Editor’s note: This content was taken (and updated) from the Sunday School lesson that I had prepared (and taught) for September 13, 2020.
In the letters to Timothy, Paul writes as what we might call a “mentor” today. Paul provides insight to a younger pastor that he had taken under his wing. We first learn about Timothy in Acts 16, but his activities – both working directly with Paul, and being sent on other missions for the Kingdom of God – continue to be documented in later letters that Paul wrote.
Have you ever had someone mentor you? In recent history, this concept has sort of been “rediscovered” and sometimes formalized, but mentoring is a practice that has taken place from one person to another for millennia.
It’s one thing to be helped forward in life: to be taught and trained by someone who is more mature and experienced in a particular discipline (or just in life itself). However, it’s also important to pass along what we have learned to others. This might look less like a “mentoring” relationship, and more like being a parent or grandparent. It might mean listening and advising someone who is making a difficult decision, starting out a new phase in their life, or going through a tough time. Often, those who are older mentor those who are younger, but you can also mentor people of your own age or older, especially in areas where you have spent more time or learned more life lessons.
In that light, think about what you have learned in life that is really important. What life lessons do people who you care about really need to know? With that in mind, I’d like you to think about what you would write down if you were given the chance to tell the rest of the human race anything. (In my own writing, sometimes I think about this content as messages that I hope that my children read someday.)
With that attitude in mind, let’s see what Paul wrote to Timothy, when Paul had the chance to record what was important for Timothy to learn.
Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.
1 Timothy 1:18-19 NIV
If we do indeed invest in other people, one of the most important things we can tell them is that success isn’t going to be free or easy. It takes work, and this isn’t the only place that Paul describes it as a battle. (Verses about fighting the good fight include 1 Timothy 6:12 and 2 Timothy 4:7, so maybe this was a running theme between these two guys.)
Paul doesn’t just tell Timothy to “tough it out”, though. He reminds Timothy of his prophetic “commission”. When our friends and family struggle, going back to the beginning of their faith – remembering God’s calling, His faithfulness, and our commitment – is often inspirational. I’m not saying that we just dismiss other people’s issues with a random Bible verse, since hurting people usually need more than just platitudes. However, when people are spiritually healthy, reminding them of where their faith came from can inspire them to remain faithful, even when problems come their way in the future.
In addition, Paul uses another motivational technique. I might paraphrase it as, “Look at what happened to those who didn’t remain in a strong faith.” Yes, God can restore people even when they drift away, but life is better with Him, compared to what life looks like without Him.
So, as we move forward in spiritual maturity, we should both teach and encourage others.
If we just teach them, we risk them failing when things get difficult, and getting stuck in that failure. Piling on instructions, rules, and requirements can not only lead to legalism, but also make people feel inferior and inadequate within the Kingdom of God. Jesus died for our sins, and doesn’t “grade our mistakes” when it comes to our adoption into the family of God. Still, even if we include Jesus’ love in our teaching (along with the relationship that we can have with God), human beings sometimes need other human beings and their encouragement, too.
On the other hand, if we just encourage others, without teaching them truth, we risk people feeling good about themselves, but missing the point. One can be really content, but wrong. (Remember Paul’s former life? He was sincere and passionate, but on the wrong side.).
Paul gave both instruction and advice to Timothy, and we would do well to share the same with those around us. So, think about this week who in your life needs a little mentoring. This doesn’t have to be a weird thing, where you announce that you are mentoring them, sitting on a chair while they sit on the floor and listen to you spout wise sayings. Just offer them the same thing that Paul did: advice from his experience, instructions from God, and encouragement to keep going.
And, if you need a little bit of that, yourself, I hope that you have others around you who will offer the same thing. If not, reach out and ask for some advice from a friend or pastor. Most people will be flattered and willing to help if they can (although many may – incorrectly – believe that they don’t have anything to offer; make sure that people like that don’t get off the hook so easily). In the meantime, read through the letters to Timothy that we have in the Bible. You can’t do better than God’s Word and the Holy Spirit as your primary mentors, no matter who else invests in you.
- Christian Standard, Volume CLV, Number 9, pages 83-84. © 2020 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, 1, 2 Timothy & Titus, by C. Michael Moss. Ph. D. College Press Publishing Company, © 1994.
- IVP New Testament Commentaries, via BibleGateway.com.
- The Reformation Study Bible, English Standard version, by R C Sproul, © 2015 Reformation Trust, Orlando, Fla.