God’s Story, Our Story: Saving the Best for Last
Preaching: Lindsay Small
Text: 2 Timothy 4:1-8
Think of the last time you wrote a letter…not an email, not a text…but a letter (remember? Paper, pen, envelope…stamp?). For some of you, it may have been quite recently…but for others of us…it has been way too long… I never felt like I was good at writing letters. I never knew how to start them…and then ending them was another agonizing drama…
And then…there was the time in college when I wrote two letters back to back: One to a dear friend belittling a guy who had just broken up with me (using all kinds of colorful metaphors) and a second letter to that guy wanting to make sure we were still on good terms.
Except I mixed the letters up…I put them in the wrong envelope…truly. I sent the one ABOUT the guy TO the guy.
So that has put me off writing letters for the last 20 years or so…
This past week our family received a letter from a seminary student on summer internship. And it was amazing…first of all…the name on the envelope MATCHED the name on the letter… In her letter, the student took time to express her love for our family. And it was such an encouragement it was to receive…and save in our ‘rainy day’ file. It occurred to me that she could have posted her thoughts on Facebook, she could have summarized them in her text…but instead…she wrote a letter.
Something happens when pen meets paper. When we use our own personal handwriting font to connect with another person. Our words are captured in a way that makes them timeless, personal, and poignant. And so in the spirit of the student’s letter, and in the hopes of redeeming my letter writing trauma…I thought it might be helpful to review…how to write a letter.
And to do this…we’ll turn to three books of the Bible today. Now, yes, I said books. And three. Right around the time I was unpacking my pencil cup here at Fellowship, Pastor Brian informed me that my first sermon would be on 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. I must admit, at first I was a little concerned… It actually wasn’t so much the quantity of letters, it was the letters themselves that concerned me… Timothy Squared and Titus tend to fall a little below their more familiar counterparts like Philippians and Ephesians. Especially Titus…before this past week I will admit to you I can’t remember the last time I READ Titus. You don’t hear about Titus very often. It never really took off as a popular baby name like Noah or Abimelech. And you rarely hear someone say, “My heart verse is from Titus…”
But the more you read these letters, the more you see how special they are. And we can learn so much from them… Starting with, how to write a letter.
First, we have to know WHO we are writing to… That’s actually what makes these books so special….they are written TO A PERSON…Not a group of people. Not an entire church community. Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians…they were all written to churches. But these books are written to individual pastors who were struggling to find their way in a very new movement. First and Second Timothy, and Titus are written directly to the people they are named for.
Also as far as I can tell, the letters were delivered to the right person…which I know from experience, is also a good thing. Paul had these young men in his mind as he wrote these letters. If they were written to the churches, they would have had a very different feel…
THE WHO OF A LETTER IS IMPORTANT…
Any form of correspondence starts here: who is this for? For Paul, these letters were to Timothy and Titus…fellow disciples in the faith. The relationship between Paul…and Timothy and Titus was actually more mentor than colleague. He was older, wiser, and had taken on the role of bringing up these two young pastors. He begins his 1st letter to Timothy and Titus by addressing them as ‘true and loyal children in the faith…’
He is the Yoda to their Luke Skywalker… The Gandolf to their Bilbo Baggins. The ‘Who’ of these letters mattered a great deal (they did…) After greeting them both, Paul quickly turns to the matter at hand. And this is the second step of writing a letter…
Once you’ve established WHO you’re writing to…you turn to the WHAT you want to write about…
Paul has certain topics on his mind as he writes. At first glance these letters seem filled with rules, contextual guidelines, mixed metaphors, and the reminder that Paul never met a run-on sentence he didn’t like… But he has reason for his earnestness. Paul has heard accounts of false teaching and heresies among the churches…and he knows they are dangerous to the future of the church.
Central to his solution is the appointment of church leaders.
These leaders would be responsible for helping the fledging church follow Christ, and not be distracted by false teachers. So he writes about how to help them care for the church and carry out the duties of church leadership…
All of these instructions were really to underscore this key theme:
Transmitting a faith from one generation to the next.
Timothy and Titus represented a group that would carry the faith into the next generation. In their teaching, preaching, and encouragement…they were passing on the faith. Paul had passed it to them…now it was their turn to pass it on to the next generation… I believe that one of our greatest calls as the church is to pass on the good news of the gospel to the next generation. We have a responsibility to share with them the infinite love of God.
