Summary of the text:
God as the Thanksgiving Hub
Given how pervasive the theme of gratitude is in Scripture—and how my wife and I try to condition our children always to say “thank you” to anyone who shows them even the slightest kindness—it often strikes me how rarely in the Bible you find one person thanking another person. Perhaps the closest you get is Jesus asking rhetorically, “Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?” (Luke 17:9), which could be taken to imply that you would thank the slave for doing something above and beyond. But the consistent pattern is giving thanks only to God. So where we might thank another directly, in Scripture gratitude is directed to God for that person. Thus, here we find Paul communicating that he is “grateful to God” (v. 3) whenever he remembers Timothy in his prayers.
A cognate expression in the previous verse leads me to read this exchange as a kind of cycle of grace/gratitude, with God as the “hub.” In verse 2, Paul greets Timothy: “Grace (charis), mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” Then, in verse 3, “I am grateful (charin echo) to God.” So Paul directs God’s charis to Timothy, and then on account of Timothy returns his own charis to God—a whole divine ecosystem of grace and gratitude.
Perhaps I should teach my 3 year-old to say, “I am grateful to God that you gave me this sticker, Trader Joe’s employee.”
The Power of Generational Blessing
“One generation will laud [God’s] works to another,” David writes in Psalm 145. When God gives the sign of the covenant to Abraham in Genesis 17 He tells him that the covenant is also for his offspring and “throughout their generations.” Timothy’s family history exemplifies this pattern of witness and blessing extending through generations. Already in v. 3 Paul has acknowledged an intergenerational aspect to the life of faith—he worships God “as [his] ancestors did.” Despite his dramatic conversion experience on the road to Damascus, Paul still recognizes an essential continuity with the faith in which he was reared. Then in v. 5 Paul acknowledges a similar pattern in Timothy’s heritage— “a faith that lived first in [his] grandmother Lois and [his] mother Eunice.” This insight into Timothy’s family tree presents an opportunity for a congregation to reflect on generational faith in their own families—how one’s faith was nurtured by older relatives and how one is “lauding God’s works” to younger family members.
The Blessing of Presence
I have no regrets about moving my church to a fully virtual format for over a year after COVID hit. Even if my son didn’t have a lung condition making him especially vulnerable to complications should he get sick, I would have pushed for this arrangement out of concern for the most vulnerable members of the congregation. I am as “pro-social distance” as any pastor I know—you say six feet? Let’s make it sixteen…build a hedge around that.
And yet, it’s impossible to ignore the power of physical presence and of (appropriate) touch. This importance of being physically together with other believers is a theme in many of the New Testament letters (e.g. 1 Thess. 2:17, 3:6,10; 2 John 1:12; 3 John 1:14). Connecting by letter (as “virtual” a presence as you could have in the 1st century) is good, but face-to-face is better.
(Of course, there is a particular blessing for us that Paul and John and others had to write letters in their physical absence, as God used those separations to providentially fill out our canon). Here in the opening section of 2 Timothy, Paul mentions the goodness of presence/touch twice, with a particular blessing accruing to each of them. First, Paul tells Timothy (v. 2), “I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.” Then, a few verses later, Paul reminds Timothy: “rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands” (v. 6). God uses our physical presence as a conduit for His joy and gifts. This is important for us to remember as virtual technologies improve and make it easier to worship and pray together remotely—these ways of connecting are good (perhaps essential), but finding ways to also (safely) meet with other believers in person is even better.
What Is the Opposite of Cowardice?
Paul gives us three options in verse 7: power, love, and self-discipline. Of these, power seems the most expected counter to a spirit of cowardice. Yet being grouped together with love and self-discipline conditions the nature of that power. He doesn’t write, as one might expect from a worldly conception of cowardice and power, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but of power, aggression, and bravura.” If there’s a connection between the three attributes, perhaps it’s this: power directed outward is to be manifested as love, while power directed inward is to be manifested in self-discipline. Power in the life of a Christian can take some counter-intuitive forms (like choosing suffering), since the spirit of power granted to us derives its efficacy not from our circumstances or our own strength, but from our “relying on the power of God” (v. 8).
