I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

2 Timothy 4: 1, 2

This is Paul’s direction for Timothy as a pastor and a teacher of God’s Word. It is also a set of directions that anyone who serves the church in a similar capacity today should take to heart. Yet, those are not the only people who Paul is speaking to across all of this time. The Apostle’s words ring out clearly and with great authority to all of us who know Christ and for all of the Lord’s church today. We may not stand before a large audience in a formal setting and speak words of truth and life that come directly out of God’s Word, but we will have many opportunities to share that holy word’s love, grace, and truth with others. The life that we live may be oriented around earning a living by doing work that seems far afield from that of the church; however, the Lord is certainly present in the places where we do go. This day of the week, part of the calendar, or season of life could be one wherein spiritual things seem remote and secondary to the rest of life; yet, today might just be the one wherein a soul in need of a Savior is standing before us awaiting those life-saving words and the touch of Christ’s love.

None of us are Timothy, and no one that we will meet is Paul. They were great men that lived long ago and who gave us a model and a pattern to follow as we walk through life with Christ. Paul, under the guidance and the direction of the Holy Spirit, also wrote out explanations and instructions that are useful to us in understanding our relationship with God and the way that this relationship is lived out in the world. Paul was faced daily with a world that was more hostile to the gospel of Christ than it was open and receptive. He knew that his life on this earth was nearing its end. He was also aware of the glory that was to be his in the presence of Christ when those last few days here were completed. Still, Paul remained focused upon the task at hand. Hostility did not stop him. Human failures and frailty were troubling but even the abandonment of friends could not cause him to experience defeat. Paul’s example is one for us to follow. In fact, we should be prepared for the eventuality of a loss of friends and associates as we stand for the truth of God’s Word in the face of a world that discounts its validity.

That does not mean that we should be angry or harsh in the way that we engage with others. Even in his very trying circumstances, Paul was more inclined to pour out grace, forgiveness, and encouragement than he was to cast blame and reproach. We too can be voices of reconciliation and restoration in our corner of the universe. As we recognize the fact that Christ is the only true and authorized judge of the human soul, we can extend the hand of friendship to people who have been hostile toward us and about Christ. Reaching out in friendship can be done as we also share the truth of the gospel that is the source of the grace, love, and confidence that we require in order to enter into such counter-intuitive acts as these. A life that is lived as a follower of Christ is one that is carried out as a preacher of God’s Word. This is done through the way that we conduct ourselves in private and in public, and the word is demonstrated by the attitudes that we hold toward others and about the issues of life. Christ is with us in all places, over the entire course of life, in all situations and circumstances, and He is Lord of each and every season that we experience in our journey.   

Therefor do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

2 Timothy 1: 8-10

In Christ, shame is gone. That is a very big idea, and it is one that, in general, is hard for most people to fully grasp onto. Yet, as people who know Christ and who are also held onto by Him, we have nothing in life or beyond it to be ashamed of. We may have lived a life wherein we did and said things that were highly worthy of rebuke and shame, and we do get to own the damage that we may have done along the way. Yet, the grace that Jesus pours over His people is such that we can be set free from the fear and the doubt that accompanies realization of the sinfulness and the harmful nature of the way we have lived. Christ grants to us a newly formed and discovered strength of will, character, and person that enables us to make radical course changes in life and to also do the hard work of repairing damage done in the past.

It is this dramatic and transformative change that can establish the reason for proclaiming the work of Christ as the cause and motivation for what others are seeing as a new person. In addition to the difference in approach to life that Christ makes in His followers, He also gives each of us a gift or gifts of His Spirit that are to be used in the support and the promotion of the outworking of God’s kingdom upon the earth. The presence of Christ within us should make us bold in our use and application of these gifts. We can go through life with the confidence of Christ in both putting what He has given to us to practical use and also in speaking out about the source of this newly found capability and capacity for doing God’s work in our world. In Christ, we are fully alive, and the way that we live out our days can reflect that reality to others.

