If you’ve gone over to the About page, you know I teach at a place called Ignite. We’re an extension campus of Life Pacific College, which is where I earned my BA in Biblical Studies. I love working for LPC, and I love Ignite. If you were at Community Life on September 18, you got to get a taste of why I love my job. My boss was there, contributing to our series on 1st and 2nd Timothy. Here’s what the sermon was like:
Well, that’s what the sermon was like if you’re my friend Crystal. If you want to listen to the sermon, you can do so here. If you notice, just above the center there’s “Ignite” and beside it is “fan into flame.” That’s where the name “Ignite” came from. It’s 2nd Timothy 1:6 –For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. (NIV, emphasis added)
I emphasize gift because there’s an important concept at work here, and it is that concept I’d like to focus on today. In the Greco-Roman world there existed something called the Dance of Grace. This typically involved two people, a Patron, and a Client. The Patron was a rich person. The client was a poor person who was in need. So, the Patron would bestow a gift upon the client. This gift was free of any sort of requirement. They didn’t earn it, and they couldn’t pay it back. This was considered grace. The gift that the Patron gave was a manifestation of his grace. The Patron wouldn’t rescind the gift if gratitude never occurred. Here’s what Seneca had to say about a Patron who expected payback:
He who gives benefit imitates the gods, he who seeks a return, moneylenders” (Ben. 3.15.4).
It’s important to understand, the Patron wasn’t in this for monetary payback. They were in it for the spread of their generosity. They wanted people to know their reputation, potentially even for the purpose of adding more clients which would exponentially increase their reputation.
However, there was a cultural expectation. The Client had to do something with it. Primarily the expectation was that they would use the gift to tell about how great the Patron was. This was also grace. Since the Client wasn’t technically required to do anything, anything he did was grace. Thus, the dance of grace. The Patron gives grace in the form of a substantial gift, and the Client returns grace in the form of public declarations about the generosity of the Patron. Again, Seneca:
The greater the favor, the more earnestly must we express ourselves, resorting to such compliments as:… ‘I shall never be able to repay you my gratitude, but at any rate, I shall not cease from declaring everywhere that I am unable to repay it.’ (Ben. 2.24.4)
It is vital that this cultural background is understood if we are to understand what Paul is trying to say to Timothy. As the recipient of a gift, Timothy is expected to steward that gift. He’s expected to express gratitude for the giver of that gift. In this context, although the gift came through the laying on of hands, it is most likely that God is the giver. God is the Patron. Elsewhere, James tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). God is the ultimate Patron.
This is abundantly clear when Paul writes to the Ephesians (which both he and Timothy both no doubt have in mind as Paul writes to Timothy who is in Ephesus). Consider the following (emphasis added to help make the point):
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Read this through the lens of the Patron-Client relationship. God is rich. We are poor (in this case, so poor that we are considered dead). God bestows his gift upon us, not because of who we are or what we can do, but because he wants to “show the surpassing riches of his grace.” He wants to spread his reputation. How does he plan to do that? By our good works, which he prepared beforehand.
It is this kind of gift that Paul reminds Timothy to fan into flame. This is what he wants Timothy to Ignite. God is is more gracious than any of us can imagine, and because of his extravagant love displayed to us, we ought to go out and proclaim his goodness to the world. When we think about how ridiculously generous God has been, and how generous he continues to be…that should set our soul on fire with passion for spreading his reputation. So go dance, and be graceful.
For an excellent resource handling the concept of the Patron-Client relationship, see David deSilva’s Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture