Our Faithful God (2 Timothy 2:8-15)

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Lots of people make us promises. For example, people who are close to us might make promises to us such as they will be home at a certain time, take the bins out, pick up groceries from the shops, and other every-day things. Then there are people and organizations in our wider society who promise us big things like secure and profitable superannuation investments, a more attractive appearance, a better quality of life if we purchase their product, and so on.

What happens, though, when people don’t live up to their promises and fail to be faithful to us and to their promises? What does that do to our ability to trust others? How, then, does that influence our ability to trust God? If we find it hard to trust the people around us who we can see and touch, how much harder is it to trust in a God that we can’t physically see or touch?

Faith in God and God’s promises to us in Jesus doesn’t come naturally to us. That’s why faith is the first and most important gift of the Holy Spirit to us and the primary work of the Holy Spirit in us. It’s only by the grace of God working through the dynamic power of the Spirit of God that we are able to trust in the good and gracious promises God makes us in Jesus. That’s why I never judge anyone who is struggling with faith. Especially in a world where we can be skeptical and cynical about what the promises people make to us, trusting in God’s promises to us can be really difficult for us.

A promise from God Paul gives us in 2 Timothy 2:8-15, however, is that God is always faithful and can be trusted. There are a few different ways we can understand the word ‘faithful’ but when I read 2 Timothy 2:13, as well as different places in the Bible, I hear ‘faithful’ meaning two main things. Firstly, being faithful means that God always keeps the promises he makes to his people. Secondly, faithful also means that so we can trust God to do what he says he will.

It’s a similar way of understanding faithfulness in marriage. When two people are married, they make promises to each other. To be faithful in marriage means both keeping the promises we make to our spouse in our wedding vows and trusting that our partner will keep her or his promises to us. Being faithful, like keeping any promises including the promises we make to God, can be difficult. We can struggle to be faithful to the promises we make for a whole range of reasons, just like it can be hard for us to trust in the promises others make to us. God understands that, but is doesn’t change his faithfulness to us.

The whole story of the Bible tells is that God is faithful. God makes promises to his people all the way through Scripture. The greatest promises God makes is that he would send a Saviour to free the world from sin and restore creation and everything in it to its original, perfect state. Ultimately, God keeps his promises and shows that he can be trusted in the person of Jesus. Through his life, death and resurrection, God fulfils his promises to liberate us from sin, to restore our relationship with him as his children whom he loves and with whom he is pleased, and give us a life that is stronger than death.

That is why Paul wants Timothy, as well as subsequent readers of his letter including us, to ‘always remember that Jesus Christ … was raised from the dead’ (v8 NLT). The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate good news for us because it gives us God’s promise of life with him now and forever, and shows us once and for all that God can and will always keep his promises. We can trust that God is faithful because he has done what he said he would when he raised his Son from the grave, never to die again.

Because God has been faithful in keeping that promise, he will also be faithful in the other promises he gives us throughout Scripture. The main promises we hear throughout the Bible are the forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God, but there are so many other promises that he gives us as well. There are too many to mention here and now but God promises to us include love, joy, peace, hope, comfort, courage, and so much more. It is so important for us as God’s people to continually be in his Word by reading our Bibles because as we read the stories of Gods faithfulness in the past, they help us to trust that God will also be faithful to us. By remaining in God’s promises, the Holy Spirit will give us the capacity to trust in God’s promises to us. Then, when it gets hard for us to believe God’s promises and trust that he can do what he says he will, the promise from 2 Timothy 2:13 will always be there for us – that even if we are unfaithful to each other or to God, God remains faithful to us because that’s who he is. God always keeps his promises. If God says he will do something, he will do it. God is faithful, just as Jesus’ resurrection show us.

This week, I encourage you to open God’s word and listen for his promises to you. Sometimes they’re not easy to find, but through careful reading and ongoing reflection or meditation on his word, God’s promises are there for us. Imagine what life could be like if we were trusting those promises, and living like what God promises us was true. Even if they are hard to believe, still God tells us that he will do what he says, because he is faithful!

More to think about:

  • Do you usually find it easy or hard to trust people when they make promises to you? Can you explain why that is?
  • What are some of the promises you hear from God through his Word?
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to trust God’s promises to you? Why is that the case for you?
  • I’m suggesting that Jesus’ resurrection shows us that God will always keep his promises to us? What is your reaction to that? Would you agree or disagree? Can you explain why…?
  • Paul writes (v13) that even if we are unfaithful (we find it hard to trust God and his promises), God remains faithful to us (and will still keep his promises to us). What questions, reactions or thoughts do you have to that? Do you find it easy or difficult to trust that promise? Why?
  • What difference might it make to your life if you were able to live like what God promises you is true?

