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Evangelical Engagement in Evil Times…

October 4, 2012

We live in an evil era. There is no doubt about this. One cursory look across the landscape of culture and media confirms that world lies under the domain of the evil one. In fact, it could be argued that from Jesus’ very ascension into heaven Christians have been living in what Paul would describe as “the last days.” With this in mind, how do christians engage this evil culture? Every four years this question becomes even more pertinent as Christians begin to navigate the unique and glorious responsibility of voting. God has given American Christians the opportunity to have a voice in their leadership and indeed in almost every level of governance. This was an opportunity denied Christians in the times of Paul, Constantine, Charlemagne and George III. But, with dawn of the American experiment came an unprecedented chance; Christians could now guide and participate in their government, in addition to praying for it. Ever since there has been a palpable tension in the heart of the conscientious Christian about which path is better: the political road of civic involvement, or the Kingdom road of spiritual reliance. Which path leads to the most effective engagement in repsone to these evil last days.

It should not surprise us that the Bible speaks to this issue with razor sharp clarity and concision. While there are many texts which speak to both governors and the governed, few texts provide evangelicals with the kind of roadmap we find in 2 TImothy 3:1-4:5 (See below quoted in length)

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.
You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
(2 Timothy 3-4:1-5 ESV)

There is much that one can draw from this text, so much that it far exceeds the reasonable length of a blog post. However, there some key elements worth drawing out and some conclusions worth making.

Key Elements:

I. Paul does not sugarcoat the existence of Evil. The first 9 verses of chapter 3 are devoted exclusively to the topic of evil’s existence in Paul’s day, with an eye toward its acceleration in the last days to come. This provides us with valuable encouragement. We take no small measure of comfort in knowing that the “good ole days” were not really that good. Evil has always stood in opposition to God and His people, and will until Christ’s return.

II. Paul accurately describes evil in realistic and relevant terms. Paul looks out onto his world and forward to our own with explicit realism. The times Paul describes are marked by people who will be “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self control etc.” Does this sound at all familiar or reflective of our own time? We also must be conscientious enough to accurately define evil in our own time.

III. Paul stresses the primacy of the Word of God. Paul encourages Timothy (the evangelical engager) to root his hope in the all sufficient Word of God, which is “breathed out by God, profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.” The only way this first-century evangelical was going to be equipped to engage his fallen culture with every good work was if he continued in what he learned from the sacred writings, the Scriptures.

IV. Paul delivers the method of engagement. Finally Paul instructs our early evangelical as to the manner in which he must engage this fallen culture; “preach the Word.” Paul could have said many things here; he could have said run for local magistrate, he could have suggested that Timothy lead a sit-in at the local basilica, but he did not. Paul’s advice, or rather his command to Timothy is to “preach the Word in season and out of season.” “To reprove” (with the Word), “to rebuke” (with the Word), “to exhort” (with the Word) and to do all this with patience.

What can we conclude from the above elements? Some would say that Paul was merely instructing a pastor on how to be a pastor. That this text has little to do the the lay christian. “After all,” one might say, “1-2 TImothy are pastoral epistles.” Leaving aside the fact that such a designation as “pastoral epistle” did not exist in Paul’s day, I would argue that his instruction is for all believers. As Christians, we are called to engage the culture, to be salt and light. And I think that we have reached an era when “people no longer listen to sound teaching.” Post-modernity has robbed our generation of ability to argue philosophical positions effectively on a broad scale. Once we as a culture were robbed of the definitions of right and wrong, sound teaching became nearly impossible to define, let alone engage in. The only hope we have is in the explicit unapologetic proclamation of God’s Word.

I am not arguing for a second fundamentalist retreat into the hills of cultural isolation. On the contrary, I am arguing that we must follow Paul’s model in this passage. We must recognize evil’s existence in our culture, we must be adept enough to realistically define it, we must root ourselves in God’s sufficient Word, and then we must engage the culture through the proclamation of that Word. This must be done in our churches, our homes, in our offices, at our jobs, in our neighborhoods, and even in the public square.

Vote, yes. Campaign, if you must. Advocate for life, absolutely. But above all preach unceasingly the glory of the Kingdom that here and is to come; it is the only hope we have in theses “last days.” We must all “do the work of an evangelist.”

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