Genuine faith is very hard to find. It is a rare thing to see someone who would hold fast to the Word of God as though it were just that (God’s words), and who would live it out because of the fear and sobriety this should naturally bring. And yet too often people become timid and fearful, or bored and inconsistent, not living out who they claim to be. It is often like that co-worker you’ll see at your job, who will wear the name badge with their picture on it (or other identifying information), and will come to work (sometimes periodically) on time, and be there throughout the day. But in all reality, they are not at work at all. They are somewhere else in their mind, and their work is half-hearted, investing only what is needed to prevent the termination of their employment. They will only acknowledge their employment when it results in some positive benefit, just like we too often do as Christians. When all else fails, we go to God in prayer because, quite frankly, we’ve reached rock-bottom, unable to think of anything else. And this is not right, as it makes coming to God and acknowledging our position before Him as a “last resort,” as though there are plenty of other things that will work and are far more practical and/or realistic. And so frequently do we come to God to ask for things, but are never thankful, and like the person who goes to work because he has to pay bills, so we too go to church and pray to God and read our Bibles because we have, but don’t expect me to study that manual, nor expect me to have any sort of sincerity. And when things get tough, or we think we should be treated more fairly, it doesn’t take very long to get to the point of quitting.
To Timothy, my beloved son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
And so we find Timothy, Paul’s disciple and spiritual son, who was in a rather difficult position. Paul was now imprisoned and was on his way to execution, and Timothy had been left to pastor Ephesus, which was in the midst of collapse. As was the fulfillment of Paul’s warning to their elders, wolves had come in among them and torn them apart one by one, and false teaching was now becoming just as doctrinal as the Scripture (Acts 20:25-31). On top of all of this, the Jews would press harder and harder, both in the spreading of this false teaching and the persecution of anyone who resisted, combined with the Gentiles who were becoming less fond each day of this new Christianity, especially as Nero was in power. And so it is natural to expect that Timothy would be tempted with fear and doubt, as such pressures were coming on a man in his youth, with the whole world turning on this little church of Christ, aiming to burn it down to nothingness. And much like today, the vast majority of that pressure and violence does not come from the pagan world, but the professing church (those who claim to believe God’s Word), who respond to the teaching of Scripture with vehement hatred and seething bitterness, and thus these words are just as applicable to us as ever.
Now notice what Paul first addresses to Timothy: “Grace, mercy and peace…” Grace being the unmerited favor from God for salvation and the sustainment of its expression. Mercy is the outworking of that grace, giving him mercy through trials, suffering and the death that awaited him. And the peace of God, which would be present regardless of constant acknowledgement, as it is sustained by God and proved through the outworking of His Spirit, protecting the thoughts and intentions of our hearts and minds (Phil. 4:7). But what is most important to know is that these come from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who provides these freely to those who believe. And that’s something to think about, as this grace, mercy and peace are all absent from the life of a sinner apart from God, who cannot possibly understand God’s grace, who will not receive God’s mercy should they fail to repent, and thus they live and die without any true, lasting peace. These are essential in the life of a believer, as they keep us from breaking, holding us to what we believe as trials and suffering come, seeing that these are required in the life of a Christian, being inevitable if we are slaves of Him who the world hated and crucified. If we think we are fine without these, or assume we have them because we are somehow deserving, then we neglect the purpose of grace, the significance of mercy and the necessity of peace from God. And we must further understand that this grace, mercy and peace are not lacking in a goal, as Timothy was given these for the purpose of bringing this “promise of life” to those who needed it. These things could not possibly be for the purpose of the prolonging of our lives, as such a task as preaching the Gospel increases significantly the possibility of a shorter life, whether through indirect means (constant stress and pressure) or by direct cause (execution). But as much as these may be the results, they are not the goal. Instead, Paul gives Timothy the goal he should aim for, and has validated that such a goal is good, in so much as Paul himself gave his life for this purpose of God. And in no way was he lacking God’s grace, mercy or peace. On the contrary, these were greater than they ever had been for him.
I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day…
What is he thanking God for? Why is he thanking him for it? With what attitude is he thanking Him? Let’s break these down a bit to better understand what is being said here. Begin by taking note of the absolute statement, “I thank God.” He does not go on to say “because He gave me this, that and the other thing.” Instead, he is thankful towards God, period. This does not mean he did not thank God for anything in particular, but rather we find a flow of thought beginning. He is actively in the process of thanking God, and will go on to show how he is thanking Him. Secondly, the spirit of his thankfulness. He is a slave of God, being dedicated to the service of Him through the ministry of the Gospel and the edification of the saints. One might picture a slave of God to be a sad, lonely person who cannot possibly have anything to be thankful for. Nevertheless, Paul says two things: although he is a slave of God, he is in a constant state of thankfulness to his Master who provides for him. Next, he serves God in a clear, undefiled and undistracted conscience. His moral compass is not misdirected, nor is he doubtful. He remains sure of the right direction, and based on his faith that what God says is true, he charges in the direction set forth by his Lord. This path has led him to pain and loss, watching fellow saints be killed, being imprisoned and despised, and at this point, facing his inevitable death. One might think this to be the end to a miserable and horrible life of failure and shame, and yet he is thankful to the God who led him here, and cannot possibly second-guess his place in life. Unlike so many, he is not ungrateful or bitter against God, but rather rejoices in these sufferings. He is not bitter, but grateful to God, and has no doubts or fears at all. Finally, he clarifies that he is not lost in some religious experience, but is mindful of those others whom God is using for the same purpose. He does this by telling Timothy that he remembers him specifically, and is grateful to God for him and his sincere faith.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:4-7