My last post, Followers in Service, discussed the history of ancient Israel—how during the time of the judges and kings, the very worst tragedy seemed to be, not just the lack of leaders, but the failure of so many leaders to plan for the future—to mentor the next generation of leaders. There were many great leaders, but in the sad words of Judges 2:19 “And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them.”
Yet there were a few great who passed the torch to the next generation—among them was Moses, who through the forty years of wondering in the wilderness was mentoring the young man, Joshua, to take his place. And even though Moses could not enter the promised land in person, his wise leadership was carried on in the person of Joshua.
But this was by no means the only instance of good mentorship in the Scriptures. Today, I’d like to explore another instance—this time in the New Testament. We find it, not so much as a story, but in the tender and intimate letters written by the great apostle Paul to his spiritual son and protege in ministry, young Timothy.
Timothy means “honoring God”
Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted to have him go on with him.
Like Joshua with Moses, and not unlike the disciples of Jesus, Timothy joined Paul on his missionary journeys. This became a mutually beneficial relationship—the younger Timothy was able to give Paul some much-needed assistance. At the same time, Timothy grew and developed under the wise mentorship of the great apostle.
But Timothy didn’t live his life under the shadow of Paul—because he was often sent to different places for a time, with the understanding that they would rendezvous at some future point. We see an example of this in Acts 19:22: “So he sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, but he himself stayed in Asia for a time.”
Paul sent Timothy to visit the Corinthian believers, as he mentions in 1 Corinthians 4:17 and 16:10. When he wrote his second epistle to the Corinthians, Timothy was there beside Paul, as he was for many of Paul’s epistles. Even when Paul was a prisoner, Timothy remained with him as a faithful friend and companion. (see Philemon 1:1)
Timothy himself was no stranger to the hardships of missionary life, having been himself thrown in prison on account of his faith. Paul rejoices in the closing phrases of Hebrews that “our brother Timothy has been set free.” (Hebrews 13:23)
You may be wondering, why am I focusing so closely on these special “mentorship” relationships in the Bible? Perhaps it’s because of some research I’ve done recently for a school assignment, that has helped me realize the importance of these relationships. Perhaps, as I have recently begun this chapter of life in full-time ministry, I have realized more than ever my own need of wisdom, and the importance of fostering these relationship with those who have more experience and wisdom. Perhaps, sadly, as I’ve seen one after another of our own members pass to their rest, I’ve realized the brevity of the opportunities we have of gaining wisdom from those who have gone before us, before it is too late.
At any rate, I have been blessed by focusing my studies on these special teaching relationships in the Bible, and perhaps nothing has blessed me more than the tender words of Paul himself, written to his spiritual son in the faith, Timothy.
He opens his first epistle to Timothy with these words: “To Timothy, a true son in the faith:” (1 Timothy 1:2)
Pauls second epistle to Timothy is thought to be the very last letter Paul wrote, while in prison, before his death. In this touching letter, Paul pours out his heart to his beloved son:
2 Timothy 1
To Timothy, a beloved son:Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, 4 greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, 5 when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. 6 Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
Ellen G. White wrote the following words in Acts of the Apostles, page 204:
“Paul loved Timothy, his ‘own son in the faith.’ 1 Timothy 1:2. The great apostle often drew the younger disciple out, questioning him in regard to Scripture history, and as they traveled from place to place, he carefully taught him how to do successful work. Both Paul and Silas, in all their association with Timothy, sought to deepen the impression that had already been made upon his mind, of the sacred, serious nature of the work of the gospel minister.
“In his work, Timothy constantly sought Paul’s advice and instruction. He did not move from impulse, but exercised consideration and calm thought, inquiring at every step, Is this the way of the Lord? The Holy Spirit found in him one who could be molded and fashioned as a temple for the indwelling of the divine Presence.
“As the lessons of the Bible are wrought into the daily life, they have a deep and lasting influence upon the character. These lessons Timothy learned and practiced. He had no specially brilliant talents, but his work was valuable because he used his God-given abilities in the Master’s service. His knowledge of experimental piety distinguished him from other believers and gave him influence. (AA 204)
Let’s go back to the passage in 2 Timothy 1:8
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God,
Paul admonishes Timothy, “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner.”
Have you ever been ashamed of the gospel? Have you ever felt ashamed of who you are?
I must confess, I have. When I was in Community College, I didn’t want to stand out. When I took biology class, and the professor taught evolution, I didn’t want to be that kid who stood up and disagreed with the professor.
When I was working as a colporteur, when I would knock on doors and start showing the Bible Story books, I would often be met with the questions, “So, what church are you with?” And we never tried to hide our identity, but so often I didn’t want to say, “I’m with the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” because so many people would get us mixed up with Mormons or Jehovah’s Witness, and I really just wanted them to think I was an annoying salesman rather than a religious fanatic!
Can we not boldly learn to say “I am a Christian—a follower of Jesus. Saved by His grace, and washed in His blood. I’m no longer a citizen of this world—I’m bound for a heavenly kingdom. I expect to see Jesus return literally and visibly in the clouds if heaven, soon. As a citizen of His country, and because of my grateful love to Him, I want to follow His ways by keeping all of His commandments. That’s why I’m not ashamed to call myself a Seventh-day Adventist Christian!”
Speaking of this boldness in suffering for the gospel, “according to the power of God,” Paul writes in 2 Timothy 1:9-12
who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, 10 but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. 12 For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.
Paul is a prisoner. He’s under arrest. The world hates him. He faces the stigma of having converted more Roman subjects to Christianity than perhaps any other man. Was he sorry? “I am not ashamed” he says. I know who I’ve believed in, and He will not fail me now. He’s holding on to my reward. Let the Romans do what they may, God will not fail me.
That was Paul’s testimony. He says in Romans 1:16:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
But what about Timothy? Paul encourages Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:8 “do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God.”
It’s one thing to be unashamed of the Gospel. But what about those who have come before us, proclaiming the gospel? What about the pioneers, like William Miller, who proclaimed a message from God, only to find out they were mistaken? What about the great men and women of this movement who have come before us, and we see their great accomplishments, and also their great mistakes?
What about this great second-advent movement, and the organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church? I must confess, I’ve struggled with this, and still do. And this message has struck my heart. Because all to often, I must confess, I have been ashamed. Not ashamed of the Bible, but ashamed, perhaps, to associate myself too closely with certain areas of my church. Certain individuals, or certain parts of the organization, which I disagreed with. Discussions that have gone on, words that have been spoken at our important business meetings, books that have been printed, attacking other believers, or tearing down the work that others have built up. Words that have made our church a laughingstock to the world, and I must confess, it’s made me ashamed at times to call myself a Seventh-day Adventist.
But I believe the message of Paul, to Timothy, is a message to us today. “do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner.” Was Paul an apostle of God? Yes. Was Paul a perfect man? No—he wasn’t. At least not in the sense that we often think of perfection. Paul was a human being, and he himself admits he made mistakes. Never a day went by that he forgot his early life, in persecuting Christ’s followers. He called himself the “chief of sinners.” After his comparative failure in eloquent reasoning at Athens, he changed course with the Corinthian believers and determined to know “nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
And yet despite his failures, Paul was not ashamed. Because He knew that it was not because of these failures, but rather because of Christ, that he was suffering in chains. And he admonished Timothy, don’t be ashamed of me.
And so, my friends, I can say today, that I am not ashamed of Christ. Nor am I ashamed of His church, or of the messengers, past or present, that he has given us to lead us forward. Is it perfect? no. But I believe that the persecution, opposition, struggles that we face are not something to be ashamed of, and I will proudly say
“I am a Christian—a follower of Jesus. Saved by His grace, and washed in His blood. I’m no longer a citizen of this world—I’m bound for a heavenly kingdom. I expect to see Jesus return literally and visibly in the clouds if heaven, soon. As a citizen of His country, and because of my grateful love to Him, I want to follow His ways by keeping all of His commandments. That’s why I’m not ashamed to call myself a Seventh-day Adventist Christian!”
I’ll admit, as a new pastor, I’ve been tempted to complain about the mistakes of those who’ve gone before. I’ve been tempted to think I’ve got a better plan. I’ve been tempted to distrust the older generation, because I’ve had disagreements with their way of thinking.
No doubt Timothy faced the same temptation, especially seeing Paul in chains, on death row. No doubt thoughts ran through his young mind, “surely there’s a better way. Yes we’re supposed to preach the gospel, but maybe we should have been more careful! After all, hadn’t Paul been rash and perhaps even failed to follow his own teaching in going into the temple for purification? Yes, Paul knew all this. But Paul says, “don’t be ashamed of me.”
E.G. White, speaking of the aging apostle John, writes these words in Acts of the Apostles page 572-274:
“The history of John affords a striking illustration of the way in which God can use aged workers. When John was exiled to the Isle of Patmos, there were many who thought him to be past service, an old and broken reed, ready to fall at any time. But the Lord saw fit to use him still. Though banished from the scenes of his former labor, he did not cease to bear witness to the truth. Even in Patmos he made friends and converts. His was a message of joy, proclaiming a risen Saviour who on high was interceding for His people until He should return to take them to Himself. And it was after John had grown old in the service of his Lord that he received more communications from heaven than he had received during all the former years of his life.
“The most tender regard should be cherished for those whose life interest has been bound up with the work of God. These aged workers have stood faithful amid storm and trial. They may have infirmities, but they still possess talents that qualify them to stand in their place in God’s cause. Though worn, and unable to bear the heavier burdens that younger men can and should carry, the counsel they can give is of the highest value.
“They may have made mistakes, but from their failures they have learned to avoid errors and dangers, and are they not therefore competent to give wise counsel? They have borne test and trial, and though they have lost some of their vigor, the Lord does not lay them aside. He gives them special grace and wisdom.
“Those who have served their Master when the work went hard, who endured poverty and remained faithful when there were few to stand for truth, are to be honored and respected. The Lord desires the younger laborers to gain wisdom, strength, and maturity by association with these faithful men. Let the younger men realize that in having such workers among them they are highly favored. Let them give them an honored place in their councils.
“As those who have spent their lives in the service of Christ draw near to the close of their earthly ministry, they will be impressed by the Holy Spirit to recount the experiences they have had in connection with the work of God. The record of His wonderful dealings with His people, of His great goodness in delivering them from trial, should be repeated to those newly come to the faith. God desires the old and tried laborers to stand in their place, doing their part to save men and women from being swept downward by the mighty current of evil. He desires them to keep the armor on till He bids them lay it down.” (AA 572-574)
“Those who really possess the religion of Jesus will not be ashamed nor afraid to bear the cross before those who have more experience than they. They will, if they earnestly long to be right, desire all the help they can get from older Christians. Gladly will they be helped by them; hearts that are warmed by love to God will not be hindered by trifles in the Christian course. They will talk out what the Spirit of God works in. They will sing it out, pray it out. It is the lack of religion, lack of holy living, that makes the young backward. Their life condemns them. They know they do not live as Christians should, therefore they have not confidence toward God, or before the church.” (1T 154)
My call today is simply this: Will you be unashamed of Christ? Will you be unashamed of His church? Will you be like Timothy—and be unashamed to honor, respect, and learn from those who’ve gone before us?
No, we don’t worship the human element. Certainly in this world, there is much to be ashamed of. Yet through it all, we follow One Who is able to keep His promises. “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. (2 Timothy 1:12)
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