…leading to the edge…

Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.

2 Timothy 2:7

Paul is writing what could have been his last letter prior to his death, and he addresses it to his protegé’ Timothy. The epistle of 2nd Timothy is a blend of instruction and affection, challenge for the future and farewell for now. Paul makes a reference to himself being “poured out as a drink offering” ( which he also makes in Philippians, another epistle near the end of his life). There is no more speaking of coming to visit as he had hoped in other letters at other times to both individuals and churches, there is the calm, calculated tone of a man prepared to see what is on the other side.

In the second chapter of 2nd Timothy, just before the verse that I typed at the beginning, Paul encourages and advises Timothy with three illustrations to help the young man gain insight into the ministry. The three examples may be written about another time, I’ve taught/preached on these illustrations and they are fascinating, but they are also quite difficult to understand. I can say with honesty that I know I taught the truth when I talked about them, but I’m not 100% sure that I taught the truth that Paul was intending. One of the reasons for my lack of confidence in my mastery of this text is that Paul himself doesn’t make the applications exactly clear. He generally applies his teachings and makes them plain one way or another, but here he intentionally does not. This brings me to my point.

I’ve read about and listened to instructions about teaching and speaking. As my call is to pastoral ministry and my spiritual gifts at least creep into the realm of preaching and teaching I felt it wise to try to learn about speaking in public. One of the famous motto’s for getting a point across goes like this: “tell the people what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, and then tell them what you just told them.” This is a clever way of saying “make yourself perfectly clear”, because in the end, by this school of thought, you want people walking out of your service / class / small group / etc… knowing the point you were trying to get across. Paul, however, takes a different approach here, and one that I think is genius and at times missing from our pragmatic ways in the church.

Paul doesn’t feel a need to tell Timothy what he is talking about exactly, but he feels a strong need to give Timothy something to think about.  Timothy may have never communicated with Paul again, in fact this is likely the case. Timothy wouldn’t have been able to ask what he meant through letter or in person, and Paul seems to be perfectly fine with that. Timothy could have spent quite a bit of time pondering, second-guessing, and even being frustrated by not knowing if what he thought Paul was saying was actually what Paul was saying – in it is here that we find the brilliance in Paul’s method.

Paul gave Timothy more than a lesson, he gave the young man mental and spiritual growth pills. The more Timothy had to think about the old pastor’s words the more Timothy would learn. Paul led him right up the edge of something and then backed off. cliff

Most of the television shows that captivate Americans, other than the putrid squalor of reality television, are based in the genre of mystery. Courtroom dramas (like my wife’s favorite: Matlock) and shows about forensics or detectives or private investigators are all based on the foundation of the mystery story. The “whodunnit” is exciting because we engage with the story. We have our opinions about the characters and we guess who the culprits are. We involve ourselves in the story and suddenly it means more to us, we are “part owners” of that 45 minute episode.

The church has, on a large-scale, moved away from this.

Too often we are handed a nice neat package of spiritual truth that a pastor or teacher has worked at, labored over, and done his/her best to make clear and moving; and we take it with us like we would carry someone else’s luggage. We aren’t going to drop it, but we don’t care all that much about it either, that is to say, if we could put it down without our conscience bothering us we wouldn’t hesitate to do so.

I am by no means saying that ministers and teachers should make things too complicated for “regular people” to understand, but I am suggesting two things:

  1. There is something to be said for a teachers who leave their listeners with problem to solve, a puzzle to work out, or a choice to make. Jesus did this. More than once He left the story open-ended or followed up a parable with a pointed question for the listeners that forced them to analyze their own thoughts. It was in this manner that Jesus made sure that He wasn’t alone in the process of teaching, He drew everyone into the story with Him and His ability to do this ensured that the people lined up on one side of Him or the other.
  2. We as individuals have to be diligent in reading, thinking, and praying “over our heads”. We will short-sheet ourselves and our own growth if we skip through difficult passages in the Bible. We should read them slow and let them roll around in our mouths like a well-prepared steak. Also the books that we read other than the Bible should be a blend of “on our level” and “just past our level” of understanding. Stretching ourselves is important, without it the majority of our growth is soft and bloated instead of strong and useful.

There are depths of joy and insight that we are not walking in. And I’m not talking about a Gnostic mystery here, just the fundamental truths of God’s Word. Paul told the Corinthians that because of their immaturity there were things that he couldn’t tell them, they wouldn’t understand because of their immaturity in spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2). There would be far less boredom and far more excitement in the ranks of Christendom if we started “owning” some of our insight instead of receiving it through a sanctified I.V. I do not offer this opinion today because I think people are stupid. Ultimately I offer it because I believe there is more pleasure and joy in this kind of investment for the individual believer. Life is mysterious. Science has been searching both the enormous expanses of space and the enormous expanses of the molecule for as long as the practice of thinking has been around. We strive to find new depths, new heights, new colors, new patterns, even new understanding of old information; we do all of this because were built for creative thought and inquisitive exploration.

My question then is this: “what are you exploring?”

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