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Words of counsel


No one is absolutely sure about the occasion of the Apostle Paul's letters to Timothy. Some phrasing in the text makes it apparent that the younger man was in some sort of ministry crisis. Paul was aware of and mentioned Timothy's tears (2 Timothy 1:4), some criticism because of his age (1 Timothy 4:12), the danger of false teachers in the church, and several other land-mines people in ministry encounter along the way. In the sweep of both letters there's a sense that Timothy was at a one of those ministry intersections that would determine whether he was in or out. It's one of the reasons Paul's letters to him are so action oriented. His words of counsel were an admixture of kind, empathetic concern and strong language.

it was the kind of counsel most humans need when we're clinging to threads of resolve worn thin by severe tests, toxic people, or challenging circumstances. In one moment there was softness, as in mentioning the faith that Timothy had learned form his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. Or, perhaps the remembrance of a spiritual high when Paul and others had laid hands on him commissioning him to ministry service. Paul mentioned some of his own personal trials and lamented being in the final stages of service, having finished his course and fought the good fight. Being poured out was surely a reference to the draining elements of the purpose to which he had been called. Paul was transparent and genuine in an empathetic way. His words to Timothy bring comfort and joy to many of us these two thousand years later.

Still, power words were a consistent element of Paul's words of counsel to Timothy. There they are throughout both letters. Resist. Flee. Athletics. Soldiering. Continue. Teach. Urge. Train. Practice. Immerse. Persist. Fight. Pursue. Guard. Power. Strength. Remind. Understand. Endure. Reprove. Rebuke. Exhort. Work. Fulfill. Beware. Equipped. Charge. They are the exhortation of a mentor to an apprentice, perhaps a kind fist to go along with the loving arms of kindness with which he embraced his younger friend. Maybe it was some tough love to keep Timothy focused on his spiritual gifts, his preparation for ministry, and the fear that seemed to have overtaken him. The Apostle knew Timothy's calling and strongly exhorted him to remain steadfast in it.

More than anything, however, was a note of personal testimony that shifted the talk away from Timothy and Paul, their life circumstances, the exigencies of the hour, and the troubling events that shadowed them. In two letters of wisdom one sentence stands out, at least for me, in the words of counsel Paul offered his friend. He wrote---

But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that

he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.

2 Timothy 1:12, ESV

Paul was surely a masterful wordsmith. Evidently his personal appearance wasn't all that imposing and his speaking talents weren't impressive at this stage of his life (see 2 Corinthians 10:10). But, the man could write. His thirteen letters are our benchmarks of theological orthodoxy and practical reasoning. Much of what we believe and what we know about being on mission can be attributed to the direction he provided to those early churches and ministers. He could write a letter, or dictate one. And, whether his words were soft and encouraging or forceful they resonated with his readers, whether congregations or ministry colleagues.

But, the center of his words of counsel was usually a recitation of his absolute dependence on his Heavenly Father. Some Bible scholars have labeled Paul's doctrinal center as theologia gloria and theologia crucis, his constant fixation on the glory and faithfulness of God and the centrality of the cross of Jesus as focal points. In the long and short of the words of counsel written to Timothy the strongest elements were his references to God and Christ. His counsel was thoroughly Theocentric and Christocentric. He pointed Timothy away from his personal circumstances upward to the God who would guide and fulfill his promises.

The challenge for us today is not just to provide words of counsel to those who are discouraged or in need of some positive reinforcement. There's plenty of psycho-babble and positive attitude stuff out there for people on the downside of life. Hallmark sentiment is available in every mall or big-box store. If warm fuzzies are the deal, you can pick them up just about anywhere. There is the Pauline truth, however, about authentic counsel in a world as troubled as ours. Our words of counsel to the circle of influence around us must derive from the eternal truth of God's Word and a personal note of our dependence on him. It's a shift from self-centered guidance to the Christ-centered focus of things not seen, which are eternal.

Words of counsel? Yes. Surely. Words about our faithful God.


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