What God Has Given
by Pat Oldham
The Epistle of Timothy is written to a young man, who according to scripture is naturally timid (I Cor. 6:10) and who is also prone to frequent illnesses (I Tim. 5:23). Timothy is at Ephesus when he receives this letter from his mentor, Paul the Apostle. At the time the letter was written the Church was suffering persecution and in fact Paul would soon be captured and put to death. One wonders, from the urgency of the letter, if Paul is anticipating his looming incarceration and death. We hear that urgency in Paul’s desire to see Timothy again and his encouragement to his young protégé to stir up the “living flame and the “gift of God” within him.
Timothy needs this encouragement because of his youth, his nature and his physical problems. He also needs this encouragement because of the heresy he was battling in Ephesus. Gnosticism was the heresy that was prevalent at that time and place. Without going into great detail, Gnostics believed that material things were unworthy and/or sinful and that a lesser, evil god created them. As a result Gnostics followed one of two paths. They were either stoics, denying themselves of every material thing or behavior they could or they became hedonists, believing that since only spiritual things mattered they were free to indulge themselves to every possible thing or behavior they wished. In Ephesus, this heresy was a very real threat to the Gospel as Christ presented it to his followers.
Scripture II Timothy 1:1-10, Without ignoring the context, we will concentrate mainly on verse 7.
Paul tells Timothy “Don’t be ashamed of the Gospel.” He also tells him to preach it as Christ intended it to be preached and that he, Timothy, has been equipped to do just that. You too have been equipped by God, as is evidenced by your calling. In our equipping fear is not part of the package. Too much doing and being overly concerned with outcomes induces fear because our focus shifts from the person of Christ to the thing we do. When we focus on the thing we are doing, our egos become wrapped up in the work and suddenly it’s about us and not about Christ, who we have been called to preach.
For Christmas this year our children at Mount Pleasant presented a play for which we practiced a great deal. As a part of that play, I asked one of our youth, who had musical gifts and related well to children to help put motions to the music. It wasn’t long until I noticed that she was overly concerned that the children be in exactly the right position at exactly the right time. It is important for you to know that most of our children are between the ages of 4 and 8. My helper’s frustration helped me to decide it was time for the talk I have with the children every year we present a play. I always ask them why we put on a play at Christmas and usually one of the younger children say because it’s fun. That comment always makes the older children roll their eyes but then one of them will volunteer that we do it because it is one of the few times they get to remind the grown ups why we celebrate Christmas and it is also one of the few times they get to witness to friends and family who don’t know Christ and who have come to see them.
I then took my helper aside and told her my theory on children’s plays which is: choose a play that you think the children can accomplish and practice, practice, practice until you and they think they know it. Then when the day comes to present it, the children will get up on the stage and do exactly what they want and she should just enjoy it. I also told her that the only thing I pray for is that when the children are done, they feel good about what they have done and they believe that they have presented Christ to people they love who do not yet know him.
Since fear is not a part of our equipping then what is? “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Our equipping includes three things, power, love and a sound mind/self control. At the time this epistle was written Christians were being persecuted and there was an attempt to adulterate the doctrine of the Gospel. To my mind those times, in this regard, are not unlike our own time. We have a few additional things going on in our lives; for instance we suffer from a severe lack of patience. Think about it, we are used to microwaves that boil water in 30 seconds and computers on which we can talk to and see someone in Spain in real time. We also have televisions on which we watch the news where there are boxes with different individuals reporting on the same topic and on which there is a running tape across the bottom of the screen with additional news and another with the stock market information. Oh, and let’s not forget the date, time, temperature, and network logo. And we are able to take it all in without difficulty. I believe that these things and others that you may think of interfere with our connection to the power source as does ministry that is so packed with doing that we have no time to be—no time to be in the presence of God.
The power we have is the power that God has given us when we were called. It is His power, which is renewed in us, during the time we spend with Him and it is His power that enables us to live through the hard times. We know of people in other areas of the world who are enslaved, imprisoned, forced out of their country and left to starve because of whom they believe in. And for some their governments are so restrictive and or incompetent and refuse aid for their people and as a result they too are starving. Christians in those circumstances need us to both pray for their spiritual sustenance as well as sharing what we have to help them in their circumstances.
But hard times are not always world issues far removed from us. I have an aunt who is 97 years old. She is a remarkable woman. Her husband and both of her daughters have all gone to be with the Lord. Aunt Helen still lives in her home, attends church every Sunday and belongs to groups that do crafts, send boxes to soldiers in Iraq, and grow plants for the Church Bazaar. She also takes her friends, who are 30 years younger than she, to lunch on Sundays. She still does her own shopping and gardening. The only help she has is for snow plowing and the first tilling of her garden in the spring. Aunt Helen often tells me how much she longs to see Christ, her husband and her children and wonders why God has not taken her home yet. Aunt Helen is really sad but she tells me that she continues to participate in life because she believes that it is what God would want her to do. I believe Aunt Helen has been empowered to live through this lonely time and that as a result her approach to life at her age and with all that has been taken from her makes her a witness of God’s grace and sustaining power.
The second spiritual gift that is given to those who are called to Christ, as Timothy was called, is love. God’s love is limitless and purposeful. When you tap into it you will comfort God’s children and when you do you will look like Jesus. A number of years ago, I read a story in, I believe it was the Guidepost magazine written by a man who was called from his job as an administrator to serve God’s neediest people. For him those people were the homeless. He was sent to be the administrator at a facility in New York. He had very little interaction with the people the mission served in his role but once or twice a month he worked the night shift but even then he was in his office while others worked more directly with their clientele.
