Weekly Meditation: 2nd October 2016

Lamentations 1:1-6

Psalm 137

2 Timothy 1:1-14

Luke 17:5-10

These readings make no secret of the fact that to serve God is both challenging and testing.

The apostle Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy from prison. It was not his first time behind bars, but this imprisonment is believed to have been in the Mamertine prison in Rome – a cold, dark cell below ground level where prisoners were kept chained (2 Timothy 1:16). Both Paul’s ministry and life were near their end. He felt abandoned by many of his companions, in need of a warm cloak and anxious for contact with other Christians (1:15; 4:9-20). He was nevertheless eager to give Timothy instruction for the benefit of the Church, and to continue preaching the gospel. Paul’s opening words are a strong affirmation of his faith, and of his concern for his fellow-believers. Having commended Timothy’s faith (1:5), his first message is regarding God’s grace – salvation, ‘not because of anything we have done’ (1:9).

Paul’s confident statement that ‘grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time’ reveals the patient outworking of God’s intention towards his people. It demonstrates that long before we were created, even before the heavens and earth were made, God had the means of our salvation in mind, and his purpose will not fail. For the sake of such favour from God, Paul is willing to suffer, and he calls Timothy (and us) to share in his suffering (1:8, 12).

Paul knows that it is because of his work as a herald of the gospel that he is suffering, but his faith and confidence are undimmed. ‘I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day’ (1:12). This statement of faith is one of the most confident and unequivocal in the entire Bible, almost defiant towards those who have opposed and persecuted him. His faith will never fail him. Therefore, Paul can urge Timothy similarly to ‘fan into flame’ the gift of his own ministry (1:6) and to guard the message of the gospel that was entrusted to him (1:14).

In the same way, Jesus’ words to his disciples show that Christian discipleship is not a passive condition, but one that requires effort and action. He compares his followers to servants who minister to their master even after a long day in the fields, and who can expect neither thanks nor reward (Luke 17:7-10). This is a very different image from the usual depiction of Jesus as one who came not to be served but to serve (John 13:4-5; Mark 10:45). Its message, however, is not regarding the qualities of the saviour, but the demands of discipleship.  Christians must be prepared to serve tirelessly and without immediate reward; even suffering might be involved.

In Psalm 137, God’s people are certainly suffering, in captivity, exiled far from their homeland. These people had brought suffering upon themselves through their unfaithfulness over many years, and their disregard of the warnings that God’s prophets had given them. Now in Babylon, they weep, longing for Jerusalem (137:1, 5-6). Their only hope is that enemies will come against the Babylonians and wreak vengeance on them (137:8-9). They need a time of reflection and repentance, before God once again turns his attention to them and saves them (see Psalm 126).  

The suffering of the same people is also depicted in Lamentations. Here, the prophet Jeremiah laments over the fall of Jerusalem – the city that has ‘now become a slave’ (1:1) - and over the captivity of its people. He mourns that ‘her gateways are desolate’ (1:4) and that ‘all the splendour has departed’ from her (1:6).

Suffering is the common lot of God’s people, whether it is ‘because of many sins’ (Lamentations 1:5) or because of faithful service (2 Timothy 1:11-12). Either way, however, God can and does sustain his people; he is ‘able to guard what we have entrusted to him’ (2 Timothy 1:12).

Susan Thorne