“I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. Therefore, I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (1 Timothy 1:3-7 NKJV).
My Beloved Students in Christ:
“Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Timothy 1:2 ESV).
If there’s one thing I know about the ministry, it is this: all ministry is difficult.
I used to believe there was one type of ministry more demanding than another. That may, indeed, be so. However, in over three decades of gospel ministry, I have concluded that all ministry is hard. Church planting is tough. It can be like plowing concrete. Shepherding a revitalization is difficult. I have heard church revitalization compared to raising the dead. The life of an evangelist is hard. When asked about his regrets in life and ministry the late Reverend Billy Graham said that he regretted all the time apart from his wife and children. The life of an evangelist — and sometimes that evangelist role appears in different garb, for example, like a seminary or college leader who must travel — is hard. Now why do I say this? I bring this up because the Apostle Paul wrote to young Pastor Timothy at Ephesus and gave him a veritable litany of problems that he had to address. Some of these were expressly theological, and all of them were undeniably relational. So, what did the Apostle Paul advise Timothy to do—or, perhaps better, to be —? In 2 Timothy 1:3–7 St. Paul calls on Timothy to remember the faith of those who shared Jesus Christ with him. He called on Timothy to remember his grandmother Lois and his mother, Eunice. And why remember Lois and Eunice? It is obvious in the verses that follow:
“Therefore, I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:6 – 7 NKJV).
We might put it like this: “Remember those who shared their lives and faith with you so that you can be strong to face the challenges of ministry.” Or, we could say it a bit more poetically: you are the living legacy of those who have gone before.
I borrowed part of that line from the late singer-songwriter, Dan Fogelberg, who sang, “I am the living legacy of the leader of the band.” Fogelberg wrote those words for his father, Lawrence Fogelberg, a high school band leader from Peoria, Illinois. The song was called “Leader of the Band” (1981). “Leader of the Band” became a number one hit in the US and equally popular in the UK and other English-speaking countries. The beautifully crafted composition seemed to strike a universal human nerve: the need to say, “I love you” to one’s father. Fogelberg would later say that if he had written only one song, it would have been Leader of the Band. Why? Well, it is right to show honor to those who have given us so much. Also, remembering those who have gone before helps us to carry on in tough times. And that is why Paul wanted Timothy to remember the faith of his grandmother and his mother. He needed to stand tall in the face of enormous trials that would await him. Timothy was the living legacy of Lois and Eunice.
Seminary is a ministry in itself: a ministry of preparation for a life of service to Christ and His Church. You will not have a class on “remembering” per se. However, this little pastoral letter to you is to (prayerfully) cause you to remember those who believed in you; to the ones who shared Christ with you; to the one who encouraged you to go to seminary; or the one who modeled the faith you want to share with others. Whoever they may be, they are, to you, your mother or father in the faith; your Lois and Eunice. And you are their living legacy.
I was orphaned as a child. At nine months of age, I was given to my father’s sister, my Aunt Eva. She was sixty-five when I was placed in her arms. She had not had children. She was a recent widow. So my arrival became a sovereign surprise. And I will thank God for the rest of my days that it was so.
We lived far out in the backwoods. There was no car, no air conditioning, and there was no man around, no money to speak of, and few material possessions. But we had a Bible. And Aunt Eva had faith. I can never recall a time when I did not know the name of Jesus Christ. As a little fellow, I would sit in her lap, listen to the Bible stories that she read; and I could hear her voice forming the word, “Jesus” as I lay my head upon her breast, and I could hear her heart beating to the rhythm of her faith. The heartbeat of one who gave me so much from so little, and the reading of the Bible shaped (and continues to form) my life. So, if you ask me, who do you remember that helps you to stand when times are hard? I will always say, “I am the living legacy of Aunt Eva.”
How about you? I ask you that question (and expect that a face instantly comes before your mind’s eye) because I want you to be prepared for ministry. Ministry is hard. But God is good. The Lord brought someone into your life to proclaim Jesus Christ to you. And when you are sent out from here to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ to the ends of the earth, you will take with you the experiences and lessons of your professors and your peers, for sure. But nothing will be as strong as the power of “catechesis:” the one in your life who first taught you about the Lord Jesus.
I thought I would write to you to “remind” you, as Paul did to Timothy. For you are the living legacy of the faithful who have gone before. Let their faith fuel your soul when the winds of hardship blow your way. Let their example cause you to stand tall or kneel lower. Let their memory give you a glimpse of the glory of God in your midst.
I am humbled and honored to serve you in this beautiful ministry called Erskine Theological Seminary. We are so blessed that you were led here. We want to do our all to invest our very lives in you so that souls will be saved, lives will be transformed, and the Kingdom of God will come in demonstration of His glory and power.
Commending you to Christ Jesus, I remain
Michael A. Milton, PhD