Passing on the Torch
31 Jan 2009, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
PASSING ON THE TORCH
This morning I want to introduce to you two young men of faith who lived approximately 2000 years ago in the first century AD just as the infant church was beginning to be established. It was not easy in this original period of Christianity for anyone to call Jesus 'Lord' when such a commitment could lead, not only to public ridicule, but also to physical danger.
Nevertheless, in spite of the risks on all sides, these two young men were able to provide the necessary human support to an aging apostle by the name of Paul as he continued to plant the seeds of the Christian faith across two continents.
Paul was seen by many as Christianity's greatest man of faith and therefore it was important to him as he came to the end of his life to be confident that this same flickering lamp would continue to burn brightly in the lives of second generation Christians. Fortunately, he was to evidence this in the lives of his two young colleagues who were later to prove that a genuine faith could bridge the generation gap and keep the meaning of Christianity alive even as its pioneers were beginning to die.
Since sin entered the human family, faith has not been a natural human trait. As sinners, we all tend to be self-centred and strongly determined to make ourselves the Lord of our own lives. Faith, however, is both the opposite of sin and self-centeredness. It needs to be recognised that when a person of faith makes Jesus the Lord of his life, he gladly places his thoughts, feelings and desires under the will of his Lord. He lets God do for him what he could never do for himself. He listens carefully for daily instructions and says yes to whatever God wants him to do. He knows that his Lord and master desires only the best for him and in that knowledge finds not only peace, but an inner strength to meet life's problems, and a restful look into the future.
This relationship has often been described as one of trust and confidence. As such, a man of faith cheerfully obeys God, because he trusts God. A man of faith is also a man of action because faith always leads the believer to be concerned about living a life as Jesus would live.
As such, Christianity is more than a mental belief in unique theological doctrines. Christianity is a new way of life that has been made possible by the personal intervention of God himself into the affairs of men and women.
When Jesus moved around Palestine during his earthly ministry, he met relatively few people and only a few actually discovered that He was worth trusting and obeying.
However, those who made this discovery were eager and enthusiastic in passing this good news on to all they came in contact with. Though Jesus was no longer on the earth, His story was to leap from continent to continent. It is important to note that the credibility of the good news was not primarily found in the strange message His followers were proclaiming, but it was seen in their own personal witness of what this message had done for them in their lives.
This life-changing experience was to inevitably force a response from a pagan world.
Just as Jesus predicted, their lives of love were to become a rebuke to those who had settled into the way of self-indulgence. Alienation, ridicule and finally physical harm were to become the common lot of Christians in this early New Testament period.
The records would ultimately show that new believers survived this treatment as a result of their faith and trust recognising that the Lord's presence was always near to provide the strength they needed as they bore the many hardships thrust upon them.
As we open the Scriptures, we see this faith being experienced in the lives of two young Christian men by the name of Timothy and Titus.
Of Timothy Paul says in 1 Timothy 1: 5: 'I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and [then in] your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you.' Of Titus he could say in Titus 1: 4 '…mine own son, after the common faith.'
What do these verses tell us about these two young men and how did they first meet the apostle Paul?
In reference to the young man called Timothy the book of Acts 14: 19, 20 (RSV) and Acts 16: 1a (RSV) aptly describe the circumstances leading to his initial contact with this man of God.
It says that the '… Jews came there [to Lystra] from Antioch and Iconium; and having persuaded the people, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city; and on the next day he went with Barnabas to Derbe.'
Acts 16: 1a (NIV) later says that 'He came to Derbe and then to Lystra where a disciple named Timothy lived…' Lystra was found in the province of Galatia not far from Konya in present day Turkey.
It is quite probable that the stoning of Paul in this city took place when Timothy was just a teenager and the impression of this event was never to be forgotten. You could just imagine this terrible scene as young Timothy took his position beside the bruised and lacerated body of his spiritual hero. You could just imagine him following this continuing spectacle as Paul is dragged through the streets and left for dead outside the city limits. You could also imagine the impact that Paul's miraculous recovery had on his impressionable mind as he saw him rise up and enter the city.
It was this miracle along with Paul's forgiving spirit that was to give authenticity to the amazing message he had just been proclaiming. Along with the miraculous healing of the crippled man that had taken place prior to this terrible experience, these events were now to become a testament of his credibility as a man of God and a man of faith.
We need to understand that the three years between Paul's first and second visits to this city, were to see the Christian faith becoming a personal experience for Timothy. He had come to know the Lord in a very real way.
It should also be recognised that Paul had left no New Testament book for him to read, for as yet none had been written. Therefore, it is clear that Timothy's faith was only based on the Old Testament writings and the personal witness of an itinerant preacher- a preacher who had taught that God had become man in Jesus Christ, and that he was now alive forevermore to restore power and dignity to all men through His Holy Spirit.
Timothy's faith was not the result of philosophical logic or scientific evidence, but through hearing the voice of God through Paul's witness of faith.
However, there were other factors at work in his life. It is here that we see the impact that family were to have on his life. From a small child he was given the opportunity to come to know the Scriptures.
Acts 16: 1b and 2 Timothy 1: 5 (RSV) share some of these insights into his small world.
While Acts 16: 1b tells us that 'A disciple was there [in Lystra], named Timothy…' it also tells us that he was '…the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, …[while] his father was a Greek.'
As such, Timothy was to grow up in a spiritually divided home and we are not told whether his father ever became a Christian. Unfortunately, this estranged situation was often to be found in the early Church and was to become a tension point in these homes because, in the ancient world, a man was the absolute master of his household. This cultural situation would suggest that there could not be real peace in Timothy's family as long as his mother worshipped the crucified Jesus of the Jews. Through Greek eyes, his father would have seen this whole story as just plain foolishness.
However, Timothy's experience as outlined in the Scriptures gives hope and courage for those who find themselves in similar circumstances that are shown to be less than ideal.
2 Timothy 1: 5 makes it clear that his sincere faith did not come by accident because Paul says it was '…a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you.'
These verses would strongly suggest that these godly women were ultimately responsible for passing on the torch of faith to this impressionable young man. From a child Timothy had known the Scriptures. The devotion he was to see in his home life was both sound and sensible. The faith of his mother and grandmother was to be a constant reminder of the blessings that were to be found in doing God's will. The spiritual power of the daily lessons he received from them was to see him remain pure in his speech and unspoiled by the corrupt influences with which he was surrounded. Both these women had cooperated with God in preparing young Timothy for the burdens he was to face throughout his life (White, 1911: 203).
How was Timothy received in the local community of which he was a part?
Well, it seems that Timothy's reputation in the local community was well known as we read in Acts 16: 2 that 'He was well spoken of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium.'
On Paul's second visit to Lystra he was to be encouraged, not only by the growth of the church, but especially with the development of Timothy in his Christian walk. It is important to note that Timothy was not seen as one who had special outstanding talents, but his work had become valuable because he used all that he had in the Master's service. It was his witness of experimental piety that was to distinguish him from other believers and gave him the influence that was necessary in his mission (White, 1911: 205).
Paul deeply believed that young people were needed to carry on the work of the church. However, to do this effectively, they not only needed to be experienced in the faith, but they were to be respected by their peers and the older members of the community. They needed to appreciate the sacredness of the work of a minister and be prepared to recognise that suffering and persecution would inevitably come. They also needed to show a willingness to be taught so as to allow the Holy Spirit to dwell within (Nichol, Vol 7 1957: 915).
Such a young man Paul was now to find in Timothy.
While he was seen to be an untried youth, little more than a boy, Paul, in his instructions to him, made it clear in 1 Timothy 4: 12 to 'Let no one despise your youth, but [you] set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.'
Timothy, while only a mere lad, was chosen by Paul because his principles were seen to be firmly fixed as a result of the correct education given by his mother and grandmother. This solid foundation was to fit him for these important responsibilities and it was these responsibilities that he was to bare with Christlike humility and meekness (Ibid).
As Timothy was to plunge into the very demanding life that Paul's schedule of duties called for, 1 Tim 5: 23 suggests that 'frequent illnesses' were to become a problem to him. Paul, in commenting on this issue, knew that there was a need for Timothy to place a high priority on his health otherwise he would soon become useless as a leader. Paul knew that moral and mental alertness were to be largely dependant upon a healthy body. This matter of health became paramount as Timothy was now called upon to deal with the many stressful issues found in the churches of his day.
