"A Mother's 'Migrating' Faith"
2 Timothy 1:3-5
(Delivered Mother's Day, Sunday, May 14, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
Every Mother's Day, we look in the Scriptures at the story of a great mother of faith. But today, we're going to do something different. We're going to look at two great mothers of faith. The testimony of their influence is recorded forever for us by Paul in the introduction of his second letter to Timothy:
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Here, we see that a man of faith was given a legacy of faith by two very important women of faith—his mother and his grandmother. The Bible doesn't tell us much about them directly. In fact, it's only here that we find their names. But there's much we know about their story of faith from the details that the Bible does tell us.
Their story of faith began around the year 45 A.D. That was the year that the missionary team of Paul and Barnabas made their first journey to the ancient Galatian city of Lystra (Acts 14:6-7).
A lot happened on that first visit. God used Paul and Barnabas to heal a lame man; and the whole city misinterpreted the situation and began worshiping the two missionaries as gods. Paul and Barnabas—realizing what was happening—quickly corrected the people and pointed them to Jesus. But Jewish leaders who had opposed the message of the gospel came into the city and “persuaded the multitudes”; and as a result, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the Lystra—thinking that they had killed him.
Paul got up, and limped back into the city broken and bruised; and then, he and Barnabas departed the next day for another city. But I believe that as a young boy, Timothy knew something about this. He may have even seen these things happen to Paul firsthand; and I don't believe Timothy ever forgot it. It made an indelible impression on him; and may have helped convince him that Paul, as a preacher, was the real thing—and that his message was the message of life. Paul was once able to write to Timothy and say, “But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:10-12). I suspect that this first incident in Lystra came to Timothy's mind when he read those words.
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God used Paul at that time to lead some of the people of Lystra to faith in Jesus. And among them were three—this young boy Timothy, his mother Eunice, and his grandmother Lois.
Eunice's name is a Greek one; but she was Jewish. She had married a Greek man who did not raise his son in the Jewish tradition. Timothy had not been circumcised in accordance with the Jewish custom. But nevertheless, Eunice was faithful to teach her son from the Old Testament Scriptures. Perhaps she was permitted by her husband to do so openly; or perhaps—as one writer suggested—she had become “skilled in the methods of secret education”.1 But in any event, she had apparently taught Timothy well; and this education was also helped by his grandmother Lois. I suspect that Eunice was teaching Timothy a faith that had first been taught to her by Lois.
I think of Lois and Eunice as two Jewish women who had an “Old Testament” faith in Jesus. They walked “in the steps of the faith” which characterized the great patriarch Abraham (Romans 4:12). Old childless Abraham had been given a promise—that in him, all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). God had given Abraham the promise that, from his body, the Redeemer of mankind would be born—the very Redeemer who had been promised to Adam and Eve after they had fallen in sin (Gen. 3:15). This, of course, is a promise concerning our wonderful Savior Jesus.
As the years went on, Abraham began to doubt this promise from God. He was an old man, and yet remained childless. All he had was a servant named Eliezer—the only one who could qualify as Abraham's heir; and he began to wonder if it was through Eliezer that God would keep this promise. But one evening, God told Abraham that it would not be through Eliezer that the promise would be kept; “but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir” (Gen. 15:4). God called Abraham to look up into the night sky and count the stars—if he could. Of course, he couldn't. They were too great in number. And God told him, “So shall your descendants be.” And then, we're told, “And he [that is, Abraham] believed in the LORD, and He [that is, the LORD] accounted it to him for righteousness” (v. 6).
Abraham had faith in the promise of God that a Redeemer would come. And that was the saving faith of Abraham's offspring—the Jewish people—from then on. Individual Jewish people believed the promises of the Scriptures—that God would do as He said he would, and that the Redeemer would be born from among the Jewish people. Every Jewish man or woman who sincerely believed that promise, and that looked ahead in faith to that Redeemer, had a saving faith. I believe that Lois and Eunice had such a saving faith. I believe that they studied the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and read about that promise, and placed their faith in the promised Redeemer. I also believe they taught Timothy to trust in that promise in the Scriptures from the time he was a little boy. They had an “Old Testament” faith in Jesus—one that looked ahead to a Redeemer that they had not yet seen but still trusted. And when Paul and Barnabas came to Lystra that very first time, these two women and their dear child Timothy heard the gospel and believed on Jesus' finished work on the cross. Their “Old Testament” faith made the transition to the “New Testament” reality.
