Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
3 Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
4 No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.
5 And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.
6 The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.
7 Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.
8 Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel:
9 Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.
10 Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
11 It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him:
12 If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:
13 If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.
14 Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.
15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
16 But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.
17 And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus;
18 Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.
19 Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.
20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.
21 If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.
22 Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
23 But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.
24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient,
25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;
26 And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.
Strength in Christ’s Grace
Christ has given unto us great grace – that is, he has given us goodness which we do not deserve. Combined with his mercy (which is not receiving the bad things we deserve), this demonstrates both God’s immense sovereignty in being able to give such gifts and his love for us in sparing us from our deserved punishments and granting to us spiritual gifts in this world and the next. We who live under the great love and charity of our Father through his son Jesus have nothing to fear, for there is no power in heaven, on earth, or in hell which can be mustered against Him.
What we have received from Christ and the apostles, upheld by witnesses throughout the ages and consistent with the prophets, is good and right. Our God has preserved these teachings for us and has shown their faithfulness by preserving more ancient texts over the ages than any other historical document (the Odyssey, for example, has only about 100 ancient copies dating back only 1000 years, while we have evidences of the Old Testament more than three thousand years old and evidences of the New dating back to the first and second centuries). The faithful who were committed with these teachings taught others and recorded all that they received for all who would believe, though removed dozens of generations.
Armed with timeless truths spoken by the Holy Spirit and recorded and preserved by the brethren, what have we to fear? No matter how hard times are, we know what our Lord has promised to us and we know from the history of the saints that He is faithful in keeping these promises. Stand strong, therefore, armed with the knowledge passed down to us, strengthened by the historical testimonies, and emboldened by the Holy Spirit that is even now with us.
Service, By Analogy
A soldier, when deployed, has no time for the affairs of this life. The minor political events that draw the attention of the common man, the day-to-day concerns of home and business, and all such concerns fade away over the long marches, intense conflicts, careful strategic planning, and management of the affairs of war. It reflects what Sun Tzu teaches in his Art of War, that effective generals focus entirely on warfare and effective politicians stay away from warfare entirely to focus on managing the homeland.
A man may acquire many skills in his life and amass great wealth. But a man who gains all these things through criminal enterprises and shady dealings is eventually exposed, and all his gains amount to shame and all his teachings transform to ashes. The lawful man may gain mastery of men and worldly things and maintain them with honor, that countless generations to follow might see his example and strive to do the same.
A farm laborer has the first access to the fruits of the field. One who picks apples during the heat of the day partakes of a few of these fresh fruits from the limb, and who can begrudge him? If the crop is bad, he shall himself eat poor fruit, but if the crop is sweet and plentiful then he may glut himself on fine products and yet harvest bushels no man can lift alone.
By these examples, we learn much about our service to the Lord. As a soldier, we must focus on the tasks laid out before us by our Lord or we shall fail and, almost certainly, be destroyed by His enemies. As a master, we must strive to remain lawful and moral as we struggle, lest we bring shame on ourselves and mock our Lord’s name in the eyes of the unbelievers. As a laborer, we reap the rewards of our labors for the Lord, for good and for ill.
Endure All Things
Paul and the apostles saw with their own eyes the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, he who was the promised descendent of David sent to be our Messiah (that is, our savior and rescuer), he who died upon the cross while the Jewish and Roman authorities bore witness and who was raised up again from the dead on the third day. Christ was resented in life by the religious authorities, nearly lynched by stoning on more than one occasion, submitted to capture by the authorities (though, it is written, even his very word could knock down all who came for him), was held for a mockery of a trial by the Sanhedrin who broke their own laws in trying and sentencing him, was further sentenced by the Roman governor at the demand of the Jewish authorities, was beaten, forced to bear a weighty cross over miles of road following a sleepless night and vicious beatings, was stripped of his clothes and crowned with thorns, was nailed to the tree, died a slow and painful death, and was pierced by a spear after his death.
When we suffer troubles, we suffer but a tiny fraction of what our Lord suffered. When we are mocked for our faith, when we are tested by apostates and heretics, when we are unjustly persecuted for our obedience to the Lord, and even when we are killed for Him, we still suffer less than He. Let us rejoice that we can share in our Lord’s suffering for His sake.
