May 13, 2007
We want to say a word of thanksgiving for all of those present who are mothers. We wish each one of you a happy Mother’s Day. The reason we do this in our assembly is that we believe that you are involved in a work which is like God’s, and a work which is done in partnership with him. We want you to know that you are precious to us.
Why do children grow up and become the kinds of persons they do? How is the faith which we as Christian parents hold so precious passed along to our children? And, how are those of us who have been blessed by such a faith supposed to go about passing it along to the following generation? These are the questions which are at stake in 2 Timothy 1.
They are also questions which are always on the mind of every parent or grandparent, every son or daughter. Some years ago my friend Bob Dockery made me aware of an article that appeared in the Readers Digest titled “Questions People Ask Ministers Most.” One of those questions was “How can I pass my faith along to my children?” Just a year or two after that Harold Hazelip wrote a book by that same title, and one of his chapters in that book was titled, “Will My Children Have Faith?” When we stand at the place where we look ahead of us and wonder whether we have blessed our kids with what they needed most, that questions is on our minds.
And it is interesting to observe Paul’s response to this matter. In 2 Timothy 1:3-7, he makes some statements which have woven into them four principles which are crucial when it comes to what we will turn out to be, and whether our children will believe.
He says, “I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
Observe first from what I have just read that one of the crucial factors in what we turn out to be is the influence of our parents. This is true in both the case of Paul and of Timothy. Paul mentions in verse 3 that he serves God with a clear conscience literally, he says, “from my fathers.” In other words, he learned from his own ancestors not only that it was important to believe but also what to believe in. Paul had come to see his own faith in Christ as a continuation of that faith which had existed in the hearts of his mother and father even though they had lived under Judaism. He believed like they believed. He had learned from them. Then he mentions to Timothy that he regarded Timothy’s sincere faith to have dwelt first, to have been at home first, in Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, and now also in Timothy.
Think about the implications of that for a moment. We know from Acts 16:1-2 that Timothy’s own father was a Greek. The way it said seems to me to suggest that he never did become a Christian, or at least hadn’t when this was written. And that means that Timothy’s faith was traceable not to father’s influence but to his grandmother and then to his mother. Thomas Oden, in his 1989 book on 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus makes this observation: “It is significant that Timothy, not a first generation Christian, had received the faith from the maternal line of his family, and he was now being charged with transmitting the faith to subsequent generations.” You may notice 2 Tim. 2:1-2 on that part of this. Then he says, “This point is worth savoring: nobody gets here without a grandmother. The portraits drawn by some modern women of their supposedly oppressed grandmothers tends toward a caricature that does not correspond with anything I knew of my own grandmothers. The grandmother generation is sometimes pictured as so lacking in power that they knuckled under and succumbed to an inferior position. The caricature views the strength and independence of modern women in sharp contrast with the supposed frailty and dependence of their intimidated grandmothers. Some feminist are horrified at the fantasy of trading places with their grandmothers, whom they view as submissive and lacking clout.”
“Not my grandmothers! They were imaginative, intelligent pioneer women of independent mind who took risks and prepared the way for milder hearts to follow. There was nothing self-deprecating or unself-assured about them. The Bible life of faith flowed in their trek across the prairies.” (p. 29) The vital life of faith had also flowed in Lois and Eunice before it had in Timothy.
I ran across just recently some research by George Barna and his group. The title that I saw was “Research Shows Parenting Approach Determines Whether Children Become Devoted Christians,” not whether they remain nominally Christian but whether they are devoted and faithful Christians. Barna, evaluating cultural trends related to values and beliefs, released data on what he calls the three dominant parenting approaches in America today. Think of these relative to being mothers.
First, they were parenting by default. That is, just following the course of least resistance. Second, trial and error parenting, the process of experimentation and improvement based on success and failure. Thirdly, what he calls revolutionary parenting, which is taking God’s word on life and family at face value and applying those principles faithfully and consistently. And here’s what Barna says is the main difference in these approaches: “Parenting by default and trial and error parenting enable parents to raise their children without the effort of defining their lives.” This is a crucial point – without the effort of defining their lives. In other words, you provide for them – physical shelter, clothing, food, etc. – and you provide them the opportunity to participate in every activity that comes down the pipe, but you never define for them their lives. “Revolutionary parenting,” he says, “based upon faith in God makes parenting a life priority defined by intentionally facilitating a faith-based transformation in the lives of the children.” (Cited by Larry Snow, “The Edifier,” Dickson, TN, April 26, 2007). Don’t let the words get you lost. What he is saying is that revolutionary parenting realizes that whether those kids have a faith to live by is more important than the other matters that we are talking about (as important as they are).
