The Necessity of Mentoring Relationships: Paul, Tom, and Timothy (2 Timothy 3:10-15)

Orthodox icon of St. Paul
Orthodox icon of St. Timothy

You’ve been a good apprentice to me, a part of my teaching, my manner of life, direction, faith, steadiness, love, patience, troubles, sufferings—suffering along with me in all the grief I had to put up with in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. And you also well know that God rescued me! Anyone who wants to live all out for Christ is in for a lot of trouble; there’s no getting around it. Unscrupulous con men will continue to exploit the faith. They’re as deceived as the people they lead astray. As long as they are out there, things can only get worse.

But don’t let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers—why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother’s milk! There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (The Message)

Paul and Timothy had a special relationship. Paul, the Apostle and mentor in the faith; and Timothy, the apprentice.

Together, they saw it all – and experienced it all. And through it all, the Christian tradition was passed on because of Paul’s purposeful mentoring of others, especially Timothy, by both verbal teaching and life example. In this, Paul helped set Christianity on a trajectory of modeling the words and ways of Jesus.

Faith is a gift given by God through Scripture and faithful people – and then received by us. Christianity is designed for community; it is not merely a solitary affair between the individual and God. Anyone trying to go it alone in the Christian life will soon discover they are overwhelmed and in over their heads with trouble.

Contemporary pastoral ministry still needs to follow in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul. Just one of the many reasons why churches in the West are in such decline is that Christian leaders are not intentionally focused to passing-on a solid body of teaching, along with a consistent example of how to put it into practice, through close relationships.

Anyone who has been in the pastoral ministry gig for a long time, remaining consistent and faithful, has most certainly had a good spiritual teacher and guide shepherding them through their Christian experience. A good long ministerial life isn’t happenstance; it’s the result of a solid foundation through a Paul-and-Timothy sort of relationship.

Mosaic of Paul and Timothy, Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily, Italy

By God’s grace, I’ve had several persons influence my life in profound ways in such a relationship. One of the earliest and longest was with Tom – a campus minister on my university who built into my life as an undergraduate and a very young Christian. We remained connected and became good friends for nearly four decades until his untimely death.

Tom knew what he was doing with me. To this day, even with multiple academic degrees and many professional ministry experiences, I attribute most of what I know about Christian faith and practice as simply saying and doing what I saw Tom say and do. And, I might add, Tom consistently saw my true self, even when I didn’t see it myself.

A good model in the faith has the same qualities and insights as the Apostle Paul of old. For example, here are just a few of the important things I learned from Tom:

  • Christian ministry is interpersonal; time must be spent with others, getting to know them and building relationships. Doing pastoral ministry from afar is an oxymoron. From what we know of Paul, at times he had a team of up to seventy persons following him around on missionary endeavors.
  • There are always going to be charlatans and bad apples around. Don’t simply ignore them. Confront them in grace and truth. I still remember a time when I went along with Tom, not knowing where we were going or what he was up to. In retrospect, he probably knew I would bolt if I caught wind of what he was about to do. We went to the dorm room of a believer whom Tom flat-out confronted on his talking and living being inconsistent with his professed Christianity. My eyes got huge when Tom said, “In the name of Jesus Christ I rebuke you and I call you to repent.” This was said in a gracious and conversational tone, not in anger, which communicated concern and love for this individual student.
  • Develop relationships. And the best way of doing this is by having the Timothy tag along with the Paul. Tom continually brought me along to whatever he was doing, whether it was a weekend retreat he was leading, or going to the grocery store. We cannot learn from others if we aren’t around them, and Tom understood this better than most. As a result, I learned more than lessons; I learned a life.
  • It’s not about me. Tom never took himself too seriously. And because of that, I observed him never becoming overwhelmed or obsessing over the trouble he would sometimes get into. In fact, he typically welcomed the trouble whenever he saw it was not of his own making.
  • Openness and vulnerability are necessary. More than once, Tom strolled into a bible study with me and some other guys, flopped down and said, “Man, I really blew it today…” and then went on to explain some boneheaded thing he did. We unpacked the entire situation together. Not once do I ever recall Tom trying to look like the perfect Christian leader. He embraced who he was and was always willing to shine the light on the shadowy places of his heart.
  • Holy Scripture is central to Christian life and ministry. Inevitably, Tom’s question to us, after describing his bonehead move, was to ask, “What are you learning in God’s Word? Do you have any encouragement for me?” On a daily basis, without fail, Tom asked this question of me: “So, what is God teaching you in the Word?”

