October 3, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us weak but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony concerning our Lord or of me His prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.” (2 Timothy 1.6-8)
We have heard and even repeated the familiar scripture “God has not created in us a spirit of timidity and fear.” While it is good for a general application and acknowledgment of who we are as people and especially as children of God and joint heirs with Christ in the Kingdom of God on earth and in heaven, it speaks to a very pointed truth. We are called to be powerful witnesses of the gospel and the truth of it. It is all too apparent in the world today that the observation of Paul concerning life in the age of the Roman Empire remains violently and disturbingly true. What was the observation? In his letter to the “Romans,” he wrote “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie. They worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator of all things who is forever praised. Amen.” (Romans 1.24-25) It is a powerful description of the degradation of moral society and the plan by which it was accomplished. Paul saw it as a danger in Rome and throughout the Empire just as he had seen it in his own country, Israel. The Law and the Prophets described such atrocities and moral inconsistencies as well as the consequences of such behavior. They existed even before Israel was a nation with the crowning evidence being Sodom and Gomorrah. But, Paul knew that the history of the Temple before its fall in 587 BCE at the hands of the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar was also evidence. The leadership of those days had lost their confidence and boldness in being the people of God. They grasped fear as something worthy and were comforted by satsifying their self-needs instead of trusting God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. They had become weak because they surrendered their hold on the Spirit of God and did not worship Him in spirit and in truth. For Paul, the ministry to the Gentiles to which he had been called was in a compromised situation because Rome had no intention of trading the lie for the truth. And it wasn’t just any truth that Paul was speaking about. It was “the truth” which was the key element to successful living in these days so that on “that day” the people of God would be justified and brought into the full measure of God’s promise.
As Paul neared the end of his life in a death row cell in Rome, he remained confident in the faith which he adopted proclaiming Jesus as the fulfillment of the Jewish hope and God’s plan for all people. He longed to see “that Day” when Jesus would return and claim final judgment with the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked. (Acts 24.14) it was a sadness which covered him because he grasped the finality of his life being reached before he reached the hope of his desire for God’s justice. Yet, he knew that God’s promise was true and he would see Jesus face to face in Heaven regardless. He never stopped believing that Jesus was coming and that the age of the Church would transition into the Age of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven. Because of this faith he had in God through Jesus Christ, he did not want Timothy to miss out. He did not want Timothy to be caught into the tragic current affair of exchanging the truth for a lie. And the lie was that the truth of the gospel did not really exist. Many would use the “second coming,” or the lack of it, as evidence. Others would continue to propose the logic of “bad things happening to good people” and “good things happening to bad people” as evidence that the truth of the gospel was a lie. It would extend to those in the Church who were infected by the testimony of Paul’s failure to be free of chains as evidence that the gospel was powerless to effect change. Yet, Paul’s faith was the evidence of spiritual strength. His conviction was the witness to the power of God’s Spirit in reframing the thinking of the Church and the world as to the word, work and witness of the gospel of Jesus on earth. It was a gospel of spiritual legacy and Paul was preparing to pass the baton to the next runner in the relay for life. What Paul first saw in “run the good race” as a sprint to the finish had become a dash to the next leg. And while he had mentored others to carry out the mission of Christ in making disciples of all nations, it was Timothy for whom his heart was truly set. Paul was staying in his lane.
I doubt Paul ever said it, but he probably would have embraced the sentiment of “no pain, no gain.” Discipleship was never going to be easy. Turning the focus of the world away from itself and back to God was going to be a difficult, if not impossible, task. If that is the case, then why engage it at all? I wonder if Timothy was caught up in such thinking. Remember the disciples’ quandary as they watched the rich young ruler walk away disheartened, disappointed and dissuaded? They asked Jesus, “If he can’t do it (be saved), then what chance is there for any of us?” I wonder now as I listen to their question if they weren’t questioning Jesus Himself as to say, “If You couldn’t persuade him to take us his cross and follow you, then what chance do we have of persuading the world?” Jesus responded, “What is impossible with people is never impossible with God!” People cannot save themselves. Only God can save and He will save those who believe in Him more than they believe in themselves. But, what of Timothy? Had he stopped believing in himself as a church leader? Had the fear of the world and its dire consequences and seemingly insurmountable circumstances become too much of a challenge? Was the roar of the crowd and the footfalls of approaching runners on the track of life deafening and breath-stealing? As he waited for Paul to round the corner did he find himself now being tasked with running the final leg to the finish instead of Paul? Pressure, doubt, fear, anxiety, expectation, success, competition, viability and on and on are power stealers and faith inhibitors. Or they can be faith instigators! Paul’s urging of Timothy to remember the fire of his conversion of faith at the beginning, the fire of passion instilled by a believing grandmother and mother, the success in founding communities of faith and leading others to believe in Jesus as the Christ were the means of saying “fan the flames” and build up the fire. It came with a price and a sacrifice but it would come to the same conclusion that God’s promise is sure, true and righteous all together. That conclusion was the satisfaction of knowing you had put it all on the line without regret, remorse or repose. Paul was making his stand for what was right and true. What he didn’t want was for Timothy to fall into sorrow, sadness and sedation. The lie can anesthetize the spirit and put the body to sleep unto death. The truth, however, can revive the soul, enrich the spirit and build up the body so that it can bear the scars, the wounds, the brokenness and the momentary defeats which propel us to appreciate the true victory that is ours in Christ Jesus. Paul wasn’t going to let Timothy down nor was he going to leave him down. Paul believed in Timothy just as he believed that Jesus is the Christ. And so should we be of such encouragement to one another and fan the flames of the spirit and of faith until it comes to a roaring blaze. It may well be that fire on that Day that is promised to come on earth instead of the flood to judge what is true and what is false. We will not judge but we will be the measure by which the world is judged to know Christ or to deny Him. Fan the flames, mighty ones of God and avoid the cold water of doubt and fear. This is how we can move from great to good in the Kingdom of God on earth.
Father, Your presence in our lives is like a warming and refining fire. You have not only called us to be Your people but You have given us the means and shown us the way to be Your people. We are Yours in Jesus Christ. It is with the passion for the gospel that we step forward to run the race to our finish and fight the good fight. We give ourselves to You knowing You have given Yourself for us in Jesus’ name. This we believe. AMEN.