“How can they be a Christian that long and still not act like one?”
Fair question. Tough question. I could’ve waxed eloquently about the doctrine of eternal security. I could have explained at length about how sanctification is a process. But the person asking me this question did not need theological lectures.
They needed an explanation of how someone could talk so much about Jesus and claim to have walked with Jesus for so many decades and then act nothing like the Master.
He was confused by the disconnect between what he heard and what he saw.
Like I said, tough, but fair, question.
Perhaps young Timothy was feeling the same way as the Apostle Paul is penning 2 Timothy under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration. We read in today’s passage in 2 Timothy 3:10-11
10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.Timothy 3:10-11
New International Version
In contrast to the behavior of the false teachers in Ephesus (recorded in the preceding verses, 2 Timothy 3:2-9), Paul uses his own behavior as proof for the validity of his faith.
At first glance, this could seem like pride in his superiority. But that would be missing the point of what he’s saying. Furthermore, it would be missing the point for our lives as well!
Step back and remember where we have been in the relationship between Paul and Timothy: Timothy knew Paul as a son knows a father. There is no hypocrisy between these men. Timothy and Paul know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Recall, Paul is writing this in Greek and we’re reading an English translation. When Paul pens in verse 10, “You…know…”, he is not writing out of pride. He’s using a verb (in Greek) for “know” meaning “to follow” or “to accompany closely”.
So, there is a double meaning going on. First, Timothy has personal knowledge of Paul’s teaching, life, purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings, and all kinds of things he has endured (verses 10b-11a). Second, Timothy was called by Paul to follow Paul’s point.
And what was that point? Verse 11b: “Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them”.
Through it all, the sovereign hand of the Lord worked in and through Paul’s life. As such, any trouble, hardship, problems, struggles are no more or less important than his successes, advances, accolades, or congregations started.
Therefore, no matter what Paul faced, it was all for the glory of the Lord. This was also his testimony to young Timothy.
Timothy’s life with Jesus would not always be easy, but difficulty does not diminish the promise and hope of the Lord.
And while that’s true for us as well, I want to focus on Paul’s confidence. We can look on his statements in verses 10 and 11 as arrogance. But I stated above why I don’t think for a minute that they are.
Instead, Paul knew who he was in Christ. Timothy knew who Paul was in Christ.
Can those closest to us say the same? Do we radiate the grace, hope, and love of Jesus to those who know us best?
I doubt someone would have looked at Paul and asked, “How can he be a Christian that long and still not act like one?” When Timothy would have been an old man, I doubt someone would have looked at him and asked the same.
But what about us?
What about you?
Do those closest to you describe you more like Paul or like the false teachers against which Paul draws a contrast?
It’s important we do the walking to match our talking.