But even in bonds, the Word of God is not bound. In the USSR, where Christianity was outlawed and viciously persecuted, the word still spread in whispers and secret gatherings. In the Roman world, when Christians were considered among the worst of criminals, the word still spread in the catacombs and in secret house meetings. In China, where Christianity is yet considered a strange and dangerous thing, the word still spreads through hidden Bibles and quiet testimony.
We endure all manner of persecution for the sake of our Lord and the elect whom he has foreknown. We suffer trials and tribulations, but we continue to preach and teach even in secret so that all might obtain salvation in Christ Jesus.
The Faithfulness of Christ
Our Lord is faithful, keeping his promises even unto those who abandon Him. When God promised Adam and Eve that their son would crush the serpent, he delivered Christ to their descendents. When he promised to Abraham that his descendents would be as numerous as the stars, he delivered to Abraham a son at the age of 100 to bear physical children and delivered Christ through that son that we might be adopted into that same promise. When he promised that David’s seed would be the Messiah, a mighty conqueror and a sacrificial offering of atonement, he delivered Christ. When he promised the children of Israel that he would preserve them, though they seemingly incessantly strayed from faith, he yet preserved them from countless oppressors and conquering nations. So we see that, even when we do not believe, He remains faithful to the promises he has made, for he cannot deny himself.
If we die with Christ, we shall share in his resurrection and life everlasting. If we suffer as Christ, we shall also reign alongside him. These things he has promised, and we know he keeps his promises.
Yet, if we deny Christ, he shall also deny us. If we replace Christ with a figment of our own wicked minds (for all who would change the scriptures to suit their own designs deny the God presented therein), he shall replace us as he has replaced faithless Jews with barbarians and Greeks. Many will come to the gates, crying “Lord, Lord,” yet be turned away because they never knew Christ and he never knew them.
Show Thyself Approved Unto God
Why do we preach and testify? Paul called it “the foolishness of preaching,” yet we continue to preach the Word for the sake of our Lord, in obedience to His commands. For, says Paul, the Lord uses the foolishness of preaching to reach the elect. To paraphrase an amusing quote, if we knew that everyone who would be saved had a star-shaped mole on their right ass-cheeks, we’d run around pulling down pants, but because we do not know we continue to preach to all. For we do not preach to hear ourselves talk or read our own writings, but to subvert the minds of those elect who hear or read our preaching.
What ought we to preach and teach? If you do not know whereof you speak, you cannot possibly begin to explain it. Therefore we study the divine revelations of the Word and the natural revelations of nature and history, that we might be bold in the knowledge of the truth and avoid that which is erroneous or outright false. This is the right and true action of one who works for the Lord under his approval.
Many have erred and gone astray. When we focus more on the teachings of the societies around us than the Word of God, we fill our heads with unnecessary and false information that obscures the truth from our sight. The Gospel begins to seem blasphemous, and the teachings of the apostles appear wicked in the eyes of the ungodly. Profane (that is, worldly without any godliness) and vain (that is, worthless) babblings eat away at the truth as a canker eats away at the flesh, causing pain for us and marring our appearance in the eyes of men. This destruction is communicable – a false teacher whose teachings are full of ungodliness may lead many others astray in the same way, obscuring from them the truths of God and causing them much pain in this life and the next.
Therefore, let us be holy as God is holy. The elect shall all be saved, for the Lord has sealed them with a holy seal and marked them for redemption (and His will is not mocked). The Lord can preserve the elect against even the most corrupt teachings (I have known people of other proclaimed faiths, which spout constant heresies, that yet believe only that which is right and true and profess only Christ as Lord), but let us not be among those doing the corrupting. Depart from iniquity, all you who believe.
Pure and Honored Vessels
In a great house, there are vessels of gold and silver and vessels of earth and wood. We use the same ceramic (more or less) to make coffee mugs as we do to make toilets – one contains that which we put into ourselves, and one receives all our foul wastes. It is not the nature of the vessel that corrupts it, then, but rather its use. One might (for unknown reasons) clean and sterilize a toilet for the preparation of punch or soup, and that which once was dishonored becomes honored.
