Dear CBC Family,
The Lord has me up early to write to you. It’s now 4:30 AM. I was reading a letter a pastor wrote to the church he served and it moved me greatly. It does not al apply so I adapted it for CBC’s use. I hope it stirs your soul too.
“Our church, which last gathered all together at one time was more than seven months ago. It seems like an eternity. Will it ever be like that again or have things permanently changed?
Fellowship is a vital means of God’s grace. In weekly corporate worship, prayer and regular small groups, God shapes, nourishes and gives stability to our souls. God does something for, in and through us as we gather together. To one degree or another, everyone has/will experience the spiritual effects of these last seven months. What will we do moving forward? Will we drift? Will we reengage? We’ve come to a very important moment in the life of our church.
Perhaps what Paul wrote to Timothy can really help us here. In 2 Timothy Paul begins by saying this:
Verse 1: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus . . .”
In 2020, we are surrounded by voices that tell us blatantly and subtly that this life is all there is. All we can know, we are told, is what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. So, get all you can out of this life, because there is no sure eternity to live in light of.
But here Paul, facing death, begins with “the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus.” Death now looks as real to Paul as it ever has — just as to some of us, death has looked as real as it ever has in recent months. Death is coming near for Paul. And in that moment, he clings to “the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus.”
Without the word of God and the people of God reminding us that the sights and sounds and tastes and smells and textures of this physical world, real as they are, are not all that is real, we will be deceived. This is one of the great deceptions in our day, and perhaps the deepest: that this world and life is all there is. But Christ promises life beyond this world. He also promises a family right now in the world.
Verse 2: “To Timothy, my beloved child . . .”
It is amazing to see how Paul talks to Timothy as his son in the faith:
- 1 Timothy 1:2: “my true child in the faith”
- 1 Timothy 1:18: “my child”
- So also to Titus, in Titus 1:4: “my true child in a common faith”
- Then here in 2 Timothy 1:2: “my beloved child”
- Also in 2:1: “my child”
- To be clear, Timothy and Titus are not Paul’s biological sons. Nor are they legally adopted sons. They are more than that. They are “true” sons, he doesn’t say they are like sons; he says they are sons. This shows the kind of relationships God means to create and sustain in Christ.
This kind of familial — and deeper than familial — bond is not unique to Paul and Timothy and Titus. Rather, this is the norm for those who claim the one true Lord as their greatest allegiance. Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50). And he said, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).
In Christ, what we have in common is the single most important reality in the universe. Sharing biology and blood does not compare. Sharing the same school does not compare. Sharing the same neighborhood, the same city, same state, same nation, skin color, subculture, political causes, occupation, or hobby does not compare to sharing Christ.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we share in common the unrivaled, single most important reality in all the universe and in all of history: we have God himself in Jesus Christ as our Father. Do you know what potential we have — in Christ — for the most significant, most challenging, most strengthening, most precious relationships on the planet?
These kinds of closer-than-a-brother relationships will happen but they are not automatic; they are gifts from God, to be cultivated over time. They require work and commitment. I suspect 2020 has done much to try and undermine them. That said, there is no better place to find such friendships than in the local church. Don’t miss them by thinking you don’t need them because God says you do.
Yes, Christ promises life beyond the world, and Christ provides family now and beyond this world. I want to give you three thoughts from the rest of the letter in how to cope in moments like these.
1. HE CALLS US TO ENDURE (AS OTHERS TURN AWAY).
Many pastors have said that in these days it seems like some are defecting, and other times it seems like more than some. Paul wrote 2 Timothy in what seems to be a lean season. It wasn’t revival, it was hard times. Times felt tough; perhaps even the churches seemed thin. Paul writes in chapter 3 of “those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions” (2 Timothy 3:6). And he warns in chapter 4, “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3–4).But this wasn’t distant for Paul; it was painfully close. He says in 1:15, “All who are in Asia turned away from me.” And if that doesn’t sound heartbreaking enough, he mentions Demas — the same Demas he mentioned as part of his team in Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 24. He says in 2 Timothy 4:10, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” Can you sense the ache in his heart as he writes “in love with this present world”?
As a pastor, I have seen the good and bad of the pandemic. Let’s not sugar coat it; this has been a trial. It is sifting the churches like wheat. For some, these have been precious days of new depths of seriousness and focus and devotion. Some will think fondly back on 2020. And for others, these times have eroded and hollowed out the heart of faith. Roots are loose. Some are turning away and my prayer is that this is NOT any of you.
