Remember your heritage (2 Timothy 1:1-5)

So far in 2 Timothy we’ve seen that Paul is probably writing this letter from a Roman gaol (not just under house arrest) and facing the likelihood that he’ll soon be executed. He’s sent for Timothy to be with him during this dark time. But since this takes the form of a letter of moral exhortation, he’s also reminding Timothy of their relationship, and of Paul’s example which Timothy is to imitate in terms of character and behaviour. The most important thing Paul wanted to pass on before his death was… himself. The model he has been for Timothy in how to live for Jesus.  Today, we begin chapter 1.

2 Timothy 1:1-2 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Although Paul is facing death, he’s hold onto the promise of life. And he writes to Timothy, his dear son.  He uses the language of family to remind Timothy of the bond they share. But also the language common to this kind of letter, where an authority figure passes on wisdom and exhortation to a subordinate.

This is a slightly different address from 1 Timothy, where he calls him his “loyal child.” Is this because, in a private letter, there’s no need to point out Timothy’s loyalty to the church (who were intended to “overhear” the first letter)? Or because there’s a hint that Timothy might be a little timid in coming to Paul’s aid, his loyalty therefore being called a bit into question? We’ll talk tomorrow about the “timid Timothy” theory.

2 Timothy 1:3-5 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.

You’ll remember(!) from yesterday that memory was one of the four Ms of this kind of letter. In this thanksgiving, Paul uses three variations on a word to do with remembering. This idea of “memory” is the theme of this section. It urges Timothy to continue in loyalty and perseverance by remembering three things: Paul’s example (v3), their long association (v4), and Timothy’s own spiritual heritage (v5). These then play out in the rest of the letter.

As well as memory, the other theme in this thanksgiving is heritage – ancestry. Paul serves God as his ancestors did. Why bring that up? There are two possible reasons.

(1) It could be that Paul is trying to “own” Israel’s story. This would make sense in light of the false teachers mentioned later in the letter. The false teaching seemed to have a Jewish flavour, so Paul might be claiming that he is the one who’s acting in continuity with the story of God’s people.

But even if the false teachers aren’t in mind here, owning Israel’s story still makes sense. Greek and Roman society respected ancient religious (even weird ones like Judaism that believed in only one God!) more than newfangled trends – and they respected people who followed the religious traditions passed down from their ancestors. (Paul does this when he’s on trial before Gentile rulers, in e.g. Acts 24:14; 26:6 – where he also links it with the concept of having a clear conscience, just like in verse 3 in this letter.)

(2) However, the mention of ancestors in this very personal letter is probably a call to reMember their faith as a Model to be iMitated. The way we use the word “ancestors” is mostly to refer to distant predecessors; but the word often simply meant close relatives, even parents. Paul’s parents were devout followers of God. And Timothy has a mother and grandmother who followed God. So his message to Timothy is: just as I followed my parents’ example in worshipping God, follow your own mum’s example… and her mum’s, too!

Interesting side note: what was the faith of Timothy’s mother and grandmother? Does Paul mean they were faithful Jews under the Old Covenant? Or were they early converts to the church? Or is Paul not making any distinction here? At any rate, these are the people who taught him the Scriptures – the Old Testament – “from infancy” (2 Tim 3:14).

One of my favourite TV shows is Bluebloods, which follows the Reagan family – three generations of New York police (plus one District Attorney). Everyone in the family is involved in law enforcement, which is essentially “the family business.” There’s a Reagan code to live by, and a heritage to live up to – to which they often appeal when working out how to act in tricky situations where doing the right thing – and being loyal – is costly.

Here, Paul is appealing to Timothy’s heritage to encourage him into action, even when it looks like it might be difficult and costly. Continue the family business!

The faith (or better, faithfulness) of his mother and grandmother also lives, Paul is persuaded, in Timothy (v5). Is he really “persuaded”? Or is this simply Paul giving Timothy a reputation to live up to? Either way, this is a call to live up to his family heritage.

To think about

Do you come from a family of believers? If so, what was the role of your parents and grandparents in your faith? What kind of model have they left you in terms of character and habits?

For all of us: what heritage will you set in place for those who follow – whether your own children, or the next generation of believers in your faith community? Are you conscious of your life being a model for imitation? (Should it be? Do you want it to be worthy of imitation?)

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