Ruth (Ruth 3:1-5,4:13-17)

 

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Promises are an important part of life. We all make promises and others make promises to us. We usually make them with the best of intentions to keep them, but at some stage I suppose that we have all broken promises and have had people break their promises to us. It can leave us pretty suspicious or cynical, even to the point where we don’t think that promises mean anything. Our default position can be to assume that people will break their promises rather than keep them.

But what would it be like to have someone in your life who always kept their promises and followed through with what they said they were going to do?

The story of Ruth from the Old Testament of the Bible centres on the promise a young widow made to her older mother-in-law. Naomi had moved with her husband and two sons from Bethlehem in Israel to the foreign country of Moab. While they were living there, her sons married Moabite women but then, after some time, her husband and sons all died. Naomi was about to travel back home to Bethlehem when Ruth made her this promise:

“Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” (1:16,17 NLT)

If you have a daughter-in-law, can you imagine her making a promise like this to you? Or if you are married, could you imagine making a promise like this to your mother-in-law?

Ruth didn’t need to make this promise to Naomi, but it shows a level of commitment that exceeds what we usually expect or even hope for from others. The rest of Ruth’s story tells how Ruth kept her promise and was faithful to Naomi. It cost Ruth a lot and she worked hard to support herself and her mother-in-law. The result was that Ruth married Boaz, a close family member of Naomi, they became the great-grandparents of King David, and eventually Jesus was born into their family line (Matthew 1:5).

We can learn a lot from Ruth’s story, but there are two main points I want to explore. The first is that Ruth is a great example of what can happen when we keep the promises we make to each other. Keeping promises can be hard work and can cost us, especially when circumstances change and life gets difficult. Ruth experienced that but still did what she needed to in order to keep the promise she made to Naomi. Because of Ruth’s faithfulness, God was faithful to her and Naomi and provided them with a home, a family and a future.

When we are finding it difficult to keep our promises, Ruth’s story can encourage us to remain faithful. God is faithful to us when we are faithful to each other and will give us what we need so we can keep our promises. Most of the time, he will do this in very ordinary ways. One commentator I looked at pointed out that God isn’t really mentioned in the story of Ruth, but we can see God in the background, putting things in place and setting things up to provide for those who are faithful. When keeping our promises is hard, Ruth’s story can remind us that God will be faithful to us so we can be faithful to others.

I completely understand, though, that there are also times in life when things happen which make it impossible for us to keep the promises we make. We need to acknowledge and confess that without carrying the burden of guilt over it. We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world, and despite our best intentions and efforts, sometimes life just don’t happen the way we hoped or planned. That’s where the second key focus of this story becomes so important to hear.

Ruth’s faithfulness points us to God’s faithfulness when he keeps his promises to us in Jesus. All the way through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, God promises to redeem, restore and renew us and everything that he has created. Throughout Scripture, God promises to forgive sinners, heal the broken, bring peace where there is conflict, and extend grace to those who need it. I firmly believe that an essential part of living as Jesus’ followers is to learn how to hear God’s promises in his Word. The Bible comes alive as the Holy Spirit speaks words of peace, joy and hope into our lives through God’s promises to us. For example, in Ruth’s promise to Naomi we can also hear God promising us that he will be with us every day of our lives. He will go where we go, live where we live, our family will be his family and even at the point of death God will never leave us or forsake us. Hearing this promise becomes vital, especially during those times in life when it seems like we’re on our own and God has forgotten about us.

God keeps all of his promises to us in Jesus. He is with us as he entered our humanity in his birth. Our human family became God’s family as Jesus experienced life as a human with all of its joys, struggles, pain and hope. God kept his promise to forgive and redeem us when Jesus died on the cross, carrying our guilt, shame and broken promises. God began to restore us and all of creation in the resurrection of Jesus, keeping his promise to give new life into the world. Just like Ruth kept her promise to Naomi even though it wasn’t easy and involved hard work, in Jesus God kept all of his promises to us even though it cost him his life. Jesus’ resurrection is the seal of God’s faithfulness to us. If we ever start to doubt that God will keep his promises, we can go back to the empty tomb and see once and for all that God always does what he says he will.

We have someone in our lives who always keeps his promises to us. Jesus promises to travel with us through life, forgives us for our wrongs, love us unconditionally and be faithful to us, no matter what. The promises we make to others become ways in which they can experience the faithfulness of God through our faithfulness to them. There will always be times when we fail to keep the promises we make, but Ruth’s story tells us that God always keeps his promises to us, no matter what the cost.

Return of the Christ Pt 2: Faithful (Matthew 25:14-30)

silver coins 02Last week we began looking at three parables of Jesus in Matthew 25 about the end of time and Jesus’ return. Last week’s parable, the Ten Bridesmaids, reminds us to be prepared for Jesus’ return by taking a view of life that goes beyond the here-and-now, and living every day from the point of view of an eternity with him.

