Monday, November 26, 2012

My Criminal Gospel (part 2 of 3)

Throughout the remainder of this second letter to Timothy, Paul continues to point out the criminal nature of the message of the Gospel.  After mentioning the fact of his suffering and being bound in chains, Paul brushes it off and says that even though he might be bound, “the Word of God is not bound!” (2:9b).  Clearly this was the case, since so many of Paul’s letters (though he was certainly not claiming “Word of God” status from his letters) were written from prison.  Apart from some of the records of the Book of Acts, the letters are the only source that we have for Paul’s preaching, so Paul’s inability to move about freely had no bearing on the mobility of the Word of God, the Gospel, that was being preached.  Knowing that his physical limitations were of little consequence in the larger scheme of things, Paul says, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect” (2:10a). 

This theme of suffering for the Gospel (Jesus is Lord) is carried on throughout the letter.  In the third chapter, Paul mentions “my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, Iconium, and at Lystra---which persecutions I endured” (3:11a).  He did not dwell on the nature of the persecutions, but on the nature of His Lord, saying “yet from them all the Lord rescued me” (3:11b).  With this said, Paul goes on to make a most interesting and fascinating statement, which unfortunately, is held in a faulty understanding by most all of us.  Paul writes, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (3:12). 

Now, how is it that we don’t really understand this statement?  Basically, it’s because we have a poor conception of what it means to live “a godly life.”  If we are honest with ourselves, when we think about “a godly life,” most of us think that what is meant by that is not drinking too much, not doing drugs, not cheating on our spouses, not killing anybody, being nice to people and animals, going to church, not robbing banks, not cheating on our taxes, reading the Bible, memorizing Scripture, not beating our kids, working hard at our jobs, giving to charitable causes, and so on and so forth.  With some additions and subtractions, this is what we think about when we hear or read that term “godly life.”  Now, if we think about this, will living that way bring any real persecution?  No, of course not.  Living in that way will generally bring some measure of honor and respect.  These things do not invite persecution. 

So what does it mean to live a godly life?  The Greek word for “godly” here is “eusebos.”  What this word denotes, above all things, is a manner of life that is marked by a constant God-awareness.  Not only that, but it is in the genitive case, so it also speaks of source, or from where something is generated, if you will.  So “godly” is a manner of life of God-awareness that has us living an acting with a constant awareness of the fact of the kingdom of God and its King, and acting accordingly.  Paul has written about living “a godly life in Christ Jesus.”  So how should we understand this?  Expanding the thought, we could say “living with a solidarity and allegiance inducing belief that Jesus Christ is Lord.”  “In Christ Jesus” is an identifier of loyalty, denoting that a person has joined up with the covenant people, and is now participating in the plans and purposes of the Creator God.  Indeed, our God-awareness, that reverential attitude of awe towards God that is sometimes called the “fear of God,” is an attitude of faith that says that Jesus is Lord, and that all rulers and authorities and powers are subject to Him. 

That living of a godly life in Christ Jesus results in a proclamation that says that every knee will bow to Him and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  The living of a godly life in Christ Jesus, and the attendant and required proclamations (in word and deed) from those that hold to such beliefs, are bound to ruffle a few feathers and cause a fair amount of consternation to those that believe themselves to be the masters of their own lives or the ruling powers-that-be.  This is the godly life in Christ Jesus that brings persecution, not the perception of a godly life as roughly outlined above.  This is why Paul was continually suffering, enduring persecution, and finding himself bound as a criminal.  The message that he brought was a subversive message in his day, and because human nature is unchanged, it remains subversive in this day as well, which is why it is treated as a criminal message in many places throughout the world.

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