Three Times for Understanding
2 Timothy 2:1-7
I remember (or think I remember) reading somewhere, sometime that if a playwright wants the audience to remember something, he/she says it three times. This, of course, is in contrast to what our parents did to us (and we in turn do to our children), because parents never say anything less than a thousand times—as in, “If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times….”
Paul wants to make sure Timothy understands his advice, so he gives it three times. Well, not exactly, but he reinforces his advice with three examples to drive home his point. The writer wants his young protégé to be strengthened in his pastoral service. Paul knows how difficult it can be for a young person in ministry. It is easy to become discouraged because you feel so alone. You are, usually, the only pastor in your church. Unless you have a support network, you have no one to share with, no one to bolster you up when problems overwhelm you—which, as with other servant leadership positions, can easily happen every day.
Paul begins the passage, “You, then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” These two men shared an almost parent/child relationship, so the phrase “my child” was certainly one of affection. “Be strong,” Paul is saying, “but not in your own strength. And don’t give up. Take what you have learned from me and transmit it to others. Teach them what I have taught you, and then encourage them to teach others.” Paul knew what we all should remember: no one can do the job of ministry alone. The more helpers one has, the easier the work becomes—and the more rewarding, for there is nothing like seeing your students succeed.
The main goal of Paul’s advice was, “Never give up!” It is easy, once you become discouraged, to throw in the towel. It’s not a long journey from, “Nothing’s working right,” to, “What’s the use,” to, “I might as well give up and try another line of work.” We know from the frustration that occasionally comes through in Paul’s letters, that he must have been discouraged at times. We can see him tearing his hair out over the foibles of the Corinthian church. We can hear the tone of his voice as he dictates the words, “You foolish Galatians!” We can hear him saying, “After all I’ve taught you, you still don’t get it!”
So Paul gives Timothy three examples of people who persevere with a singlemindedness that assures they will complete their task.
· “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” If you’re going to be a good soldier, everything else must take second place. Otherwise it will be difficult if not impossible to fulfill your obligation.
· “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” If you take shortcuts, or outright cheat, you will be disqualified, and someone else will get the prize. Play hard but play fair.
· “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” True, the farmer should be ready to share his success with those who need help, but he has a right to enjoy, with his family, the fruits of his labor.
Paul finishes with, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in
everything.” Paul has given his young follower three good examples of how to be a success, but it is the Lord who will give Timothy the understanding he needs to fulfill his ministry. It’s as true for each of us in our ministry today.