As the years went by, Timothy grew under the careful scriptural tutelage of Lois and Eunice. He soon demonstrated a faith in the Redeemer that was his own. Lois' and Eunice's faith had taken root in him. He even began to gain a good reputation among the other Christians in the area. And when we read in Acts 16 of Paul's second missionary visit to Lystra—some six or seven years later—we find;
Timothy became an important part of Paul's ministry from then on. Paul invested a great deal of time, and instruction, and prayer into Timothy's life. And now, sixteen or seventeen years later, Paul writes these final words to his beloved son in the faith Timothy.
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Timothy was, at this time, the pastor of the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3). And Paul was in prison in Rome. He would never be released from his bonds, except by death. He would, in fact, very shortly after this letter was written, be beheaded by order of the emperor Nero. Paul knew that his own execution was at hand. He closed the letter with these high words of victory:
But Paul also hoped that, if possible, he could still see Timothy one more time. He wrote and said, “Be diligent to come to me quickly . . .” (4:9). Paul loved Timothy very much. And I believe he also loved Lois and Eunice very much too. Perhaps he'd never met them; but he certainly knew their influence in the life of Timothy.
And in the introduction of this closing letter, he takes the time to give tribute to their faithfulness to impact Timothy for Christ. They are fitting words for us to study on Mother's Day.
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Dear brothers and sisters; do you realize that, for the past one-thousand, nine-hundred and sixteen years or so, there has not been any new contributions—not one a single new thing—added to the essential truths human beings must believe in order to be saved before God?
I reckon that number from the fact that most scholars figure the last book of the Bible—The Book of Revelation—was completed by the apostle John about the year 90 A.D. With that book, the sacred canon of Scripture was completed and closed. And in all of that time, not one new “essential” truth of the saving faith has been added. In all of that time, there have been no knew “developments” to the essence of the gospel. The saving truths of the Christian faith have not evolved a single bit in all of that time. The content of saving faith is exactly the same now as it was then.
Now, of course, it's true that our understanding of those truths has grown. Our statements of its different elements have certainly developed and improved. New expressions of that basic faith have been given to each new generation and to each different culture. But in terms of its essential core—in terms of the essential truths that we must believe in order to be saved and to live lives that are pleasing to God in Christ—there have been no new developments or new discoveries.
The Bible teaches us that ours is a “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). It's a faith that does not need to be “replaced” or “remodeled” or “improved”; but simply believed, and defended, and contended for, and—most particularly—passed on down faithfully to the next generation. Real “reformation” happens, not when some new truth in the Christian faith is “discovered”, but rather when the old truths of the Christian faith are “recovered”—and then faithfully passed on.
And that's why the lesson of this morning's passage—and the story of Lois and Eunice—is so very important. Here, we see one of the key elements God uses in protecting and passing that faith “once for all delivered to the saints” on to the next generation. It's through the influence of godly parents and grandparents who teach it to the next generation through the everyday life of the home.
Long ago, God gave this pattern to the people of Israel. He gave these words to Moses to pass on to them;
Similarly, Psalm 78:5-8 says this of God;
As you can see, there is no recognition anywhere in the Bible for the idea of 'letting the next generation find God on their own'. The truths of the faith must—absolutely must—be passed on to the next generation. That was what happened to Timothy—not by his father, perhaps; but certainly by a godly grandmother and a godly mother!
Paul had a strong sense of this in his own life. There was—if I may say it this way—a 'bridge' that had been built that connected him to the essential truths of the faith held long ago in the past. He said, “I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did . . .” (v. 3). He didn't serve God as his immediate fathers had; because he was raised by his own father to believe that he could earn God's favor on the basis of his own obedience to the law of Moses. Paul was once was a strict Pharisee. And we're told that he was “a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6), who—as he put it—had “confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:4). But he counted this all “loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord”; and so that he may be found “in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (vv. 8-9).
Paul's faith was not of the same kind as his own Pharisee father; but it was the same kind of faith as his great “forefathers”—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. Paul had ceased trying to earn righteousness before God on the basis of his works, but now—like they—had “believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). Paul was sometimes accused of preaching a way to salvation that was different than what was taught in the Old Testament Scriptures. But that's not true at all. He preached a faith that was the same message of salvation as that in the Old Testament.
