Will he be released? Will he be executed? Does he have a visitor? Is this just more moldy bread in lukewarm slop? Is he going to be beaten? Will he be moved? Or are they coming for one of his many cell mates?
A thousand thoughts jam Timothy's adrenaline-juiced brain as his body tenses instinctively with the flight or fight reflex. It's amazing what you can remember and imagine in such circumstances. Flashes of his mentor's first visit to his home city of Lystra fire in his brain. The apostle Paul preaches and heals a lame man while preaching. The young Timothy is amazed. At first, the crowd wants to treat him like a god. Then, when Paul won't bow to their adulation, the crowd turns on him. They are further stirred by out-of-towners who hate Paul. Soon, mob rule takes over. Paul is taken outside town, publicly stoned, and left for dead.
This was done on the outskirts of Lystra, Tim's home town. He had seen it. So when Paul had selected Timothy to go on the next missionary journey not that many months later, Timothy harbored no illusions about the challenges and dangers he would face. Lois and Eunice, Tim's grandmother and mother, clearly knew the dreadful possibilities he faced as he walked down the road and out of sight with Paul to serve the Lord Jesus (Acts 14:19-20; Acts 16:1-3).
Timothy was brought back to the moment by the sounds of sandals slapping on stone as they came down the hallway toward his cell. Timothy remembered Paul's strong doses of "Get after it boy!" (1 Timothy 4:12). Phrases fired in his brain like, "Fan into flame the gift you have received ..." (2 Timothy 1:6-7) and "Don't be ashamed of me or of the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:8) and "Speak the truth whether it's popular or not, because bad times are coming ..." (2 Timothy 4:1-4, all verses paraphrased). Boy was Paul right ... bad times are coming ....
As the guard clattered the keys at his cell door, not knowing if they were coming for him or one of the others, Tim flashed to a conversation with the venerable Doctor Luke. Doc had shared some of his historical research on the first days of the church in Jerusalem as they traveled with the apostle Paul. What stuck in Tim's mind now, a true gift of grace and courage from the Holy Spirit, were two phrases by Peter and John when they were warned and beaten for speaking about Jesus:
"Whether it's right in God's eyes to listen to you rather than to God, you decide. As for us, there's no question — we can't keep quiet about what we've seen and heard" (Acts 4:19-20 MSG).
The apostles went out of the High Council overjoyed because they had been given the honor of being dishonored on account of the Name (Acts 5:41 MSG).
Overjoyed? Honor? Yes! Timothy was resolute. He would honor Christ in this moment, no matter what.
As the cell door opened, the guard coarsely snapped, "Prisoner Timotheous of Lystra, get your sorry carcass out of here, you are free to go. The rest of you slime bags stay back from the door or deal with the business end of my spear!" (Hebrews 13:23). And Timothy did leave ... not to hide or return to the safety of Lystra and home, but he returned to the risk and to the road to share the story of Jesus ... no matter the cost.
As his mentor declared, so Timothy would live:
That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day (2 Timothy 1:12).
We live in a time of growing hostility to the Gospel of Jesus — pending U.N. resolutions to make sharing our faith illegal in any country in the world, legislation in the USA hostile to churches and religious non-profits, a hostile press, growing world persecution of believers, and a wave of public sentiment against Christianity in the culture.
So how are followers of Jesus going to live in such times? Fear? Hiding? Public whining? Combatant hostility?
Look at the following Scriptures and then make a short summary statement of your convictions on how you are going to live! Of course I'd love to have you post them on my blog, The Phil Files, but whether you do that or not, please take the time to consciously write out your own commitment for how you are going to live in these times. If we are honest, these times have been with us for more than a decade or two, but we have simply forgotten the call to radical discipleship and our responsibility to be salt and light in a world of decay and darkness. So here are a couple of places I'm starting and asking you to join me.
Principle One: We live before five audiences and I have a responsibility to live with purpose before each audience! (John 13:34-35; 1 Corinthians 14:23-26; 1 Thessalonians 4:12; 1 John 3:13)
- Believers, our brothers and sisters in Christ, whom we are to love.
- Inquirers, those who are seeking to learn more about Jesus, but are not yet disciples. These we are to lead to worship and honor God.
- Unbelievers or outsiders, those who do not believe, but who are willing to listen and visit with us. These we are to help to know our hope in Christ and live in such a way they can see Christ in us.
- Enemies, meaning those who count us as enemies. We are to pray for them and live before them in such a way they can see our good and godly behavior.
- God himself, our Father in heaven. We are to live to honor him and reflect his character and compassion.
How to live before a growingly hostile world is an issue addressed repeatedly in the New Testament. I would encourage you to read through the book of 1 Peter, but the following principles are taken from one central passage in this letter (1 Peter 3:9-16). In a hostile environment where our faith is not appreciated, Peter outlines several guidelines consistent with the rest of his letter:
- Honor God while loving your brothers and sisters.
- Live to be a blessing to others, because we will be blessed by God.
- Do good to others, even if they do evil to you.
- Seek peace with others without being afraid of those who would harm you.
- Always be ready to share the reason for your hope, and do this with gentleness and respect.
So what does that say about how you need to live?
Where do you need to change your focus, your lifestyle to impact those who do not know Christ and especially those who oppose Christians?
How can we help each other live without fear and with the integrity needed to display God's character and compassion?