Symbols of a Working Faith

vets day

Three kinds of workers illustrate a working Christian faith.

Please read 2 Timothy 2:1-7 in your Bible.  I use the NIV (1984).

From a sermon by Jeff Strite, “Til Death Do Us Part” 2/15/2009: “Every year, hundreds of Civil war buffs get together and put on mock battles. They don uniforms that soldiers of the North and South would have worn back then.

“During one reenactment, it was a hot sweltering day. The civil war buffs are sweating as they maneuvered into position for their battle, facing the usual frustrations involved in setting up such a display. However, one of the ‘Rebels’ got so tired, hot, and frustrated he threw in the towel and headed for the refreshment tent. As he tugged off his wool uniform he was heard to grumble: ‘I quit. We’re not going to win anyway.’

And, of course — he was right! Here was this civil war buff — who knows HOW everything is going to turn out. He’s tired, hot, and discouraged. He KNOWS his side isn’t going to win anyway… so he quits.”

Christian, we are in a similar situation.  The Bible tells us (as we learned last Sunday) who will win the war of good versus evil.  God wins!  How can we consider giving up when we know we’re on the winning side? I know from our vantage point it may appear we’re losing this particular battle, but the outcome of the war is not in doubt.  God calls us to soldier on.  That was Paul’s message to Timothy, too.

The passage begins with Paul calling Timothy to be STRONG, but not in his own strength, in the strength that God’s GRACE provides.  In this way – only in this way – will Timothy be able to keep his calling as a pastor.  His task is to pass along the faith to those who are spiritually mature and share in his work of preaching the truth about Jesus.

Paul uses three illustrations to show Timothy that endurance, obedience, discipline, and perseverance are going to be required to accomplish this work.  If we will faithfully exhibit these marks of integrity God will faithfully make our work fruitful.

  1. Two things distinguish a soldier’s work: endurance and obedience (vs. 3+4).

The first virtue exemplified by a soldier is Endurance.  The phrase ENDURE HARDSHIP is a new word created by Paul, combining the Greek words for “suffer,” “bad,” and “together.”  Normally, we think of endurance as being something we do solo, gritting our teeth and getting through.  Enduring together is a better and more godly way of thinking about it.

The second virtue illustrated by a soldier’s life is Obedience.  A GOOD SOLDIER’s priority is pleasing his COMMANDING OFFICER.  All followers of Jesus have God the Father as our COMMANDING OFFICER. This Greek word literally meant “the one who enlisted us as a soldier.”

In Philippians 2:25 & Philemon 2 the word for GOOD SOLDIER is translated as FELLOW WORKER, referring to Paul’s associate ministers of the Gospel.

With that priority, a GOOD SOLDIER avoids getting INVOLVED IN CIVILIAN AFFAIRS, which are “business, occupations.”  A soldier temporarily sets aside interest in a career as it would distract him.  Instead, he focuses on being a soldier, fulfilling his CO’s orders.

  1. One thing distinguishes an athlete’s work: discipline (v. 5).

His priority is receiving the VICTOR’S CROWN.  This is stephanos, the crown made of laurel leaves that was given to the winner.  It was a kind of “key to the city,” as the one wearing it was treated like a hero all day.  The word for the kind of crown worn by royalty was diadema; headgear that gave the wearer a different kind of celebrity.

With that priority, an athlete COMPETES ACCORDING TO THE RULES – that is – he exercises discipline.  An athlete demonstrates discipline while preparing for competition, devoting time and effort in training.  When he competes, an athlete who truly wants to win competes within the rules of the game.  We’ve seen lots of notorious examples of people who cheated and ultimately lost the big prize.

Self-discipline is difficult, but it is always more satisfying and easier than discipline exerted on us by others.  Paul specified what self-discipline meant for pastors in vs. 23-24.

  1. One thing distinguishes a farmer’s work: perseverance (v. 6).

His priority is receiving a SHARE OF THE CROPS.  In fact, Paul wrote that the HARDWORKNG FARMER deserved FIRST SHARE OF THE CROPS he raised.  Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 5:18, THE WORKER DESERVES HIS WAGES.  As a culture, we’ve gone from being farmers to being gardeners to ordering our food delivered to us.  In these transitions we’ve lost our personal connection to the land and the patience that working the soil demands.  We have to turn to the remaining farmers to learn perseverance.

With that priority, the farmer works hard; he demonstrates perseverance.  Seed does not grow overnight and it will not grow as productively if it is not tended.  The farmer plants the seed with the hope of a good harvest to follow.  While he waits, the farmer tries to reduce the effects of things he can’t control (weather) by doing things he can control (seed selection, weed control, irrigation).  In the field, there is no such thing as “fast food.”  It all takes time.

