“Encouragement for St. Timidity” (2 Timothy 1:1-14)

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 6, 2019

“Encouragement for St. Timidity” (2 Timothy 1:1-14)

Fear, or timidity, can paralyze a person and render him ineffective. This is true when it comes to our life as Christians. We live in a hostile world. We’re in enemy territory. The world is not friendly to the Christian faith. Where will we find the courage we need to be faithful Christians? Faithful Christians are those not ashamed of the gospel, nor afraid of suffering for it. Not ashamed, not afraid. The alternative is that we turn into tame and timid “people-pleasers.” St. Paul addresses this issue when he writes to Timothy in our Epistle reading. And the question comes to us also: Will you be a faithful St. Timothy or a fearful “St. Timidity”?

Timidity. Fear. It’s a serious drawback to living a faithful Christian life and giving a clear gospel witness. We Christians, whether lay or clergy, can become intimidated by the world around us. We see the ridicule that Christians are getting–in the news, on TV sitcoms, on social media–and we draw back. Maybe it’s not even a conscious decision, but we do draw back. We hide our faith. We compromise our values. We blend in with the crowd. We downplay our differences from the surrounding culture. We’re afraid that people will not like us, they will reject us, if our Christian faith is too much a part of who we are. But that is timidity. It weakens our Christian witness. And in the long run, it will even weaken our faith.

Timidity, cowardice, fear–these things are not limited to Christians in our day. Even in the early church, Christians could be tempted toward timidity. After all, they had a lot to be intimidated by! Active persecution, not just being disliked–that was the threat they faced. Those Christians risked imprisonment and death. That’s the context when Paul writes to his young assistant Timothy and gives him this charge: “Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel.”

Paul himself was suffering for the gospel. As he writes this letter, he’s sitting in a cold Roman dungeon. He knows he’s probably going to be executed very soon for the crime of being a Christian. And he knows that Timothy could someday face a similar fate. But he also knows of a fate worse than death, and that would be to disown the gospel. To bow to threats and forsake the faith–that is the greater danger. Paul did not want Timothy to be intimidated by persecution. Not only was Timothy’s own spiritual life at stake, but also the spiritual well-being of the Christians under his leadership–the churches in and around Ephesus, where Paul had left Timothy in charge. Timothy’s example of either fear or faithfulness would likely influence others. So Paul tells Timothy: Don’t be ashamed of the gospel of Christ. Join me in suffering for the gospel. Not ashamed, not afraid.

Paul reminds Pastor Timothy of his ordination, when he was called into the ministry of the gospel. He wants Timothy to always keep alive the fire for the gospel that he has: “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.”

“Fan into flame.” It’s somewhat ironic that Paul should use this particular phrase. Let me explain. The Roman emperor at the time was that murderous madman Nero, who had taken to persecuting Christians. A few years earlier, the city of Rome had been heavily damaged by a great fire, and a rumor circulated that Nero himself had been the one who set it. So to take the “heat” off himself, Nero looked for someone to blame. The scapegoats he picked were the Christians. This then was the background for Nero’s first great persecution of the Christians at Rome in the year 64. The Roman historian Tacitus writes: “To suppress the rumor, Nero fabricated as culprits, and punished with the most refined cruelties, a notoriously depraved class of people whom the crowd called ‘Christians.’”

Tacitus also tells us the grisly details of those “most refined cruelties” that Nero laid upon the Christians: “A farce was made of their deaths. Dressed in the skins of wild animals, they were torn to death by dogs; or they were fastened to crosses, and when daylight ended, were burned to serve as torches by night. Nero had provided his gardens for the spectacle.”

Now, as Paul is writing to Timothy, it’s a couple of years into this Neronian persecution, about the year 66 or 67. Being a Christian carries the death penalty. Paul knows this would be his last imprisonment. Of course, as a Roman citizen, Paul could not be crucified. His death sentence would be carried out by the more civilized method of beheading. But Paul knows it will be death, just the same. Christians at that time were in mortal danger.

Christians today in America are not in danger of death, at least not yet. But the temptation toward timidity is real, nonetheless. Because to be a consistent Christian means that you will not always blend in with the crowd. Your faith, your beliefs based on the word of God, will be noticed by others, and they may not like it. They may not like you. The way you live will be different from what people are used to. And that may make them feel uncomfortable, maybe guilty about their own sin and unbelief. And as a result they lash out at you.

For example, maybe you invite your friend to come to church with you, because you know that that person needs the gospel. Maybe you talk about your Savior Jesus when someone asks you what’s important to you. Maybe you don’t take part in some things that would keep you from going to church on Sunday mornings, because you know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the most important thing in your life.

And then it begins. Your co-worker gives you the cold shoulder. You don’t get invited to as many things as other people do. The pressure is subtle, but it’s real: “Conform to the group!” That is when you need the courage to be faithful, not fearful. Not ashamed, not afraid. You need encouragement–literally, you need courage put into you.

Have you faced pressure or felt intimidated for being a Christian? Then you need the courage to overcome timidity. And that’s what God will give you when you need it. Encouragement. He’ll put the courage into you. Today be renewed and strengthened in your faith. Receive God’s help and strength to be a faithful Christian.

God gives you what you need. Listen to what Paul tells Timothy: “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Likewise, he tells him to carry on “by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.” Fellow Christians, this same Holy Spirit dwells within you! In your baptism, you received the gift of the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit does not cause us to cringe with fear at the threats of men. The Holy Spirit fills you with confidence in the power of God. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” “The Lord is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear?” By giving us the Holy Spirit, God has given us a spirit of power. That’s why Paul can say to Timothy and to us: “Share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.”

Here then is the key: The help you need to suffer for the gospel is found in the gospel itself! The gospel itself provides you with the power and the courage you need to live a faithful Christian life.

The gospel of God’s grace in Christ–this gospel is the power of God. It is a saving power, a rescuing power, and it is entirely God’s doing, not ours. Paul says that God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace.” Your salvation, is God’s free gift. You can’t earn it, you don’t deserve it, but it is yours.

Rejoice in this salvation! Receive it as a gift! God planned it for you a very long time ago: “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time. . . .” And what God planned from eternity now has appeared in human history: “and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

That’s it! That’s the gospel! Christ Jesus, the eternal Son of God, came into human history to be our Savior. He saved us by dying on the cross for our sins, our sins which had condemned us to death. He saved us by conquering sin and death for us. He saved us, and his resurrection on Easter morning is the proof that our salvation is complete. It’s all about our Savior Christ Jesus, “who by his death hath destroyed death, and by his rising to life again has restored to us everlasting life.”

This gospel, being preached to you today, declares to you Christ’s great victory and makes it present for you. Your sins of fear and failure, of being timid–all your sins are forgiven, for his sake. Death has been defeated; its power has been deflated. Life, new life that lasts forever, is yours in Christ. Live in this reality with confidence and joy and courage!

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Empowered by the Spirit, alive in the gospel of God’s grace, connected to Christ our Savior, we will be the faithful Christians we’re called to be. Not ashamed of the gospel, not afraid to suffer for it. This is the great encouragement that God gives to all of his “St. Timidity’s.”

Published in: on October 5, 2019 at 6:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: