Sunday, June 28, 2009

Where I Am Now – Keeping Focused

This morning, someone made a comment about passages of Scripture that have, in the past, impacted you so deeply that they’ve become a part of the fabric of your being. At the words, I cast my memory back and thought of passages like that in my life.

The first to come to mind was a verse in Second Timothy that resonated with me in times of struggle during college, hard times when I didn’t even have the strength to pursue Christ: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself.” Having the strength for faith isn’t something I’m currently struggling with, but the verse still resonates—it is a truth I rely upon and live in.

Today, though, I went back to the beginning of the chapter to take a look at that verse in context. I wanted to see what I was to do with the phrase right before the one I’d grasped: “If we deny Him, He will also deny us.” It’s a frightening verse, really. What does it mean by the word deny?

These days, my spiritual struggles are wrapped up in the struggles of others. I have friends and mentors who have turned their back on the God who is my life-force; friends and mentors with whom I learned Christ and a biblical worldview. And I do not know what to do with that. If God taught me something through the words or actions of a friend, and that friend no longer follows that teaching, what am I to do? How am I to comprehend that teaching now? Through prayer and consideration, I’ve come to realize that my philosophy that God’s Truth is Truth, no matter in what vehicle it is presented, applies here, too. But even so, the struggle remains. My faith is currently secure. By God’s grace, I am not doubting His person, His faithfulness, His goodness, His justice. But these friends cannot say the same—and some have said the very opposite; they have rejected God.

So I read the whole passage again, finding myself in a different position than when I last spent time looking at it. This is what I read:

“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in sufferings as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect; that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him;
if we endure, we will also reign with Him;
if we deny Him, He will also deny us;
if we are faithless, He remains faithful—
for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:1-13)

Who am I in all this? Where do I stand today? I am the “child” addressed at the very beginning. I’m exhorted to be strengthened by Jesus’ grace, by the truth I’ve heard all my life. I’m commanded to pass this truth along—which is what I’m doing right now.

I’m to pursue Christ single-mindedly, undistracted by those around me who doubt. Not without care for them, but with the knowledge that my pursuit benefits them, as a soldier’s obedience to this commander serves everyone he protects. Yes, certainly, there is reward for faithfulness, like the athlete’s crown or the farmer’s crop, but that is secondary to the soldier’s focus upon his commander. That aim to please the commander comes with hardship sometimes; soldiers are asked to lay their very lives on the line, but their aim is not focused upon the suffering, rather the goal.

And what is that goal? That Truth will be heard and understood. Paul exhorts me to remember Christ Jesus. He is bound for the sake of the Truth, but the Truth still speaks, still goes on. Paul sets aside his own cares; he shows the soldier how to endure the suffering for others’ sakes.

This is where things get nitty-gritty and theological, and I’m not sure if I’ve got it all right, or even exactly how it plays out in real life, but here’s what I’m thinking on the end of the passage. Paul says he endures everything for the sake of the elect, and it is in that context that he says what follows. He knows the elect will be saved, but he wants them to obtain salvation with eternal glory…living fully forever, starting now.

The saying Paul quotes at the end of the passage is the part I’ve always spent time upon. There’s salvation: dying with Christ and also living with Him. There is suffering and reward: enduring and reigning. And then that denial. Those who deny Christ will be denied. So who are these ones? I think, based in the idea of election, these are those who are not elect, who were never saved to begin with. The faithless, on the other hand, are believers who falter, either through willful sin or simple exhaustion. To them, Christ remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself – and they have co-died and co-lived with Him.

So where does it leave me with these friends who have turned their backs on the Savior who suffered for them? I mourn to think that some of them may have denied Him from the start, and they will be denied by Him. But others, even those who have shaken their fists in His face and said, “I will not serve!” may still yet find Him faithful. For He cannot deny Himself, and they are His.

I wish I could figure out who falls into which category. I wish I could shake those who have lost faith and say, “Wake up! Don’t you see? He’s still here! He hasn’t given up on you!” Right now, I don’t have the opportunity to say those words, but at least I can keep my focus and hope He speaks through my life. I also co-died and co-live with Christ. He is my commander. It is He for whom I compete, for whom I work. And it is that that will benefit those friends around me; it is that which will point to the Truth. I love that right in the middle of this whole passage there’s an encouragement to think on all this, and a promise that God will give understanding. I don’t know if I’ve got it yet…but I’ll keep my focus.

1 comment:

  1. Last Sunday (June 21) Pastor Johnny had a tremendous sermon on 2 Tim 2:2 ff. He considers it the most significant passage for a believer to ponder and meditate on. His message is worth listening to: "Signing up to Suffer."


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