Present Yourself to God

10.9.22 homily on 2 Timothy 2:15-22 by Pastor Galen

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15

2 Types of Dinnerware

In our house we have two types of dinner plates. At first glance they don’t appear that different from one another. They’re both round and white, both made from ceramic. One kind is a bit heavier than the other, and they have a slightly different design, but other than that, they’re not all that different.

But, one set of dishes we only use for special occasions, while the other set of plates is what we would refer to as our “everyday plates.” These are the dishes that we eat off of day in and day out, whereas the other dishes, which were given to my wife and I for a wedding present, are only used when we have a special holiday or family meal.

We probably all have things in our house that we only use for special occasions. Maybe it’s a holiday mug that your grandchild decorated for you and you only drink out of on Christmas day. Maybe you have a special dress that you only wear on your birthday, or a suit that you only wear to weddings.

Items that we only use or wear on special occasions can help those occasions feel that much more special.

Treasured and Valued

In 2 Timothy chapter 2, the apostle Paul tells Timothy that he should “Avoid profane chatter” (2 Tim. 2:16) and “wrangling over words” (2 Tim. 2:14) and that he should “Shun youthful passions” (2 Tim. 2:22) and instead “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace” (2 Tim. 2:22). And Paul says that those who can do this are like “special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21).

In other words, if we can avoid getting caught up in petty nonsense and keep from arguing and fighting over things that don’t really matter, then we will be like special holiday dinner plates. We will stand out for how special and unique we are. We will be treasured and valued. Rather than being ordinary, we will be extraordinary, and we’ll make everything and everyone around us feel special and valued as well.

Last week we talked about how Paul seemed to be concerned that Timothy’s faith was beginning to die down, and that his faith needed to be revived. Paul encouraged Timothy to rekindle, and fan back into flame that faith that had been passed down to him from his mother and grandmother.

Now here in chapter two, Paul takes it a step further by challenging and encouraging Timothy to become single-mindedly focused on pursuing God. Paul encourages Timothy to get rid of everything that might be getting in the way of Timothy being an effective minister of the gospel, and to focus solely on the mission that God had given to him.

A Soldier, An Athlete, and a Farmer

At the beginning of chapter 2, Paul uses the analogy of a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. What I like about this analogy is that these occupations are still present with us today, and so this analogy is in many ways still relevant. Even these are not our occupations, we’re still familiar with they these occupations involve – the wholehearted devotion and dedication that they entail.

Think about a soldier, for example. A soldier has to be completely dedicated to the cause. When you’re out on the battlefield fighting, you can’t be half-heartedly engaged.You cannot allow yourself to be distracted. You have to stay focused.

In Paul and Timothy’s day, soldiers weren’t even allowed to get married during their time of service in the army. Roman soldiers would serve for up to 20 years before they retired, and only then could they get married and settle down and have a family.

Then Paul switches to the image of an athlete. The athletes who competed in the Olympic games in those days would train intensively for 10 months at a time. I imagine that their training regimen consumed not just their time, but it also dictated what they ate, when and how long they slept, what sorts of friendship and relationships they had. Being an athlete consumed their thoughts and their dreams and every single aspect of their lives, as it does for top-tier professional athletes today.

And then Paul invokes one more image – that of a farmer. A farmer is yet another example of someone who is “all in.” Being a farmer takes all of one’s time and energy and resources. And it’s also something that involves a long-term commitment. You don’t just wake up one morning and decide that you want to be a farmer for a day. You have to plan and save and work to earn the money to buy a farm. You have to decide exactly what you’re going to grow, plot out exactly where you’re going to plant your crops, figure out what you need to do to prepare the soil. You have to know the best times of the year to plant and harvest. Farmers can’t just sort of “wing it.” They have to be long-range planners, and to be successful, they have to be
wholehearted in their devotion to their occupation, just like a soldier or an athlete.

And so farmers and soldiers and athletes are people who have to be “all in,” wholehearted in their devotion. And this is what Paul wants to see in Timothy, and in us. Whole-hearted, passionate devotion to God’s mission.

“Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing”

And so Paul writes to Timothy, encouraging him to present himself fully to God. If Timothy was going to follow Christ and be an effective minister of the gospel, then he had to be “all in.” We have to keep in mind that Paul was writing this from prison, where he was currently incarcerated for preaching the Gospel. And so he is practicing what he is preaching. He is encouraging Timothy to not be shy or timid, but to be wholehearted in his devotion, no matter the consequences, just as Paul himself was completely and utterly devoted to the advancement of the Gospel.

And then Paul uses this imagery of dinnerware. And it’s an interesting image, because, on the one hand, we are all special to God. We know that God doesn’t play favorites. God doesn’t say, “Well you there, you’re just an everyday plate, but you over there, you’re a special holiday plate.” We know that each and every one of us is treasured and valued and loved by God.

And yet there is a difference between being loved and valued and treasured for who we are at the core of our being and identity, and being useful and effective. I might have a tool or utensil that I really like and treasure, and yet I can’t use it because it’s broken or defective or purely for decoration.

And so Paul is not denying that we are valued and special and loved by God. But he is encouraging Timothy, and each and every one of us to strive to be useful and effective for God. In Timothy’s case, Paul wants Timothy to be the most effective minister and pastor he could be. And that meant avoiding getting caught up in pointless arguments or useless chatter. Most likely Paul is referring here to the philosophers of his day, who loved to wrangle over mynute distinctions between various words and phrases, and get into all these hypothetical philosophical arguments that had no practical purpose. And Paul knew that there is sometimes a tendency for those types of arguments to creep into the church as well. Paul wants Timothy to avoid all of that, to focus on the centrality of the Gospel of Christ, and to “keep the main thing the main thing,” and author Steven Covey says.

Useless Chatter and Pointless Arguments

And this is a good reminder for us today as well. Today there is still a temptation to get caught up in useless chatter and pointless arguments. It may not be philosophers who are leading these
conversations, but useless chatter and pointless arguments are all around us – on social media, in the media, on TV and radio. Conspiracy theories, gossip, and all sorts of pointless drivel can so easily consume our time and attention. Time and attention that we could be devoting to much more worthwhile causes.

For me, this happens when I wake up in the morning and start reading the newsfeed on my phone. You’ve probably heard the phrase
“doomscrolling,” which describes the obsessive urge to scroll through negative news. And this is made worse by the fact that a lot of our social media apps and newsfeeds are endless – you can never get to the “bottom” of your newsfeed – there’s always more to read. And every item is essentially clickbait, trying to get you to click on it and read more. (And those articles that make you click on every single image in order to get to the next page are the absolute worst – because you end up spending way too long trying to get to the “best” part of the article, which is always disappointing – but it sure does make a lot of money for the page owner, who gets paid by advertisers every time you click the page!)

It’s difficult to stop doomscrolling, even though we know it is discouraging and can leave us feeling hopeless. (And even worse is reading the comments on any news article – talk about useless chatter and wrangling over words!)

Useful for Every Good Work

To combat this in my own life, a couple of years ago I made a commitment to myself that during the month of November I would avoid reading on my phone or computer for the first hour of every day. If I read, it was from a book or the Bible. And one thing I would do every day during part of that hour was to write out a Thank You note to someone.

As you might imagine, this has an incredibly transformational impact on the way I started my day. My whole outlook and perspective was much more positive. Starting out my day by thinking about what I was grateful for, rather than doomscrolling on my phone, was a 1000% improvement. Unfortunately I got away from this habit, but I plan to do it again this November, and I invite you to join me!

The point is that there are a lot of vortexes we can get sucked into, a lot of useless arguments and petty chatter out there, and unless we are intentional about creating new habits, new processes and procedures into our own lives, then we can very easily get swept away by the current. Paul is inviting Timothy and us as well to swim against the current, to present ourselves to God and to ask God to cleanse us, and to make us useful for God’s purposes in the world.

Like Paul, like Timothy, and like Timothy’s mother and grandmother before him, let us be “all in” for God. Like a soldier, or athlete, or farmer, may we give ourselves fully to the task at hand – Christ’s Great Commission, making disciples, and pointing people towards Christ. Whatever our occupation or station in life, in whatever situation we may find ourselves, may we be like those special dinner plates – that showcase the beauty and majesty of the one who created us and redeemed us and gave us life. May God cleanse and renew us, that we would be useful and available to be used by God, however God sees fit.

Amen.

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