Topical Scripture: 2 Timothy 2:1-13
A friend recently sent me some ads which needed proofreading:
- Nice parachute. Never opened. Used once.
- Nordic Track $300. Hardly used. Call Chubby.
- Semi-Annual after-Christmas Sale.
- Snowblower for sale. Only used on snowy days.
- Stock up and save. Limit one.
- Wanted: Man to take care of cow that does not smoke or drink.
- Dog for sale: Eats anything and is fond of children.
- For sale by owner: complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica 45 volumes. Excellent condition. $1,000 or best offer. No longer needed. Got married last month. Wife knows everything.
Does she really? Does she know the meaning of life? Does she know what really matters? Do any of us?
“Affluenza” is the new term of the day—affluence which afflicts us with its demands, overwork and overstress.
I read this week that 80% of men and 62% of women put in more than 40 hours a week on the job. But all this work is not giving our lives meaning and fulfillment. 60% of Americans feel pressured to work too much; 80% wish for more time to be with their families and themselves.
We’re starting to realize that it’s just not worth it. We’ve climbed to the top of the ladder, only to discover that it’s leaning against the wrong wall.
Then the hard times come. How do you go on in the face of chemotherapy, job loss, single parenting, the divorce of your parents, peer pressure at school, demands which are pulling you apart, the general weariness of life?
It all comes to purpose. You and I will choose to go on in the face of suffering and sacrifice if the goal is worth such cost. When we find the right purpose, a meaning to life which is worth our lives, we’ll pay any price to fulfill it. There, in that purpose, we’ll find the courage to go on.
Let me explain.
Choose to please God
Paul gave his life for a reason, as he wrote this letter from the Mamartine dungeon: “This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal” (vs. 8b-9). Why? “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory” (v. 10). Suffering, going on, for a purpose.
Now let’s back up:
“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). “Be strong” means to keep on being empowered. “Grace” simply means the “unmerited favor,” the power and help which God has given you. Now stand in this strength, not in your own. In his Spirit, in his power, and not your own. And lead others to do the same (v. 2; there’s an entire disciple-making strategy in this one verse).
“Endure hardship” (literally, “take your lumps”) like a good soldier, “to please your commanding officer” (v. 4). The Greek word means the person who enrolled you in the army and has been your leader ever since.
Don’t “get involved in civilian affairs”—the phrase means to get entangled, as when a soldier gets his weapons tangled up in his clothes. “Civilian affairs” keep a soldier from fighting the battle, winning the war. In other words, stay on purpose.
Compete as an “athlete”—the Greek is the word for a professional athlete, not the amateur for whom athletics is merely a hobby. This is to be our full-time work, the passion and focus of our lives.
Do so to “receive the victor’s crown” (v. 5). This is the “stephanos,” the victor’s wreath given to the winner of an athletic contest. Do so according to the “rules;” they related to the training of athletes as well as their competition. Greek athletes had to state on oath that they had fulfilled ten months’ training before they were eligible to enter the contest. Those who wish to run in the Boston Marathon must have a time low enough to make them eligible.
To use a different analogy, sacrifice as a hardworking farmer to “be the first to receive a share of the crops” (v. 6).
Now Paul quotes one of the first hymns in Christian history:
If we “died” with him (the Greek word is a completed action, referring to our salvation experience), we will live with him (present tense, here and now).
If we endure, we will reign with him.
If we “disown” him, he will disown us. Paul refers to a person who claims not to know Christ as Savior and Lord. If we do not accept his salvation, he cannot save us.
But if we are faithless, he is still faithful.
Here’s the summary: God rewards those who fulfill his purpose for their lives.
Here we find the courage to go on: the risen, living, active Christ will reward our faithfulness to his call, both now and in eternity. And he will help us fulfill it. He will give us his power, if we will fulfill his purpose. And we will pay any price, make any sacrifice, because the reward he gives is worth all it costs and more.
When Jesus Christ is real in our lives, we find in his power and reward the courage to go on.