One very cold, snowy night when he was on duty, someone knocked at his office door. He opened it to find six of the homeless insisting that he come and do something about one of their number who smelled really bad. Now keep in mind these complaints were coming from folks who had not had a shower themselves in quite awhile. He told them to go and find the other staff members who were also on duty that night but they told him that the others were busy with another job and said that they couldn’t come just then. He responded with telling them to go back to the room where the cots were and he would be there in a five minutes, all the while thinking that by then the other staff members would show up to help them. In a few minutes, he heard someone pounding on his door as well as loud yelling. He opened the door to find about a dozen people yelling that if he did not come then they would throw the smelly client out into the street. The administrator knew he could not let that happen because it was the coldest night of the year and they were in the midst of a snowstorm, so he went to see what the complaint was about. Before he reached the room he could smell the problem and when he entered the room he had great difficulty not retching. He tried to waken the man who smelled so bad but he was intoxicated and could not be awakened.
After a moment of thought he told the complainers that he would be right back. When he returned he had a basin of water and soap as well as a trash bag. The administrator got down on his knees and removed the man’s boots and socks, which were rotting off and began to scrub the man’s feet. They were encrusted with dirt and took real scrubbing to get them clean. He then dried the man’s feet and pulled from his pocket a new pair of socks and put them on the offender. He then took off his own boots and put them on the sleeping man. As he cleaned up the mess, he realized that it had gotten very quiet in the room and when he looked up he saw that those who had been complaining had now encircled him and were standing there with tears running down their cheeks. In that moment the administrator realized that with all they did to help the homeless, feeding them, providing shelter in bad weather and telling them about Christ, their clients had not yet been touched in love by anyone in the way that Christ would touch them. It was that moment that changed his understanding of his role as Christ’s ambassador to others.
The third spiritual gift given by God to those he has empowered in their ministry and their walk is the gift of a sound mind or if you prefer self-control. Sofronismos is the Greek term for sound mind or self-control and is used only in this verse in the New Testament. It means self-control or sound mindedness in action and relates to waging God’s battle against cowardice—taking yourself in hand and standing for God despite any threat to you because if you fear Satan’s persecuting power more than you trust God’s ability to help you , you have lost your mental balance as one of His children and your call is compromised.
A couple of years after our daughter’s husband died she told us that she was a lesbian. We love our daughter very much but we could not condone her lifestyle. At that time our granddaughter would come to us every weekend and went to church with us. We love her very much too. I do not recall any sermons preached against a homosexual lifestyle nor do I believe her Sunday School teachers would tell a 5 or 6-year-old about homosexuality but one Sunday our granddaughter went home and told her mother that she was afraid her mom would not go to heaven if she died. Our daughter called us up and insisted that we could not see our granddaughter anymore unless we stopped taking her to church, praying in front of or with her, and speaking of God/Christ in any way while she was in our home. I told her that for us that would be denying Christ and we could not do that, not even for a weekend. When I hung up the phone, I cried my heart out in my husband’s arms. In that moment, he was either more practical or had more faith because he said, “This will not stand.” And he was right. Our daughter has not changed her lifestyle but our relationship is greatly improved and we actually like her partner. In fact on several occasions I have witnessed to her friend and she has gotten to the point of making a decision and has always backed away. I believe it is because she loves our daughter and she knows everything would have to change if she chose Christ. We pray that both our daughter and her partner would come to Christ at the same time so that they could make the changes they need to make understanding why and not hurting one another anymore than necessary.
If it were not for God’s power, my husband and I could easily have lost our mental balance and or self control and out of fear made the wrong choice. Like Timothy, we are not to be ashamed of the Gospel because it is a Gospel of power. That power enables us to live life when it seems unlivable and to be who we are in Christ when being a Christian seems impossible. The power of the Gospel is able to rescue the lost, to transform them, and to give them an eternity.
The Gospel of Christ is a gospel of grace. The gifts God has given are not things that we can achieve on our own but rather are things we must accept because we need them and because God gives us what we need to both live and to do His will. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a Gospel of eternal purpose and as believers and ministers of that Gospel we are already engaging eternity.
The call for you this morning is to recognize that God is the one who provides the courage, power, love, and self-discipline we need for the task at hand. Recognize that it is the Gospel of Christ we preach and not our own.
Now, if you will, I would like you to close your eyes as I give you a word picture. In December, I became very ill. My life was in question both in the immediate emergency and after the crisis as the physicians tried to discern what brought the crisis on. A few days after I was released from the hospital, I was having one of those moments when I was asking God what if. What if I have a serious underlying illness? Even if I don’t what will the ongoing issues be? What if I don’t wake up in the morning and so on? Finally, I said to God that I was going to drive myself crazy if I kept this up and suddenly I saw myself standing before God with a bushel basket piled high with stuff. I knew instinctively that the stuff was my life. (It was really a jumble, which I find somewhat humiliating in that it wasn’t more organized.) I looked up at God and said, “I don’t know what comes next but I know that I trust you so I am going to give you this (my life in a basket) and when you tell me what’s next, whatever it is then that is what I will do.”
I want you to see yourself standing before God with your ministry basket full of all that you do. I am asking you to hand it over to God and do only the things he asks you to do. Relinquish the claim you have on your ministry and embrace the fact that your ministry and its outcomes belong to God. Remember that your ministry is a calling and not a career.
This is only possible if you take the time to be in relationship with God because in those times of prayer and solitude and quietness we hear his voice and the gifts he has given are renewed and strengthened.
Pat Oldham is congregational counselor at the Mount Pleasant BIC Church in Lancaster County. She also chairs the Leadership Team for the Brethren in Christ Council for Women in Ministry and Leadership.
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