Scripture: 2 Timothy 1:3-14
As a child my favorite day was Saturday. It had nothing to do with school being out either, because I actually woke up earlier on Saturday than I did on school days. Saturday was my favorite because I loved Saturday morning cartoons. My siblings and I worked out a viewing schedule to ensure everyone saw their favorites and Saturday mornings meant hours of cartoons. Today, waking up on a specific day is not the most popular for kids to consume media. No today children prefer to consume media through YouTube. It is far and away the most popular website for children. A Pew research analysis found that videos targeted to kids on average get three times more views than videos without kids. My kids are no different, and they love watching YouTube videos. The videos they watch are different. My son likes watching video game videos, and my daughter loves to watch crafting videos. Despite the differences, all of the videos end the same. The host ask the viewer to like, share, and subscribe. All of the content creators on YouTube want their content to be followed, shared and be seen by as many people as possible.
It is just not YouTubers who really promote their content gets liked and shared. In the world of advertising, being able to generate word of mouth buzz has always been the golden standard that marketers try to achieve. In today’s social media world this happens when people like and share so that the content goes viral. Sometimes when something goes viral it dominates Facebook feeds for a week and then is forgotten forever, but then other times when something goes viral it makes a lasting difference. A good example of this is the ice bucket challenge from 2014. I do not know if you remember this, but for a couple of months it was a big deal for people to post a video online of them dropping a bucket of ice water on their head, and then challenge other people to do the same. Even if you are the type of person who does not do computers, there is a good chance that you know someone who dumped a bucket of ice water on their head five years ago. The idea was that everyone who did, also made a donation to the ALS Association. This viral campaign worked, and the ALS Association credits the ice bucket challenge for raising $220 million. A year after the videos were posted, donations to the association were still 25% higher, and the money raised directly funded research that made a minor breakthrough in the treatment of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). The ice bucket challenge is a viral success that made a real difference, because people like and shared the idea it spread and real good was done.
Liking something and sharing it with others has always been how any idea spreads. Now the apostle Paul never made a YouTube video, but this morning’s scripture is essentially him advocating the importance of promoting the grace of Jesus Christ. If Paul made his epistles as YouTube videos instead of ancient letters, then I think there is a good chance he too would have ended with asking people to “like and share.” Because in this scripture Paul is essentially urging that the “like, share, and subscribe” mentality be part of our own faith practice. Much like the ice bucket challenge, when our faith is like and shared then it has the possibility to spread and do real good in the world.
This morning’s scripture is from 2 Timothy, which as the name implies is the second letter Paul wrote to his young protege. However, this letter has a much different tone than 1 Timothy. When Paul wrote 2 Timothy, he was imprisoned and in chains. We do not know the exact time line, but it is likely that 2 Timothy was written not long before Paul was executed. So in verse 8 when Paul writes about his suffering for the gospel, it is not hyperbole. He was truly suffering. Despite what Paul was going through, this scripture makes clear that his passion for the gospel, his love for Jesus, and his desire to share the truth with others was not diminished by his suffering. After meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul had dedicated his entire being to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others. In this morning’s scripture he was encouraging Timothy to do the same. He encouraged Timothy to fan the flame, and not sit dormant. He encouraged Timothy not to be ashamed of their beliefs but to join in doing the work that Paul was doing-even if it led to suffering. Essentially when it comes to our faith practice in the world around us, Paul was encouraging Timothy to take a “like and share” mentality to spreading the good news. Today, we would do well to listen to Paul’s writing here. Specifically, I think there are two major point we should take away that just might change how we live out our faith.
First, Paul tells Timothy not to be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.” Now, at first this seems odd, why would Timothy (or any Christ follower) be ashamed of that? However, I think the scripture gives us some bigger clues as to what is going on. Because right before Paul writes not be ashamed, he reminds Timothy that the Spirit of God does not make us timid, but gives power. He also encourages Timothy to fan the flame, which is to heat back up. We get the impression that Timothy, might have been a little reserved when it came to sharing the good news of Jesus with others. Timothy was not ashamed of the gospel, but perhaps his silence was deafening. Paul’s encouragement to embrace power, love, and self-discipline over timidity is one we need to hear.
We need to hear this, because collectively as American Christians our silence on sharing God’s love can also be deafening. Somewhere along the way it became polite behavior to be timid about the gospel. Nearly all of us were raised with the conventional wisdom that “polite company never talks about religion or politics.” Now, honestly the politics part I understand, but we have bought into a terrible lie about being quiet about our Lord and Savior. Knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior should be the single most powerful, transformative, and defining part of our lives. Why on earth would we be quiet about that?
