Saturday, April 27, 2013

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH: Metaphors of Faithful Christian Service in Difficult Times (part 1 of 4)

"You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.(2Tim. 2:1-6 ESV)

In a gathering hosted by the Christian Evangelical Ministerial Fellowship (CEMF) in celebration of the National Bible Week, Dagupan City Administrator Vlad Mata urged the churches to approach the civil authorities and offer their help in nation-building. That's a very good idea. We become productive citizens of our community and at the same time, we get opportunities to share the gospel of Christ. One such project is CEMF's cooperation with the City PopCom office in conducting mass weddings and marriage counseling. Hopefully through it, the couples will learn about strong marriages and responsible parenthood. And most of all, may they know Jesus as Lord and Savior as participating churches reach out to them.

We should cooperate with the leaders of our community while we are still welcome. Let me repeat that phrase:  "while we are still welcome". There's an element of uncertainty in our times. Now we are still counted by the government as partners in nation-building but it may not always stay this way. There may come a time when we will offer our helping hand to our nation's leaders and they will tell us: "You have no part in nation-building unless renounce your gospel."

There was a time when our brothers in America were very much a part of nation-building in that part of the world. Billy Graham, then the icon of evangelicalism was present in at least 10 presidential inaugurations. Though there has always been opposition to the gospel in the government and everywhere, at least Christians then were free to speak their minds and were recognized by the government as partners in the development of the nation.

Something radical has changed in just four years. Barrack Obama has been reelected and the first person who was  invited to lead the opening prayer in this 2nd inaugural is Louie Giglio, pastor of  Passion City Church in Atlanta. But some opposed the invitation. For what reason? Because Pastor Giglio preached a biblical message on homosexuality almost 20 years ago. Pastor Giglio is not even the most vocal preacher against homosexuality. By his own admission, he did not prioritize this issue for the past 15 years.

Because of the pressure applied against him, he withdrew from participating in the inaugural ceremonies. But even without withdrawing, he will be disinvited anyway. That is clear from the statement issued by the Presidential Inaugural Committee:

“We were not aware of Pastor Giglio’s past comments at the time of his selection, and they don’t reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this inaugural. Pastor Giglio was asked to deliver the benediction in large part because of his leadership in combating human trafficking around the world. As we now work to select someone to deliver the benediction, we will ensure their beliefs reflect this administration’s vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans.”

There you have it! Everyone who opposes this Administration's agenda can't be a partner in nation-building. By this standard, even Rick Warren who led the prayer in Obama's first inaugural is now unwelcome.

The present is therefore a tough time for our Christian brothers in America. Yet the church had been in tougher times before. In Timothy's time, faithful gospel ministers were not only excluded from participation in nation-building; they were arrested, imprisoned and sometimes executed. In fact, his mentor in the faith was one of those in prison. With no modern postal system, it is possible that by the time Timothy were reading this letter, Paul's already dead.

The time was so tough that Paul reports: "At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them." (2Tim. 4:16)

There are indications that due to the toughness of times, Timothy's faith was severely weakened. He had neglected his gift (2 Tim. 1:6) and Paul needed to remind him that they did not received a spirit of fear. Furthermore, Paul saw the need to exhort him to "be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2:1 ESV). The passive voice is noteworthy here. Though Paul is issuing a command that Timothy should obey, it will not be Timothy strengthening himself. The strengthening is by God's grace found in Jesus.

Without grace we would all be weaklings in tough times. As weaklings, we have this tendency to either deny the faith or dilute it so we could avoid the hardships that accompany faithfulness. Without God's grace, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would have had feared the burning furnace and would have had bowed down before the grand idol. Without God's grace, Daniel would have had abstained from praying to the true God for 30 days in fear of the lions. Daniel and his friends were strong in tough times not because of any inherent strength in them but because they sought strength in God's grace.

In order to encourage the younger pastor, Paul used three metaphors of strength:
1. a devoted Soldier
2. a rule-abiding Athlete
3. a hardworking Farmer

To these metaphors we shall turn in the succeeding posts.

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