Sermon 10-02-2022: “Paul’s Legacy… and Ours”

Scripture: 2 Timothy 1:1-14

When I was a senior in high school, we had the equivalent of a beauty pageant, the “Miss Henderson” Pageant. “Henderson” was the name of my high school in Chamblee, Georgia. It doesn’t exist anymore. It’s now a Middle School, but… Go Cougars, anyway! 

But the Miss Henderson pageant was divided into three parts: beauty, talent, and an interview with the judges… public speaking. And I’ll never forget one of my classmates, named Kim, who competed in this pageant… And of course Kim was sufficiently talented and beautiful in the first two portions of the pageant, and if she could only do well in the interview portion, then she would have a real shot at becoming “Miss Henderson” of 1988. She surely had high hopes… that is, until the judges asked her the following question: “What would you like your legacy to be?” 

What would you like your legacy to be?

And bless her heart, she had a completely understandable deer-in-the-headlights moment—one with which I am nothing but sympathetic. And if this gets back to Kim that I’m talking about her, I think the question was unfair. Because I don’t think I knew for sure what the word “legacy” meant back then. We didn’t use it as much back then as we use it now. And it was clear that Kim didn’t know what the word “legacy” meant, either.

So, after a few awkward moments of silence, all she could do, sadly, was apologize to the judges and walk off the stage. I hate to think that Kim’s legacy is to be remembered as the young woman who didn’t know what the word “legacy” meant in the Miss Henderson pageant! 

But of course that’s not her legacy. I hope and believe that Kim has gone on to conquer the world in her own way and to be very successful at whatever she set her mind to… And I feel confident that she’s in the process of creating a wonderful legacy for her children, her family, her friends… 

And maybe… one hopes… She will also leave a legacy of faithful Christian living for her church family. 

And that’s in part what today’s scripture is about—Paul is talking about his own legacy that he is leaving behind for Timothy, his protege. 

And in this sermon I want to talk about three ways that we, too, can leave behind a legacy of faithful Christian living for others: One, through the presence of fellow believers in our lives. Two, by our prayers for one another. And, three, by the promises of God’s Word. Presence, prayers, and promises… That’s what this sermon is about.

First, presence

Today’s scripture is from what is likely Paul’s final letter—at least the last letter that we have in the New Testament. He’s in prison for the last time in his life… in the mid-’60s A.D. in Rome. Paul knows his life will soon end. He knows he will soon be executed. Unlike in his letter to the Philippians, when Paul was also in prison, this time he harbors no hopes that he will get out. 

In some ways, 2 Timothy is Paul’s “last will and testament” to Timothy. About twenty years earlier, you may recall, Timothy became a fellow missionary alongside Paul. You can read about this in Acts chapter 16, verses 1 to 3. Paul makes frequent mention of him throughout his letters. Timothy assisted Paul in pastoring churches, visiting churches, encouraging churches, delivering news to churches that Paul had planted—delivering news from churches.

And by the time Timothy receives this second letter of Paul’s, Timothy is having a difficult time at the church in Ephesus.

Although Paul hopes Timothy will come see him before Paul is killed, he’s also aware that these might be his final words to Timothy. If that’s the case, what’s the most important thing that Paul needs to say to Timothy

And the most important thing, Paul says, is that Timothy would continue to be faithful in the ministry that Paul, in part, has passed down to him. To do so, Paul says in verse 6, Timothy must “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” 

Scholars don’t agree on precisely what this “gift” is—but it’s probably a gift for ministry—maybe it’s a gift for preaching, or pastoral ministry, or bold leadership… Timothy knew what gift Paul was talking about, even if we don’t. But it was a gift of the Holy Spirit, who lived within Timothy because of his saving faith in Christ. And all the rest of us today who have believed in Christ also have the Holy Spirit living within us.

Did you know that?

