The Good Treasure

Sabbath Day Thoughts — “The Good Treasure” 2 Tim. 1:1-14

For most of us, our faith was formed by the guidance, influence, and instruction of others.

Country music superstar Dolly Parton speaks openly and authentically of her faith.  The fourth of twelve children, born in a one-room cabin in Eastern Tennessee, Parton remembers daily times of prayer and Bible reading with her mother Avie Lee, who was the daughter of a pastor.  Every Sunday morning, Avie Lee and her brood would head to her father’s little mountain church house, where Parton began singing and playing guitar at the age of six.  Although Dolly’s family was what she called “dirt-poor”, she says, “We grew up believing that through God all things are possible.”

Academy Award winning actor Denzell Washington is widely known as a man of faith.  His belief was grounded in the witness of his father, a Pentecostal minister and gospel singer.  Denzell may be known for making Hollywood hits, but growing up, his father limited the family’s film viewing to movies based on Bible stories, like The Ten Commandments.  He also encouraged Denzell to read the Bible daily, a discipline that Washington continues to practice.  Denzell’s faith has kept him grateful and humble in an industry where fame can go to your head.  Washington says, “[I] understand where the gift comes from.  It’s not mine; it’s been given to me by the grace of God.”

Francis Collins is the former head of the National Institutes of Health and director of the Human Genome Project.  Not raised in a family of faith, Collins was an atheist until he encountered a cardiac patient during his medical studies.  An older woman who lived with chronic pain and serious health challenges, she was consistently sunny and upbeat.  She spoke about her faith with Collins on more than one occasion until asking him, “So what about you?  What do you believe?” That prompted Collins to do some research.  On the recommendation of a Methodist pastor, Francis began some spiritual reading, including Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  Taking what he knew of science and looking at it through the lens of Christianity led to belief for Collins who looks at creation and says, “God must be an amazing physicist and mathematician.”

Many of us have similar stories.  The faith that sustains us got its start in the witness of a parent or grandparent.  The seed of faith was planted in the weekly discipline of going to church, the creative efforts of a Sunday School teacher, the prayers of a friend, the spiritual wisdom of a mentor, or the inspiring witness of a co-worker.  How did you discover the good treasure of the gospel?

In his second letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul reminds his young friend of the faith he found in the spiritual leadership of his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice.  We don’t know much about Lois or Eunice, but the fact that as women their names are remembered in that deeply patriarchal time says a lot.  Timothy came from Lystra where Paul planted a church on his first missionary journey.  We can imagine that Eunice and Lois were important leaders in that young church, fanning the flames of the gospel in a thoroughly pagan world.  We can trust that as a youth Timothy attended church, shared in family prayers, and learned of God’s great love for him.  Lois and Eunice must have sensed that Timothy would have a holy purpose for his life.  The name Timothy, Timόtheos in Greek, means “honoring God.”

Paul’s letter also reveals that the apostle considered himself to be a spiritual father to Timothy, whom he called his “beloved child.” From Eunice to Lois to Paul, Timothy found belief through the good instruction and faithful witness of those who loved him.  As Paul wrote these words, reminding Timothy of the faith that had been imparted to him, Paul was in prison, having stood trial and been condemned to death for his faith. Paul knew that his days were numbered. If the gospel were to continue to go forth across the empire, Paul would need a spiritual heir, someone like Timothy, who would hold to the standard of good teaching, keep the faith, and guard the good treasure that had been entrusted to him.

Scripture and tradition tell us that Timothy found courage and perseverance in his faith.  The zealous young disciple acted as Paul’s scribe and co-author of the books of 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon. He accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys, and when Paul was in prison, Timothy represented Paul at Corinth and Philippi. For a time, Timothy was also imprisoned for the faith.  Church tradition teaches that after Paul’s death, Timothy served as bishop of the church at Ephesus, an important seaport on the west coast of Asia Minor.  But in the year 97, Timothy ran afoul of a pagan group celebrating the feast of Catagogion, a festival in which they carried images of their gods about the streets. The pagan revelers beat Timothy with clubs.  Two days later, he died.

We may not be Timothy, but we can all testify to the power of our faith.  The good treasure of the gospel that has been imparted to us by others has been powerful.  It has held our marriages together through dry times.  It has prompted us to be better parents.  We have prayed our way through workplace woes and health crises. The good treasure of faith has been the lifeline through our dark nights of the soul.  We have faced the death of beloved ones, and we contemplate our own mortality, with confidence because we have faith; we trust that Jesus has prepared a place for us in his Father’s House. Thank goodness for those who have cared enough plant those gospel seeds in us, who ensured that we know we are beloved children of God through Jesus Christ.

