John Gresham Machen was born on July 28, 1881, in Baltimore, Maryland, the second of three sons born to Arthur and Mary [known as Minnie]. …His parents were committed Christians. Minnie, with whom Gresham always had a special bond, had an especially significant influence on the boy’s upbringing. It was on her knee that he had first learned the Bible and that he first learned of the Christian life through The Pilgrim’s Progress.
By 15, he made a credible profession of faith and was received into full membership at their church. At the time, neither he nor his parents could have guessed how his life would unfold. He would become a great New Testament scholar, accept a teaching position at the nation’s preeminent seminary, and eventually help found and lead a new seminary and a new denomination.
In 1905, Gresham decided to study in Germany for a year, and it was there that he endured an unexpected challenge to the sound training he had received as a child. The challenge came in the form of German theological liberalism, and especially its doubts about Jesus’ miraculous resurrection. He had been trained in the classroom to counter the claims of liberalism, but he had not been prepared to encounter that theology in the form of professors who were warm and charitable and who appeared to be examples of Christian piety.
Minnie wrestled with growing anxiety over her son’s doubts. But because she was rooted in Scripture, she knew better than to panic and confront her son in fear or anger. Relying instead on the grace of God, she chose to provide him with comfort and steadfast love.
‘I have faith in you too and believe that the strength will come to you for your work whatever it may be, and that the way will be opened.’ Pulled back by his mother’s love, along with the counsel of other godly mentors, Gresham’s crisis was soon quelled, and he returned to the sound doctrine in which he was raised. One of Gresham’s biographers would write, “No one ever seriously rivaled [his mother] in her capacity to satisfy his need of deep spiritual sympathy or in her hold upon his affection and admiration.” With God’s help, the combination of training and tenderness won her son back to his roots.
Minnie had been her son’s first teacher and, with her husband, the one who led him to Christ. “Without what I got from you and Mother,” he would tell his father, “I should long since have given up all thoughts of religion or of a moral life.
. . . The only thing that enables me to get any benefit out of my opportunities here is the continual presence with me in spirit, of you and Mother and the Christian teaching which you have given me.” At his time of deepest need, she had comforted him with love and counseled him with the Word of God. She had remained loyal to him in that crisis and through every other controversy he endured. In his greatest and most enduring work, Christianity and Liberalism, it is fitting that its opening page bears this simple dedication: To my mother.[i]
Paul is writing to Timothy to encourage him regarding the intense opposition and challenge that was before this young minister of the gospel. Paul deeply loved Timothy as a true ‘son in the faith.’ We need to be reminded that Timothy was dealing with tremendous pressures and problems with false teachers in the church at Ephesus. These pressures were causing Timothy to consider backing down under the pressure. In writing this letter, Paul desired to encourage Timothy to suffer if need be, but not to back down from the pressures that he was encountering. 2 Timothy 1 begins with three important elements regarding the nature of ‘sincere faith’ and how to make a difference in difficult times.
What does it mean to have ‘sincere faith?’
It means to be genuine, authentic and without hypocrisy. Timothy, Paul pointed out, possessed a genuine faith which was in contrast to the false teachers who professed a Christian faith but denied the very power or essence of the transforming work of the gospel in a person’s life. Paul tells Timothy in the first few verses of chapter three a description of people who do not have a genuine or sincere faith.
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God- having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
Paul is describing people who are professing a faith in the gospel, but the true condition of their hearts are revealed by their sinful behavior. His advice to Timothy, which applies to us as believers, is to avoid the kind of people who are self-deceived into thinking they are Christians, but their lifestyles are ungodly. Paul is not talking about nonbelievers, but people who are deviating from their faith through a sinful lifestyle.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people-not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.[ii]
Here in 2 Timothy, Paul starts by reminding him that he is praying with thanksgiving for him, and then reminds Timothy of his amazing spiritual heritage. It is a heritage that Paul also enjoyed and was now living faithfully with a clear conscience. What Paul was stating was that his Old Testament training and understanding now was being fulfilled in his faith in Jesus as the Messiah and his conscience was clear. This spiritual heritage was the guide to the right path in life. Timothy was being reminded of the incredible models of faith which would direct him for what laid before him. Even as Paul is modeling consistency in the face of suffering for the gospel, he is encouraging Timothy to follow this example, as well as the example of the amazing women in Timothy’s life; his mother and grandmother. “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also (2 Timothy 1:5).”
In his letter to the Philippians we gain insight into the kind of person that Timothy had become.
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you.
I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare.
For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.
