The Work of Encouragement (4)
I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1.3-7
Power to love
Paul’s primary message to his young protégé Timothy was that he should not lose sight of love as the primary fruit of faith and the goal of all Christian instruction and ministry (cf. 1 Tim. 1.5).
Pastoral ministry – any life that gives itself to ministering God’s grace to others – is difficult work. It can seem to be endless and unmerciful in its demands. Think of Jesus, urging His disciples to come with Him on a little vacation, only to find that time of “rest” intruded upon and washed out by multitudes of people seeking His help (Mk. 6.31-34).
Ministry is like that, yes it is.
The pressures of being others-oriented and self-denying can build, and we can end up seeing all the tasks and duties upon us, all the acknowledging of and attending to others, as ends in themselves which, the more they stack up, the more odious they become.
But if we keep in mind that the end of all we do is love, we can bear up under the burden of our calling to serve others like Jesus. And this can encourage not only us, so that we show Jesus’ love to others, but it can stir up His love so powerfully in others that He overflows from them to the people God sends them to each day. That’s what Paul was trying to do for Timothy – loving and encouraging him, so that he would continue to love and encourage others.
It’s not hard to imagine that Timothy, a young man and fairly new at this work, ministering to the saints in the bustling cosmopolitan city of Ephesus, frequently felt overwhelmed. Doubtless, we feel the same sometimes. At such times, our thoughts may turn inward, to what we need, we want, and we wish might happen. Meanwhile, in our soul, the Holy Spirit continues generating spiritual charges aimed at our encouragement and the encouragement we can give to others. We don’t want to stifle those or quench the work of the Spirit. Whether we know it or not, we need someone to come alongside us, acknowledge our struggle, pay us some attention, and affirm our calling and significance before the Lord.
This is precisely what Paul was doing in the opening verses of his second epistle to Timothy.
The work of affirmation
By writing to Timothy, Paul both acknowledged his friendship and collegiality, and attended to his needs and concerns. He’d done the same in 1 Timothy, and he was doing it again here. Our text reveals the role of affirmation in adding to acknowledgement and attending to inspire courage for love in others. Let’s take a closer look.
How did Paul affirm Timothy as a friend, colleague, and servant of the Lord? First, by remembering to pray for him, and by telling him that he did so (v. 3). Whenever people tell you they’re praying for you, something sparkles in your soul, so much so – if you’re like me – that you may experience a flutter in your soul. Probably lots of people pray for us; but few take the time to tell us they do. When they do, we are affirmed as someone worthy of others’ time in prayer. And we’re right to be so affirmed, because being held up to the Lord in prayer by people we love and respect is a big deal.
But Paul also expressed his love for Timothy in a specific way: “greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy” (v. 4). It’s one thing for someone to say to you, “I love you, bro.” It’s another thing altogether, and much more affirming, when someone says, “Man, I can’t wait to get together. I could almost burst with tears of joy just thinking about it.” We’re more likely to be affirmed when someone expresses love in specific ways, ways that give us a glimpse into their heart.
Paul continued by affirming the validity and importance of Timothy’s faith, and of his faithfulness in the pedigree of faith handed down to him (v. 5). Paul was “persuaded” that Timothy was a true man of faith, a faithful follower of Christ, like his mother and grandmother before him. Do you think you’d be affirmed, and more likely to persevere in love, if others told you they love and admire you, and that they can see the evidence of faith in you, just like in other faithful Christians?
Paul also revisited an aspect of their own relationship, going all the way back to Timothy’s being ordained to the ministry. Remember God’s calling, Timothy? When I and the others laid hands on you? Prayed for great gifts to be given you? And when you vowed to take your place in that faithful train of the servants of the living God? Yeah, that was sweet. Let me just remind you of that, and let’s dwell on that together. Each of us has a calling from the Lord – to seek His Kingdom and glory right where we are, as witnesses for Jesus in everything we do (1 Thess. 2.12; Acts 1.8). Being reminded of that, and that we’re part of a great company of those who are similarly called, can be very affirming, leading to courage to press on in Christ.
With a view to action
The Holy Spirit of God is working in our soul to encourage us. He is the Encourager, sent to give us the courage we need to go beyond where we’ve ever been in the life of faith, and to press on to attain exceedingly, abundantly more than we’ve ever dared to ask or think (Phil. 2.13; Eph. 3.20). The courage He gives us, and which He often uses others to ignite in our soul, is designed to put us into action. The courage of the Spirit overcomes every fear that holds us back, taps into power that can make us effective witnesses and servants of Christ, and enables us to act in love for the glory of God and Jesus Christ.
Paul affirmed Timothy by reminding him of the outcome God was seeking, and which Timothy was called to know and to equip others to express: the love of Jesus Christ. Pope John Paul II was one of the great saints of the last years of the 20th century. He saw himself as a servant to believers everywhere, in every communion, but especially to those of his native Poland. His message to them, when he visited them, was always the same: “Don’t be afraid.” His acknowledgement of their suffering, his attending to them by visiting them as often as he could, and his unfailing words of affirmation gave them the courage to stand up to their fears, shine the light of Jesus into the darkness of their gray world, and ignite a bloodless revolution that liberated Eastern Europe and pulled the rug out from under the Soviet empire.
Don’t underestimate the power of affirmation. Affirmation is not the same as encouragement, but it’s part of the work of encouraging others. The more we acknowledge the people to whom God sends us, attend to their concerns and needs, and affirm their faith, calling, friendship, and potential, the more lightning strikes of encouragement will flash in their souls, leading them to overcome their fears and draw on the Spirits’ power for love.
1. When was the last time someone affirmed you in your calling as a follower of Christ? How did that make you feel?
2. Looking at our text, summarize the important components of affirmation which Paul reveals here. How can you begin to practice these more consistently?
3. Are you beginning to acknowledge and attend to the people in your Personal Mission Field more consistently? What can you do to become a more affirming person?
Next steps – Conversation: What opportunities for conversation will you have today? Pray that God would use you to affirm others in their walk with and work for Him.
Not sure about where God is calling you to learn and serve Jesus? Watch this brief video and download the accompanying worksheet to discover your own Personal Mission Field.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.