Summary: Information about faith and what we can do to build it and nurture it.
I don’t know about ya’ll, but I’ve been feeling pretty darn faithful lately. Why? Let’s see…
I went to a doctor I didn’t know.
Who sent me to a surgeon I had no personal experience with.
Who took me to an Operating Room where I spent 2 waking minutes with someone I had never met who put me to sleep and held my life in her hands.
Then I saw another doctor who wrote a prescription I could not read.
Which I took to Walgreens and left for a pharmacist I never saw.
Who gave me a chemical compound I did not understand.
Which I put in my body every day because the bottle tells me to do it
I’m either very faithful, or incredibly dumb! (Please – do not tell me which) Faith: most of the time, we don’t even know we have it. But, we all do – whether it’s turning on the switch and trusting the light to come on, or telling a secret to a friend – knowing they won’t betray our confidence. We are a people whose daily life relies on faith.
This second letter to Timothy, which some scholars feel may not have been actually written by Paul as much as by a later disciple of Paul’s, tells us some surprising things we need to know about faith.
Faith Exhibits Change
We tend to think wrong about faith. We hold onto the idea that to “keep the faith” is to make sure everything stays the same. We believe what our parents taught us which their parents taught them which was handed down through generations. But it doesn’t really work that way – even in genealogy. Preachers, teachers, time, experience and inspiration all put their fingerprints on the faith as it is handed from one to another. That’s the natural way of it. After all, people evolve – why shouldn’t faith evolve? Faith is not about “never changing yourself”. Faith is about “never giving up on God”.
The writer tells Timothy to “fan into flame” the gift of God that was given to him. In other words, don’t just let it die out like a smoldering ember that has gone unattended. Fan it – build it – add more logs to it – and create a vibrant flame. That’s what true faith does – it builds off of the strong embers of history and adds air (spirit), wood (teaching), and kindling (experiences) to make a fire that will accomplish God’s will in the world. It is said that everything fire touches, fire changes. From tempering steel to devouring wood to heating our food, fire leaves change in its path. Faith does the same thing. Faith is not about following the old never-changing way. Faith is about following God’s way.
Faith Inhabits Suffering
We often cling to faith when faced with suffering. One of the key elements of the grief process is bargaining with God. Trying to say “God, if you heal me, I’ll never [insert sin or bad habit] again.” But God cannot be bought with our emotional bribery and embraces us with even more compassion as God moves us forward toward acceptance. What is it that God wants us to accept? It can’t be dying – because God doesn’t accept dying. God gives us eternal life, forgiveness, and continues to relate to us even in our fallen state. Why should we accept anything God is not willing to deal with?
I believe God wants us to accept a simple truth placed elegantly in the backdrop of this letter to Timothy. God wants us to realize that Jesus died to save us from our sin. Jesus died to keep us from the separation between us and God. Jesus died to conquer death and provide eternity for our soul. So – while Jesus came to save us from our sin, our separation, and the loss of soul – Jesus did not come to keep us from suffering. In fact, Jesus remarked frequently that following him and preaching a gospel based on loving your neighbor (no matter who your neighbor is) would LEAD to suffering.
Faith inhabits that truth as the scripture in 2 Timothy says:
“So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.”
Now – try that the next time you have some free time. Pick up your phone, get a hold of a friend and say “Hey, how would you like to come suffer with me? I have a lot of suffering to do, and I thought you’d like to do some suffering too.” See how many dates you pick up! Yet, that is what this letter is doing - INVITING Timothy to join the suffering.