Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Thought on Reading the Scriptures: The whole purpose of the Bible, it seems to me, is to convince people to set the written word down in order to become living words in the world for God’s sake.
Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church

II Timothy 1

II Timothy 1:1-2: The greeting follows patterns we have already seen, though some of the language adds a special touch. Paul’s ministry was seen as “for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus.” That should be the point of all our ministry, all our work through the church – to bring life that is in Jesus to others. Timothy is a leader, but also a “beloved child.” It is important for spiritual leaders to claim that part of themselves, too.

II Timothy 1:3-18: As with other Pauline letter, whether written by Paul or by a disciple of Paul’s, that greeting is followed by a thanksgiving. “Timothy” is portrayed as a third generation Christian, which would have been the situation of many in the church at the time of this letter. It is interesting that while in I Timothy women are to be silent, here the role of women in shaping the life of Timothy is extolled! Whatever qualms the authors of the Pastoral may have had about the public teaching role of women, it is clear that they are an important part of passing on the faith. This does not mean we ignore the earlier passage and the damage it has done, only that we not that the news about women is not all bad in the Pastoral letters.

Timothy has a sincere faith, one he learned from his mother and grandmother. He is encouraged to “rekindle the gift of God that is within.” These are sound words of advise for all spiritual leaders – rekindle! Sometimes following that gift leads to suffering, but this should not be a cause of shame for leaders. “The author, along with the whole New Testament, assumes that Christian faith always brings one into conflict with the dominant values of the culture” (People’s New Testament Commentary). The writer invokes the memory of Paul’s suffering. In suffering, one might experience the grace and power of God in fresh ways.

Verses 9-10 seem a fragment of early Christian liturgy celebrating the grace of God in Jesus. In Christ, death has been overcome, and life is made possible. This life may involve suffering. It did for Paul. But again, suffering should not bring shame. We know the God in whom we trust, and we trust God to keep the good we do safe.

Timothy is encouraged to hold to sound teaching and to “guard the good treasure” that has been given to him. He is to do this with the help of the Holy Spirit. The sound teaching, which is the good treasure entrusted to the spiritual leader, is the Christian faith in the Pauline tradition. The term “guard” can have a very defensive quality about it, and can imply that the faith is a set of non-changing teachings and doctrines. I am not sure that this is the best way to discuss Christian faith. It was helpful in that time given the difficult context of the faith communities to which the letter was written. They were besieged by other interpretations of Christian faith, some of which stretched the elasticity of the faith too far. Yes, boundaries need to be drawn and sometimes guarding the treasure one has been given might be an apt metaphor, but it should not be our only metaphor for considering the Christian faith and how we live it and share it with others. The task and challenge of the church’s ministry in every generation is to adapt and reinterpret the traditional faith so that it is relevant to changing needs and times, without losing it or letting it simply become an echo or reflection of current values and ideologies (People’s New Testament Commentary).

In contrast to the encouragement offered to Timothy, the writer cites two examples of people who have abandoned the faith, at least in the author’s eyes. Then he cites the example of one who has remained faithful – eager to help and not ashamed of the difficulties that may come with being faithful.

II Timothy 2

II Timothy 2:1-13: “Timothy” as a representative Christian spiritual leader, is encouraged to stay “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Good advice for any Christian spiritual leader. He is also encouraged to pass the faith on through reliable teachers, faithful people. For the writer, the Christian faith is transmittable from generation to generation, and it is important to pass it on. The sense of receiving and passing on is strong in this letter. The writer uses a variety of images to encourage persistence in this work of faith – the soldier, the athlete, the farmer.

Verse 8 is another creedal hymn fragment. The gospel is about Jesus Christ, a Jew in the lineage of David, raised from the dead. This gospel combines affirmations about the specific human person Jesus and God’s resurrection power at work in his life. Proclaiming this gospel and living this gospel can lead to suffering, and endurance is enjoined. Even in the midst of suffering, the power of God continues to be at work in the world – “the word of God is not chained.”

Verses 11-13 seem to be a series of proverbial sayings linked together, and with a surprising twist. The encouragement throughout is to remain faithful. Failure to do so is a betrayal, but then the last statement says that even then, God remains faithful. God never gives up on us or on the world.

II Timothy 2:14-26: Timothy as spiritual leader is advised to continue his teaching and leading work. His work is contrasted with false teachers who only want to wrangle over words. Timothy is to keep on keeping on, to be a faithful worker in the work of God. “Rightly explaining” literally means “cutting straight” - - - the image again contrasts truthful Christian teaching which aims to transform human lives from teaching that is nothing more than wrangling over words, profane chatter which spreads like gangrene. Two teachers, in particular are named and the objectionable part of their teaching is that “the resurrection has already taken place.” They are not speaking about the resurrection of Jesus, but of the more general resurrection of all persons at that point in time when God makes the world right. “In the Gnosticizing Christianity opposed by the Pastor, the false teachers had reduced the resurrection hope entirely to present experience, and resurrection language became simply a metaphor for what happened at conversion” (People’s New Testament Commentary). This is not to say that the language of resurrection cannot be used metaphorically, for it is used this way in the New Testament itself. At the same time, the New Testament trusts that there is also a future hope for the world, one to which we contribute as we live out God’s purposes, live in a way that builds on “God’s firm foundation.”

The writer introduces another image for staying true to the faith, following the teachings of the faith, living the life of faith and passing it on. A person who does this is like a special utensil in the kitchen available to do good. Being such a person involves turning from “youthful passions” – perhaps a reference to faddish thinking as may have been represented by the false teachers. It involves pursuing righteousness, faith, love and peace in community with others who seek God with a pure heart. Again, this is a nice way to discuss some of the essence of the Jesus way of life. Other qualities in this life are kindness, patience and gentleness. The Jesus way is passed on by “apt teachers” who know how to correct others gently. The phrase apt teacher reminds me of a Buddhist phrase – “skillful means” which refers to the ability of a spiritual teacher and leader to adapt ones methods to one’s audience. One hopes that gentle correction will help those in danger of wandering return.

No comments: