The Unchained Word
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Sometimes I think that I am just a bit claustrophobic. Once we visited the Wind Cavern in South Dakota. The cavern is one of the longest and most complex caves in the world. It was discovered by settlers in 1881when Tom and Jesse Bingham heard wind rushing out from a 10 by 14-inch hole in the ground and decided that one of them should crawl down into that small hole. I don’t think I would ever be motivated to climb into something like that. If you were to get stuck on such an adventure, it would be like being buried alive. I cannot really think of a worse way for this life to end, but it has happened to some. I am not a fan of confined spaces.
And yet I am forced to consider that there are always issues in life that keep us from being totally free. Sometimes a person can find themselves boxed in due to health issues, money issues, time, or even opportunity. If a person tests positive for Covid then they should stay home and get better rather than go out for ice cream. Sometimes people find their mobility limited due to ailments of the body and getting older doesn’t usually come with physical improvement. Other times we all have probably made one choice in life that has forced the exclusion of other choices. Such is the nature of life. No one is completely free.
So, this always makes me wonder how the Apostle Paul dealt with the times he was imprisoned. The Bible records the Apostle Paul being arrested and detained three times. (It could have been more, but this is what we know of) His second imprisonment was from around 58-63 AD. This was right after his third missionary journey. Eventually he appealed to Caesar because the authorities left him languishing in a cell. Altogether Paul was detained and imprisoned for roughly five and one-half years either waiting for a trial or held until he was martyred. That is not an insignificant amount of time.
However, Paul made an interesting comment. He stated, that because of the gospel he is even chained like a criminal, but “…the word of God is not chained.” This not just a trite comment on Paul’s part. Paul had practice in seeing how God’s word and work continued to function even as he was confined and limited. Maybe he could not leave the room he was in, but the Spirit of God was active beyond the walls that held him. He saw in the chains he wore a contrast to the gospel he preached. Despite Paul’s limitations God was still at work, and I believe that this is what encouraged Paul and kept his spirits up. He knew that God was still active even when he just sitting still. I may be said that God even used Paul’s imprisonment more so than his freedom. Several of the letters we have of Paul we identify as being written while he was in prison. These letters have been instrumental throughout history in continuing to influence people’s lives and thoughts. Maybe God used what Paul consider as a restraint upon his life to establish a long-lasting blessing that has extended for close to 2 thousand years. When Paul said the Word of God is unchained, did he ever think that people in a land across the ocean would be studying his words thousands of years later. Surely this must have been inconceivable to him, but not to God. The word of God is unchained and free.
Perhaps this is a worthwhile thought when we find ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally, even spiritually confined or repressed in some way. Is not God able to do more than we can ask or imagine if we live and move according to faith. Is God’s word and Spirit not as powerful today and it was yesterday.
This is what the scripture is taking about. 2 Timothy is largely about Paul’s words of encouragement and advice to Timothy who is to Paul the next generation of apostles. In Timothy Paul knows that God is still at work. The message of life in Christ is being told. It is about allowing this power of God to be free within our own lives and in the lives of those who come after us regardless of our condition or situation. Let me put it this way. Every person needs a Timothy. Ever church needs a Timothy. We all need to work to empower the lives of those after us according to the mystery and grace of God that moves before us. Then we too are unchained and free, no matter what.
We need to hear the Apostle. Verse 11 says “The saying is sure:
11 …If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.
This text most likely represents a familiar song or liturgy that was used within the church. Most commentaries want to relate this saying to being used during baptism. It begins with “If we have died with him, we will also live with him!” The implications to baptism are easy enough to see. Paul speaks of baptism as a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. So, then no matter what, faith has already led every Christian from death to life. Paul uses it to remind Timothy of the strength the Christian faith holds even in the face of persecution, worldly troubles, and death itself. Paul probably knew his death was likely, and indirectly he is reassuring Timothy that even if death comes, in Christ his life is assured. Jesus put it this way in Matthew 10:28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” In Christ life is certain. What are the things that hold you and even take away life? In the unchained word of God there is hope and life. God has already done more for us than we ae able to conceive.
Therefore, Paul reminds Timothy, “If we endure, we also will reign with him.” Basically, he wants to encourage Timothy to not quit or give up, but rather to endure.
I came across a thoughtful story about a man named Bill Broadhurst. In 1981 he entered a 10,000 meter or about 6.2-mile race held in Omaha, Nebraska. However, Broadhurst suffered a brain aneurysm 10 years earlier, which left him partially paralyzed on the left side. He made it his goal to finish the race despite this obstacle. He was determined to run because Bill Rogers (his hero and a world-famous distance runner) was in the race that day. Rogers placed first that day in a time of 29 minutes and 37 seconds. (That is less than a 5 minute mile) One hour in, for Bill Broadhurst, his partially paralyzed left side started to feel like dead weight. After two hours, the cars were back in the streets, and getting through intersections became difficult. At two hours and twenty minutes the pain was so intense and throbbing, he didn’t think he could go on. Then he saw the end. But as soon as he saw it, his heart sank: the banner was gone and everybody had left. Still, having come this far, he decided to push through to the end. As he approached the finish line, he perceived a small gathering of people off to the side. Then they moved out to greet him, and he saw Bill Rogers at the front of the crowd. As Broadhurst crossed the finish line, Rogers opened his arms, and hugged him. Rogers took the gold medal from around his own neck, and put it around the neck of the last runner to cross the line. “You’re the winner, man,” he said. “You take the gold.”
If we endure with him, we shall reign with him. Finishing first is not always the goal, but continuing to endure in the face of imprisonment, hardships, or other difficulties often is. The apostle Paul endured much in his effort to share the gospel across a dangerous world. He wants us to realize that the gain is worth the price. We must endure and in doing we will see the providence of God within our lives. We will find that we do not travel alone. Often in life I think it is only when we look back that we realize how God has watched over us, and the promises we have believed in have been held true.
Now the last half of this saying seem to lean toward a less positive tone, “…if we deny him, he will also deny us. If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” In some ways I think these last two lines go together. Partially it serves as a warning, doesn’t it? Jesus once said in Matthew 10:32-33 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” 2 Timothy 2:12, reflects this saying of Jesus. Care should be taken to honor the relationship that is ours in Christ, because that relationship is a matter of personal choice. God gives the believing heart the power to receive Jesus and likewise we can choose to reject that life as well. This thought should cause us to examine ourselves; however, the text also tells us “If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”
There are different thoughts as to what this verse means, but I believe it is reassuring us that Christ continues to stand with us, even in our weakness and imperfections. Maybe we can find it easy to set Jesus aside. Many perhaps do, but Jesus died so that all may live, and he remains ever able to forgive and to welcome us in our effort to live faithfully to him. There is no sin that Jesus is unable to forgive because that is the reason for his life. He died for you. This Jesus can not set aside.
How has life pressed in upon you? How do you feel restrained or captured. Entangle yourself in unchained word of God and there you will find the freedom that God has to offer you. In God’s word there is life, victory, and mighty grace of God to save. God will change and bless your world. Amen.