2 Timothy 1:3-14
3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He 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. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
Faith in Jesus makes a person do and say some strange things. Faith made Noah build a boat in preparation for a world-wide flood. Faith made Abraham leave his home. Faith made Jacob wrestle with God. Faith made Joseph say “no” to a woman who was throwing herself at him because she was not his wife. Faith made Moses lead a stubborn and rebellious nation through the desert for 40 years. Faith made Gideon go up against the Midianite army with just 300 men. Faith moved people to give such treasures and talents to build the temple, as David told us in the First Reading from 1 Chronicles. Faith made Daniel pray to God when he knew it meant he’d be thrown to the lions. Faith made Ezra and Nehemiah continue with their work of rebuilding Jerusalem. Faith made Joseph take a pregnant virgin home to be his wife. Faith made fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, and others give up everything to follow Jesus. Faith made servants do their duty willingly and cheerfully as if they were working for the Lord. Faith made believers take beatings and imprisonments. Faith made people peaceful as they faced the lions. Faith in Jesus as the only Savior from sin makes a person do and say some things that are not normal.
What does it make you do? Now, in this section from chapter 1 of Paul’s second letter to Timothy, you aren’t going to hear this long list of all the things Christians do because God has planted faith in your heart. There are other sections of Scripture that help us, that train us, that teach us in our life of thankfulness and service. So today God is not trying to convince you that you have to do something extreme, something great in order to have real, genuine faith. But it is still a good question to consider: what does faith in Jesus do? What does it sound like?
For starters, let’s just consider some general examples. One is John. He’s your typical guy, who works at the office, likes sports, loves his wife and kids, and has a few hobbies like golfing, hunting, and grilling. He comes to church a couple times a month. He strolls in about one minute before the bells. When he comes his family has to sit in the back left corner. He sings softly, if at all, because he doesn’t want anyone to hear him. He listens to the readings and prayers and sermons attentively most of the time. And then, when worship is over, he’s trying to hustle his family out the door. Maybe he’ll have a quick chat with a buddy, but that’s it. He isn’t rude or angry to anyone; he just wants to get home and on with his day. During the week, he’ll talk about the news or sports with coworkers and friends. He’ll hang out with his family and read a devotion after supper. But he pretty much just does his thing. He doesn’t want to cause waves. He doesn’t want argue about politics or religion. John is a normal guy that likes things simple.
Next, you have Mary. She is the bubbly, chatty one. She comes to church early so that she can catch up with everyone and greet any new people. (Maybe that means get the latest gossip or talk about her current accomplishments.) She sings alto in the choir because she thinks she has a great voice. When she brings something for the potlucks, she is always sharing where she found the recipe. She likes to get involved with projects so that they are done well. People at work think she’s nice, but maybe a little full of herself. Her family loves her; she cooks well and has great organization, but they get a little annoyed that things always have to be perfect. Mary is outgoing and fun, but she struggles with pride in herself and her abilities.
Then, there’s Lacy. She’s not as outspoken. She’s gentle and kind. She is the type that bakes cookies for everything. For the kids at school: cookies. For fellowship snacks: cookies. For new neighbors down the road: cookies. For the big game over at the in-laws house: cookies. For the office: cookies. She just wants to help. She’ll look over the newsletter for the birthdays and anniversaries so that she can send a card or say something to them next time she sees them. She likes the personal touch but she doesn’t get very personal with many people. Lacy is peaceful and loving but also shy and soft.
Now, each one of these people has faith in Jesus. They believe that Jesus is God’s Son and the Savior from sin and death. We praise and thank God for the Johns and Marys and Lacys. We praise God because only he could save a John or a Mary or a Lacy. We praise God like the Apostle Paul writes, because he 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. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Only a God with all-knowledge and power could give us this kind of comforting promise that he has loved us from before time began. Only a Savior who appeared in our world and took our punishment for sin could rescue us from death and hell. Only a Savior who defeats the devil, the world, and our sinful nature can remove our darkness and bring eternal life to light. Only a God full of love for the unlovable could make these kinds of people his very own through the power of his Word. Only a God that comes down to us in the sacraments could raise us to live a new life. All the praise and all the thanks goes to our eternal God.
But I think we would all agree that there is room for growth for the Johns and Marys and Lacys. That’s why Paul reminds Timothy and all believers to “fan into flame the gift of God.” The life of faith is all about continual growth! There is something each one can work on. John can be a little more helpful and thoughtful. He can own the mission of the church more, meaning he can get involved and serve for others. Mary can be a little less self-centered. She can serve others with the kind of self-sacrificing humility and compassion that our Savior gave us rather than trying get the praise for herself. Lacy can be a little less timid. She doesn’t have to shy away from people because she’s worried what they might think of her. She can be bold and powerful with God’s Word.
But that is not really something you can do for yourself. Paul didn’t want Timothy to despair as he tried to work on some of these things. He doesn’t want anyone of us to think that our life of faith is “all on me.” He doesn’t want us to focus on our own mistakes and misgivings. For a plant to grow it has to get sunlight and water. Someone else has to do something for that plant to be healthy and productive. The same is true for us. God reminds us through the Apostle Paul today, “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you (that’s faith) – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” You and I need the Holy Spirit. We need the resources that he uses to feed faith. We need a constant dose of the Means of Grace. We need regular reminders from God as he speaks through his Word. We need the forgiveness and strength offered in Jesus’ body and blood. That is where growth happens. It doesn’t happen because, “I know about God and stuff.” That’s like a plant saying, “I will grow because I know about the sun and water and stuff.” Growth happens when the Spirit does his work. And when the Spirit is doing his work, that’s when Johns and Marys and Lacys grow. As Paul tells us, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”
I don’t know about you but to know that God is doing all of this for us takes the pressure off of me. Our worship series has been all about taking care of our church; it’s reassuring to know that we are in God’s hands. He is working on us. He is giving us all that we need to guard the good deposit of faith. His Spirit gives us the power and love and self-disciple. And he keeps giving it to us so that we can keep it up.
But there’s one more thing that helps you take care of God’s church. This is the second letter from Paul. Timothy had been at this ministry thing for a while. And the Lord was blessing his efforts. But that doesn’t mean he was done growing. And what do you need to grow? God needs to feed you. And God will often use someone else to do that. For Timothy it was Paul writing these inspired words of God. But Paul needed help, too. Paul had also been working tirelessly and all of that effort got him into prison, again. It’s this beautiful blending of comradery that describes what faith does.
Do you remember in the beginning, all those examples of extreme things, strange things to some, that faith makes us do? Well, here is something pretty simple that helps the Johns and the Marys and the Lacys of the church so much. It’s you. Timothy needed Paul and Paul needed Timothy. I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. Paul’s sitting there in prison and he’s encouraging Timothy. Paul says he’s praying for him. He directs him to the power of the Spirit working through the gospel of Jesus. But Paul was also encouraged as he sits in prison by memories of Timothy’s faith-filled family and his own faithfulness. And he wants Timothy to visit so he can have more joy and comfort.
Brothers and sisters, this is how it works. God uses believers to help believers. Maybe you noticed how much that helped David. Maybe you see how much that helps when Jesus describes repentance and forgiveness between believers. Maybe you heard the joy in Paul’s words about Timothy and his family. And that’s what you can be for a Jon and a Mary and a Lacy. You can be a source of encouragement and comfort. Your faith can help them and theirs can help you. When faith does that, when faith in Jesus is supportive like that, then good things happen.
God grant it. Amen.