It is the ways of the world that bring about all our suffering. It is the ways of God that redeem us from our suffering.
We are often at sea about how we ought to live our lives in this world. Sometimes we just need some sage advice and some support to see the right paths and to take them courageously. Our faith aids us in this, of course, but the advice is still necessary, and much appreciated.
In this passage, Paul is urging Timothy to preach and to teach with confidence, relying on the gifts he has been given by God and believing in the mission that God has bestowed upon him. They had known each other for at least some fifteen years by the time of this letter, which is written near the end of Paul’s ministry. Timothy is, we can assume, younger than Paul. He has traveled with Paul and learned much at his side, but he is on his own now. Paul is encouraging him in this section of the letter to hang in there, to trust in God and to be a holy example to the people. Paul tells him at the beginning of this section: “If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.” (verse 6)
Paul goes on to give some practical advice to Timothy about avoiding things like “godless myths and old wive’s tales.” He advises him to train himself to be godly. This kind of training is even more necessary than physical training, for training in godliness has value in all things. This kind of training is of value both in the present and for the life to come. It is good in the present because all that you do and say will be shaped by a holy awareness of God’s law and the teachings of Jesus Christ. In other words, we must train ourselves to be Christ-like in everything, so that we can be a visible contradiction to the ways of the world. It is the ways of the world that bring about all our suffering. It is the ways of God that redeem us from our suffering.
How do we train to be godly? The first step is prayer. We must develop the habits of prayer in all things. If we train ourselves to pray upon rising, offering our day to God and asking him to be with us throughout the day; if we go to bed with prayer, thanking God for all that was good in our day, asking forgiveness for any sins we may have committed during the day; if we develop the habit of praying in thanksgiving over our meals; if we make it a habit to pray interiorly during all of the events in our day, would that not keep our consciousness on God and the good he intends us to do? Secondly, we must make a habit of reading, studying, and reflecting on the Bible. It should be our first source for learning about the kind of behaviors that can be called godly. We can see how to be godly by meditating on the life of Christ, for all of this advice comes directly from the Holy Spirit. We should read the writings of the Church Fathers, or of renowned spiritual writers of our day. We should expose ourselves more and more to good literature, beautiful works of art and music.
As spiritual athletes, we must also practice the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, providing hospitality to the alien, the widow and the orphan, visiting the sick, ransoming the captive and burying the dead. We may not be called on to do all of these things, but God calls us to one or more of these things regularly in our lives. We must train ourselves to respond with joy, and without hesitation when these opportunities come before us. Paul’s admonition to Timothy also implies that whether young or old we need to practice the spiritual works of mercy too: Instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, admonishing sinners to come back to God and the narrow path, bearing with wrongs patiently, forgiving offenses willingly, comforting the afflicted and praying for the living and the dead. Paul knows that Timothy is a good minister of Christ, he is simply encouraging him as it is never easy to be so in this world. But it we follow Paul’s counsel to Timothy here we, too, will be able to, “Set example[s] for the believers [and non-believers] in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”
Lord, help us to develop the habits of godliness. Send your spirit upon us each day to draw us to prayer and to service in your name. Give us the graces we need to be your good and faithful ministers of Christ to believers and to non-believers alike. We ask these prayers in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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