If you had just a few months to live, what would you most want to say to friends? What would have priority and what would become secondary? The famous Apostle Paul knew that he was about to have his head chopped off by the crazed Roman Emperor Nero. So he wrote his final letter, known as Second Timothy, to his key assistant, Timothy. Second Timothy was really Paul’s last will and testament.
Paul had been in jail many times for the faith. It was his favorite place to write letters like his unforgettable letters to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. If Paul had not been sent to jail so often, half the New Testament would likely never have been written. In the past Paul had always been let out of prison. But this time he knew that the only escape was death.
Have you ever lost a key leader and mentor who has helped you reach heights that you never thought you would reach? To lose such a person can bring deep feelings of loneliness and abandonment. Bishop Handley Moule of Durham, England, commented that “Timothy stood awfully lonely, yet awfully exposed, in face of a world of thronging sorrows. Well might he have been shaken to the root of his faith.”
Young Timothy was by nature an insecure, sickly and timid person, but Paul saw potential in Timothy far beyond his outward appearance. Paul had been closely associated with Timothy ever since he ‘discovered’ him in Lystra, Turkey, some fifteen years before.
Paul knew that it was time for the changing of the guard, the passing on of the baton of leadership. Paul was determined that Timothy not drop that baton in the midst of Emperor Nero’s onslaught.
You’ve probably heard the expression: “Rome burned while Nero fiddled”. Nero set Rome on fire in AD 64 as an urban renovation project, and blamed the early Christians as convenient scapegoats. The historian Tacitus commented that the early Christians “were killed by dogs by having the hides of beasts attached to them, or they were nailed to crosses or set aflame, and, when the daylight passed away, they were used as nighttime lamps. Nero gave his own gardens for this spectacle…”
Christianity was on the verge of extinction, and the dying Paul saw Timothy as the key to its very survival. The famous Dr. John Stott comments, “Greatness was being thrust upon Timothy, and like Moses and Jeremiah and a host of others before and after him, Timothy was exceedingly reluctant to accept it.”
Paul strengthened Timothy by reminding him how much he meant to him, and how often he prayed for him day and night. He also strengthened Timothy by reminding him of the faithful examples set by his grandma, Lois and his mother, Eunice. As Dr. John Stott put it, “good biographies never begin with their subject, but with his parents, and probably his grandparents as well.” Paul was saying to Timothy: “don’t lose touch with your roots”.
What do you know for sure if you see a turtle on a fencepost? The answer is that it didn’t get there itself. We are who we are, in large part because of people who have believed in us and invested in us. Many of us as Canadians have forgotten the remarkable spiritual heritage we have been given by our ancestors, our Loises and Eunices. I think of our Judeo-Christian heritage in Canada as like crabs hidden under the rocks at the seashore. Only when one uncovers the rocks does one discover the greatest riches of life just below the surface.
The dying Paul knew that Timothy had so much going for him. So he told him to fan into flame the wonderful God-given gift that had been given to him. It is so easy to let our gifts and abilities lie dormant, when we need to rekindle and stir up the smouldering flame.
Fear can cripple our future. So Paul said to Timothy: “God has not given you a spirit of timidity but of power and love and a sound mind.” Timidity, says Douglas Milne, is a chronic fear of people, suffering or responsibilities that paralyzes the will from giving effective leadership.
Paul is saying to Timothy, and to each of us: “Say no to fear. Don’t let anxiety crush your life. Live life free and unfettered.” At the heart of every addiction is the bondage to fear. My prayer for those reading this article is that the Great Physician will set each of us, like Timothy, free from fear, and fill us instead with the Spirit of power and love and a sound mind.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier
-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada
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