Sunday, February 20
2 Timothy 3:1-17: Aware that these are his final days, Paul thinks likewise of the final days of the world and the widespread moral decay that will attend them. Indeed, his own ministry has been directed toward preparing the Church for the challenges of the last times.
The first sin enunciated as the sign of the last times is self-love (3:2), concerning which St. John Chrysostom comments that this is the root of all other evils. Among the latter there is especially discernible a certain coarseness and lack of sympathy, a rebellion against inherited authority (“disobedient to parents”), a general lack of control. In fact, verses 2-3 contain seven straight Greek adjectives that begin with what is called the “a- privative,” for which the English equivalent is “non-.” Thus, the sinners of the final days are described as “non-affectionate,” “non-peaceful,” “non-grateful,” and so on. These men are essentially destroyers.
For all this, such sinners “maintain a form of piety” (echontes morphosin evsebeias), though they affront the power of it (3:5). Maintaining a form of piety, however, they prey on the emotions of guilt-ridden “females” (gynekaria)(3:6). Always learning, they never come to knowledge of the truth (3:7).
Paul sees such deviants modeled in Mamnes and Mambres, the Pharaoh’s magicians who resisted Moses (3:8; cf. the Essene Damascus Document 5.17-19; Origen, Contra Celsum 4.51; In Matthaeum 23.37; 27.9).
Of all the things that he has endured through his extended ministry, Paul makes mention here only of his sufferings in the area around Lystra (3:11), the native country of Timothy himself (Acts 13:50; 14:2,9). Timothy had witnessed these afflictions and knew them to be integral to the service of the Gospel.
Monday, February 21
2 Timothy 4:1-22: This final chapter of Second Timothy is rightly regarded as Paul’s “last testimony.” Indeed, it begins with the verb “I testify” (diamartyromai, in which we perceive the word “martyr”). This chapter represents Paul’s closing instruction to the ministers of the Church represented by Timothy, because their ministry will be the instrument through which the purity of the Gospel will be handed on until the end of time. (In truth, the concerns of this epistle are identical to those in Paul’s final instructions to the presbytery of Ephesus in Acts 20:18-35. On both cases Paul presumes the existence in the Church of a select group of men entrusted with a divine commission handed on in an unbroken continuity. This continuity of ministry is what Clement of Rome, writing in the final decade of the first century, called “the apostolic succession.”)
The word must be preached, “in season and out,” at every opportunity and according to the varied needs of the hearers (4:2). Timothy is called an “evangelist,” meaning a preacher of the Good News (4:7; Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11). A real evangelist never misses an opportunity to preach.
Paul includes some final comments about certain individuals. Demas, for example, who had been with Paul at Caesarea (cf. Philemon 24; Colossians 4:14), has abandoned him, being in love with the world (4:10). Indeed, Luke does not so much as mention Demas in the Acts of the Apostles. He simply lost his place in Church History.
Luke himself is with Paul to the very end, doubtless caring for his health (4:11).
Paul requires that Timothy bring Mark, who had earlier been sent to Asia (Colossians 4:10). Mark certainly did come to Rome not long afterwards, for he wrote his version of the Gospel in that city during the Neronic persecution. To replace Mark at Ephesus, Paul has sent Tychicus (4:12). Indeed, the very “sent” here may be an “epistolary past tense,” meaning that Tychicus is the bearer of the letter. He was a man in whom Paul placed great confidence (cf. Acts 20:4; Colossians 4:7-9; Ephesians 6:21-22; Titus 3:12).
On his last trip to Troas, recorded in Acts 20:5-12, Paul had left behind some items which Timothy is requested to bring with him (4:13). It is clear that Paul valued his books and writing material. In fact, the possession of appropriate writing material—a “scrip”—is a normal presupposition of the preaching ministry.
Alexander the silversmith, though excommunicated (1 Timothy 1:20; Acts 19:3), is still causing trouble. Timothy is told to avoid him (4:14-15).
Tuesday, February 22
The Epistle to the Romans: This longest of Paul's letters was apparently written during his more leisured residence at Corinth during January to March of the year 57 (Acts 20:3). He was staying at the home of his friend Gaius (Romans 16:23), which we know was at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:14).
Paul's mind was full of plans. He was getting ready to go back to Jerusalem to deliver the money collected among the various churches on behalf of that community. He had further ideas of going west to Spain and stopping at Rome on the way. The story in Acts 20-28 shows, however, that his plans were only partially fulfilled.
Having a bit more leisure as Gaius' guest, Paul elaborates at considerable length the theme of justification by faith, which the press of the ministry had compelled him to put into just the few chapters of the Epistle to the Galatians a few years earlier. At least among western Christians, the letter to the church at Rome has arguably had more direct theological influence than any other book of the New Testament.
Paul develops his justification theme through many aspects. He begins by showing that all men, whether Jew or Gentile, are in need of God's justifying forgiveness, since no man can justify himself, all of us being sinners. He goes on to contrast the obedience of Christ, the very act that purchases our justification, with the disobedience of Adam. In some of the most moving chapters of the New Testament, he describes the hopelessness of man's plight without Christ.
