Posts Tagged 'Bit player'

On Appreciation

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Have you ever felt underappreciated?  Or worse, unappreciated?  It happens to the best of us.  We work hard at something, but nobody says anything.  Of course, because we’re good people, we tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter if nobody acknowledges our hard work and effort.  But still, the silence stings.  Face it, we all want to be appreciated for one reason or another.   E.W. Howe once observed:

The greatest humiliation in life, is to work hard on something from which you expect great appreciation, and then fail to get it.

The fault goes both ways.  In truth, we shouldn’t be looking for “the praise of man.”  But it’s human nature to want it; and maybe even need it sometimes.  On the other hand, too many of us fail to take notice of and acknowledge the efforts of others.  We get busy, looking at other things; we’re concerned about so many important things.  Shame on us for being so self-centered.

The Bible is full of people who worked hard for the Kingdom of God but got very little, if any, appreciation.  But there were a handful of people that did get mentioned.  Let’s look at a few of them.  Maybe we can learn a thing or two about appreciation; how to earn it, and how to express it.

The anonymous brother, 2 Corinthians 8:18

And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel.  (TNIV)

Just who was this “brother” who impressed “all the churches” so much?  That’s a question that has been asked since the days of the early church.  There has been a lot of speculation over the years.  This anonymous brother could have been Luke, Barbabas, Timothy, Silas, or even Mark.  He could have been Apollos or Aristarchus.  Or he could have been somebody else.  Any one of these men could have fit the bill, although, after all is said and done, I think it was Dr Luke.  But that’s just me.

This man, who traveled with Titus, had a double qualification.  He was well-known and highly praised in all the churches for “his service to the gospel.”  Some have interpreted that phrase as doing the work of a preacher or evangelist.  That’s possible, but “service to the gospel” could include any work done for the Kingdom.  Perhaps this man was a very able adminstrator who used his skills and gifts in church work.

We don’t know what it was he did, only that the churches appreciated his efforts, Paul appreciated his efforts, and, most importantly, God noticed his efforts.  By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, this man was included in the text of Scripture for a reason.  We know next to nothing about him or what he did, only that it made a difference to God and God’s people.

Nothing is in the Bible by accident.  We’re supposed to take note of every word; to think about every phrase and incident we read.  This anonymous brother who was so well-thought of teaches us an important lesson.  Nothing we do for the Kingdom of God ever goes unnoticed, either by the Church or by God Himself.  That’s important to keep in mind.  Whether or not your efforts bring about acclaim or accolades, doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that you consistently put forth the effort to do what you can for the Kingdom.  If you work with the kids in church, do your best for God.  If you keep the books, do your best for God.  If you visit the shut-ins, do it for God.  If you are witnessing machine, share Jesus for the glory of God.  If you can’t do more than pray for the needs of others, do it with all your might for the glory of God.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.  (1 Corinthians 10:31  TNIV)

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  (Colossians 3:17  TNIV)

Make no mistake.  When you are doing what can in “service to the gospel,” you will be noticed whether you hear directly from people or not.  And the God who sees all sees what you are doing.

Epaphras, Colossians 4:12

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.  (Colossians 4:12  TNIV)

And speaking of prayer, here is a man we know practically nothing about save this:  he was the pastor from Colossae and he was a man of prayer.  No, he was more than that.  He was a man who was known be “always wrestling in prayer.”  That’s not an insignficant estimate of Epaphras’ prayer life.  To “wrestle in prayer” means to exert an effort as you pray.  Sometimes prayer takes work, especially if you don’t feel like doing it!  Or if you have a lot of burdens to pray for.  This prayer warrior was a pastor, and that automatically puts him on a different level.  All believers ought to pray, but prayer is something the shepherd of a congregation takes very seriously.  Part of his calling is to pray for the souls under his care.  Epaphras’ prayer for his people was that they should continue to grow in the faith; to grow deeper as a truly sanctified person of God.  Interestingly enough, we get a tiny glimpse into what Paul thought was the most essential component of pastoral ministry.  It wasn’t how many people got visited or how many sermons Epaphras preached last year or even how big his church was.  Paul mentioned the man’s prayer life.  He wrestled in prayer.  Wrestling in prayer is agonizing prayer.  It’s prayer that sometimes breaks the heart.

