From the prison letters, we go to Paul’s Pastoral ones. Timothy was left at the Ephesus church when challenges on the leadership infrastructure took some dings. Paul wrote these letters in between imprisonment. 2Timothy is considered one of Paul’s last letters.
He gives timeless instruction on how to “do church” from the administrative side with some of the teachings still in effect today. The namesakes receiving the letters of Timothy and the other pastoral letter, Titus, are to men who were both mentees of Paul’s.. These books furnish the explanations for the governing infrastructure of the church. By their definition (and contextual examples), it explains why and how it was determined church works the best.
Paul exhorts: “Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1Tim. 4:11-13). 1Timothy also impresses to maintain good behavior before Christ’s return (1Tim. 6:14).
Paul met his protégé, Timothy, during the former first missionary journey to the city of Lystra. As a young man, Timothy’s reputation preceded him as far as the city of Iconium, two travel days away from where he lived. He mentions Timothy more in his letters than any of his other companions. Despite Timothy’s youthful age, Paul gave him some challenging assignments. He left Timothy in Berea to support a new church plant; he sent him to Athens; then assigned him to Thessalonica, and before going to Corinth. Later, Timothy became the pastor of the church in Ephesus, arguably the world’s first megachurch of its time.
Timothy was introduced on Paul’s second missionary journey in 1Timothy with this being recopied fourteen years later after the sojourn. Scholars estimate Timothy was sixteen years old when Paul first meet him. At the time Paul wrote this letter, Timothy would be at least thirty years old.
Prior to meeting Paul, Timothy read all the Holy writings he could get his hands on, encouraged by the examples of his mother and grandmother. Timothy’s father was a Gentile, his mother, Eunice, a Jewess. She and his grandmother, Lois, embraced Christianity. Paul commended their faith and saw that Timothy had made the Holy Scriptures his study since his infancy creating a fervent thirst for God’sWord. Paul noted the young man’s virtue, and then later, made ample amends for him because of the want of someone more mature by others for ministry. Paul asked him to accompany him during his travels in the mission field. Timothy’s presence served a purpose and perhaps a need for Paul as their friendship arrived on the heels of a temporary split with his close friend and partner in ministry, Barnabas. Paul was more than just a mentor and leader to Timothy, he was a father figure to him. Timothy was Paul’s son through faith.
Timothy’s character exemplifies the type of leadership that is beyond reproach. It fit the criteria of having only one spouse, being temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, and able to teach. Church leaders were instructed to not give in to bouts of drunkenness, or be violent, but instead be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his household well. The prohibition in 1Timothy 2:12 about the women of the Ephesus church is a contextual guideline addressing a specific situation.
Most of my affiliations with denominations do not permit women to preach from the pulpit nor to be an overseer of the pastor. They can be Bible teachers, though, in more intimate settings. The Bible speaks a lot to the roles of man and woman which should not be confused with equality in scripture (1Tim. 2:4,4:10).
I don’t get too hung up on this gender mandate as there are plenty of other opportunities for women to serve in the church. Quite frankly I find more constants on being a divorcee versus a woman serving in church. There is a caveat within churches of religious institutions. In addition to some higher governing body guidelines; the church’s organization is ultimately left to be run by the local pastor and congregation allowing opportunities for women to fill. Female leaders were held accountable to the same guidelines of leadership as the men.
The latter part of this letter is an intimate one to Timothy. It encouraged and reminded him to use his spiritual gifts, to be an example of consistent faith and to be beyond blame. Paul recommended he develop a thick skin against criticism, maintain a clear purpose and to fight the good fight. Timothy’s youthful energy and vigor no doubt served him well. However, it also caused some older Christians to be uncomfortable with the leadership of such a young man due to his perceived lack of knowledge and experience.
I have a special empathy for Timothy. He faced an ageism bias in ministry because of his youth. I relate facing it on the other end of the age spectrum particularly as I try to enter into a new workplace.
In the progress of time, potential supervisors are now younger than me, and I cannot help but think part of their decision not to employ the older is they do not want to hire someone as old as their mothers. My life direction never permitted me tenure at one place for a long time. Also, the opinion of not being able to teach an old dog new tricks may linger in a younger person’s mind about working with someone older. Ironically when I was young, the pushback I received was for lack of a college degree and/or professional experience. Now that the justification for not being hired is I am overqualified. The paradox is there are older people who feel unneeded, younger ones who feel lost. The two longing souls never seem to meet, not just in the professional environment but in ministry (cf. Job 12:12, Jer. 1:7).
