Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s 60% Cacao Mint Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: 2 Timothy 1
Will you look at that. Before us today is another letter from Paul to Timothy. Let’s roll up our sleeves and (nervous laughter) hope Paul doesn’t start talking about slavery again.
Fortunately, he doesn’t. He begins with greetings and encouragement, then mentions a few individuals by name as he gives Timothy the news. I couldn’t help being struck by the personalness and sincerity of his opening words. He calls Timothy “my beloved son” and wishes for him “grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (2). The latter is standard procedure for Paul–everybody needs a little grace, mercy, and peace–but in his last letter, he called Timothy “my true child in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2). Paul is close as ever to his protégé, and if anything, his terms of address have grown a little more intimate. To Paul, Timothy is fam.
And it only gets closer. Paul tells Timothy, “I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day, longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy” (3-4). And man! First of all, I have grown horribly undisciplined about prayer, and there are few that I “constantly remember in my prayers.” If I tell a person, “I’ll be praying for you,” this probably means I’ll pray for them once or twice over the next handful of days, then forget they exist until the next time I see them. Paul isn’t even issuing commands yet, and I feel like his example of concern for Timothy as evidenced in consistent prayer is urging me to step up my game.
On top of that, to say that Paul looks forward to seeing Timothy again is a bit of an understatement. His words express desire, anticipation, and a stronger bond than most people have outside of marriage or blood relatives. Paul even notes, “I recall your tears.” He’s seen Timothy cry! How many people have seen you cry? I’m guessing not many, and fewer still if you’re an American male. A Christian friend of mine who was born in India told me that the perception of men as unemotional or stoic is a function of American culture. Other cultures have different norms and views surrounding the relationship between culture and gender; in India, for example, women are expected to rein in their emotions, while men have free rein to express themselves in the full emotional spectrum. And some two thousand years ago, before America and its gender roles even existed, Paul and Timothy were sowing seeds that would turn “real men don’t cry” on its head.
As he proceeds, Paul encourages Timothy to hold onto the gospel and suffer for it. This passage includes the widely-quoted verse “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (7). And Paul’s not speaking out against fear or hesitancy in general here. He’s speaking about a particular kind of courage, as he explains, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God” (8). The spirit’s power overcomes our impulse toward self-preservation, our tendency to value our own reputation over the gospel, our hesitancy to endure necessary physical or social suffering specifically for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This isn’t about boldly browbeating your opponents in debate or joining political rallies. It’s not aggressive courage. No, it’s the courage to incur costs. Paul tells Timothy, “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (12). His dignity doesn’t depend on what others think of him, and that’s a good thing, because his commitment to the gospel has made him plenty of enemies in high places. It’s not clear to me from the text what Paul has “entrusted” to God, but he’s willing to suffer indignity and physical pain for it. He’s willing to pay the cost himself.
In 21st-century America, we’ve got our cultural picture of boldness. But Paul gives us another picture: one that doesn’t hesitate to care about people, to express emotion even through tears, to hold onto what God has given us and to trust him with the things we value. And, perhaps most crucially, it’s a picture of boldness that is prepared to suffer.