On the 19th of May 2023, Tim Keller went home to be with the Lord. A hugely popular figure who left his mark on both the Christian and Secular worlds. As the tributes poured in remembrance of a life well lived, it caused me to reflect on the impact that Tim Keller left on me.
There’s a famous saying “Never meet your heroes”. I didn’t get to meet one of mine, I only got to see him from afar. In my view, Tim Keller consistently exuded grace and gentleness in his writing, preaching and interactions on social media. These observations seemed to be backed by many tributes from people of all denominations and backgrounds who despite the various interactions all seemed to be left with the same impression – Tim Keller loved Jesus. At the end of my life, I would love to be remembered the same way.
Tim Keller on friendship
Very few sermons have impacted me like the sermon Tim Keller gave on Friendship. With such an important relationship being the bedrock of human life, you would assume that it would be preached on more. Tim Keller reminds us that to be a true friend requires “constancy, candour, carefulness and counsel”.
In a little under 40 minutes, I realised that I had undervalued this gift that God had granted me. Often, people do not want to appear to be a burden. However, according to Tim Keller, to be a true friend, you must be willing to repeatedly bear the burdens of your friends. After all, doesn’t Galatians 6:2 exhort us to do this very thing? What is clear from this sermon is that we must avoid the tendency to coast through friendships. Instead, the friendships we cultivate here on earth should be rooted in the great friendship we find in Jesus.
Keller on suffering
I wonder what went through Tim Keller’s mind when he was first diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in May 2020. We all know that we will go through some sort of suffering in this world. We don’t need an in-depth theology to know that the effects of sin can be so disorienting. And yet, when suffering comes the scripture exhorts us to glory in our sufferings (Romans 5:3-4). This is hard to hear when the suffering is seemingly unbearable.
Tim Keller taught us that when suffering is great, we need to lean on God who is greater than our suffering. When we feel hopeless, the scriptures teach us that suffering has a strange way of leading us to hope (Romans 5:3-4). Tim Keller didn’t spend his days trying to diagnose why he was suffering from stage IV cancer, instead, he put all his hope in the Great Physician. Tim Keller taught us that all those who put their faith in Christ will always eventually hear “Your faith has made you well” (Mark 10:52).
Be gentle because God is gentle
To paraphrase Dane Ortlund, Jesus only described Himself once in the scriptures and He called Himself “gentle and lowly” (Matthew 11:29). In a society where there is much debate about what being masculine is, Tim Keller taught us that the most masculine thing men can be is gentle. Oh how much better the world would be if we would follow Jesus in this way.
Tim Keller would often share his thoughts on social media and this would bring engagement from all corners of society. Sometimes, he would encounter a harsh response that would question his reasoning, motive or sincerity. Not once did I see Tim Keller respond in kind. Instead, he was eager to embody this Proverb “A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). When tensions threatened to boil over online, Tim Keller would endeavour to disarm his opponents with grace and draw them in with the truth. This mixture of grace and truth inevitably points us to Jesus (John 1:14).
Tim Keller taught me a lot. I’m sad that he has died. But I’m also happy because he lives. Tim Keller taught me that the goal of the Christian is not to be perfect but faithful. I never got to meet one of my heroes in this life, but I’m certain I will get to in the next. Until then, I look forward to carrying on the charge I think embodied Tim Keller’s ministry – showing that Jesus Christ is worth trusting.