To be sure, none of us is called by God to continue the ministry of the apostle Paul, the way that Timothy was… And the vast majority of us are not in ordained ministry, the way Paul and Timothy and a few of us in this room are. Yet I hope to show you that many of Paul’s words here apply to all of us—because they help to teach us how we, like Paul, can finish our race of faith—how we can make it to the finish line of our life here on earth while continuing to faithfully follow Jesus. How we can one day be able to say, along with Paul near the end of this very letter, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 1

How do we do that?

Let me say first… I try to be a good Methodist. Did you know that the word “Methodist” was originally a putdown, an insult? Today, it would be like someone calling you a “fundamentalist” or a “Bible-thumper” or a “literalist”—I’ve been called that one a few times. But even “Methodist” was an insult originally… But there were other insulting things said about the original Methodists: my favorite is “Bible moth.” Like a moth getting into clothing and devouring its fabric—it’s very hard to get pesky moths out of this clothing… In a similar way, it’s very hard to get these pesky Methodists out of their Bibles!

So I guess I have become a Bible moth

And as such, if yours truly were giving counsel to Timothy about how to “fight the good fight, and finish the race, and keep the faith,” this Bible moth would be tempted to say, “Here you go, Tim. Take this book. Memorize its words. Read it, study it, treasure it, meditate upon it every day. Have a quiet time every morning. Familiarize yourself with all the right doctrines which emerge from its pages—and also say your prayers and worship on Sunday, of course—but mostlymostly… It’s all right here for you, Tim. Just use this book.”

Please notice, that would not be the advice that Paul gives… although, to be sure, he would say that this book—including the apostle Paul’s words within it—are absolutely essential! See verse 13: “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me.”

But no… Paul would not say that that’s all that Timothy needs… Because Paul puts his finger on another important thing that Timothy needs… and that is, he needs the presence of fellow believers in his church. In at least three verses Paul emphasizes the importance of fellow believers in our lives. Verse 2: when he calls Timothy “my beloved child,” by which he means, as he says in 1 Timothy 1:2, “my true child in the faith.” In other words, Timothy has become a son to him. Paul didn’t have children. It’s possible, even likely, that he was married and his wife died before he had his “Damascus Road” encounter with Jesus—before Christ called him to be an apostle, but he didn’t have kids. Regardless, Timothy became a son to him—a spiritual son.

And this is poignant, in part, because we learn from Acts 16, which I mentioned earlier, that Timothy didn’t have a believing father—his mother was a faithful Jewish Christian, but his father was a Gentile unbeliever. It’s very possible that his own father rejected Timothy, or abandoned him—either because of Timothy’s faith, or the faith of his mother, Eunice. That happened a lot back then, as Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians 7. So it’s possible that Timothy no longer had a father, in which case Paul, who didn’t have a child, became like a father to him. Which is very sweet.

But this shouldn’t be so unusual

After all, Jesus himself makes an astonishing promise—about the church, of all things—in Mark 10, verses 29 and 30, and I’ve never heard this promise preached about in a sermon. Jesus says,

Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 3

Of course, from my perspective, the fact that he decided to conduct this experiment in the first indicated that he had already made up his mind; he was no longer a Christian… he was an atheist.

And—surprise, surprise—after a year of living like this, that’s what he decided to become. He even got a book deal out of it.

Still, when Bell announced that he was conducting this experiment, I heard Christian philosopher William Lane Craig become indignant about this publicity stunt. Craig asked, “What about all the people in Ryan Bell’s church who are depending on Bell to pray for them during this upcoming year? Is he just going to abandon them?”

Great question!

Dr. Craig, like the apostle Paul, believes that we depend on the prayers of our brothers and sisters in Christ!

What if I told you that your brothers and sisters in Christ—your church family—at Toccoa First United Methodist is depending on your prayers. What if I told you that there will be some blessings that we will miss out on—there will be some blessings that God will withhold from us—unless or until the people of Toccoa First pray?

You say, “I don’t want that responsibility!” 

Sorry! You signed up for it… when God made you a part of his family, and made you part of this local church family, and when these people became your brothers and sisters in Christ.

