“The Hardworking Lazy Person”

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

It sounds contradictory to refer to someone as hardworking and lazy, so clarification is necessary. There is a word found eleven times in the New Testament (in the NASB), translated “eager” (once),  “be diligent” (four times), and “make every effort” (six times). It conveys the idea of being conscientious in discharging an obligation (BDAG) and to do something with intense effort and motivation (L-N).  That is a great description of “hardworking.” Its opposite, in biblical terms, is a word translated “careless,” “idle,” “useless,” and “lazy” (cf. Mat. 12:36; 1 Tim. 5:13; Jas. 2:20; etc.). 

There are a great many people who are diligent and industrious when it comes to their occupation, care of their home, physical exercise routine, organizational routines, and various rituals. But can their Bible study habits be described as “diligent” or “lazy”? When we honestly evaluate our relationship to Scripture, do we:

  • Try to rely on things we may have learned or been told in the past?
  • Limit our serious consideration of Scripture to times in the assembly (Bible classes and sermons)?
  • Take a spouse’s, parent’s, friend’s, or preacher’s word on what a Bible verse or teaching means?
  • Approach Bible reading as an obligation, hurried through and skimmed over without digging deeper to understand meaning or how it connects to the rest of the chapter or book? 
  • Fail to meditate, internalize, and make application?
  • Make the sacrifice of time and mental energy to really get to the bottom of what the text is saying?
  • Lack an appetite and interest for reading and studying the Bible?

Why is this such a serious matter? First, it is commanded. 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (my emphasis). Do the descriptions above sound like a “diligent workman accurately handling”?

Second, it is divine communication. This is the way God communicates to us, telling us how to live. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God (literally, “God-breathed,” NP) and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Adequate here doesn’t mean just enough to get by, but instead means complete, capable, and proficient. Through Scripture, God is telling me how my life will be complete. I don’t want to be incomplete, incapable, and incompetent. 

Finally, it is tied to our eternal destiny. Paul connects the word to the Day of Judgment. In 2 Timothy 4:1-8, Paul solemnly charges Timothy in the presence the Father and Son (1), who will judge everyone, to preach the word (2) to offset those who lack endurance for sound doctrine (3), to oppose those who teach only what people want to hear (3) and who substitute truth with myths (4). While the preacher has this most sobering responsibility to “reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction,” the individual can only be protected by being the kind of student called for in 2 Timothy 2:15.

No matter how old we are, how long we’ve been a Christian, or how poorly we’ve done at this in the past, we can change that starting today! There is time and opportunity! Begin the routine now. Get a notebook or open a document on your computer, and get to work on it! It will help you in this life and prepare you for the life to come. Resolve to be a hard-working student of the Bible!

Youth In Action 

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl preaches for the Hebron church of Christ, Grant, AL

Carl Pollard

One of the first verses that we tend to think of when it comes to youth being active in their faith is I Timothy 4:12. Most teens have heard, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness” at some point in their lives. What about the second half of the verse? In I Timothy, Paul had been instructing Timothy on how to deal with men like Alexander and Hymenaeus. These men had been blaspheming and teaching false doctrine. Paul clearly states that the goal of their instruction should be love from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith (1:5).

Skipping down to chapter 4, Paul tells Timothy that no one should look down on him because of his age. Timothy is charged to teach the gospel and handle the men that have been teaching false doctrine. To do so, he can’t let others’ views of him cause him to stop doing his job. When Paul says “youthfulness,” the original text uses a word that could be ascribed to someone as old as 30. Paul’s main point is that in “speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” This is what Timothy should have been doing. Forget your age, forget what other men are saying, and LIVE as an example. Paul wanted Timothy to be a “tupos” or “type” that men could follow. Timothy could do nothing about his age, so his effectiveness was to be rooted in his example.

So, young Christians today, what can we do to be an example? There are five ways that we can do this.

First, your speech. This is external. People can hear the way you talk in your everyday life; Make sure it is blameless and pure. Don’t give someone a reason to reject you because of how you speak in your private life.

Second, your conduct. Once again this is external. Having proper conduct is vital if people are to see you as something more than just a youth. Be a man/woman of God whether you’re being watched or not.

Third, in love. This is more internal than external. This love is an agape love,  sacrifice for others at the expense of your own good. This also goes back to 1:5 and “love from a pure heart.”

Fourth, in faith. This is also internal. Work on your own faith. Build your own relationship with God.

Finally, in purity. Be pure in your relationships and in your life when no one else is around. Do these things as “an example (type) to those who believe.”

Paul continues on in verses 4:13ff to discuss other ways he can be an example: giving attention to the public reading of scripture, exhorting and teaching, and using his spiritual gift he had been given by the Holy Spirit. Paul wanted Timothy to be a living example. When these men were looking down on him for his age, Paul didn’t tell him to focus on his experience, but on the source. Focus on your own spiritual life, your own personal reading of God’s Word, your own prayer life. Don’t blame others or use them as an excuse. Be an example they can respect and follow. Show them what a true Christian looks like.

Timothy had a hard job on his hands; he was facing false teachers and blasphemers that were tearing apart the church. He had to work and be the proper influence for the Christians there at Ephesus. As teens today, you also have a hard task ahead of you. Many in the church think that you don’t need to be working yet. God says otherwise. You can and should be an example for others to see. Each one of you have your own group of friends that only you can influence. So, be the example. In your speech, in your conduct, in your love, your faith and your purity. Show them the truth, and never neglect your own Christianity

THE WORLD’S MOST IMPORTANT CHASE

Neal Pollard

It’s hard to believe that it was 25 years ago today that Orenthal James (O.J.) Simpson led Los Angeles police on a low-speed chase. The infamous white Bronco took off on the day he was supposed to turn himself into police, a suspect in the deaths of his wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman. The chase went on for 75 miles and two hours. The drama on this day in history led to the more infamous trial that ultimately led to Simpson’s acquittal. Despite what seemed a mountain of evidence against him, Simpson went free until, ironically, he was charged in an armed robbery case in 2008 that him imprisoned until two years ago (some facts via cbsnews.com). 

The Bible records several notable chases:

  • Laban and Jacob (Gen. 31:26)
  • Esau and Jacob (Gen. 32)
  • The Egyptians and the Israelites (Josh. 24:6). 
  • Barak and Sisera (Jud. 4:22). 
  • Asahel and Abner (2 Sam. 2:19). 
  • Saul and David (1 Sam. 23:25). 
  • Absalom and David (2 Sam. 16-17). 
  • Joab’s men and Sheba (2 Sam. 20). 
  • Benaiah and the lion (1 Chr. 11:22).

These pursuits were the result of military conflict, personal vendettas, and familial disputes, but they all were matters of life and death. Many other chases outside of the biblical record are famous, from the great locomotive chase of 1862 to the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia in the Middle East during World War I.  But, there is a chase with infinitely more at stake than any of the ones I’ve mentioned already. What is it?

Paul says, “But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11). Paul tells Timothy that so many people pursue material things, and their love for such is the cause of their own hurt and destruction. So, Paul encourages Timothy to run from those things and run after those qualities that lead to eternal life (6:12-13), preparation for the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ (6:14), and storing up the treasure of a good foundation for the future and life indeed (6:19). All of us are either chasing the things of this world, which pierce us through with many sorrows, or the things of the world to come, where eternal life awaits those who pursue it. 

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WHY WE KEEP FAITHFULLY SERVING AND LEADING

Neal Pollard

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:

  • BECAUSE PROBLEMS ARE COMING (3-4). It was a fourfold problem (you’ll notice it by reading these two verses). Paul told Timothy to handle it with great patience and teaching. You cannot always anticipate what the problem is going to be, but as long as you come in contact with people there will be problems. You cannot hope to be an influence on them if you do not cultivate the attitude of patience. When problems arise, be patient and stick to the doctrine of Christ.
  • BECAUSE YOU ARE DIFFERENT (5). No matter how you are treated (or mistreated), you cannot stoop to the level of unethical, immoral, or unscrupulous people. These false teachers Paul references were willing to discard truth, and many wanted that kind of teacher. We will encounter people who don’t play by the Lord’s rules, but we must be different. We must be sober in all things, endure hardships, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill our ministry. We are to have a better character, and we have a better message. We aim higher because we are the people of God.
  • BECAUSE JUDGMENT IS COMING (6-8). Paul looks ahead to the very end of all things. Because he was faithful, he anticipated the crown of righteousness. Why do you want to serve the Lord? Is it for prominence, popularity, or influence? To successfully endure, do what you do in view of the Judgment. God won’t forget your faithfulness (see Heb. 6:10)!

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.

