The Hand That Rocks the Cradle…

Evangelicals since at least the great awakening in the 18th century and the revivalism of the 19th and 20th centuries have often championed the radical conversion as the primary way that God adds to his Church. As a kid, I remember the stories of my dad’s radical conversion, and many of his friends who were saved out of a life of partying, promiscuity, and drug use. And indeed, the grace of God is on display when he saves people who have wrecked their lives through prodigious living. I remember thinking to myself, “I wish I had that kind of story,” it sounded almost glamorous. But in reality, the most significant growth the church experiences comes from within the Church. It comes from the nurture of covenant children. It comes from mothers. Paul, in our text from 2 Timothy 1:5, packs a lot of truth in one verse. Today we are going to take a break from our regular preaching schedule and do a topical sermon. If you are new to our live stream, our practice here at Hope is to preach expository sermons working our way through whole books of the bible. Pastor Steve just wrapped up a long series through the book of Deuteronomy, and I am currently working through the letter of James. But today, in honor of our mother’s, we are going to take a break and do a topical sermon on motherhood. Although we are wresting this text from its wider context, what Paul says almost as a passing comment has a profound truth about the importance of motherhood. As we read our text today, I want you to keep this question in mind: How does God nurture sincere faith? Let’s read together from 2 Timothy 1:5.

 2 Timothy 1:5 (ESV)
5  I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your Mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.

Intro to 2 Timothy

            Paul is writing to his young protégé at the end of his life. He is in prison and awaiting almost certain death. But he writes to Timothy to encourage him in all that the Lord had called him to do. Timothy was evidentially converted under the ministry of Paul and Barnabus during their first missionary journey. Luke tells us in Acts 16:1 that his Mother was Jewish, but his father was a Greek. This suited Timothy very well as a companion, and coworker of Paul, for he was acquainted with the OT traditions, but also fluent in Greek culture, being from Lystra. Lystra was a city in southern Galatia where Paul visited with Barnabus in Acts 14. Timothy served alongside Paul for the better part of a decade. He is mentioned by Paul in ten of his thirteen letters. No one besides Luke can rival Timothy’s closeness to Paul’s movements and teaching.

            So when at the end of his life, while in prison, Paul writes to encourage him, we get a peek at this relationship in detail. Paul is writing this second letter to encourage Timothy to persevere in the presence of great suffering boldly. Our text today is found at the beginning of Paul’s greeting, thanking God for Timothy’s sincere faith. We asked ourselves the question of how does God nurture sincere faith, and what we find Paul saying is God uses mothers to nurture sincere faith. First, we are going to answer the question, what is sincere faith? Then we will answer how does God nurture that kind of faith.

What is Sincere Faith

            Paul in v. 5 is sure that the sincere faith that dwelt in Timothy’s grandmother and mother also dwells in him, but what is sincere faith? And is there any other kind?

            In Greek words, they will add what’s called an αν prefix if they want to show negation, as in not this. The word Paul uses for sincere literally is not hypocritically or without hypocrisy, which is better to translate positively as genuine, or sincere. Paul often uses this word to describe love, as in Rom. 12:9 “Let love be genuine.” If we are trying to understand what sincere faith looks like, we need to look at what insincere faith looks like. That is what does hypocrisy looks like. Perhaps the greatest example in scripture of hypocrisy is the Pharisees. Jesus, in his teaching sternly denounced the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, why? Because the Pharisees had only seemed to care about the outward appearance, about appearing to be righteous. But inwardly, they were filled with all manner of immorality. They believed God, they revered his word, and they endeavored to keep the law—but did not do any of that from the heart as Paul says in Rom. 2:28-29:

Romans 2:28-29 (ESV)
28  For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29  But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

God looks at the heart of man, but we, because we cannot see to the heart, often concern ourselves only with what we can see—we judge by appearance. Hypocritical faith is contrived, it’s man-made, and its purpose is the pride of man. There are some people that you will find in churches all across the world that fit this. Religion is just convenient for them, it helps them in business, it helps them look moral and respectable, but its a pretense, nothing more. Nothing has done more to damage the Christian witness than hypocrisy. Unbelievers, skeptics, and those with no religious affiliation often point to Christians hypocrisy as a reason for why they look down on Christians. Paul commends Timothy and his grandmother and Mother for their sincere faith—faith without hypocrisy. A faith that meant what it said.

Hypocrisy, like pride, is often easily spotted in others but lies hidden to ourselves. We are very clever at deceiving ourselves, very clever at rationalizations. Our hypocrisy is invisible but glaringly obvious to others, which is one of the reasons we need good accountability. Mentorship is an essential aspect of discipleship. We need others to walk alongside us in the faith and point out the inconsistencies. The Pharisees made the mistake of thinking that they could look put together to the world, and that would be enough. But it just isn’t. If you have been neglecting those in your life who you should be mentoring, now is the time to reexamine your relationships. Give that brother or sister a call and ask them how they are doing.