He then develops his famous dialectic of history through chapters 9-11, demonstrating how God's plan of justification is worked out in all of his lordship over our history. He then spells out the working of this plan in the life of the Church.
Wednesday, February 23
Proverbs 15: This chapter contains several references to the acceptance of correction (verses 5,10,12,31,32). Among a young man’s worst enemies is his innate resistance to correction, a resistance spawned of rebellion and an independent spirit. Giving in to such a spirit generally produces three results, all of them bad: First, it strengthens a man’s spirit of rebellion. ( A rebel’s spirit is useful in the face of oppression; otherwise, it is a counterproductive trait in a man. A sustained spirit of rebellion, a spiritual chip on the shoulder, renders a man useless for any purpose.)
This leads to hardness of heart and self-absorption. Second, refusal to accept correction deprives a man of instruction about some point on which at least one other person thought he needed instruction. Third, it discourages that same person from making some attempt at correction and instruction in the future. Thus, many valuable lessons will be lost if the young man does not early recognize and deal with these inner impulses of rebellion. Following such impulses is not the path to wisdom.
A Christian reading of this theme in Proverbs should see more in the Sacred Text, not less, than a merely Jewish reading of it. Even the simplest, plainest reading of Proverbs, based on the most literal sense of the Text, shows the importance of being open to correction. The Christian reader, however, reading the Scriptures through the lens of Christ, will recognize God the Father as the True Parent who speaks in these lines.
Thus, the submission that all children owe to the discipline of their parents becomes the symbol of a greater docility that God’s children owe to their heavenly Father. That is to say, the Christian reader should see more in the meaning of Proverbs in this regard: “Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them reverence. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?” (Hebrews 12:9)
Thursday, February 24
Proverbs 16: Proverbs deals with more than human effort. This book shares, rather, the conviction of the Bible’s historians and prophets (including the author of Job) that God reigns over human history and has plans of His own with respect to human destiny (verses 1-4,9,25,33). Man is not in charge of history. The “big picture” is not man’s responsibility. Consequently, God does not let him see the big picture. God’s governance of history is unfathomable.
This is not to say, of course, that human choices count for nothing in the course of events. It means only that man should restrict his concerns to those aspects of life that he can actually do something about, and these are determined largely by the circumstances in which Divine Providence places him. Each man must do his duty, as determined by those responsibilities, leaving to God the outcome of events. Man must be content to do right “as God gives us to see the right” (Abraham Lincoln).
At the same time, God’s loyal and obedient servant takes strength from the remembrance that God holds governance over the whole historical process. Even as men struggle to remain faithful, while not seeing the larger picture of which their own efforts are but a part, faith in a ruling God offers the proper basis for a sane, holy, and rational hope. This truth has special pertinence for those charged with the rule of nations (verses 10,12-15).
Friday, February 25
Proverbs 17: Wisdom is first learned and practiced in the home and the community (or the village, as Aristotle would say). It has to do with simple, quotidian experiences, both domestic and immediately social. Consequently, a number of these maxims are concerned with man’s life in his home and in society: the blessings of a quiet household (verse 1), the raising of children (verses 21,25), dependable servants (verse 2), reverence for the younger and older generations (verse 6), the maintenance of friendships, even the friendships of others (verses 9,17), the resolution of conflicts (verse 14), and respect for the poor (verse 5).
The perfect man, we are told, is the one who “does not stumble in word” (James 3:2). Because a man’s speech is his chief means of associating with his family and his community, his ability to govern his tongue will chiefly determine the quality of his social relationships. It is a man’s speech that will make or break him in the moral and social orders. Without proper control of his tongue, a man is of no decent use to either God or his fellow men. It is not surprising, therefore, that this chapter on man’s domestic and social life should contain several references to the power of speech, not only good speech (verse 7) and controlled speech (verses 27-28), but also perverse speech (verse 20) in a number of forms, such as mendacity (verses 4,7), ridicule (verse 5), and gossip (verse 9).
Saturday, February 26
Proverbs 18: The first two verses of this chapter are concerned with the isolated man, the fool preoccupied with his own sense of fulfillment. Proverbs recognizes here the dangers of moral and intellectual solipsism, in which an individual insists on defining himself and the world on his own terms. These are the dangers inherent in radical relativism, such as we see in postmodernist Deconstructionism (“You have your truth, I have my truth. You have your story, I have my story. The story that is true for you may not be true for me.” Sound familiar?). This internal isolation separates the fool from the common wisdom of the ages, which is transmitted through humane and civilizing tradition. Self-fulfillment is the most deceptive of pursuits.
Much of this chapter returns to the theme of language. Verse 4, for example, encourages us to explore the depths of language, the inner connections of words and linguistic contexts, the historical experiences that lie buried in vocabularies and etymologies, the depths of imaginative significance just below the surface of ordinary expressions. The just man ponders the meaning of words and sentences, because we learn by listening (verse 15).
The fool, on the other hand, says whatever imbecile thing enters his head (verses 6-7,13). Gossip is another such problem. To devour gossip (verse 8) is very much like devouring anything else that is bad for us. It makes us sick (cf. 20:19). In short, life and death are in the power of the tongue (verse 21). (The next chapter will contain warnings against false witness and slander [cf. 19:5,9].)