God reveals that life is found in death.
There is a passage in this part of Paul’s second letter to Timothy that illuminates one of the ironies, or paradoxes, of the Christian life: “Join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (vs 8-10)
At first glance, when I read that passage (especially the last verse), the idea that pops into my head is that Jesus destroyed physical death. He died on the cross and then was brought back to life, and we say that’s because death, or being silently resigned to a grave, had no power over Him. And, by logical inference, we conclude that “life” and “immortality” are primarily something physical as well.
But that is not how Jesus described the death He came to abolish: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matt 16:24-25)
What this means is that death—true death—is not characterized by losing your life, but rather by trying to save it! It is the way of selfishness that leads to death. It is the “me first!” attitude that leads to death. That’s why the statement which precedes Paul’s declaration that Jesus destroyed death is one urging Timothy to join with him in suffering for the gospel.
We think in just the opposite way. We think that the way to abundant life is to find an escape from our suffering. But Paul (and Jesus) say, “No!” The way to true life, especially in this sin-filled world, is through suffering and death. When one tries to avoid those in the pursuit of self-interest, then he is actually operating under the very principle of death that Jesus came to destroy.
The way of life and immortality that was brought to light through the gospel was in Jesus’ demonstration of total self-less-ness. Death had no power over Him, because He never operated under the principle of true death (self-ish-ness). Not for a single minute.
As Paul told Timothy, God has called us to a life of self-sacrifice, submission, and suffering. This is the way of life and immortality, and it’s none other than the path that Jesus Himself walked when He was here among us. That’s how God revealed that life is found in death.
And it is this revelation that destroys true death.
God is looking for soldiers.
Every once in a while, a line from a film will get stuck in my head and come back to me time after time. One such example is from the film A Few Good Men. In it, two Marines are accused of murdering another Marine, and the plot centers around the attorneys who are working to prove that the Marines were only following orders when they did what they did.
In one memorable scene, one of the attorneys asks another, “Why do you hate [the two Marines] so much?” And he replies, “They beat up on a weakling; that’s all they did. The rest of this is just a bunch of smoke-filled, coffeehouse crap.”
Perhaps that line has stuck with me through the years because there’s something in my mind that enjoys cutting through the extraneous to get to the heart of the matter—no matter what the subject may be. When possible, I like to just cut to the chase.
Or maybe it’s just that it sometimes seems like we’re all caught up in a lot of things that aren't important.
Whatever the reason, this movie line popped into my head again as I read the second chapter of Paul’s second letter to Timothy: “Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them.” (vs 3-4)
For soldiers who set their sights on the goal of being the best warriors they can be, many of the “trappings” of civilian life are “smoke-filled, coffeehouse crap.” Soldiers have to give up a lot in order to do their jobs well. They must give up their independence, pride, and freedom. They must give up their family and friends—at least to the extent that they can’t enjoy social life as a normal civilian would.
Soldiers sacrifice not only what is “bad,” but anything that would distract them from their ultimate purpose. There is certainly nothing wrong with having a family, but no soldier wants to take his three-year-old out on the battlefield with him. Thus, he will sacrifice a certain amount of time with those he loves—both for the sake of their safety as well as for the sake of his mission.
In the same way, God is looking for “soldiers,” people who can appreciate the bigger picture of what’s happening in His universe. People who can understand the importance of not being distracted by all the “smoke-filled, coffeehouse crap.”
And I don’t know about you, but Satan throws an awful lot of that smoke-filled stuff in our way to obscure our vision. A great deal of it (perhaps a vast majority of it!) comes right from the church, but it also shows up in politics, education, relationships, economics, and even the unrelenting busyness of daily life.
When the world gets overwhelming and it seems like there is chaos and confusion on all sides, God needs people who know how to cut to the chase. He needs people who can drill down to the heart of the matter and remember what’s important in this life.
For there is only one thing worth having in this life, and that’s God. If you have Him, then you truly have everything. If you don’t have Him, then you truly have nothing.
So no matter what’s happening in your life today, don’t get so caught up in all the “crap” that you miss the heart of the matter.
God’s looking for soldiers. Have you enlisted?
God is the only source of goodness.
In this chapter, Paul gives a rather dismal account of the world in its final days: “People will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.” (vs 2-5)
I found this very interesting, for when we think of the “last days,” we mostly envision difficult times due to circumstances—natural disasters, environmental chaos, famine, unstoppable viruses, etc. But Paul suggests that what will bring on the difficult times at the end will not be bad events, but bad people. People who have thumbed their noses at God and, consequently, gone unchecked down the road of wickedness and depravity.
Here’s what people become when they reject God:
- Lovers of self.
- Lovers of money.
- Boastful and proud.
- Disobedient to parents.
- Out of control.
- Cruel, haters of what is good.
The intriguing thing is that Paul says these people will act religious. That’s right. A person who claims to love and believe in God can, in fact, be someone who has rejected God. How do you know? Look at the list. Wherever you find people like that—whether inside or outside of “the church”—they have rejected God.
The reason for this is that God is the only source of goodness in the universe. One cannot become “good” without having a connection to God. What does this mean? If a self-professed atheist is demonstrating goodness, he has a connection to God whether he knows it or not.
In the same way, if one severs his connection with God, there is no possible way for him to become or remain “good.” He will eventually descend into the list of depraved traits which Paul says will cause massive difficulty, hardship, and suffering at the end of the world.
You look around the world these days, and you don’t have to look very far to see need. But what people ultimately need is not cleaner air, better jobs, higher education, pure water, or more opportunities. What people need is God. He is the only source of goodness there is, and that means He’s the only person who can repair what has gone wrong in the human heart
And if that doesn't get fixed, nothing else matters.
God tells the truth.
In this final part of his second letter to Timothy, Paul warns him that God’s Word will not always be popular: “Preach the Word of God. Preach it when it is easy and people want to listen and when it is hard and people do not want to listen. Preach it all the time. Use the Word of God to show people they are wrong. Use the Word of God to help them do right. You must be willing to wait for people to understand what you teach as you teach them.” (vs 2)
This is hard for many people to get on board with—especially in the church. We have a “numbers” complex; therefore, if we aren't drawing big crowds, we may be tempted to change the message (or at least water it down a little bit). After all, a lot of Christians are interested in “not being offensive.”
But the truth is sometimes offensive. I guess the question is, do you want to know the truth?
If you have cancer, do you want the doctor to be honest about your diagnosis and treatment options? Or do you want him to sugarcoat things so he doesn't offend you or scare you off or make you feel bad?
I’m certainly not advocating being unnecessarily offensive or unpleasant. Even when truth is hard to hear, it can be delivered in respectful and courteous ways. But if we shy away from what is true because it seems hard or harsh at times, are we doing anyone any favors?
One of the things I love about God is that He always tells the truth—no matter how hard it is. He tells the truth when He knows people will listen, and He tells the truth when He knows people won’t listen. He tells the truth in order to correct us, even when it infuriates us.
He tells the truth because it is the truth. For Him to tell us anything else would not only be counterproductive, but pointless. We find ourselves in a predicament not unlike the cancer patient—seriously ill and unable to save ourselves. We need intervention. We need treatment. We need someone with more knowledge and education about our condition to guide us to healing.
The process of getting there, however, may not always be smooth. It’s not easy to hear a devastating diagnosis. It’s not easy to contemplate treatment options that will disrupt, and often obliterate, day-to-day life as we know it. It may never be what we want to hear, but if it is the truth, then it is what we need to hear.
That’s why God always tells the truth, and it’s also why He exhorts His followers to be committed to truth, even when it’s hard. For if we’re not even willing to deal in reality, what can we hope to accomplish?