Timothy and Paul: now here is a complicated relationship. The elder speaks to the junior, the teacher to the student...and the attempt is made throughout this letter to communicate what life is like, what it could be like, and in no small degree what it "should" be like. The challenge for Timothy, and for us, is to read the words with discernment. Some of what Paul (or the writer, depending on your opinion as to who wrote the epistle in the first place) is attempting to convey to Timothy is sensible, even by today's standards. That is on the one hand. On the other is just how wrong Paul gets it...
As one parishioner of mine mentioned the other day: "Paul to Timothy? Clearly the man had never been married!"
Today's readings pose some of the same challenges. How does an elder convey to a younger man just how important it is for the young, the inexperienced, those who lack power and station to work within the system? Truly it is important...but in today's readings the advice breaches again into something that smacks of wrongness for us. What faithful person nowadays would urge someone under the yoke of slavery to "be a good slave" in order to exhibit a steadfast faith in Christ? OK, being a believing master means some respite for the slave. At least it should, but does this not support models of oppression that we know are wrong, are aberrant to a life in Christ as we have comes to know it?
Sometimes you can't reconcile this stuff, you just have to look at it with clear eyes and be willing to see that humans-faithful or not-are fallible. Paul's attempt to instruct the young Timothy is as much a lesson in how not to be as it is an attempt to offer up model of an effective life as an apostle and servant of the Christ.
A wise teacher once gave me this counsel: when it comes to serving God, remember that everyone is your teacher. Some will teach you things and you will say, "That is something I want to emulate." Others? Well, then you will say, "Yeah, I think that is something that I will not choose to add to my toolbox."
"It's all a matter of prayer and discernment," he said, "...that is the real key to figuring out which things to keep and which to let go of in the end."