Pressing On

In my article last week we discovered that we are to be in, but not of the world. This means that while we live in the world, we do not adopt the world’s values, methods, or morals (or lack thereof). We are simply sojourners, passing through this age on our journey to eternity. If all this is true, what are we to do while here?

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:12-14 NASB

Philippians 3 is full of wonderful truths and challenges to us – things, if we really understand them, will cause use to grow. Lets take a few moments and consider a few points Paul makes in these few verses.

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect…

Paul begins this section with a wonderful statement of humility and understanding of the human condition following conversion: a redeemed but imperfect follower of Christ.

When we read Pauls works, we quickly realize that he is a man who is acutely aware of his faults, his sin, and his struggles. We also become aware of his desire to be in closer union with Christ, having his life lost in His. Here in Philippians 3, Paul flatly states that he has not yet achieved the intimacy in Christ he desires or that he is already perfect. There are Christians who believe that after conversion, a person can achieve perfection. Paul performs an effective refutation of that view. Paul is setting up the rest of his argument by plainly stating that he isn’t where he wants to be.

I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus… 

Paul moves on to say that in spite of his imperfection, in spite of his failures, and in spite of his lack of intimacy with Christ; he continues to go forward. The phrase I press on could better be communicated with the phrase I strive. Paul is striving – pushing forward – to become more like Christ. Think of  person straining to climb a hill, refusing to give up. Paul keeps moving forward in spite of the barriers – in spite of the difficulties. All that matters is that he fulfills his destiny in Christ after Christ laid hold on him.

run uphillforgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 

In this passage, Paul details how he will gain greater intimacy with Christ. Paul begins by stating he forgets all that lies behind. Paul chooses to neglect it, to forget it. But to what does he refer? It could be his life persecuting the church before he was saved. But I’m not sure he is doing that. I think he is probably forgetting the persecution he and the church have endured. The reason is simple: if we focus on the wrongs we have experienced, the persecution we have endured, we could very easily be paralyzed by fear or anger. Or both.

This section hits me particularly hard. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I was a church planting pastor whose church plant was split and destroyed by someone who I regarded at that time as a friend. Following the death of my little church, I was hurt, bitter, and angry. For quite a while I chose not to forget those things. And that paralyzed me.

Have you had a similar experience? Have you been hurt to such an extent that you found forgetting about the experience very difficult? Regardless of how difficult neglecting to remember the hurts of the past are, we must do that if we want to progress to greater intimacy with Christ and greater Christ-likeness.

Paul states that he reaches out, or presses on towards his goal. That is his entire focus – being like Christ with the greatest intimacy possible with Christ. We could very easily see this as a race where Paul is working hard to run through the finish line. That finish line is part of the goal. I really think Paul’s goal is the Bema Seat – the judgment seat of Christ where all Christians shall appear. Paul longs to be seen as one who has pursued Christ in spite of the hardships, difficulties, and persecution. Paul loved Christ with his entire being.  Paul had a short memory of wrongs done to him not because they were not important or wrong, but because his focus was on being like Christ. Boy, we could learn a thing or two in America about this.

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Often times we scream and yell about our rights and liberties in the US. We stomp our feet in protest to what we perceive is persecution. We whine and complain about every little thing done that hinders us.

I think we need to read Paul a bit more.

Imagine what the Church in America would look like if we focused on the goal of being Christlike and not so much on our freedoms, liberties, and rights. I wonder…I really, really wonder.

Instead of wondering what the Church would look like by embracing Paul’s soul focus on intimacy and Christlikeness, maybe I – and you – should wonder what I would look like if I did this. What would we look like if our soul-focus was to be Christlike.  Hmmm.

I think its time we found out.

Brighter Lights, Clearer Flaws

Where we walk will affect more than feelings. It will affect who we are.

