2 Timothy 2:8-15
8 Remember Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead and descended from David. This is my good news. 9 This is the reason I’m suffering to the point that I’m in prison like a common criminal. But God’s word cannot be imprisoned. 10 This is why I endure everything for the sake of those who are chosen by God so that they too may experience salvation in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 This saying is reliable:
“If we have died together, we will also live together.
12 If we endure, we will also rule together.
If we deny him, he will also deny us.
13 If we are disloyal, he stays faithful” because he can’t be anything else than what he is.
14 Remind them of these things and warn them in the sight of God not to engage in battles over words that aren’t helpful and only destroy those who hear them. 15 Make an effort to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker, who doesn’t need to be ashamed but is one who interprets the message of truth correctly. (CEB)
This part of Second Timothy reminds us that faith and faithfulness are not always easy. Our belief in Christianity, itself, is not always easy. The calling we have as followers of Jesus Christ is not always easy.
I think we modern—and more comfortable—Christians can sometimes forget that even the most prominent women and men of faith who carried the Gospel message of Jesus Christ in the early centuries of the church suffered hardships, torture, and even death because of it. Christian women like Perpetua and Felicity died in arenas when wild animals were set upon them. Christian men like Paul and Peter were beheaded and crucified. All of these were imprisoned before they were killed.
Christians in the United States typically aren’t facing imprisonment or death for our faith, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t real threats to our faith. Usually, those threats attack our faith as individuals, not our faith as a whole community. For Timothy, however, what he faced might have been a little of both. What we can glean from the letters to him is that his ministry at Ephesus had grown more complex. Questions were, apparently, being asked by members of his congregation.
Paul acknowledges that Timothy deserved to receive a salary for his ministry, which is something Paul never had (c.f. 1 Timothy 5:17-18). There’s also a hint that Timothy had members of an extended family to provide for, if not a nuclear family as well. We learn that Timothy had some personal health concerns regarding his stomach (c.f. 1 Timothy 5:23). Maybe the stress of ministry was getting to him and he developed an ulcer. Whatever the specific problems might have been, Timothy was facing difficulties.
Not to mention the fact that Timothy’s mentor was in prison. If one of my mentors was in prison, I kind of wonder if I’d continue to claim her or him as my mentor, or if I’d try to distance myself from the person. The combination of these matters had to be upsetting for Timothy. Paul’s imprisonment, as well as the other troubling hardships, might have made the temptation to quit look enticing. Why bother with the difficulty? Why keep struggling for this gospel, this good news, when suffering came along with it? Why did suffering have to be part of the deal?
I have thought about quitting ministry more than once across the span of my 16 years of appointed ministry. Professional ministry isn’t easy. In fact, it can be downright suffocating at times. I’ve described those difficult times as feeling as though I’m being nibbled to death by ducks. My ministry has included seasons of joy and seasons of hardship. I’ve had to learn that I cannot be all things to all people. I cannot possibly meet every individual’s personal expectations of who and what a pastor ought to be. At most, I can only be myself, and I can only serve God to the best of my ability. Perhaps my own experience of hardship mirrored Timothy’s to some degree.
It’s not only pastors who face hardships. Any pastor who would suggest such a thing isn’t a very good pastor. The challenge to all Christian people to hold fast to faithfulness in Second Timothy is based on the very problem of human hardship and suffering. Experiences of hardship, suffering, abuse, and shame can temp us to lose confidence in the Christian story, to reject the Christians calling, and finally to deny Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior and God. Faith, itself, is a very real difficulty for many people of faith—even a contradiction to rational minds.
I can’t tell you how many times a crisis of hardship or suffering that has happened to me, or happened within my circle of family and friends, or even somewhere else in the world, has left me wondering at God’s apparent silence and questioning my faith. When people experience suffering or profound hardship, my heart hurts for them and I wonder, where is God in this?
When I experience hardship or when I suffer, I can begin to ask the same question. The answer I have to believe—the answer my faith gives me—is that God is right in the middle of it with me and with others who experience hardship. But that truth of our faith is easy to forget in the moment of suffering.
So, the author—who identifies himself as Paul—writes to Timothy: “Remember.”
That word, remember, is scattered across the pages of the Bible, and it causes us to pause, if for only a moment, so that we can piece together who we are and from where we have come. To re-member something is to put it back together after our memory has fallen apart or failed us. The call to remember is a call back to the holy, even in moments or in lengthy seasons when the burdens and hardships of life feel overwhelming.
“Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy” (Exodus 20:8 CEB).
“Remember the LORD your God!” (Deuteronomy 8:18 CEB).