And the thing about prayer is this:  If you’re doing it right, nobody knows you’re doing it all.  This goes for the pastor’s prayer life and yours.  Nobody on earth knows you’re praying.  But don’t ever stop.  Nothing happens anywhere to anybody unless somebody somewhere is praying.

And God knows who’s praying and who isn’t.

Epaphroditus, Philippians 2:25, 26

But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs.  For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.  (TNIV)

Here is another fellow that’s pretty much unknown to us, although the apostle Paul considered him to be virtually indispensible to his ministry:  Epaphroditus.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians has been described as one the deepest pieces of writing in the Bible.  It was written to encourage the faith of the believers in Philippi, which is extraordinary considering Paul wrote this letter from a prison cell.  Think about that!  A man in prison writing to encourage people not in prison.  You’d think it would be the other way around.

In these verses, Paul mentions his spiritual brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier, Epaphroditus.  He is mentioned only here in the New Testament and for a very important reason:  he brought to Paul a gift of money from the Philippian congregation.  Paul calls him a “messenger,” but you shouldn’t think that word means what you think it means.  It doesn’t.  It’s a translation of the Greek word, apostolos.  This word originally meant “one sent on an errand,” but when it became commonly used among the churches of the day, it came to refer to those closest to Christ.  This was Paul’s estimation of Ephaphroditus:  one closest to Christ.  A man who brought him a few dollars.  The phrase “take care of my needs” is translated “minister” in the KJV and itself comes a Greek word, leitourgos, which was a word that referred to the greatest philanthropists in ancient Greece who gave out of their resources what was necessary to take care of various civic responsibilities.  That’s how Paul viewed what Epaphroditus did.  It was giving of himself.  Sure, he brought Paul money from other people, but he also stuck around to help the apostle, and Paul viewed what this man did as an act of personal sacrifice.

We don’t know what else he did, but he was dearly loved by the Philippians.  So much so, Paul had to send Epaphroditus back just prove to them he was still alive!

But then he gives this piece of advice:

Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.  (Philippians 2:29, 30  TNIV)

We have no idea exactly what Paul was talking about, but the Philippians would have known, Paul knew, and God knew.  People like Epaphroditus, who do things out of the goodness of their hearts, sometimes at great risk to their health, deserve to be honored by the church.  They deserve to be appreciated by their fellows.

Onesimus, Colossians 4:9

He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.  (TNIV)

As part of Paul’s farewells in his letter to the Colossians, he mentioned his messengers, fellow Jews who were with him, and even some Gentiles.  Colossians was another letter written from prison, and Paul’s personal mailman was a man with the improbable name Tychicus.  He would carry this letter back to Colossae, and also give a verbal report of Paul’s condition and ministry.  He’s actually mentioned five times in the New Testament and was considered to be man vital to Paul’s ministry.  But it’s not Tychicus that I want to focus on, it’s this other fellow, Onesimus.

Who was this man whom Paul referred to as “one of you?”  To get the full picture of Onesimus, we need to turn to Paul’s shortest and most personal letter, one he wrote to Philemon.

I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.  (Philemon, verses 10, 11  TNIV)

Onesimus was Paul’s spiritual son; somebody the apostle led to Christ during his ministry while in prison.  We’ll find out that Onesimus was a slave; he was Philemon’s slave.  His name, onesimus, means “useful,” so Paul’s deft play on words was cute:  the useful man had become a useless man, but after he found Christ, the useless man became useful once again; useful to Paul and to Philemon.  He became useless because he was a fugitive; he was on the lam.  He had stolen some of Philemon’s personal property and Paul met him in prison, and wrote a letter hoping to restore their relationship.

If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.  I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.  (Philemon, verses 18, 19  TNIV)

Now, those two verses are of great theological import, but that’s a discussion for another time.  But notice Paul’s heart here.  Of course Onesimus owed Philemon something!  He stole something!  But Paul was willing to make restitution himself; he was willing to settle any debt Onesimus’ theft might have left.  But he’s counting on Philemon’s spirit of forgiveness – one brother forgiving another of a great wrong.

