Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 10/08/2000
In v. 18 Paul brings the argument of chp. 1 full circle, for the command of v. 18 is the task of v. 3: to remain as Pastor at Ephesus with the difficult job of setting to rights a church beset by false teachers and fruitless doctrine. As his next step in preparing Timothy for this task, Paul reminds him of certain prophecies made concerning him in the past and exhorts him to fight the good fight by means of these prophecies. If they are the means by which Timothy will have victory, they must be pretty important. Unfortunately, they are unrecorded. What can we legitimately surmise about their nature from the context of 1 Tim. and Paul's life?
They must have had some relevance to the task Timothy was being given. It seems likely that they were parallel with Paul's own experience in Acts 13:1-3, where the Holy Spirit spoke through prophets at Antioch to set aside Paul and Barnabas as missionaries. Timothy's prophecies may then have been given at his own ordination, possibly by Paul himself. They probably identified his spiritual gifts and confirmed his calling to the ministry.
A lot of words were said at my ordination; of them I remember only one sentence. In the "Charge to the Candidate," Dr. Alan Dan Orme, exhorting me to be true to my gifts and calling no matter what, said, "Do not grow discouraged when you discover that Christianettes love sermonettes." Looking back, these words now appear almost prophetic. I have indeed been subject to discouragement at the kind of preaching most Christians today apparently prefer. I have not been tempted myself to forsake exposition for preaching that aims at the lowest common denominator of intelligence and attention span, because there are plenty of other people doing that already, and I would not be very good at it. But I have been tempted to give up preaching altogether, there being so little apparent response. And Dr. Orme's words ringing in my ears have helped to keep me from yielding to that temptation. I wonder if this might be a pale reflection of Timothy's experience, who had, not just good human words that in retrospect almost seem prophetic, but real words straight from God to sustain him?
Such prophecies would be for him an anchor in the storm: "I AM called to this task by God." They would be a source of direction: "I am called to THIS task by God." And they would be a source of encouragement: "I am called to this task by GOD." In so far as they involved prediction, he would not know how or when they would be fulfilled, but he would know that they would be somehow. We know Timothy was shy and retiring and prone to discouragement. When that happened, he had something--personal truth from God especially for him--to fall back on.
Well, that is all well and good for Timothy. But what about us? Wouldn't it be great if WE had personal prophecies to fight by? We do! For Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 10:11 that everything that happened in the Old Testament was written for our instruction. And in 2 Tim. 3:16 he expands this to cover the New: ALL Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for doctrine, etc., that the person of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. Such is the nature of Scripture that if you are a child of God, all those passages that you take as general, abstract truths about whomever are just as true of you as if they had been delivered with your name on them, as if they had been made about you specifically and directly just as Timothy's were.
What would it be like if, when you undergo Temptation, you actually thought Rom. 6:4-7 and 1 Cor. 10:13 were about you? Would you be more apt to believe that you are free in Him to walk in newness of life, that a way of escape will be provided, and to act accordingly if these verses had been made as prophecies about you? If you are a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, they were. When you are troubled by Fears, what joy would it bring to think that Psalm 91 was about you? Or 2 Tim. 1:7-8? Would it be easier to shake off the spirit of fear and act on that of courage and confidence and a sound mind? What if, when lacking the Assurance of your salvation, you actually thought Jesus was talking about you in John 6:37-39? Would it be easier to look to Him rather than to your own inadequacies then? For your salvation depends entirely on Him rather than your own worthiness. Or what if, when Discouraged about your progress in Grace, you believed Paul wrote Phil. 1:6 about you? God will complete the good work He has begun--in You! Would Rom. 8:18 help when you go through Suffering if you thought it was written with you specifically in mind? The sufferings of this present time--Yours--are not worthy to be compared with the joy that awaits you. Would James 1:5-8 help when you need guidance if it had been said specifically to you? Read these pasages; meditate on them; dare to claim them as true in your life. And someday, somehow, perhaps when you least expect it, God will make them true in your life. For they are prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may fight the good fight.
We have a very bad habit of reading Biblical statements about Christ's followers and accepting them as abstract, general, theoretical truths about Christians in general. But of course they probably don't REALLY apply to US. And so we do not pray in faith as James said we must, but with double-minded caveats attached as footnotes--"I know you probably didn't mean me--it's OK if you don't keep this promise, I'll understand." And therefore, James' prophecy comes true of us: we receive nothing from the Lord. But it could equally be true in the more positive sense! If what we say we believe about Scripture is true, then all these normative statements about what it means to be a child of God really are prophecies previously made about us, that by them we may fight the good fight.
Therefore, if we are to fight the good fight by means of these prophecies, we must be readers of Scripture, students of Scripture, meditators on Scripture, and memorizers of Scripture. We will not live as if these truths are true about us if we do not know about them; we will not have faith to apply them to ourselves and live as if they were true unless we have internalized them through meditation. If we do not, then we will live defeated lives when lying right on our shelves is an armory full of the most powerful weapons, which, when wielded by the hand of faith, would grant us the victory: "propheices previously made concerning YOU, that by them you may fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience."
May God help us so to fight, and thus to be like Timothy rather than Hymenaeus and Alexander. Amen.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams