A Codicil to Paul’s Last Will and Testament

Near the conclusion of Second Timothy Paul acknowledges that he is about to be ‘poured out as a libation” and that ‘ the hour for my departure is upon me.’  It is where we find the familiar quotation of Paul’s that “I have run the race, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.’ (4:6-7).  Everything for Paul seems to be coming to its end.  He laments that Demas has deserted him, Crescens has gone to Galatia and Titus to Damatia.  Somehow even the coopersmith has done him harm. He reports that when he was taken to trial there was no one was there to support him….He writes: “Everyone left me in the lurch…”.  I think I can understand when he writes that he wants his warm cloak and his notebooks.

To get a handle on the conclusion of 2nd Timothy we need to start with the introduction, chapter  1:1-14.  It reads: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 3I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.

6For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 8Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

We know from the Book of Acts that Timothy was the child of a Jewish mother and a gentile father. He had shared in the task of proclaiming the Christian gospel. From I Corinthians 4 we know that on at least one occasion Paul sent him to clear up some problems within another worshipping community. In the introduction to this letter we learn that evidently Paul knew Timothy from a child.  He knew his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice.  As I’ve read and re-read this passage I can’t help but wonder whether the tears of Timothy’s to which Paul refers were those of an infant who defied consolation.

It is to this child of the faith, a faith Paul firmly believes was instilled in his holding Timothy as an infant, that he pens this “last will and testament”.  Paul desperately wants to see Timothy one more time before his death.  He wants to make sure that the gifts that God had given Timothy wouldn’t go to waste.  But it strikes me, as I read this letter, that Paul wasn’t so sure and is seeking assurance.

We put a lot of stock in the last words people utter, especially when they have played an important role in our lives. Quakers hold the words spoken by James Nayler on his death bed and those of Mary Dyer before here execution and the those of the last of the Rhode Island quietist leaders, Job Scott, as a precious testimony indeed.  So try to put yourself in Timothy’s shoes and ask yourself how you would deal with this letter, were it written  to you?

I love how the letter starts: 2To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.  How more personal can it get?  It’s like Quaker plain speech when in the language of affection a parent addresses his or her child as “thee”, second person singular instead of the more inclusive ‘you’.  And then in verse three, Paul makes a point. He tells Timothy 3I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did.  Paul makes no bones about the fact that he still considers himself a Jew and for that he is grateful but more importantly he persists in the tradition of the generations before him.  He desires the same for Timothy.  Be grateful to God for who you are and don’t fail to continue the faithful tradition you have received from your grandmother and your mother. 

The whole passage is rich.  There are at least three specific encouragements Paul gives to Timothy.  (1) Rekindle the Gift; (2) Don’t be Ashamed; and (3) Guard the Treasure.

The Greek word for “rekindling” is wonderfully picturesque.  It is formed by a preposition which means “again,” then a word which means “bring to life,” and concludes with a verb which means “to light a fire.” Thus, the combinations in the word, which only appears here in the NT, urge Timothy bring a certain fire back into his life, a fire that apparently once was blazing brightly. We aren’t privileged to why Paul is under the weight of this concern.  Were you to say that to me I’d have to assume you think that what was once a blazing fire in me had gone out.  To rekindle isn’t merely stirring old ashes, it requires a re-supply of flammable material.  Paul in v. 7 helps to illuminate what he has in mind.  He wrote 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 

The important point here is that Timothy needs to rekindle a gift. Why would someone’s gift lie dormant? We could probably come up with a list of why we don’t exercise our gifts. Sometimes we are simply overwhelmed by life’s realities. We seem to have no time or energy to put our gifts to work. Occasionally, we squander the gifts, either by inattentiveness or pursuit of paths we know are not helpful to ourselves or the kingdom. Other times we just draw back from life.

Jeff Davis, President of the Confederacy, spent eight years of his life as a recluse after the unexpected death of his first wife Sarah. Both had contracted malaria. She died from it. For the next eight years he secluded himself studying government and history, and engaging in political discussions with his brother. When he was elected to Congress from Mississippi the entire tenor of his life changed. He emerged as a statesman of significant dimensions. Even though he has been vilified in American history because of his position as head of the Confederacy, he possessed skills and insight that helped galvanize millions of people for several years.  But my point is that Davis, like others, retreated from life for a while not knowing how he would “re-engage” with life after his enforced time of self-exile.

In the movie “Get Low” a man late in life played by Robert Duvall engaged the local funeral director in planning his own funeral complete with a party.  No one understood why the man had lived the life of a hermit.  At the end it was revealed that he felt responsible for the death of the woman he loved though it was the violence of her husband that brutally killed her and burned down the home in which she died. His isolation was a prison he constructed for himself. It ended with his plea for forgiveness.

Other examples aren’t hard to find. Indeed, many of us retreat from the steaming cauldron of life’s battles for a variety of reasons.

            But among the last words of the Apostle to Timothy were to rekindle the gift, to not let it lay unused forever. Now may be the time for you or others you know to rekindle a gift they have. You will not live a satisfied or fulfilled life in faith if you continually ignore the inner tuggings of your heart to (re)kindle gifts you know are yours. Are there  voices you are trying to tamp down? Are there interests you’d like to explore? Which gift do you need to rekindle today? The world will be grateful for your expressing the gifts you know are yours–and you will feel a deep and abiding sense of personal satisfaction.

Next Paul tells Timothy: Don’t Be Ashamed, don’t be ashamed of the Gospel. From word one from the mouth of Jesus, consistent with the words of the prophets who preceded him, Paul fully understands that the message of the Gospel contradicts the values of that which is characterized by the phrase “the world”.    When we live kingdom values “the world” challenges our very existence.  Others try to “help” us feel ashamed, too, through their comments about our appearance, our past, our being a “loser,” our being “worthless” or unpatriotic or even ‘un-American.’  Make no mistake about it, these experiences of shaming make us a little less hopeful and require us to carefully consider what living with integrity means for us.

The Apostolic advice is for us not to be ashamed. I wonder if this is easier said than done? Certainly the point is the goal to which we aspire, but shame tends to cling to us like mold to a bathroom wall, like plastic film that sticks to our fingers and we can’t shake off. According to Paul, the solvent that removes shame is knowing “the one in whom I have put my trust” (v. 12). Christ, then, is the great shame-remover. Acknowledging Christ in our lives frees us to not only “rekindle the gift” but to feel that the shame that so long has bound us need no longer control our destiny.

Lastly Paul tells Timothy to “Guard the Treasure.” The purpose of rekindling the gift or emancipation from shame is not simply to have a “gifted” and “unashamed” person running around on the earth. The purpose is to guard the great treasure that is entrusted to us.  This image is found in II Cor. 4. There Paul wrote: “For it is God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” And then Paul becomes quite eloquent as he writes “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies”.  Certainly for Paul the act of having the treasure is all the more reason to guard this treasure.

When I was responsible for the financial dealings of F.C.N.L. I was told by members of wealthy families that the one unbreakable rule is this: “Never touch the principle”.  Now that didn’t mean you dig a hole and bury it somewhere. Not at all.  It means that you only use the income produced by wise investing, putting the principle to work for maximum yield.  You guard something precious by being present with it, keeping it in eye sight, and putting it to work.

Paul, in his last will and testament tells Timothy “Rekindle your gift”, “Don’t be Ashamed”, and “Guard the Treasure.”  What wonderful words to live by.

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