Three kinds of workers illustrate a working Christian faith.

At the end of our passage (v. 7), Paul did not over-interpret these figures of speech, but instead called on Timothy to REFLECT on them, certain that God would supply him with personal INSIGHT into their meaning.  Similarly, when any of us read the Bible, we need to take time to pray and think about what we’ve read to gain a personal application of the truth.

A chaplain was speaking to a soldier on a cot in a hospital. “You have lost an arm in the great cause,” he said. “No,” said the soldier with a smile. “I didn’t lose it–I gave it.” In that same way, Jesus did not lose His life. He gave it purposefully.

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Sermon #534

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

The Daily Study Bible Series

Zondervan Bible Commentary

What NOW?

NBS 13

Take a moment to read Numbers 13+14 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.

I think it’s something that happens to all of us at one time or another.  We’ve prepared for something, enjoyed success, felt elated and satisfied…and then we wake up the next morning and realize that thing is over.  There’s an obvious hole where that thing was, and we wonder, “What now?”

It’s the feeling Simon Peter had the day after the resurrected Jesus appeared to him and even Thomas was finally on board.  Being a man’s man, Peter met the “morning after blues” head on and said, “I’m going fishing.”  Look it up.  It’s in John 21:3.

This is a twice-yearly feeling for pastors, one that is felt most keenly the day after Easter.  Andy Fuqua described it pretty well in an article entitled, “The Post-Easter Blues.”

“You might think that a large attendance, a big production, a chance to passionately share the gospel, and an opportunity to rejoice because Jesus is alive would mean that pastors go home from Easter Sunday on cloud nine.  It may come as a surprise to learn that many, many pastors contemplate quitting the ministry the day after Easter.  The ‘post-Easter blues’ aren’t logical, but they are real.”

(Read the whole article at andyfuqua.com/2016/03/28/post-easter-blues/.)

When dealing with “morning after” moments and the other disappointments of life, the bottom line is this:

Don’t give up on God.

This morning we’ll take a quick look at one instance where the people of God gave even before they got started.  They gave up on God, suffering devastating consequences. We can learn from their mistakes.

  1. 12 spies had 40 days of fruitful research. (13:23-27)

The first half of chapter thirteen details the first committee formed in the Bible; the twelve men sent in to scout the Promised Land.  This was a 40 day trip; pretty extensive searching and a rather daring thing to do considering they didn’t know any languages or cultures.

The last half of the chapter deals with the report they filed.  They brought along physical evidence; a CLUSTER OF GRAPES, with POMEGRANATES and FIGS.  This collection of fruit was so great it took two men to carry it.  They said, “WE WENT INTO THE LAND TO WHICH YOU SENT US AND IT DOES FLOW WITH MILK AND HONEY!  HERE IS ITS FRUIT.”

  1. 10 spies gave up on God’s promise. (13:28-33)

After attesting to quality of the land and its produce, the majority gave up on the LORD when they got around to describing the people who lived there.  “THE PEOPLE ARE POWERFUL,” they said, and embellished on that with, they are “DESCENDANTS OF ANAK (28), and THE NEPHILIM (33).  You might read Genesis 6:1-4 to find out who these legendary characters were.  But please don’t ask me to explain; we don’t have enough room for that.

It seems to me the majority is making excuses; “ALL THE PEOPLE THERE ARE OF GREAT SIZE” (32) and “WE SEEMED LIKE GRASS-HOPPERS IN OUR OWN EYES, AND WE LOOKED THE SAME TO THEM (33).”  These exaggerations are bent on disguising the fact that it was their fear of the size of the task that motivated their pessimism, not the size of the people.  The true comment is added almost as an afterthought:  their “CITIES ARE FORTIFIED AND VERY LARGE (28).”

The two dissenting members were Joshua and Caleb.  Caleb voiced the minority opinion in verse thirty, trying to impart some faith-fueled  confidence to these cowering characters.

  1. 40 years and 1 generation later, they would finally enter the Promised Land (14:1-45).

The majority worked their tale-spinning until the whole COMMUNITY spent the night grumbling and bawling (14:1-4).  They were ready to elect someone to lead them back to Egypt and a return to slavery!

Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb tried to talk them out of this dumb idea (14:5-9).  They gave four excellent reasons for obeying the LORD and entering the Promised Land.

Verse seven: The “LAND IS EXCEEDINGLY GOOD.”

Verse eight: The “LORD…WILL GIVE IT TO US.”

Verse nine reveals two “do not’s.”  One, “DO NOT REBEL AGAINST THE LORD,” and the other, “DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THE PEOPLE OF THE LAND.”

