Introduction. Read 2Tim1v3to7.

Every Christian from time to time needs a few words of encouragement. I am always heartened to receive an email thanking me for one of my expositions on this website. Timothy was no exception and he was fortunate to receive a letter of encouragement from Paul.

So, let us look at some of the encouraging features of the first few verses in Paul's second epistle to Timothy.

(1) A letter from a great man.

Over the past few years I have conducted funerals at which three elderly men have come up to me with a type-written letter from my mother dating back to the 1960s. These men so valued these letters that they have preserved them for 50 or so years. My mother wrote to encourage them at a difficult time in their young lives. She obviously succeeded!

Just imagine how much more an encouraging letter from a great man or women would be valued. I have never received one - have you? I like this story about William Gladstone. In 1893 during the Committee stage of the Home Rule Bill in the House of Commons he received a letter from seven-year-old George Herbert which said: Dear Mr Gladstone, I am very sorry we cannot go to Ireland for Christmas for you have only given Father four day's holiday. I hope you will give him some more after this letter.

Mr Gladstone was a very busy man but he found time to reply by return of post: My Dear boy, It is very sad. I feel for you. As you cannot go to Ireland, so I cannot get home, to my only home, at Christmas. And you, I hope, will have many, very many, very happy Christmases: but I, having had 83 already, feel I am taking one of my last chances.

Can anything be done? Not by me. But I think your Father could do something, if he thought it right to ask some dozen of his friends whether they could reduce a little the number and length of their speeches. For they are so fond of him I believe that they would then do it. But I could not expect them to do it for my asking. If they did it for him, there is no saying whether it would enable you to go to Ireland.

With best wishes for Christmas, Easter, and all other times. Ever yours, W.E.Gladston.

This must have been a letter that George Herbert kept through the years and valued.

Timothy was a recipient of what was probably the last letter Paul ever wrote. Very few men have been greater than Paul. Doubtless Timothy treasured this letter and read it over and over again. He certainly made sure that it wasn't lost. We have it today nearly 2000 years after it was written - and esteem it nearly as much as Timothy.

(2) A letter expressing warm affection.

Paul addressed Timothy as: My dear son. This is more cheering than: 'Sir' or 'Dear Sir' or 'Dear Mr Reed'. Paul was writing Timothy a love letter. Before leaping to a wrong conclusion bear in mind there are several kinds of love including affection and friendship. Paul had both these kinds of non-erotic love for Timothy. I have received a few letters from old pupils written in this kind of spirit and starting, 'My darling Mr Reed.'

Any sincere expression of love gives a warm, even joyful, feeling inside. We ought to be more willing to express affection to our brothers and sisters in Christ. H.L. Gee was duly rebuked one morning. On arriving home for lunch his neighbour's small daughter hugged him and said, "I's glad you've come.".

Well that was charming; so Gee replied, "And what's the meaning of all this, eh?" For he fancied that she might be hoping he had something in his pocket for her. But with grave eyes the little darling said, "Oh, nofing - I'se just glad, that's all!"

Paul urges the Corinthians: Greet one another with a holy kiss. 2Cor13v12. Affection is not a love that should be reserved for little children.

(3) A letter assuring prayer support.

Paul found time for Timothy in his prayers: As night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.

One of the best things you can do for God's servants is to pray for them both regularly and often. Paul was a very busy man. He prayed for all the churches that he founded - but, nevertheless, he found time to pray twice a day for young Timothy.

I love it when anyone tells me that they pray for me. I am extremely grateful because I need all God's help to persevere in the Christian faith. I even welcomed the prayer of Ivy Flanaghan who told me she asked God to help me keep my temper - after I had had a few sharp words with her husband for failing to turn up for a meal I had cooked for him in her absence visiting relations in Ireland.

Ivy's tactlessness is as nothing compared to the elderly brother who on the return of the minister and his wife from holiday prayed: "Oh Lord, we thank Thee for bringing back our beloved Pastor. We are glad to have him among us once again, and we praise Thee that Thou hast cared for him and his wife, for Thou, O Lord, preservest man and beast."

(4) A letter acknowledging the joy of his company.

Paul wrote to his young friend: Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. v4.

It is encouraging when we know that there are people who find joy in our company. I have one or two like that. Dorothy always enjoys my visits because we are friends. Hannah always smiles with pleasure when I arrive to take the service at her church - because I have helped her spiritually through the years. We do not entirely live in vain if there are a few to whom we can impart joy.

(5) A letter paying tribute to Timothy's sincere faith.

Paul is happy to inform Timothy: I have been reminded of your sincere faith. It was a faith he shared with his grandmother and mother.

It is encouraging when anyone pays tribute to our faith - when they have seen the evidence of it and bear testimony to its sincerity.

When I was 19 I spent a year teaching in a Suffolk Secondary Modern School before going to university. I can recall sitting in the staff room one lunch time listening to two women criticising a Christian colleague for her hypocrisy. When they had finished one of the women looked at me and said, "Now, you John are a proper Christian." I can remember thinking at the time that this compliment was entirely undeserved. However, the fact that for 55 years I have never forgotten it shows how encouraging such a tribute is.

Recently, I visited my brother, Paul, and his wife, Ruth, in Hastings. One evening I went with them to a prayer meeting at their local church. My brother introduced me and said, "I am proud of my older brother." He then went on to detail some of the ways I had served God. It was very encouraging to hear what my brother had to say. I am grateful to him.

The last few years in my church have been bitter sweet. I have found it very sad to witness several of my old friends age, fail and die. Today, there are five or six who are very, very frail and scarcely able to walk from the car park to the chapel. Yet such is their faith, their desire to meet with their Christian brothers and sisters that they continue to make the effort to attend. The joy my old friend Peter Chaffey takes in worship in spite of being in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease is a great blessing to my soul.

(6) A letter that contains a rallying cry.

When Timothy was baptised and received into the church by Paul, the apostle probably laid hands on him in blessing. It may have been at this time that the Holy Spirit imparted to Timothy the gift of teaching. Unfortunately Timothy was by nature rather timid. His unassertive disposition was in danger of impairing his effectiveness as a preacher. Paul reminded Timothy of three essential characteristics of the Christian life: power, love and self control. He encouraged Timothy to throw off his timidity, fan into flame the gift of God, and boldly promote these three virtues.

A Christian needs:

  • Power. Power to accomplish the work God gives us to do. God has given me the powor to do a number of difficult tasks for him: care for my demented father, organising sports and games for a Christian camp, conducting many funerals, create a website. I have also been given the power to cope with sorrow and disappointment.

  • Love. Christians need to love the people God loves. He loves all those who believe in his son. This means at the very least meeting together with other Christians. I was in correspondence for a time with a woman in Australia who thought she could be a Christian without going to church at all. She thought it was enough to make use of Christian websites and communicate over the internet with far distant pastors. I tried to persuade her to attend a church even if there were aspects of the worship she disapproved of - like female preachers! But to no avail!

    God loves all members of the church - not some but not others. Some Christians are easy to love - they are loveable. Others are very difficult to love. They are opinionated, ignorant, arrogant and boring. I find it takes a lot of grace to love someone who is boring. My old friends Arthur and Gill Rutterford have the right spirit. They invite all and sundry into their home for refreshments after a service. They make no distinction between the loveable and unloveable - all are welcome.

  • Self-control. This is a vital virtue if peace is to prevail in a church. There are times we have to: bite our tongue, accept criticism without retaliation and resist the temptation to show others up.

There are times we need to be reminded whose we are and whom we serve - to put on the whole armour of God and venture forth to fight the good fight of Faith.