“LORD, I remember your name at nighttime, and I keep your Instruction” (Psalm 119:55 CEB).
“In this way we remember the Lord Jesus’ words: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35 CEB).
“So remember what you received and heard. Hold on to it and change your hearts and lives” (Revelation 3:3 CEB).
“Do this to remember me” (1 Corinthians 11:24 CEB).
Paul, the mentor, implores Timothy to remember Jesus Christ because, sometimes, we can forget what is central to our faith. Even in the midst of our personal hardships and crises, “Remember Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:8 CEB).
Contrary to the belief of some, Christ Jesus did not come to save us from all hardship and suffering. The story of Jesus—which is a story of suffering, hardship, faithfulness, and salvation—really becomes the story of each individual Christian. The cross, itself, doesn’t mean that Jesus took all our suffering upon himself so that we don’t have to experience any, ever. Rather, the cross reminds us that God understands human suffering—even terribly unjust human suffering—and is with is in our suffering. Paul’s endurance through his trials became a model for subsequent Christian generations for the building up of our faith and our character.
For Paul, his suffering became a sanctifying process through which he saw himself more deeply connected to Christ in Christ’s suffering for us. Suffering, in this sense, is not masochism. It is never merely accepting or celebrating our pain. Rather, through our experience of grace, even our suffering has the potential to be transformed into ministry. Despite his imprisonment and the shame that went with it for himself and others, Paul bids us to remember that though he is chained, the good news of Jesus Christ is not. The hardships which he suffers, he endures for the sake of those who are chosen by God, “so that they too may experience salvation in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10 CEB).
Our suffering is one of the many ways in which we can identify with the Son of God who became human, lived with us, and suffered as we suffer so that God could more perfectly identify with us. The way we endure our suffering—whether we succumb or overcome or simply endure—can serve as an example to others of what faith in Christ entails.
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.” The Christian story does not end with hardship. In Jesus Christ, we have the promise of God for something more.
“Remember Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead and descended from David” (2 Timothy 2:8 CEB). Not only is there the promise of something more in Jesus—a promise of a future—there is a lineage that connects God to humanity across the span of time.
Stuff happens in every community, even in Christian community, that is more about tearing down than building up. When things like that do happen, when people “engage in battles over words that aren’t helpful and only destroy those who hear them” (2 Timothy 2:14 CEB), it’s takes our attention from that central thing. It’s difficult to remember Jesus when people are arguing over things that really are trivial in the grand scheme of Christian life and faithfulness.
When we forget to listen to the living Word of God, we can give in to wrangling over semantics. Today, we’re presenting our giving cards to God in worship. [8:15] We’re also participating [10:30] We’ve also participated [!!] in a discussion about our congregation’s future. Sometimes even things like a stewardship campaign or setting goals can be discouraging. The stewardship campaign might not end up as successful as we’d like. Examining and imagining possibilities for our future probably won’t solve all of the problems we face as a church.
We still need to do these things because they’re important. Yet, the writer of Second Timothy calls us to remember what is most important. “Remember Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead and descended from David” (2 Timothy 2:8 CEB). The author’s thought on the matter seems to be that, if we get this one thing right, then all of the other matters will fall into place.
Because, whatever our battle-over-words-of-the-day might be, what is at stake in the Word of God is dying and living. “If we have died together, we will also live together. If we endure, we will also rule together. If we deny him, he will also deny us. If we are disloyal, he stays faithful because he can’t be anything else than what he is” (2 Timothy 2:11-13 CEB).
How do we stay faithful when so many other matters demand our attention? How do we keep the stresses and burdens and hardships of life from leading us to a point where we deny Jesus?
One way—one powerful way—might be to remember. Remember Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead after he experienced suffering and hardship and death. Remember Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became a human being and experienced our human hardships first-hand.
How do we remain faithful to Jesus Christ who has been faithful to us in every way?
We remember, we endure, and we work at it every day. “Make an effort to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker, who doesn’t need to be ashamed but is one who interprets the message of truth correctly” (2 Timothy 2:15 CEB). The beauty of Christian community is that we don’t do any of this alone. We’re on this journey of faith together. And together, our faith is stronger than it could ever be alone.
So, I thank God for you. I thank God for each of you: for your examples of faithfulness, and generosity; your examples of love and care for each other; your examples of forgiveness and endurance. You are the church. Together, we are the church. In the midst of hardships that inevitably come to individuals and communities alike, if we can still remember Jesus Christ, then we will endure.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!
Rev. Christopher Millay
First United Methodist Church, Mount Vernon, Indiana; Sunday, 13 October 2019, 8:15 & 10:30 a.m.