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Even When You’re Alone, You’re Not

Neal Pollard

If I have a favorite chapter of the Bible, it would have to be 2 Timothy 4.  Yes, I love the first eight verses, but that alone is not what cinches this chapter as dearest to me.  It’s Paul’s personal remarks starting in verse nine.  There’s his longing to see his spiritual son, Timothy.  Twice he implores Timothy to come see him (9, 21).  He’s in prison, persecuted for preaching the Prince of Peace. He longs for Christian companionship.  Then, he shares his dejection over the abandonment of certain fellow-workers (10). He wants to see cohorts with whom he has done spiritual battle (11). He has personal needs and wants (13). He warns Timothy of a spiritual troublemaker (14-15).  Then, he shares personal feelings of isolation and loneliness, a time when he needed a Christian brother by his side but had none (16).  Bold, risk-taking Paul, who would stand up to any opposition, the epitome of true manliness, was now in undoubtedly dire, dank conditions, the smell of squalor in the air.  Whatever he saw, heard, and felt as he wrote, Paul scratched out these words: “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them.  But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (16-18).  These words aren’t the end of the letter, but they are the end of the matter!

This faithful Christian was deserted by men, but he felt God’s presence and power:

  • The Lord stood with him.
  • The Lord strengthened him.
  • The Lord spoke through him.
  • The Lord saved him.
  • The Lord was steering him.

You and I cannot fathom the price Paul paid for proclaiming Jesus. But even if we were ever to face privation, punishment and pain for our faith, what was true for this apostle will be true of us.  He promised to be with us always (Mat. 28:20) and never forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Even if you ever feel physically alone, you will have the spiritual assistance Paul speaks of in 2 Timothy 4.  Through it all, you can say with Paul, “To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen!”

Right Back Into The Deep

Neal Pollard

I read the account of Ron Ingraham, who was lost at sea last December in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii after his boat had taken on a dangerous amount of water.  He was presumed dead by the Coast Guard after he made distress calls and they responded, searching for four days, covering 12,000 square miles, and finding nothing. 12 days later, while his friends were planning his memorial, he was found weak, hungry, and dehydrated, but alive.  Family and friends hailed it as a miracle, and Ron felt he was given a new lease on life.

Then, tragically, near the end of April, Ron was fishing with a buddy when the 34-foot-boat they were on, The Munchkin, was smashed against the reef after midnight and totally broke apart. His friend found their emergency radio (EPIRB) in the wreckage, but there was no sign of Ingraham.  Now, a month later, it is almost certain that he perished in that water about a mile from the cliffs of Molokai (facts from The Washington Post, Elahe Izadi, 4/30/15, http://www.washingtonpost.com).

What a graphic illustration of something that happens all the time in a spiritual sense.  Paul urged Timothy to fight the good fight, “keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1 Tim. 1:19).  At times, it can be very difficult to live the Christian life as the world assaults our faith through temptation or persecution.  The trial may be internal, as we struggle with doubt or suffering.  We may allow an unhealthy relationship to do the damage. In so many different ways, we can suffer shipwreck to our faith. Sometimes, we can be overtaken by one of these spiritual threats, leave and then return.  We experience the thrill of forgiveness, the peace of restoration, and the hope of a new start.  Then, we find ourselves returning to the very thing that upended us before.  We must realize that there is more than one hazard while sailing on life’s sea.

Peter warns the Christian about the possibility of falling away.  He says, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.  For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire’” (2 Pet. 2:20-22).  Certainly, as John reminds us, we can live with blessed assurance (1 John 5:13), but that is not for those who put themselves in peril by doing what will certainly shipwreck their faith.

May we live the beautiful prayer of Edward Hopper: “Jesus, Savior, pilot me over life’s tempestuous sea; unknown waves before me roll, hiding rocks and treacherous shoal; Chart and compass came from Thee—Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”

WHEN MY FLAME FLICKERS

Neal Pollard

A fire requires just a few basic things to keep going—starter, combustible material, oxygen, and maintenance.  It can take a while to get a fire started, but it needs ventilation to get going and stay going.  After it’s caught, the fire must be cared for and tended.  Otherwise, the fire dies.

Paul says something interesting to Timothy as he writes a last letter to his spiritual son.  In it, he urges the young preacher to “kindle afresh the gift of God” (2 Tim. 1:6).  The word “kindle,” found only here, means “to cause to begin or blaze again” (BDAG, n. pag.). Josephus uses this word to speak of Herod the Great who, after killing his beautiful wife in a jealous rage, eventually “his affections were kindled again; and indeed the flame of his desires for her was so ardent” addressed her affectionately as if she were still alive (War of the Jews, 1.444; See also Josephus, Ant. 8, 234 and 1 Clement 27:3).  Paul is most concerned that Timothy was in danger of losing his spiritual passion, and he writes him to reignite the flame.  Perhaps the fire had already gone out.  What’s interesting is what Paul does to try to help rekindle Timothy’s fire.

