Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What to Do about Opponents to the Gospel – 2 Tim 4:14-15

Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching. (NASU)
Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples. I threw them out and handed them over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God. (1 Tim 1:20 NLT)
No one knows whether the Alexander in Second Timothy is the same as the one in First. He may even have been the same Alexander of Acts 19:33 who attempted to quell the riot in Ephesus. If all three were the same, then we would know that he was a Jew (Acts 19:33) who probably converted to Christianity then departed from the faith (1 Tim 1:19-20) and then greatly opposed Paul’s teaching (2 Tim 4-14-15).
For some, Paul’s words against Alexander may seem unfitting for a Christian. After all aren’t we supposed to love our enemies and pray for them (Matt 5:44)? This is true, but our current culture has redefined love. Today’s love is focused on the immediate instead of the long-term. It often focuses on the wrong person as well. In the case of Alexander, Paul kicked him out of the church for two reasons that today’s world would not call loving. The first is clearly stated in 1 Timothy 1:20. It was to teach him a lesson. If we are to look at other Scripture on church discipline we understand that ultimate purpose is to restore the person to fellowship (Matt 18:15, 2 Cor 2:5-11). Sometimes, the one removed from the church isn’t really a believer and the goal then is, that left alone to his own devices, he will remember his life among Christians and compare it to his immoral degenerating life (delivered to Satan), see the difference, and turn to Christ for forgiveness and salvation (1 Cor 5:4-5). True love will look at the eternal consequences of actions, not just the temporal.
Avoid such godless chatter, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will eat its way like gangrene … (2 Tim 2:16-17 RSV)
Second, the church needs to remain pure. While we are certainly required to love our enemies, we must also consider our love for other Christians, especially those who are new in the faith. When one is teaching blasphemous things, he may very well lead others of into the same error causing untold damage spiritually as well as physically. Why did Jesus become angry with the Pharisees? It wasn’t because they insulted Him. His anger boiled over into what the modern world would label as intolerance, bullying, and name-calling. In Matthew 23, Jesus pronounced seven woes against the scribes and Pharisees in which He called them fools, hypocrites, blind guides, unrighteous, serpents, brood of vipers, and murderers. Nearly every reason for these condemnations stems from hiding the truth of God and the way of salvation from the ones they should have been leading in true righteousness. God gets angry at sin, but doubly so when someone leads other into sin. True love will warn people about those who will lead them astray.
Be on Guard
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves. But beware of men. (Matt 10:16-17a NASB)
When we have opponents to the Gospel, we need to be aware and beware of them. We are in a spiritual battle and we should expect the worst to happen. That’s where we need to be shrewd as serpents. If we understand what the worst could be, we don’t pretend that it could never happen and if it happens, we will not be surprised, depressed, or defeated. We will have made contingency plans, but most of all we will trust the Lord because He is sovereign. Even though we are sheep, our Shepherd is mightier than all. We don’t need to be afraid even in the midst of the wolves.
On the other hand, we need to be innocent as doves. That means that while we are prepared for the worst, we are also praying and expecting the best. Our trust in God not only takes us through the worst but brings about the best as we pray according to His will. Innocence also means that when we encounter the evil schemes of men, we will not retaliate with earthly wisdom or deeds (2 Cor 10:3-5). Paul instructed the Corinthians to stop thinking like children, with regard to evil to be like children, but in thinking to be adults (1 Cor 14:20). Peter also addressed this when he said that those who accuse us will be ashamed of their slander when they see our good behavior (1 Peter 3:16). Adult, shrewd, serpent-thinking will recognize that as we do not repay evil with evil but overcome it with good, we will persevere (Rom 12:17, 21).
Vigorously Oppose
What do we do if someone does vigorously oppose the message of the Gospel? First, we must have the proper attitude about what is really going on behind the scenes. According to Paul, we are not struggling with people but with spiritual forces (Eph 6:12). There is a huge battle going on and the people that are opposing the Gospel are slaves forced to fight in something even without knowing it. They are victims and we should be praying for their salvation even more than we pray for them to stop any physical persecution.
Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me! (Ps 35:1 ESV)
The second thing to remember is that this is really the Lord’s battle. While we may think it is personal, as did David, the Lord is able to fight the battle much better when we turn it over to Him. If it seems personal, then we need to remember what is at stake. If it is the Gospel, God’s glory, or His reputation that is at stake, then we need to make sure we don’t get in the way by taking it personally. What does God say about the eventual outcome of those who oppose the Gospel? Isn’t it the same as those that fought against Israel?
Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all. For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. (Isa 41:12-13 NIV)
We need to remember that they will suffer eternal loss if they don’t get on the right path. But we don’t just stand idly by and expect God to do all the work without us. Jude wrote, “I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3 NASU). We don’t have any excuse to roll over and let them preach heresy unabated. As long as we have the Lord with us and maintain the right attitude, whether we win or lose a skirmish, we will be fighting the way He wants.

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