Why would Philemon do that?  What was in it for him?  Didn’t this runaway slave deserve to be punished for what he’d done?   Maybe so.  But in this case, Onesimus had become important to the Kingdom of God.  It’s not that Paul wanted him to just get off with the theft; he was willing to make good any loss Philemon might have incurred at the skullduggery of Onesimus.

Key in understanding Paul’s reasoning in the letter of Philemon is a phrase found in Colossians 4:9.  This one-time slave had now become “one of you,” a member of the Body of Christ, and as such, he deserved consideration.  Paul had vouched for Onesimus’ salvation experience to both Philemon and the Colossian church.  It was his desire that Onesimus should be whole heartedly included in Body of Christ, along with Tychicus.  Both of these men, so helpful to Paul, were men of God.  Even though he was a slave, Onesimus had become a new man in Christ.  He was important to the Kingdom of God because now he had a story to tell and a report to be made known.

We, who claim to love God so much, should learn to show that kind of consideration – appreciation – to fellow believers who have experienced the forgiveness and new life of Christ.  In truth, we all come into God’s family carrying a lot of baggage.  Let’s learn to appreciate each other for, yes, the things we’ve done and do for the Kingdom.  But also for the fact that we are all one in Christ and we’re all trying to live the righteous life, one day at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

Tychicus, The Essential Bit Player

eph tychicus journeying to ephesian church

TYCHICUS, AN ESSENTIAL BIT PLAYER


Tychicus is a true bit player in Scripture.  In the movies, a bit player is a character who is always in the background.  They may or may not be important in the development of the main story, but often they do serve a purpose.  The Bible is chock full of bit players, and we’ve looked at three of them so far:  Namaan, Gehazi, and Lazarus.  These three men are bit players because their stories occupy just a few verses, yet they are important because we are able to look at them and learn something applicable to our lives.  Every word in the Bible is important—every story and event is important and vital for us to know.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t be in the Bible!

These things that were written in the Scriptures so long ago are to teach us patience and to encourage us so that we will look forward expectantly to the time when God will conquer sin and death.  (Romans 15:4  TLB)

Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.  (1 Corinthians 10:11, 12  NKJV)

The last bit player of Scripture we will look at is man with the odd name of Tychicus.  His name means “chance” or “fortuitous,” so it may be an odd name, but it’s a good one.  Wouldn’t you want to have a friend whose name means “Lucky?”

Tychicus is mentioned a grand total of 5 times in the New Testament.  His first mention is in the book of Acts.

1.  First mention

Several men were traveling with him, going as far as Turkey; they were Sopater of Berea, the son of Pyrrhus; Aristarchus and Secundus, from Thessalonica; Gaius, from Derbe; and Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus, who were returning to their homes in Turkey, and had gone on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas.  (Acts 20:4, 5  TLB)

All the men listed here were believers who had come to Christ under Paul’s ministry.  We could call them missionaries, but maybe a better name for this group would be “bodyguards.”  During his travels, Paul had received substantial monetary gifts for the members of the hurting church in Jerusalem, and these men, representatives of some of those generous churches, went along with Paul.   Given the great apostle’s estimation of those churches, we can infer that Tychicus and the others mentioned were thoughtful and generous Christian men.

Though they have been going through much trouble and hard times, they have mixed their wonderful joy with their deep poverty, and the result has been an overflow of giving to others.  They gave not only what they could afford but far more; and I can testify that they did it because they wanted to and not because of nagging on my part.  (2 Corinthians 8:2, 3  TLB)

Carrying all that money was risky, so these men not only helped Paul in his ministry, but also helped keep him safe.

2.  Second mention

Tychicus, who is a much-loved brother and faithful helper in the Lord’s work, will tell you all about how I am getting along.  I am sending him to you for just this purpose: to let you know how we are and be encouraged by his report.  (Ephesians 6:21, 22  TLB)

Here, bit player Tychicus is called by Paul a “much-loved brother” and “faithful helper.”  The loyalty of Tychicus in serving both the Lord and Paul created a powerful bond of friendship between the two of them.  As a “much-loved brother” who was “faithful,” this man was completely trustworthy.  Whatever Paul would ask of him, Tychicus could be depended upon to do.

