But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
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: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 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, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
It came as quite a shock…these things always do. Sure, Timothy had always known the day would come. He even vaguely recalled having heard that the old man had been ill, but he had been so busy, the news just sort of slipped by without registering.
It had been so long since he had seen him…How long had it been? And now this. The old man’s wife had called and said that there was something she needed to give him – something personal. Well, curiosity finally got the better of him and he decided to make the trip to meet with her.
It was a beautiful fall day. Just like a postcard, only windier. The hotel was just on the edge of town, and the day was so gorgeous, it seemed just as easy to walk over to her house. As he walked along, Timothy remembered the days when he had run down these streets. Days that seemed without end. Summers of baseball and wandering in the woods. Fishing in the creek down alongside the tracks. Riding his bike up the hill as far as the cemetery, then freewheeling all the way back down into town and almost out the other side.
Goodness knows that was a long time ago. But this was a place he’d always known. Somehow, coming back in the fall seemed right. Those days of childhood were long gone, fall had begun to settle in on him, too.
As he walked, his thoughts turned to the old man. Well, he seemed old back then, maybe he really wasn’t THAT old. He remembered how their odd friendship began. Timmy had been up the hill – he was Timmy back then - and was freewheeling down on his bike, just like he always did, when suddenly, some stray dog ran right out in front of him right there in front of the old guy’s house. As he swerved to miss the dog, he crashed through the front fence and flew off the bike landing right in the middle of the flower bed. The old man came running out of his house asking if he was hurt…only his ego was bruised, but the man told him what a spectacular stunt he had just witnessed. There was just something about the guy that made Timmy feel special, Like he’s known him all his life, and it wasn’t long before they became friends. The old guy said to call him Paul.
About that time, Timothy arrived at the house. The fence had long since been repaired, but the house was just as he remembered it, fence flowerbeds and all. Just like he’d always known. As he walked to the door, Paul’s wife noticed him coming and stepped up to the screen door and opened it wide. She invited him in, and deciding he had probably long since outgrown milk, offered him cookies and coffee. He accepted, thanked her, and sat down.
After the conventional small talk and formalities, Paul’s widow stood up and said, “Excuse me a moment…I have something for you.”
She returned shortly, carrying a box. From the box, she removed a sealed envelope with “Timmy” written on the front. She handed him the letter, and as he turned it over in his hands, she explained that Paul had asked her to give it to Timmy if she ever saw him again. Well that simply wasn’t good enough for her, and that is why she had tracked him down to ask him to come.
She poured more coffee, then excused herself from the room once again and left him alone to read Paul’s final epistle to his young friend Timothy.
But then it took a turn. Paul spoke of those people who had lost track of what scripture taught. He told Timothy to hold fast to what he had learned and believed, knowing from whom he had learned it and how from childhood Timothy had known the scriptures that had instructed him about salvation through faith in Christ.
My, how those memories came rushing back. Timmy had never even been to church, but after his crash landing in Paul’s yard, and Paul saying how it had been a miracle and all that he hadn’t even been hurt, Timmy started going to church with Paul and his wife. He loved going there with them, and it made him feel good when all the grown-ups there would ask him about baseball and fishing and other stuff that he liked doing.
He would go to Sunday School with the other kids his age, and over the years he learned a lot about God and Jesus, and stories that sometimes didn’t make a lot of sense but were fun to listen to anyway. True, he really didn’t enjoy the memory verses, but even now, he found it funny how sometimes they would just pop into his head without warning. Could that be what Paul was talking about; knowing the scriptures that had instructed him about faith?
Paul used to talk to Timmy a lot about faith. It was all part of the way that Paul had mentored him through those years until he left town. Paul would tell him how the scriptures were inspired by God. He explained that the word “Inspired” had the same root as the word respiration, and that meant that the words of scripture had been breathed by God. Just like God breathed life into people when they were created, God had breathed life into the scriptures. He went on to say that the Greek work for Spirit, like in “holy Spirit” was from the same word, too! That had been a lot for a ten-year-old boy to take in, but now it was starting to make sense.