Expect Jesus to help
But here’s the problem for many in our culture: we don’t make our choices as if Jesus Christ has anything to do with them. He’s a figure of history, a fact of our religion, a Sunday topic, but little more. When did you last choose to do something or not, to make a sacrifice or not, based on what Jesus Christ would do personally in response? Why should you?
Last year, I picked up a book whose thesis interested me: The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown. No one had yet heard of it. Its basic idea was that Jesus was a great religious teacher, but only a man. “Christians” of the first centuries all knew this. But Constantine the Great, to unify his empire, in essence deified Jesus in the early 4th century. He and his cohorts purged all the records. And the Roman Catholic Church perpetuated the myth of a divine, crucified and resurrected Savior and Lord. People like Leonardo da Vinci knew the truth, and kept it alive through their paintings and secret society. We can find clues to this truth in these works of art and literature; thus the “da Vinci code.”
There’s more to the book and its heresies, but this will suffice for us today. Now the book has sold 43 million copies, and stayed atop the bestseller lists for months.
How do we know the book is wrong? The Bible you have was created, according to its thesis, by the church centuries after Christ’s life was done, and was written to promote the myth of his divinity. So “the Bible says” is no answer. You believe the contrary, of course; but you’ve inherited the myth. Is there objective reason to reject this thesis and find your courage in the purpose and actions of a risen, living Jesus? Absolutely.
Without citing the New Testament, we know these facts:
In AD 52, Thallus the Samaritan described the darkness of Jesus’ crucifixion; so we know he died on the cross as the Scriptures say.
Tacitus (died AD 120), the greatest Roman historian, states that Jesus died at the hands of Pontius Pilate, as the New Testament says.
Suetonius (died AD 135) writes of the Christians’ faith in Jesus.
In AD 112 the Roman administrator Pliny the Younger described the fact that Christians “sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as to a god.”
We have letters, books, and fragments from Christian writers (Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Quadratus, Justin the Martyr) dating to the first century, unanimously teaching that Jesus Christ was and is the risen Lord, the Son of God.
The hypothesis that Jesus was a man deified by Constantine in AD 325 is historically preposterous. Every evidence and source is to the contrary. Everything we know from ancient records tells us that Jesus Christ was believed by Christians to be their risen and living Lord. As he is today.
When we believe that he is alive and real, that he is empowering and rewarding us, everything changes.
Martin Rinkart buried 4,000 people in his city during the Thirty Years War, including several members of his family. That was the year he wrote the hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.”
Terry Anderson, the Christian journalist taken hostage in Lebanon for seven years, wrote of his experience: “We come closest to God at our lowest moments. It’s easiest to hear God when you are stripped of pride and arrogance, when you have nothing to rely on except God. It’s pretty painful to get to that point, but when you do, God’s there.”
When I started my doctoral dissertation, I wrote on an index card the words of Galatians 6:9, “Let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we will reap a harvest if we faint not.” That card got me through it.
When I went to Malaysia as a summer missionary, my pastor gave me a devotional book inside which he had written the words, “The will of God never leads where the grace of God cannot sustain.” That sentence got me through the jungles of Borneo.
Where do you need the courage to go on? Ask yourself: is this goal within the plan and purpose of God for my life? He is indeed the risen, living Lord. Has he called you to this Mamartine dungeon? If he has, count on the power and reward of God. If you’re not, do whatever it takes to get into his will, his power, and his reward.
A great violinist was due in a particular city. The newspaper reports written in advance of his concert, however, devoted most of their attention to the original Strativarius violin he would play. The morning of the concert, the local paper even carried a picture of the great instrument. That night the concert hall filled with people, and the musician played at his best. When he concluded, applause thundered.
Then the violinist raised his instrument over his head, and smashed it across his chair. It splintered into a thousand pieces. The audience gasped in shock. The violinist explained: “I read in this morning’s paper how great my violin was. So I walked down the street and found a pawn shop. For ten dollars I bought this violin. I put some new strings on it, and used it this evening. I wanted to demonstrate to you that it’s not the violin that counts most. It’s the hands that hold the violin.”
No matter how smashed your violin may be, the hands that hold it count most. Hold onto those hands, for they are holding onto you.