These two verses indicate that Paul wanted his loyal friend to do two things.  First, he was to carry this letter (we have to come to call it Ephesians) to the church at Ephesus.  While he didn’t write the letter, he did get to where it needed to be, and that was pretty important.  And, assuming this letter was also a “circular letter,” a letter meant to be read in other churches, Tychicus’ mission was vital.  He didn’t write it, but he did play a part in transmitting the Word of God to God’s people.  Kyle Beshear’s excellent article makes this observation:

Paul, who had just completed the big task of writing the Book of Ephesians, entrusted Tychicus with the small task of delivering it. And Tychicus followed through. He was faithful with the small thing God gave him through Paul, which turned out to be a big thing after all.

A lot of Christians don’t like the thought of being a bit player.  But as far as Jesus was concerned, in the Kingdom, there really isn’t any such thing:

He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.  (Luke 16:10  NKJV)

If we look at how the Living Bible translates that verse, we see something very interesting:

For unless you are honest in small matters, you won’t be in large ones. If you cheat even a little, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.  (Luke 16:10  TLB)

If you don’t take care behind the scenes in your service to the Lord, you’re essentially cheating Him, and the thing you want the most—to be in the forefront—will elude you.

The second thing Tychicus was asked to do was to pass along some information about Paul’s present state.  This was an important thing to tend to.  No doubt the Ephesians were worried about Paul, and it was up to Tychicus to allay those fears; to encourage the people in the Ephesian church.  This is what brotherly love is all about!  The Ephesians were concerned about Paul, Paul was concerned about the Ephesians, and it was on Tychicus’ shoulders to make sure both parties were comforted and encouraged.

Would people who know you call you an encourager?  Do you take the time to encourage others, particularly other believers?  A word of encouragement can make a person’s day.  Let’s face it, the world is a cold, uncaring place, full of people who don’t think twice about you unless they’re thinking of ways to take advantage of you!  Take time to encourage others!

Third mention

Tychicus, our much-loved brother, will tell you how I am getting along. He is a hard worker and serves the Lord with me.  I have sent him on this special trip just to see how you are and to comfort and encourage you.  I am also sending Onesimus, a faithful and much-loved brother, one of your own people. He and Tychicus will give you all the latest news.  (Colossians 4:7—9  TLB)

From verse 7 to the end of chapter 4, we have a list of bit players.  These were all real people; they were remarkable people.  These people were first century Christians who lived in very pagan world yet remained faithful to Christ and the Gospel.

We could subtitle this group of verses “the camaraderie of Christians” because these people all loved the Lord, loved and respected each other, and worked together to advance the Gospel.  They were all independent members of the body of Christ, yet were consumed with a common passion to serve the Lord and that’s what bound them together.  Paul gives us insight into the character and spirit of these men:  they were faithful (verse 7); full of love (verse 9); practiced forgiveness (verse 10); practiced prayer and devotion (verse 12); and full of zeal (verse 13).  They were called (verse 17); sent (verse 8); they were deacons (verse 12); and they were willing to risk their very freedom for the cause of the Gospel (verse 10).

What’s interesting is that this is a very disparate group of men.  Some were physicians, preachers, givers, messengers, servants, but they were all sufferers and pray-ers.

Tychicus was part of that group.    He was the messenger carrying this letter as well as a verbal report.  Some think he was actually the pastor of the church in Ephesus.  That may or may not have been the case, but he was certainly a close friend of Paul’s whom Paul could depend on.  Paul was not the loner some think he was.  He was close to few, and Tychicus was one.  The relationship between them was based on their relationship with Christ.  They were both “in Christ,” and therefore had a common salvation and a common task.

They say a person is known by the company he keeps.  Tychicus was part of Paul’s “inner circle”; his “right-hand-man”; his “go-to guy.”  What does that say about Tychicus?  We all know Paul.  We should know Tychicus.

Fourth mention

I am planning to send either Artemas or Tychicus to you. As soon as one of them arrives, please try to meet me at Nicopolis as quickly as you can, for I have decided to stay there for the winter.   (Titus 3:12  TLB)

By now, Paul is an old man.  After all he had been through, no wonder he wanted to spend the winter in a warm place!  But we see that faithful Tychicus was still with him.  We have no idea about Artemas was.  This is his only mention in the New Testament.  He’s not even a bit player; he’s a walk on!

