October 20, 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)
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Beelzebub?Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between that which is the temple of God and that of idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said (Ezekiel 37.27): ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’” (2 Corinthians 6.14-16)
Today, I am urged to focus on the opportunity for us to be strengthened by the Resurrected Christ who stands at our side. Paul admits this is the truth in his own life. He has experienced no time where the awareness of Christ with him was absent or forgotten. Hear the words of David as he led the people in song, (Psalm 139.7-12)
Where can I go to escape Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle by the farthest sea, even there Your hand will guide me; Your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light become night around me”— even the darkness is not dark to You, but the night shines like the day, for darkness is as light to You.
Paul not only knew this psalm but undoubtedly sang it with and for others in his prison ministry of worshiping the Lord God with gladness. It was a strength and comfort to him. This is the attitude of ministry in worship and service which Paul was eliciting in Timothy. By his own experience, he shared with Timothy the admonition of knowing wherever he goes the Resurrected Lord will be with him, too. But, let’s look more intently at Paul’s phrasing of “the Lord stood at my side.”
First, I would draw attention to Paul’s writing to the community of faith in Corinth. The two letters we find in the Bible are actually a compilation of at least four which Paul wrote to them. In all of them, we can hear the theme of being a distinct people because of their faith in Jesus as the Christ. They were absolutely meant to be in the world because of the Great Commission to make disciples in and of all nations which were a part of Jesus’ last words to the disciples as they transitioned to now being apostles. But, being in the world meant they were called out of the world into the kingdom of God on earth. They were being transformed by the renewal of their minds via their heart and soul filled with the presence of Christ by His spirit. Just as Paul declared, “When I was a child I thought like a child and acted like a child. When I became a man I put childish things away,” so a similar phrasing could be said which would sound like this: “When I was in the world I thought like the world and I acted like the world. But, when I was called to dwell in the Kingdom of God on earth, I put away worldly things.” Of course we, like the Corinthians, are far from perfect as reflections of a completed process. This is why we are to use our gifts to strengthen and build up each other until we reach our full maturity and stature as ones of Christ. We, as a community of faith, are to come alongside each other and stand by each other and walk with each other throughout this life on earth in the world so that we do not fall back into being of the world. How much easier it is to do when we recognize, as Paul did, that the Resurrected Lord is doing just that with us- standing, walking and serving with us.
Then, there is this admonition from Paul to the Corinthians about being yoked with unbelievers instead of believers. Without question, Paul draws from the teaching of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 11.29-30 which says “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I AM gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus did not mean that living His kind of life was easy and bearable. The image used is of a double-yoke fitted for two animals to pull the plow or a wagon. The yoke is made in such a way to balance the distribution of energy to accomplish the task. Jesus wasn’t passing off duty and responsibility. Jesus was sharing it. And the yoke is fashioned in such a way that the stronger will benefit from the weaker and vice versa. Together they make a good team. Yes, there is that word again- good. “Good” ought to remind us by now of being able to accomplish what God has intended for us to do and to be. So, we can imagine that in the Garden of Eden we experience the first yoke breaking as Eve and Adam operated independently and fell prey to the wiles of the Accuser. In their new state of consciousness, they bound themselves together knowing they had both transgressed against the will of God. But, that “yoke breaking” was emblematic of how they not only worked independently of one another but apart from God. Now, Paul brings Timothy full circle in professing that his strength comes from the Resurrected Lord who “stands by him.” It wasn’t just having the Spirit of God upon him but that he experienced being yoked with Christ in life and in ministry. He encourages the community of faith in Philippi who have shared in supporting him and his ministry and says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That presence was experienced by their being yoked with him. His expression of thanksgiving and encouragement was intended to give them yoked strength, too, just as he was doing for and with Timothy.
And we cannot forget that this tangible and intangible “yoking” is a reality because it is in the spirit. Paul does not believe that the Resurrected Jesus was physically by his side. Paul was aware that from prison he could not physically be by the side of all those communities of faith he had founded and nurtured. On occasion, a representative of those communities might come alongside him to visit and serve him in prison. But, it was a calling out to share in the spirit of the Resurrected Christ that Paul hoped for while he yearned in the flesh for that physical presence of encouragers. While it happens to be a spiritual reality that becomes undeniable in the life of the believer as if He or they are truly there, it is not a silent affirmation. It is through the words of encouragement and offers of support in real time which speak of the presence of Christ in our lives and in our community of faith in the world. It has to be this way so that such encouragement and support does not become dependent on being “of the world.” Paul reminds Timothy and all others to not be “unequally” yoked. By this he means that we are not to compromise our faith, our witness nor our ministry by adopting and synchronizing with the world. This is a sore temptation which we, in the Church, ought to be able to see happening with greater frequency. The proverbial “tail” is wagging the dog more and more. The spirit of our community of faith is being diluted and the bread and cup we share are losing their vitality as their meaning and practice are questioned more and more. I see this in our holiday celebrations as they are less holy days than they are days to honor self above the holy. I see it in communion services where the admonition given by Jesus to His disciples “do this in remembering Me” is less and less spoken and thus less frequently experienced. Dare we cast off the yoke of Christ and bear the burden of salvation on our own? Shall we render our celebrations and our testimony less powerful in order to accommodate the world we are called to serve? We must remember that God did not meet us halfway when it comes to our salvation. He came all the way to us in Jesus as the Christ so that we would know Immanuel, God with us, is not just words but the authentic and true Word come in the flesh to dwell with us and be yoked with us for our good and our salvation. He is our strength and our stay with us.
God, Almighty, All-knowing, All-powerful and Always present, how we love being by Your side even which it challenges our worldly thinking with heavenly truths. We need the power and presence of Your Word which is Christ for us. We accept the yoke of the cross upon our shoulders and bear it with Him who bore it with us. We will strive to do the same with others in order that they may come to know the true strength which abides by faith and not by things of this world. We do so in the name of Jesus our Lord, Immanuel. AMEN.