At the beginning of his second letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote, “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy” (2 Tim. 1:4 ESV). We’re not told what caused Timothy’s tears. Was he sorrowful about being parted from his friend and mentor Paul? Was he anxious about being left in charge of the church in Ephesus? We know he was young (1 Tim. 4:12) and had some ailments that were perhaps exacerbated by stress (1 Tim. 5:23). Judging from the type of instruction that Paul wrote in his letters, Timothy needed some specific guidelines to follow in the ministry. When we’re anxious about something, if someone will clearly outline what needs to be done it helps to ease the fear. There was apparently controversy in the church that probably added to Timothy’s struggles.
Besides addressing the immediate problems and questions Timothy must have had, Paul reminded him of several things in just a few verses:
1) He had been gifted for and appointed to this ministry by God and by Paul himself. “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (v. 6).
2) He displayed faith that others could see. “I am reminded of your sincere faith” (v. 5).
3) He was being prayed for by Paul. “I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day” (v. 3).
4) He had access to the same spiritual resources that Paul did. “Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 2). “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (v. 7).
All these things (and many more) contributed to the close relationship that Paul and Timothy had. Although Paul refers to many people as “beloved brothers,” Timothy is the only one he refers to as his “beloved child” (v. 2 and 1 Cor. 4:17). (He refers to Titus as “my true child in the faith.”) No doubt Timothy prized that relationship just as much as Paul did. It appears that Timothy’s father was not a believer (Acts 16:1), so he may well have viewed Paul as his true father. And since Paul was in prison and likely facing death, Timothy was surely concerned about him and what the future might hold.
One particular phrase in this section stands out to me— “I long to see you that I may be filled with joy” (v. 4). The Apostle John used a similar statement in 2 John 12, “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy maybe complete.” Joy comes in personal interactions with those you love.
I’d be curious to know how perceptions have changed among church members as a result of stay-at-home orders. Are there people you long to see, not just so you can catch up on the news, but so you can find out how God has been working in and through them? Are there people you are praying for night and day that they may be strengthened in the faith? Are you encouraged by the evidence of faith you see in someone’s life?
Recently a friend posted a Facebook video of her son leading a devotional. Even though I haven’t seen this young man in at least a decade, I was filled with joy because of his evident faith. Another friend shared about the joy of listening to her son lead worship online from his bedroom. It brought back memories of hearing kids in our church singing along with the music, seeing them baptized, and taking part in the service in other ways. All of those joys make me long to see that same kind of faith in other young people I know.
As hard as this pandemic has been for all of us, I hope and pray that we are all discovering both the longing we have to be with the Body of Christ and the joy in knowing that others are persevering in the faith. This is what the apostles longed for in each church they established and every believer they knew.
“For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Rom. 1:11-12).
“But since we were torn away from you, brothers [and sisters], for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face” (1 Thess. 2:17).
“[You] always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you—for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?” (1 Thess. 3:6-10).
“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4).
See also Matt Broadway’s brief devotional on 2 Corinthians 7:13-16 “Finding Joy.”
© 2020 Dawn Rutan. Image copyright free from pixabay.com. The opinions stated do not necessarily reflect the views of my church or employer.