Cultures Can Persist for Generations (2 Timothy 1:1–2:13; 3:10–17)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
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One of the striking features of 2 Timothy is the theme of generational faithfulness. Toward the beginning of the letter Paul reminds Timothy of the faith that lived in his grandmother, his mother, and then in Timothy himself (2 Tim. 1:5). This progression suggests that the faithful witness and example of Timothy’s grandmother and his mother were among the means God used to bring Timothy to faith. This understanding is confirmed later in the letter when Paul encourages Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writ­ings” (2 Tim. 3:14–15a). Paul too, as a member of an older generation, is a model for Timothy to follow. Paul writes, “Join with me in suffering for the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:8), “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me” (2 Tim. 1:13), and “You have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions” (2 Tim. 3:10–11a).

Not only has Timothy received teaching from previous generations, but Paul intends for him to pass on what he has learned to succeeding generations as well: “What you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach oth­ers as well” (2 Tim. 2:2). This theme challenges Christian workers to consider what kind of legacy they want to leave behind at their places of employment and in their industry. The first step toward leaving a positive legacy is to do your job faithfully and to the best of your ability. A further step would be to train your successor, so that who­ever is going to replace you one day is prepared to do your job well. A Christian worker should be humble enough to learn from others and compassionate enough to teach patiently. Yet in the end, Christian workers must ask themselves whether they left a legacy of redemption in words and deeds.

The generational aspect of 2 Timothy applies not just to individu­als, but to all kinds of corporations, both for-profit and not-for-profit. The corporate form was created so that organizations could outlive the individuals who comprise them, without the need to reform the entity at each transition. One of the basic principles of financial audits is that the corporation must be a “going concern,” meaning that it must be operat­ing in a sustainable manner.[9] When an organization’s pay practices, debt burden, risk management, financial control, quality control, or any other factor become seriously detrimental to its sustainability, its leaders have a duty to call for change.

This does not mean that corporations should never merge, disband, or otherwise go out of existence. Sometimes an organization’s mission has been fulfilled, its purpose becomes obsolete, or it ceases to provide significant value. Then its existence may need to end. But even so, its leaders have a responsibility for the legacy the corporation will leave in society after it is dissolved. For example, a number of companies expose their retirees to the risk of poverty because they have not adequately funded their pension liabilities. Municipal and state governments are even more prone to this failing. Organizations have a duty—from both a biblical and a civic perspective—to ask whether their operations are shifting liabilities to future generations.

Likewise, 2 Timothy suggests organizations must operate in an environmentally and socially sustainable way. To depend for success on unsustainable resource extraction or environmental pollution is a violation of the generational principle. To deplete the community’s “social capital”—meaning the educational, cultural, legal, and other social investments that provide the educated workforce, means of transactions, peaceable society, and other factors that workplace or­ganizations depend on—would also be unsustainable. To a certain de­gree, workplaces invest in environmental and social capital by paying taxes to support governments’ environmental and social programs. But perhaps they would have more reliable access to environmental and social capital if they did more to create sustainable systems on their own initiative.