He says that this kind of parenting has these five qualities about it. 1) Knowing, loving and serving God is a top priority. The idea that serving God captures the parents’ affections is the crucial thing here. 2) Revolutionary parents describe their faith in God as being of the highest importance. 3) They contend that absolute moral truth exists and is defined in the Bible. 4) They believe that their main purpose in life is to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. 5) They are currently active in a vibrant church as demonstrated by their consistent engagement in worship, prayer, Bible study and spiritual accountability.
That is simply describing what scriptures have always urged. That must be what Paul believed Timothy had seen in the lives of Lois and Eunice – a sincere faith. They taught him the scriptures from his childhood up (2 Tim. 3:15). They must have been actively engaged in living out their faith in the ordinary chores of daily life, also.
The second thing that contributes to the development of the person that Paul talks about here is the worthwhile friendship. Parents have a great influence, but they don’t have all the influence. In the background of the situation in our text is Paul’s friendship with Timothy. It is not the typical “I like you – you like me” type of thing of people who have everything in common. Instead, it is a relationship in which these two men, separated by a generation apparently, are so close to each other that Paul can speak in this passage here of thanking God for Timothy, of remembering him night and day in prayer, of remembering Timothy’s tears, of longing to see him so that he can be filled with joy. The key qualities of this friendship are a shared faith, life experiences which have tied them together, a deep thankfulness for each other and a longing to take joy in each other’s company. All of those qualities are so crucial in the kind of friendship mentioned here.
In Mark Thiesen’s report from Malawi, I noticed a piece he wrote on a brother named Rodgers Chitsulu. He is a co-worker of Mark in the work at Namikango. He is 47 years old, and here’s what Mark says about him. “Like Timothy, Rodgers had a godly grandmother who handed her faith down to her children and grandchildren. A local preacher also influenced Rodgers as he taught him and his older brother, baptizing Rodgers when he was 10. But this preacher didn’t stop his work after the boys’ conversion. For the next ten years he provided them with reading materials and continued to nurture their faith. Then he began to teach them how to lead prayer, to lead songs and to serve in other ways in the church. And one day he told them, ‘All this time I have been preparing you to become preachers. Next Sunday one of you can preach and you can take turns on the following Sundays.’” (January 2007). There was Rodgers finding himself in a partnership between his grandmother and a brother in the congregation who had nurtured him, encouraged him and trained him and made a difference in his life. That is what happened to Timothy, too.
The friendship that is here is what I want you to think of. You and I turn out the way we do by the choices we make about friends. How can you know when you are headed in the right direction? First, is that friend behaving like a Christian person should? Paul says to Timothy in chapter 3 and verse 10, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me. And through all of these I endured.” That is what Timothy had seen in his friend. Paul was a great, positive influence upon him.
Secondly, a friend should be somebody who nurtures or encourages the grace of thanksgiving in your life. When Paul says “I am praying for you night and day,” what he means literally is “I am thanking God for you night and day.” A friend like this makes you glad for people who taught you the scriptures, makes you thankful that you have a mom and a grandmother like you have. He makes you thankful that you have been given the opportunities that you have been given. Stay away from people who make fun of folks like that.
Thirdly, a friend is somebody who, from time to time, says to you, “Remember.” In this passage there are four different ways Paul says in some form or another, “I remember,” or “I am reminded.” Friends are people who help you remember why you have turned out like you have, and who has helped you along the way, and how you have been blessed. That “remembering” is a real encouragement to the fulfilling of God’s will in life.
I ran across a poem that combines this memory and looking forward that we are talking about. “I think of times as the night draws nigh of an old house on the hill. Of a yard all wide and blossom-starred where the children played at will. And when the night at last came down, hushing the merry din, Mother would look around and ask, ‘are all the children in?’ `Tis many and many a year since then, and the old house on the hill no longer echoes to childish feet, and the yard is still, so still. But I see it all as the shadows creep, and though many the years have been, even now I can hear my mother ask, ‘are all the children in?’ I wonder if, when the shadows fall on the last short, earthly day, when we say good-bye to the world outside, all tired with our childish play; when we step out into that Other land where Mother has been so long, will we hear her ask, as we did of old, ‘are all the children in?’ And I wonder, too, what the Lord will say to us older children of His. Have we cared for the Lambs? Have we showed them the Fold? A privilege joyful it is. And I wonder, too, what our answer will be when His loving questions begin: ‘Have you heeded my voice? Have you told of My love? Have you brought the children in?’”