We also need to examine ourselves by asking the question, how would I respond if someone told me I wasn’t acting consistently? Would I react like the Pharisee—defensive and accusatory. Remember, in John 8, when the Pharisees frustrated at Jesus’ denouncement of their behavior, said to him, “are we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon.” Don’t be like that to a friend who comes alongside you and lovingly points out the inconsistencies in your life. Remember that our shared goal is Christ-likeness, and we, all of us, are a long way off from that. When your brother or sister comes to you, know that even if you know that they have a bone to pick with you, there is a grain of truth to what they say. Our response needs to be closer to the Psalmist in Psalm 141:5:

Psalm 141:5 —

5Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. Yet my prayer is continually against their evil deeds.”

Sincere faith is faith that believes from the heart. The principle here is that orthodoxy informs orthopraxy. That is the right doctrine, informs right living, right doing. Our confession of faith drives us to embody that confession by obeying what the word commands us. We are going to talk a lot about this because James is very concerned that our faith is put into practice. The faith that alone justifies is never alone but is always accompanied by good works, that kind of faith results in fruitfulness, a life that manifests the work of God by their good works. Sincere faith is faith freed from hypocrisy. Not perfection. God is not looking for perfect people, because there are none, except his son. No, God is looking for repentance, he is looking for people who own up to their faults and failures, who come confessing those to him, and one another. He is looking for people who don’t try to hide behind moralist—but who nevertheless press on to holiness. That is what Paul means by sincere faith. But how does God nurture sincere faith?

How does God nurture sincere faith?

Look again at this verse. Paul makes an interesting comment here while commending Timothy for his faithfulness. It’s almost a natural, just offhand comment about the covenant faithfulness of one family. But Paul is teaching a profound truth. Sincere faith is something that is nurtured—it is grown. Paul looking at the tree, is sure that the fruit will be similar. Looking at the life of Timothy’s grandmother and mother, Paul is confident that the same kind of faith is also in Timothy. And this highlights for us the great importance of the nurture of our covenant children.

            In Malachi Chapter 2, we learn that one of the reasons God has given marriage was for the purpose of raising up godly offspring; and is also why Paul encourages believers of unbelieving spouses to stay with them because their children are holy. This is also why we baptize our children, as a sign and seal of their ingrafting into Christ, and of all of the benefits of the new covenant which they are made partakers of. And I know from speaking with many of you, the burden you have for your children who have walked away from the faith, who have forgotten their baptism. It is heavyweight when we experience this. This serves to underline the great importance of mothers and the nurture of our covenant children.

            Paul uses a very interesting word to describe their faith. He says, “a faith that dwelt…” That word means to live in, or dwell. It is commonly used in the OT to refer to cities or places of habitation. But in the NT, it is used only by Paul, and most often about the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. As in Romans 8:11:

Romans 8:11 (ESV)
11  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
and
2 Timothy 1:14 (ESV)
14  By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.

“When God makes his dwelling in a person he takes total possession of the person and directs his or her entire life in a new way.”[1] Sincere faith lived in Timothy’s family; it made its habitation. The faith they had was so palpable that Paul describes it as a “divine, dynamic, and transforming presence.”[2] Paul is reminded of their sincere faith because of the animating effect it had on the household. So much so that Paul, in prison, perhaps years and years later remembers that faith. That is the kind of environment that Timothy grew up in, an environment with faith on display all the time. Later on in

2 Timothy 3:14-15 (ESV)
14  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15  and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Timothy from childhood lived in a home with faith on display, a home saturated with the word of God, a home where he saw modeled before him a living faith.

            In 2007 Yale did a study on children and their imitation of adults. It has long been known that children learn by watching adults, but researchers were curious how far this went. They had noticed that children would imitate an adult’s actions even if they were meaningless or irrelevant. When children copy behavior that is not needed, they call this over-imitation.

