Erma Bombeck Was Right
2 Timothy 1:1-7
Dr. Jim Denison
Erma Bombeck was above all a mother. Here’s how she describes Mother’s Day breakfast in her home: “A mixer whirs, out of control, then stops abruptly as a voice cries, ‘I’m telling.’ A dog barks and another voice says, ‘Get his paws out of there. Mom has to eat that!’ Minutes pass and finally, ‘Dad! Where’s the chili sauce?’ Then, ‘Don’t you dare bleed on Mom’s breakfast!’ The rest is a blur of banging doors, running water, rapid footsteps and a high pitched, ‘YOU started the fire! YOU put it out!'” And breakfast arrives.
“Later in the day, after you have decided it’s easier to move to a new house than clean the kitchen, you return to your bed where, if you’re wise, you’ll reflect on this day. For the first time, your children have given instead of received. They have offered up to you the sincerest form of flattery: trying to emulate what you do for them.”
Erma is exactly right—your children will emulate you. Though bleeding on Mom’s breakfast is not the image I hope you remember from this message.
Tony Campolo’s homemaker wife was attending a faculty gathering at the University of Pennsylvania with her professor husband. A sociologist confronted her with the question, “And what is that you do, my dear?” Here’s her reply: “I am socializing two homo sapiens in the dominant values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order that they might be instruments for the transformation of the social order into the teleologically prescribed utopia inherent in the eschaton.” Wow.
That’s what mothers do—they “socialize homo sapiens.” Not just intellectually or emotionally or physically, but spiritually. It’s this latter role which I want us to explore for a few minutes today. Here’s my one point: every Timothy has a Eunice, and probably a Lois. Let me show you what that sentence means, and why it matters enormously to your life and mine.
Where Timothy got his name
Timothy was the son Paul never had. He partnered with the apostle through most of his second missionary journey and all of his third. He traveled as Paul’s representative to Thessalonica, to Corinth, and to Philippi. He was at Paul’s side during his imprisonment in the Roman dungeon. After the apostle’s release he became pastor in Ephesus, the largest church in all of Christendom. He returned to Paul’s side as he faced execution by Nero (2 Timothy 4:9).
Listen to the various ways the apostle describes the young man: his “beloved and faithful child” (1 Corinthians 4:17), “my fellow worker” (Romans 16:21), “God’s fellow worker” (1 Thessalonians 3:2), “faithful in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:17), “brother (2 Corinthians 1:1), “my son” (1 Timothy 1:18).
In Philippians 2 the greatest of all apostles pays young Timothy the supreme compliment: “I have no one else like him” (v. 20). He adds, “Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel” (v. 22).
Sort of makes your resume and mine pale by comparison, doesn’t it?
His name means “one who honors God.” How did he grow into it? Let me assure you, it wasn’t easy.
Timothy grew up in Lystra, a Gentile country town in the central region of modern-day Turkey. His father was a Greek, a Gentile and a pagan; his mother Eunice was a Jewess (Acts 16:1). And so theirs was a mixed marriage, both racially and religiously. This marriage was illegal in her religion, and disparaged in his.
Timothy was technically a Jew, as the son of a Jewish mother. But his Gentile father forbade his circumcision and thus kept him from entrance into this faith tradition.
By the time Paul met the young man, during his second missionary journey, Timothy’s father was most likely dead and his mother a widow. He is a young man with no financial support and no faith community, the son of parents despised by their culture and shunned by their society.
And things hadn’t gone well for Paul in Timothy’s hometown, either. During his first visit to Lystra three years earlier, the pagan populace tried to worship him as a Greek god. Then some of Paul’s Jewish opponents showed up “and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead” (Acts 14:19). But Paul “got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe” (v. 20). No wonder.
Just the sort of career every young man wants to emulate, wasn’t it? Imagine yourself in Lystra twenty centuries ago. You know Timothy and his shunned family. You were eyewitness to Paul’s earlier travails in your city. Now you watch them meet for the first time. Could you have guessed that this despised young man and that persecuted preacher would change the world together?
How did it happen? Paul tells us the secret to Timothy’s soul: “I have been 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” (2 Timothy 1:5).
His faith is “sincere,” a word which means “without hypocrisy.” A “hypocrite” was technically a Greek stage actor who played many roles, wearing different masks to hide his true identities. Some of us never take ours off, but Timothy never put his on.
This faith “first lived” in his grandmother and mother. The Greek syntax means that it was theirs before it was his. They most likely were won to Christ by Paul during the brief days he spent in their city three years earlier.
And this faith “lived” in them—Jesus moved into their lives, took up residence in their souls, and could be seen at all hours of the day or night. He looked out their windows, built on rooms of spiritual growth, mowed down weeds of sin and neglect, greeted the neighbors, and generally ran the place. He was their Owner, their Landlord, their Master.