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. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 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. 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. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 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. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 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. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 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. What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.- 2 Timothy 1: 3-14
I am continuing to paddle against the wind here in the Pauline letters. I am not sure why they are so challenging, but in some ways they are even harder than some of the challenging old testament books and passages. I am still chewing and reflecting on this in an attempt to understand why this stretch of water is difficult. Certainly there are topics in the letters that are challenging and Paul’s bombastic style sometimes leaves little room for metaphors and water imagery, but I signed up for the entire river so I will push on despite these difficult stretches with the hope there are some quiet waters mixed in.
Paul is reaching out to the believers in Ephesus in this second letter to Timothy, whom he has sent to help the church in Ephesus. This is a letter of encouragement to encourage Timothy in his efforts to share the Gospel, and the other followers to stay faithful to their commitment to follow Christ.
Paul is “recalling tears” in this letter. It is not clear whether these tears are being shed because the people miss Paul or some other reason. The context suggests that Paul is recalling the tears that were shed when he left them. Tears are typically an outward expression of strong inward emotions, samples of our souls if you will. In this case the emotions were probably a mixture of loss, fear, and uncertainty as Paul left for an uncertain future, and the people in Ephesus faced challenges to their faith through questionable leadership.
The word picture that is forming in my head is of the believers in Ephesus as scattered embers or coals, isolated from one another and in danger of being extinguished. Paul alludes to this when he says “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit which poured out and into these followers through Paul’s own teaching. The Holy fire has apparently gone dim for these followers and Paul is trying to help them rekindle it.
Fire is an interesting thing, almost as interesting as water, but with very different attributes. Fire, in order to exist, requires fuel, something to burn, and typically oxygen to allow the burning reaction to take place. We are probably most familiar with burning wood, but there are many things that burn. As anyone who has started a fire knows it is a process of creating a chain reaction in the wood so that it is self-sustaining. The heat of the fire actually makes it easier for other pieces of wood to catch fire and contribute their energy. There are several things that can making starting a fire more difficult: 1) green wood; 2) wet wood; 3) insufficient kindling. Each of these have interesting metaphorical meanings in the context of the church in Ephesus and their efforts to be self-sustaining.
The church in Ephesus was made up of very new believers, green wood. They were not seasoned by years of faithful following. Their ability to provide spiritual guidance (heat) to one another was limited, and in fact was being thwarted by misguided leaders who were not leading them toward God. The only way to make green wood burn better is time and “seasoning”. I am sure that what these followers were experiencing in Paul’s absence felt like a very dry time spiritually. Paul is encouraging them to seek out the true water source in this dry time of seasoning.
I grew up in Seattle and I have had my share of experiences attempting to build a fire using wet wood. It is usually a smoky and messy process fraught with singed fingers and stressful angst about whether the fire will actually start. This is especially true if you are out camping and have just spent the night in a wet tent and sleeping bag. It seems the believers in Ephesus feel a bit like this – wet and tired awaiting a warming fire. They are weathering all manner of spiritual squalls as they try to figure out what it means to follow Christ. Paul is reminding them that they have a helper in this process. The Holy Spirit can provide the spark they need to “get the fire started” and keep it going. Even wet wood can burn if there is enough heat.
Lack of kindling can make it really difficult for even the most seasoned fire starter to be successful. Kindling consists of small pieces of wood which by themselves would burn out rather quickly, but provide the heat to get larger pieces of wood going. The members of the church in Ephesus are the kindling at this point and the larger church body is the large piece of wood they are attempting to “get going”. The problem is that the “kindling” is confused about some of the teachings of Christ. This is the fault of some flawed followers who are leading them astray. Paul’s solution to confused kindling is to redirect them to first principles “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
This process of “fire starting” is still alive and well in the present day believers and churches. We face the same challenges of being wet, green, and confused. The solution is the same advice Paul gave to the believers in Ephesus, return to first principles.
Prayer: God help us to trust the Holy Spirit to kindle the fires of faith both individually and as we gather together.