The woman sat in my office with tears running down her cheeks. Head down, fidgeting with her hands in her lap, she explained her great sadness.
She had been in the audience at church, listening as people got up to tell their testimonies about how they grew up, came to the Lord, and what they wanted to do for Him. With each story she sunk deeper into discouragement because her background was so very different from everyone else's. She didn't feel she had anything to offer the Lord, she couldn't sing nor play an instrument, and was terrified of getting up in front of an audience; she felt all alone while surrounded by many.
She had a rough background growing up. Her mother had different men in her life she brought home from the bars on a regular basis, and most of them beat her. They were poor, and looked down upon and teased by the children in school due to her mother's reputation, her ragged clothing, and where they lived. She and her siblings each had different fathers, and her mother used the welfare system for free money, free food, free utilities and they lived in housing for the poor.
Her mother had no intent on leaving the system or her way of life, and growing up this woman had vowed she would never be like her mother. However, in her teens and twenties to her own self-loathing, she became just like her mother - having a man in her life seemed to be the way out, and then having a baby with him was the way to keep him - she thought. But she was repeating the pattern she realized: Each of her boyfriends beat her, and when each left she found another man. She realized she had become her mother, the very thing she hated and had sworn she would never be.
That is when she went to a new church one day, not within her denomination but an independent, Charismatic church that was having a 'revival'. She gave her heart to the Lord and she felt clean and whole for the first time since she was a young child! That rebirth of her spirit didn't immediately affect her mind of course, so she still thought love was communicated from a man to his woman by him hitting her, abusing her. She had a lot to learn. When she married a good and loving Christian man after only knowing him 3 weeks, she had to relearn love, relationships - everything!
That day I shared with her the story of the soldier, from II Timothy 2:3-4, and it changed the way she thought of herself forever, and started her down the path of wholeness.
Paul wrote to Timothy, whom he had sent to Ephesus to help coordinate the many family based churches that met in homes there. I've seen estimates that of the 250,000 population of Ephesus, as many as 10%, or 25,000 may have been Christians. What we see in our network around the world, and from what we know back then, home based churches continue to range from a few people to maybe 20 or so. That means rotating homes and rotating who led each meeting, there were hundreds if not thousands of homes in the greater metro area of Ephesus in which they met. Young Timothy was sent there to help with it all - a full time job!
Ephesus in that day was a seaport, though since then the bay has silted in and the city now sits 5 miles (8km) from the sea. The city was like any city in our day, full of people of various nationalities and working all kinds of jobs from sailors and dock workers to owners of the ships that sailed into and out of port. I've walked Ephesus and it is beautiful even in ruin, with white marble sidewalks inlaid with amazing frescos of beautiful plants and animals, their sidewalks even covered to protect people from the intense sun!
And as human nature hasn't changed, that Christian population would have included people like the woman sitting in my office. New to the Lord, and with that newness in Him came His intense light showing the depths of former sin. Remember, it was in Ephesus that Acts 19 tells us Paul taught daily in a school (during siesta between 11am and 4pm (16:00), and so many came to the Lord they made a huge fire of their old books on the occult and witchcraft! (Acts 19:19)
These people had rough backgrounds in the occult, in paganism, in who knows what - and the memories of those former days no doubt made some of them feel as the woman above felt, that they were no not worthy, not capable, of being used of the Lord for any good thing in Him. They had no knowledge of Judaism, of Christianity, of anything to do with the One True God, which explains Paul teaching daily in a school for 2 years. (Acts 19)
Enter the soldier, enter Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus
In Paul's second letter to Timothy in Ephesus, he wrote words encouraging Timothy and for his readers, even to our day:
"...endure hardship, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man who goes to war entangles himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who chose him to be a solder. And if a person strives for athletic mastery, he isn't crowned unless he do so according to the rules. The farmer who works so hard must also be the first partaker of what he has grown. Consider what I say, and the Lord will give you understanding..."
Paul told Timothy to 'consider' and 'the Lord give you understanding' - so here is some understanding:
In the late 300's AD Vegetius, as he is known, wrote an army manual, and in his first book he compared the early Roman army (Paul's time) with the one in his day 300 years later, advising the modern army should change back to its old ways. In his day he noted the army soldiers came from wealthy families, with sons who grew up in the city with servants, and they saw the army as a career path. Their parents would buy officer commissions for them. They were 'soft' compared to the early Roman army, the army of Paul's time.
But in Paul's day the soldiers came from rural families, sons of the farm and ranch, and they were used to hard, physical labor. They were used to getting up early and working in all kinds of weather. Their rough life experience made them the best soldiers in the world, and propelled Rome to domination in Europe, the Mid-East and north Africa.
A new soldier may have thought his rough upbringing and past disqualified him from serving the Emperor, but in fact that rough life is the very thing that most qualified him for service to the King!
Your sinful background isn't what disqualifies you, it is the very thing that qualifies you!
Paul told Timothy to endure hardness as a soldier. He didn't say he was a soldier in Christ, for we are not. He said to endure hardness as a soldier does. We are children of the King, members of the royal household. We are not soldiers for Jesus, but we are expected that our rough previous backgrounds serve us in our path to maturity in Christ, so that we have the same ability to endure all things that soldiers have.
In his day that is exactly accurate, these farm boys, these men who were used to working in all kinds of weather, needed to pull on that rough past in order to endure their present hardship. That is what Paul is asking Timothy and his readers to do - endure hardness as a soldier - pull on that strength of character that got you through all that sin to bring you to Jesus! Those tough experiences help you press on to maturity in Christ!
Paul told him no soldier entangles himself with the affairs of this life. That word 'entangles' means 'to weave together' or 'entwine', and 'affairs of this life' is the Greek word 'pragmateiais' is where we get 'pragmatic', meaning a soldier does not weave his life together with the mundane things of civilian life - that he may please him to selected him to be part of the army!
As in Paul's day, we have a Recruiter. One named Jesus who recruited us to be in Him. But it gets better than this, for Paul said that we might please Him who enlisted us - there is one Greek word for 'enlisted him to be a soldier' that Paul used, it is: 'stratologeo'. Look at the Greek words combined to create this word: Strato is where we get strategy, and logeo where we get logic, meaning when combined, chosen by your enlisting Officer with a strategy, a logic, a plan in mind.
Let's put it all together now...
Paul told Timothy to endure hardness like a soldier does - that the hardness of a past life is the very thing that qualifies us to be in Christ. To remember that we are not to weave our life together with the mundane normal things as first priority, that we may please the One who chose us with a larger strategy, plan, and purpose for serving the King.
And now to the athlete...and that's for next week...until then, blessings,