Here is a passage takes us right into the heart of an intimate conversation between father and son: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus... Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1-3).
Paul is teaching Timothy. Teaching in the body of Christ is meant to take place in the context of relationship. That’s why our main source of teaching is supposed to come from the elders and leaders of our local congregation. Why? Because they are spiritual fathers we know and trust. You can read good books and listen to great recordings, but your basic spiritual diet should come from the leaders of your local church.
Paul had appointed Timothy to lead one of his greatest churches, the congregation at Ephesus. Though that church had previously seen a great move of God (Acts 19), Paul was writing at a time of great difficulty in the congregation. A substantial number of the people had left (2 Timothy 1:15). Some who remained were openly promoting false doctrine (2 Timothy 2:17-18). Still others were using the church to take advantage of some of its weakest members (2 Timothy 3:6-7). It seems hard to believe that people could walk away from such a church, yet they did. Perhaps the days of city-wide revival recorded in Acts had died down. Perhaps persecution had arisen. It’s easy to be part of something riding the crest of a wave, but it takes faithful people to hang on when things get tough.
Timothy as a pastor must have felt a total failure. If he knew a letter from Paul was on the way, what would he have felt like? He had presided over the decline of a great work Paul had built. Would Paul rake him over the coals because the numbers were down, or remove him from his position? No, not at all. Paul was many things, but above all he was a father. In Paul’s day, there was a shortage of fathers in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 4:15). That was perhaps understandable, given the church was so young. There is no excuse for a similar situation today, yet sadly the shortage remains. There are far too many administrators, managers and bureaucrats in the higher ranks of church leadership, but, at least in my experience, very few fathers.
Paul had had his own share of disappointments as well. This was far from the first time people had taken what he had to offer and then cast him aside. So now he comes to strengthen Timothy. He believes in Timothy. When we believe in people, we don’t cast them aside even if they have made mistakes.
So Paul did not arrive with a rebuke, but he did come with an answer, and it was a very simple one: “You, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
When we see Christian leaders suffering or their church going through a rough time, what is our response? Too many people jump ship at the earliest opportunity. Others become critical. Few understand the spiritual dynamic of what is going on. Timothy’s church was suffering not because God had deserted Timothy or because he had done something wrong. No, Timothy was suffering because of his faithfulness to God. Religious consumers out for their own benefit leave the moment trouble arrives. But faithful people see tough times as an opportunity not to leave but to serve, so that the church is preserved and its leaders are strengthened.
We need to learn from Paul. He knew that Timothy did not need criticism -- he was probably beating himself up already. He knew that Timothy did not need to attend a church growth seminar or try a different strategic plan -- he already had a plan the great apostle himself had laid down. He knew that Timothy did not need people giving stupid, superficial opinions on what had gone wrong. No, Timothy needed one thing and one thing only: the grace of God.
Grace is an amazing thing. It is not a concept or a doctrine, though it can be described in those terms. Above all grace is the power of God.
When your leaders or pastors are going through tough times, and they are faithful folk, come to them with grace. Ask God for his strength to flow through you to serve and strengthen them. Call on God for him to meet them in their valley and bring them out the other side. Don’t be critical. Be graceful.
Timothy knew his call would bring suffering, and in the last words we quoted above Paul reminds him of that. The suffering should come from the wounds inflicted by the enemy, not from supposed Christians. What a tragedy -- yet how often it takes place -- when Christian leaders are shot from behind.
Come with grace. The future of your church may depend on it. Not to mention the health of your own relationship with God.
And pray God would raise up more fathers. We need them.