Paul served God with a pure conscience; just as his forefathers had. And he was very conscious of a continuity with the faith of the past. He hadn't lost connection with “the old paths where the good way is” (Jeremiah 6:16). And neither had Timothy. He was bound to that past by what had been given to him from his godly grandmother and godly mother.
What a vital influence such godly women can have on the next generation!
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Look with me at this morning's passage. Paul tells Timothy, “I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you . . .” Consider those words. What an honor that must have been to have received such a commendation from no less than the apostle Paul!
But he didn't just remember Timothy's sincere faith. This leads us to notice Paul's affirmation of . . .
1. WHERE TIMOTHY'S PATTERN OF FAITH FIRST 'DWELT'.
He said that this “sincere” or “genuine” or “unhypocritical” faith was one that “dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice” (v. 5).
I remember reading once about a group of pastors who were arguing over which translation of the Bible was the best. One pastor argued that his favorite translation was the best; another argued that another one was the best; and on and on they all went. Finally, one pastor piped up and said, “I think my mother's translation was the best.” When the others asked which translation that was, he said, “It was the Everyday Life translation.” The other pastors said that they'd never heard of that one; and he said, “She translated the Bible into everyday life; and it was the best translation I've ever read.”
Timothy evidently had a great translation of the Bible presented to him in the life of his mother and his grandmother. They had a faith that was “sincere”. It was worked out into everyday life. That sincere faith had also found its way in the life of Timothy.
I like to call the faith of these two dear women a “migrating” faith. It made the migration from parent to child. One commentator said, “[T]he faith had first taken up residence in the two women . . .; it had not “come on a visit” but had come to stay permanently; and then it had also taken up residence in Timothy—without leaving Lois and Eunice”2. Their sincere faith had “dwelt” first in them; and now, it's influence had “migrated” and also “dwelt” in Timothy.
Let me pause to ask; what kind of impact is your faith having on the next generation? The fact is that it is having an impact, whether you want it to or not. I'm sorry to say that I have had to talk with many adults who were raised in homes that were “Christian” on the outside; but were not of a sincere faith on the inside. Many of the children of those homes grew up to be sincere in their faith on their own; but I have found that many others grew up to reject the faith in great bitterness. Your faith, if I may put it this way, will “migrate” to the next generation; and it will have either a positive impact or a negative one.
So then; what kind of faith are you passing on? One of the great lessons we see in this passage is that the “sincere” faith that was found in Timothy was first found in his grandmother Lois and in his mother Eunice. And you can't pass on a sincere faith that you don't have yourself. May God help us to exhibit a “sincere” faith—one marked by genuine trust in the cross of Jesus Christ, by genuine love for and everyday fellowship with the Savior, genuine love for others who belong to Him, and by genuine obedience to His commands in the Scriptures.
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A second thing that we need to notice about this “sincere” faith that these women passed on to Timothy was . . .
2. HOW THAT FAITH CAME TO BE 'LEARNED' BY HIM.
To be sure, one way was by the influence of Paul himself. Paul speaks later in this letter to Timothy of “the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love, which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13); and of “the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses” (2:2); and of how he had “carefully followed” Paul's own pattern of life and faith (3:10ff).
And so, if you look at 3:14, you'll see that Paul exhorts Timothy to “continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them . . .” This, I believe, certainly included the apostle Paul. In other places in the New Testament, Paul writes, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1); or “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). Clearly, Paul was aware of the fact that he was a pattern of what it meant to be a Christian; and he lived the kind of life for which he was unafraid to tell others, “Follow my example!”
But it doesn't speak just of Paul himself; but I believe it also speaks of the godly influence of those two great women! Paul lived before Timothy with a “pure conscience” before God; and these women presented Timothy with the example of a “sincere faith”. What a wonderful combination they all where in instructing Timothy in the faith!
But look on! Paul goes on to say, “. . . and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation which is in Christ Jesus” (v. 15). Think of that! Timothy had lived in a pagan culture; and had lived under the roof of a pagan father. Yet, he had known the Holy Scriptures from the time he was a child! Now, who taught him the Scriptures from the time he was a child? None other than his wonderful grandmother Lois and his wonderful mother Eunice.