But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.[iii]
Paul not only commends Timothy’s ‘sincere faith,’ but gives us a sense of how that faith was developed in his life. Timothy had some amazing women in his life that modeled for him what true faith looked like. Here we see this godly heritage. Paul describes the faith of Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, who in turn impacted the life of her daughter, Eunice, and finally her grandson, Timothy. Later in this same letter Paul reminds Timothy of the power that these two women had in instructing him from the Scriptures, even from childhood.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.[iv]
N.T. scholar, Luke Timothy Johnson points out the value that women play in communicating truth to others particularly their own children. “…if women are indeed capable of transmitting the faith in a truthful and competent fashion within the most important realm of the home through the raising of children, then the burden of proof is on those who would restrict women’s role to the domestic sphere. My larger point is a positive one that does not touch directly on gender roles as such, which is to value what Paul says here about the key role of personal witness and nurture in the forming of faithful persons. If churches face any crisis today, it is that they are expected to bear the burden of primary socializing in the faith that should have been carried out in households and families. Indeed, by focusing only on the public and ecclesial ways of shaping faith, the church has colluded in neglecting the most important-because most formative-influences of grandparents and parents in the transmission of faith.”[v]
I heartily agree that the primary responsibility to instill faith in children and young people’s lives still lies deeply within the home and extended family. The most powerful teachers of faith are the people we live with day to day. The truths of Christianity need to be embodied by human flesh. In other words, just like God, himself became flesh, even so must the Word of God so transform our lives that is becomes embodied in our lives. For most people, the only bible most people will experience is the one that is living through you and me.
While celebrating Mother’s Day, today; some of you; have so much to be thankful for in the legacy of an amazing godly mother and some of you can go back and trace that heritage to your grandmother and beyond. That is a powerful heritage. But for others, you may not have that kind of a background, but today, by God’s grace, as a follower of Jesus Christ, you may have either biological children or if not, children in the Lord. These are people whom you have been instrumental in either leading to Christ or helping establish them in their faith. They look to you as a mentor, which is an amazing investment in others.
The greatest gift we give others, is the gift of an authentic, sincere faith. The Greek word translated sincere here by the NIV, literally means to be without hypocrisy. How many young people have been turned off by parents who have professed a faith in Christ but say one thing and do another. What we teach and model is best expressed by how we live. Our lives always speak louder than our words. May the words of our lips be reinforced by the manner in which we live. May there be no contradiction.
As we see in this introduction to the book of 2 Timothy, the apostle Paul was concerned about Timothy’s courage; but he had no misgivings about Timothy’s faith. We all need to realize that our faith will be tested and when that happens, the temptation is that we get discouraged, which is another way of saying that we have lost courage and want to ‘give up.’ However, what we hear from the apostle Paul is that though we may suffer, we must not despair and lose heart. Even though there are moments of challenge, conflict, opposition and struggle, we need to persevere.
Paul was persuaded and convince that Timothy was a young man of sincere faith but was struggling; so now he encourages or challenges him. Paul reassures him that suffering is a part of the Christian journey. William Mounce points out: “Timothy’s perseverance in the face of suffering shows that his faith was sincere, true.”[vi] Timothy’s sincere faith is mentioned as a contrast to the hypocritical and insincere faith of the false teachers that were bringing confusion into the lives of believers there in Ephesus. Philip Towner reminds us: “The heritage of genuine faith and the special relationships through which it was transmitted to Timothy were recalled to restore his confidence. But they also called to mind a responsibility (to continue in the faith, to persevere in ministry) that he could not walk away from. No matter how bitter the opposition, he could not deny his heritage.”[vii]
Sincere Faith needs to be rekindled in our lives.
Difficulties and challenges can cause our little light to flicker. Timothy needed reassurance in the struggle he was currently in and would need to persevere through the difficulties still ahead. Often in challenging moments we want to flee the pressures that our responsibilities bring to bear on our lives. We want to run from the pressures and tensions we are experiencing in the sphere of life and the service to which God has called each of us too.
There are mother’s right now who are despairing as their role has changed dramatically. Children who were once at school, are now home and the expectation is that you are their new teacher. That works wonderfully for some, but it is overwhelming for others.
Many feel trapped in this time of self-isolation and there seems to be no reprieve from work, children and it all needs to be done at home. There is no escape. Then there is the financial pressures with loss of income or loss of employment. Our faith takes a hit. We wonder why God has allowed this, or how long will this continue?
Timothy felt overwhelmed by the pressures these false teachers had placed upon the church and upon him as a leader needing to address the problems they were creating. Paul is encouraging but also challenging him by reminding him of God’s Spirit and power that resides within him. This is also true for each of us who are followers of Jesus. We can handle what is before us in the power of God’s Spirit.
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.[viii]
So what was Timothy to fan into flames? It obviously was a gift that came through the laying on of hands. Some scholars argue that this had to do with the anointing of God’s Spirit at his commissioning for ministry, while others state that this is basically the Holy Spirit that is imparted into our lives both at salvation and for the service God is calling us into. The point is that we can go through whatever we are currently addressing and what lies before us, because God is within us. He is with us. He is strengthening us and empowering us to persevere. We need to be reminded from time to time, that the Spirit of God is there to help us in our times of weakness.
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us… (Romans 8:26a).”
“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?”