After all those years and ups and downs, Tychicus was still working with Paul; toiling away in the background.  This leads us to his final mention.

Fifth mention

 Please come as soon as you can, for Demas has left me. He loved the good things of this life and went to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.  Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for I need him.  (Tychicus is gone too, as I sent him to Ephesus.)  (2 Timothy 4:9—12  TLB)

The end was near for Paul these verses are a little melancholy.  He’s in prison, he’s cold, and wants some reading material, and he’s lonely.  His “inner circle” has all but left him.  Some left for the wrong reasons.   Demas, presumably, couldn’t take the heat and left Paul for a better life in the world.  Crescens, of whom nothing is known, was off to Galatia, probably preaching, and Titus was off doing ministry work in Dalmatia.  Dr. Luke, Paul’s friend and physician, has stayed with him, caring for him.

And here Tychicus is mentioned once again.  He’s not with Paul because Paul sent him back to Ephesus.  As was mentioned earlier, some scholars think Tychicus was the pastor of the church at Ephesus.  If he was not, he certainly had a close relationship with that congregation.  It was important for Paul that Tychicus not be stuck in Rome with him indefinitely.  There was work to be done in Ephesus and since Paul couldn’t be there, he sent the next best preacher he could think of:  Tychicus.

This man, of whom so little is known, was a true, loyal friend of Paul’s, of the church, and of Jesus Christ.  He was brave, thoughtful, considerate, spiritual, intellectual, and hard working.  Tychicus had a “stick-to-it” quality missing in many believers.  He stuck with Paul through the years.  He continued the work of the ministry (and that of a bit player) to which he had been called.  Paul got the credit, yet we know about Paul due in large part to the behind-the-scenes work of Tychicus.  God used this unassuming man and we are blessed today because of the faithfulness of this bit player of Scripture.

Lazarus: The Man Who Came Back For Dinner

Karloff wasn't the first.  Lazarus was!

Karloff wasn’t the first. Lazarus was!

 

John 11, 12

 

Lazarus is another bit player in Scripture.  Most of us know the one thing Lazarus was famous for:  he came back to life at the Lord’s command.  Still, he is a bit player, albeit an important one for some important reasons.

A quick reconnaissance of John’s Gospel shows us how it is laid out.  In the first 10 chapters, we see Jesus moving and preaching, revealing Himself to more and more people on a large scale. His ministry began at the wedding feast in Cana and spread out from there.  Chapter 11 is different; this time Jesus is not preaching to crowds of listeners, instead, we see the beginnings of His private ministry to specific individuals.   Those individuals included Lazarus and his two sisters.

Not a whole lot is said about Lazarus, hence his “bit player” status.  But he is vitally important because what happened to him answered a burning question:  Is Jesus more powerful than death?  If Jesus really was the Messiah—the Son of God—as He claimed to be, then He must be!  The Lazarus incident proves that Jesus Christ does indeed hold the power of life and death.

It also proves that our Lord is interested in individuals, not just in groups of people, like Israel.  Is Jesus concerned about you personally?  Does He know about your problems?  You bet He does!  And what He did for Lazarus and his sisters proves that, too.

The Hebrew form of Lazarus is Eliezer, meaning “God my helper.”  He was aptly named, considering how he was helped by God!   We can learn a lot about ourselves and how we have been “helped” spiritually by taking a look at this man who came back, Lazarus.

1.  Sickness

Do you remember Mary, who poured the costly perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair? Well, her brother Lazarus, who lived in Bethany with Mary and her sister Martha, was sick.  So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Sir, your good friend is very, very sick.”  (John 11:1—3  TLB)

The characters of this drama are introduced to us quickly in these verses.  By the time this Gospel was written, around 90 AD, Mary seemed to be fairly well-known and her name is linked to her home town of Bethany.  She was known for anointing the feet of Jesus with some precious perfume.  Doing anything meaningful for Jesus always carries lasting value.

For I considered all this in my heart, so that I could declare it all: that the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God.  (Ecclesiastes 9:1a  NKJV)

Lazarus, we are told was very sick.  He was loved by the Lord, yet eaten up with sickness.  Lazarus is the perfect picture of the sin-sick man; loved by God, yet eaten up with sin—the whole reason Jesus came in the first place!

