This next chapter of 2 Timothy continues the theme of “loyalty” to Paul, to the gospel, and to Jesus. And loyalty is something we often talk about in our own culture, too.
Loyalty in Sport
A couple of years ago, I read a true story about a lifelong, diehard fan of the Cleveland Browns. Now I’m a big fan of American football – and I’ll be seeing my first live NFL game this Sunday in Nashville, which is conveniently the day after the annual conference of the Academy of Homiletics. (This job has the occasional perq.) But I’m guessing many of you aren’t all that up to speed, so a bit of background is in order. The Cleveland Browns is the team that never wins. They’ve never played in a Superbowl. Most years they end up coming last in their division. Life’s tough if you’re a Browns fan.
But you get used to it, apparently. To the point where this lifelong supporter pre-wrote his own obituary column. It was then published after his death in July 2013. In it he requested that the six pallbearers at his funeral be players from the Cleveland Browns – so his team could let him down one last time.
But that’s the definition of loyalty, isn’t it? At least, when it comes to diehard sports fans. Your team is your team, no matter how they perform. If they win, you win. You share in the joy. If they lose, then you share the pain. Their fortunes are yours. Their success or failure each week influences your mood – and by extension, that of your immediate family.
But that’s what true loyalty is. It’s an alignment of fortunes. A commitment to stick by, in good times and bad.
Loyalty in Marriage
Just like in marriage. You take a vow of loyalty to your spouse. “For better or for worse” means that your fortunes are now aligned. If something good happens to one of you, it happens to both of you. If something bad happens – like having children – you both suffer. Marriage is a commitment to solidarity. To loyalty.
Loyalty in Politics
In a similar, but less noble vein, what about politics? Where political patrons work backroom deals to get their protégés elected to safe seats – and then expect nothing less than unwavering loyalty in response. Politically, they own them. Their fortunes are linked. If the patron rises to power, then they benefit. But if your patron falls from grace, the honourable thing to do is to stick by them, despite the consequences for your career. (Unless you’re Bill Shorten, in which case you switch to the winning side faster than someone can say “leadership spill”.) But in theory at least, loyalty is expected in politics.
Loyalty in the First Century
In fact, this was more than just theory in the first century. Where political and business careers were just as dependent on having powerful allies further up the food chain. And where loyalty was expected, even if it cost you your status, your wealth – even your life. If you wanted the benefits a powerful patron could bring, you’d better be prepared to back it up by being loyal, no matter what the cost. Your fortunes were irrevocably linked.
Loyalty to God
Paul’s second letter to Timothy is an appeal to Timothy to be loyal. To stick by his powerful patron, who has showered him with eternal benefits. To remain loyal to God, no matter what the cost.
And at the start of this second chapter, Paul says:2:1 You then, my son, be strong in the grace [or ‘favour’] that is in Christ Jesus.
Be strong in the grace. Stand firm in God’s favour. Which in the first century was code for “remain loyal to your benefactor”. This idea of remaining loyal is central to what’s going on in chapter 2, and indeed the whole letter. In light of what God has done for us, Paul urges us to stay loyal.
Having signed up for life membership with Team Jesus; having said “I do” at the altar call; having been parachuted into the safest seat of all in the heavenly places… how can we not display loyalty to our God and Saviour? How can we even be tempted to give it away, given all the benefits God has given us?
More than that, how can we not press on in greater, more costly service given what Jesus did for us – dying to make us right with God even though we didn’t deserve it, and rising again to bring us the gift of life – how can we not want to devote every waking moment to this amazing Saviour?
But what does it mean to be loyal to God? What does it look like, both in Timothy’s life, and in ours, to stick with Team Jesus no matter what happens?
Well that’s what this chapter’s about. Now this week we don’t have the time to cover everything this chapter says about loyalty. But over the next few days we’re going to look at what I think are the key ideas. Where Paul gives us some positive examples to follow, and some negative examples to avoid.
To think about
For now – what does it mean for you to be loyal to God?