Monday, November 19, 2007

The problem of sequel

The last two weekends I've been away at Conference centres teaching students, first from Exeter CU and then from Reading CU. We've looked at 2 Timothy. I've had four sessions at each weekend which is enough to get a taste of the book but no where near enough to explore all the detail. I'll post the scripts in bitesize posts over the coming days.
Pull up a seat, grab a knife and fork and let's tuck into a roast dinner. A lavish Christmas Dinner of a book. 2 Timothy. First the tender meat, then the veg. And then tonight dessert, and finally some coffee.

If you went to the cinema this summer then the chances are you saw a sequel. Or rather, a threequel. Summer 2007: Rain and Threequels. Spiderman. Shrek. Pirates of the Caribbean. With the possible exception of The Bourne Ultimatum they illustrate perfectly the problem of sequel. The first film was great, the sequels were poor.

So it is for the church. Don Carson observes the plight of a church called The Mennonite Brethren: ...the first generation believed and proclaimed the gospel and thought that there were certain social entailments. The next generation assumed the gospel and advocated the entailments. The third generation denied the gospel and all that were left were the entailments.

The problem of sequel hit and within two generations. Initial zeal swept away as it later was with the Wesleyan and Welsh revivals. Initial gain, but the sequel bombed. The problem of sequel is one of the challenges behind this letter, 2 Timothy.

What do you do when the apostles die? When generation one of the church hands over the baton to generation two? This year Reading CU has been going for 80 years, Exeter CU for 50... but what will keep it going today and tomorrow and beyond?

We need 2 Timothy. Paul's last letter, written from a Roman prison cell to Timothy, leading the church at Ephesus. God's answer to the problem of sequel... Let's eat the tender meat of the gospel, a large slice of grace from 1v1-2v13.

At the heart of it all – Timothy is 1v8, not to be ashamed to testify about our Lord and 2v2 to entrust to reliable men the things he has heard from Paul. This however, 1v8, requires that he 'join with [Paul] in suffering' and 2v3 'endure hardship'. If he does this then, 1v14, he will 'guard the good deposit that was entrusted to [him] – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.' Those are Paul's applications to Timothy. How will Paul prepare Timothy to do them? He wont just tell him. Christianity isn't about keeping commands. What will wash away, 1v7, the timidity of Timothy? Paul's strategy is simple. Paul reminds Timothy of what he has entrusted to him. Telling again of, v13, the good deposit and the pattern of sound teaching. God's good news about Jesus Christ. And he outlines it in v9-10...

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