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It seems like yesterday when our oldest son Joshua (now thirty-three) graduated from high school and went off to college. The boy who had been playing with Hot Wheels just a few years earlier was now a young man about to stake out a life of his own.

I had to hold back deep emotions as I anticipated the day of his departure and would release one of the most loved and important persons in my life into the next phase of his journey. What would I say? What should I say? “You’re going to do a great job! The sky’s the limit! I believe in you, son. You’re a winner! You are such a blessing. God has incredible plans for your life.”

Some pep talk followed by a few words of exhortation: “Choose your friends wisely. Get plugged into a local church. Stay on top of your studies. (And don’t let ten years of piano go down the drain!) Manage your money wisely. I’m going to miss you. You will be in my prayers every day. And last but not least: “Don’t forget to call your mother!”

In 2 Timothy (believed to be Paul’s last book), the Apostle gives an extended farewell speech to his beloved spiritual son, Timothy. It contains some very important chapter-ending, chapter-launching counsel. Paul is about to turn a major corner. He is going to die. He has some mission-critical matters he wants to discuss with Timothy before they part ways. Paul is focused and serious. There is no small talk here. It is all business. 

Paul is an old man. His body aches. His back is full of scars. He has lost weight. He has been beaten, shipwrecked, stoned, and run out of too many towns to keep track of. He knows firsthand how cruel human beings can be. He has no time, no room, for chitter-chatter, empty platitudes, or pie-in-the-sky jargon that suggests everything is going to be okay and they all lived “happily ever after.” Paul has seen too much. He knows too much. He has learned that life is too short, too precious, and too hard to be feeding on kid jokes and things of no real consequence. 

So, what does he say to his young up-start? What advice does he give Timothy? What things were weighing upon his heart that he needed to express before breathing his last breath? You might be surprised. It is not exactly what I would have expected. It is certainly not the kind of speech I was planning on giving to my son. In a nutshell, Paul tells Timothy that the sailing is going to be very tough–the waters deep, the waves high, the sky dark, and the nights long. In other words, “Get ready, Timothy. You are going to face much trouble.”

Here is a few of the things Paul brings up:

  • the “terrible times” coming in the last days (3:1); that “evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse” (3:13);
  • the time coming 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. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (4:3-4);
  • the fight of faith he’s waged (4:7);
  • a man named Alexander, a metalworker, who did him a “great deal of harm” and strongly opposed his message (4:14-15);
  • the fact that nobody supported him in prison initially, “everyone deserted me” (4:16);
  • the lion’s mouth and evil attacks (4:17-18).

Talk about bubble-bursting.

In the wake of all this, Paul admonishes Timothy to: “Join with me in suffering for the gospel” (1:8). “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier” (2:3). “Keep your head in all situations, endure hardship” (4:5). Do not get me wrong. There are some bright spots in the midst of all this doom and gloom. Life is not all a downer for Paul. He boasts:

  • “I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (1:12);
  • “May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. . . You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.” (1:16-18);
  • Despite his own chains, Paul triumphantly declares, “God’s word is not chained” (2:9);
  • He wanted Timothy to bring Mark—the one who earlier had abandoned him and Barnabas—to him in prison because he had grown up and was now considered “helpful” (4:11).

Some praise-worthy things were happening. Paul is not a grumpy old man. He is not sulking or on a pity-pot. No, he is upbeat and excited about the future. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (4:7-8).

But here is the bottom line for Timothy and each one of us: The road ahead will be full of twists and turns, bumps and potholes, unexpected detours and road closures (Michiganders in the summer know all about this!). It is going to be rough. Paul clearly warns Timothy, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (3:12).

Why is Paul saying all this to Timothy now? What is he hoping to accomplish? I believe he wants to prepare Timothy, to get him mentally tough, to arm with a certain attitude. He does not want his young son blind-sided. Paul charges Timothy to be strong and resilient. “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner” (1:8). In other words, do not get upset. Do not become discouraged or disillusioned. Don’t cave in!

But how is this possible amid so much hardship and pain? How can Timothy—how can we—“keep on keeping on?” By taking Paul’s counsel. Remembering. 

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David” (2:8).

There is only one thing Paul tells Timothy to remember–Jesus Christ, raised from the dead. That is it. To remember means to keep in mind, to think of. To remember is, quite literally, to put broken pieces back together, to re-member. To recreate wholeness out of what has become fragmented and separated. 

