November 5, 2007

Hit me with a 2 x 4?

When I read the Bible, I’m aware of the danger of misinterpretation. Someone tells the story of a person who opened it at random and pointed to a verse for the day. One day, he pointed to, “Judas went out and hung himself.” Not satisfied with that, he tried again. The next time his finger landed on, “Go and do likewise.

That’s funny, but taking a verse or section out of context is not. It can get me in trouble. At the same time, I must never read something and use ‘interpretation rules’ to excuse myself so I can disobey what it says.

However, I’m puzzled this morning. I read 2 Timothy 4:2-5. It says, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

My first thought is that this was written by Paul to Timothy, a young preacher, therefore it does not apply to me. This is reinforced by the verses right before it (3:16-17) say, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Man of God” is always used in Scripture to speak of a preacher or spokesman for God, who in the wisdom of God were always male. I’m not a preacher nor a man, so can I excuse myself from the twinges of conviction I get when I read this?

The context of the verses might let me do it, but I need to examine the context of my life too. What bugs me about this verse is that I have family members who have turned “their ears away from the truth and turned aside to fables.” They are not interested in the things of God. Does this passage exhort me to start preaching at them? Is that sense of conviction from God, or from the heart of a wife, mother, grandmother, sister, and aunt who feels like she has not done enough, and if she just preached at them, her family would be walking with the Lord?

The last line helps: “Be watchful in all things, endure afflictions . . . fulfill your ministry.” (I leave out “do the work of an evangelist” because I know I’m neither an evangelist nor an imitation of one. God continually moves me into the work of teaching believers, not speaking to the lost and drawing them into the kingdom.) My ministry is so plainly ‘tent-making’ and ‘net-mending’ rather than ‘net-casting’ that if I have opportunity to present the gospel, I’m surprised at God. He almost always has me doing the discipleship work.

I also have to ask—is my longing for the souls of my loved ones part of this sense of conviction? Do I desperately want them saved right now—to the point that I’d like to run ahead of God and just do something rather than ‘endure’ waiting for His timing?

Christians know what I’m talking about. Every one of us struggles with speaking up or shutting up, preaching whether it seems the right time or not, or waiting on God for specific directions about what, when and where. Is this mild sense really conviction? Or is it impatience?

Fulfill your ministry.” Mine is teaching Christians, but it is also those other things: wife, mother, grandmother, sister and aunt. The black and white ‘do-er’ in me wants to preach at them before they have hardened their hearts beyond the point of no return. The softer, gentler ‘wait-er’ in me wants to make sure God is in it before I open my mouth.

I have no answer for this today. I always tell others, “When in doubt, don’t!” so I’m thinking I’d better take my own advice. God can make it glaringly obvious if He wants me to ‘preach.’

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