Sober words for a serious calling – Thursday, 24th week in ordinary time – 1Timothy 4:12-16
The epistle of St Paul to Timothy was written in a time that a wave of false teachings swept the church of Ephesus. Paul appointed Timothy to the office of ‘senior pastor’ to a very large church that he himself ministered to in Ephesus. The purpose was clear; to effectively combat the false teachings and their sources. As time passed by however, Timothy faced a challenge much broader than false teachers.
Timothy as Paul’s successor supervised leaders who were older than he; people who had previously been supervised by the great apostle himself. Some of these leaders were not very enthusiastic about being led by a youngster. In the first century, people up to the age of 40 were considered young. Many scholars believe Timothy was in his mid-thirties when he succeeded Paul. Most probably the false teachers also used Timothy’s young age as a weapon to underestimate his authority. The solution that Paul offered Timothy was to lead by example.
In the reading of today we hear sober words for a serious calling to an exemplary life style required of any church leader but in particular to Timothy. Timothy was clearly a stop gap arrangement for Paul truly desired to come back and minister to this group. It is for this reason that Paul says, “until I arrive..” In Paul we see an ardent minister who never ceases with his ministry. Paul could never conceive taking a holiday and we know that he never took a moment off even in prison to minister to those in need.
Paul asks Timothy to guard the deposit of faith but also to care for the public reading of scripture which was accompanied by an ‘exhorting’ or as we would call it, a homily and also to teach the sacred scriptures. These were practices followed in the Jewish synagogue and Paul wants the word of God not just to be alive but to thrive.
Paul acknowledges that Timothy was not just chosen because he passed a popularity contest in the community. It is quite evident that he was the object of jealousy from the elders who saw him as a new kid on the block. For Paul, Timothy has a gift which was passed on to him by the laying on of hands. This laying of hands was a direct link with Paul and the apostles. Timothy is not to neglect this gift.
There is a lesson in this for us. All of us have spiritual gifts which need nurturing. There are many children and youth who have spent hours in Church serving the Church and winning the praise of many in the congregation. Yet when they grow they often are distant from the Church. We need to ask why and the answer is in the fact that these gifts were not nurtured and protected by the community and by these once enthusiastic young people. If a plant withers if not nurtured how much more with spiritual gifts. Timothy is therefore asked to guard and not neglect his spiritual gift. What is our gift that we have and is it being nurtured?
Finally, St Paul asks Timothy to “pay close attention to himself and to his teaching.” Such sound advice. One can’t guard the spiritual souls of others if they don’t guard their own. Christian teachers are not immune to the attacks of satan simply because they have had a moment of epiphany. A popular hymn says, “satan spreads a thousand snares to lead them into wrong.” This is not far from the truth and St Paul who himself had a ‘thorn in his side’ warns a very young Timothy to be watchful of his own failings, his own sins, to guard his humility and purity.
Today is a good day to pray for all Church leaders. For the Holy Father, our Bishops, priests, religious and all our lay leaders. May we harken to the words of St Paul as we “devote ourselves to the faith.”
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