The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, October 10, 2010.  The text for this week’s message comes from 2 Timothy 2:8-15.

As we continue in 2 Timothy today, we come across a concept that is very important for us as followers of Jesus Christ. I think by this point in life, every person here has had some kind of disagreement. Disagreements aren’t always a bad thing, and we need to be able to handle them in a manner that reflects the love of Christ. What we see as we approach this passage today is that there were some disagreements going on in the church where Timothy was serving. What we also see is how Paul tells Timothy to handle these disagreements, and what we walk away with is a better idea of what needs to be done in such instances.

In verse 14, where Paul really addresses this issue head-on, he writes, “Remind them of these things.” If we want to be good students of Scripture, then something we need to learn to ask is, “Why?” Why does Paul say what he says here? Remind who of what things? What is he telling Timothy to do? To get an idea of what he is talking about, we actually have to go a little further back in the letter.

In 2 Timothy 1:15-18, Paul mentions three people. Two of them turned away from him, while a third sought him out while he was imprisoned in Rome. Apparently, some took issue with Paul being in prison, and they used as an opportunity to walk away from him. They deserted him. Certainly, they weren’t the only ones. These are people who could have supported Paul in this difficult time, but instead choose to go their own way.

This appears to have caused some dissention in the church. There were some who turned their backs on Paul, but there were also some who were there to help him in the midst of his suffering and imprisonment. Paul goes on to talk about how Timothy and other followers of Jesus should remember the example that was set by Jesus Christ.

He begins chapter 2 by telling Timothy to be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ, and to continue in his task to teach the message of the gospel to others. Instead of running away when things get tough, Paul encourages Timothy to share in the sufferings as a soldier in Christ Jesus. Don’t lose focus, don’t turn away when things get difficult, but press on. Move forward knowing that what he is doing is right. Then we get to today’s reading.

Paul tells Timothy to remember Jesus Christ who rose from the dead. What he is doing here is not only reminding Timothy of the sufferings of Christ, but also of the ultimate victory that is in Christ. We know the story of Easter. Even those who never attend worship know the claims of Christians that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Unfortunately, we miss the rest of the story.

The way our calendar is set up, we have Palm Sunday, which is a celebration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and then the next Sunday, we have Easter, which is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Monday through Saturday of that week, we often get caught up in our typical week, and we don’t get as many opportunities to look at the story of Jesus’ suffering and death.

When Paul tells Timothy to remember Jesus Christ who rose from the dead, Timothy would remember why it is that Jesus rose from the dead. There is no resurrection without death. To remind Timothy of the resurrection is to remind him of the need for resurrection. The same is true for us.

When we talk about the risen Christ, we need to remember that to be raised necessitates a burial. We cannot forget about the sufferings of Christ. And what Paul is doing is reminding Timothy and the congregation that suffering is not new to the Christian faith. In fact, that’s how it was founded. People were abandoning Paul because of his suffering and imprisonment, and he points to the example of Jesus to remind them that, at times, suffering is a part of the faith.

Notice what he says in verses 8-9. He says that his suffering comes from preaching the gospel. It is for the sake of the gospel that Paul is in chains as though he were some kind of criminal. But in spite of his chains, Paul recognizes that the word of God is not bound.

The word of God is too powerful to be bound up by chains. As you look through the history of the Christian faith, you’ll see that often when the church is persecuted, it thrives. In the first century, the Church grew exponentially, even though there were intense periods of persecution. Paul knew that fact very well. He knew it because he was one of the first to persecute the early church, and several Roman Emperors followed him in this.

Nero was getting blamed for the great fire in Rome in 64 A.D., and as a means of deflecting the blame, he started a persecution of the Christians, blaming them for the fire. Late in the first century, Domitian heavily persecuted Christians. Persecutions happened under Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Diocletian, and many other emperors until Constantine took control of the Empire. There have been numerous persecutions since the time of Constantine as well. In fact, I have heard it said that more people were killed for their faith in Christ in the 20th century than all the other centuries combined.

Suffering and persecution are a part of the Christian story. We shouldn’t expect it to be easy to be a follower of a person who was wrongfully deemed a criminal and crucified. But it should bring us a measure of strength knowing that this same person was raised from the dead and is active in this world through the work of the Holy Spirit. So when the difficult times come, it is important that we remember the sufferings of Jesus as a way to be encouraged and strengthened for the journey ahead. This is what Paul wants Timothy to remind the people.

In verse 14, Paul tells Timothy to charge the people not to “quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.” The fact that they will have to deal with persecution is not the problem here. The problem is they are caught up in insignificant issues. We can reasonably assume that these are not significant issues because Paul does not shy away from addressing significant issues when it comes to writing his letters – just read his letters to the Corinthians. That was a church with major issues that Paul addresses very heavily. These must be insignificant issues because Paul doesn’t even take the time to address them specifically. All he says is, “Don’t quarrel over words.” They are issues that have no bearing on their faith, but can end up damaging those who are caught in the middle.

Unfortunately, churches get caught up in this type of arguing over insignificant matters even today. Issues like: what color are we going to paint the sanctuary; what type of carpet are we going to put in the education wing; what style of music are we going to use doing the worship service. Fill in the blank; there are always minors that turn into majors. So, what do we do when that time comes? What do we do when people start turning minors into majors?

We look back to Paul. We have to remember the words of Paul in this passage. And, again, what does he tell Timothy to do here? He tells him to remind them of Jesus. When we remember Jesus, we remember his teachings, his life, his death and his resurrection. We remember that there is a purpose for our call. We are reminded to come back to the important issues.

There always have been differences of opinion between individuals. That is just a simple fact of life. But as followers of Christ, we have to be willing to set the example of how to deal with those differences. By focusing on the larger, more important issues.

In his sermon “On a Catholic Spirit,” John Wesley reflects on the question that Jehu asks Jehonadab in 2 Kings 10:15, “Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?” Where are people’s hearts in the matter? What are the bigger issues of which we need to be mindful?

In John 13, we read these words. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus is telling his disciples that the world will come to know them as his followers if they merely love one another.

When we have differences with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to intentionally decide to love that person. We do so not because we want to appear like we are above the petty things that people argue about in this world, but because the love of Christ reigns in our hearts. We can’t help but love one another when the love of Christ overflows from within us, and it is that love that helps us move past the minor things in this life that get us caught up and distracted from our more important tasks.

As a congregation, we have an important call that cannot be undermined by minor issues. We have a call to reach others with the good news of Jesus Christ. We have been entrusted to share the Word of God with a world that is in desperate need of salvation. We must do exactly what Paul says here. We must remember Jesus Christ who has been raised from the dead. In doing so, we refocus ourselves on the most important objectives that he has laid before us.

Is there someone with whom you have a disagreement concerning issues that are not central to the faith? Are there issues between you and another person that prevents the two of you from being focused on the goal of reaching others with the message of Jesus Christ? If so, are they majors or are they minors?

If they are indeed majors, then we need to approach those issues with the love of Christ and look for ways to settle them. If people are unable to experience Christ through your life because of these issues, then they need to be dealt with right away. If they are minors, then we need to address the issue, keeping in mind our call to reach others with the message of Jesus Christ.

We will never be able to agree on everything; that’s part of the human condition, but we do need to make sure we put things in the proper perspective. However, when we are focused on our purpose, when we are focused on the call that God has for us, we can do our best to avoid turning minors into majors.