Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
It took the Expert House Movers of Sharpstown, Maryland, 17 years and 23 days to complete the move of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse 2900 feet away from the eroding Atlantic Ocean beach on the North Carolina Outer Banks location where it had been standing. They started in 1982 and finished in 1999. Little things may get done quickly, but big things take time. Someone once said, “Most people tend to overestimate what they can do in a week and underestimate what they can do in a lifetime.” Paul was in a position to look back over his life and see, if his humility allowed it, a lifetime just since his conversion to Christ that was marked by much fruitful labor. Luke chronicles some of that work from Acts 11-28. Paul reflects back on some of it in 2 Corinthians 11. But in what is firmly believed to be his last inspired writing, 2 Timothy, he has a brightly lit torch in his condemned hand. He is ready to hand it off to the young preacher, Timothy.
I imagine most of you are blessed to lay claim to someone, either still living or now dead, who was a Paul to you. Having a mentor or mentors to help us grow and develop, spiritually, is priceless. When Paul tells Timothy what he does in 2 Timothy 4:1-8, a passage we typically use to encourage preachers, he is urging a precise attitude and precise teaching. The reasons why he wanted that for Timothy are reasons that should motivate us to live faithfully and to encourage our own Timothys to persevere until the current pressures. Here are three reasons why Paul encouraged Timothy to be faithful:
Your faith will be tested. You may be resisted, rejected, ignored, disbelieved, and debated. The question is, “How are you going to handle it?” Will it make you better or better. It will try your patience, but will you be found guilty or not guilty? If you will be patient and faithful to God’s Word, you will be an example to more than you’ll ever know. Keep your eyes open for your own Timothys to train and members to mentor. The more we have who listen to and follow the advice of this passage, the greater the influence of Christ will be in this dark, sinful world.
Lance Corporal Francis Ledwidge, a 26-year-old Irish soldier, was one of 10 million people killed in World War I.He died July 31, 1917, in Belgium. He was a poet, and he wrote the following before the war:
And now I’m drinking wine in France, the helpless child of circumstance.
Tomorrow will be loud for war, how will I be accounted for?
It is too late now to retrieve a fallen dream, too late to grieve
A name unmade, but not too late to thank the gods for what is great;
A keen-edged sword,a soldier’s heart, is greater than a poet’s art.
And greater than a poet’s fame a little grave that has no name.
(Gilbert, Martin. The First World War, Holt & Co., NY, 1994, 353).
Ledwidge sounds neither devout nor decent, but his last stanza rings loudly. This poor, fallen man glorifies the soldier, prolific even in anonymity. Glory rather than shame is to be memorialized in an unnamed grave.
Greater far than those whose spirits departed on plains and beaches of Europe or Asia or even Canaan during Joshua’s days are those who lost their lives in service to God. In the great memorial of Scripture they are mentioned, but without their names. One day, in heaven, their identities will be known as the Lord reads the names of those written in His Book of Life.
The writer of Hebrews speaks about many such unnamed heroes of the spiritual war that endures generation after generation. Among those are unnamed prophets of valor (Heb. 10:32-34). Unidentified women are remembered for their faith (35).
Following them, the writer holds up the generic others–children of God persecuted and even killed (10:36-38). Together they form that multitudinous throng of witnesses in Hebrews 12:1. Under centuries of dust, sand and silt lie their unmarked graves. God does not even reveal their names to the reader. But they sacrificed and persevered in hope of eternal life. They gained approval through their active faith (11:39). They stand as an example and a motivation for Christians today (12:1).
Throughout the world there are scores of Christians toiling in obscurity. For every big-name preacher and high-profile teacher and widely known missionary, thousands of godly mothers are training their children to follow Christ and running their homes with grace and virtue (Ti. 2:5; Pr. 31). Without recognition, elders are praying for, shepherding, defending and feeding lambs in places as far away as India and Africa and as close as Indiana and Alabama. Hidden from the watchful pens of our sharp-sighted editors and authors are saints, as soldiers, fighting Satan without ceremony or earthly commendation. One day their bodies will fail and fall into graves, known only to family and friends, but unmarked in the graveyard of brotherhood greats.
Too, in the church, day by day great things are done by saints that never make the bulletin, announcements, or bulletin boards. Masked by their modesty, they brighten many lives by walking in the light. The elders, preachers, or deacons may never know so much of what they do, but God sees and will reward them. When they lay their armor down, they may sleep in an unmarked plot in the cemetery of church history, but with God they will have greater fame than those who etched their mark in the annals of the world.
So, fight (1 Cor. 9:26)!
When speaking of God’s attributions and actions, the Bible often resorts to a literary device called anthropomorphism (where human characteristics or behaviors are attributed to God—“the hand of God,” “the eyes of the Lord,” etc.). But, there is one personification that’s absolutely terrifying. Jesus utilizes it in describing the spiritual condition of Laodicea. He says, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16). Some translations, knowing “vomit” is felt to be too strong and graphic to the sensitivities of some readers, have gone the more antiseptic route by translating it “spit.” But the Greeks had a word for the phrase “spit out” (you find that word translated in John 9:6, Mark 7:33, and Mark 8:23).
It has been said that what makes God sick often is what makes our culture tick. When you look at the Laodiceans, they were guilty of the following:
Certainly, the world is blind to God’s purpose for their lives, is numb to its true spiritual condition, and is deaf to the biblical plea to repent and depend on God and His will. But these words are directed to Christians as a warning to us. Our mission is to engage in the work He has us on earth to do, which is not to accumulate wealth, indulge in fleshly pleasures, and pursue the honor and praise of this world. Our need for God’s strength and help every step of the way must drive us to depend on Him and repent of a lack of zeal for and involvement in the work He has called us to do as Christians.
When we get so wrapped up in this world that we ignore His mission, when we get so conditioned to rely on our assets and attributes that we ignore His power, and when we get so hard-hearted that we ignore His grace and forgiveness, we make God sick. No matter how you look at that, the very thought is just chilling! He loves us, pleads with us, and wants to reward us (Rev. 3:19-22). But that requires us to live differently from those ancient Laodiceans. We must let Scripture properly diagnose our spiritual condition or it will make God sick.