An Unusual Recruiting Strategy
Imagine driving by a church and seeing a large banner reading: “Join Us in Suffering for the Gospel!” While it’s true that Paul’s invitation in v. 8 is delivered to an intimate friend and not broadcast to the community at large, the call to “join me in suffering” still has a jarring effect when compared to how we “recruit” today—whether to a life of faith or to leadership positions in the church. Often from a genuine desire to invite others into a life-giving connection with Christ, but also at times flavored by a desperate desire to stanch declining membership numbers or to persuade reluctant potential church officers, we are tempted to present a particularly rosy picture of the life of faith and ministry. We do well to remember that it is not the allure of our advertising that draws people into the body of Christ—it is the “power of God” (v. 8) that calls believers to salvation and service, and that works through our weakness and suffering. We can, of course, witness to the joy of knowing Christ, but it is both misleading and a demonstration of trusting in our methods over God’s power to leave out the need to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28).
A Balance Between Election and Exhortation
A strong doctrine of election is sometimes caricatured as tending toward passivity—if God is the one who turns our wills and effects our salvation, all that’s left for us is to sit back and enjoy the ride. This passage works against that conclusion, expressing a balance of language of election and of exhortation. Paul is an apostle “by the will of God” (v. 1) and was “appointed” to his ministry (v. 11), God called Paul and Timothy “with a holy calling, not according to [their] works but according to his own purpose and grace”—a grace that was “given to [them] in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (v. 9). And yet, Paul addresses Timothy with a series of very active imperatives: “rekindle,” “join me,” “hold to,” “guard.” Whether in our preaching we tend to lean towards assurance or motivation, it is important to remember that salvation according to God’s will and work is consistent with an active and urgent response from us.
Trusting in Christ, Holding to Sound Teaching
Another tension that we find sometimes between different Christian traditions concerns what exactly is the object of our faith—do we believe in Christ, or do we believe in propositional truths? This passage affirms the necessity of both, while giving priority to the first. Paul is confident because he knows “the one in whom [he has] put [his] trust” (v. 12)—his hope is not based on what he has believed, but in whom he has believed. But that does not mean that what he believes is therefore insignificant, for he also counsels Timothy to “hold to the standard of sound teaching that [he had] heard from [Paul]” (v. 13). It is important that we maintain the priority of the person of Christ, while not neglecting to guard our doctrine; to fail in the first is to fall into fundamentalism, and in the second to succumb to subjectivism.
Mutual Entrusting and Guarding
This passage concludes with a beautiful motif of entrusting and guarding—given first as a description of what God does, and then as encouragement for Timothy to do the same. In v. 12, Paul declares, “I am sure that [Christ] is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.” Then, two verses later, he tells Timothy, “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you.”
Here we have another pairing of assurance and responsibility. God is the one who guards and protects us—we belong to Christ and nothing can separate us from God’s love, so we can be confident in trusting Him and entrusting ourselves to Him. But far from making us passive observers of God’s activity, this protection enables us to be given the extraordinary privilege of guarding the gospel entrusted to us.
The two instances of entrusting and guarding are nearly symmetrical, except that Timothy is not left to his own strength to guard what has been entrusted to him—“Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”
Darren Pollock is Pastor of Panorama Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Church History at Fuller Seminary. A graduate of UC Davis (BA in classics), Princeton Seminary (MDiv), and Calvin Seminary (PhD in historical theology), he lives in Temple City, CA, with his wife Ashley, two young children Charlie and Carter, and step-cat Fanny.
Darren is the author of Early Stuart Polemical Hermeneutics: Andrew Willet’s 1611 Hexapla on Romans (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2017). He has also been published in Jonathan Edwards Studies, Anglican & Episcopal History, and Word & World, and he contributed multiple entries to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017).
After Christ and his family, Darren most loves crossword puzzles and Scrabble, Zion National Park, good coffee, passion fruit, and the hapless Sacramento Kings.
Call to Worship
Adapted from Psalm 145
Leader: Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable.
People: One generation shall laud his works to another, and shall declare his mighty acts.
Leader: The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
People: All the Lord’s works shall give thanks to him and all his faithful shall bless him, speaking of the glory of his kingdom and telling of his power.
Leader: The Lord is near to all who call on him. Let us speak the praise of the Lord and bless his holy name forever and ever!
Adapted from Psalm 91
Leader: You who live in the shelter of the Highest, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord,
People: “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
Leader: For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler, and under his wings, you will find refuge; for he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
All: God answers us when we call and is with us in our troubles to rescue us and show us his salvation.