Even in the first century church Paul was to warn Timothy against false teachings similar to what the church faces today. This problem was particularly of major concern in the Church at Ephesus. Paul, seven years before, had warned that grievous wolves would ravage the flock in this pagan city and they were now there in full force presenting Timothy with his worst problem yet (Mears, 1983: 536). Acts 20: 29-30 makes this clear and adds that 'Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.'
Paul's charge to Timothy was to include more than soundness in doctrine. It was to include soundness in life. Paul realized that people could believe the word of God completely and yet live a life far from its truth.
In this letter to Timothy Paul makes it clear that the best way of fighting error is with a life that measures up to the standards set down in the Scriptures. We need to recognise that we may be the only Bibles others will ever read. Christians have to live better than those around them if their testimony is to count. It would seem that we either commend Christ to others by our lives, or we drive them away (Ibid).
As such, Paul wanted Timothy to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ and to live a life that would vindicate the truth he preaches. He tells him in 1Tim 6: 12 to fight the good fight of faith and it is this fight that is found in Christ's appeal to every man and woman. The Christian life is not a thing to be entered into lightly. There is no guarantee that we will be carried into heaven on flowery beds of ease so we must learn to fight if we are to be conquerors. We also need to be reminded that we will not fight very hard for a truth that we do not live. However, we are reminded in this verse that this is a 'good fight' (Ibid).
Well, what about Titus, Paul's other son in the faith?
Little is known of Titus. While he is not mentioned in the book of Acts, references to him in Paul's letters indicate that he had found a remarkable young man who could be trusted and, as such, he was to become part of Paul's inner circle. His dependability, reliability, diligence and capacity for human affection had already been tested and had proved effective in calming more than one desperate situation found in those early church communities
(2 Cor 7: 6, 13-15; 8: 17).
Titus was a Gentile of Greek parentage who was converted to Christianity during the early years of the apostle Paul's ministry. That his conversion was genuine is not in doubt as Paul in Titus 1: 4 writes 'To Titus, mine own son after the common faith.'
As a Greek, Titus was made a test case when sent to Jerusalem to clarify the position of non-Jewish converts (Gal 2: 1-4). He was then given the difficult task of settling the differences that had arisen in Corinth (Alexander, 1999: 737). This was to be one of the most sensitive missions ever to be undertaken in the Christian church. Despite Timothy's previous work with this group, the Christian community in this influential port city was in great danger of destroying itself and bringing doubt into the minds of many regarding the genuine effectiveness of the gospel. Pride, idolatry, and sensualism were steadily increasing among those who had once been so zealous in the Christian life (White, 1911: 300, 301).
Paul's worst fears were to be met with relief and joy as Titus later shares the good news that the Church in Corinth had repented. Titus had shown that he was the man for the hour (Lockyer, 1986: 1058). The positive relationship he had built with the church was no small tribute to his tact and strength of character (Alexander, 1999: 737). This remarkable incident shows him as a bridge builder committed to building up the faith of those he was to serve. If it had not been for his own strong faith, the situation at Corinth could have been a complete and unmitigated disaster.
His next assignment was to the island of Crete, probably one of the first places to hear the Christian gospel. Acts 2: 11 tells us that there were Jews from Crete in the crowd that listened to Peter on the day of Pentecost, but the message was to fall on rough ground. The Cretans were described by Paul in Titus 1: 12 as evil brutes, gluttons and liars and this lying was so habitual that even the Greeks themselves were to make note of it by coining a new word which, in their language, was 'to Cretize' (Ibid). The proverb coined by a Cretan writer in the 6th century BC that 'All Cretans are liars' shows the basic stereotyping that was to be common in the ancient world (Ibid).
Even the Christians on Crete were described by Paul as an unruly, hot-headed, volatile bunch that needed some firm handling. Titus was sent to strengthen the church by teaching sound doctrine leading to good works and appointing elders in every city. Titus was seen as a man for tough tasks and because of his work on the island is remembered in Church tradition as the first bishop of Crete.
The last mention of Titus is to be found in 1 Timothy 4: 10 as he furthered the Christian cause in Dalmatia which we know today as the former Yugoslavia.
In young Timothy and Titus we find a pattern of faith that all, young and old, could safely emulate today. Passing on this torch of faith through our lives becomes a responsibility we all share as Christians in a world that from generation to generation is in desperate need of hearing the Good News of salvation.