 

I remember years ago I had finished a woodworking project. I had worked diligently on it, trying to make it appear perfect. When I applied the stain and the stuff to protect it, I thought I was finished and it would look great. I was wrong. When I placed it in my apartment at the time it a few days later, it was terrible. There were bubbles and what looked like particles of sawdust in the finish. There were problems with the wood itself that made my project look hideous. It was ruined, I thought. I wondered why I had not seen these flaws before.

My workshop was just a poorly lit area. There wasn’t a lot of light in the place. It had a one lightbulb in it. I thought I had plenty of light. But when I brought it into the well-lit living room, all the flaws I had not seen in the dark workshop were revealed. And when I started to inspect the project more closely with a flashlight, the flaws seemed to multiply.

I then realized then what has become a theological mantra for me. It has become a go-to counsel for Christians struggling with their sin. This truth is why we seem to sin more the closer we get to Christ.

What does a poorly lit workshop have to do with a maturing Christian’s struggles with sin?

Christians, Sin, and Light

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. 1 John 1:5-10 NASB

Too often we think that a we progress in our walk with Christ that we will reach a point of sinless perfection in this lifetime. Wesley called this perfection in love. He believed that a Christian could possibly reach sinless perfection in the present age. I don’t happen to share that position. But I do believe we can sin less even if we do not become sinless in this lifetime.

But what does this have to do with maturing Christian’s struggling with their sin?

As we mature in Christ, we do not necessarily sin more. We are more sensitive and aware of that sin. This is where we find our struggle with sin.

As we grow closer to Christ, we draw nearer to the God who is Light Himself. As a result, our flaws are more evident to us, but probably not as prevalent. They seem be multiplying , but in reality they are only seen better because the lighting is so much better.

If we really believe the verses I quoted above, as we become more sensitive and aware of our sin, we can be and will be cleansed of it as we walk in the light. We can never really know where we stumble if we always walk in the darkness. We need to shine a light to see where we need to change. The issue isn’t that we are sinning more in spite of our closer walk with Christ. The issue is that we are more aware of our sin when we see things more clearly.

Darkness or Light?

The relative darkness of my workshop hid the many errors in it. I couldn’t see them clearly and so I thought I had done a really good job with the sanding, constructing, and finishing it. I felt pretty good about my work of art. But the bright lights of my living room revealed many flaws, I became discourage and frustrated. I almost felt like just leaving the very flawed project in the dark where it looked better than in the light where it was much more useful. Ultimately I wanted to use the thing, so I added lights to my workshop and reworked it. I sanded, refinished the thing, improved my technique a bit in woodworking, and had a better project in the end. I didn’t want my handiwork being useless in the dark.

A Necessary Choice

fromdarknesstolight

If we persist to walk in darkness, we will never become more like Christ. We may think we look better than others. And that thought probably makes us feel better about ourselves.

However, if we walk in the Light, our flaws are much more evident and the truth of our sin and incompleteness is evident. This fact probably makes us feel much less good about ourselves. But the Light reveals our flaws so that they can be corrected. We are God’s handiwork. He is working on us everyday. Part of that work is to reveal our weaknesses – reveal our sins. In that revelation, though, we can repent and go through the rework process known as progressive sanctification so that we become more like Him.

Decisions, decisions

The decision you and I need to make is this: where am I going to walk? Will it be where I feel better about myself – the dark – or will it be where I actually become better than before – in the Light. This is a tough choice but one we must make. We have not wiggle room. We are either going to walk in Light or in darkness.

Where we walk will affect more than feelings. It will affect who we are.

 

 

Running Below E

driving-on-empty-e1523064122524A friend of mine recently shared with me the story of her driving her car until her gas gauge was below E  – meaning it was below empty. She sent me a picture of her gas gauge (it is to the left). She said that when she finally filled her tank, it took 16 gallons of gas, which was the most gas she ever put into her tank.

We laughed about it and the what ifs about running out of gas. I remarked at one point that I always refill my gas when I get slightly below the 1/4 tank level. My friend replied something like But how do you know how far you can go if you don’t ever take it below empty?

