By Reverend Jack D Hodges, Bower Hill Community Church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
2 Timothy 3:14 - 4:5
God of Grace and God of Glory (Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal #607)
Summary: Our lives are often so crowded that we have no room for what we need most. We desperately want to get a life, but we find no time to explore what that life could possibly be—a life that puts important things first.
As part of a time-management seminar, the presenter placed a large pot on a table. He reached beneath the table and pulled out some sizeable stones, filling the pot with them. He then asked, Is the pot full? The whole group answered, Yes. Leaving the pot on the table, he reached below and pulled out a bucket of gravel. As he poured gravel into the pot, it settled around the stones. Again he asked the attendees, Is the pot full now? In response, one smart aleck in the crowd called out, Probably not.
The presenter then pulled out a bucket of sand and dumped it into the pot. As he shook the container, the sand shifted in and around the stones and gravel. Again he asked, Is the pot completely full? By this time, the group was wise to the game, and collectively said, No. Next the speaker took a pitcher of water and poured it into the pot, filling it to the brim. He then asked, What is the point of this demonstration? Full of wisdom, the group responded, No matter how busy you are, you can always do more.
Yes, he replied, But what else could be said when it comes to the meaning of this demonstration? The point is that when we have all of this stuff to put into our pots, if we don’t put the big stones in first, there will be no room for them in the end. Actually, we will never get them in at all.
The human dilemma
Isn’t this exactly the dilemma of many of us who try to live lives of integrity in our demanding world? We want to produce things that are of ultimate value while we try to fit everything else in. This is precisely what we are searching for—the big stones, the real essentials of life that will stimulate authentic growth. Our lives are often so crowded that we have no room for what we need most. We desperately want to get a life, but we find no time to explore what that life could possibly be—a life that puts important things first.
Ryne Sandberg, one of the best second basemen to play the game of baseball, suddenly announced his retirement on June 13, 1994. A ten time All-Star for the Chicago Cubs and the recipient of nine Golden Glove awards, he was in the second year of a four-year, $28 million contract. In a highly emotional press conference, he confessed that he had lost the edge. The thirty-four year old legend went on to say: I didn’t have what I felt I needed to go on the field every day, give my very best and live up to the standards I set for myself.
While he shocked the sporting world with the news, is there anyone who can’t identify with the feelings he expressed? To all appearances Sandberg was successful and wealthy—yet he admitted to being poor. Here was a man who had everything but the essentials he needed.
The big stones of life
What are some of the big stones of Christian living? The first one is what we believe—knowing, loving, and being intimate with the God. The God who, through faith in Jesus Christ, brings a genuinely abundant life. This is not of course an abundance of things, but the Life filled with the One thing. But this fire of faith dies unless it is stoked. So the second big stone is growing in our faith. We grow in our discovery of who God is by establishing intimacy with Him through regular devotion in Bible study and prayer. However, these two magnificent stones, carried securely in the soul’s crucible, do not automatically maintain their value and weight. Of themselves they do not chase away the blahs of disbelief and discouragement.
We have to do something with our faith, and that is the third rock. This rock is the rock of sharing together and supporting the Church—the body of Christ. We need to stand behind the people of God with their faulty but amazing commitment to the good news of Jesus Christ. Truly, we live in a world that needs good news!
Earlier we read from 2 Timothy. This is one of the big rock passages of the Bible, and its value is inestimable. Scripture records two letters Paul wrote from prison to his friend, Timothy. Paul had a convicting impression that he would not leave Rome alive, and so at the end of this letter, he writes with amazing transparency, inspired resignation and penetrating honesty: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. My time for departure has come (4:6-7). In this passage, Paul gives his young friend the necessary encouragement to carry on with the work that Timothy had already learned at his side. Paul gives Timothy the gems he needs, so that he can carry on the work that Paul will leave behind. It is our privilege to sit beside Paul and view a few of the great gems he describes in 2 Timothy, so that we may place them in the containers of our own lives.
Four gems for the crucible of our soul
Look at the first gem Paul describes: Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed (2 Ti 3:14). At first glance this gem doesn’t appear attractive, because Paul is implying that a person can actually fall out of belief. That’s the implication behind the word continue. Faith can slip from our grasp. Have you ever been surprised at your weakness after an illness that has kept you in bed and away from exercising your muscles? How unsteady you were. How much energy it took to perform even the basic functions of daily life! This is what Paul is pointing to—the muscles of faith grow weak through inactivity.
But Paul also says that believing the truth of Christ and his teaching is medicine for strained and struggling muscles. It is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, training and developing proficiency. Bible study is like physical therapy —it improves faith-muscle functioning.
Paul describes a second precious rock in 4:1, using words that we tend to overlook because of their common use in his writings: In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus. These words depict the very cornerstone of our faith. Paul says it in his letter to the Ephesians: Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone (Ep 2:20).
A person cannot go wrong with a foundation like this. When we are building a house, if we are wise we spend inordinate amounts of time being sure that we get the foundation square and plumb. We know that if the foundation is not right, there will be no end to the corrections that have to be made. Being sure of the foundation is absolutely crucial. But after the foundation and cornerstone are laid, Paul follows with a beautiful collection of gems: Be persistent (in good times and bad), convince, encourage, don’t let that patience of yours drop and droop (4:2).
Curt Jones tells of a time he and his wife were all set for a quiet evening at home. As they were relaxing, the doorbell rang. Standing at the door were two neighbor girls, ages six and nine. With considerable poise, the older one handed Curt a package saying, This is your valentine. Jones invited them in and opened the package to find a box of delicious chocolates. He offered some to the girls but they said, No, we gave them up during the special time of consecration we are having at our church.
So Jones went to the dining room and brought back some nuts. But when he offered them to the girls, the older girl declined, saying with weighty sophistication: I consider them the same as candy. But the younger one studied the dish and carefully selected some nuts. Within minutes she helped herself four times. Curt Jones remarked, I see you did not give up nuts. And she replied, Actually, I did, but I still eat them. Jones concluded: Unknowingly, this little girl brought into focus the perennial problem of the human race—our difficulty generating the power to do what one has committed to do and to refrain from doing what one has determined not to do.
A cartoon I saved dramatizes a conversation between a young woman and her physician. The patient asks, What can I do to feel better without giving up what’s making me feel so bad? And that is where Paul ends up. He lists in quick succession, (4:5) some final gems: As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, [and] carry out your ministry fully.
Putting it together
So how do we put all this together? Nancy Mairs, who describes herself as a lapsed Catholic, writes about her return to church in her memoirs, Ordinary Time. She says that even though her beliefs about God were uncertain and in formation, she began attending church again to prepare a space into which belief could flood! That is a powerful idea. We are in worship so that we too might prepare such a space. We need to be a congregation of beautiful gemstones, caring enough to provide a place in which our prejudices and even some of our traditional values are challenged. We must be praying for one another, worshiping and serving together, and celebrating the Good News of Jesus Christ.