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Know Whom I Have Believed"
2 Timothy 1:1-14
One of the major projects of a seminary career--indeed, I suspect that it is THE major project--is the writing of a credo. That word--”credo”--is a middle English word derived from the Latin word meaning “I believe.”
We know it best in English as “creed,” or a statement of belief.
When I went through seminary, in the late eighties, we wrote our credos as single papers at the end of the second of three years in seminary.
We had spent the first year studying scripture and the history of the church, and we had spent the second year studying the contexts of ministry: worship, education, mission, pastoral care.
So at the end of the second year, the idea of the credo was to integrate all of our learnings into a statement of belief which would indicate how we would do ministry.
The credo was a document that was expected to be about twenty pages of double-spaced type. Obviously, these instructions were created in the age of typewriters. Some of us stretched the rules a bit to get as much information into that paper as we could.
I used condensed type to get as many characters on a line as possible. My old dot-matrix printer would could squeeze out 17 characters per inch compared with the 12 that a typewriter could produce.
And instead of having footnotes eating up precious space in those twenty pages, I used end-notes, which added an additional five pages to the paper.
Credos--statements of belief--were relatively easy for some of us, extremely difficult for others. I remember that numerous students in my class were required to re-write their credos to clarify their statements of belief. And I also know that there were some who never finished their credos.
Now, there are a couple of ways of looking at this. On the one hand, you might think, “So what’s so hard about saying what you believe? Isn’t it all a rather simple matter?”
Or, on the other hand, after giving it some thought, you might wonder, “How is it possible to succinctly state and explain what one believes in a limited number of pages?”
Several years ago the alumni magazine of a leading seminary published a series of articles following the theme “How my credo has changed.” Believe it or not, people do change their beliefs! Scholars of John Wesley have drawn distinctions between his early writings and his later writings, because his beliefs changed. And even the scholars who study Paul in depth draw distinctions between the early letters of Paul and his later writings. His beliefs changed.
So what does all of this matter to us? Well, it would appear to me that we are constantly manifesting our belief system. Everything we do or say, every choice we make, is a manifestation of how we believe. Everything we ARE is our theology.
When we read our Bibles, everything we read about what Jesus said and did is indicative of what he believed. And the same is true for Paul. Take a look at the opening to his second letter to Timothy, and listen carefully to what Paul is telling you that he believes:
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
“I 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.”
One cannot wade through these few verses without, every few words, identifying a belief of Paul’s. There are a half dozen in the first verse alone.
Did you know that every time you open your mouth or write a sentence to express an opinion, you are exposing your belief system?
And we likewise are continually forming value judgments regarding the belief systems of others. This, I think, is humanly unavoidable. We need to do this to make sense of our lives and how they fit in with others.
Have the saints in the church done this? Of course, they have! We know that Jesus associated extensively with those considered “sinners” by the good people. He associated with those ostracized by polite society.
But he also had, in addition to his twelve disciples, his own set of best friends. Scripture would lead us to believe, from the stories we find there, that Mary and Martha and Lazarus fell into that category.
But listen to Paul in the fourth and fifth verses of the opening chapter to his second letter to Timothy:
“Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I 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.”
So what Paul knows about Lois and Eunice and Timothy has led him to an understanding of what they believe, and he finds that belief, that faith, not only consistent with his own, but also deeply moving for him.
These people held their faith with sincerity and passion, and Paul wishes he could be with Timothy to share that.
But Paul has ulterior motives. Paul is being complimentary to Timothy to build him up, to motivate him, to get him in the proper mood for what he has to say next.
And when we’re talking about differences in beliefs, I think it’s important to understand that even with all of our differences, there are some aspects of being human that are the same for all of us.
For instance, I’m sure that you’ve all heard that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. And I’ve yet to meet a person who does NOT like to eat.
And in spite of all of our political differences, I’m sure that you’ve also heard that we vote with our pocketbooks, our wallets, and our check books. Or, as James Carville was noted for emphasizing in the Clinton campaigns: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Many things ARE universal.
So I think that Paul is warming up Timothy. And he goes on to say,
“For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”
And we hear Timothy being reminded of his baptism and his ordination into service. Yet, not only reminded, but also reinforced. It is as if the gift of God is a fire within us that needs tending, and Timothy is asked to rekindle his fire.
Paul tells us what that gift is, and what it is not. It is a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. But his contrasting use of the word “cowardice” here can be misinterpreted. Especially in times of patriotic fervor.
I think that when Paul speaks of cowardice, he is fearful of Timothy’s losing his faith, of the weakening of his faith, of the loss of enthusiasm for his faith.
And I don’t think that it is too much of a stretch to say that from time to time ALL of us, pastors included, deal with those struggles.
Paul continues, “Do 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.”
Again, we may have some problems with words here. Shame is a rather heavy label. But Paul is encouraging Timothy to not back off from Christian teachings, to not be reluctant to hold on to what Paul has taught him.
And Paul does Timothy--and us--a favor. He admits that what he is asking is not an easy thing to do. How can suffering EVER be easy? And he also confesses that we cannot do this by ourselves, but must rely on the power of God.
And Paul digs deeper. He tells us why we should be relying on God’s power, and what that power involves:
“God 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.”
Folks, this belief stuff can get complicated. Paul is throwing his credo at us. You could break this verse out into another half-dozen “I believe” statements.
And I could be here for a very long time trying to unravel them all, but I only want to pull out a few highlights.
Notice that God’s grace, God’s unique love, drives all of these beliefs. This grace is eternal, beyond time. And whatever God has in mind and in store for us has nothing to do with whether we are deserving or not. God still has a holy calling for us.
And I do mean ALL of us, not just Paul and Timothy and not just clergy, but ALL of us.
And to this statement Paul adds, “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.”
It is as if to say, we have always been the benefactors of God’s grace, but NOW we have it incarnationally--in the flesh--made manifest in Jesus.
And not ONLY does God love us, but through Jesus’ life and death, God has abolished death and given life and immortality new meaning for us.
And where does Paul fit into all of this? “For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do.”
And again, in the space of a few words in a single verse, Paul has packed a bunch of “I believe” statements. From the labels he has provided, we might also think of him as a prophet, a preacher, a disciple, a follower, an explainer; all roles which flow from the gospel; all of which provides the justification for the way he lives his life--the “reason I suffer as I do.”
Paul’s words may seem elaborate, but what he is saying is not unlike what we might say in identifying what we are called to do and why we are called to do it.
However, in Paul’s case he adds an apologetic, a defense of his position, when he says “But I am not ashamed.” And to this he establishes one of the most powerful statements of belief we can find in scripture:
“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.”
You may or may not know hymn number 714 in our hymnals. The words to the refrain of that hymn are based on the words of this verse: “But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.”
And as Christians, it all comes down to this: Do we know whom we believe? In whom do we put our trust? It is not enough to say that we believe in God. Because so does every other religion on the planet. Jews and Muslims believe in God. But their focus is different.
Do we know whom WE believe? In whom do WE put our trust? These are not trick questions. And just like Paul, we should not be ashamed of the testimony about Christ.
For myself, the more skeptical I become of the secular world, the more sure I become of the truth of the teachings of Jesus.
Paul concludes this introductory passage to his second letter to Timothy by proclaiming, “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”
These were words written to a close follower of Paul’s in a strong tone of personal encouragement, and I believe that we likewise can be encouraged by Paul’s words.
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