Something about me rebels against the phrase “We’re all winners here” when used in the middle of an athletic competition where there are obviously losers. Maybe it comes from my years of watching the Chicago Cubs, but in a lot of human endeavors it sure doesn’t seem to me as if we are all winners. It seems like a vain attempt to hide the very fact that there are indeed losers in some aspects of human endeavor.
But in the Kingdom of Heaven, all who have fought the good fight will be declared by God to be winners, winners of the crown of righteousness. Millions and even billions of Christians will all receive the crown of righteousness. That must be some big crown to be shared by so many! In fact, I believe that life in the presence of God through the righteousness of Jesus Christ by whom we reign is the crown of righteousness we will receive. And, yes, it is awfully big.
Not all will receive the crown, of course, but only those who run in such a way as to obtain it (1 Corinthians 9:24), and only those who have fought the good fight (verse 7.) Notice how again, by the grace of God, we are required to do something about our salvation.
Remember how St. James spoke about the coming of the Judge in James 4 and 5? How many of us are as confident as St. Paul that on the Day of Judgment they will be able to tell God that “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
This is the goal of your life. This is the race you have entered and the fight you are competing in. It is the war you have been drafted into, and there is no option but to win it.
With your life and the lives of others hanging in the balance, just how is it that you are to live your life so that you may receive the crown of righteousness? St. Paul tells us, and I have a feeling you already know if you’ve been reading from the beginning of 1 Timothy. I will risk being repetitive because St. Paul himself is repetitive. In fact, if St. Paul were my child or student I’d accuse him of perseverating or repeating long past the point of necessity.
St. Paul’s answer to St. Timothy about what he must do to receive the crown of righteousness is simple: “Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching (verse 2). Be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (verse 5.) If Timothy does these things, he will be a faithful son and one who is rewarded with the prize of the crown of righteousness.
Paul’s reason why Timothy must do these things is the same as James’: because one day Timothy will have to face the Judge. “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living (quick) and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the Word!” (verse 1.)
At this point a major question of hermeneutics (the science and art of interpretation) arises: in fact, I believe it is the question of interpretation for all of us. The question is: “Does this apply to me, and if so, how?” This is the hermeneutical question for every Christian for every passage of the Bible.
Most of us who believe the Bible is the Word of God naturally assume that God intends it all for me, but even if this is true, the question remains as to how it applies to me. This is the task of all interpretation, including teaching and preaching. Historically, the Church has read the Bible in 4 senses or kinds of interpretations: the literal, allegorical, moral (or tropological), and anagogical. The allegorical meaning, of which so many Bible-believing Christians are afraid, is simply applying a given passage to Jesus Christ or the Church Militant (the Church still here on earth.) We interpret the Bible allegorically all the time whenever we read the Old Testament and find Jesus Christ in it, for the literal meaning is about entrance into the Promised Land or about kings or about the delicate art of sacrificing animals. The moral sense is also one we use all the time, even if we claim we are only being literal. A moral interpretation of a passage involves applying it to myself or other Christians. The anagogical interpretation means applying the passage to the heavenly realities and is thus (here goes another big word) eschatological in nature, applying to the end things, or the world to come.
Give Us This Day is designed to be primarily moral in its interpretation because I want each of you to apply the Word of God to your life. But your life is not your own: it belongs to Christ, and so we seek Jesus Christ in His Word (allegorical interpretation). And all who are truly Christians are part of the Body of Christ and hopefully part of a local body, and therefore much of what the Bible says must be allegorical in this sense as well.
If we believe that we must only interpret the Bible literally, then the question remains: “What does 2 Timothy mean to me?” St. Paul is charging a particular, specially gifted man he knew with guarding the apostolic faith that Paul is passing on to him. And we are not privileged to be St. Timothy or the recipient of this special charge.
But I contend that this passage still applies to each of you. Since St. Paul spends much of 3 books on the necessity of and qualifications for elders, then we must apply the literal meaning to our local church but morally to ourselves. And this is a valid way of interpreting the Bible.
Each of you knows in your heart that you are supposed to be engaged in the teaching of the Word in some capacity. So how can you take what Paul tells Timothy and apply it to yourself and others? Or are only the ordained clergy to preach the Word in and out of season?
I wrote a little while ago about my Special and General Theories of Sacramentality. Now I’ve got another theory or two, which I like to call the Special and General Theories of Ministry. Some, like Timothy and your priest or pastor, are specially called and ordained to teach the Word of God and therefore exercise headship or leadership in the Church. But you, as a Christian, are generally called to be able to teach the Word of God as well. You all know this intuitively, or else you wouldn’t teach your children the Bible or ever try to use the Word of God yourself to convince, rebuke, or exhort other people to do God’s holy will.
Fully convinced now that this passage in 2 Timothy applies to you, hear again St. Paul’s exhortation: “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching.”
You read your Bible, meditate on it, pray through it, and live by it – every day. But don’t stop there. You treasure the Word of God in your heart. You teach it diligently to your children, and you talk about it when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You bind the Word of God as a sign on your hand and make them frontlets between your eyes. You write it on the doorposts of your house and your gates (Deuteronomy 6:6-8.)
Should you take this literally and go around wearing phylacteries or little boxes with Scriptures on your hands in on your head? No, but you should find ways to diligently and creatively apply this passage morally to your life and those around you.
Do this, because the Lord Jesus Christ, the Judge of the living and the dead, is Coming! Do this, because this is how you will win the crown of righteousness.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, the Judge of the living and the dead, I pray that You would come to me in Your Word today. Give me such a love for You that I would love Your Word. Guide me into all truth through a humble learning of Your Word that I might be inspired by Your Holy Spirit to be able to use it to convince, rebuke, and exhort all those you have brought into my life. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
- Reflect on the ways you make the Word of God a part of your life. Rejoice in God’s grace in the ways you have proven faithful, and ask Him to help you in the areas where you have not been as faithful.
- Prayerfully consider if your engagement with God’s Word is as deep as you desire it to be. Maybe you need to allow more time for meditation on His Word, or maybe, if you desire to be a teacher, you need to study more. One simple way is to retain the meaning of your pastor’s weekly sermon long enough in your heart so that it takes root. Listen to what the Spirit is teaching you about what is the most important way you could be a more fertile soil for His Word.
Resolution: I resolve to treasure God’s Word today so that it might become a part of my heart.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day