandment’ here and, yes, it is not said, but a fleeing from that which holds or hinders that relationship – our sins, our fears, our selfishness, our desire to control, all the stuff that stains us before Jesus. This is not an option for us to think about and decide what to do – pick and choose which bits of discipleship we prefer – but part of our spiritual life with Jesus. Bad food affects me physically but me in all my relationships. Taking in bad words, pictures, attitudes shape me in all my relationships. Again there is no difference spiritually except that discipleship will always seek to follow the first commandment because the identity of our God and the relationship between us then shapes everything else.
But for how long? For only as long as Timothy is a pastor? No. Paul is speaking to Timothy as he stands before God and says until our Lord appears. Either Jesus reappears in this world for all to see or when we die Jesus appears and Paul then encourages Timothy to remember that Jesus is glorious, powerful, and is to be honoured because he does have all dominion. And such a message is only comforting when one knows who this Jesus is – and that takes you back to before Pilate and what happened afterwards. And that takes each us back to our baptism where this all powerful King of kings and Lord of lords establishes a relationship with you so that you need not be afraid anymore.
From a few references about Timothy it is speculated that he was a rather timid soul with an upset stomach and that’s comforting in one sense – God doesn’t makes us supermen and women – and that helps us when we feel rather ordinary in life – and that is what the church on this commemorative day, I think, wants to acknowledge that we all can confess Christ and it happens each day as we flee and pursue, strive and confess – move away from what causes us to sin towards absolution which gives us strength and commitment to live as a disciple of Jesus, one day at a time, until Jesus appears.
Are we just rats on a spiritual treadmill? Have I just described a spiritual ‘Groundhog Day’? I hope not because each day is different but yes, I have described patterns or rituals that help us be who we are. Pursing our baptism, taking in God’s Word, communing at the Lord’s table, our daily Bible times, our prayers throughout the day, our periodic fasting are not undertaken in fear to get things right or because we are afraid of not making the grade for salvation. We know already we have failed in that but rather coming close to Jesus, the God who serves, gives us our daily identity – “you are mine, I love you, yes, you can follow me for today no matter how much you think you can’t” – that’s the point – he know us personally, all of us – and so we flee from sin and pursue righteousness because Jesus is our loving Lord who has saved us, declared us righteous already. And both Timothy and I say “If that isn’t good news, we don’t know what is!”.
- 1 Timothy 6:11 - 16