Timothy was not an ideal Christian; he was not without faults. He had his share of social, psychological and health problems (1Tim. 5:23). Paul told him (another exhortation for leaders today) to take care of himself. Still, he served Christ through his sensitivity and concern for others and his optimistic outlook on duty and life. He didn’t look for excuses not to serve when the messiness of opinions, marginalizing or being disenfranchised in life. But Paul was aware it happens and encouraged him.
A firsthand experience on the reasoning behind the guidelines put in place came before I felt the stigma of divorce in church work. While actively involved for over seven years with an international renowned Bible study group, the senior leader went through a divorce. For this large of an organization to run smoothly and efficiently, it was determined the head leadership position could not be served by a divorcee. She had to step down. Those of us (whom she trained and guided through Bible study curriculum on a weekly basis before we facilitated in leading our assigned smaller groups) quietly struggled with this guideline. We had known of the guideline before we volunteered to teach. The leader leaving was the catalyst who fifteen years earlier prayerfully began a Bible study of this kind to the region and it grew into five more sites for this the area. This leader ministered to three hundred women weekly for nine months out of the year.
While a new leader was being sought out, I had some one-on-one time with the departing one. In retrospect, I do not know what I was thinking or how I could have been so insensitive to her situation, but I shared something that had happened in my marriage with the story’s ending of reconciliation because of a confession, and a promise of repentance. Her response was direct in comment She did not believe the repentance part and said he was lying. I was so taken aback. I feel sure she said that because of her personal situation. One of the reasons for the organization’s guideline about a divorcee not in leadership was to prohibit just such response that is less in line with what God would have conveyed. I heard through the rumor mill that the organizational guideline has since been revoked.
Life circumstances can change temporarily undermining the effectiveness of sharing God’s Word. If I had a preference, I would not want to be ministered on how to have a successful marriage by someone who did not achieve it. I would rather hear from those whose marriages endured. Life is messy and unfair. But at the transformational edges of uncomfortable change or suffering there is a beauty to come out of it, so says Irish priest, poet, and philosopher John O’Donahue.
About four years passed since Paul’s first letter to Timothy. It was written in AD 67. Emperor Nero had been descending into madness since taking the throne in AD 54, probably culminating into full insanity by the time of the fire of Rome in AD 64 where history says he was responsible for the lit match that burned half the city. Christians were scapegoats, blamed for the fire. Paul was caught up in this persecution and was beheaded (rather than crucified as was done to Peter during this same period) by Roman officials soon after writing this letter. This correspondence is compared to being Paul’s last will and testament. He asked Timothy to come to him but that was not to be.
With that somber thought in mind, Paul echoed from his previous letter encouragement to Timothy to continue to “fight the good fight.” Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith ” (2Tim. 4:7).
The thought of Paul’s death overshadows my reading of this letter. I have hope for an afterlife (1Thes. 4:13-18), so death per se does not frighten me. I see it like Quaker William Penn said: “It is no more than turning the page from time to eternity.” In all honesty, I look forward to heaven when considering the alternative of living out life in this secular world. As in the words of actor and producer Woody Allen: “It’s not that I am afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
Not until my mothers, had I ever witnessed a person dying although I was familiar with death’s grief. When Mom turned ninety years old, I began to try and prepare myself for her eventual demise. As her advocate during the last years of her life, it would become emotionally difficult for me as it would for any child during this season of life. I planned for the worst, hoped for the best.
I relied on a trick I discovered when my daughter, at nine or ten years of age, first started performing in plays on stage. After the rehearsal, the director would give verbal notes to the young cast. If it were constructive criticism, he would call them by their character name. If it were a positive acknowledgment for doing a performance specifically well, he would call them by their real name. For me to be more stoic, less emotional, when making decisions on how to handle mother’s daily medical needs, it got so that I called her by her first name or by her initials (from a time during the feminist movement we as kids would refer to her that way) when discussing these things with the attending nurses, doctors and social worker. It was the degree of separation I needed to try and stay logical. Of course, when I was with her personally, I always called Mom. Closer to her death, I had gotten myself into such a state of isolation of care for her that I consciously prepared myself for the possibility of facing Mom’s sendoff by myself. I shored myself up for whatever experience of sorrow that could come my way. I imagined the worst of scenarios. I did not have the financial resources to have children attend her memorial. I instead needed the resources to pay for Mom’s end of life wishes.