There are parts of this second parable, often referred to as the Parable of the Talents, which are easy to understand. The ‘man going on a trip’ (v14) is Jesus, who leaves this world when he ascended into heaven. We are his servants – the people of his church who are left behind in his absence. He has entrusted his ‘money’ (NLT) or his ‘wealth’ (NIV) to us while he is gone, ‘dividing it in proportion to (our) abilities’ (v15 NLT).

Usually what the man ‘entrusts’ (v14 NLT) with his servants are called ‘talents’ and are interpreted as our gifts and abilities. However, Matthew uses the Greek word talanton which was a unit of weight. A footnote in one of my Bibles says a talanton was about 34 kilograms, which another says was worth about 20 years of a day labourer’s wage. These tell us that just one talanton of silver coins was a significant amount of money. Imagine what the reaction might have been from the servant who received five! What would you do with more money than you could earn in two working lifetimes?

Which brings us to the more significant and puzzling question of this parable: if interpreting these bags of money as our abilities or what we can do is a misunderstanding of the text, then what do they represent?

One way I like to approach this parable is to ask what was most valuable thing Jesus left with us when he ascended into heaven? There are a lot of ways we could answer this question and I sincerely think it’s worth thinking about. For me, though, the most valuable thing Jesus has given to us is the good news of his grace. I don’t just think of Jesus’ grace as forgiveness so we can get to heaven, but everything we need for life in this world and the next. To me, the gospel is a multi-faceted diamond where every aspect shines brightly with the goodness of God to us. This means there are a range of ways we can view grace, but it all comes from Jesus.

Like diamonds, grace came at a high price. The value of the gospel, as well as the gifts Jesus left with us when he ascended into heaven, is shown by the price Jesus paid in order to give them to us. Jesus gave his own life for us one the cross to give us forgiveness, love, mercy, hope, and a whole new life from him. These are some of the aspect of his grace that he entrusts to us in the time between his departure and his return on the last day.

Then the master returns to see what his servant had been doing with what he had entrusted to them. It raises the question: what are we doing with the grace Jesus has entrusted to us? Are we putting his forgiveness, love, mercy and hope to work by investing it in others? Or, like the third servant, are we burying it in the dirt?

What’s actually more important about this parable is why we are doing what we do with God’s grace. Jesus doesn’t tell us how the first two servants doubled their master’s money, but he does tell us why the third servant buried what was given to him. He tells his master, ‘I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth’ (v25a NLT). He hid his master’s money because he was afraid of losing it. In contrast, the master praises the first and second servants by calling them ‘good and faithful’ (vv21,23 NLT). They were faithful with what they were given. They were full of faith! As a result of this faith, they took chances with what they were given, doubled the amount, and earned their Master’s praise!

Like the first two servants, Jesus wants us to be ‘faithful’ – full of faith – with what he has given us! He wants us to take chances with his grace, to be risky with his love, maybe even to gamble with his forgiveness by giving it to people who need it the most and deserve it the least. This parable tells me that Jesus wants us to put his grace and love to work in the lives of others by being full of faith in the goodness of the One who entrusts his grace to us and in the value of the gift of grace itself.

Especially as we face an uncertain future as Christians in Australia, now is not the time to bury what God has given us, but to boldly put it to work in the faith that God has already given us so much and that good will come when we invest his grace in the lives of others. I know people who are afraid of what the change of the legal definition of marriage will mean for Christians in Australia. I know others who are afraid of the future because we are a declining and ageing church. If we respond with fear, we are just like the servant who buried his bag of money and lost it all. But if we are full of faith in the message of the gospel and live confidently in the good news of Jesus’ redemption of sinners and love for broken people, then we have something good to offer people around us.

In the end, I believe this parable is about our approach to everything we do as God’s people and servants of Jesus while he is away. Are we hiding away the grace Jesus has given us because of fear? Or are we living each day full of faith in God’s goodness, trusting in his grace and putting his love to work in the lives of the people around us? When Jesus returns, will he find us living in faith or fear? If it is in fear, then the message of this parable is that even what we have will be taken from us. But if we are living in a bold and even risk-taking faith, then we will share in our Master’s happiness for eternity (vv21,23 NLT).

More to think about:

  • If you have come across this parable before, how have you heard the ‘talents’ interpreted? How might it change your understanding of the parable if we think of the ‘talents’ as huge bags of silver coins instead of our gifts and abilities?
  • When Jesus left us to ascend into heaven, what do you think were the most valuable things he left with us? Or, another way to think of it: what did Jesus purchase for you through his death on the cross that he gives to you as a gift?
  • Do you tend to think of the gospel simply as forgiveness so you can go to heaven when you die, or more like a diamond with many different aspects or facets? How might your understanding of God’s grace to us in Jesus be different if you thought of it more as a precious diamond?
  • With the changes going on in our church and in our culture around us, are you more inclined to be afraid or full or faith?  What might a life that is full of faith in Jesus’ gifts of forgiveness, love and grace look like for you?
  • Who do you know that needs Jesus’ grace the most but deserves it the least? How can you invest what Jesus has given you into their lives this week?