Thursday, December 4, 2014

God Is Our Support – 2 Tim 4:16-18

At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (NASU)
Support
I am a reproach among all my enemies, But especially among my neighbors, And am repulsive to my acquaintances; Those who see me outside flee from me. (Ps 31:11 NKJV)
Have you ever felt like there was no one who supported you? Look at the anguish in these words. Paul – all deserted me. David – I am repulsive. I’ve had neighbors who condemned my actions, friends who thought that I was completely wrong in how I handled a situation. Fortunately, the long-term proved that I had acted correctly. However, in the moment it is hard to do what you know is right when everyone is telling you it is wrong.

                If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have dwelt in the land of silence. (Ps 94:17 RSV)
Suicide is one of the dangers many people face when they feel that they have no support. According to the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in 2010 with 39,518 deaths.[1] The number for 2012 was 40,600 and was still the 10th leading cause of death. The author of Psalm 94 is not identified, but it could have been David, a man after God’s own heart. He admitted that if he had not found support from the Lord in the midst of his distress, he would have died. As you read this Psalm and others, you will definitely come away with the idea that he was not only talking about being killed by his enemies but also the affliction of his soul (vs. 19).

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:1-2 NKJV)
Let’s turn it on end. Have you ever deserted someone who needed support? On this end, when we don’t know the full story, it is easy to judge others and provide no support. I’ll admit it is hard to support someone in some of life’s difficulties. Looking at the second chapter of Job, we can see two methods of support for someone who is going through trouble. Job’s wife suggested that he curse God and die (Job 2:9). This is terrible advice but it is what many of us may receive from the world. When we have been raised in an environment that teaches us that our prosperity is a sign of God’s pleasure with us, difficulty and testing says God doesn’t approve of us or that our faith is weak. Fortunately, Job had a better understand and knew that both good and bad are under God’s sovereign control (Job 2:10).
And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. (Job 2:13 RSV)
Job’s three friends came and sat with him in silence for seven days. There is both good and bad using this as an example. There are times a person needs to have others near without trying to offer reasons for the calamity he is facing. However, understanding the concepts of the ancient Near Eastern thought sheds a different light on these seven days of silence. Eliphaz was from Edom, Bildad was probably lived near Uz and was Arab, and Zophar was from Naamah in north Arabia.[2] Based on this, it is extremely unlikely if Job’s friends were monotheistic worshipers of Yahweh but were aware of Him. They could have been like Nebuchadnezzar who acknowledged God (Dan 4:2) but also worshipped other gods (Dan 3:1-7). Their problem is that they didn’t have the written Word of God. They had traditions and the influence of all sorts of religions around them to form their concepts of God. Therefore, they didn’t really know what pleased or angered God.[3] So their seven days of silence may very well have been a time of waiting to see if Job died or not. If he died then they could confidently say Job died because of his error in appeasing God during his life. If he lived, well, then they needed to confront him with what they believed was his sinfulness. Their culture required that a person confess sin even if they didn’t know what it was in order to be restored.[4] God rebuked the three friends because of their ignorance of Him (Job 42:7).
We can conclude that the friend’s constant attempt to get Job to confess to some sin that he didn’t commit and their concepts of God were way out of line. But, what about the seven days of silence? Was that totally wrong? No, there are times when silence is good medicine. “It is foolish to belittle one's neighbor; a sensible person keeps quiet” (Prov 11:12 NLT).
Many people today say that we can’t comfort others unless we have gone through the same problems. They point to Paul’s statement that God is the God of all comfort and that He comforts us so that we can comfort others (2 Cor 1:3-4). While that is true, does that mean that we can only offer comfort to those who have gone through the same afflictions that we have? No, that is the product of our postmodern thought process that emphasizes relations and the concept that we each have our own truth. Therefore, your comfort only works if it is born out of the same conflict that I have had.
I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. (Rom 15:14 ESV)
 God has provided His Word to us so that we will know how to address all kinds of problems. According to Romans 15:14, if we are living godly lives (full of goodness) and know the Word (filled with knowledge), then we will be competent to instruct others. Going back to Galatians 6:1-2, remember that it says, “you who are spiritual restore … in a spirit of gentleness.” Perhaps the world is right. If a person is not spiritual (i.e. a mature Christian), then they can’t offer comfort unless they have been through the same suffering. However, that is not God’s Word to believers. There are occasions when we can observe the wisdom of Job’s friends and be silent in order to help someone in a spirit of gentleness. So let us be wise when we comfort but not neglect God’s Word either, for He is sufficient for all our needs, whether it is to minister to others or get us through our own trials (2 Cor 3:5, 9:8, 12:9).
Purpose
But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey him. (Rom 16:26 NLT)
God specifically called Paul to take the message of salvation to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). But salvation for non-Jews was nothing new. Paul called it a mystery in Romans 16:25 and Ephesians 3:9, but it was plain to anyone who was looking for it. In Genesis 18:18, the Lord slipped in one of the first clues when He said, “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him” (ESV). David spoke of a time when all the nations will turn to the Lord and worship Him (Ps 22:27-28).
For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart. (Jer 29:11-13 RSV)
When we face trials and it seems like there are only opponents around us, when our friends have abandoned us, we need to remember God’s purpose for us. But before addressing His purpose for us, I must digress regarding this verse. Note that the RSV, NAS, and ESV say plans for welfare. KJV and NKJV say peace. NLT says good. However, the most often quoted version I have heard is the NIV, which says prosperity. Synonyms for welfare are wellbeing, interests, benefit, happiness, good, and safety. Synonyms for peace are tranquility, harmony, and serenity to mention a few. Now compare the synonyms of prosperity, which are wealth, affluence, opulence, and riches. What a significant difference between the meaning of the NIV and the other translations! The Hebrew word used is shalown or shalom.[5] It should look familiar, as most people recognize it as a greeting of peace. It’s a good idea to check out other translations when studying your Bible. I’m not picking on the NIV, as other translations have similar poor word choices. We need to look at the context to see what the most appropriate translation is.