So that’s Point Number Two: To fight the good fight, to finish the race, to keep the faith, to pass on a legacy of faith to others, we need the prayers of our church family.

Finally, Point Number Three: We also need to remember God’s promises… And of course there are many, even in today’s scripture. For now, I’m going to turn our attention to only one promise. Because I believe if we take it to heart, this promise can help sustain us through good times and bad. It’s a promise implicit and unspoken in verse 8—and I agree, verse 8 doesn’t even sound like a promise… but there is a promise underneath Paul’s words that I need us to hear. Paul writes in verse 8:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God…

I want to focus on five words: “nor of me his prisoner.” 

Hold onWhose prisoner does Paul say he is? Look at the sentence: It’s not the Romans… It’s not Caesar… They undoubtedly thought Paul was their prisoner, but they were wrong. 

Paul understands that he is ultimately a prisoner of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you see that?

In other words, there is nothing happening to Paul for which our Lord Jesus isn’t ultimately responsible. There is nothing happening to Paul that is not part of our Lord’s plans for him. There is no evil that can be done to Paul—no setback, no sickness, no circumstance—not even death itself—that can ever prevent God’s plans, and God’s will, and God’s purposes from being carried out in Paul’s life for God’s glory and for Paul’s ultimate good!

And since, as Paul says elsewhere, Paul is living his life for God’s glory, if these chains and this prison and this impending death are what will give God the glory, then bring them on… Paul is happy to be Christ’s prisoner!

Granted this is all invisible to the eye… Paul’s enemies don’t know this… The Romans don’t know this… Caesar doesn’t know this… The devil doesn’t know this…

But Paul knows that he’s the Lord’s prisoner. He knows that our Lord Jesus is in control; that our Lord Jesus is calling the shots; that our Lord Jesus is taking care of Paul… and that the Spirit of our Lord Jesus is not a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control. And Paul can be confident and unashamed because he knows the Lord Jesus, and he knows that “Jesus is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to” him… and he knows that the very Spirit of our Lord Jesus is dwelling within him.

How can Paul possibly be afraid? 

And since we have that same Spirit living within us, how can we? How can we

Well… we can only be afraid when we forget these promises, or fail to believe them.

I’ll leave you with this tweet from a pastor named Matt Smethurst from a couple of weeks ago:

Peace doesn’t come from knowing what God is doing. It comes from knowing that God is the one doing it.

  1. 2 Timothy 4:7
  2. Mark 10:29-30 {/efn_note]

I don’t have time to unpack all that… Suffice it to say that Jesus isn’t speaking literally; he’s speaking metaphorically. Butamong many other things, he’s saying that in the local church we Christians—even those who have no other family, or whose family has abandoned us—we will find within our church a loving… family

And I know that we often speak very lightly of church being a family… But heck, even when I worked AT&T a hundred years ago my boss talked about our company being “family”; the word has been watered down. But when Jesus says that we Christians are family, it’s not supposed to be the watered down kind.

Think about this: You and I, when we’re young, at least, literally can’t survive apart from our families. A child literally can’t feed itself, provide clothing or shelter or safety or protection for itself—not to mention love for itself. The child needs a family! And by the way, this is why the church asks you to support our Wellroot Family Services ministry with a financial gift this month, which you can do through the end of the month. Wellroot is our United Methodist orphan ministry…

But as we know, children will die without a family. A child’s most important needs are met within a family.

And if that’s true for a biological family, what does that say about the spiritual family that the Lord creates for us known as church

In today’s scripture, it’s as if Paul were saying to Timothy, “This faith that you possess, you would not possess it apart from the example that was set for you by your faithful mother, Eunice, and your grandmother, Lois—and the way they nurtured your Christian faith down through the years. You, Timothy, are the beneficiary of a great legacy of faith because these members of your biological family were also part of your spiritual family. And I’m part of that family, too.”

And it’s not just a one-way street—it’s not just mature Christians like Paul helping younger Christians like Timothy. Because Timothy also helps Paul. Look at verse 4: “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy.”