  • SUPPLICATING (1:3).  Paul tells Timothy he prayed for him day and night.  Not only was he praying, he tells Timothy he’s praying for him.
  • SUPPORTING (1:4).  It had to help Timothy to know how much Paul longed to see him.  Timothy may have felt alone at Ephesus, without faithful fellowship and Christian companionship. Knowing of Paul’s desire for a joyous reunion, especially Paul’s recall of Timothy’s previous emotional engagement (“your tears”), may have been fire-starter!
  • STIRRING UP (1:6-14).  The mentor challenges the minister to raise the bar.  He says, “Don’t be ashamed” (8; Onesimus wasn’t, 18, and Paul wasn’t, 12).  He says, “Retain the standard of sound words” (13). Then he says, “Guard the treasure” (14; cf. 1 Tim. 6:20).

Paul did everything he could from within prison walls to support a struggling saint whose spirit was soggy and smoldering.

Do you know any Christians whose fire is going out or maybe has already been extinguished?  Have you wondered what you might do for them?  Follow Paul’s pattern.  Pray for them, then gently let them know you are.  Try to spend time with them, if they’ll let you.  Then, as a spiritual, self-examining one (Gal. 6:1), appeal to their courage, the trustworthiness of divine truth, and the impact that word will have in keeping them on course in fulfilling their true purpose in life.

If I ever find myself struggling and wavering, I will want a Paul to do for me what I read about in 2 Timothy 1.  However hardened sin might make my heart, I hope I will still realize—if only deep inside—that my most important objective is to be ready for heaven when I die.  I would hope I could still be reached by a caring Christian who wouldn’t let my fire go out permanently!

Avoid Foolish And Ignorant Disputes!

Neal Pollard

A man is about to be put to death for preaching Christ.  He is composing the last known words he left to history, and it is addressed to another, younger preacher.  The entire letter is less than 2,000 words, making each sentence all the more meaningful.  In the middle of describing “an unashamed workman,” Paul makes this statement, “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife” (2 Tim. 2:23). Paul has just discussed the vitality and value of being a vessel of honor in God’s house (20-21). One is cleansed and prepared for His use who flees lust and pursues the Lord (22). Paul follows the admonition in verse 23 by describing the characteristics of a good workman and vessel of honor.

Social media has got to be one of the devil’s greatest tools for tempting God’s people to violate the principle of 2 Timothy 2:23.  One has got to wonder how many confidently asserted statements and vehement arguments are properly categorized as “foolish” and “ignorant.”  We’ve all seen the disputes and strife they generate!  Brethren speak ugly to one another and venomously about the object of their scorn.  I cannot remember how many times I heard the late Wendell Winkler say, “You can be right and be wrong. If you’re not kind, you’re the wrong kind.”  Do we ever stop to consider that we can neutralize our effectiveness by un-researched, unstudied, and uninformed statements nevertheless brashly and confidently stated?

And what about those who “innocently” start these bash-fests? As a young boy, I remember having a football card of Conrad Dobler.  For some reason, I thought he was so cool…until I saw him in a commercial. He’s sitting between two fans and he pits one against the other until the whole crowd is in an uproar.  The commercial ends with him grinning as he leaves the middle of the fracas. Was he innocent in all this? Of course not!  That’s the point of using Conrad Dobler, the meanest man in football, in the commercial.

Remember what Paul tells the Romans.  “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (14:19).  The next social media mudslinging you chance upon, ask yourself this.  Am I looking for peace or longing to take a virtual punch? Am I actively seeking to edify, or am I looking to don my orange demolition jacket? Hear the inspired words.  “Avoid foolish and ignorant disputes!” When you come upon one, just keep moving.  You are not likely to help the cause of Christ, but you may hurt it!

GODLINESS IN 1 TIMOTHY

Neal Pollard

  • We are to be godly in relationship to the world (2:1-7)
  • We are to be godly in relationship to our roles in the church, men and then women (2:8-15)
  • We are to be godly in relationship to the church by leadership (3:1-13)
  • We are to be godly in relationship to Christ (3:13-16)
  • We are to be godly in relationship to doctrine (4:1-6)
  • We are to be godly in relationship to priorities (4:7-16)
  • We are to be godly in relationship to family matters (5:1-16)–specific here is widow care and her need to be godly
  • We are to be godly in relationship to leaders by members (5:17-26)
  • We are to be godly in relationship to financial matters (6:1-19)
  • We are to be godly in relationship to self (6:20-21)