2 Timothy 2:8-15
If you have a semi-warped sense of humor and have access to a conservative theological school try finding out where the students congregate and go there and ask one question, “Does the word oinos (wine) mean grape juice or alcohol-containing grape juice?” Or ask them, “What does the word predestination mean?” Then set back and listen to the debate. Be prepared, it could go on for a long time. This is when religion becomes an intellectual competition at its best and more likely towards it worst, ego idolatry. Note, the ones who will be hurt the most are those who are listening.
Paul warns Timothy, his student, too, “Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.”
This warning, given by Paul comes after he uses a word that he knows is likely to cause trouble. Still, it is a word of importance that should not be changed, the world is elect.
ἐκλεκτούς, the chosen, the ek-(out) lektous-(people), that is the basic meaning of the word. It is a word tied to the end of all we know, the end of time and the coming of the new. Jesus is the way to the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ first followers were known as followers of the Way. “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn. 14:6 ESV) This the elect, those who hear and by faith believe. But who does that include? Do we really need to define categories and pigeonhole who the elect are? Instead, Paul teaches, we should focus on the purpose we are called to fulfill. We are the called of God, we are the chosen, and by virtue of our faith in Jesus, we are the elect.
Paul had already had critics who accused him of abandoning is the truth faith, that he had left the covenant, that he was a heretic. Paul responds to such talk by making the statement that began our reading, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David — that is my gospel,” and in this statement laid bare the foundation of his faith. Paul also linked Jesus with his historic connection to King David. Paul continued to remain faithful to his heritage. Paul was faithful and faithfulness is not an easy stand.
For Paul, faithfulness was pure hardship and testing. Paul’s words have a hint of sorrow and pain. Paul laments and Paul tells us why he laments. He writes, “for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.”
Even in suffering Paul gives us hope. No statement could be clearer. The Good News about Jesus is transforming lives. Paul implies that nothing can stop the power of knowing Jesus, the Son of God, who calls us to be his own.
Even while imprisoned, chained to a Roman guard, Paul writes, “so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much bolder to speak the word1 without fear.” (Phil. 1:13-14 ESV) The Holy Spirit was using Paul’s witness to reach others and encourage others in the faith. Teaching others about Jesus, reaching others for Jesus, and encouraging others in Jesus was how Paul viewed his purpose in life. Again, listen to Paul’s own words, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” Paul tells Timothy and us this is why I do what I do. Paul lived for others.
What is our purpose in life? Do you define your own purpose or God’s? Why are we alive? “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon, and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8:3-4 ESV) This has been a question human beings have to ask as long as there has been thought and speech. Do we know what our destiny is going to be? Is eternal life with God really possible?
We live in a time in which people seem to be so easily deceived. We believe lies about elections. Many easily embrace conspiracy theories. Way, way too many Christians allow racism to go unchallenged. We put up barriers, physical and social, to those who are not like us. The spirit of this age seems to be us versus them without our really knowing who the “them” are. Love our neighbor? We are lucky if we just do not hate our neighbor or even care about our neighbor.
This is not our purpose. Our purpose is to awaken to the reality that we were made with the breath of God. We were fashioned for a purpose, to enjoy God and to be enjoyed by God. We are made to care about one another. There is only one humanity. God did not divide us up into the categories we have placed one another. In God’s eyes, we are loved. Our suffering is known. God knows all suffer. This is a fallen world by the way. It is not like we should expect bad things but be surprised when there is good. We consolation reigns.
The story of the gospel is the story of God’s love. God became a human being. God experienced firsthand the suffering of this life. Jesus was the incarnation of God, God with us. Jesus suffered as an innocent. Was put to death and by his death, the wages of sin were paid. Jesus then rose from the grave and then returned to be with the Father. God has declared to us that if we will understand God wants to love us, forgive us (yes, all of us know inside the evil we have thought and the bad we have done), and have God’s own Spirit dwelling in us who are made from the breath of God.
Paul says, “The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him;” but also be warned, if we deny him, he will also deny us;” God never forces love or choice.
But here is the promise we really need to pay attention to, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself.” Remember Jesus made Paul, Timothy, and us a promise, “I will be with you always to the end of the age.” Jesus experiences everything we experience as the Holy Spirit indwells us. God knows our pain, grief, sorrow, depression, anxiety, anger, our suffering. God also knows our joy, love, compassion, and hope. Jesus is faithful even when our own faith lets us down. Don’t beat yourself when you are down, God is striving to lift you up.
Paul’s next words to Timothy are intended to inspire and prepare Paul’s student for the task at hand. Paul says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:8-15 NRS)
God does not count success as the world views success. What the world might see as failure, God may reward as a success. Paul writes these letters from prison. Paul gained no worldly fame, no long-term contracts, no stock plan or retirement annuity.
Question, would you trade places with Paul? Would you trade places with Timothy? If you could speak to them today and ask them if it was worth it, what do you think they would say?
I bet I know what God said to them. “Well done, good and faithful servant. (Matt. 25:21 ESV) Is this what God will say to you? You can prepare now. The choice is yours.