Paul calls to Timothy, and us, to endure. Paul himself endures, with “eternal glory” in view (2:10), and he promises in Christ, “if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2:12). He says “the Lord’s servant must be patiently enduring evil” (2:24). He mentions the “persecutions I endured” (3:11). And he says to Timothy directly, “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (3:14). And he warns, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching. . . . As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (4:3–5).
In these days, when some are drifting away, like Demas, in love with the world, let’s follow Paul and be able to say in the end (4:7), “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Let’s finish this segment of the race God has put before us in this season, and keep the faith together, as we come into this fresh season of church life.
2. HE CALLS US TO SPEAK THE TRUTH WITH GRACE (AS OTHERS SPEW LIES, VENOM, AND FOLLY).
It is striking what a contrast there is in 2 Timothy between how Paul characterizes the false teaching and what he says Timothy should be. First of all, he gives us the negative, what to avoid, what characterizes the false teaching (and it may not be what you think):
2:14: “Charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.”2:16–17: “Avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene.”2:23: “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.”
It sounds like the false teaching Paul is concerned about is more like the daily drivel on social media and television than it is like formal teaching. Some false teachers are preachers and teachers, but most are not. They “creep into households and capture weak women.” They sow seeds in polite conversation. They don’t mount a pulpit, but fill our ears the other hundred and twenty waking hours of the week. Think of that 45 minutes a week of preaching, versus what? Ninety hours a week of other influences?
A recent article at The Gospel Coalition observes, “The church is increasingly just one voice among many speaking into a Christian’s life. A church’s worship habits may occupy two hours of a Christian’s week. But podcasts, radio shows, cable news, social media, streaming entertainment, and other forms of media account for upwards of 90 hours of their week.” And consider the effect of the pandemic. The author, Brett McCracken, observes, “COVID-19 has further accelerated the already troubling tendency of Christians being shaped more by online life and its partisan ideological ecosystem than by church life and its formational practices.”
“In quarantine, Christians have been driven yet farther into a fully online existence: drinking from the often-toxic well of internet discourse in ways that poison their souls. Largely devoid of meaningful immersion in Christian formative practices, Christians are instead being formed in whatever online echo chamber they call home.”
He says this is “perhaps the biggest meta threat facing the church in the 21st century.” Brothers and sisters, social media can be a cesspool. Wisdom for some is avoiding it altogether. For others, there’s a calling and opportunity to do good, speak truth, have some small influence. But don’t just float in without intentionality. Your mood will be encumbered; your hope will be taxed; your vision of the world will be skewed; which is, in microcosm, what it’s like to live in this world.
But this is really important to note: In the ancient content war going on in Ephesus, Paul doesn’t just say to plug your ears. He doesn’t just say to cover your eyes. He doesn’t even say to not talk. He has something positive to say: Use words to give grace, to speak truth, to provide clarity, to produce peace. Speak and type constructive and clarifying words rather than destructive and confusing words. Use careful, intentional words, rather than flippant, uncareful words. And see that you get a regular stream of such clear, constructive, life-giving, soul-feeding words into your ears and hearts. Here’s how Paul puts it in 2 Timothy 2:24–26, saying “the Lord’s servant” so that we know it’s not just for Timothy, but all of us:
“The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
And we have a standard and source, as Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” And to Timothy in 4:2: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” So Timothy must “do [his] best to present [himself] to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2:15).
3. HE CALLS US TO KEEP THE END IN VIEW (AS OTHERS LIVE ONLY FOR THE MOMENT).
The apex of the letter is 4:1–8. There Paul solemnly charges Timothy, for the final time, to preach God’s word, and then says, “The time of my departure has come” (4:6). And in this final section of the letter proper, before his closing comments and notes, Paul twice draws attention to the coming of Christ:
Verse 1: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom . . ”
Verse 8: “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
Paul keeps the end in view. Christian endurance does just that. It does not just endlessly grunt out one more day. It looks to the end, and looks to Christ and his grace for daily strength (2:1; 4:17), in light of his final rescue.
The pandemic will end. This life will end. This age will end. Jesus Christ is coming back, which is spectacularly good news to his people, and an untold horror to his enemies. He is coming as “the righteous judge” (verse 8), who will “judge the living and the dead” (verse 1). He will bring full and appropriate and uncompromising justice on those who have rejected him and turned away from him. And he will bring rescue and reward, not just for Paul, but for “all who have loved his appearing”:
Rescue — 4:18: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”
Reward — 4:8: “There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
This weekend we will be sharing in communion which is one means the Lord will use to strengthen your soul. I pray you will join us live Sunday morning at 10. If you would like to bring your own elements for no contact use then please feel free to do so. Our text will be Romans 8:28. The sermon title is “For those who love God”. This will be the most heart-searching message yet from the book of Romans. You soul will not want to miss it.