Timothy continued to read, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
Again, Timothy’s mind wandered. He sure had run into a few of those folks who thought it was their duty to reproach and correct. If only they would concentrate more on the training and teaching part. Even though it had been a long time since Timothy had read any scripture, he did remember that there was a lot in there about God’s love, especially in the stories of Jesus that Paul had talked to him about. He told him that the love of God could be found in the love of the people around him who cared for him. Sure, sometimes it was important for those who love us to correct us, or at least our behavior, but the overriding message of scripture is that God is always with us and will never leave us stranded. What was that verse? “God’s steadfast love endures forever.” Hadn’t he always known that?!?
Paul’s letter went on to urge Timothy to proclaim the message, to be persistent in good or bad times, to convince people with reason, to correct them when necessary, and to encourage and build people up with patience. He wanted him to understand above all that there was a need for people to hear the message that he had tried to teach him, that there was a time coming when people would become impatient with the gospel, that they would have what he called “itching ears” and would jump from teacher to teacher to hear what suited them instead of the truth.
Timothy thought about this some more. What was it that he had read? Amazon has in its listings more than 140,000 books on various self-help topics. And over 38,000 of those are in the areas of religion and spirituality. The self-improvement market including infomercials, mail-order catalogs, holistic institutes, books, audio cassettes, motivational speaker seminars, personal coaching, weight-loss and stress-management programs was worth over $8.5 billion in 2003, and is expected to top out over $11 Billion in 2008. Seems like a lot of itching ears there. What is it that all these people are looking for? Don’t they know they can find the answers from the sources they’ve always known? Why do they have to spend so much money looking for new and exciting answers? Aren’t the old answers enough? Can’t people see that all these programs and over hyped techniques are just ways to enrich the people who come up with them and they really do nothing for the purchasers and readers?
As he neared the end of the letter, Timothy read, “As for you, keep your head together, put up with whatever you have to, even if it means suffering, tell the story of the good news in doing the work of an evangelist, and carry out your ministry fully.”
This last part confused him a little. Where did Paul ever get the idea that Timothy was an evangelist? What is this about carrying out ministry? Timothy was appalled by the thought! Him? An Evangelist? No way! What in the world could Paul be talking about? Sure, he had tried to live the way he’d been taught, he’d always had a good sense of right and wrong, but how could he tell people about it. After all, he was just a regular guy. Evangelist, indeed!
Feeling somewhat threatened by the implication he quickly folded the letter and stuffed it into his pocket.
Just then, Paul’s wife returned to the room. She asked, “What did he have to say?”
Timothy collected himself and calmly responded, “He rambled quite a bit. Talked about scripture and my ‘ministry’. He obviously knew nothing about how I turned out. I’m afraid he was sadly mistaken about me.”
She replied, “No, you’re mistaken. Paul was lucid until the end and throughout his life he had a gift for reading people and knowing just how to see their potential. He saw it in you that first time you crashed your bike in the yard. Every one of us has a story to tell, and if you don’t tell it, it will haunt you until you do. You have always known what it is to be loved and mentored by someone who cares. Just as he taught you the story of the gospel, you have those words and God’s love written on your heart and you know it to be true. Whatever he said to you, it’s because he knew it to be true. It’s now up to you. You can share the message you’ve always known or forget it. It’s up to you.
Timothy, thanked her for her hospitality and for Paul’s letter, and then silently walked toward the door. As he stepped off the porch and looked at the flower bed where he had landed all those years ago, he heard her say through the screen, “That’s the way it is with the things we’ve always known. They’re easier to remember than they are to forget. And they are remembered in the telling. Paul’s gone. If he meant anything to you at all, you’ll tell the story, not just yours, not just Paul’s, God’s story. You’ve always known it. Don’t be afraid to share it.