Again, the “Bible moth” in me wants to say, “But, Paul, you’ve got God’s Word… You can read the Bible. You can pray. You can worship. Isn’t that enough. Don’t you find all the joy and satisfaction and contentment you need in life there?” But no… it’s not enough. Paul longs for his church family.

In other words, yes… God feeds Paul through his Word, and through prayer, and through worship, but God also feeds Paul through the presence—the physical presence—of his brothers and sisters in Christ!

I’ve shared with you before the testimony of my conversion: It took place during a winter youth group retreat in Black Mountain, North Carolina. But I didn’t tell you about the young couple Beth and Jimmy Stewart—no, not that Jimmy Stewart… But this couple, Beth and Jimmy Stewart, sort of adopted me that weekend—they loved me and made me feel as if I belonged, even though I hardly knew anyone in the youth group. They were family. And I didn’t tell you about so many others throughout my young life at the Briarcliff Baptist Church in northeast Atlanta: Mrs. MacElvey, for instance, a Sunday school teacher and Vacation Bible School teacher, who loved and nurtured my faith when I was a young child. She was famous for playing and singing Bible songs on the autoharp… I didn’t tell you about Jimmy and Madeline Waldrop, or Chris Hunnicutt, or Trey Stripling, or Bill Kees, or John Cramer, or Paul and Terri Morris, or Bill Bullard… And so many others without whom I wouldn’t be standing here today!

They left me a legacy of faith! I can only see in retrospect how important they were to me… And the thought that some day someone might say the same about me… Well, that’s both humbling and convicting.

But you’re no different. God has formed and nurtured and shaped you through your brothers and sisters in Christ. And you, dear Christian, have the ability—you have the responsibility… you have the calling from God—to do the same.You, too, must leave a legacy of faith for the generations who come after you!

Needless to say, however, you have to be here to do that. You have to be physically present, if you’re able.

It breaks my heart that we lost some members of our church family after Covid… “Lost them” in the sense that they never came back to church. I’m not saying they’re gone forever, and I know that there are a few who watch every week online. But I want to encourage everyone: Please, come back. Not for my sake—who am I? But for the sake of your church family, who needs you!

And that’s Point Number One… If we’re going to “fight the good fight, and finish the race, and keep the faith,” and leave a legacy of faith, we need the physical presence of our church family in our lives, and they need our presence.

Point Number Two: The church also needs your prayers.

Verse 3: “I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.” I love that: I remember you constantly in my prayers. This, of course, is hardly the first time Paul says something like this. Romans 1:9 and 10:

For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers…

Ephesians 1:16:

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers…

Colossians 1:9:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you…

1 Thessalonians 1:2 and 3:

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers…

In that same letter, by the way, in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, he exhorts fellow believers to “pray without ceasing.” It’s clear from Paul’s own example that this is precisely what he does!

One time I was arguing with a fellow pastor who said that he simply disagreed with the apostle Paul about an important matter of doctrine. And he said, “Brent, I haven’t arrived at this conclusion lightly. I’ve prayed about it so much.” And I said, “You know who also prayed a lot? The apostle Paul. I promise you didn’t out-pray Paul, when he wrote these words of scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit!” Well, that didn’t go over well!

Speaking of prayer, Paul says something remarkable about it in Philippians 1:19. Paul is writing a letter in prison, once again—a different imprisonment, one from which he would later be released. But he told the Philippians something that I find amazing. Listen to this:

for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance…

So Paul says that he believes he’s going to be released from prison… and he was right: he was released. But please notice how, he says, this “deliverance,” this release from prison, will take place. Paul says it will happen for two reasons… one, because of his church’s “prayers” and, two, “the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” 

But can that possibly be right? 

Once again, Paul doesn’t say what I would say. Because I would say, “I know I’m going to be released from this prison, and it’s going to be because I’ve been praying hard about it, and I’m confident that God is going answer my prayers and give me what I ask for.”