I’ve never really thought that trying to run out of gas in my car was a good thing. I also have always thought that when the tank in getting close to empty – especially when the warning light comes on – it is a good idea to fill up. And then the inspiration for this article hit me.

How often do we run on empty or below empty spiritually? We may deny this happens but I think it happens…more than we want to admit. Do we even know when we need to refill our tanks, spiritually speaking? Or do we even know why we run on empty? I think I understand why we get to empty and why we tend to be there more than we should.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2 NASB

Far too often we conform ourselves to the world. We pick up plenty of bad habits – in dress, attitudes, language – from the world around us. Perhaps the worst habit we pick up is the attitude of self-sufficiency.

Do not be conformed to this world…

Misinterpreting this command is really hard to do, yet we do it all the time. We conform to the world’s standards and expectations. We conform to the world’s views on social issues and, sadly, theological issues. We conform in the use of our time, talent, and treasure. We place more trust in Bitcoin that we do in Christ. What a sad state we find ourselves.

Our tendency to conform to this world is at the root of the problem of running on empty. We  wrongly believe that a five minute devotion is just as good as a good hour or so in deep study of God’s word. We convince ourselves that we can multitask our sanctification by listening to someone read the Bible instead of reading it ourselves. We deceive ourselves into believing that our little popcorn prayers – those inane little thought prayers we pop up to God as we think of them – is sufficient communication with out Father in heaven. We do all these things and are surprised that we lack any real power or sensed presence of God in our life. Oh my. Oh my, oh my, oh my. This should not be.

but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…

This is an interesting part of this verse. The word transformed can be either in the middle voice or the passive voice. The middle voice is kind of an intensive active voice – I’m doing the action for my own interest or benefit. The passive voice is understood as I am the recipient of the action – someone is doing the action to me. Which voice is in view here depends on the interpreter in many cases. I like them both. Kind of.

If the middle voice is in view, then I am involved in the process of transformation. I’m reminded of the verse work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” That is found in Philippians 2:12. Chapter 2 of Philippians is exhorting us to be like Christ in all we do. If the middle voice is in view, I am to transform myself in my own interest with the result being that I become more like Christ.

If the passive voice is in view here, than I am receiving the transformation – probably through the agency of the Holy Spirit’s role in my progressive sanctification – and am not actively doing it. God is in the driver’s seat here, which suits my Sovereignty of God orientation.

But rather than quibble about which voice is in view, I’d rather focus on the rest of the verse

by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

My – and your – mind must be renewed. And this must be an ongoing action. Now this isn’t just for the sake of me getting better. Oh no, read the verse. It is so that I may prove – PROVE – what the will of God is. Imagine that.

How do I renew my mind? 

First, renewing the mind includes a steady diet of God’s Word. We are bombarded with the words of the world. We don’t spend near enough time battling the influence tis has on us. We need to bathe our mind in the ever-soothing salve of God’s word so that our battered soul may take refuge in Him.

Second, we must communicate with our Father. This means not only do we speak to Him, but we listen for His voice in our life. This takes time and is definitely what the world has in mind for us in the gotta-get-it-now culture. Our culture definitely creates an unworkable framework furor spiritual growth.

If we don’t listen to what our Father has to say to us – through His word, HIs Spirit in us, and HIs people around us – then we really are not communicating with Him.

Third, we need not only to serve others but receive service from others. We can refill ourselves by giving when we can and receiving when we need to receive. This promotes our community – the Church – to rely on each other.

Are you running on empty?

Have you run your tank to below the E on your spiritual life gauge? If you’re like me, you have done this more than once. You may be there right now. And you know what? Its OK to be there. You can do this every once in awhile. The important thing is not to stay below the E in your life.

May you prosper in the Lord in the coming weeks as you fill, use, refill, use, and refill again your spiritual tank all to the glory of God.

 

When Worlds Collide

381359main_planetImpact-full_full

What happens when two worlds collide? Usually sparks fly, stuff breaks, things shatter. It can be spectacular and ugly at the same time. It can inspire awe and seem revolting at the same time. This is especially true when we experience it in our lives.