These verses are taken as an individual promise, but the context of the verses is to the Jerusalem exiles in Babylon (Jer 29:1). God was very specific. He would return them to Jerusalem after 70 years (Jer 29:10). Those who were not in exile were promised “sword, famine, and pestilence” (Jer 29:17 ESV). How many times have we ever claimed that promise for ourselves? When the captives returned, what was the result? According to Nehemiah, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire" (Neh 1:3 ESV). Does this sound like prosperity? As time passed, the conditions improved, but prosperity would not be the description I would use. God took care of them but it was nothing compared to the reign of Solomon. Their welfare improved but prosperity occurred for only a few.
The point is, when we start looking for God’s purpose, we can’t take random verses from the Bible and claim that this is his purpose. We need to look at the overall message of God’s Word to understand our purpose. Colossians 1:15 says that all things were created for Jesus. Revelation 4:11 (KJV) says that everything was created for God’s pleasure. (Did you notice that I picked the translation that used the specific phrase I wanted? Be on guard!) What would you say is your overall purpose based on these verses? If it is to bring glory to God, then you are right. How is that to be done? “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl 12:13 KJV). There are some very good passages in the Bible that sum up how we keep his commandments. See 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24 or Romans 12 – 13.
We can continue talking about our purpose and glorifying God by doing His commands. The ones mentioned above all depend on following Jesus command to love God and others (Matt 22:37-40). While loving God is the most important, Jesus had to remind us that loving others can’t be neglected. He repeated the command three times (John 13:34, 15:12, 115:7). Least we get off track and think that by being all loving with one another and that is all it takes to get saved, we need to remember that without a saving relationship with Jesus in the first place, we will not be able to love God or others. We must first believe in Jesus (John 6:29).
Rescue
The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. (Ps 121:7 NASB)
Paul’s expectation of rescue appears to be from the evil perpetrated on him by others. He has spoken of those who abandoned him, caused him great harm, and that his life may soon be over. Certainly, these deeds could be considered evil. Psalm 121:7 certainly sounds like a fitting quote for his circumstances. The Psalm’s implication is a physical protection but also a clarification that the soul is more important than the physical. Paul knows where he is headed, heaven. As we think about our purpose and fulfilling what God wants in our lives, we must keep our eyes on the ultimate goal and not become distracted by the crazy things that happen here on earth. It doesn’t mean we ignore them, but we have to keep them in an eternal perspective (2 Cor 4:16-18, Col 3:1-4).
Paul may also have been thinking about his first letter to the Corinthians where he said that God would not let them be tempted beyond what they could handle, but always gave them a way out (1 Cor 10:13). In this sense, rescue would be from sinful desires or attitudes. In prison, Paul could have easily become depressed and despaired of life, or bitter and angry because of those who deserted him. The word used for temptation is peirasmos. It is the same word that is used when translating Jesus’ words in the Lord ’s Prayer for temptation (Matt 6:13), testing for the seed sown on the rock (Luke 8:13), and trials when speaking to the apostles who stuck with him (Luke 22:28). James used the same word when speaking of our trial (James 1:2) and our temptations (James 1:12).[6] So, whether we are talking about difficulties of life or temptations. We know that the Lord is the one that keeps our souls.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. (1 Peter 5:8-9 ESV)
 It is also possible that Paul read Peter’s first letter. Paul knew he was rescued from the lion’s mouth, an allusion to Satan. Paul could take comfort in knowing that his suffering was not something that was strange but a very huge part of the Christian life. When Peter wrote, persecutions were most likely localized. When Paul was about to be executed, persecution was the way of the Roman government under Nero. Yet Paul could say he had been rescued from Satan. This is a clear indication that Satan cannot defeat us. Our salvation is secure in the midst of all kinds of trials, temptations, and testing.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38-39 NIV)
How many people do you think could be staring an unjust death sentence in the face (or terminal illness) and confidently say that the Lord would save them from every evil deed? Paul focused on the fact that his home was in heaven. There wasn’t anything in this life or anything that could happen to him after death that would prevent him from going to heaven. He lived in a time when myths abounded. There were underworld gods or entities that supposedly presented trial to people that they had to pass in order to enter into whatever “heaven” they imagined. These people or demonic entity could do nothing to him that would prevent him from going to heaven. There are no mountains to climb or crevices to cross. No magical powers, no beasts, nothing, was going to stop Paul from a safe entry into God’s eternal kingdom.

Do you have that confidence for this life and the afterlife? If you don’t then you need to turn to Jesus. He has already defeated Satan, paid for your sins (Col 2:13-15), and intercedes for you ( Rom 8:34, 1 John 2:1).  However, there is a catch. When you turn to Him, it is an all or nothing trust that must result in obedience (Luke 6:46). My prayer is that you will and have the assurance, just as Paul did, that you are going to heaven.

[1] “Faststats - Suicide and Self-Inflicted,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed November 14, 2014, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/suicide.htm.
[2] Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, Updated ed., s.v. “Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar,” ed. R. K. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006), Biblesoft.
[3] John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 2521-2534, Kindle.
[4] Ibid, 2876-2879.
[5] OT:7965 shalowm (shaw-lome'); or shalom (shaw-lome'); from OT:7999; safe, i.e. (figuratively) well, happy, friendly; also (abstractly) welfare, i.e. health, prosperity, peace. (Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary, (2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.)
[6] NT:3986 peirasmos, Thayer's Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database, (Biblesoft: 2006).

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