Through both Holy Scripture and the significant relationships I’ve had throughout my life, I can confidently state that there are two indispensable elements to effective Christian ministry:

  1. It must be firmly grounded in objective theory derived from God’s Word.
  2. It must be intentionally practiced with subjective experience derived from interpersonal relationships.

Objective theory without lived practice leads to being puffed-up with knowledge and no love – because love requires people. And subjective experience without a grounded theory is nothing but a form of spiritual A.D.D. in which whatever shiny thing we see grabs our attention.

I always considered Tom as my spiritual father (and his wife as a dear spiritual mother!). They have shown me not only how to live the faith, but also how to be a spiritual father myself. And as a result, my own dear wife and I have many spiritual children scattered throughout the country.

This is the consummate Christian: Coming to faith by God’s grace, mediated to us through actual flesh-and-blood people; being taught and mentored in that faith by proven Christians; and then, simply saying and doing what you have seen and heard from holy leaders and Holy Scripture.

It’s not rocket science. It’s not abstract art. It’s a life. It’s relationships. And it’s absolutely necessary in order for both the church and the world to be blessed.

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously. (Micah 6:8, MSG)

Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.

Don’t Be Stupid (2 Timothy 2:14-26)

Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 

Avoid godless chatter because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (New International Version)

Stupidity doesn’t have to do with intellect; it is a matter of character. A fool is stupid. A wise person is smart. One can be a “genius” yet still be as dumb as a bowling ball. And someone who never gets a “A” in school just might be the most knowledgeable person in the room.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.

Proverbs 12:1, NIV

The Apostle Paul understood this – which is why he put the focus on cultivating and communicating character instead of sheer intelligence. Anytime we purposefully neglect and forget this, we land into Paul’s “stupid” category of people.

Much of church ministry needs to be a memory care unit experience. That’s because too much spiritual dementia happens. There must be continual reminders about the importance of Christian character. It seems believers in Jesus too easily forget their identity and what they are supposed to be doing. This is most certainly not a new issue; it is one that has been endemic throughout the ages. It’s a problem as old as sin itself.

In the Gospels, Jesus miraculously fed a great crowd of people not once, but twice. The second time he called his disciples to remember what had happened the first time in order to understand the second. 

In the Epistles, Paul kept on reminding the Jewish believers to remember the ancient covenant; and he called the Gentile believers to keep in mind that they were once estranged from that very same covenant. Both Jews and Gentiles together needed to collectively remember the death of Christ that unites them into a new covenant community. And much like them, we are to remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. (2 Timothy 2:8)

Whenever we forget who we are, whose we are, and what it is we are really all about, we get downright stupid. We get lost majoring on the minors and wagging our tongues like a bunch of foolish simpletons.

It’s stupid to say bad things
    about your neighbors.
If you are sensible,
    you will keep quiet.
A gossip tells everything,
but a true friend
    will keep a secret. (Proverbs 11:12-13, CEV)

Christians are blood-bought people of God, belonging to Jesus Christ, and given a mission to make disciples and participate with God in the redemption of all creation through remembering the poor, seeking justice, and being peacemakers in the church and the world. 

And what’s more, we are not to put up with letting others stand around and endlessly argue about lesser things, making every doctrine and dogma a battleground – as if the fine China and paper plates were exactly the same.

“Remember the height from which you have fallen!  Repent and do the things you did at first.” (Revelation 2:5, NIV)

There is a difference between the brains of dementia patients and Christian folk – the mind overtaken by dementia will only worsen, yet the church can recover its collective memory by listening again to the ancient Word of God; any and every congregation can be constantly refreshed with the promises and covenant of God. 

We must neither rely on mere pragmatism nor doing things the way we always have done them without any understanding of why we do it. 

Yet, we must understand that even when we point out what to remember and why we are to remember it to others, they aren’t always going to respond like we want them to – which is why instruction needs to be gentle so that another does not stumble on the messenger instead of the message.

A person of great understanding is patient, but a short temper is the height of stupidity. (Proverbs 14:29, GW)

It takes no effort to be stupid; but it takes a great deal of will and energy to keep learning and growing in the Christian life. Too many persons have unwittingly fallen into the trap of the devil, believing themselves to be godly because of their defense of the faith. Sadly, they’ve been defending their own interpretation of faith instead of the actual faith itself.