The study included three-to-five-year-old children who engaged in a series of exercises. In one exercise, the children could see a dinosaur toy through a clear plastic box. The researcher used a sequence of irrelevant and relevant actions to retrieve the toy, such as tapping the lid of the jar with a feather before unscrewing the lid. The children then were asked which actions were silly and which were not. They were praised when they pinpointed the actions that had no value in retrieving the toy. The idea was to teach the children that the adult was unreliable and that they should ignore his unnecessary actions. Later the children watched adults retrieve a toy turtle from a box using needless steps. When asked to do the task themselves, the children over-imitated, despite their prior training to ignore irrelevant actions by the adults.[3]

            The conclusion these researchers came to is that children will mimic adults to a fault. “Watching adults do something wrong can make it much harder for kids to do it right.[4]” If you are a parent or teacher, you know this already; kids pick up on your bad behavior more than they do on the positive things that you are teaching them. Often the behavior of our children can be a good barometer for the patterns of behavior in our own lives. Is your child marked by anger, perhaps it is because you have modeled for them a wrong response to problems or difficulties. Now I do not mean to oversimplify this, our children’s behavior is complex, and there a variety of reasons for why children do the things they do—part of it is the nature of indwelling sin, that is present in all of us and only eradicated finally in the resurrection. But still, our actions and the ways that we respond you can be sure will be imitated by your children. But not just children. In speaking to mothers, I mean to include all women, who, by nature, are nurtures. This pattern of imitation is part of discipleship.

Paul establishes a pattern for discipleship in Titus 2. There he encourages older women to teach younger women. That involves modeling for them, among other things, how to follow Christ. Just like children, those you are in a Titus 2-type relationship will learn by watching your life. Paul in our text today is saying that sincere faith, that is in Timothy was first modeled in his grandmother and mother, and without the nurture of those women, who knows where Timothy would have ended up.

Maybe your thinking to yourself, great, I see what you are saying, but I have made a royal mess of my parenting or my training of the younger women in my life. What do I do? Again I want to reiterate that God is not looking for perfection, but for repentance. Repentance is lived in the context of dependence on God—perfection, or what may seem to be perfection in sinful man, comes from the context of pride and results in hypocrisy.

Let me encourage you, mothers, it is not too late to take your calling seriously to nurture faith in your children and grandchildren. First, let me suggest, as the home is the domain where God has given the women the most influence. What’s your home like. When someone comes into your home, do they get a sense that the woman that lives there has a sincere faith dwelling in her? Is your home saturated with the word of God, does it exude the word of God, is the melody that permeates your home? When children come home to visit, are they confronted with the word of God at every corner? I don’t mean just the physical word of God printed, although that is good, I mean what Paul calls the adorning of the gospel with good works. That is, do you embody the gospel in the way you decorate your home, prepare your meals, care for the needs of your neighbors, invite strangers in to share in your blessings. Is your faith evident? Mothering is a verb, and the nurture mothers provide encourages the growth of the faith of others. Without the quiet nurture or discipleship of women, the cause of the gospel is thwarted.

Our modern secular society, with its egalitarianism, and especially feminism, has actually worked against women by flattening the distinctions that God has given to women. Nowhere is this more appallingly evident than in transgenderism. Everything about a woman, from her biological makeup, to her disposition, is orientated towards nurture. Now to be sure, some excels at this more than others, and some need to work harder to cultivate these gifts. But now more than ever, we need an army of women who will nurture others by embodying a sincere faith. Nurture is not a one-size-fits-all, step-by-step guide to life. But nurture is particular to the gifts and callings that each one of you finds yourselves in right now. Are you a teacher, nurture the faith by embodying it, making it manifest in the way you teach, structure your classroom, and love your students. I understand you have restrictions on what you can and can’t say, but no one can silence a life where sincere faith dwells. Are you in the health care industry, model sincere faith in your care for patients, in loving presence, caring for the needs of those you serve? Are you a mother of children, then embody sincere faith to your children. Women, orientate yourself towards the home. See your home as the place where you can provide a space where the gospel can be on display for all who come there or live there.

The poem by William Ross Wallace The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is the Hand That Rules the World is right. He has these lines in the third stanza:

Woman, how divine your mission,
Here upon our natal sod;
Keep—oh, keep the young heart open
Always to the breath of God!
All true trophies of the ages
Are from mother-love impearled,
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.

          Is the hand that rules the world. Mothers, I encourage you to take seriously the call to embody sincere faith. Paul, in passing, teaches us that God uses mothers to nurture sincere faith. That means that the faith that lives in you is busy at work producing, or nurturing that same quality of faith in your children, or students, or younger women whom you are discipling. But not just you women but husbands, fathers, sons, you also need to embody this sincere faith. Your calling is not to nurture, but the faith you embody is the same. Let us all then press on to live daily in conformity to Christ.


[1] Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990–), 456.

[2] Yarbrough, Robert W. The Letters to Timothy and Titus. Edited by D. A. Carson. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; London: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos, 2018.

[3] “Humans Appear Hardwired To Learn By ‘Over-Imitation.’” ScienceDaily. Accessed May 9, 2020. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071205102433.htm.

[4] Ibid.

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