Lenten Meditation: Friday, February 19
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2 proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5 As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
2 Timothy 4:1-5
Tradition tells us that the letters to Timothy were written by Paul from prison—a prison he did not believe he would escape alive. This accounts, in part, for the tone of the letters—a tone that suggests that these are parting words of advice to young Timothy as he carries on the ministry.
Certainly these words sound right at home in our world. “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires.” This reminds us of the scene from Acts wherein Paul is preaching to the Athenians and the narrator tells us “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.”
Today we have a buffet of news and opinion networks. There is a church for every religious desire and hope. We live in a marketplace reality where reality itself is on offer.
Here the author encourages Timothy to cling to the truth, even in unfavorable times. But what is this “truth”? This is not made explicit here but a larger consideration of Paul’s writings and the writings done in his name put forth a pretty clear priority. First of all is Christ crucified. We preach Christ crucified, Paul writes to the Corinthians, a stumbling block and a folly. That God raised Christ from the dead. As Paul writes to the Corinthians “If Christ be not raised our faith is in vain and we remain in our sin.” There are human traits which are signs of the truth. Some are mentioned in this letter. Righteousness, faith, love and peace. Recall Paul’s lengthy description of the characteristics of love.
First century Christianity was no doubt as seething a pot for competing claims to truth as our own day. What truth do we live by? That Jesus is the revelation of God. This Jesus reveals to us God’s intention as it appears in the gospels. That Christ died, Christ rose again, and Christ reigns in power. That following Jesus requires our own work on behalf of the Kingdom he declared. To be a follower of Jesus is to care, not just about Jesus, but for that for which Jesus cared. That we love one another as God loved us. That we pray for our enemies. That we receive grace and forgiveness of sin as we forgive others. That we do no harm, but in all things act with charity.
Even as we profess these truths, we must also remain open to the Spirit’s guidance. A reformed church such as Trinity is always reforming. So I share this caution put forward by Father Raymond Brown, one of the twentieth centuries foremost scholars of the New Testament. With reference to this passage from 2 Timothy, Father Brown writes, Fear of new ideas “has too often made ecclesiastical institutions defensive against new ideas. In such an atmosphere there will come a moment when no ideas constitute a greater danger than new ideas, and when deaf ears are more prevalent than itching ears.” Fortunately, even as we navigate the marketplace of ideas, we know that love never goes out of style.