How do you hope to be remembered when you die? Which of your qualities and values would you like for your children to make part of their own lives? Have you ever seriously considered the question: What legacy will pass on to the next generation? What does the world around us conclude about “faith” from the way we live our lives? What are we doing to prepare future generations for eternity? To state it more directly: “Will your children and grandchildren continue in the faith because of the legacy you left them?”
Imagine if you will that you are from another planet and you are sent to observe mankind and report back. When you are asked to report about the religion of the people of earth you might report something like this:
This people seems to worship hundreds, maybe even thousands of gods. The centers of religious devotion can be auditoriums or large outdoor locations. The people who attend these places of adoration and praise are wildly enthusiastic. Some travel from long distances and pay large amounts of money to be present.
The gods they worship are all different and many are oddly dressed. Some seem to be engaged in contests with each other. The people seem divided over the god they adore and seem to severely dislike the others. The major gods are gods that wear lots of equipment and wrestle with each other for a leather sphere, others chase each other with sticks on ice to try to strike a rubber circle into a net. Others wear less equipment and try to hit and catch a small ball. Still others throw a larger ball and try to put it through a ring attached to a board. There is even a god who hits a very small ball to a hole a long way away. When he reaches the hole he does it again. And people follow this god! There are many other worship events like this. It is a very strange religion!
Parents encourage their children to train to be like these gods. Young people spend hours and hours trying to do what their gods do. They believe they too can be gods someday. Many families devote large amounts of time and money to these training programs for their children. Some even wear clothing that imitates their gods. Some have the name of their god on their clothing!
Some of the gods play music and sing. People gather in a festive atmosphere to adore these people. Again they pay large amounts of money and travel great distances in order to give homage to these people. And when they arrive they worship with great might. They too buy clothing to identify them as worshippers of these gods.
There are also buildings known as “houses of worship” and they seem to be in every neighborhood. However, they are sparsely attended and there is little to no enthusiasm in these people. By comparison, the investment of time and money seems to be minimal. If there used to be true religious devotion in these places, it appears to have been sometime in the past.
Do you think this is an objective observation of our real heart? Obviously, I am speaking “tongue in cheek” but it does raise the question: What is the legacy that we are leaving to our children? What values are we passing on?
These are the questions that will occupy us as we study the book of 2 Timothy. This book is considered to be the “last will and testament” of the Apostle Paul. At the end of the book of Acts Paul was in prison. Paul likely was released from this imprisonment. He did some further traveling (perhaps even to Spain) but was arrested again during the persecution of Nero. This is when this letter was likely written. Paul knew his life was about over. He could sense that he was going to be executed. Consequently, these last words carry with them an urgency that can be felt. Like the final words of someone who is dying, these words boil the truth down to the essentials. Here is Paul’s legacy and from it we are going to try to learn how we can leave a godly legacy as well.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus,
To Timothy, my beloved child:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.
The apostle Paul met Timothy when he traveled to Lystra on his second missionary journey. Timothy’s father was Greek (an likely not a Christian) but his mother and Grandmother were Jews and at some point became followers of Christ. It is possible that Timothy became a follower of Jesus under the ministry of Paul. Paul took an interest in Timothy and brought him with him in his later missionary journeys.
At the time of this letter their relationship had spanned many years. Timothy had proved himself reliable. Paul in these letters is in a sense passing on the mantel of leadership. Timothy is part of Paul’s legacy.
We can observe some things about building a solid legacy already from these opening words.
We Stand on the Shoulders of Others
We owe our faith to many. First, there are those who lead others to Christ. Paul calls himself the spiritual father of Timothy. Paul was brought to faith by Jesus, he in turn helped Timothy come to faith.
Not everyone can point to a particular moment of decision when they put their trust in Christ. For some they seemed to grow up in the faith. There were many along the way who instructed them (Sunday School teachers, Pastors, parents, authors, and friends). But still they stand on the shoulders of those people.
I was one who can point a particular moment of decision. For me, I look back on the work of my youth Pastor. This man took me under his wing. He explained the gospel again and again until the Lord “turned on the light” in my soul. I was sitting there in our youth group like I had many times before when all of a sudden it made sense! I realized that even though I was a church-goer I needed to enter personally into a saving relationship with Jesus.
Ron had a tremendous impact on my life. He faithfully taught the Word of God, patiently answered my questions, and he made room in his life for me. I would tell you that Ron Lague was my spiritual father.
Consciously or unconsciously we are the fruit of the labor of others. If you can pinpoint some of those people who helped you come to Christ, let them know that you appreciate their influence in your life. While you think about this ask yourself an important question: Does anyone view me as a spiritual parent? Have I brought anyone to Jesus?
Second, there are spiritual mentors who impact our lives. These are people who help us to grow. They teach us, they walk with us and they pray for us. Paul took Timothy with him on many of his missionary journeys. Timothy was Paul’s apprentice. Paul told Timothy that he was still praying for him. We all need those people who will get behind us and help us develop spiritual roots. You may not even know some of the people who have been supporting you by praying for you. The point is, we do not grow in isolation.
I was blessed with a wonderful Pastor as I was growing up. I watched him, I learned from him, and I spent many Saturday mornings peppering him with questions (I now understand the sacrifice it is to give up your Saturday morning.) He helped me with my first sermon. I did my internship under his guiding hand. And my first full time job as a Pastor was as his associate pastor. I am so grateful for Roger Dallwig. He was my early mentor in the faith.
I still remember a particular morning as I was growing up. Roger’s brother died on Saturday. It was a deeply painful loss. On Sunday the church board told him they did not expect him to get up and preach. He insisted saying, “the church needs to know that I believe what I teach.” I wasn’t very old but I never forgot those words. I repeated those words may times during the difficult months of my life! My mentor equipped me by his example so many years before. I have had many other teachers and mentors over the years but Roger laid the foundation. In a very real sense his ministry continues through me.
