Dec 8, 2008

In the world, of the world, what's in a preposition?

by Dan Grubbs

I believe many of us in Christ’s church have forgotten the concept of in the world but not of it. Have we withdrawn to the comfort of our fellowship body, or have we stepped out in faith in the big bad world?

In the passage of 2 Timothy 3:1-17, Paul paints a bleak picture of the conditions “in the last days.” Not wanting to get into eschetological weed here, but it’s no stretch to see some of the conditions Paul is talking about in this passage in today’s society. It’s enough to make a believer want to retreat and protect ourselves from the world around us.
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” The first question we need to ask ourselves is if we think there is good cause to protect ourselves and families from the kind of activities and behavior that Paul lists in the first four verses? But, maybe a better question is if
withdrawal from this kind of society is what Christ meant for our lives.
It’s a fact that Christians have pulled themselves and their families out of the world to the security of their local churches, small groups, private schools, or home-school cooperatives. Frankly, it’s comfortable in these places and certainly less painful.

However, I believe it’s exactly these conditions Christ had in mind when He was addressing the people in His sermon on the mount. When we read Matthew 5:13, we can see what Christ wants us to be when facing the world. Here He uses an effective metaphor to make His point. “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.”

What does Christ mean by being salt? Of course He means we’re to be effectual for Him in the world. So, how do we balance being salt and keeping from being victimized? This is actually a faulty question because it isn’t if we’re gong to be persecuted, the question is when. But the scriptures teach us that we’re to step out into the world anyway. Yet, there is benefit from being persecuted by the world and we should never shield ourselves and our loved ones from these blessings.

Yet, our motivation to be obedient to God’s will and Christ’s teaching is not for our own benefit, but to save the lives of those who are perishing all around us.

In light of Paul’s warning to Timothy about difficult times ahead, we may think that we’re silly if we subject our families to these conditions. But, Paul also gives encouragement and counsel for dealing with life in these circumstances. What does Paul say will happen to such people who persecute believers? Paul references in verses 8-9 a passage talking about those who opposed God. Exodus 7:10-12 “So Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh, and thus they did just as the Lord had commanded; and Aaron threw his staff down before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called for the wise men and sorcerers, and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same with their secret arts. For each one threw down his staff and they turned into serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.”

Why did Paul referenced this story of Jannes and Jambres at this time? How does this relate to what Paul is writing to Timothy?

Just as if Paul anticipates any rebuttal from Timothy, he gives him verse 14 to tell Timothy how to deal with the difficult times. “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

So with the learning and understanding of the gospel, Timothy — and we today — are supposed to be salt in this world regardless of the conditions.

I believe that we need to remember an important verse when we consider the rest of this letter to Timothy. 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline,” (sound judgment).

So, if we’re to face the dark world and not withdraw from the world, how shall we go into the world? How shall we equip ourselves? What are we to do once there? I can point to verses 16-17 for the answer. “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

Armed with the gospel and God’s word, we step out in faith. But, where are these good works supposed to take place? In and among other Christians? In some cases, yes. However, if we limit our ministry there, we become tasteless salt to Christ. He charged us to “go” and be salt and light in the world. I am sure we all agree that we are not to withdraw out from the world, but be in the world. That’s what Christ meant by being salt. If we withdraw, then we are worth nothing to Christ and cannot be used by Him, and we might as well be discarded and trampled underfoot.

I am certainly not advocating against gathering together in corporate worship and fellowship or against home schooling. What I want to point out is that many of us have retreated to these places to escape the world when it’s precisely the world into which we are to go.

I’ll end with seven tough questions we all need to contemplate in our own lives:
  1. Are we as effective for Christ as we can be?
  2. Have we equipped ourselves and our loved ones to be effective?
  3. Are we cunning craftsmen for God in the world?
  4. Do we have the courage to face difficult times?
  5. Have we withdrawn from the world in some ways?
  6. Have we withdrawn our loved ones from the world?
  7. Do we truly believe that our serpents will swallow the world’s serpents?

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