II Timothy 2:1-13 (click to display NIV text)
June 17, 2012
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”
Today we look at the final two statements in our Covenant for Loving Relationships:
“We commit to being inconvenienced for the sake of the Gospel.”
“We trust our pastors and leaders to serve with wisdom and integrity.”
The first one focuses on our calling to share the Gospel. “Inconvenience” might not be the best word here. A stronger word could be used. But maybe “inconvenience” is a good starting place. We are willing to stretch out of our comfort zones, and to invest time we may not feel we have, in order to share the Gospel.
Paul and Silas found themselves in prison because the Gospel brought them into conflict with those who made money off of a fortune teller who was controlled by a demon. When Christ expelled the demon through the words of Paul, the owner of the fortune teller lost money and became angry. But getting put in prison was not the inconvenience.
At midnight Paul and Silas were singing hymns of praise to God. They had been put in stocks, and in the ancient world these kept a person from sleeping. They were very uncomfortable, even causing muscle cramps. In their miserable night, they did not complain, they sang. Still, that was not the inconvenience for the sake of the Gospel.
After an earthquake, Paul and Silas could see they were free to escape. But instead of running, they stayed, and apparently convinced the other prisoners to stay too. They did this for the sake of the jailer. In the ancient world, whenever people escaped from jail, there were severe consequences for the jailer — in this case, so severe that the jailer thought suicide was a better option. Paul and Silas stayed when they could have fled. They stayed to bear witness to Christ. The jailer was saved as a result. That was their inconvenience for the sake of the Gospel.
I picked up a copy of “Christianity Today” a few weeks ago and read about the experience of a Coptic Christian church in Egypt. For many years this church set out tables in their patio and welcomed people, usually Islamic, to have coffee and talk informally about faith. This was a very normal thing to do in that society, a comfortable way to do evangelism that was generally accepted.
The Arab Spring and the deposing of Hosni Mubarak changed everything for them. With mass demonstrations and riots in the streets, many people were injured. So the church turned its coffee patio into a medical clinic and used it to treat those wounded in the demonstrations. By doing this they have gained the respect of their neighbors in a new way. Even the Islamists have taken notice and have gained a new appreciation for followers of Christ.
The picture is one of a church that had a tradition of appropriate and accepted outreach ministries that went in a new direction to meet a need or respond to changing conditions around them.
We carry out very appropriate and acceptable Outreach ministries: Food Pantry, PADS, Furniture Ministry, Love INC. No one in our culture finds these objectionable. In fact, most people expect the church to be doing these things. This is not to suggest these are easy or convenient. Those involved are very committed and go out of their way to be involved.
But our church may be called to go deeper in ministry to our community. We may need to give time to really listen to people, as Paul and Silas stayed back and responded to the jailer. For example, our furniture ministry team now takes time to ask each family how we might pray for them, and gives a list of recommended churches in the area. If they want to talk a bit, we talk, and don’t rush off to the next place. As a church, we hope to hear a call to new ways to reach out to people in our community who wonder how they might be saved. We commit to being inconvenienced for the sake of the Gospel.
What might this mean for you? The starting point is prayer, and a willingness to listen to the need in your neighbor’s life. It is the commitment to offer the cup of coffee, but also to be a healing place when the need arises.
“We trust our pastors and leaders to serve with wisdom and integrity.”
The key word here is trust. The other words, wisdom and integrity, might get us off track if we worry that this is intended to stop a variety of opinions from being expressed. We are all sinners, fallible human beings and we all struggle with some level of incompetence. Trust increases dialogue and encourages a variety of opinions being expressed.
I like the word that Paul uses in his instructions to Timothy: reliable. If pastors and leaders in a church are faithful and reliable people, then the faith gets passed on generation to generation and a church becomes vital.
The example I thought of to illustrate trust was something that happened to me many years back. We were having a committee meeting and deciding on some new youth leaders. One couple was suggested, but I knew they were very close to a decision to move out of state. So I said that since their situation was “unstable” it would be best not to ask them. It was a poor choice of word. One person on the committee told a friend that I had said this couple was “unstable.” So the friend came to me and asked if I had said this couple was “unstable.” I clarified what I meant, and that was the end of it. What could have become a very hurtful situation was resolved. The point is she trusted me enough to personally ask me what I had said. We trust our pastors and leaders enough to check with them about things they have said, and about decisions they have made. We begin with the assumption that they are reliable people, who have good reasons for what they do. We may disagree, and our disagreement may even be helpful, but we trust the person.
Paul says that leaders must act in a way that demonstrates their reliability. He uses three images. A soldier must keep his attention on the instructions of his commanding officer. In Paul’s day, there were no major wars or great battles. Rome had defeated everybody. But there were often small, local insurrections. The Roman army was trained to respond quickly and efficiently to local rebellions. That required extensive training and daily discipline and a clear focus. In the same way, Pastors and church leaders need to keep their minds and hearts in the work of the Lord.
Paul says an athlete must compete by the rules in order to win the crown. There is so much pressure to win these days, to be the successful one. Pastors and Leaders are tempted to cheat for short term gain. But the Lord wants to find us faithful, even if not always successful.
Farmers work hard and often live on very thin margins. It takes a lot of courage and maximum work to be a farmer. That has not changed over the years. Paul says they should be treated justly. Walter Liefeld writes, “Serving Christ is hard work, requiring total commitment. Unless Christians are wholly dedicated to the Lord and personally committed to his work, the channels through which the Holy Spirit wants to work will be clogged and atrophied.” Leaders in the church are to be faithful and reliable. Then Paul concludes by saying although we sometimes falter, the Lord is always faithful.
So we come to a process of vitalization with five statements. We seek to live by them. We will not agree in every part of our strategy. We will sometimes see things differently. But we can seek to live in loving relationship.
We commit ourselves to love one another, recognize our brokenness, practice forgiveness and seek reconciliation.
We will communicate clearly and completely with compassion and kindness.
We recognize that God’s Spirit works through relationships in community, and we pursue what builds up the whole body of Christ.
We commit to being inconvenienced for the sake of the Gospel.
We trust our pastors and leaders to serve with wisdom and integrity.