Uniform Lesson for February 12, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: 2 Timothy 1:3-14
This week we shift from the gracious calling of Paul to the gracious calling of Timothy, a disciple of the next generation. How does the faith get passed down? What might a generational calling look like? And what are the threats and obstacles to the ongoing vitality of such faith, both then and now? God’s choice is indeed “exceptional” – and it’s our year-long theme – but so are the responsibilities that comes with that choice.
A generational gift
There is a strong theme of continuity in this week’s lesson. Just as Paul links the nature of his worship with that of his ancestors, so too Paul traces the lineage of Timothy’s witness from his grandmother Lois, through his mother Eunice and on to Timothy, whom Paul now counts as an associate in ministry (v. 3). Not only is it exceptional for Paul to cite such generational witness by name, but the faith itself is almost personified. Note how Paul first celebrates Timothy’s “sincere faith,” then makes this faith the subject of the sentences that follow: “a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you” (v. 5). It’s almost like faith is the main character in the story and the people are simply chosen as hosts. This is a living gift and a living responsibility.
Just as Paul faced a turning point in his ministry, this letter is framed as a final testament from Paul to this next generation, so mainline faith seems to be at a turning point today. Not only should we lift up the names of those who are laboring to pass this gift on to the next generation, we should also recognize the power inherent in the gift itself. Paul doesn’t challenge Timothy to find the faith or even “trust” the faith; no, he is asked to “rekindle the gift of God that is within you” (v. 6). According to the Westminster Confession of Faith: “This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may be often many ways assailed and weakened, but gets the victory; growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith” (6.080). This is a faith that is alive and growing, thanks be to God.
A gracious gift
Paul now goes on to remind Timothy that he has been chosen to be a bearer of this gift not because he is exceptional, but because God is. Indeed, this is what we call grace. Paul states God’s exceptional choice as clearly here as anywhere in scripture: “who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace”(v. 9). This grace was bestowed on us “in Christ Jesus before the ages began”(v. 9). It has been “revealed” through the “appearing” of Christ Jesus, and it is being passed on through the preaching and teaching of the gospel, a vocation to which not only Paul and Timothy are called, but all to whom the gift has been given (v. 10). As stated above, God, in Christ, is both the author and the finisher of faith — in the individual, in the community and throughout the cosmos. Yes, this faith is alive and grounded not in the faithfulness of human beings, but in the faithfulness and graciousness of God.
A gift to be guarded
All of this makes faith a “good treasure” that must and should be “guarded” (v. 14). Why? Because bearing witness to this treasure will bring suffering (v. 8). Because standing up for this treasure may lead to shame in Paul’s culture and in ours (v. 12). Because staking one’s life on this treasure may lead to imprisonment and even death, which may be why Paul reminds Timothy of the “life” and “immortality” brought to life through this same truth (v. 10).
The primary verb with which Paul describes our responsibility vis-à-vis the gift of faith is “entrusted”
(v. 14). Faith is a treasure regarding which we are called to be stewards, trustees, or executors. Just as boards have fiduciary responsibilities toward the institutions they serve and executors watch over the treasures that a family seeks to pass from one generation to the next, so too we are called to “guard” the “treasure entrusted” to us with the Holy Spirit’s help (v. 14). This is a high and holy calling and one that calls for our very best.
We are often quite zealous to guard good treasures such as endowments and estates and retirement accounts. Are we as zealous regarding the “guarding” of the faith?
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