Many people are held hostage by memories—old grudges they keep nursing, old fears they keep reviving, old glories they keep reliving. But I think many more people are kept captive by failing to keep a certain memory: Jesus–his resurrection and, by implication, his death. It is that simple, that profound. To forget the kerygma of Jesus (the essence of the gospel) is to become unhinged from the story that defines us, guides us, protects us, sustains us, and empowers us.

Jesus–who he is and what he did–is the ground and basis of our faith, hope, and love. At the core of the good news of the kingdom he inaugurated is the redemption provided through his bearing of our sins on the cross and the crediting of his righteousness to our account by grace through faith. Christ’s perfect life, death, and resurrection offers us escape from God’s wrath and reconciliation with the Father, adoption into his family with the full rights and privileges of being his sons and daughters, and the assurance of glorification into his likeness. Below are a few great Scriptures which highlight some of the gospel benefits of Christ’s salvation:

  • “To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:5).
  • “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).
  • “Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men” (Romans 5:18).
  • “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6).
  • “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).
  • “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
  • “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
  • “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:7).
  • “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians 1:7).

These blood-bought truths are the precious realities that would keep Timothy in the fight. Regardless of the rejection he would receive, the paltry results he would experience in various seasons of his ministry, the on-going resource limitations he would incur, coupled with the barrage of other challenges he would encounter, as long as Timothy kept his eyes fixed on Jesus and all that Christ secured for him, he could remain faithful and strong to the very end.

The same is true for us. Grit and willpower are not enough. Having a positive mind-set is good, but insufficient. Community and the encouragement that comes from others is vital. So is prayer, rest, a healthy diet, corporate worship, partaking of the eucharist, as well as many other practices. But if these disciplines and rhythms are not anchored in the gospel, if they are not fostering clearer vision and deeper appreciation for Christ crucified and risen again, they will be ineffectual in providing the necessary enablement for living godly and holy lives that redound to the glory of God.

However, as we grow in our understanding of the gospel through the illuminating power of the Spirit and walk by faith in Christ alone, we become secure, content, at peace, and joyful. We can rest from all our vain attempts to prove our worth and validate our existence. We no longer feel compelled to punish ourselves and self-sabotage. We become less self-absorbed and less slaves to the opinions of others. The ego props of wealth and possessions lose their attractiveness. Our failures and missteps no longer ruin our day. The criticisms of others do not devastate us like they once did. We will be less anxious about tomorrow or our past catching up to us. In a word, we become free! Free to love. Free to lay down our lives for others.

Addiction-recovery—if it is to be real, complete, and lasting—must be squarely and firmly planted in the bedrock of Jesus Christ. Apart from his deliverance, any step forward in our quest toward wellness and wholeness will be short-lived. To be sober without being saved is like dancing on the Titanic—a pure illusion of anything meaningful or worthwhile. What does it matter if someone is clean and dry, working and taking care of his family, abiding by the law and engaged in productive behaviors if he is separated from God? It is all a house of cards waiting to collapse.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is what makes genuine recovery both possible and desirable. He is the X-factor, the difference maker, the way maker, our eternal Advocate and Intercessor, the one mediator between God and humankind, the only Savior of the world. Jesus is our LIFE. He is God’s definitive revelation that we are wanted, treasured, desired, valued, claimed, pursued, seen, heard, remembered, considered, spared judgment, forgiven of sins, . . . loved! . . . and trusted to co-labor with him, blessed with every spiritual blessing, tasked for important responsibilities, perfectly resourced for all of life’s duties, and cared and carried always by grace every step of the way.  

We must continually remember Jesus and what he has accomplished for us by preaching the gospel to ourselves daily. May we sing it, speak it, pray it, and meditate upon it. And may we be vigilant about it. Everything in the world and our flesh will attempt to distract us and turn our gaze elsewhere. Only as a people united together in the Spirit will we be able to overcome our propensity to rely upon and trust in ourselves.

I suspect that Paul’s charge to Timothy was rooted in Christ’s command to his disciples on the night of his betrayal when, after taking both the bread (representing his broken body) and the wine (representing his shed blood) and sharing them with his closest friends, he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Gospel memory is a matter of life and death. Remembering Jesus is not only essential to a living, dynamic, pulsating faith, it is the cornerstone of all true recovery. Is it any wonder why Paul wrote, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2)?


“At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!”
(“At the Cross,” Isaac Watts)


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