Elevating Community 1: Christian Fellowship (2 Timothy 1:1-14)
Loved ones, my prayer to the LORD is that the following five posts will be encouraging and humbling, comforting and convicting, as we dig into God’s Word to understand what Biblical community between Christians looks like, what the LORD has designed true and healthy fellowship between His children to be.
Much of these posts will be looking to the Bible to discover WHAT community looks like--what are the characteristics of a local church where Christians are growing deeper in their friendship? How is Biblical and Holy Spirit-powered Christian fellowship different from non-Christian friendships?
But some of these posts will also have to tackle the HOW. HOW do we get there? How do we partner with the Holy Spirit and do our part—planting, watering, fertilizing—as He does what only He can do—make the plant grow?
- It can be very helpful to take a new farmer out to see the harvest, to see corn in October that is tall and ripe and ready to be collected. That’s some of what we will do over these next five weeks—look at what the “finished product” will look like, what ripe & mature fellowship should look like someday down the road as we get closer to the Lord Jesus returning to earth to gather and harvest His people to heaven!
- But that new farmer also has to spend much time learning how to GET to the harvest—the tilling of the soil, the planting, the fertilizing, the spraying, the watering, the protecting from insects and weeds, the pruning, etc., that hard work over a long period of time that has to happen, often before there are any signs that the work is paying off, that there will even be a harvest!
But regarding the HOW, please let me say this from the beginning: none of us will be able to partner with the Holy Spirit to have the WHAT of real community/fellowship and to continue to have our current schedules, our current goals, our current priorities. We can’t add the work that will be necessary for Biblical fellowship/community to our already overloaded lives—yes, there is an element of work involved: the Holy Spirit isn’t going to magically make it happen while we sleep—and still do everything else that we currently do in an average week. It simply won’t work. Some things in our schedules, some things in our priorities, will have to give, some things will have to be rearranged, cut out, downsized, shifted, pruned, etc. So let us know that from the beginning, and let us all be praying for each other, for the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom to know what needs to be rearranged—and the will to do the rearranging!—so that we can give up our goals/needs/wants in exchange for the Father’s goals/will for us His people.
We often want good things—deeper Christian community, losing a few pounds, increasing our gpa at school, making a sports team, reading the Bible more consistently, etc.—but we often aren’t willing to do what is necessary to truly reach those goals. Thus, so many new year’s resolutions are dropped by February.
- “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Thus we need to pray not only for willingness in our desires but also willingness in our choices.
Fellowship and community is not downloaded like an app but cultivated like a garden—it takes work. BUT IT IS SO WORTH IT! Over the next five posts, look at the Biblical descriptions of the benefits of such Christian community—the adjectives used are staggering and worth working for: refreshment, joy, peace, encouragement, etc.
2 Timothy 1:1-14 NIV
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2 To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy & peace from God the Father & Christ Jesus our Lord.
Verse 2: Paul addresses Timothy as family, as his son (though they were not biologically related). That is the title of their relationship—not pal, not homey, but son, family–whatever their other differences, they had a common spiritual heritage: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. May the LORD help us to see each other as family, as brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes how we look at someone changes what we actually see.
You see this understanding throughout Paul’s letters in the New Testament, especially when you look at the ways that he opens many of the letters: He describes other Christians as family, brothers and sisters, the elect, the saints, the holy people of God, etc. We must see ourselves as the LORD sees us in Christ, as the Bible reveals us to be, and not just a combination of surface/earthly adjectives (age, race, career, neighborhood, personality, etc.).
Furthermore, Paul gives to Timothy what Paul has received from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ—spiritual blessings—and Paul gives to Timothy what only Christians can give each other—not just earthly blessings (though those aren’t bad!) but spiritual ones: grace, mercy and peace. Are we content to just give earthly things to other Christians, or will we ask God to help us give them spiritual things such as grace, mercy and peace.
3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.
Verse 3: Paul was constantly praying for Timothy and thanking God when Paul thought of Timothy. Wow. Now we aren’t exactly sure if such constant prayers LED to a deep fellowship with Timothy or if the deep fellowship came first and led to such constant prayers. But let’s ask the LORD to help us to remember and pray for other Christians by name, constantly even! I wonder if this is one of the ways that over time the Holy Spirit will knit our hearts together with other Christ-followers. May God help us take our minds off ourselves, and off our computer/t.v. screens, and focus our thoughts on the Lord Jesus Christ and our brothers and sisters in Christ.
4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.
Verse 4: “Recalling your tears.” There was a closeness of friendship in which tears were shed and shared. There was openness and transparency, and this often doesn’t happen right away but takes time—both quality time and quantity time. This closeness happens usually in a Crock-pot, not a microwave.
“I long to see you.” At best, we often say about meeting up with other Christians: “It would be nice to see you” or “I should see you.” But Paul says to Timothy, “I long to see you.” I don’t think we can create this, and we definitely shouldn’t fake this. May we ask the LORD to grow in us a true longing to see other Christians, to know them deeply and to be deeply known by them.
“So that I may be filled with joy.” There is a joy that comes with true fellowship, an unshakable joy that we receive as we pour ourselves out knowing & being knowing, spending quality and quantity time, serving before being served, iron sharpening iron, continuing to love Christians when they (WE!) step on each other’s toes and hurt and offend and disappoint each other. Those are storms, and they can be deeply painful. But there is JOY on the other side of those storms that we never experience when we stay in the shallow end—not getting close enough for people to hurt us—or simply drop Christian friends when they do hurt us.
5 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.
Verse 5: Faith in Christ was shared between Paul and Timothy. They didn’t just talk about sports or the weather or other common hobbies/interests. They shared faith in Christ—a sincere and LIVING faith—as they labored for Christ side by side, as they talked about Jesus together face to face and as they followed Him together in the trenches, so to speak.