God promises to change us to be more like Him as we walk this path of life. This is referred to in theological circles as progressive sanctification. We progressively change to be more like Christ as He works on us. This sanctification can be difficult and painful at times. Maybe it is painful all the time. I know this last round of sanctifying work of God in my life has been incredibly painful and challenging. My world’s are colliding and parts of me are breaking off, burning away. In many ways, the person I am is shattering with the promise being that the one who emerges from this will be more Christ-like.

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I have always been a very private person. I don’t readily share my deepest thoughts, fears, or regrets. I also don’t compliment others even when a compliment is appropriate. I am wrong and have to change. But I don’t want to change. Change hurts and I don’t like pain.

On the rare occasion that I do compliment someone, I try to make it as measured as I can. I rarely – if ever – say what I really think about someone for fear of being misunderstood or giving the wrong impression. I rarely talk about specific things when encouraging or complimenting others. I try to stay general in my observations, restrained in my words. I just don’t do encouragement or complimenting well. I’m private with those kinds of thoughts about others. But my world that wants to be extraordinarily private collided with another world recently – the one that wants to be extraordinarily encouraging to others. I really don’t know what to do about it either. Its really confusing.

I have purposed in my heart to be more encouraging to others and to compliment others when a compliment is appropriate. But as I have tried to put this into practice, I’ve struggled with it. When I try to encourage others – be they friends at work, my wife and family at home, or my Pastors at church – I encounter fears. Big fears.

I fear I will be misunderstood. I fear that I may say too many nice things. I fear I’ll stumble over my words and give the wrong impression. I think that maybe I should just keep my mouth shut – I’m just not good at this encouragement thing. I seem to mess it up every time I try. I try to always be accurate with what I say to encourage others. I try not to flatter them because empty flattery is insulting to the one its aimed at. But I do want to encourage others and compliment others when I believe a compliment is deserved. What is going on inside my soul!

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I am an insecure person. As far as I can remember I have been this way. My insecurity isn’t about just one thing either. It is about all of me – my appearance, my emotions, how I speak, and how I act…everything that makes me who I am. My sarcastic speech is my lame attempt to cover up my insecurities as a husband, father, brother, and friend. A really lame attempt at that.

I have wondered in the past if my my marriage would end one day. I worried about how I would mess up my family life. I’m thankful I have a wife and family as tolerant of me as they are. I certainly have received the better end of things with my wife and children. I’m still insecure about this though. I’m fearful that I’ll do something stupid that will wreck this great family God has given me.

Why do I do this? Why do I have these thoughts? I really don’t know. But I do know that their net effect is to inhibit me from doing the right thing. I know I should encourage other Christians. But I often don’t.

A recent conversation I had brought out many fears. It upsets me. And intrigues me. I’m really not sure what to do with what is bouncing around in my head right now. But I know God has brought this on me for my good. Maybe the collision of privacy loving Patrick is colliding with caring about others Patrick. Maybe God is sanding off some really rough edges and sparks are flying. I don’t know.

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My world’s are colliding – and it is disturbing, challenging, encouraging, and frightening. My faith and life, with all its responsibilities to my wife and family – and to my family in Christ, is colliding with my fears of vulnerability, transparency, and intimacy with other Christ followers. It is uncomfortable but necessary. I hate it but I love it. I’m conflicted and confused but never clearer in my goal.

I do know that the journey I call life is filled with challenges. I have challenges to my character and convictions. I have challenges to my way of thinking and doing. I have challenges to what I choose to believe and disbelieve. Challenges abound. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with this latest set of fears and challenges, but I do know that God is in the business of sanctifying me. He is making me more like Him. To accomplish this old things must pass away. I have to be willing to change. But change, my friend, is scary.

So what will I do with my worlds colliding?

Maybe I’ll just ignore them. Maybe I’ll just make some sarcastic remark and move on without really dealing with them. Or maybe I’ll listen to them and believe them.

Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally face up to my fears and confront them, understand them, and have my faith in Christ conquer them. Being transparent and vulnerable is scary stuff.

I’m scared of what is going on in my heart and soul right now. But I think its time to have my faith collide with my fears. Sparks will fly. Pieces of me will be broken and destroyed.  I won’t be the same man  I was before my worlds collided. What will happen after all this is anyone’s guess but it is under God’s sovereign hand. What should I do? What will I do?

 

This is gonna hurt, but let my world’s collide and God’s sanctification of this fearful little servant continue.

 

 

 

 

The Three Amigos

I’m at about 35,000 feet in the air as I write this article. I’m flying to a conference in St. Paul, Minnesota that will take a week of my life. This type of thing isn’t necessarily the most fun I have on my job, but it is part of my job. Sometimes understanding why I have to leave my family for a bit of time is difficult. Like this time. I just don’t always understand the need for me to go somewhere. But my job demands it, so I go. I plug away and work hard to get through it, not just slog through it –  but get through it well. Why? Because everything I do, even the things I don’t fully understand – I do for Christ my King.

This article is the first in a series that examine the relationship between grace, justification, and sanctification. The reason I am examining these three amigos is a dear brother in the Lord asked me a question. I didn’t have an answer for him and I struggled a bit forming one. But I kept going. Not just to get an answer, but for the glory of Christ my Savior and King. Do I fully understand everything? Nope. Does my lack of understanding in any way detract from the truth of God’s word? Nope.

My plan is to examine each of these three important doctrines. I will then put it all together in (hopefully) one article that will try to put these three amigos together. I hope I communicate the truths I have discovered well because, quite frankly, they are nothing short of awesome. So let’s jump in and discover God’s wonderful three amigos – Grace, Justification, and Sanctification.

These three doctrines are important to understand on their own. It is also important to understand how each of them interacts with the others. And not for just these three essential doctrines but for all essential doctrines. Getting that done is not always easy – well, truth be told, it is never easy. But it is important because none of these doctrines works its way out in our lives in a vacuum.

There is a logical progression of sorts in the order these doctrines become effective in the life of a believer. This is only a logical order since there is very little (if any) time between these doctrines becoming active in the life of a believer. The logical progression of these three amigos can be illustrated simply

 

Grace——————->Justification——————->Sanctification

As I said before, this is simply the logical – not chronological – progression. In real time, the three amigos essentially happen at the same time but do have an affect on each other throughout the Christian’s life.

I hope you  enjoy this short series concerning these three very important doctrines. As usual, we will proceed as fast as the subjects allow. I’m in no hurry to get these done. I am, though, wanting to communicate precisely and clearly the subjects. I trust you will profit from this.

 

 

This for That

Life is hard, isn’t it? There are struggles, disappointments, seemingly no end to trials and tribulations. Life is difficult. Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of bad news that we hear each and every day. Becoming numb to that news is easy too.

Now is not the time to cower in a corner, hoping to be left alone. Now is the time to run with purposed abandon into the battle.

Ethnic cleansing, wars, rumors of more wars abound. Natural disasters, human-made disasters, anger, strife are all around us. The Church appears on the decline while secularism appears on the rise. God is neglected – not only in our society but also in some churches. The Bible is dusted off once a week to be carried to hear someone drone on about something that no one appears to care about anymore.

Even for the so-called committed Christians it isn’t much better. Google and the internet have made everyone an expert, everyone a scholar. It doesn’t matter if one has actually spent time being taught the deep things of God. Just enter a search term, copy and paste a response that seems right. Pop theology and armchair theologians are a dime a dozen. And it doesn’t seem that many care. Everyone’s opinion is equally valid.

So too is everyone’s relationships. No longer do we as a country value the millennia-old definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. Now a man may marry a man, a woman may marry a woman. What’s next? Men with multiple women? Women with multiple men? Women? Is there any limit to the depravity our nation will condone? Well, the answer is “No.” It is a free-for-all now. There are nearly no limits on so-called human freedom. “Do as you please, your dignity is all that matters” we are told.