A modern day example of this type of faith can be found in the life of one young man who was born into the turbulent world of the twentieth century.
Eric Henry Liddell, later to become known as 'The Flying Scotsman' was born to missionary parents on the 16th January 1902 in the city of Tientsin in North China. This was not long after the Boxer Rebellion of 1898-1900. The Boxers, a bizarre secret society that blamed all China's problems on the foreigner had led a campaign of terror against the 'foreign devils'. This resulted in the slaughter of some 200 missionaries and between 20 and 30 thousand Chinese converts. This was to be the unstable world into which young Eric was born.
His parents were Scottish missionaries with the London Missionary Society and this meant that, while in China, his first five years of life were to be spent in the mission compound in Tientsin (Tianjin). It was during this early period that the faith of his parents was conveyed to him as he was consistently taught the Scriptures and as he watched them work with the Chinese people in this community. His education was to be further continued, along with his brother, after the family sent them both to Eltham College, a boarding school in London for missionary children. He was six years of age.
While it was here that Eric became an outstanding sportsman, he never forgot the values and Christian principles taught to him by his parents in that early period of his life. While at Eltham College he became recognised as the fastest runner in all of Scotland showing his potential for winning Olympic Gold. However, while sport had become an important part of his life, he never lost his vision of returning to the place of his birth to continue the work commenced by his parents in Tientsin.
Even before joining his brother at Edinburgh University in 1920 he had in mind that he would study science so that he could eventually return to China and teach in an area that he knew was greatly needed. He achieved this goal when he finally graduated in 1924 with a BSc degree.
Most of us know his story as portrayed in Hollywood's 1981 release of the film 'Chariot's of Fire' where we see him standing up for principle by refusing to run on his Sabbath. This almost cost him Olympic Gold at the Paris Olympics held in 1924. However, for Eric, this was not the ultimate race. He saw his whole life as a race, but it was a race that would eventually take him to God's kingdom.
Two years later he returned to northern China where he served as a missionary from 1925-1943. This is the part of his life that was never portrayed by any Hollywood film. It was here that he served as a teacher in an Anglo-Chinese College that was set up for children of wealthy families. He believed that by teaching these children from a Christian worldview that they would later become influential in promoting those same values and ideals.
In 1934 he married Florence Mackenzie, the daughter of Canadian missionaries and had three daughters, the last of whom he would never live to see. In 1941 with the onset of war his family returned to Canada while he joined with his brother, a medical doctor, in Shaochang.
With China now at war with Japan, all foreign nationals were rounded up by the Japanese and held at Weihsien Internment Camp. It was in this place that Eric was to show something of Jesus' life as he selflessly worked with the sick and elderly, taught Bible classes and science to the children and organised food medicines and other supplies so that as many as possible could benefit.
While approved for release as part of Winston Churchill's prisoner exchange program, he unsurprisingly gave his place in the queue to a pregnant woman. Overworked, malnourished and suffering both from typhoid and an inoperable brain tumour, Eric Henry Liddell died February 21, 1945, only five months before liberation.
The entire camp, especially the young, grieved for many days showing the great vacuum that he was to leave behind and all of Scotland mourned his passing. This Olympic medallist had lived and died for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Though not all Christians are called to foreign missions, we are all called by God to share and pass on the torch of faith with our families and with those who yet to know Him
Author Ellen White says that: 'Christ has given to the Church a sacred charge. Every member should be a channel through which God can communicate to the world the treasure of His grace, the unsearchable riches of Christ. There is nothing that the Saviour desires so much as agents who will represent to the world His Spirit and His character. There is nothing that the world needs so much as the manifestation through humanity of the Saviour's love. All heaven is waiting for men and women through whom God can reveal the power of Christianity (White, 1911: 600).
My prayer for each and everyone this morning is that we will take up the challenge of passing on the torch of faith through our lives to those around us and to enable the next generations to capture this spirit until He comes.
Alexander, P & D (eds) (1999) The New Lion Handbook to the Bible. Oxford, England: Lion Publishing plc.
Lockyer, Sr H. (ed) (1986) Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Nichol, F. D. (1957) Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol 7. Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association.
Mears, H. C. (1983) What the Bible is all About. Ventura, California: Regal Books
White, E. G. (1911) The Acts of the Apostles. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
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