Keep Your Baby Head

22 07 2009

Keep Your Baby Head (click to view/download originally published pdf)

2 Timothy 3:11

10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

4 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

Usually, if someone among us is getting tired and giving up, it’s one of the babies. Usually if someone is wimping out when the going gets tough, you would expect it to be the baby. Usually if something is difficult to understand and deal with, it’s the babies among us more than any others that, you would expect, will be the ones who won’t understand it and won’t deal with it. Baby’s just aren’t that strong or smart. They are, well, babies.

On the other hand, babies don’t drown their sorrows in drunkenness. Babies don’t plot to destroy their friends because they feel betrayed. Babies can even grow through many stages and levels of sophistication without deciding in bitterness or apathy that God is a myth and religion a sham. They are, well, babies.

When it comes to spiritual lessons, babies seem to have more to teach us than the “mature” and “sophisticated” people of the world. And even when Paul is talking about the very “grown up” and “mature” lesson of enduring persecutions for Christ, he brings lessons from infancy to bear: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

Basically he’s saying to Keep Your Baby Head Under Fire. You don’t have to wish for some fancier knowledge, and God forbid that you should start applying adult-style cynicism to work God promises to bless. Keep your “Baby Head” about you, and build on that foundation of unquestioning trust in God’s Word.

You may be tempted to question Paul on that because it sounds a bit immature, but don’t bother. He was an expert in dealing with some very adult problems in his Christian journey. Yet he still pointed Timothy back to the faith of his infancy. Mockery, arrest, torture, stoning, shipwreck—for Paul these were all very present realities. Persecution was such a present reality for Paul that he said, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

For Timothy, he mentions his experience in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra specifically. Why? Was the persecution worse than in other places? Not especially. However, Timothy grew up in Lystra, and these were the persecutions that would have been the most present reality for him. These were the ones he would have been familiar with before he decided to serve with Paul.

Paul is emphasizing something about Timothy. Timothy had, like a child, wholeheartedly accepted and followed Paul’s ministry, despite the kind of persecution that would have left most adults standing on the sidelines running risk assessments.

What Paul had been talking about before our text was how many smart and clever and “mature” people had abandoned the true faith because of the trouble and persecution that comes with it. And things were only going to get worse: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.” Sounds rather like the teachers of today, doesn’t it?

But Paul’s point was that Timothy was different. “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured.” Timothy knew about all these things very well. He not only followed Paul’s teaching closely in an adult, analytical way. He threw himself headlong into the whole lifestyle of Paul like a reckless kid!

But we should be clear that it wasn’t stupidity or naivete that led Timothy to plunge headlong into the fray with Paul. It was rather a child-like faith that trusted God implicitly to bring all of this dangerous and difficult service to a blessed end. Timothy understood and shared the perspective on persecution that Paul had: “Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Together, Paul and Timothy understood that leading a godly life comes with heavy fire. That’s just the way it is, and they knew it. Yet they were okay with it. They didn’t let it stop them. And why? It was because they kept their baby heads, their child-like faith, under fire. Rather than considering present “realities” and dangers, their minds would swim like Sunday School children in the heady stories of God’s miraculous interventions, in his control over kingdoms and empires, his mastery over disaster and disease.
I can’t stress enough how important that is. Despite the fact that they weren’t in reality naive about the trouble and persecution they would endure for running headlong into missions of faith, they still ran in as though they were naive, like they were reckless little kids! That’s the “baby head” at work.

And how did they do it? What was their secret? Basically, Sunday School lessons! “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

You see? Even the most basic stuff in Scripture–child-like stuff, “baby head” stuff–it all functions on the same central theme which gives you the courage to follow Paul and other heroes of faith in the same confident and reckless fashion in which Timothy followed him: “The Lord Saves.” “Yet the Lord rescued me [literally, ‘saved me’],” said Paul, “from all of them.” Noah in the ark, the Israelites passing through the Red Sea, Daniel in the lions’ den—The Lord Saves. Call that baby stuff, if you will, but then embrace those stories and imbibe them all the more!

You know, I read this. I studied this. I wrote a sermon about it. It all seemed so simple, so easy. Child’s play, really. Then it hit me: If this is so easy, why does it look so little like us? Why do we who have so much more of the Word of God available to us than these men ever did struggle to know and understand even the basic stories that Paul and Timothy knew so well? And is the fearlessness in the face of mockery and persecution that they considered to be kids’ stuff so difficult for us to come by?

The two questions are related. We are not fearless because we have tended toward heeding to the temptation to treat Sunday School stories as the only thing we really needed to know. And, ironically, pretty soon after that we end up not even knowing them very well and, guess what. When we give up on the study of that “baby head” stuff, we give up on the source of Paul and Timothy’s “baby head” faith. And with that, we lose their calm and collected “baby head” under fire, leading us to shy away from our holy call in general. We end up trying to find our happiness in the same forms of entertainment the world does and not wanting to run the risk of enjoying that fun under persecution.

We must repent, brothers and sisters. We need to repent and trust in the good news of our forgiveness and salvation with child-like faith. The Lord is here again with his holy call: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” People will less and less put up with sound doctrine, he says, “But you, keep your head in all situation, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

The work of an evangelist starts with understanding the good news yourself. You are forgiven. You are restored to this holy call and this holy service. Don’t shrink back because of what the reaction might be. Keep your reckless, excited “baby head” about you, pursuing your call with child-like faith and rejoicing in the salvation and blessing that the Lord provides. Amen.

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