The Providence of God
The third great theme in this text here that has to do with how we turn out is the providence of God, the doors he opens for us. The providence of God is his unseen involvement in the unfolding of life. It is not always recognized. In fact, I would say seldom or ever is it recognized while it is going on. But it is something, which, when we look back, we are able to see in the sense that there are those points in our lives where, if a different turn had been taken, if a different person had been present, if a different door had been opened, our lives would have been altogether different.
Here in our text Paul says to Timothy, “I want you to fan into the flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hand.” The laying on of Paul’s hand in this passage here probably had to do with some sort of miraculous gift which had been imparted to Timothy by him, the apostle. The apostles, according to Acts chapters 8 and 19, had the ability to impart gifts such as that to equip the early church for its work. The hands of the elders had also been laid on Timothy, according to 1 Timothy 4:13, apparently to set him apart for the work which needed to be done by him at that time.
You and I do not have to think of some miraculous gift or some special assignment, though, in order to have this same principle apply to us. God has given us opportunities. God has given us in his provident privileges. The fact that we are here today and we have people around us illustrates the point that I am making here.
Think of the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25:1-13 as he taught about the ten young women, five wise and five foolish who knew that they had been given an opportunity to meet the bridegroom and to share in the wedding feast. But five of them wisely took advantage of that opportunity, made personal preparation and got themselves prepared for the joy of that occasion. The other five took it so lightly that they occupied themselves with only their own moment and did not prepare for the privileges that were available. The sad part of the story is that those who had foolishly ignored the opportunity missed it, while those who worked with the Lord in his providence and took advantage of that opportunity had a life that turned out altogether different.
The providence of God is something that requires our faith and our cooperation. It means believing that if I will walk in the light, if I will listen to his word and let it be my guide, if I will involve myself in fellowship, if I will do what I can in his service, then I can know that the Lord will go with me, and he will open the doors, and he will finally bring me home. That is what faith is about, and that makes a difference.
A Person’s Own Attitude
This leads to the fourth point. It is not just parental influence or good friends or the providence of God, but people also turn out like they do because of their own spirit, their own attitude, their own choices about life. In verse 7 notice that Paul reminds Timothy that God didn’t give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Think about that for a moment. The thought is of one spirit, but it being a spirit of power, love and self-control is important. Here is a spirit which involves all three of these qualities. The power is the concept of ability and confidence, strength, but it is not merely a harsh determinism because it is also a spirit of love, which is active compassion toward other people. It is also a spirit of sensibleness or soberness or of self-control in which a person uses some wisdom in the choices he makes about how he will live life. If you put this spirit in an environment where there is faith of loving parents, encouragement of solid friends, an opportunity from a loving God, then this spirit will flourish and it will show through in a life which is full of good works.
I read a story of a little girl who, on the way home from church, turned to her mother and said to her, “Mama, the preacher’s sermon this morning confused me.” The mother said, “Why is that?” The little girl replied, “Well, he said that God is bigger than we are. Is that true?” The mother replied, “Yes, that is true.” The little girl continued, “He also said that God lives within us. Is that true too?” Again, the mother replied, “Yes that is true, too.” Then the little girl said, “Well, if God is bigger than us and if he lives in us, wouldn’t he show through?” It is a pretty good point, isn’t it? He would! And if the faith that dwelt first in Lois and Eunice dwells in Timothy, then it shows through in a spirit of power and love and self-control.
Why do people turn out like they do? Because of the influence of parents who hold to a sincere faith, friends who encourage in the right way, a God who opens doors in his providence and in choices that are made wisely in respect for the Lord. Why have I turned out like I have? Why have you turned out like you have turned out? It starts somewhere along the line with the choice of faith which says I want my life to be devoted to the Lord. You are either a person who needs to hand that on or a person who needs to make that choice today. If you need to today, stand before your friends present and confess that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, and that you want to be baptized into him for forgiveness of your sins.