Death itself is the result of sinful disobedience to God. Each of us is born into a life that is overshadowed by the prospect of our own mortality, and the weight of that knowledge can work to constrain and to curtail our joy and our freedom in living in the fullest expression of what it means to love and to care about the world around us. Jesus overcame the hold that death has upon humanity, and He put human mortality into its rightful perspective. We all will still die, but in Christ, that is just a momentary change in the location of our residency. For Christ transforms our living spirits into ones that dwell in this life in the presence of the divine as the Holy Spirit comes to reside within us; then, when this life ceases, Christ takes us into the next aspect of our existence with Him as we continue on with a life that is carried out in the presence of God in the spiritual realm of heaven. This certainty of our eternal destiny is also something that we can proclaim to our world in the shamelessly bold manner of one who now lives in the center of the glorious truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
    vindicated by the Spirit,
        seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
        taken up in glory.

         1Timothy 3: 16

Jesus does present us with a great mystery. There is nothing else in all of human experience that is quite like Him. No person and no angelic being fulfills all that Jesus did or matches up with everything that He was. His presence on the earth brought about a special moment in history when all that had gone wrong with humanity’s occupation of this world was granted the blessing of redemption, and when the separation that our rebellion and sinfulness had caused was permanently repaired and bridged. Yet, all of this is mysterious, for grace of this magnitude, restoration of something so broken, and the love that caused God to go to this great a length to give His Son in sacrifice for each of us is all beyond the experience and the grasp of human reason. It is all the result of the character and the nature of God.

This nature of grace and redemption is something that God offers up to all people in every corner of this earth. There is no exclusivity and no exception to the offer of the gift of redemption and the eternal life that follows upon it. God’s gift is available and present for the entirety of this world’s inhabitants. This fact is also one of the great mysteries that comes out of the ways and the means in which God operates in the world, for I really do not have any idea of exactly how God goes about communicating His truth of salvation, the Gospel message of Christ, to all of the corners and to every one of the people on this earth. I do know that followers of Christ are commanded by Him to go into the world and to take that message there with us in order to bring the people that we encounter into discipleship with Jesus. But that does not fully accomplish the mission of taking Christ to all people in each place.

It is our calling and purpose to continue to flesh out people’s awareness and understanding of the mystery of Christ with people in all situations and context in which we find ourselves, and it is also God’s desire for us to seek out people who are not exposed to the Gospel so that Christ can be revealed to them through our love, concern, and care for them. God’s desire for the redemption of this world was devised in Heaven, actualized in the coming of Jesus into the world, made apparent and tangible through the life and the work of Jesus here, and brought to fruition on the cross. Then, in the vindication of resurrection from the dead, God’s intent to bring about total restoration of His creation was set into motion. Now we live in anticipation of that final return and the unending glory that it will bring about. So, in the interim, we can live in the reality of Christ’s presence in and with us, and we can go through our days proclaiming to the world the redemption that comes through Jesus Christ alone.

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

Acts 9: 31

 

Church growth, peace, comfort, and fear of the Lord, these are all good things that we only wish that we could experience today. Yet, these terms were used by Luke to describe the fragmented and fractious world of the church in those early days of its existence. They had made peace with their greatest individual opponent in the person of the redeemed Paul, now a follower of Christ. The church, in this wide-spread sense of its total existence was seeing great growth in that the Gospel of Jesus Christ had a powerful appeal to people who resided in many different cities and towns with their various cultures and prior religious beliefs. But all was not peaceful and calm, and life was not easy or absent all strife and turmoil in these bodies of faith. The narrative of the New Testament, especially the letters that Paul, Peter, and John wrote, is full of difficulties and challenges that had to be overcome both in the world around them and inside of the fellowship of faith.