The people’s reaction was violent (14:10).  To make room for new leadership, they decided to stone their current leaders to death!

But God Himself intervened and the GLORY OF THE LORD APPEARED AT THE TENT OF MEETING.  From the beginning (see Exodus 20:18-21), the glorious appearing of the LORD had filled the Hebrews with fear.

God’s reaction sounds extreme (14:11-12).  He was justifiably angry and said to Moses, “HOW LONG WILL THESE PEOPLE TREAT ME WITH CONTEMPT?”  Adding, “THEY REFUSE TO BELIEVE ME IN SPITE OF ALL THE MIRACULOUS SIGNS.”

How could they be so slow to believe?  Not for the first time, God threatened to strike them all down and start over with Moses: “I WILL STRIKE THEM DOWN WITH A PLAGUE” (v. 12).  That was not an empty threat.  Though the nation was spared total destruction, the ten negative spies were NOT spared and, in 14:36-38, died from a PLAGUE.

Moses interceded in prayer for the nation (14:13-19).  Here is Moses’ reasoning: first, killing the entire nation would undo what God had done, causing the nations to disbelieve (14:13-16).  Killing the entire nation would also be contrary to God’s character.  God is love: He is “SLOW TO ANGER, ABOUNDING IN LOVE AND FORGIVING SIN AND REBELLION” (14:17+19).  God is holy, too, demanding justice for the sake of the victims of sin: “HE DOES NOT LEAVE THE GUILTY UNPUNISHED” (14:18).

God forgave the people, but did not tolerate their sin (14:20-38).

According to verse twenty, the LORD had already forgiven them.  Regardless of how it may appear, this conversation is not Moses talking God into forgiving the people as He’d already done it.

But forgiveness does not always mean the offender avoids the consequences of his offense.  Indeed, avoiding discipline or the natural consequences of one’s actions is a shallow perversion of love, not the genuine thing.

That generation of adults had repeatedly been guilty of committing serious sins against the LORD.  In this situation, they had:

DISOBEYED and TESTED Him (22).

Treated Him with CONTEMPT (23).

GRUMBLED against Him (27).

Enacting love and holiness, God gave Moses new orders: “Go back the way you came” (14:25).  This is ironic justice: they’d been plotting to return to Egypt, so God sent them in that direction.

God’s wrath would take 40 years to satisfy.  That complaining, disobedient, and contemptuous generation did not enter the Promised Land; they wandered the wilderness until every member of that generation died (14:26-31).

The people suddenly repented but disobeyed the LORD again and got a whuppin’ for their foolishness (14:39-45).  The death of their ringleaders (36-38) put the fear of God in the nation.  When Moses repeated all God had to him, they MOURNED BITTERLY (14:39).

After what was probably a sleepless night, they were all ready to repent and obey God’s original instructions (14:40).  But they were too late.  This illustrates the principle of “obedience in time” as essential to complete obedience.  When we delay, make excuses or procrastinate, we are being disobedient.  Complete obedience requires doing what you’re told and doing it right away.

Talk about stubborn!  These people thought they’d avoid God’s justice by disobeying Him AGAIN (14:41-44).  The first time they disobeyed Him by refusing to fight.  Now they disobeyed the LORD by refusing to leave, insisting on a fight.  In verse forty-four the writer rightly identified their sin as PRESUMPTION.

Moses warned them a battle now would end with a number of deaths (14:43), which was the awful outcome (14:44-45).  When are we going to learn to obey?  When will we learn going our own way results in calamity?

Notice that in verse forty-four neither Moses nor the Ark of the Covenant was involved in this doomed military expedition.  This battle was not the Lord’s doing & He didn’t assist them.

Don’t give up on God.

You may’ve wondered earlier if I got the “post-Easter blues.”  Not an extreme case, but a little.  I pursued an unusual cure.  I went to a public library and pulled a book from the shelf that expresses some very critical views of the Bible.  I spent the afternoon reading that book and I hope very soon to post a rebuttal on our website.  It sounds weird, but this guy’s heretical opinions set me on edge and that got me out of any sense of the “blues.”

The better part of the experience is being reminded that Easter is not the end of Jesus’ story nor is it the end of ours.  There is a lot of living, loving, and serving in the days ahead.  We might as well be grateful for what God gave us on Easter and get on with it.

That’s a little bit of what Jesus said to His disciples just before He returned to heaven.  To paraphrase just a bit, He said, “It’s time to get to work.  There’s a whole world out there and everyone in it needs to learn about me.  We’ll go together.”

The God who began that work in you will surely see it to completion.  Just don’t give up.