He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.  (Psalm 107:20 NKJV)

Sickness is a double-edged sword as far as the believer is concerned.  There is a corner of Christianity that teaches God makes people sick.  Then there is the rest of Christianity that recognizes no evil thing comes from God.  But, God does allow sickness for a very specific purpose:

But when Jesus heard about it he said, “The purpose of his illness is not death, but for the glory of God. I, the Son of God, will receive glory from this situation.”  (John 11:4  TLB)

Everything, even very bad things, happen for a purpose, and God may be glorified even in our sickness and distress, especially if we behave in a Godly manner.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  (Romans 8:28  NKJV)

Jesus knew something Lazarus and his sisters did not know:  this sickness was not going to kill Lazarus.  Death would not be the final result of this sickness, but rather the final result would be the glorification of God.

2.  Death

In spite of what Jesus just said, that Lazarus’ sickness would not be the cause of his death, Lazarus did, in fact, die.

Then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”  (John 11:14a  TLB)

So, did this death catch Jesus by surprise?  Not at all!  Remember, this sickness’ purpose was NOT to take Lazarus home, but to glorify God.  Had Jesus been present during Lazarus’ decline, everybody would have expected Jesus to heal him.  Now, the healing of a sick person is a miracle, to be sure, and it can be a faith-strengthening event (especially for the one healed!), but how much more powerful is raising a dead man to life?

Sickness in no way means that God does not love you.  Or that you have displeased Him in some way.  You can’t look at a person’s circumstances and declare whether or not God loves that person.

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts.  (1 Corinthians 4:5  NKJV)

In other words, you can’t always trust what you see.  To onlookers, it may have looked like Jesus didn’t really care that Lazarus was sick.  Yet we know how the depth of Christ’s affection for not only Lazarus but also for his sisters.

3.  Life and liberty

And Lazarus came—bound up in the gravecloth, his face muffled in a head swath. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”  (John 11:44  TLB)

The life-giving power of Christ could only have been manifested in the case of a dead person.  A skeptic could claim a healing was really just the body healing itself.  But only God can return life to a corpse.  This is why things happened this way; there could be no question that Jesus was who and what He claimed He was.

Jesus Christ came into the world to do for sinners spiritually what He did for Lazarus physically.

The thief ’s purpose is to steal, kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.  (John 10:10  TLB)

Jesus Christ came to give spiritual life to spiritual corpses!  That would be you, if you aren’t born again.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 6:23  TLB)

Life is the free gift of God!  And that life, which comes from Jesus Christ, is more than just life, it’s abundant life—life to the fullest!  Tired of the everyday way of living?  Try the life that Jesus offers.

Lazarus was physically dead and bound up tightly in his graveclothes, but when life returned to him, he was also set free—he experienced liberty.  This is also part of the abundant life:  liberty in Christ.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  (Galatians 5:1  NIV’11)

When Jesus gives you new life, He sets your free from sin.  You are no longer its slave.

So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free…  (John 8:36  TLB)

4.  Fellowship

A banquet was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus sat at the table with him.  (John 12:2  TLB)

Christians have such free access to the presence of Christ that we often take Him for granted.  Here, in the shadow of the Cross, we see Jesus at a dinner party given in His honor.  Lazarus was right there with Him.  He had been dead, but now he was alive and enjoying fellowship with the One who gave him life.  Jesus had said this:

“I am the one who raises the dead and gives them life again. Anyone who believes in me, even though he dies like anyone else, shall live again.”   (John 11:25  TLB)

Lazarus experienced first-hand the truth of this verse in the physical sense, and it is the privilege of all redeemed sinners to experience its spiritual truth.  Once we were dead in our sins—we had NO fellowship with God because we were, for all intents and purposes, dead to Him.  But now, filled with new life from Him, we are able to enjoy blessed fellowship with Christ all the time!  We are alive to Him and He is alive to us.

Lazarus ate with Jesus.  Every time we pray and read the Word and even fellowship with other believers, we are also having fellowship with Jesus!   We may not be eating a meal with Him—yet—but we are fellowshipping with Him nonetheless.