As Bible-believing Christians – commonly referred to as Bible thumpers, knuckle dragging morons, and other terms – we recoil at this turn of events. Our society has unraveled before our very eyes. It has been unraveling for some time, we just started to notice. In some countries it is illegal to call homosexuality a sin – even from the pulpit. Pastors have been jailed for that.

Our sonship in Christ will cause us to suffer at the hands of the unrighteous.

In some countries Christians are routinely targeted and murdered because they are Christians. ISIS, or ISIL (or whatever four letters we use to describe them these days), is hell-bent on cleansing Christians from the face of the earth. Of course women are slated for special treatment.

Persecution of this kind is coming. In some ways it is already here. We can rant “Make America Great Again!” We can build a wall, kick out all illegal aliens, outlaw practices we don’t agree with. It won’t matter. The only thing left to happen is the total collapse of our society, economy, and the last vestiges of morality. Don’t kid yourself, this is happening right now.

Church, the time is past where we need to be politically engaged. We need to be Savior engaged now. Not to save America or the world – they both are in God’s hand. But to bear witness, to tell THE story of our Savior.

Jesus told us things would get rough. He said that the world – the non-Christians and the system they love – would hate us because they first hated Jesus (John 15:18). So don’t be surprised by all this stuff. Don’t be discouraged. Why?

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. – Romans 8:18 NASB

Paul knew about suffering. He had been imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked and would eventually be martyred because of his faith in Christ. All the apostles would die a martyrs death except John the beloved. John would be exiled to a rock as a punishment by Rome.

The word Paul uses in Romans 8 translated sufferings is the Greek word pathemata It carries the meaning of suffering for any reason and in any form because we are His sonsSo great suffering and small suffering is in view here. And that is important to know. Our sonship in Christ will cause us to suffer at the hands of the unrighteous. And that is OK. I will gladly exchange some present sufferings for the future glory that has been promised. In fact, when I weigh the suffering that I have endured or could possibly endure, they come up short – way short – of the glory that awaits. The glory that is the final step in my sanctification. The glory that is reveled both to me and in me.The word translated to (eis) can mean either to or in. Here it probably means both.

That fine day when I will no longer be hampered by this body of death, when I see my Savior face-to-face, my sanctification shall be completed. Oh man, I can hardly wait.

Church, the time is past where we need to be politically engaged. We need to be Savior engaged now. Not to save America or the world – they both are in God’s hand. But to bear witness, to tell THE story of our Savior. Now is not the time to cower in a corner, hoping to be left alone. Now is the time to run with purposed abandon into the battle. Yeah, that’ll mean we get hurt. It means we’ll get ridiculed. That is part and parcel of being related to Christ.

So if I have to endure another year of trouble, so be it. If I have to listen to meaningless drivel about how to be tolerant, so be it. If I lose everything because I am a Christian, so be it. If I am imprisoned because I am a Christian, so be it. If I am killed because I am a Christian, so be it.I will gladly endure all this for that promise of finally being with my Savior.

I will enthusiastically trade this life with all it’s troubles for that promise of perfection with God. This for that…not matter the cost, I (and you) come out ahead.

Digging at Diligence

The Path Less Traveled Final

Our walk on the path less traveled is not to simply gain knowledge for ourselves for the sake of gaining knowledge. It is to gain knowledge, tempered with wisdom, to pass on to those who desire it a deeper, much more personal knowledge of just who God is and what His word states.

 

Does God’s Church care about learning the deep things of God’s Word? I don’t know the answer to that question. For sure we are busy these days. We have jobs that usually require us to commute, political tensions, wars and rumors of wars. We have lots of distractions in the form of entertainment that vie for our attention and time. Where do we spend our time? Where do we invest ourselves? How we answer those questions tells the story of our desire to be be disciples of Christ and not just associated with Him.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.  2 Timothy 2:15 NASB

There is quite a bit to unpack in these few words of Paul to Timothy. Let’s give this a shot and see what we need to do to be disciples – disciplined ones – of Christ.