Sometimes, the seeds of faith that are planted in us by others can prompt us to do remarkable things. 

Dolly Parton says that she believes her music is more ministry than job.  She has multiple best-selling country gospel recordings, and since 2019, she has collaborated to record hit records with contemporary Christian artists For King & Country, Zach Williams, and the Swedish duo Galantis.  Dolly’s faith, however, has found its greatest expression in her efforts to promote children’s literacy.  Her literacy program, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, mails one book per month to each enrolled child from the time of their birth until they enter kindergarten. Currently, over 1,600 local communities provide Dolly’s Imagination Library to almost 850,000 children each month around the world.

Denzell Washington feels the call to speak of his faith to a younger generation that needs God to negotiate these morally complex times.  In his 2015 commencement address at Willard University, Washington advised students that the most important lesson in life is to “put God first” and have the heart to serve others around them.  Denzell says that he is here “to serve, help, and provide.” He has been the national spokesperson for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America since 1993. With his family, he has launched the Gifted Scholars Program in Neurosciences.  This innovative endeavor provides scholarships and fellowships for studies and research in brain science.  A supporter of veterans, Washington also funded new housing for disabled Iraq War vets when he learned that there was no place for them to stay at Fort Sam Huston when they came for treatment. 

Francis Collins, the world-renowned geneticist whose journey to faith was prompted by the tough questions of a patient, has been a leader in bridging the so-called divide between science and faith.  He sees the laboratory as a place of worship that gives a glimpse of the mind of God.  His 2006 bestselling book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief describes how his work on the Human Genome Project was like seeing the language that God uses to speak us into creation. In 2007, Collins established the BioLogos Foundation. The foundation addresses the escalating culture war between science and faith, seeking dialog and harmony between the two. In 2020, Collins was awarded the Templeton Prize for harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.

Lois, Eunice, Paul, Timothy, Dolly, Denzell, Francis Collins, those are some inspiring witnesses, aren’t they?  Their little—and big—efforts to live as people of faith and integrity are inspiring.  This morning, may we find in their good examples the invitation to do some faith sharing of our own. Nurture the belief of the children in your life. Challenge the youth you know to put God first. Use your gifts and abilities to share God’s love.  Build bridges that expand imaginations and lead to harmony between the secular and spiritual. Lois, Eunice, Paul, Timothy, Dolly, Denzell, Francis Collins—and you—those are some inspiring witnesses. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you.  Amen.

Resources:

AKM Adam. “Commentary on 2 Tim. 1:1-14” in Preaching This Week, Oct. 1, 2010. Accessed online at https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-27-3/commentary-on-2-timothy-11-14

John Frederick. “Commentary on 2 Tim. 1:1-14” in Preaching This Week, Oct. 2, 2016. Accessed online at https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-27-3/commentary-on-2-timothy-11-14

Matt Skinner. “Commentary on 2 Tim. 1:1-14” in Preaching This Week, Oct. 6, 2013. Accessed online at https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-27-3/commentary-on-2-timothy-11-14

Sara Kettler. “Why Dolly Parton Has Devoted Her Life to Helping Children Read” in Biography, April 13, 2020. https://www.biography.com/news/dolly-parton-imagination-library

Lesli White. “The Real Reason Dolly Parton Started Making Christian Music” in Beliefnet. https://www.beliefnet.com/entertainment/music/the-reason-dolly-parton-makes-christian-music.aspx

Denzell Washington. “Commencement Speech, Dillard University” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROiNPUwg9bQ&t=70s

Manuela Cardiga. “Denzel Washington Is a Devoted Christian — inside His Relationship with God” in Amomama News, Aug 20, 2020.

Templeton Prize. “Francis Collins Awarded 2020 Templeton Prize,” May 20, 2020. https://www.templetonprize.org/francis-collins-awarded-2020-templeton-prize/

Templeton Prize. “Dr. Francis Collins: Harmony – Life at the Intersection of Science & Faith,” Sept. 24, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYvi8qwp7Og


2 Tim. 1:1-14

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

3 I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace, and this grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12 and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard the deposit I have entrusted to him. 13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.


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