The Reality Of Free Will, And Our Hope In Christ!
One has to have the light of faith to understand passages like this. On the outside it looks like a depressing thought. In modern parlance, one might say that this is bad advertising. But, in the light of faith, Paul’s words to Timothy here not only make sense, but are, paradoxically, a source of real joy to the believer. Why?
A believer understands that he/she lives in the real world. In fact the Christian believer may understand this more than most. The reality is that, because of free will, we human beings are capable of both great saintliness and great cruelty. This gift of free will makes us unique in all of creation. We are challenged to remember here that “to whom much is given, of him much more will be required.” (Luke 12:48) We are required to use our freedom in the manner and for purpose that it was given, in imitation of the one who gave it to us. How?
Free will is purposeless without proper knowledge and reflection. Where do we gain that proper knowledge? We gain some of this knowledge from our families and from our properly reflected upon life experiences, but our greatest resource, as Paul tells us later in the chapter is that of the Scriptures. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (verses 16-17) But Paul is also encouraging Timothy. Rather than protecting Timothy from the real world here, he is using his own experiences to give Timothy the knowledge he needs to continue in his own ministry. The world can be cruel. There are those who have chosen to be enemies of God, or others who have, out of a false pride, declared themselves gods unto themselves. Paul is telling Timothy what to expect from some in the world because of the faith he professes. Paul’s instructions to Timothy are directed at us too. In preaching and living the Christ-life in the world, Paul has found real meaning and purpose in his life. It is guided by his faith in Christ and by the virtues of patience, love, and endurance. We see, too, that in preaching Christ to the world he experienced both many persecutions and great sufferings. That is why he can say to Timothy, and to us, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” But there is an even more important lesson for us here too. Even though he has suffered these persecutions greatly he tells us: “Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.” (verse 11)
In reality, we have all abused our gift of freedom and in doing so we have caused others, and ourselves, great suffering. But in accepting Christ’s call to follow him, we are to be growing daily in our ability to use our freedom more and more as God intended it. We are called to live our lives in imitation of Jesus Christ, just as Paul did. We can do this, because we know that God is good and wants us to be true examples of his goodness in the world now. And to those who truly desire to become followers of Jesus, he give all the graces that are necessary to succeed. Oh, yes, it may seem a difficult and painfully gradual process for us, but Paul is telling us that it is not only possible, but because it is God’s good will for us, he promises to be with us, supporting us, and encouraging us all the way.
Lord, it is our deepest desire to become your true and faithful followers in our lives here and now. We ask you to give us the faith and the courage we need to live in accord with your ways in all that we do in our daily lives. Help us to become more Christ-like each day. Strengthen us to be patient and loving in the face of whatever suffering might come our way for professing our love for you in and through our daily lives. Give us the wisdom and the enduring faith to continue to love, to pray for, and to do good to those who persecute us. All of these things we pray in your most holy name, Jesus. Amen!
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