Paul knew Timothy’s extended family—he was close enough with Eunice and Lois to have seen their sincere and living faith in Jesus Christ! Many of the dear Christians I know, I still don’t know them like this—I don’t often see their faith in Christ being lived out (not because they don’t have faith but because our time together often never leaves the shores of sports, weather, etc.). You can’t see much of this in a 60 second conversation on Sunday morning. It’s more like fishing with someone—sit in a boat with someone for 9 hours and you have a better opportunity to see and hear their faith in the Lord Jesus. Furthermore, when we have earthly family gatherings, do we ever invite our spiritual family to gather with us? Our spiritual family is actually much closer to us than our genetic family (plus we will spend eternity with them!).
6 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. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner.
Verse 6-8a: Paul was interested in Timothy’s spiritual growth, in his maturity as a Christian, just as a teammate is interested in other teammates to grow in their skills and abilities. Paul encouraged Timothy in his relationship with Jesus, like a workout partner encouraging the other to lift one more set, to run one more mile. Furthermore, Paul was willing to personally invest in Timothy’s growth—this involvement occurs throughout the letters of 1 and 2 Timothy. We see this same interest in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome–look at Paul’s goal in meeting with the Christians there: for all of them to strengthen each other’s faith in Christ!!!
- Romans 1:8-13: First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. 11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— 12 that is, that you & I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.
Back to 2 Timothy 1:8:
Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.
Verse 8b: Paul invited Timothy to partner with Paul not just in playing Christianity but in suffering for Christ. Christianity was not a separate vacation but a shared vocation, not a hobby but an identity. Paul didn’t invite Timothy to go for a walk—or to sit around watching t.v.—but to train for a triathlon. Christian fellowship spurs each other on to true Christianity—carrying our cross and following Jesus, not just believing in Him.
In school we know there are students we can hang around with who will help us to apply ourselves to our classwork, and there are students who will cause us to drift away from schoolwork and goof off. The responsibility is ultimately ours (we can’t blame another person for making us do poorly in school), but there are environments that act as a current towards or away from our academic goals. Are the people you invest your time in spurring you on to mature in Christ or to simply tread water (stay as you are) or to even move away from Jesus and His call for an obedient and holy life? The company we keep matters, not just for kids, but for adults as well. Furthermore, the time we spend in spiritual training with other maturing Christians will strengthen our faith in Christ so that when we DO spend time with others we will love them but not become like them (in terms of sin, straying from Jesus, etc.).
9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
Verse 9a: Paul reminds Timothy that the Lord Jesus has saved them, not just improved some of their behavior; He has given them SALVATION from their sinfulness. While Jesus has given them entrance into the race through undeserved grace, that doesn’t meant that they can act however they want in the race—they have been saved (not just improved) for a holy life, a life of obedience and sacrifice, not for a life of recreation but a life of being re-created and made new by the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh how important accountability is in true Christian fellowship. To whom have you given explicit permission to gently but clearly point out both the planks and specks in your eyes?
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 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.
Verse 9b—12: Paul and Timothy aren’t connected because of common interests or similar personalities or being in the same stage of life—they are connected because Jesus chose them both before the beginning of time. Christ Jesus is their common ground. Oh how we miss out on deep fellowship when we only look for others who are like us, who have much in common with us (in an external sense). Oh may the Holy Spirit help us to look out for deep friendships with Christians of all ages and personalities and life stages, may the ankles spend time with the shoulders and the ears spend time with the hands!!! Oh may the LORD help us to open our circles of friends and turn them into horseshoes that are open to receive others!
13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
Verses 13-14: There was teaching of doctrine, deep Bible study, that happened between Paul and Timothy; discipleship—Paul was setting an example for Timothy, indeed was training Timothy, with a specific purpose: that Timothy would grow in his faith in Jesus and maturity and his understanding of the Truth of specific Bible teaching/passages. Paul also assumed that Timothy would be taking what he learned with Paul and would teach that to others, would train and disciple others through the power of the Holy Spirit, and would not develop new religious/Biblical theories but would stick to the pattern of sound Bible Truth–that Timothy would not water down the Bible to make it more easily acceptable to non-Christians or soften the harder to submit to portions of Scripture by making it more culturally acceptable. Paul concludes this section by reminding Timothy that they are united by the same Holy Spirit that lives in them both—“us.”
So what do we do in response to this? The above relationship, the above description of Christian community, might sound great to some, but how do we get there? Lord willing, we will have four more posts to continue to get a clearer picture of WHAT real Christian community/fellowship is, and over that time we will look at different HOWs, different action steps to take in response to what we are learning.
But for this post, the biggest next step for us is to repent.
- Not to get busy trying to have real community, not to try new strategies, not to go sign up for a million more Christian activities to get to know people.
Our first step is to repent; to go to our house, go into a quiet place, get on our knees and confess to the LORD
- that we do not have or seek real Christian fellowship,
- that we do not long to help other Christians grow in obedience and faith and holiness and that we do not long for them to help us grow in the same,
- to repent that we want to play it safe and stay the way we are, that we may want some of Jesus but we often don’t want enough of Him to truly and radically humble us and break us down and truly transform us,
- to repent that we have allowed our “busy” schedules to eclipse a big part of Jesus’ mission for us—to elevate community, to show non-Christians that we truly are DISCIPLES of Jesus and not just intellectual believers by the way that we sacrificially and painfully go out of our way to love and forgive and seek to invest in the spiritual maturity of other Christians.
In the Bible, DEEP AND GLORIOUS BLESSING from the LORD comes AFTER repentance, comes after confession and acknowledging our sinfulness. Go low with the LORD so He can lift you up, so He can lift all of us up to knowing Him and each other more deeply…