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October 2017

Obeying an Odd Command

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They say that elephants never forget. Well, I’m no pachyderm because a coworker once told me that after the birth of my third child, I began to forget deadlines and details. I guess it takes a lot of brainpower to keep up with three children!

She’s right, my memory has taken a hit. I blame it on aging! As we get older, we have more to remember, so it’s easy to let some things slide.

But memory isn’t a problem just for gray-haired folks.

Timothy was a young apostle-in-training under the guidance of the apostle Paul. Dispatched to the churches of Ephesus to address the problems of legalism and leadership, Timothy had a lot on his plate.

To help out, Paul wrote him two letters (1 and 2 Timothy) replete with ministry advice. And among his many suggestions was this comment:

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.” – 2 Timothy 2:8 (ESV)

Why would Paul have to remind Timothy to remember Jesus? How could the young man forget the Lord? Why would he?

I found an answer to these questions when I was reading the 77th Psalm during my devotions. Here are the verses that stood out to me:

“When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints . . . 6I said, ‘Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.’ Then my spirit made a diligent search . . . 11I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember Your wonders of old. 12I will ponder all Your work, and meditate on Your mighty deeds.” – Psalm 77:3, 6, 11-12 (ESV)

Using a literary technique called “synonymous parallelism” (whereby a writer repeats material in two or more lines), the psalmist identifies memory with meditation.

Notice these similarities:

When I remember God, I moan;

When I meditate,          my spirit faints.

Let me remember my song in the night;

Let me meditate                    in my heart.

          I will remember the deeds of the Lord;

Yes, I will remember Your works of old.

I will ponder           all Your work,

And meditate on  Your mighty deeds.

According to Psalm 77, to remember means to meditate. This activity emphasizes reflection, not recall.

How does this relate to Paul’s admonition? Let’s include verse 7 with verse 8:

“Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. 8Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.” – 2 Timothy 2:7-8 (ESV)

Do these verses employ synonymous parallelism? If so, then “remember” echoes “think over.”

Paul isn’t rebuking Timothy for forgetting who Jesus is. Rather, he encourages the young minister to ponder the gospel in the context of serving the gospel.

The weight of Timothy’s serious responsibilities could squeeze out contemplation of the Lord’s presence.

To allow that would be a mistake for two reasons. First, He’s the One who makes all ministry efforts worthwhile. Second, Christ models suffering and vindication. He was crucified but God raised Him from the dead. That’s not only the heart of the good news; it’s also the hope of everyone who serves God.

The pains of caring for souls can wear you down and undermine your commitment. When you remember Jesus Christ, you review how He handled the stress of service and the sting of rejection. But you also realize how the Father honored the Son by raising Him from the dead. Paul implies that God will honor us, too, as we exalt Jesus in the power of the Spirit.

You may not have the memory of an elephant, but you can always focus on Jesus. Paul’s imperative is not an odd command; it’s the secret to spiritual success.

In the midst of ministry, remember.

The Power of a Definite Maybe

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The power of God evokes a sense of certainty. And why shouldn’t it? As Jeremiah the prophet proclaims,

“Ah, Sovereign Lord, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for You.” – Jeremiah 32:17

And the archangel Gabriel declares that

“Nothing will be impossible with God.” – Luke 1:37 (NASB)

We can rejoice not only that our God is omnipotent, but also that He invites us to share in His power. All it takes is faith in God; even a little bit will do. Listen to Jesus:

“He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’” – Matthew 17:20

That’s great news! It looks like we have carte blanche to get whatever we want.

But my life doesn’t work that way! How about yours?

Scripture reveals a limitation on power and authority–the will of others. God gave us the freedom to make decisions and He honors our choices, even wrong or harmful ones. So we, too, must respect the volition of others. We have no authority to control people.

Even if we mean well.

We have to learn the power of a definite maybe.

Sometimes, we encounter belligerent people. A battle of words can escalate into name-calling, accusations, and even violence. But Paul describes a better way for us.

“The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” – 2 Timothy 2:24-26

Our proper behavior pleases God but provides no guarantee that combatants will lay down their arms. They might. But look at the conditional terms Paul uses: if, perhaps, and may (twice)

But what assurance we lack in a predetermined outcome is more than compensated for by the development of Jesus’ character in us and its impact on those itching for a fight.

Here’s another situation. As Paul shared the gospel all over the Roman Empire, some people accepted the Lord while their spouses refused. The message of salvation disrupted these households.

If you’re a Christian, one of the greatest wishes you have is for your spouse to get saved. You want the one you married to experience forgiveness and new life like you have. So you witness, share the gospel, preach, and you keep trying. Tensions rise to the point you worry about the condition of your relationship with Christ. So you consider walking out.

But Paul says, don’t. Stay. If your spouse wants to leave, let them go, but don’t you take off. Keep shining the light of Jesus at home.

“To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.” – 1 Corinthians 7:12-15

What’s the point in staying put? You can’t believe the gospel for others; they have to decide for themselves to follow Christ. So what assurance do you have that an unsaved spouse will turn around in time?

“How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” – 1 Corinthians 7:16

The bottom line is, you don’t know. You aren’t sure. But you don’t need certainty.

The good news is all about trusting Jesus. If you know His heart, you can depend on Him to work in the lives of your loved ones who don’t. You may lack the ability to reach them, but He can do it!

Jesus invites you to discover the power of a definite maybe.

  • The power of God is available to you. Use it in prayer.
  • Determine to let His Spirit govern your life. Make that decision and don’t look back.
  • Leave the future in Christ’s hands. He will turn “maybe” into something magnificent.
with Bob Condly

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