June 18, 2011

Ember Saturday in Whitsunweek

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 19, Micah 3:5-8, 2 Tim 1:1-14
Evening - Ps. 111,113, Num. 6:22, 2 Cor. 13:5

Commentary

Second Timothy was written from a Roman prison, probably in the autumn of the year 68 A.D. Knowing he would soon give his life in the service of Christ, the Apostle Paul wanted to contact and encourage his friend, student, and fellow servant of Christ, Timothy. Timothy has served his Saviour well, but Paul has always been there to counsel and help him. When Paul is gone, Timothy will stand alone in a time of increasing Roman opposition and persecution. As Paul wrote this epistle, Peter was dead, having been executed by the civil authorities in Rome. John was imprisoned on Patmos, where he had written the book of Revelation about two years earlier. Many Christians had suffered imprisonment or death for the cause of Christ, while others had deserted the faith rather than face persecution. Paul mentions Phygelus and Hermogenes among many in Asia who had turned away from him, meaning, away from the Gospel he preached (2 Tim. 1:15).

It is worth noting that Phygelus, Hermogenes, and the others Paul mentions were from Asia. In Paul's time "Asia" did not refer to a continent. It referred only to the area later called Asia Minor, and known today as Turkey. This is the area in which the seven churches of Revelation 1-3 were located, and it was an area of intense persecution. So the Roman oppression of the Church was increasing at the time, and one of Paul's intentions this letter to Timothy was to encourage him not to fear the opposition (1:7) and to stand fast in the faith, even in the face of persecution and affliction (1:8).

The Church was also under another form of attack. This was an attack far more serious and dangerous than Roman persecution; this was an attack on the Gospel itself. Heresies abounded in the church of that era, most of them growing out of attempts to accommodate the doctrines and practices of the Church to the pagan culture and religions of Rome. Thus Timothy is encouraged to hold fast to the form of sound words he learned from Paul (1:13). We should not allow ourselves to think "form" refers only to a "resemblance," as though the teaching of Timothy (and ourselves) need only resemble that of Paul. Paul is telling Timothy to hold fast the substance of Paul's teaching and also to his expression of it, including the very words of Paul. This should not surprise us, for if Paul received his message from Christ, he would naturally want that message preserved word-for-word. In our day we are seeing a widespread abandonment of the tried and true ways of expressing the Christian faith, and a corresponding adoption of the idea that we must continually recast the Christian faith into today's language and cultural patterns. This view has become dear to the hearts of the majority of contemporary churches, yet it seems to be in direct opposition to the teaching of Scripture as found in 2 Timothy 1:13-14. A change in the expression of the faith necessarily involves a change in the substance of the faith. How many of our errors in theology and practice might have been avoided if we had simply held fast to both the substance and the expression of the faith once delivered? On this Ember Day, let us remember that the faith is non-negotiable, and let us beseech God to enable us to hold fast the "form of sound words."