Please, don’t do that. Don’t be stupid. Better to focus on having a pure heart of your own rather than always pointing out the impurities of others.

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Letters to the Old and the Young (2 Timothy 2:1-7)

Paul and Timothy by Unknown artist, 1886

As for you, my son, be strong through the grace that is ours in union with Christ Jesus. Take the teachings that you heard me proclaim in the presence of many witnesses, and entrust them to reliable people, who will be able to teach others also.

Take your part in suffering, as a loyal soldier of Christ Jesus. A soldier on active duty wants to please his commanding officer and so does not get mixed up in the affairs of civilian life. An athlete who runs in a race cannot win the prize unless he obeys the rules. The farmer who has done the hard work should have the first share of the harvest. Think about what I am saying, because the Lord will enable you to understand it all. (Good News Translation)

The Apostle Paul was a spiritual father to Timothy. Oh my, how we desperately need Paul and Timothy relationships today!

Too much independence breeds nothing but goofy thinking, messed up emotions, extreme ascetic practices, doctrinal heresy, and shallow spirituality. A good and godly spiritual father or mother is an absolute necessity to properly guide others, pass on sound teaching, and model how we ought to live.

I’m going to address two groups of people: older generations and younger generations….

Dear Older Generations:

Hey, if you are concerned about younger generations, then by God do something about it!

Heed the words of Paul to Timothy and be a spiritual director of souls to those who are like sheep without a shepherd.

Get your mental and emotional energy off of retirement, your economic portfolios, only giving money, and placing your hope in political elections.

You have built a lifetime of knowledge concerning personal piety and ethics, human behavior and community, and divine ways and means of living. Don’t squander it by dying and leaving only a material inheritance. Rather, die to self, and leave a spiritual legacy of mentoring others in the faith.

Guide a younger man or woman in discerning between the workings of the Holy Spirit and the machinations of evil spirits. Help them unlock the mysteries of being united to Christ. Assist them in moving into greater self-awareness and God-consciousness.

Keep learning and growing. Don’t rest on your laurels. Continue navigating the circuitous ways of the interior life – and leading other younger Christian disciples into the life of the Spirit.

Warn and encourage with all spiritual wisdom. Warn against the temptations of wealth, security, and attention. Don’t be the answer guy but learn to ask good and helpful questions which pilot the soul and inspire the spirit – instead of rigid lectures telling others what exactly to do and how to do it.

Don’t be a putz, a schmuck, a curmudgeon, or a blockhead. Be winsome, kind, self-effacing, gentle, and above all, humble. You have learned many things in the school of hard knocks. So, give the space and grace for younger generations of people to fail and be trained by their mistakes. And be there to help them get back up.

With sincerity and humility,

Pastor Tim

Dear Younger Generations:

This may or may not be obvious: You don’t know it all. And you cannot do it all by yourself. You need a spiritual guide.

So, go find one. Actively seek for a spiritual father or mother. In your search, look for a virtuous person, especially looking to see humility, self-control, service toward others, wisdom, deep and prayerful contemplation, a heart for God and a love of neighbor.

This may take a while but that’s okay. The journey is as much or more important than the destination. Once your search finds such a person, take advantage of the opportunity by submitting fully to your mentor with obedience. Follow their advice because they’ve been there, and they know what is useful for you.

You haven’t reached the Promised Land. There is a lot of wilderness wandering that needs to happen, a lot of soul-searching, and many temptations to face down. Your director knows these challenges better than their back door, so don’t think for a moment that everything is going to be victory in Jesus. Suffering can be your greatest teacher.

It isn’t the outer person who needs all the attention; it’s the inner person. And the journey to the heart is fraught with many trials.

Stick with the process. Don’t flame out early. Persevere, endure, and don’t give up. Work hard at not having a “meh” attitude. Expect to struggle with spiritual laziness, emotional heaviness, physical weakness, fearful apprehension, depressing despondency, desertion of hope, and dark thoughts.

Nobody is going to give you a shot in the arm which inoculates you against harm, heresy, or half-baked obnoxious people. Every good thing in life requires a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears, so be willing to roll up your sleeves and put in the work of sanctification.

The Christian life is a marathon, not a hundred meter dash. When the metaphorical bear jumps on your back, and you feel you cannot go on, remember that your spiritual mentor has your back – not the bear.

Be patient and do the consistent practices which will add up to a godly life, blessing both the church and the world.

With encouragement and love,

Pastor Tim