Although I never, ever, ever want to be in prison to find out for myself, that’s something I could hear myself saying. Because in saying something like that, I’m sort of depending on myself, you know? I can control whether I pray, or how much I pray.

But Paul isn’t like me! To some extent he is openly putting himself—putting his fate—in the hands of his brothers and sisters. He is telling these Philippians, in effect, “I need you in order for me to get out of this prison. Of course I’m going to be praying too, but God has revealed to me that if I’m going to be released, it’s going to depend, in part, on you… and your faithful prayers. If you are not faithful in praying for me, it doesn’t matter how hard I pray for myself… I will not get out of this prison. My missionary career will end right here. And I won’t live to see you again.”

But he’s not gloomy about it. He knows that his brothers and sisters at the church in Philippi will be praying for him!

Are you praying for your pastors, by the way? 

Listen, I am not God’s gift to pastoral ministry, can I get an Amen? That was a little too enthusiastic… but consider this: I would be so much worse without your prayers.

What if I could be even better and more effective because of your prayers. I need them. Josh needs them. Sheldon needs them. April needs them. 

None of us, not a single person on this ministry team has ever been or ever will be successful because we are just so smart and clever and talented and strong and wise—Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, “But by the grace of God I am what I am…” That’s true for all of us, whether we’re in professional ministry or not.

By God’s grace we are what we are… And the fact of the matter is, one important conduit of God’s grace is our prayers for one another!

And you may say, “Hold on. Paul is also saying that the Spirit of Jesus Christ is going to help him get out… That makes sense, but why does Jesus also need our prayers?

That’s an excellent question! And the answer is, Jesus doesn’t need our prayers. He doesn’t need anything. The Lord can do whatever he wants to do—with us or without us. But it’s clear that what Jesus wants is often to do powerful things throughour prayers—and only through our prayers. And it’s also clear that there are some things that the Lord won’t do for us, unless or until God’s people go in their prayer closets, or come to the altar rails, or get on their knees, and pray

There are things God will do for us when we pray that he won’t do if we don’t pray.

I don’t know why the Lord works this way, but I know he tells us in his Word that this is how he often chooses to work! So it obviously brings God glory to work in this way—through our prayers.

Years ago, a high-profile former pastor and seminary teacher out in California named Ryan Bell made headlines by announcing publicly that he was going to take a “year off” from being a Christian and live his life as if there were no God. He said, “I will not pray, I will not read the Bible, I will not go to church. I will live life for a year as an atheist”—after which he said he would decide whether or not to become an atheist or to remain a Christian. 2  Ryan J. Bell, “A Year Without God: A Former Pastor’s Journey Into Atheism,” 31 December 2013. Accessed 29 September 2022.

2 thoughts on “Sermon 10-02-2022: “Paul’s Legacy… and Ours””

  1. Good sermon, Brent! If I may make an immediate application about prayer that you speak of, just yesterday evening my daughter Brianna was distraught because she was overwhelmed this semester and wanted to drop a class, but was concerned that the powers that be were not confirming that she could keep her scholarship if she did so. So while she and my wife Jordana were making plans what to do about it, I “got down on my knees” and prayed about it. Even as I was just reading this sermon, Jordana just called me and let me know that the financial aid office had approved of her dropping without losing the scholarship! So, I don’t know, of course, what role my prayer played, but I know we are supposed to pray, I did, and things worked out!

    1. Thanks, Tom… Maybe you wonder how the timing of your prayer fits in with the financial aid office’s decision? But C.S. Lewis, in the second appendix to his book “Miracles,” solves this problem nicely by appealing to God’s foreknowledge. God USUALLY (almost always) answers prayer through providence. Nothing conspicuously supernatural. Since that’s the case, then God must usually begin answering—even in the distant past—prayers that we haven’t prayed yet (because in many cases we may not even have been born yet!). But God foreknows we’re going to pray these prayers in the future, so he “works in” our own prayer requests when he plans the way in which history will providentially (and “naturally”) work out. I like that!

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