Someone has observed an optimist is a person who tells you to cheer up – especially when things are going his / her way. In 2 Timothy chapter one the irrepressible apostle Paul is telling his younger preaching friend Timothy to cheer up. Like a leaky tire, Timothy’s faith is apparently in danger of slowly going flat. The books of First and 2 Timothy reveal the foes facing Timothy and the Christian faith ranged from false teachers to fatigue and just plain old frustration. For these reasons and more, in his opening words in 2 Timothy Paul seeks to cheer Timothy up. Scan the opening verses and you find Paul addressing Timothy as “a beloved son.” Timothy was apparently Paul’s “son in the faith” (verse 2a). A quick glance at Philippians 2:22 explains – “you know his [Timothy’s] proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel.” Nothing binds people together more tightly than a shared love for Christ and labor in His gospel. When he was baptized into Christ Timothy found in Paul a spiritual mentor / father and Paul gained an especially loved son in the faith. The bond between these two Christian preachers was especially tight. Paul goes on in 2 Timothy 1:2 to pray and wish for Timothy “grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (verse 2). He thanks God for him in verse 3 and tells Timothy he remembers him in prayer “night and day.” In verse 4 Paul expresses his great desire to see Timothy in person and expresses the joy he would feel if that could be the case. In verse 5 Paul recalls “the genuine faith that is in you [in Timothy],” and tips his hat to Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice as women of genuine faith who no doubt had intentionally sought to instill faith in Timothy. Then in verse 6 the apostle firmly challenges Timothy to “stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” Powerful words of encouragement are sprinkled throughout these opening verses. How blessed is a congregation if it has such spiritual cheerleaders today!
The incredible thing in all this is that while Timothy finds himself in a frying pan of pressure, Paul himself is in a fire of pain! Even as he cheers Timothy on, Paul is in prison and suffering for the gospel (1:8, 12); abandoned by close friends and associates (1:15; 4:16); treated as an evil doer and chained in prison as a common criminal (2:8-9); cold and lonely (4:13); expecting to be executed soon (4:6-8). And yet, in circumstances of apparent defeat and weakness, Paul writes of power in a prison cell – “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (1:7). Prisons and pressures and pain and persecution cannot hinder the power of God! Could you lead cheers for others in such circumstances? How many cheers are you leading from the circumstances you are in? Paul’s cheers from prison spring from his confidence in God’s presence and power. He might be in prison, but he absolutely refused to let prison be in him! During WWII General Creighton Abrams found himself and his troops surrounded on all sides. He told his officers, “For the first time in the history of this campaign, we are in a position to attack the enemy from all sides.” Paul considered prison to be as good a place as any for God to empower him to continue to work for Christ! That’s why he could lead cheers, even though in chains. Remember friend – prisons and problems of life may lock you in, but they can never lock God out!