Then an unexpected thing happened when mother died. In retrospect, I can honestly say I ended up having the most beautiful closing memories from this period of my life.
Mother was put in hospice care and died fourteen days later in a nursing home. I was present when she died as was my youngest who surprisingly came into town a couple of weeks earlier to support me. We were cleaning out mother’s closet in her the day of her demise. She laid in bed weak and incoherent. While packing up the three small suitcases she had brought with her six years earlier, we got to the last suitcase to pack. It felt full when we lifted it with us groaning in dismay thinking about clothing still left to pack. Upon opening it, the contents revealed a baby afghan woven in mint teal. It was the exact color picked for the nursery being decorated and prepared by the visiting daughter for her upcoming first child.
I had never seen this baby afghan before when straightening up mother’s side of the room on previous visits. I do not remember her crocheting it in these past six years while I was her sole advocate for care. I had a few preciously held baby afghans I managed to sequestered over time, thinking they were the last of this legacy. I do not remember this one when she came to live with me before entering the nursing home. But here the blanket was an unexpected gift for the future grandchild of whom my mom was barely aware. I had told her about the upcoming expectancy, hoping maybe this would give her something to look forward to, to hold on to, but she never asked or spoke of the pregnancy afterward. Mom pretty much lived in a world of her mind the last year of her life.
Also, Mom tried to crochet while in the nursing home, but her hands no longer could handle the intricate delicate task, and she would, in frustration, rip out sections to redo but then never finished them. To me, those unfinished afghans with the holes left when she ripped out some imperfection she was unsatisfied with represented unresolved issues she had in life. To say the least, my daughter and I were overwhelmed with the emotion of thanksgiving at the find and saw it as a gift from God, placed there by angels, through and by Mom’s hands.
The other kids rallied and came for Mother’s memorial. It was an intimate service with most of the others attending not knowing mom except through me. Each child played a part in the service by reading of the eulogy, a separate poem and singing His Eyes Are on the Sparrow and Blessed Assurance. Two extended female family members (from one of my children’s marriages) solidified my joy of the new relationships God was creating around me. The love I have for these bonus sisters magnified the day. I had a distinct impression these two ladies present were filling the sad void in my heart from the absence of my birth sisters due to estrangement.
My other granddaughter, age eight at the time, stayed behind at home with her dad and brother. She helped her mother pack her suitcase for the out of state trip for the memorial. She asked her mom what she would be wearing to the “coronation” for great-granny. My daughter smiled and helped her understand the correct word was memorial. When told the story, I thought of the verses of the five crowns (the everlasting, the rejoicing, the righteousness, the one of glory and of eternal life) mentioned in the NT given to believers in heaven (cf. 1Cor. 9:24-25, 1Thes. 2:19, 2Tim. 4:8, 1Pet. 5:4, Rev. 2:10).
Mother did not give me much input about her end of life wishes when she was cognizant much less what kind of service. I recalled her wishes to be cremated. I, later in the year she died, made an out of state trip to Texas to my brother’s and father’s burial sites to scatter some of her cremains. Mom’s relationship with “the Lord” (she never referred to Him as God or Jesus as I did, correcting me on the proper use of His title) was from a different era of faith worship. During her life, she stopped attending church. I occasionally thought she had abandoned God. I think we all walk away from God at times when life becomes too unbearable, unspeakable or confusing. However, God never abandons us. An 1882 hymn read as a poem by my son at Mother’s memorial service was O Love that Wilt Not Let Me Go by George Matheson (the kind of love mentioned in the chapter on Hosea).
“O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
O Light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground their blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.”
Many allude to the symmetry of the end of life and the beginning. Sometimes leaving becomes arriving. My prayer, based on the mentioned 1Thessalonian verse, is that Mom is reunited with Dad and her youngest son. My oldest sister joined her ten months later.
I am not lost on the fact that one of my favorite memories I have of Mom was during her death. Somehow the things that transpired around her death filled my emotional cup. A family is more than lineage or blood; it is also shared lived experiences that cannot be forsaken or forgotten.