Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

After a standard opening sequence of greetings and thanksgiving, Paul jumps into a section of generalized statements about the Gospel and ministry.

The Mulberry Tree
Vincent van Gogh, "The Mulberry Tree." Creative Commons image from Wikimedia Commons.

October 2, 2016

Second Reading
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Commentary on 2 Timothy 1:1-14

After a standard opening sequence of greetings and thanksgiving, Paul jumps into a section of generalized statements about the Gospel and ministry.

There are several profound theological truths in 2 Timothy 1:5-14 that exist underneath the surface. We will address two here namely: the home as a root and sanctuary of Gospel ministry and the power of the Spirit for engaging in Gospel ministry.

This passage really takes off in verse 5 where the focus shifts from general greetings to the specific family background of Timothy. Paul lists Timothy’s grandmother and mother by name, noting their key roles in Timothy’s life as the predecessors of the faith which now dwells in him. Verse 6 begins with the strange phrase “for this reason.” It is easy as a reader to skip over the grammatical force and function of prepositional phrases and connecting particles. However, skimming the text and neglecting the inner working of the grammar could cause us to miss the way in which all of the sentences together contribute to the flow of the passage. In this case we must ask: To what does “for this reason” refer and in what way is it functioning in the discourse?

In terms of the phrase’s function, the Greek evidences the fact that what is about to be said in 2 Timothy 1:6 — namely, that Timothy should fan into the flame the gift of God given to him — is grounded in what has been previously communicated in verse 5. Thus, the phrase refers back to the seminal role that Timothy’s mother and grandmother played in the power and potential of his present ministry. Paul’s reminder to Timothy in verse 6 to boldly cultivate and embrace his own current calling and ministry is because of, on account of, and rooted in the reality of Timothy’s initial exposure to the faith within the context of his family. It is warming and humbling to recognize that Paul’s confidence and foundation for his pastoral charges to Timothy have their genesis first and foremost in the faith that he received from the sincere saints of his own household. This familial principle is immediately applicable to our own contemporary context. To what extent have the acts of teaching, catechesis, and religious practice been relegated to the religious “professionals” of the Church? Are we as followers of Jesus pursuing Gospel ministry from within the sanctuary of our own homes with intentionality, frequency, and excellence? These are important questions to consider as we encounter the foundational role that Timothy’s family played in his walk with the Lord.

Though the emphasis begins with the family and the home, it is not unimportant that Paul references the commissioning, ordination, or consecration (whichever you fancy) of Timothy through “the laying on of hands” for the task of vocational ministry in the Church. Yet, the fact remains, the beginning of Timothy’s call to walk in the light of the Gospel began in his oikos (Greek meaning household) not in his ordination. And, it is unto the Spirit-led tending of the household of God (see also 1 Timothy 3:15) that this young minister is being called, commissioned and spiritually-equipped. Timothy learned the truth in a household (his family), for a household — the Church. For the ordained person, this is a sobering and centering reality, but it is also an encouraging word for the entire Church. While there is a particular responsibility that comes with the ecclesial laying on of hands, the sanctuary of the home occupies the initial and foundational place in which the priesthood of all believers begin to exercise their Gospel ministry.

Switching gears, in 2 Timothy 1:7 Paul calls Timothy to cultivate this ministry on the basis of the fact that he had received “a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” This is contrasted with “a spirit of cowardice.” While it is possible that the word “spirit” here is referring to a mere general disposition, it more likely refers to the Holy Spirit from which source flows forth the spiritual fruits of power, love, and self-discipline. This is especially probable because the immediate contextual antecedent to this in verse 6 is “the gift” which is received through the laying on of hands (see also 1 Timothy 4:14). The word translated as “gift” here is the Greek word charisma which is used frequently (but not exclusively) in the Pauline and Deutero-Pauline corpus to refer to spiritual gifts which are given for the ministry of building up the body of Christ (see also Romans 1:11; 12:6ff.; 1 Corinthians 12:4; 9; 28; 30-31; 1 Peter 4:10). Further adding to the likelihood of this view is the fact that in verse 14 the commands to “guard the good deposit” and to “follow the pattern of sound words” are grounded on the reality of the indwelling “Holy Spirit.” But even if this is just a “spirit” as in an “ethos, character trait, way of behaving” the distinction would be a moot point because, theologically, such fruits are elsewhere directly tied by Paul to the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer (see also Galatians 5:22-26).

Why does this matter? Well, the nouns that characterize the “Spirit” here are words that generally do not play nice together. “Power” — in the eyes of the world — is often approached as a “will to Power” which seeks to subjugate love and self-control to a peripheral place on the basis of their inability to manipulate and coerce. Yet, here for Paul the Spirit given for ministry is one that is both powerful and loving. This loving power and powerful love is indicative of how power operates in the heart of God and in those made in his image. We can see this love most clearly demonstrated in the power of Jesus’ sacrificial death which is viewed as weakness in the eyes of the world but which — through the Resurrection — is actually the strength and power which defeats death. Thus we have here an eschatological, pneumatic redefinition of “power” that is only illuminated and explicated in the work of Jesus through his life, death, and resurrection. Therefore, whether it is in the sanctuary of the home or in the sanctuary of the Church, it is our calling and responsibility to subvert the present world order rooted in the “will to Power” with the Gospel of love by the power of the Spirit who in turn redefines power by love.