 

For followers of Christ, even those exciting days when the church was new and it seemed like the imprints of the Lord’s feet were still almost visible in their streets of their towns required them to live humbly with each other, to submit their wills to that of the Lord, and to deliberately enter into the commonality of their calling and purpose. Otherwise, they were too different and diverse in their life situations, interests, passions, and concerns to ever build up a universal church that was capable of working in concert to change the world where they lived. Yet, the church of Christ was thriving and gaining in strength. According to the description that we are given, the church was committed to worshiping God and to respecting His word of truth and life above all else, and they were submitting themselves, both individually and corporately, to the peace-making guidance and direction that came from the Holy Spirit.

 

This is the sort of singular focus that often seems to be missing in our church today. Certainly, there are individual people and gatherings of us who do seek out Christ and His will above all else. We encounter situations wherein a body of believers will set aside all preconceived ideas, political interests, and personal goals in order to do nothing but to pray together, to talk in full honesty about the issues at hand, and to wait upon the leading of the Spirit in their decision making. This is the sort of process that I speculate might have been at the core of the peace and unity that the early church was experiencing. The comfort that the Spirit brought to them was almost certainly not always comfortable for them to embrace. The peace that they entered into with each other was gained through the hard work of listening, submission, tendering love and grace, and seeking to see God’s anointing in the persons of people with whom they disagreed. I suggest that today’s church and each of us in it could do more of these sorts of things, and if we did, there would be more peace in our ranks, and perhaps, the church would begin to reclaim its position of authority in our world.

And Joshua captured all the kings and their land at one time, because the LORD God of Israel fought for Israel.

Joshua 10: 42

 

We all engage in battle. Seldom are they as dramatic, violent, and far reaching as were the ones that the Israelites under Joshua fought on this particular day. As for me, I have never needed the sun to stand still until it was all accomplished, which was an accommodation that the Lord granted to Joshua; in fact, there have been more times when I wished that the hours would go by more quickly. The point is that Israel’s experience here did involve the miraculous and was facilitated by the hand of God working on their behalf, and our own experience of life’s struggles may not seem to be the same. However, I submit that there is more similarity of our days to Joshua’s than we might think and more than we do appreciate.

 

Israel was following God’s instructions and entering into the outworking of the Lord’s plan. In this instance, they were doing things exactly as God dictated, and they were granted great success in the process. Our battles are different, the tools that we use are not the same, and victory is defined in ways other than in conquest and death. Still, we have God’s direction to lead us, prayer to encourage and to help us to focus, and the Spirit with us to explain and to direct it all. Like Joshua, we are called to go to war against powers and forces that desire to control the territory around us. We are engaged in an on-going contest with these forces of the world for the most precious real estate that there is in the hearts, minds, and souls of people. There is nothing more significant for us to do than to enter into Christ’s calling to bring His Gospel to everyone that we encounter.

 

This work can be very hard and takes us into the harsh terrain of deception, deeply held beliefs, and angry opposition. We may find that there are times when all of our companions and supporters seem to have disappeared into the background so that we feel totally alone. Yet, this is never the case, for the Lord is committed to us and to the campaign that He has called us to wage, and He never leaves us truly alone. In fact, Christ is the one who is doing all of this fighting for us, and He is the source for all of the strength and the courage that we need to enter into the struggle. As followers of Christ we will encounter the hostility of a world that is fighting against God’s righteous truth with all of its might and vigor; however, in Christ, we already have His victory, and we go into each of these encounters with the Lord leading the way and His loving grace, truth, and heart of redemption as our strong weapons.

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.

1 John 5: 4

 

Let’s face it, we live in an age where we have access to information, whether accurate or wildly distorted, about everything that is happening around us, and there are days when this world and its news just seem overwhelming. We are hit in the face with wars and other forms of human violence on an almost hourly basis while personal tragedy and losses are played out in a relentless procession of pain and suffering. Even those among us with the greatest of resources available cannot begin to meet all of the needs that are presented for our consideration. There seems to be a giant hole growing in the center of the world’s heart where all that is civil, human, and good is falling in and getting lost under the tons of debris that is the fall out from our world’s relentless chaos. As we look into God’s Word, none of this should come as a shock or a surprise. Yet, as we know and understand God’s heart, it should still cause us concern and bring about feelings of grief and empathy for those who are in pain.

