Keeping the Faith
While most of Paul’s letters were written to communities of believers, some of the letters were written to individuals. Timothy was a 3rd generation Christian. Both his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice were believers and he received his faith through their instruction. But Timothy was more than just a 3rd generation believer. Timothy was a pastor and a preacher. He was a leader in the community at Ephesus and Paul was his teacher in the ways of preaching and leading a community of faith. Paul considered Timothy to be like a son to him – not in the physical sense but in the spiritual sense. In fact, he calls him “my true child in the faith”.
Paul himself knew how difficult it was to speak to people about matters of faith as any belief we hold is so deeply personal. No matter how convincing someone may be in communicating the faith, only God and the Holy Spirit can really convince us to grasp that faith and keep it. Paul knew very well that Timothy would face many challenges as he sought to communicate the truth of the message about Jesus Christ. And even though Timothy was well known by the people, the fact that he was young, and we all know how difficult it can be to be taken seriously by elders when we are young. Probably he was in his early to mid twenties or maybe thirty but not much more. Those who were older than him would have questioned how one so young could be so wise or have the ability or authority to lead others in matters of faith and practice.
But it is clear from a reading of the two letters that Paul believed that Timothy possessed the gifts to be a great leader. What he lacked was the confidence needed to overcome the opposition he faced.
Paul knew that it was critical for the new community of believers to be conscious of the truths of the new faith they had adopted and not only conscious of the truths but vigilant to practice those truths in their daily life. It was clear that people in the community were questioning the interpretation of the faith that Paul had taught them and were seeking to pull the community into doctrinal stances that were built more on myths and half-truths.
But despite all his theological training and knowledge of God, Paul knew that the heart of the message from God was love. All actions in the community were to be guided by and issue from this heart. And as much as Paul cautioned people against certain practices and actions, it was all motivated by a desire for people to follow the path of love and consider carefully both their words and actions so as not to show the community as wandering from the truth they had been taught to believe nor be vindictive or judgmental.
For Paul it was critical that people debate the truth of the Gospel, but even more critical that the truth of that faith not be altered from its origin and changed into something that suited the ears of those who were hearing its message. Something that every community of faith must wrestle with is how to live the message of God in Christ but taking care not to make the Gospel what we want rather than letting the Spirit direct our path.
Paul believed that Jesus had shown great patience with him. He knew that Jesus would have been fully within his rights to destroy him for what he had done but Jesus showed him grace and mercy and love. Rather than seeing himself as a great theologian and missionary, Paul saw himself as a great sinner who had been given a great pardon. If someone like him could receive forgiveness and mercy from God, then that forgiveness and mercy could be received by anyone.
Paul knew that when we stop seeking to be led by the Spirit of God to understand the message of the Gospel that we will begin to lead ourselves and convince ourselves of the truths that do not match with the truth of the word of God. His greatest fear was for those who had lost their moral compass so to speak. By that, he is not thinking strictly of morality as we might think in terms of behaviours that align with our faith or not, he is thinking more of a frame of mind that keeps us ever seeking for God and the influence and guidance of the Spirit.
And so, he encouraged Timothy to take up the charge and maintain the truth of the faith in the face of the challenges that many people would seek to bring against it.
When I was preparing myself to enter ministry, I often read the words of Paul to Timothy for I knew that I was going out as a young pastor and leader and that I would be responsible for teaching and guiding people often much older than myself. I knew that my leadership would be challenged and that scared me and made me uncertain of my ability to stand firm in the face of opposition. But I discovered that if I were genuine and honest with my words and actions and if I was willing to listen carefully and thoughtfully to both young and old, then I could find the confidence to be the person I was called to be.
We are living in a time when traditional interpretations of our faith and the life of our communities of faith are being challenged. We are being asked to not just take the Word of God at face value but to look for the spirit that is behind the words. We are encouraged to discover how God is speaking to us in this time and place. We are being challenged to truly acknowledge that God is a living God; that the nature of God and the ultimate revelation of God have not changed but that God is seeking for us to grow as a people, to mature in our thinking and to seek for the direction that God is leading.
But we can face the challenges of our time and find the word that God is seeking to share with this generation if we are willing to be open to the leading of God’s Spirit. Will we make mistakes? No doubt but nothing was ever gained by not stepping out in faith. Together we can find the way forward embracing the spirit of God as we seek to grow in wisdom and faith.
Keeping the faith - living the truth of God’s message as revealed through Jesus Christ. Keeping the faith - finding the path through this life that is consistent with the truth of God. Keeping the faith - seeking for and incorporating the fruit of the Spirit in our daily living. Keeping the faith - maintaining our connection to God through an honest and conscientious evaluation of our faith. Keeping the faith - honouring and respecting the wisdom that God gives to people of all ages.
May God continue to guide us and teach us that we might see not just what God has shown us in the past but also be open to what God will show us in the future.