Listen to Paul’s prayer for the believers in Ephesus.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.[ix]
Wow! To be strengthen by the Holy Spirit in our innermost being, to realize that Christ is deeply rooted in our hearts, and that we are established in Him, and too grasp the immensity of His love for us until we are full of His presence in our lives. Consider what is being prayed for? When you are so full of God, He will empower you so that you will be able to stand against all intimidation. No pressure will be able to crush you. You will be like a David running to meet your giant in the power and courage of God, with a confidence that all will turn out right. May we all be refilled or rekindled by the power of God’s Spirit so that we may courageously deal with whatever challenge and problem that is before us.
Sincere Faith needs to be guarded.
What we have already obtained we are now responsible to embrace and not allow anything or anyone, nor any circumstance to diminish our confidence and hope in what has been accomplished on our behalf through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here we hear Paul’s confession of faith which is designed to inspire confidence in the gospel so that Timothy and ultimately, we will not be ashamed of it.
That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you-guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.[x]
How can we have confidence that we can guard what God has entrusted to us? In the same way, the apostle Paul had entrusted himself to not be ashamed of the gospel, Paul was convinced that God would empower and enable him to be faithful right to the very end. Paul now turns around and commands or charges Timothy to guard what God had entrusted to him. God, through the apostle Paul had entrusted the gospel to Timothy. So, how can we guard that ‘sincere faith’ in our lives? It can only be done through the ‘help of the Holy Spirit.’ God has entrusted to us this precious gospel and we are to guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit.
So in a practical manner, how does this apply to us? One way in which is applies to all of us is that we must never be ashamed of the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. I find it fascinating that the same pressure that was being applied to Timothy in his day is being applied to us today. To say that Jesus is the only way seems intolerable to our culture as it was to the people in the first century. There is a cost to following Jesus. We are called to live a holy life.
“He has saved us and called us to a holy life- (2 Timothy 1:9a).”
Many people who profess faith in Christ dismiss the need for a righteous and holy life, but that has always been the case with those who are deviating from the gospel. We need to be true to the ancient message passed down to us by godly people throughout the ages and not allow the spirit of this age; the spirit of antichrist to turn us away from the truth to myths; and listening to teaching that caters to our sinful nature.
To do the right thing, to endure the pressures and temptations, to persevere when things are difficult, takes the power of the Holy Spirit. How did Paul begin in challenging Timothy? He reminded him that an authentic and sincere faith would be a courageous faith and an enduring faith. It would be a faith that would honor those who have been our spiritual mentors, for some that may be your biological parents, but for others, God, by His grace, has brought spiritual fathers and mothers into your lives. Let us especially honor those women today who have nourished our souls through the gospel of Jesus Christ, who have not been ashamed, but have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to persevere.
Maybe the issue is a recognition of the need for your faith to be ‘rekindled.’ Look at those who have gone before you and the trials that they have endured. Let that encourage you, today. We are being called to guard that faith that we have received right to the very end.
Tim Challies writes: When Pastor and song writer of ‘Amazing Grace,’ “John Newton looked back on his life, he was quick to give credit to his mother. He knew his eventual salvation was inseparable from the early training he had received on her knee and from the many prayers she had prayed on his behalf. “Though in process of time I sinned away all the advantages of these early impressions, yet they were for a great while a restraint upon me; they returned again and again, and it was very long before I could wholly shake them off; and when the Lord at length opened my eyes, I found a great benefit from the recollection of them. ‘Elizabeth, he said, had “stored my memory, which was then very retentive, with many valuable pieces, chapters and portions of scripture, catechisms, hymns, and poems.’
Though Elizabeth was gravely ill for all of her son’s early life, she did not allow her condition to keep her from fulfilling her God-given duty. To the contrary, her illness made her urgent to lay an early foundation of Christian doctrine and practice. She used what strength she had to express the deepest kind of love for her son. She taught him to know God’s existence, God’s holiness, and God’s demands on his life. She taught him songs that would remain in his mind and heart until his dying day. She taught him to honor the Bible and to turn to it for spiritual knowledge and strength. She taught him the good news of the gospel, that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. She displayed a sweet submission to God’s will and a deep piety, treasuring and obeying God’s every word. As biographer Jonathan Aitken says, “The spiritual lessons the boy had learned at his mother’s knee were never forgotten. They become the foundation for Newton’s eventual conversion and Christian commitment.” We cannot understand this great man apart from his godly mother.”[xi]
[ii] 1 Corinthians 5:9-11.
[iii] Philippians 2:19-22.
[iv] 2 Timothy 3:14-15.
[v] Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy, The Anchor Yale Bible, 35A, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 343.
[vi] William Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary, 46 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000), 471.
[vii] Philip H. Towner, 1-2 Timothy & Titus, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 157.
[viii] 2 Timothy 1:6-8.
[ix] Ephesians 3:16-19.
[x] 2 Timothy 1:12-14.