What Do I Tell My Kids?

  • Steve Hatter
Man sitting on pile of chopped wood with a Bible in his hand

I have been greatly blessed with a close family and we have drawn closer under the pressures of national crisis. Probably like many families, we have had a lot of serious conversations of late about how to remain strong in our faith under the pressures of political strife and the uncertainty of the pandemic. I have thought a lot lately about what wisdom I can pass on to my adult children as we all navigate this unanticipated season of stress together. Of course, the Bible never disappoints when I look there for answers and the wonderful letter of advice from Paul to Timothy documented in Second Timothy seems perfectly suited to answer the crisis time question, “what do I tell my kids?”

Second Timothy was the last letter written by Paul. He wrote the epistle from prison in Rome to his protégé, Timothy (1:8; 2:9). Paul anticipated martyrdom (4:6) and thus sought a last communication with Timothy who remained in Ephesus (4:19), dealing with the false teaching Paul had addressed in his first letter to Timothy (2:17, 18; 3:1–8). Paul’s purposes for writing were both personal and pastoral. He hoped to see Timothy one last time (4:9, 21) and he appealed for that reunion. Pastorally, and given impending execution, Paul offered instruction and encouragement to Timothy as a final charge. His encouragement was both sobering and motivating. The specifics of Paul’s charge to Timothy were these: to remain steadfast in suffering (1:6–2:13) and to persevere in teaching truth (2:14–4:8).

Remain Steadfast in Suffering (1:6–2:13)

Within the context of adverse temporal circumstances, Paul sought to build Timothy up for continuing in the difficult mission of Gospel ministry. Paul appealed to Timothy for a Spirit-given boldness that would endure suffering, exhorting his protégé to “fan into flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a Spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (1:6, 7). Paul encouraged Timothy to remain steadfast in the high calling of the Gospel of Christ by eschewing the temptation to feel shame, by sharing in the suffering expected in ministry, and by always remembering the power of the cross that “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light” (1:11). In keeping with his closing exhortation in first Timothy, Paul entreated Timothy to lead in terms of an eternal perspective: “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (1:14).

Next, Paul offered Timothy reinforcing martial, athletic, and farming analogies in his exhortations to “be strengthened” (2:1). Paul asked him to “share in the suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus,” to “compete according to the rules” of sporting competition, and “to consider the “hard-working farmer who ought to have first share of the crops” (2:1–7). In light of these contextual examples of earthly steadfastness, Timothy was to trust in the higher power of God for provision, always remembering the risen Christ for which Paul was suffering on his own accord (2:8–13).

Persevere in Teaching Truth (2:14–4:8)

With an appeal to personal steadfastness laid down, Paul shifted focus to instructions regarding Timothy’s public service. Paul encouraged him to stay on the high ground of truth in conversation and speech: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2:15). Paul well knew that sound doctrine led to godly living among the church family, in direct contrast to “irreverent babble” that led “people into more and more ungodliness” (2:16). Such talk emanating from the false teachers, Paul asserted, “spread like gangrene” “upsetting the faith of some” (2:17, 18). These warnings in place, Paul reminded Timothy of the “firm foundation” upon which he could pastor his flock: “The Lord knows those who are His” (2:19).

Paul next drew distinctions between what is honorable and dishonorable. He described maturity in Christ as fleeing “youthful passions” to pursue “righteousness, faith, love, and peace along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” He drew clear lines for Timothy to “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies” (2:22, 23). Instead, Paul instructed, “as the Lord’s servant,” Timothy was to “not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness,” such that “God may grant them repentance,” “that they may come to their senses” (2:24–26).

Considering these distinctions, Paul asserted Timothy’s mightiest weapon in the battle for truth was Holy Scripture (3:1–4:5). Warning of increasing godlessness in the last days (3:1–9) Paul pointed to “the sacred writings” “able to make” hearers “wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (3:15). Timothy was to remember “all Scripture is breathed out by God.” As such, he could “preach the word” “in season and out of season” with power and confidence. In summary, Paul’s “hand-off” to Timothy was simple: suffer honorably and preach God’s Word.

So, what do I tell my kids? Suffer honorably, share what you know to be true, and fear not.