To Timothy, my dearly beloved son… 2 Timothy 1:2a
How many people in your life say the words, “I love you” to you on a consistent basis? Our family is one that communicates our love for each other often. Rarely a day passes that those three simple words are not spoken in our home. Undoubtedly, love covers a multitude of sins and serves as the very foundation for any perpetuating relationship.
Certainly Paul had communicated his love to Timothy on numbers of occasions. Previously he had affectionately referred to him as his “own son in the faith,” perhaps because Timothy had been saved under his preaching during the first missionary journey, or perhaps because Paul had mentored Timothy for so many years. Whatever the reason was, Paul expressed a deep familial love to this young man.
Much can be, and will be, accomplished in Christian ministry within the context of loving one another. Without it we are simply making noise (1 Corinthians 13). Methodologies, lesson plans, activities, programs, camps, conferences, and any other strategy we can employ must assuredly fail absent the possession and expression of genuine love.
Do your teenagers know that you love them? “They know that I love them; I just don’t express it well,” you might reason within yourself. I would contend that many teenagers will not know until you tell them. Don’t get me wrong, your actions speak volumes about your love for your teens. I’m simply saying that your sincere and consistent communication of that love will make an incalculable difference in their lives.
Within the context of an expressed love, rebuke will be received, chastisement will be endured, and obedience will be rendered more readily. Love is the great non-negotiable in any bona fide relationship. It is not a bargaining chip to be placed on and then taken off the table. There exists no “I love you because…” It is simply, “I love you.” Period.
Love is the sovereign choice of the giver and should not be attached with strings. Apathetic responses will not quench it. Rebellious spirits will not deter it. Inconsistent obedience will not disarm it. Love is the foundation left undestroyed when all else in the relationship lies in ashes around it. Love never fails. Teens can reject the counsel, skip the activity, disregard the preaching, ignore the warning, and run away from it all. But they cannot—and by God’s grace—will not cause us to stop loving them.
Love is not contingent on attendance or obedience or even lovability. Love is not contingent on anything. Love simply is. The operative question is, “Do you love that teenager unconditionally?” If that answer is “yes,” when was the last time you told him?
Timothy lived in an unloving world. Christianity had become unpopular. And even within Christianity, factious elements were on the rise. Some dominant personalities had stood against Timothy. Others had dismissed him as an incapable and unqualified youth. Likely, his own human father disesteemed Timothy’s life’s calling. The Ephesians were antagonistic to the gospel. Timothy was isolated from his godly mother and grandmother. His mentor in the faith was on death row as the proverbial poster child for Christianity–Nero’s new scapegoat for Rome’s ills. Against this dark backdrop Paul said, “I love you.”
Teenagers live in an unloving world. Christianity is unpopular. Some of them are dominated by a seemingly overwhelming peer pressure. Sometimes family members have chimed in their disapproval or have even stood adamantly against their commitment to Christ. Like young Timothy, teens can falter and at times grow ashamed. At times like these I’m not against a firm rebuke, and I’m certainly not opposed to hard preaching in its place. But before you pull the trigger too quickly, don’t forget to say, “I love you.”