The Scriptures—as they had them—may not have involved anything more than the Old Testament. Paul's second letter to Timothy was the last of his letters; but still, none of the other New Testament Scriptures may have been available to Lois and Eunice to use in teaching Timothy. But what they taught him was the word of the Scriptures of the Old Testament; and as Jesus Himself said, these point to Him for eternal life (John 5:39). That's how Timothy “learned” this sincere faith, that first was in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, and that Paul was persuaded was also in Timothy.
One of the greatest gifts anyone can have growing up is a godly father and mother who taught them to know God's word. Many children who have come to our church over the years didn't have such parents; but they did have godly Sunday School teachers or nursery care givers who DID teach them to know God's word. In the very next verses, Paul writes, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Peter wrote, “[A]s newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2).
The faith is not passed on except through God's word! “[F]aith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). God bless those godly mothers who have taught their children the word—perhaps even in a home where that word was opposed! May God make it our resolve to preserve the word and pass it on to the next generation! May we do as God Himself has commanded with respect to His instructions, and “teach them diligently” to our children!
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Timothy's grandmother Lois and mother Eunice were the bridges that connected him to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. It was a sincere faith that first dwelt in them, and had migrated to dwell in him. And he learned it by the fact that, from childhood, they had taught him the Scriptures which made him wise unto salvation.
And this leads us, finally, to . . .
3. HOW HE WAS CALLED UPON TO APPLY WHAT HE HAD LEARNED.
First, he was called upon to 'hold on tight' to that precious treasure of faith that had been passed on to him. Paul told him, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep it by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us” (2 Timothy 1:13-14).
Timothy was warned that there would be times in which believers would be under great pressure to abandon the 'once for all time' faith that had been entrusted to them. Paul wrote,
He warned that
Wouldn't you agree that we are living in such times today? But Paul's call to Timothy, in the light of such times, is “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of . . .” (3:14).
Others may let them go by the wayside, but Timothy must not. And neither should we. We must not let the precious truths of the faith that have been handed on to us go. We must “hold on” to them, and “keep them” as the precious treasure from God that they are. Paul urged him, “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust . . .” (1 Timothy 6:20).
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A second thing Timothy was called upon to do was to put forth the effort to “grow” in the things he had learned and “develop” in them. When he wrote his first letter to Timothy, he told him to make the most of his calling as a pastor; saying,
It's not enough that we have received the great saving truths of the Christian faith. It's not even enough that we preserve them and protect them. But we must also make the effort to grow in them. We must avoid what will draw us away from them, and aggressively pursue growth in them. Paul told Timothy, “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord with a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
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And a third thing that Timothy was called upon to do—and perhaps you wont be surprised at this—was to “pass on” the precious truths of the gospel that he had been given to others. Paul told him,
Timothy was entrusted with a precious treasure. It first dwelt in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, and now it dwelt in him. That treasure was embodied in a call on Timothy's life—the call to be a faithful pastor. Someone had passed the baton to him; and now, he must be sure to pass the baton to others—who will, in turn, be faithful to pass it on to others—who will, in turn, be faithful to pass it on to others.
Paul told him some of the precious truths of the faith; and then followed it up by urging pastor Timothy to think about the people that God had entrusted to his charge, and told him, “Remind them of these things . . .” He told him, in the strongest words possible, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).
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Paul sought to build on that legacy of faith that had been imparted to Timothy by his godly grandmother Lois and godly mother Eunice. No wonder he honored them at the very beginning of his letter to Timothy.
I hope that, if you have had a godly mother or grandmother who passed a sincere faith on to you, you'll take the time to thank them today if you can. And I hope, most certainly, that you'll thank God for them! What a gift He has given you through them! They have served as a bridge that helps bind you to a faith once for all given to the saints—a saving faith in the message of a gospel that will never change, and will always be relevant.
But I hope that you'll also do more than be thankful for it. I hope that your thankfulness will be expressed in the fact that you'll hold fast to that faith, and protect it, and guard it as a precious treasure. I hope that you'll give yourself to build on it, and grow in it, and learn of it, and mature in it. And I hope that you'll pass it on to others who will faithfully then pass it on as well.
May we follow the example of these two great women, and their 'migrating' faith in Christ.
1Roland A. Ward, Commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1974), p. 144.
2Ibid., p. 145.
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