A previous post noted four ways that Paul challenges the fear and shame that potentially grew in Timothy’s heart. In 2 Timothy 1, he appeals to Timothy’s identity, the gospel, his hope, and others’ positive and negative examples. This post highlights two more strategies in 2 Timothy 2 for combatting shame.
Reinforce and Reframe
Paul begins chapter 2 by reinforcing his prior comments. For example, he makes a series of identity statements in vv. 1–6, linking identities with their practical implications.
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.
Paul then reminds Timothy of the gospel yet uses rhetorical creativity to reframe his perspective on the situation.
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!
Paul’s word-play in 2:9 (“bound”) is potent.
Finally, Paul fortifies Timothy’s hope in 2:11–13,
The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.
One will not be ashamed when trusting in a sovereign Lord who cannot deny himself.
Redefining Shame and Reorienting Honor
In 2:15–21, we find Paul’s fifth and sixth strategies for undermining the roots of shame in Timothy’s heart.
Observe the shrewdness in Paul’s charge:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2:15)
He subtly redefines “shame.” Rather than epitomized in public suffering, shame now is reoriented around how a person handles God’s word!In short, Paul does not passively accept the world’s standard of shame; it rightly demonstrates what constitutes genuine shame before God and His people.
Paul’s redefinition of shame makes sense when the gospel reorients one’s perspective of honor. Verses 19–21 stand in sharp contrast to typical social standards.
But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
After a subtle appeal to God’s faithfulness, Paul gives an analogy to explain what it truly means to be worthy of honor. Such a person “cleanses himself from what is dishonorable,” being a vessel for honor, set apart as holy, ready for every good work.
Honor is now understood in light of “the master of the house,” namely, God. The practical implications that follow shed light on what is dishonorable and holy (i.e. honorable):
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.
The Promise and Hope of Honor
Each of Paul’s admonitions undercut lingering fear that breads a sense of shame. Taken together, he effectively provides the seventh approach.
The gospel produces a sure hope, one that does not put God’s people to shame. Moreover, God’s faithfulness confirms our faith. Embracing such truth ensures that we will be reckoned worthy of honor in the eyes of God and His people.
Our honor derives from God’s own glory. No wonder Paul is able to conclude his letter with these words:
The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (4:18).
Thinking back on all seven ways Paul uses to challenge the potential shame in Timothy, which do you think are most helpful for you personally? Which approaches have you neglected to use in your own life and ministry?