This reading this morning starts with a command. I think I want to focus on what Paul is commanding in this text to Timothy—to the early church—to us. The text starts with a command with three little words in English that are also three little words in Greek: “But understand this,” “Τouto de ginwske.”
I am not so happy with this translation of those three little words because they do not carry the kind of weight that they should when translated into English. In English we say things such as “you know” and “please understand” all of the time. Some adolescents have found a way to start nearly every utterance from their lips with the “you know” of modern American English. And, the “please understand” is used too often in business settings: “Please understand, we are cutting your hours.” “Please understand, we have got to let you go.” “You understand, we have to take away your health benefits in order to stay competitive.”
Paul in writing to Timothy is not using this kind of “you know” or “please understand.” What Paul seems to be trying to convey to Timothy is that Paul feels deeply that Timothy really does need to know these things on his heart already. A better translation might read: “All of these things that I am sharing with you need to be confirmed in your heart and understanding already.” That is the command: “Know these things!”
We read a list of characteristics of people that is rather unsavory to say the least. I wanted to point out that one of the words herein listed does not seem well translated at all. Do you see the word “profligate”? When was the last time you used that word? I have maybe never used that word in regular conversation. Our bibles use it; however, other bibles might translate the word as “savage” or “brutal.” From the Greek there is a sense of being “animalistic” here that “profligate” just does not reflect at all. Paul is saying: “Timothy, understand that these guys are animals.”
To be sure, the list starts with the idea of someone who loves himself. Many of you will already know that there are three different words for “love” in Greek. The word that Paul uses here is “jilew” which is a kind of love that signifies an inclination towards liking something or someone. When I say “I love to eat maple syrup on my pancakes” this means that I am inclined to eating it. It does not, however, mean that I am going to marry Mrs. Butterworth.
This is not the same kind of love as Paul mentions in his famous oration on love in 1 Corinthians 13. That love is “agapaw” not “jilew.” Nor is it the kind of love that Paul even mentions when he continues in verse 10 of our reading with the words “You have observed my ‘love.’” The difference is so great between the love of self and the love of God that Paul does not even use the same word “to love” to describe it! It is a lesser love compared to a holy love.
Let me illustrate the difference for you. My mother used to make her own kind of Mexican food. She would take a tortilla, fill it with beans and who knows what else, and deep fry it. We affectionately called them “grossitos” and looked forward to them every time there was nothing else left in the house but canned refried beans and tortillas. They were just cheesy, greasy messy good food. We all loved those grossitos, but we loved our mother even more for making them for us. There was the love of the grossitos and the love of our mother. There were two different kinds of love.
This is important for us to realize because Paul talks about the “grossito” kind of love in the first part of this text, but then switches his words in verse ten when talking about the good attributes of being Christian. In verse ten the word is the Greek word for the kind of heart-felt sacrificial love that close family members share with one another. I am sorry that we really do not see this in the English text at all because it really stands out in the Greek.
So, the second command that we see Paul give to Timothy comes in verse 5. What does he say about those “profligates”? I mean those “savages”? He tells us to AVOID them! Do not be associated with them. Why not?
Well, you see, they are the ones who “make their way into households and capture weak women. . . .” Now, I do not think that Paul is trying to put down women here at all—though it may sound like it. I believe that what has been happening is that some were going out and evangelizing very much as Jesus told the disciples to do in His commissioning them in Luke 10. Let us just look back at that time. (Read Luke 10:1-7) So, people were going out in Jesus’ name doing this; however, they were not entering the houses for the purpose of sharing the gospel—if you catch my drift.
They are like Jambres and Jannes! By the way, I said Jannes, not Janice! These two names are associated with Moses, though not mentioned by name in the Bible, because they were the two magicians in Pharaoh’s court who tried to convince the court that they could do every “trick” that Moses could do, meaning Moses was not sent by God. Of course we know that Moses was sent by God, but these two magicians wanted to prove otherwise. They were just trying to appease the powers-that-be. They were putting on a show. But, in doing this, they were definitely working against the cause of God at the time.
The command was and is still today: “AVOID THEM.” Do not get mixed up with them because people will associate you and the church with their false teachings when those falsehoods come to the light of day.
If someone comes up to you, as they do to me, and ask you, “Doesn’t your ministry associate with this group or that group?” Just answer as I like to, “We are a mission start of the Park Street church in Boston!” Amen to that!
The third command in this text is found in verse 14: “Continue in what you have learned.” Then, Paul goes on to tell about gaining instruction from scripture and also equipping for every good work.
This is an incredible message for us this morning when we find ourselves maybe wondering what we should do in the midst, hopefully the tail end, of a pandemic. What should we do? The answer is simple: “continue in what you have learned from the scriptures and equip yourself for the future.”
So, let us drop back a couple hundred years and remember rightly that in 1819 the Park Street Church was the mission sending church to Kauai. The Whitneys and the Ruggles braved 9 months at sea to come to these shores here in Waimea. Why did they do that? To bring the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, to bring the Holy Word of God to these islands, and it is our job to continue doing just that.
That was the command back then, too. Continue! So, the missionaries did not just stay here in Waimea. They went down to Hanapepe and out to Hanalei and all points in between. They continued to spread the Good News here. Our own church in my time here as your pastor has been able to bless Waimea with two new church starts: The Ohana Niihau O Waimea Ekklasia, and the First Kauai Marshallese Church. The mission continues on to reach all the people.
Paul in telling this to Timothy lifts up the example of his own life in ministry. He talks about the suffering that he has gone through. Paul actually mentions three churches in particular. He mentions Antioch, Iconium and Lystra.
Let us quickly look at what the Antioch reference is about. For this we need to sneak a peek back in Galatians 2:11-13, “But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him, the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. . . .” So, Paul is saying he stood up to the very head of the church, Peter, and called him a hypocrite for at one point being okay with sharing ministry with Gentiles, but then pretending not to when it was convenient to side more with the Jews. Paul’s point has always been that of course the Gospel is for all people, Gentiles included, and he had to stand up to Saint Peter to maintain that view. That took guts! So he wants Timothy to be inspired by that too.
What happened in Iconium and Lystra is really one incident that traveled between two places. Paul was in Iconium, and some of the people there wanted to stone him for his views, so he fled to Lystra. By the way, Lystra is where Timothy is from, so he might have been close or even present. In Lystra, Paul healed a man who could not walk in the name of Jesus. The people in seeing this thought that Paul was a god (small “g”) and began to worship him. He tore his garments and exclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The story then follows in Acts 14:19, “But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium; and having persuaded the people, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, leaving him for dead. But when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up. . . .” So, it seems Paul experienced first-hand that resurrection power of Jesus. Remember Saint Stephen? In those days, they did not really want to hear from you after you have been stoned. One is supposed to die for sure.
What did Paul do after being stoned and resurrected? He continued where he left off. He continued. But, he gives these three commands to Timothy in this chapter: First, understand—be instructed in the Word of God. Second: Avoid false teachings and the savages who spread them. Thirdly: never stop. Continue on. Paul is going off to his final martyrdom and passing the torch to Timothy so that the ministry of Christ will continue.