 

As I view the news from around my world, Christ points my mind to the human suffering and loss that is woven throughout these stories. He tells me of His own feelings of anguish and agony that are felt in response to what we people do to and with each other. My Lord leads me into appreciation for the struggle that millions of others are engaging in as they go about living through this day, and He also points my stunned and overwhelmed mind toward the only answer that carries with it real hope, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This thought may seem simplistic, detached, and even delusional in that the problems of this world don’t appear to have easy or readily achievable answers; yet, I hold that the opposite is true. The Gospel of Christ does not stop with a profession of faith, but rather, it begins there. As a follower of Christ, as one who has accepted on faith the reality of Jesus and the living truth of His transformative message of hope, I am compelled by my Lord to enter into my world for the sake of His name and in service to His will and desire to bring love, grace, and peace to every corner of this planet.

 

This is how those of us who have been born of God do overcome the disastrous mess that is this world. We may not change a single global story wherein brutality and oppression seem to rule the day; however, we can impact a life or two or so with a form of love and care that can lead to relationships that transcend eternity. God has overcome all that is evil in this world and beyond, and His Word makes it very clear that there is soon to be a day of great reckoning when Christ will set right all that has gone wrong in our world. Until then, we join Him in this victory over the evil that is attempting to overwhelm us with the volume and the intensity of its message of hopelessness and defeat. In Christ, we are called to live out His victory by loving others without regard for their response to us as we seek to bring people who are distanced from each other by worldly systems and ideas into our Lord’s peace and understanding. It is our faith in Christ and in the saving truth of His Gospel that makes the miracle of deep and true love possible, and it is this love that overcomes this world.

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

Colossians 2: 9, 10

 

To be clear, Paul is talking about Christ here, and he is discussing the remarkable and mystical way in which he in fills followers of Christ with attributes that come from Christ’s deity. In this instance he is speaking about Christ’s authority to rule and over all rule or governance. This is more obviously true regarding the heavenly realms, but it is also equally true within our earthly context. God reigns supreme over all of creation, and Christ is the One who has been placed upon the throne as final authority and judge. He is the singular supreme court justice and more than that, for He also speaks the rule of law into existence. Truth, justice, and God’s way are the basis for all the He decides and decrees.

 

So, as people commit ourselves to following Christ, His Spirit fills us. This literal presence of God within us is transformative as He works within us to change the ways that we think and act into ones that more and more closely reflect God’s word of truth. Yet, this process of change is neither forced nor coerced, as Christ requires for us to submit ourselves to Him. In this regard He is radically different from earthly governors and kings. The Kingdom of God is populated by people who desire to dwell there, and this wildly diverse population is unified under one anthem and pledge that we often call the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So, we live, breath, and operate within a new set of rules and a transformed economy of grace which is entirely ordered under the authority and the rule of Christ. This kingdom is ordered by God’s creation design that is an order of justice, peace-making, and loving grace.

 

As followers of Christ, these principles need to govern our interaction with our world at large. This extends far beyond the walls of our churches and to all people regardless of our familial or faith connections to them. Whenever our world and its rulers speak and act in ways that contradict those of Christ, we who know Him are mandated by our relationship to the One who is true rule and authority to speak out in opposition and with words of corrective redirection and even rebuke, as it is needed. I say this with a cautionary note about submission of ourselves to Christ and to His Word. In all matters, we are to think, speak, and act in ways and with language that is directed toward expressing the Gospel message of redemption, restoration, and transformation. Yet, with that in mind, we are to speak out. There is no voice that we can trust to utter God’s truth and to care about His justice other than that of Christ. When our rulers are acting wrongly from the perspective of the Gospel, we who are filled with Christ’s Spirit should be compelled to stand in opposition to that ungodly rule while pointing directly to the one true Ruler and King.