Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Rejuvenating Power of the Gospel: Through the Gospel

2 Timothy 1:10: "... through the gospel."

We find now Paul's grand reason for calling young Timothy back to a steadfast position as a Christ-follower. What caused Timothy's timidity is never described. But its effects are clear. Timothy's reticence made it look as though he was ashamed of the testimony of Christ out of fear that boldness would bring suffering. This Paul could not allow to go uncontested. After all, Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus with specific instructions to both teach the truth and confront those who taught otherwise (see: 1 Timothy 1:3-7). Now, five years after he began Timothy is back on his heels and the church is suffering. What is needed is a recovery of the mission, and a rejuvenation of the missionary. This Paul does with great simplicity: Timothy, the very gospel you appear to be ashamed of is the glorious message of Jesus Christ through whom death has been abolished, and life and immortality brought to light! This message is yours to live in, yours to preach, yours to wield as the only cure for sin and death. 

In two short verses Paul gives a stirring summary of the gospel. In fact, it is more than a summary; it is a glorious presentation. In the gospel Paul saw much more than an introductory message to Christianity. He saw it as much more than "first things." The gospel was never relegated to the kindergarten of Christian education as though this essential story, with all of its complexity, could be mastered easily and left behind in favor of greater, weightier issues. For Paul the gospel was the great foundation, fuel, purpose and goal of life. Everything he did was shaped and sustained by the gospel. Nothing else had any purpose for Paul. No other message or motivation moved him. His very life, right down to the daily risk he often faced, was his response to the call of God on his life to own, trust, obey, and proclaim the gospel.

This was the reason Paul's insight into Timothy's life was so penetrating. He saw past whatever presenting problems Timothy described. I can imagine that Pastor Timothy complained about how hard ministry was in  Ephesus. He most certainly had his share of problem people, obstinate mockers, religious persecutors, and financial shortfalls. Like every pastor he surely suffered from weekly bouts of doubt, fatigue, and the sense that none of his efforts were really accomplishing much. But Paul saw through it all. Not for a minute did Paul try to give Timothy ministry advice. That would come later. He didn't point him to the latest book on worship styles or staff organization or mission. He didn't recommend any special conferences or pastoral burnout retreats. What he did do was remind him simply but powerfully that, at the very core of his calling, was the privilege to understand and proclaim the gospel. It was very simple: Timothy needed the gospel to once again squeeze the breath of temporal circumstances out of him so that he could inhale the majesty, beauty, and power of God. He needed the clarity and comfort that only the gospel - rightly known and preached in the heart - could bring.

For all of us living in the jumble of post-modernity there remains an urgent, daily need. We need to know God. We need to focus our hearts away from the pursuit of self-esteem in order to build greater Christ-esteem. We need to recognize the myth that our temporal circumstances are what shape our identity, and rest daily and powerfully in the fact that our identity is found in Christ alone. Our culture won't like this of course. Our neighbors, both in and outside the church, want us to continue with them in a Christianity that makes way for the preferences and formulas of our culture. But this is not what Jesus wants. He wants us for his own. He wants all of us; every part and the whole of us. He wants our attention and our intentions. He wants our thoughts and our ideas. He wants our goals and our strategies, our ambitions and our successes. He wants what is rightfully his, and having been bought out of slavery and transferred into his keeping, we belong to him in our entirety.

I can imagine that Timothy knew all this, and it scared him. After all, he had dreams and plans and ambition. He wanted to do great things for God, but probably like us, also wanted some benefit, some recognition, some applause. We're all like that. We're all prone to think about ourselves even when pursuing what we think is best for God. Fortunately, Paul saw right past the facade and into the core of Timothy's heart. And what he saw needed fixing.

For Timothy and for us the solution is always the gospel. When the circumstances of life start trying to mold your identity or sense of worth, the gospel reminds you where your true worth lies. When the successes of this world inflate your self-importance the gospel reminds you who you really are. And when opposition or fatigue or disappointment whisper in your ear and you start to listen, remember that in the gospel your true story is still being told by the One who has saved you and called you to holiness in order to demonstrate through you the grandeur of his power and grace.

Hope this helps,



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