More than a coach

August 21st, 2019

2 Timothy 1:1-14

My husband is a huge college basketball fan, spending most of his free time in the winter watching as many games as possible. Needless to say, over the years, I have found myself watching quite a bit of basketball as well. I particularly enjoy attending games. There is something very exciting about a packed coliseum of thousands of fans united in support of their team. I especially enjoy watching the coaching staff during the games. They passionately instruct their players on the right moves and plays, as invested in their every move as I imagine they would be if they were playing themselves. The players, college students who probably would struggle with being instructed by an adult outside of the arena, watch the coach, listening to his every word. They realize, no doubt, that without a good coach, their God-given skills and love for the game would not reach its full potential. I imagine Paul as a kind of coach for Timothy. Paul apparently met Timothy as a young man, and was instrumental in Timothy’s future as a missionary. Whereas 1 Timothy gives instruction on ecclesiastical life, 2 Timothy is more of a personal letter from Paul, the coach, to Timothy, who is in the thick of the game of his life.

Although scholarship varies on the authenticity of Paul as the author of the Pastoral Epistles, there is something very personal in 2 Timothy. Some scholars suggest that, although Paul may not actually have written 1 Timothy and Titus, he was indeed the author of 2 Timothy. It is from that perspective I write. Paul was invested in Timothy’s calling and ministry. He seemed to care deeply for him as a son in the faith. As Paul approached the end of his own ministry, he was no doubt more passionate than ever about encouraging and instructing Timothy. Paul’s story was well known to Timothy. He probably heard it many times. Timothy knew of Paul’s conversion and transformation from a hater of Christians to a believer who suffered the rest of his life for his faith in Christ. Timothy no doubt knew that, even as he received these words of encouragement from Paul, Paul’s own days were numbered. I can imagine that Timothy treasured them throughout his life.

As Christians we believe these words are instructive for us as well. They are more than words from a mentor to a student, a coach to a player. In a very real way, we are on Timothy’s team. We all are called to share the gospel, to carry on the call of Christ. We too have excellent examples of faith, but carry the personal responsibility to find in ourselves the courage to share the good news.

The crux of 2 Timothy 1 is Paul’s encouragement to remain faithful. The threat of persecution of Christians in Timothy’s world was authentic. Additionally, Paul may have been concerned that his own death would discourage Timothy. Paul encourages Timothy to be bold and not ashamed to share the gospel. He encourages him that God is with him, and has given him the power he needs to withstand all that is ahead. He further shares that, even in his own suffering, Paul is not ashamed because he believes that God is able to deliver him from his difficulty.

We do not live in Timothy’s world. For that, I am thankful. Yet, I think we can use these encouraging words in 2 Timothy. As believers, we are daily challenged to live lives of boldness and faith. No doubt, it is much simpler to allow our faith to remain private, something we observe at home or at church with other like-minded persons. This is not our calling, however. Our lives are to be living witnesses to Christ. Our faith should be naturally evident in all that we do. When we fail to live our lives as persons of faith, by our very omission, we communicate fear, doubt, and even shame of our Christ.

Hear my message clearly. I do not believe that we are intended to live our lives beating people over the heads with the gospel. (The Crusades did not prove to be an effective missionary tool, after all.) Likewise, I do not believe that equipping ourselves with Christian bumper stickers, bracelets, T-shirts, and the like is the answer. I think our most effective witness is in our evident lives of faith. It is evident in the way we treat others. It is evident in the way we do business. It is evident in the way we behave behind closed doors, the persons we are with our children and spouses. It is sometimes easier to just stick a Christian fish on your bumper or hand out a tract.

I think Paul knew that authentic ministry is difficult. Second Timothy offers some great news! God is with us. God has given us the power we need to do what God has called us to do. God is able when we are not. This is a hugely important message! When it would have been easier for Timothy to give up and run for the hills, God gave him the power he needed. When Timothy mourned the loss of his coach, God was there, equipping him to be the person of God he was called to be. When it would be easier for us to lie, cheat, and steal, God is there, giving us strength to do the right thing. When it is tempting to leave Christ at church each Sunday, God is there, empowering us to be persons of faith in every place that life takes us. Whatever our circumstances, God is able when we are not. I imagine Timothy relied on that strength over and over, probably repeating those words in moments of doubt and weakness. We too have this great message of hope. We cannot do this alone, but it is not a coach we need, it is God. God is able and powerful. Praise be to God!

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