Friday, 22 March 2013

PARTING WORDS


If you know it’s the last time you are going to see someone, you make sure you leave behind the most significant and precious words.

What can we learn from Paul’s farewell message to the church at Ephesus as well as his last words from prison to young Timothy?


Before he left the elders of the church at Ephesus to go to Jerusalem, Paul shared with them a poignant farewell message:

“So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders.  I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following.
“And now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.
(Acts 20: 28-30, 32).

                                                                     

Paul’s last words to Timothy have a strikingly similar tone. The former, who was then holed up in a damp and chilly dungeon, charged the young disciple to preach sound doctrine and defend the truth amid false teaching.
“I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.
For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.
But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.
(2 Timothy 4:1-5).

                                                                        
We can glean precious lessons from these two passages which record for us Paul’s parting words.

First, the paramount importance of preaching the truth, the Word of God, irrespective of the season. The flock needs to be fed the solid Word, especially when there is false teaching (heresy) that it is so enticing; it tickles and soothes “itching ears”. People are naturally drawn away from truth to distorted versions of truth because the latter give them the “feel good” sensation.  There is a great need not only to teach and encourage (positive) but also to correct and rebuke (negative).

Paul was also apprehensive that both the church he founded at Ephesus and the church he was about to leave under young Timothy’s care will not be able to persevere under unfavourable conditions when he (Paul) is no longer around.

That is why he had to entrust the church at Ephesus to God and the Word (Acts 20:32) so that their faith might endure, that finally they will be able to receive their heavenly reward.

Similarly, Paul told Timothy to endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist and fulfill his ministry. Earlier, Timothy was reminded to endure suffering as a soldier of Christ, an athlete and farmer (2 Timothy 2:3-6).

The success of any minister lies not only in his ability to impact lives when he is around. He must be able to pass the baton to chosen ones so that lives continue to be impacted when he is no longer around. “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).

It is imperative for leaders to confront false teaching during these perilous end times. If they can identify with Paul the seriousness of the task they have been entrusted with – to feed the flock with solid teaching from the whole Word of God (Acts 20:27) as well as to correct and rebuke heresy (2 Timothy 4:2) – then people will not be so easily led astray from the faith.


SEEKER SENSITIVE OR MARKET FRIENDLY APPROACH
Does not the philosophy of the apostle Paul — as outlined in the following passage — sound as being accommodating to those who are seeking the truth?

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

While it is good to be accommodating to pre-believers, we should not do it in a way that will compromise the truth.

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DEADLY DECEPTION

We should be wise up by preparing ourselves against deception. Jesus warns that deception will be a prominent feature during the end times (The Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24).

Believers have to be wise – in fact, extremely vigilant and discerning – if they want to stand up against deception in these last days. Satan is like a roaring lion who seeks to devour the weak and unwary (1 Peter 5:8).

And even the elect – supposedly mature leaders – can be deceived. If leaders are deceived, don’t you think the flock will fare even worse?

“For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:5).

“For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24).

That is why it is so important to go back to basics. Be like the Bereans:

“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” ( Acts 17:11).

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

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