Paul contrasts his situation being literally chained—experiencing the condition of suffering and death with the power of the living word of God, which is not chained. Paul does not downplay the fact that the gospel entails suffering.
The German Confessing Church in 1934 had single-minded leaders. They faced those who wanted to co-opt the church to serve the state of Germany instead of Christ. They wrote, “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death” (Cochrane). Martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, professor in the Confessing Church seminary, trusted and obeyed “in life and in death.”
The middle verses were possibly part of an early Christian hymn, liturgy or baptismal service. Introduced as a “sure saying,” draws attention to an emphatic assertion about the nature of salvation. We have tensions to be held in place: If death, then life; if endure, then reign. The dying and rising with Christ recall baptism. Sharing the resurrection life is seen as a future reality. This hymn also warns of denying one’s confession of faith, which eventually would mean denial by Christ. Although we mess up and are faithless, that does not nullify God’s faithfulness. We can be sure that God “cannot deny himself” (v. 13). This section can be summed up in the word, “relationship.”
Comforted by God’s faithfulness, Paul endures and presses on for the sake of the rest of the body of Christ. God remains faithful, ready to speak and be heard, even in the midst of faithlessness. We have the paradox of a just which goes God, who loves the unjust, which is embodied in Christ Jesus. In this mystery and tension, lie remembrance; the only resolution of the enigma.
False teachings flourished at the time of this letter. “Wrangling over words” (v. 14) refers to talk that contradicts the truth. Paul charges Timothy to remind his hearers of this “sure saying;'' hoping that they will concentrate on the heart of the confession, not being seduced and deluded by useless disputes.
Timothy was to be an example for the church by his own conduct. His example is the Apostle Paul; who endured to receive God’s approval. Like Paul, Timothy must remain unstoppable in his proclamation of the gospel. He thus becomes a worker who is unashamed. Finally, one must deal straightly with the word of truth—absolutely refusing to play fast and loose with the gospel.
Remembering, relationship and reminding sum up the message to Timothy. It is a challenge to be faithful to the gospel; a call back to the basics of the faith. This theme is typical when the faith is threatened by false teaching. The central point of memory is the central point of reminding because it is where the relationship of God’s people with Christ Jesus lives. This matters far more than an argument over words.
What has this got to do with us? Paul was physically chained for the faith. I don’t see anyone here in physical chains. What about other kinds of chains?: chains of illness (physical or emotional), disability, loneliness, anger, addiction…the list goes on. Do you ever feel like something is keeping you from doing things you would like to or feel you should do?
Remembering our risen Lord and Savior and his promises, we can endure whatever comes our way. This way Paul managed his desperate circumstances. At times, God’s word sets us free from particular problems, while other times we are given the courage and endurance to live through them. God’s unchained, living word works within us—breaking chains and healing us. Jesus Christ, God’s living word, does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
Even the church can lose sight of the center of the faith. When it does, we need to reduce the message to the basics and ask the church to remember the Christ proclaimed, known and received through the gospel. We can get caught up in peripheral issues and forget just what the gospel is truly about.
What if what scripture proclaims is really true—that Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, means for us that we will also live? What does that mean for us today, right now? And if we are to engage in this life that really is life, do we dare keep it to ourselves?
What if we sought to live our lives “enduring” and “faithful” to the gospel? What would that mean for the concrete world in which we live today, right now? Would we look differently at the marginalized, at outsiders: the homeless, the hungry, the immigrants at our southern border, or the Ukrainians losing their lives to Russians? Hurricane Ian devastated the not yet rebuilt Puerto Rico, as well as many places in the U. S. What can we do about any of these needs, about any of these issues? We can seek out and partner with organizations that are already doing something, like our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Through it, we are part of the Lutheran World Federation, which works all over the world. If you want more information, let me know.
In our community, we have organizations that help the homeless, like LOVE Inc. or UCAN (which stands for United Christian Advocacy Network). The hungry are fed at St. Susan’s Kitchen. Hungry school children are aided by the Five Loaves and Two Fish Ministry. Learn more about immigrants and issues surrounding immigration through LIRS (Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service). How can we help the people of Ukraine? The Lutheran World Federation and Lutheran World Relief are at work there.
God’s word reminds us of who and whose we are. Reminded, we are to remind others. God’s faithfulness not only delivers us from sin, death, and the devil, it empowers, encourages and enables us to live lives of faith toward God, transforming the needy world around us. God’s faithfulness remains.
Arthur C. Cochrane, The Church’s Confession Under Hitler
Beverly R. Gaventa, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year C
Olive Elaine Hinnant, Feasting On the Word: Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2
Karl Jacobson, workingpreacher.org
Carl R. Holladay, Preaching Through the Christian Year C
Gail Ramshaw, sundaysandseasons.compicture