This past week, Vacation Bible School came to Fellowship Church. Over 100 children participated…so many volunteers gave of their time. I witnessed it not only as a pastor but as a parent. Our kids would sing the songs in the car, they would tell the Bible stories over the dinner table, and they would randomly sing without even noticing, lines like ‘Jesus is the light…” I watched crew members, young and old, give freely of their time…so that every single child that walked through the door would know the love of God.
What a wonderful thing.
The ‘what’ of a letter is the meat. It’s the point. It sets out to communicate and accomplish something. For Paul, it was imperative to give instructions to these young leaders. They needed guidance and direction. They were going to lead the church and train others to lead the church. At this early stage, when the church had hardly learned to walk…Paul says, “this is how you can fly!”
A quick side note, one of my favorite parts of all three letters comes in 1 Timothy 4. This is when we’re reminded that it is a letter… Paul has instructed, admonished, warned, and encouraged…and then he writes, ‘oh yeah…When you come, bring the cloak, also the books, and above all the parchments.
It’s the modern day text to your spouse, “Don’t forget…we need milk!”
THE WHAT OF A LETTER IS ITS CONTENTS…ITS WHAT WE NEED TO SAY TO THE WHO WE ARE WRITING…
But underneath all of this…the instructions, the details, the list of forgotten items…is the WHY…
Before you decide WHO to write to…and WHAT you are going to say…something compels you to write. There is a WHY that prompts pen to paper… And that leads us to the passage listed in your bulletin,
At the end of 2 Timothy…Paul writes, (chapter 4, verse 6…)
6 As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Everything has been leading up this point. Paul saves this sad truth to the end. To ready Timothy for the sharp sting it contained: Paul’s life would soon come to an end. His tone turns personal and his pronouns move from 3rd to 1st. Why did Paul write Timothy and Titus? He is saying goodbye. This is his farewell discourse. Yes, he is hoping to see his friends again. But he knows that his life and ministry are coming to an end.
Paul says, I have done what was necessary in my time; now you must do what is necessary in your time.
As Pastor Brian mentioned last week, I think we forget sometimes that Paul did much of his writing from prison. His entire life, his ministry…his future…was incredibly uncertain. But here in the passage, he looks on his future with hope not dread.
PAUL STARED INTO AN UNKNOWN FUTURE WITHOUT FEAR.
He knew that no matter what happened, a crown of righteousness awaited him. After persecution, ridicule, and imprisonment…his concern was not for himself but for these young pastors and their churches. He stared into an unknown future without fear. And he calls on Timothy and Titus to do the same. To pastor their community with love, grace, and kindness. Paul is showing them the way. And he shows us the way as well. It is hard to look into an unknown future without fear.
Everything we see and hear, especially the political rhetoric and world events…encourages us to run for cover. To hide with our own…to insulate ourselves…to fear the unknown. But what if Paul had done that? What if Timothy and Titus had done that? They faced persecution, ridicule, and even death…so that the gospel would be passed down from generation to generation. If we cower and hide…how will our children ever learn of a God that LOVES THE WHOLE WORLD?
Paul wrote these letters because he wanted to encourage leaders to grow in love and righteousness…not fear.
This morning, we consecrate Elders and Deacons for the work of the church. They stand on the shoulders of Paul, of Timothy, of Titus…ready to serve the church…ready to pass on the faith to the next generation. As a church, we are grateful that you will lead us. We are grateful you will teach us to Love More and Fear Less. We are grateful that you allow us to minister in our homes, our workplaces, our schools…while you attend with diligence to the life we have as a community.
The last step of writing of letter is signing off.
There are many ways to end a letter…perhaps you have a favorite…With Love, Sincerely, Blessings, But Paul employs a simple charge. In the Timothy’s, Paul simply writes, “Grace be with you.” In Titus, “Grace be with you all.”
This morning, this is the simple charge that ends the letter of this message… That GRACE…would be with you all. When regrets and disappointments from our past nip at your heels…Grace be with you. When the tyranny of the urgent clutters our present…Grace be with you. And when facing an unknown future where fear seems to be the easy answer…
Grace be with you all.