Lion-slaying in snowy pits
“Dad,” my son asked proudly, “do you want to see my new tattoo?”
“Umm,” I’m not really into tattoos, especially the ones that cover whole limbs or trunks, but in order to be supportive – at least not combative – I feigned approval, “yeah, Luke, sure.”
He pushed his sleeve over his shoulder and revealed a drawing, conspicuous with color that covered his entire upper right arm. It’s actually a quite striking depiction of a remarkably muscled man engaged in mortal combat with a ferocious lion.
“I got this for you, Dad!”
“Yeah, right,” I replied suspiciously.
“No, really,” he claimed, “it’s based on a message of yours.”
“Oh?” Now he’s got my attention. “Which one?” I asked.
“Can’t you guess?”
Still pretty skeptical, my first attempt was, “Uh, Daniel in the lion’s den?”
“Okay,” my mind scanning the Bible stories with Lions in them, I took another stab at it, “David fighting the lion and the bear?”
“Not quite,” he said, “but you’re getting warmer.”
And then it came to me. On several occasions and in a variety of venues I have given a message on an obscure, but provocative passage, and Luke must have heard one of them and been impacted by it. Unless of course, it was just an excuse for filling up one of the last remaining regions of his body with skin art. “Oh yeah,” I exclaimed, “David’s mighty man, Benaiah. The guy who killed the lion in a pit on a snowy day!” For emphasis I articulated the quote from 2 Samuel with pauses between the phrases, like any self-respecting preacher would: “…killed a lion – in a pit – on a snowy day!”
“Ding, ding, ding!” he sounded out the game show correct-answer-sound. “I got it in honor of how you’ve been fighting your battles these days, Dad.”
I reached out, grabbed him by the neck, pulled him against me, kissed him on the cheek, and whispered in his ear, “I love you, Son.”
“I love you too, Dad,” he whispered back.
“Benaiah killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day.”
Like I said, I’ve spoken on this passage from 2 Samuel 23 many times over the years. This abridged version of a courageous man’s life, a member of David’s special forces, is not only good sermon material, but has encouraged me to persevere in difficult times. This man did the hardest thing (killed a lion) in the most difficult place (in a pit) in the worst of circumstances (on a snowy day).
Paul’s disciple, Timothy, had lions to kill (his spiritual leadership assignment) in a very difficult place (Ephesus) in really bad circumstances (the constant threat to his safety)! I can relate to this guy. A lot of times I’ve been more fearful than fearless. I’ve shirked scary circumstances, run from challenges, and missed many kingdom opportunities availed to me because I was afraid of something – reprisal, rejection, embarrassment, failure. Over the years I’ve failed to wrestle many lions in slippery pits.
“Timidity” is a much better translation than “fear” in this verse. Rather than being afraid of a certain thing, Paul was addressing a tendency toward fearfulness, a general cowardliness. It’s the same word that Jesus used while scolding his disciples in the boat when they failed the storm-test – “Why were you so cowardly?” And then again in the Upper Room lecture he said to them, “Don’t let hearts be troubled, neither let them be timid.” One last time it appears at the head of a list of people in the Bible’s second to the last chapter who will take their “place in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.” It’s the “cowardly” along with the “vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, etc.” which will be punished. It’s clear that he’s referring to those, when given the opportunity to escape persecution by defecting, don’t have the courage to stay with the team and its Captain.
Fear is a reality for everyone. None of us are immune to it. It’s a good thing in the right context. We should be afraid of lions and tigers and bears – “Oh my!” Courage, of course, is not having no fear, it’s proceeding in spite of it. My friend is a part of a cliff-climbing club whose mantra is – “We will do something everyday that scares us.”
Don’t some people tend toward timidity more than others?
Paul was no stranger to Roman jails, but this one from which he wrote to Timothy was by far the worst. He was cold, lonely, and in chains, and everyone had deserted him – he said so three times in the letter. This is it, these were his final days and he knew it. It was clear to him that soon he’d join all the elite class of martyrs. After thirty years of preaching he said, “I am now being poured out like a drink offering, I’ve finished the course, fought the good fight, and now there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.” His time was short, yet you don’t find him whining about it. Instead of being self-obsessed he was so selfless enough to take the time to try to boost his disciple’s bravery.
Everywhere he went Paul was pounded. As a new Christian, they tried to murder him in Jerusalem. They incited a mob against him and ran him out of Antioch. He was stoned to death (and was raised) in Lystra and in Philippi he and Silas, after being beaten with rods, their hands and feet bound in stocks, they were heaved into a dank jail. He was run out of Thessalonica, fled for his life from Berea, laughed out of Athens, threatened in Corinth, and beaten and jailed in Jerusalem. On his journey to Rome he was starved, shipwrecked, and bitten by a poisonous snake. This is a guy who simply refused to quit. Though Paul was naturally brave, it doesn’t that mean he was never scared. Of course he got scared, but he didn’t let his fear stop him.
Though Paul was the prototypical model of a courageous Christian, and the kind of person we would aspire to be like, we’re more likely to identify with his retiring protégé, Timothy.
Timothy was young, sickly, and shy. By “young,” since he’d travelled with Paul for 15 years or so, I mean he was probably in his early to mid-thirties.
His relative youth probably aggravated his timidity but was no problem to much older Paul who told him not to “let anyone look down on you because (he was) young.” Understandably, his physical frailty (“frequent illnesses”) added to his tendency to reticence. To top off his predisposition to faintheartedness, apparently his father was not a Christian and therefore his spiritual influence came primarily from his grandmother and mother (“Lois” and “Eunice”). I pose no rap on women or the blessing of maternal spiritual impact, but sometimes a boy needs a dad to show him how to be a spiritual man. Even though Timothy had been under the influence of the world’s most courageous Christian, he still fought his tendency to reticence.
The one was bold, resilient, hardy, and prone to risk-taking – the other – shy, weak, frail, young and timid by temperament. Paul was a born leader and Timothy a born leaner.
[In part three I’m going to address the question: Does God give “a pass” to the timid? Because his ministry was hard for him, do you get the impression that his mentor let Timothy off the hook? Talk to you then…]