Having been out of school for only a short while… I still find myself thinking of the calendar in terms of school years. Sure, I still have kids in school, but there’s something about the fall and the beginning of the school year that seems to be more of a “new year” than the first of January.
I think the appeal comes from the built-in expectations and structures for continued growth. The idea of going to school brings with it an expectation that you’re going to learn something. Going back to school keeps that expectation alive and keeps building on it; not only are you going to school to learn more, but you’re going back to build upon what you’ve already learned. It’s a natural environment built on past, present, and future.
Just as we start our formal education in school as children, we also start training ourselves to grow spiritually as children. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Those of us who grew up in a Christian home or going to church as children likely remember the Bible stories and verses that we learned through lessons, activities, and songs, and it’s remarkable how we usually remember them when we need them.
This is how God’s people began a lifelong journey of growing in their faith and knowledge of God and of God’s Word and, in the church of the New Testament, of Jesus Christ. Paul recognized that habit and pattern in the life of his protege Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:5, 6:
I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
Timothy’s faith began in his grandmother and was passed on to his mother and then to Timothy. Then Paul encouraged him to keep growing. In 2 Timothy 3:14-17 Paul told Timothy how to keep growing:
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.
Paul referred back to Timothy’s past, when he was being raised by his mother and grandmother to know the Scriptures. He referred to Timothy’s present knowledge, which has led him to his faith in Jesus and, therefore, his salvation. Paul also looks forward to Timothy’s continued growth in his faith and knowledge of Jesus and God’s Word so that he might be “thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
It seems that Paul’s expectations for Timothy were for him to stay in God’s Word not just for his own sake but for the sake of others. That’s why he refers to “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” Paul expects Timothy to continue what his mother and grandmother began, what Paul began, in Timothy’s life: to know the Scriptures, to be wise, to have faith, to find salvation, and to pass on those things to others.
What’s interesting, to me, is that there doesn’t seem to be any indication that this expectation for on-going growth and training ever ends. It seems that Timothy’s grandmother Lois wasn’t finished with her growth in her faith when she raised her daughter Eunice in the faith; she continued by helping her grandson Timothy to grow in his faith.
Certainly there’s something there for us to learn. Our efforts to grow in our faith and knowledge of Jesus don’t stop when we get older, and neither does God’s expectation for us to train others in learning God’s Word and growing in their faith and knowledge of Jesus. As we continue to learn more about what it means for each of us to grow in our own faith, let us “fan into flame” our own gifts and continue “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” so that all of us might be prepared to do the work that God has called us to do in this community.