In this morning’s scripture Paul points this out. He tells Timothy not to be timid and ashamed and then reminds him why we need to be timid. We should not be timid because the good news of Jesus Christ is amazing! Paul pointed this out throughout this morning’s scripture when he wrote, “He has saved us and called us to a holy life- not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace . . . it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
How can we not be enthusiastic and excited about that? When we go to a new restaurant with good food, we tell everyone about it. When we see a movie that moves us, we recommend everyone should go see it. When we read a really good book, then we start buying copes to give as gifts to everyone. When we hear good news or get a great report, we will not stop talking about it. We have no problem sharing things that we are excited about. So why then are we so timid about sharing the gospel? I cannot speak for you, but I know that because of the precious blood of Jesus Christ, my sins are forgiven, my life is eternal, and the God who created me is now the Father who will welcome me home. Friends, I do not know of any better news! We need to be sharing the good news of our Savior.
This does not mean we all need to grab a bullhorn, stand on a soapbox, and preach on a street corner. We simply need to be people who are authentically joyful and excited about knowing Jesus as our Lord and Savior. People tend to know us and associate us with the things we are most passionate about. If we are truly passionate about the gospel of Jesus Christ, then the people we interact with should know that about us. For those who know the saving grace of Jesus Christ, the assurance, joy, and peace they have should be a defining aspect of their lives. It means that when it comes to sharing our faith with others, we are mindful of the right opportunities and when those opportunities come we are not ashamed to share what is most precious to us. Sadly, the statistics show that when those opportunities come, we are too timid and let them pass us by. The authors of the United Methodist focused book Get Their Name points on that on average Methodist only invites someone to come to church with them once every 38 years! To live out a faith that is not ashamed and timid we do not need to evangelize everyone we see, but as a good starting point maybe we can all commit to invite someone to church with us more than once every three decades? Our individual faith should be marked by an enthusiasm for the good news of Jesus, and that is true for collective faith as a church as well.
The sad reality of the American church is that too many followers of Jesus have a spirit of timidity and they are not fanning the flame. A very sobering statistic points to this is 4,000 churches close a year. That works out to roughly 11 churches a day lock their doors for the last time. All closing churches have one thing in common: they were too timid in sharing the love of Jesus Christ with the community around them. They kept the amazing love of Jesus to themselves. They did not take a “like and share” approach that encouraged others outside the church to engage with the love of God. They only invited someone to join them one every thirty eight years. This is not always how it was though. At the time of Jesus’ resurrection there were only about 150 Christians in the world. However, that small group shared the good news, and the gospel spread like wild fire so that by 300 AD, 250 years later, the number of Christians had grown from 150 to around 6.5 million. That happened because the first generations of Christians were passionate about their love (or like) of Christ, they were zealous in sharing it with others, and in doing so they convinced others to subscribe to the point of view that Jesus is king. This morning’s scripture shows this attitude was present from the beginning of the Christian movement.
This morning’s scripture also shows how we can recapture that flame and power over timidity in our own lives. To have a faith that is powerful and not timid. We do not need to be the next Billy Graham. We do not need to speak to stadiums worth of people to have an on fire faith. We can start on a much smaller scale, as Paul reminds us. In verse 5 Paul wrote about Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” Timothy, like so many people, was nurtured in the faith by his grandmother. He had people in his life, who cared enough about him to share with him the good news of Jesus and mentor him in how to live that faith out. So let me ask you, if you are a Christian, if you have a mature faith, who are you mentoring? How are you passing on what you have learned about the unfailing love of God? Things on the Internet do not go viral because of major marketing blitzes, they go viral because one person passes it on to another who passes it on to another. This is how the church spread like wild fire in the first couple of centuries, and this is how revival will happen again. We do not all need to preach the good news to the masses, but all of us should at least start with one person.
If there is not already someone in your life that you are seeking to pass on a sincere faith to, then I challenge you to seriously consider finding that person in your life. If you do I think you will find your own faith practice getting fanned to be a bit livelier and you will find your own faith practice move from timid to powerful. May we all truly be enthusiastic and joyful about the love of God through Jesus Chris that saves us. There is a quote in the Wesleyan tradition that states “set yourself on fire with enthusiasm and people will come from miles to watch you burn.” May we do that. May we live out an authentic faith, where our passion for our Lord and Savior is so evident that inspires others to like, share, and subscribe to the truth that by power of God Jesus saves us and calls us to a holy life. Please like and share.