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Your Blessed Gospel In Today's Words And Metaphors

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Are you sharing the blessed gospel, or sharing the happy good news? Are you drawing the lost into your fellowship, or are you making friends? Are you in preaching about salvation, or are you explaining how you can live as a whole person?

It's not easy living in an antagonistic culture. Your beliefs ridiculed, and your lifestyle challenged. Hemmed in by shallow aspirations, weighed down by scornful Godlessness. Secularism, consumerism, materialism invading your thoughts, your neighbourhood, your family, your relationships.

Now they are the aliens in their own country, outsiders, rejects. Now they are scorned, defeated, laughed at. Now they feel besieged, physically and emotionally threatened. Nobody cares for their values, or what they hold as precious.

Timothy's little church is surrounded by antagonism, prejudice, rejection, even persecution. And sometimes violence closes in on this tiny group, people are beaten up, children abducted, houses targeted by thugs. Young Timothy faces a loss of heart within the church. Some are questioning his leadership. Some believe that if Timothy really was God's man, then this wouldn't be happening. Some have caved in to the pressure, and left the church altogether.

So Paul writes letter, we find it in the book of 2 Timothy. It is almost certainly his final letter. Paul is near the end of his life. He's probably stuck in prison in Rome. Many have left the faith. They couldn't stand the pressure. Others have never liked Paul's take on Jesus Christ's way. They couldn't accept his apparent freedom in Christ, and have continually opposed him.

Paul is looking at a fragile church, led by a young man, and he must ask himself 'Is it all going to fall apart. Will they be defeated. Will what they hold true and valuable be trampled on as the church is submerged by the dominant culture?' So he writes …

2 Tim 1:1-10

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.

Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.

I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who 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.

Paul is stirring up Timothy to be strong, to get on with the job, and to prevail against the societal forces ranged against him. To lead that little group of men and women to live in the Kingdom. Now we know that just over 250 years later, Christianity would be embraced by Emporer Constantine – ruler of the Roman Empire. So how did it happen? How did the truth, understood by what must have appeared a tiny Jewish sect come to dominate the spiritual thinking of the next ten generations?

We need to know, because our church situation in Europe today is similar to that of Timothy's church.

To find out, we turn to the Gospel of John. John started out a fisherman. And that is what he would have stayed if Jesus hadn't come along. But after an amazing life filled with teaching, miracles, persecution, witness, disappointments and hopes, as an old man, he grapples with his understanding of the gospel. He trawls through Jesus stories, and teachings in his mind. He reflects on what Jesus did – all his miracles, and the way he was with people. He considers the Jewish Messiah against the backdrop of the Old Testament that he has been familiar with since a child.

Then John perceives something very surprising. He realises that he can lift the gospel out of it's historical Jewish context, and express it in terms of the dominant culture of his day – that of Greek philosophy.

Greeks thought, moulded of course by Plato, had this idea that behind everything that was seen on earth, somewhere was the ideal version of it. He called it a form. He believed that humans pre-exist in that perfect place, and learning about stuff around us, is just really recalling a knowledge deep within us about all the perfect stuff we used to have. So according to Plato, understanding about bread, means recalling that perfect bread. And when we understand about shepherds, it's because we are remembering a perfect form of a shepherd in that pre-existant life.

So when he writes what Jesus has said, he emphasises Jesus' “I am” sayings.

I am the bread of life.

I am the light of the world

I am the gate

I am the good shepherd

I am the resurrection and the life

I am the way

I am the truth

I am the life

I am the true vine

So expressed this way, a Greek listener would understand that Jesus is that perfect form, visible on earth.

In Greek philosophy, the idea of the Logos – the word, had been around for 500 years since Heroclitus. Heroclitus introduced the term Logos to mean the principle of order and knowledge. “How come everything is so organised around here. Everything works!” Two hundred years before John was born, Aristotle had used the word Logos to mean “a logical and reasoned discussion seeking truth” In the succeeding two hundred years, the Stoic philosophers (who don't sound like party animals), used the term Logos to mean that active reason which pervades the universe and gives it life.

So when John introduces Jesus, he starts by saying. “The logos was in the beginning. The logos was with God. The logos was God.” and he goes on to talk about Jesus as the Logos of God.

Let's dodge back to Timothy and his church now. They had the task to express the gospel to those around in terms they could understand. How many arguments do you think they had over the use of Jewish words, context, culture, when trying to figure out how to express what God in Christ had done?!? Quite a few I'd say.

What Paul wrote to Timothy is so relevant for us, trying to express the good news (a.n.k.b.t.a.u.a The Gospel) to readers of the Times/Sun/Guardian/Telegraph/Daily Mail!

Stir up the gift. Do not be ashamed. Hold fast. Be strong. Endure hardship. Consider. Remember. Be diligent. Continue. Preach the Word! Be ready. Convince. Rebuke. Exhort. Be watchful. Endure afflictions. Do the work of an evangelist. Fulfill your ministry.

But when you do it, don't come at it with a creedal approach to belief. Don't pass a tract as a cold-calling card. No-one I know really believes in organisations any more. We have no idea what any person may believe. The world now has 1 billion individuals. The Internet speaks with multiple voices. Individualism. Multiculturalism. Make no assumptions.

If you want to share the good news, it has to be your good news. Experienced on a Monday! How your experiences in your life have convinced you that God's holy breath enervates you, teaches you and leads you day by day. How good it is to feel forgiven. How empowering it is to know you are unconditionally loved.

By the way, a.n.k.b.t.a.u.a stands for Also Not Known By Those Around Us As. So please avoid sanctified gospel jargon, just like Apostle John avoided Jewish jargon when writing for his modern world.

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