In the same way, we are of the same materials as the faithless and the vile. I am a man composed of the same materials and imbued with essentially the same hormones as Charles Manson, Adolf Hitler, Bernie Madoff, and Harvey Weinstein. My fiancee is a woman composed of the same substances as Jezebel, Delilah, The Countess of Bathory, and Marion Zimmer Bradley (who, if you don’t know, was absolutely horrible – check out her daughter’s book if you don’t believe me). Yet we who believe and strive to purge ourselves of iniquity are not the same as these monsters of history, but something else entirely.
Rather than following youthful lusts (which we all understand, but can be listed in part as sloth, greed, sexual perversion, perversions of justice, pride, and wrath), let us strive to be righteous, faithful, charitable, peaceful, and pure in the eyes of God and men. In this way, we become less worthy of dishonor and more worthy of honor, free from shame and guilt, and clearly distinct from the evil around us (for “holy” means “set apart” or, loosely, “drastically different from what is around it”).
Let us also avoid foolish and ignorant questions, which do not seek after truth but rather seek to divide men and cause strife and division. The Buddhists have a habit of answering such questions with the word “mu” (or, in Chinese, “wu”), meaning “empty,” because the question is, itself, wrong. In the same way, if you feel the need to give answer, answer that they ask the wrong question and pose a better one, or else simply let it lie there in its own emptiness.
The fathers of the modern American mega-church phenomenon have struggled to puzzle out the most effective ways to make their churches bigger. Rick Warren decided to make a church based on worldly concerns, where the music is composed of not hymns but rock concerts, programs tailored to draw all kinds of people, sermons built on broader social themes rather than scriptural explication, and otherwise giving worldly people what they want. (I want to be clear that much of Warren’s actual teaching is right and good, but the focus on the church as a business and the gospel as a commodity to be sold is troubling). Joel Osteen (who, I I used to joke, hasn’t even taken his Bible out of the plastic wrapper yet) speaks and writes in ways that inspire and motivate worldly people, but without any depth of Christian truth or Scripture. Books like The Shack and Heaven is for Real label themselves Christian and sell millions of copies to believers and unbelievers alike, but contain heretical teachings easily broken by simple Scriptural analysis.
Rather than strive for our faith in these ways, which tend to promote corruption as we can plainly see in our world today, we must be gentle and patient teachers. Many of Jesus’ teachings are hard to grasp at first (as immortalized in the title of The Hard Sayings of Jesus), and some are faster to receive the truths of Scripture than others. We must rebuke them gently when they err, forgive their trespasses while condemning impurity, and restore them with plain teaching and meek spirit. We do all these things because it is God that works in men, not the preacher or the teacher, and by recalling our former stations and current authority we can show ourselves as those approved by God to those He would wrest from the snares of the devil.
Let us Pray
Our Father, who lives and reigns in heaven, holy and honored is your name. May your kingdom come, and may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive our sins against you, as we are to forgive those who sin against us. And do not lead us toward temptation, but deliver us from all evils. For yours is the kingdom, yours is the power, and yours is all glory forever.
Merciful Father, we fall on your mercy, for we have often erred and sinned against You. We have not loved you with our whole hearts, minds, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have failed to keep your commands, and we have often failed to even recall them. We know that we deserve all wrath in heaven and on earth, but for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. You know our hearts, for you have formed us from the womb and have known us since before the creation of the world. Make us like unto you, Lord, that we might sin no more and be freed from death and the devil.
Teach us, Lord, and bring to remembrance all things by the Holy Spirit. Send to us all that we need, place in our path those tasks which you have prepared for us, and guide us with Your hand that we might not stumble. Prepare us always for that which you have planned for us, and guard us from struggling against Your will. For you are our Lord and our Redeemer – you have bought us at a high price and have made us to be sons and daughters. Make of us dishonorable vessels faithful and holy servants of your will.
For as even our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night of his betrayal, said, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Bring us to say these words without fear or hesitation, that we might be bold servants for You.
And redeem our people, Lord, who have become ensnared by corrupt teachings and vile rulers, immersed in profane and vain babblings of evil men and women, ruled by petty tyrants who despise you and cling to falseness. Make us the instruments of your will in all things, and please place in our paths those tasks which will bring more in alignment with Your will our nations and societies.
We pray all these things, knowing not the plans you have for us but assured by faith and evidence of your faithfulness and grace.
Holy is the name of our Father, and of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit even now with us.