Saint Paul in prison, writing one of the epistles
As most already know who follow this website, I am a Catholic. I also serve as a Lector many weeks during Mass services, which gives me the opportunity and honor of reading to our parishioners from the Word of God.
This ‘Sunday Sermon’ series dates all the way back to 2005, and is always based on a reading or sermon from the Mass on that particular Sunday.
This morning, my New Testament reading came from the Apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy. It is one of three known “epistles” written by Paul.
Before we get into the specific message for today, a quick vocabulary lesson.
An epistle is simply a letter or series of letters. In the New Testament, they come in the form of a book, made up of the letters from a particular apostle.
An apostle is someone who has been sent to specifically spread a message or teaching. Saint Paul, also known historically as Saul of Tarsus, was perhaps the most important apostle of the first century.
In the two decades immediately following the death of Jesus Christ, Paul underwent a personal conversion and then began to spread Jesus’ teachings throughout the Roman and Jewish world of the times.
The second letter to Timothy, a segment of which made up today’s New Testament reading, is considered by tradition to have been written just before Paul’s death, sometime in the mid-late 60’s during the first century A.D.
However, there are many scholars who now believe that it was actually the product of one of his students, writing in the decades after Paul’s death. In any event, it was certainly in keeping with his philosophy.
The letter was written to Timothy, who was one of the earliest Christian church leaders. Timothy served as the very first bishop of Ephesus, located in Egypt.
In the letter, Paul writes from prison, where the Romans are holding him for the teaching of the Gospel. He writes the following as encouragement to Timothy in the latter’s role as an early church leader:
I remind you, to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.
So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.
Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.”
The phrase which jumps out at me from this letter is this: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice…”
This letter is one of three ‘pastoral epistles’ written by Paul. They are considered as such because they were written to individuals with pastoral care and responsibility over a particular church, and cover issues of Christian living, doctrine and leadership.
While these epistles are clearly written to church leadership with them in mind, they are just as relevant to all members of the church.
God does not want us to live as cowards. He did not imbue us with a “spirit of cowardice“, as Paul writes.
Paul calls on all of us to draw on the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within each believer, the love preached by Jesus Christ himself during his life on Earth, and the self-discipline gained during our own lifetime of experiences and failures in order to help spread the Word of God.
Stop looking to others to carry a load that you have every ability to help carry yourself. You can teach your family. You can volunteer in some way at your church. You can personally set an example by regularly attending church services and participating in the sacraments.
Far too often, far too many of us point the finger at others shortfalls, be those church leaders, politicians, any of our fellow men. We are often unwilling to look in the mirror at our own sins and shortcomings.
Have the courage to not only take that hard look in the mirror at yourself, but also to actually take some positive action regarding your faith.
Even if you consider yourself a brave Christian, we all have moments or periods of life in which we falter. Whatever your present or future attitude and situation, remember, God didn’t make you a coward. Don’t act like one.