Summary: You cannot keep yourself safe. Your only hope is to entrust all that you are and have to Jesus.
Renewing Your Passion
Today we are beginning a summer series from the little book of II Timothy. People sometimes wonder how pastors choose what to preach on. In this case, I feel like I didn’t choose II Timothy; II Timothy chose me. Last fall as we were finishing up our trip on the “Bible Bus,” we came to II Timothy. Even though I had read the book before, the power of its message grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. It seemed to say, “Preach me! Calvary needs to hear this truth.” So I promised myself that as soon as I had an opening in my preaching calendar, we would go through II Timothy. And now, seven months later, the time has come.
Five Fast Facts
In order to grasp the message of this brief book, we need to know something about its background. Here are five fast facts that will help us.
1) II Timothy was Paul’s final book.
Many people consider it his “last will and testament.”
2) When Paul wrote it, he was in prison, in chains, in Rome.
In II Timothy 1:16 Paul specifically mentions his chains. That’s not a metaphor or a symbol; it’s a statement of his incarceration in Rome. Although the precise details are hard to pin down, the chronology goes something like this. At the end of the book of Acts, Paul is under house arrest in Rome but is able to receive guests and to preach to them. At some point he was released and resumed his itinerant ministry. Later he was arrested again (perhaps at Troas), charged with a crime (perhaps treason for asserting the lordship of Christ, which could be twisted to mean an attack on the Roman emperor), and sent to Rome for trial. This time he was tried and condemned to death. Tradition says he was beheaded by the wicked emperor Nero. Though we cannot be certain, a date of A.D. 66 is possible.
3) The church was in a crisis situation.
Historical background is important at this point. For the first 25 years or so after the birth of the Christian movement in Acts 2, the church spread rapidly across the Roman Empire. Although there were pockets of resistance and occasional persecution, the church by and large found a warm reception in many places. That all changed in A.D. 64 when Nero burned Rome and blamed it on the Christians, ushering in a wave of general persecution across the empire. Suddenly being a Christian became a dangerous and sometimes deadly affair. As a result, many of the hangers-on drifted into the shadows. It wasn’t popular any longer to mention your faith in public. Lots of so-called Christians no longer wished to be “so-called.” It was easier and safer not to get involved with Jesus or his followers. In addition, false teachers had crept into positions of influence in many local churches. These heretics claimed to follow Christ but denied the major tenets of the Christian faith. And a surprising number of believers were taken in by their false teaching. From his prison cell, Paul saw all these ominous developments and knew things would get worse before they got better.
4) Paul had been virtually abandoned in Rome.
Given the situation, it’s not surprising that when Paul was condemned to death, few people came to his aid. Most of his friends from earlier missions found reasons to conveniently forget about him. “Out of sight, out of mind.” Only Luke was with Paul in Rome.
5) Timothy represented the up-and-coming generation of emerging Christian leadership.
Paul is an old man now, and Timothy is his trusted young colleague. Timothy is much younger than Paul, perhaps in his 20s. He loved Paul deeply and had been with him in many difficult situations. According to Acts 16, he was the product of a mixed spiritual heritage. His father was Greek, his mother Jewish. He seems to have been a young man with a sensitive, emotional, and somewhat timid disposition. No doubt he felt overwhelmed by the responsibilities being thrust on him, and he was overcome at the thought of his mentor’s approaching death. Paul’s final letter is a passing of the torch from one generation on to another.
One of the most exciting Olympic events is the 4x100 relay. Four men (or women) each race 100 meters, passing the baton as each runner finishes his part of the race. Coaches say that the most critical moment in a relay race is not the beginning or the end; it’s that split second when one runner takes the baton and places it in the hand of the next runner. If there is a bobble, or if the baton is dropped, the race will be lost. So it is with the Christian message. Each generation has a sacred obligation to pass the truth along to the next generation. Parents have an obligation to make every effort to see that their children follow the Lord. Church leaders have to look to the future or the church will die. The Christian movement is always one generation from extinction. It’s not enough to say, “I believe in Jesus.” We must do what we can so that the next generation believes in him as well. We must pass the truth along because we will not be here forever.