October 18, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4.17-18)
As we read Paul’s admonishment to Timothy to stay the course of ministry to the Gentiles have we asked Paul, “How did the Lord rescue you from every evil attack when the list of tragic events in your life is long? In the end your head was removed from your body because that is the fate of a Roman citizen who is found guilty of treason and insurrection against the State.” Paul speaks to this reality in his life as encouragement to our own lives by saying “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1.21) What does Paul gain, you may ask, by dying? Isn’t it the DNA of all living things to live and not to surrender to death? Yet, the very paradox of the kingdom of righteousness in this world leads us to consider surrendering to death and in it find life. So, how is it that Paul finds gain in death?
Well, the easiest answer to that question is the reward of his faith which is eternal and abundant life surrounded by so great a “cloud” of witnesses in the presence of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Heaven. For Paul, the hope of living in Heaven as he did on earth would become a realized hope. How can that be in the midst of what the world would call a catastrophic life? He was going blind probably due to contracting malaria on one of his mission journey through the lowlands of Asia Minor. He had been beaten, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, castaway and threatened by lions and ravenous animals. He had been shunned, turned away, ridiculed, spat upon and spurned. All of that certainly does not sound like Heaven to me. How about you? Still, Paul saw things through the lens of faith in Jesus as the Christ. He walked by faith and not by sight. He saw the myriad opportunities to do the will of the One who saved his life from eternal death. The scriptural confirmation was true “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body; rather fear the One who can destroy both body and soul in Hell.” (Matthew 10.28) To live was Christ-like because Paul chose to serve the Lord and do so with gladness. To die was to open the door to receiving the promise granted to the faithful servant.
There is an additional, allegorical, truth which I see in Paul’s confession as well. For Paul, Jesus as the Christ was always proposed as the “head of the body.” While he was faithful in being duty bound by the will and mind of Christ, he continued to struggle, as do we all, with having a mind of and for the world. It was his head, after all, in the physical sense regardless of the spiritual affirmation that Christ is the head of the body of each person and of the Church. There is the truth of submission which is the lynchpin for living by faith and not by sight. Submission is the reality and truth of faith. The question comes for us all being “What shall we submit ourselves to?” Paul and the Church had to come to terms on a daily basis of living in submission to the will of God as did Jesus of Nazareth. If Jesus was never submissive to God, then He would never be known as the Christ of God. Jesus knew this better than anyone apart from God. Jesus was submissive to death and moreover not just death but death on a cross. (Philippians 2.8) Peter would face the same test of faith when he was sentenced to die by crucifixion, the penalty for non-Romans accused of treason and insurrection against the State. Fortunately for Peter, Rome granted his petition to not be crucified as Jesus his Lord was crucified. Peter humbled himself to death on a cross hung upside down. It had an upside to it in that it declared “Jesus was the Head of His body and the Church he served as a faithful shepherd of the flock” and it was not his head but his heart which made this declaration. So, what then of Paul? Well, I can certainly see, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that losing his head on the chopping block of Rome allowed the truth he preached to be known. The true head of Paul was Christ. To literally lose his head for the sake of the gospel rendered testimony to the head of the serpent, the sin he battled within, to be crushed. Rome was not “Christ” in that Eden image and promise of God but an implement by which God had rendered the truth of judgment and justification in Paul’s life. It would be in the vein of God using foreign nations to do the same against a faithless Israel who abandoned her faith to “keep her head.” For Paul, to live was to proclaim Jesus as the true Head of his life in faith, hope and love. From it he derived wisdom, knowledge and the insight which allowed him to be as one with each of those he served for the sake of the gospel. By equal measure, for Paul, to die and to die by beheading, was to liberate the truth and set it free to be known that while he may die in the body at the whim of the world, he would live in spirit and in truth in the Kingdom of God in Heaven as it will be one day on earth. Paul lived out his truth of surrendering and submitting his will, his head, to God by keeping faith in Jesus as the Christ.
How willing are we, mighty ones of God, to submit to the headship of Christ so that we might fulfill the will of God in and through our lives?
How willing are we, mighty ones of God, to lose our head for the sake of the gospel figuratively, as is our calling, and literally, if that is our opportunity?
How willing are we, mighty ones of God, to declare the truth of being one within the body of Christ as members equally in the Church, the community of faith in Jesus as the Christ, and surrender our all for the greater good of humanity that they might see Him, believe Him and receive Him as their Lord and Savior to the glory of God?
Shouldn’t it be true for us that “to live is Christ and to die is gain”? Aren’t we, by our profession of faith, committed to submit to the Word of God and His will so that we might have life and have it more abundantly forever in a way greater than the world is capable of giving for a time? And are we willing to accept the admonition of Paul as it was given in like manner to Timothy to hold fast to the calling by which we have been called- to preach the good news and to live it daily before all the world? There is no better time than now to do so!
If not this, then what?
If not us, then who?
If not faith, then what good option is there?
Father God, You have made it abundantly clear of Your will and Your love for us. We see it in the gospel and we can put it on by adopting Jesus as the head of our lives as a person and as a people bound in faith, hope and love. Strengthen our will and resolve to be submissive to the call by which we have been called. Let our eyes that can see, seize the vision of true life! Let our ears that can hear, listen obediently to the word of authentic living! This we ask in Jesus’ name who is the way, the truth and life we desire. AMEN.