Be Diligent

Paul begins with a command to be diligent. The Greek word here is spoudazoThis word means to proceed quickly, hurry, hasten or to be especially conscientious in discharging  an obligation. The second definition fits best with the context here in 2 Timothy. Think of the word zealous and you’ll have a good understanding of the word spoudazo. Getting a bit more technical, this context has it as an aorist present imperative. It is a command that, unlike the present active imperative, is expected to be done once. It also has the nuance of a completed task. So taking this all together, we have a command that is supposed to be completed and that thing to be completed is a basically a mindset. It is an attitude that we decide to have. But what are we to be diligent about?

 

Present Yourself

Our decision to be diligent is with the end being presenting ourselves to God. We are to be zealous to present – offer, or appear before – ourselves to God. That is our mindset. But this isn’t just showing up in front of God and saying “Here I am, God.” No this presentation of ourselves is with a caveat: as an approved workman who does not need to be ashamed. We are to show ourselves to God unashamed. We are to show ourselves as approved workmen. The word for approved is dokimos which has the idea of refinement having taken place. The verb for of this word, dokimazo, is also used of the process of refining silver to rid it of impurities. In that process the silver becomes more valuable and stronger because  the impurities are burned out of it under increasing heat.

This is THE picture I want in your head: a pot of silver bubbling over the ever-increasing heat of a furnace.

The silver is you and me. The heat from the furnace are the trials of life that put us under pressure. But  who is tending the fire? The master craftsman Himself – God – is stoking the flames. He is increasing the heat on use to purify us so that we can present ourselves to Himself as approved – having been tried, purified and sanctified by the flames and heat of His furnace. This is the meaning of dokimos.

The idea of approved here is just that: there is no chance of failure. When God begins the process, you will be approved.

Accurately Handling the Word of Truth

The final clause in this very important verse is a really neat one. It stresses why we should not be ashamed and why we are approved. It is because we accurately handle the truth. Now this word accurate is  an interesting one. The Greek word is orthotomountaElsewhere it describes a tentmaker who makes straight rather than wavy cuts in his material.That is interesting because Paul, the author of this letter, was a tentmaker. It can also mean a builder who lays bricks in straight rows and a farmer who plows a straight furrow.

So we gather from all these uses that it means to be accurate or straight with what we are doing. But are we doing this?

I’m saddened by what seems to me to be the most anti-intellectual movement in the Church’s history. Just about anyone with a computer, internet connection and a search engine can become an instant expert on all things biblical. Those who have worked diligently to understand the Word of God and the best way to study and interpret it seem to be cast aside.  This ought not be. Not all opinions are equally valid or authoritative. I’m sorry if this upsets you. But that is the truth. I would no more entrust my physical health to a self-trained “doctor” who read a few books on medicine than I would entrust my spiritual health to someone who read a few books on theology.

I’m all for Christians working through the Bible and not just accepting someone else’s interpretation of Scripture. But when a Christian decides that they know the Bible because they decide they know the Bible, well, that is just dangerous. If there is no one providing a check against a person’s bias (and we all have a bias) bad things can happen.

If we are serious about knowing the deep things of God we will be diligent to study. Being diligent means keeping at it when it is difficult. Being diligent also includes the idea of checking ourselves against those who know more and have experienced more. If we are serious about being diligent in our study of the word of God, we will zealously seek out those who have studied at a greater depth than ourselves. And if we are zealously seeking those who have studied at a greater depth than ourselves, then we will be working hard at knowing Him so that we may become a resource for another.

Our walk on the path less traveled is not to simply gain knowledge for ourselves for the sake of gaining knowledge. It is to gain knowledge, tempered with wisdom, to pass on to those who desire it a deeper, much more personal knowledge of just who God is and what His word states.