“Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things.” (2 Timothy 2:7)
Paul’s second letter to Timothy includes more encouragement to Timothy to continue in God’s mission to heal a broken world, and that same advice continues to guide us today.
I often wonder whether it is easier or harder to be disciples of Jesus today than when Paul was writing to Timothy. The saying “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is apt here. In the first three centuries of the Christian church, disciples were persecuted, yet the church continued to grow. In many countries today, Christians continue to face persecution, yet the church still grows.
Developed democratic countries face a different challenge — not the vinegar of persecution but the honey of a comfortable, consumerist, secular lifestyle. And here, the institutional church is not growing. If what we seek is worldly success — wealth, power, fame, comfort and self-satisfaction — then we won’t find it in church. When we focus on self-improvement, we can avoid looking at the disadvantage, persecution, hopelessness and injustice that affect many in our society.
Paul gives Timothy some images of the life of a disciple — a soldier following the orders of their leader, an athlete competing for victory and a farmer working for a harvest. We can think of ourselves in these images. If we are soldiers, which army have we enlisted in — the disciples of Jesus or the army of self-serving consumerism? If athletes, what competition rules are we playing by — the upside-down last-will-be-first rules of the kingdom of heaven or the race to accumulate earthly riches? If farmers, what is the harvest we are working towards — more stuff for ourselves or more justice in an unjust world?
The choices aren’t always easy, but the Holy Spirit is always there, teaching us through the Scriptures and guiding us when we pray. Paul doesn’t give us a blueprint for our individual roles in God’s mission to the world. Instead, we can take Paul’s advice, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things”.
Wise and powerful God, you ask us to join in your mission to the world. We are weak, foolish and easily discouraged. Fill us with your strength and wisdom, so we can better serve you and our neighbours. In Jesus’ name. Amen.