The question to ask is: are you pouring your life into anyone? Are you mentoring or instructing anyone in the faith? The greatest legacy we will leave is not the trophies we have on our shelves, it is the people who will be in Heaven because of our influence and love.
Third, Paul reminds us of the powerful influence of godly parents. He highlighted the influence of Timothy’s mom Eunice, and his Grandmother. Lois. Timothy was raised by a mother and grandmother who were a godly influence in his life.
You may not have had parents who were a godly influence. I hope that motivates you all the more to give your kids what you did not have. If you DID have godly parents. I ask you two questions: 1) Are you being faithful to the faith they handed down to you? 2) What kind of seeds are you planting in your children and grandchildren? Where is it that you are leading your children?
As I look back on my life we went to Church, Sunday School, and Youth Group every week. This is what we did on Sunday morning. It was God’s day and it wasn’t up for debate. I also learned the value of family from my parents. I learned about love from them. But most of all I learned about Jesus.
My mom and dad weren’t pastors. They seldom read the Bible with us. We never had family devotions. In fact, we seldom even said grace at dinner. However, they showed me their love for Christ by the choices they made. We did not miss church. They served faithfully. They gave (and taught us to give) sacrificially. My parents tried to live out their faith. They were not the ones to lead me to Christ but . . .it was because of them that I was in position to hear about Jesus.
In the next words Paul gives us some tips (if you listen with discernment) on some key ingredients to leave a godly legacy.
Use What God Has Given You
Our legacy is not simply determined by the people in our lives. It is also a result of the things we do. Paul gives a couple of clues in the next verses.
6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Paul told Timothy to use the gift of God given through the laying on of hands. Most likely this refers to an ordination service. It is the acknowledgement that Timothy had been called and set aside for gospel ministry.
The Bible tells us that God has gifted every believer to serve Him and make an impact. Not everyone has a clear picture of what and where their spiritual gifts are. Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12-14 talk extensively about how these gifts. So what do you do if you have no idea what God is calling you to do? Here are some ways to narrow in on your gifts,
- Look at these lists in the Bible and get familiar with the kinds of things that are spiritual gifts. Gifts and talents are not the same thing. It is how you use a talent that makes it a gift. Keep in mind that these are not an exhaustive list (Paul’s list of gifts is different in every text). This is because God equips us to meet the needs that surround us. Check out the list to learn what a spiritual gift is.
- Ask Christian friends what spiritual gifts they see in you. Listen carefully to what they say. Try to build on what you hear.
- Look at what you are passionate about . . . that is likely where your gift lies.
- Look at the opportunities that come your way. The Lord will open doors where he wants you to work.
God doesn’t want you to sit on the bench, He wants you in the game! He wants you to contribute. He wants you to leave a legacy that will remain long after you have moved on to be with the Lord.
You can’t develop spiritual gifts unless you USE them. We grow in our area of giftedness. So, learn from others. Take a class. Experiment as you go. One thing is sure: no one is going to develop their spiritual gifts by simply admiring those gifts. So whether your gift is speaking, serving, sharing your faith with others, counseling with hurting people, caring for the sick, or writing symphonies . . . use what you have been given!
Paul told Timothy to use his gift boldly and passionately. He told him not to fear. Those words are easier to say that to obey. Let’s face the fact that there will be opposition to our desire to live for the Lord. If you try to “stick to your guns” about what is important today (by God’s eternal perspective on what is important) you will face some criticism. Some of it may come from your own children!
We live in a world that is all about “living for the moment”. There is little to no sense of eternity. To boldly serve the Lord is going to rock the boat. People don’t like when others rock the boat.
Paul adds a caveat: we should be passionate but with love and self-control. Perhaps you have seen people who were extremely passionate (they come across angry or combative) and they beat people up with their passion. Such people are not productive for the gospel. They alienate rather than invite. Paul urged Timothy to exercise his gifts in a balanced way.
The bottom line is that if you want to leave a godly legacy you had better start working on it. The best way to start is to remain as close to the Lord as you can. To do this you will need to focus. You may need to eliminate or at least moderate some of the other things you do. It’s a little like losing weight. I am finding that the mere desire to lose weight isn’t going to make it happen. I actually have to make better choices on what I eat and deliberately work at being active.
It is the same with serving the Lord. You can talk about it all you want but to succeed you will need to cut out the things that stand in the way and develop some disciplines that will cater to growth and effective service before the Lord.
Let me conclude with some questions. First, if you died today what kind of legacy would you leave? If your family sat down with Rick or me to talk about you would they even think to talk about your faith? And if they did talk about it, what would they say? And if they followed your path would they end up closer to the Lord or further away?
Second, what changes do you need to make to leave the kind of legacy you want to leave? You are standing on the shoulders of the faithful people who went before you. Think about why it is that these people impacted you. Then boldly and passionately pursue the things of God with love and self-control. Dare to make the kinds of changes that need to be made. Be prepared for pushback from others but remain focused on the big picture.
Third, who can you lead to Jesus or mentor in the faith? There are likely people already in your life that you have never thought about talking to about the Lord. Maybe it is time to take steps to make an eternal difference in the lives of the people around you. There are more people in need of a clear presentation of the gospel now than ever before. Many of those people think they are Christians because they went to church as children. They do not truly understand the good news that Jesus has made us new and wants to lead us in a new direction. Others are in need of someone to help them develop as followers of Christ.
The point to take away today is this: the greatest legacy you can leave is people who can carry on the work of the Kingdom of God. In the weeks ahead we are going to try to learn how to passionately live lives that make a difference in the lives of those around us . . . an eternal difference.