5.  Testimony

Then the chief priests decided to kill Lazarus too, for it was because of him that many of the Jewish leaders had deserted and believed in Jesus as their Messiah.  (John 12:10, 11  TLB)

These priests were ruthless.  In order to kill Jesus, they would have to kill Lazarus too.  He had become an offense and threat to them.  These chief priests were Saducees, and since they did not believe in the resurrection, they were obligated to get rid of any evidence that was contrary to their teachings, and that meant Lazarus.

Such is the testimony of any believer!  A true believer is an offense and a threat to Satan and his work among sinners.  Think about Lazarus; everybody in Bethany knew he had died, many of them had witnessed his resurrection, and even more of them had seen him walking around town, the picture of health.  What God did for Lazarus was UNDENIABLE.

A Christian who is living his life to glorify God will have the same effect on sinners as Lazarus did—

it was because of him that many of the Jewish leaders had deserted and believed in Jesus as their Messiah.

Never discount the influence of Christ’s risen life in us!  What did Jesus say?

And when I am lifted up on the cross, I will draw everyone to me.”  (John 12:32  TLB)

Jesus isn’t on the Cross anymore, but He is in you, and if you are living for Him, people will be drawn to Christ in you.

Yes, Lazarus is an important bit player in Scripture.  He is a practical illustration of what Jesus does for each and every individual who comes to Him for salvation:  He resurrects them spiritually.  Lazarus’ new life is also an example to us.  Many sinners came to know Jesus because Lazarus lived his new life out in the open, for all to see.  Are you living your new life in Jesus like that?

Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father.  (Matthew 5:15  TLB)

 

Be Sure Your Sins Will Find You Out!

shifty_eyes

2 Kings 5:20—27

 

 It was Faber who famously wrote:

My very thoughts are selfish, always building mean castles in the air;
I use my love of others for a gilding to myself look fair.
Alas! No speed in life can snatch us wholly
Out of self’s hateful sight.

Attempting to build a Godly character and life on the foundation of self-interest is “building castles in the air.”  Castles in the air look good to other shallow, foolish builders, but they don’t really exist at all.  People would do well to take the advice of the Master Builder:  be careful where you build and what you build!

But those who hear my instructions and ignore them are foolish, like a man who builds his house on sand.  For when the rains and floods come, and storm winds beat against his house, it will fall with a mighty crash.  (Matthew 7:26, 27  TLB)

In the Old Testament we read about a little-known “castle builder.”  His name was Gehazi.

1.  Special position and privilege

Namaan had a terrible skin disease.  He was not an Israelite but his wife’s servant, who was an Israelite, told her about a miracle-working prophet in Israel:

“I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy!”  (2 Kings 5:3  TLB)

Namaan thought that was a good idea, so he went to Israel armed with all manner of gifts for Elisha the prophet.  The Lord healed Namaan but Elisha didn’t want any payment.

“I know at last that there is no God in all the world except in Israel; now please accept my gifts.”  But Elisha replied, “I swear by Jehovah my God that I will not accept them.”  Naaman urged him to take them, but he absolutely refused.  (2 Kings 5:15b, 16  TLB)

It was truly an amazing miracle that not only healed Namaan’s body but also his soul.  He became a follower of Jehovah.  He resolved to worship Israel’s God even though state affairs of his own country required that he accompany his king on certain times of worship at his pagan temple.  Namaan’s miracle was amazing, but Namaan himself is an inspiring, historic figure.

Meanwhile, back at Elisha’s house, we learn that the great prophet had a servant named Gehazi, and Gehazi hated to see all those gifts go to waste.

Gehazi’s name means “valley of vision,” and being Elisha’s servant he must surely have seen many great and miraculous acts.  Imagine the things he saw and experienced living and traveling with a prophet of Elisha’s stature!  He lived and moved in a power spiritual atmosphere, yet that singular privilege didn’t seem to have much of an effect on his character.

But Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, said to himself, “My master shouldn’t have let this fellow get away without taking his gifts.”  (2 Kings 5:20a  TLB)

Gehazi, in spite of his position and very distinct spiritual blessings, remained worldly minded.  This is a great lesson for church goers!  Just going to church and associating with other Christians is not what changes a person’s heart.  A new heart and a renewed mind are the results of a genuine conversion experience.

2.  Selfish, worldly minded

Marley’s ghost could have easily called Gehazi, “man of the worldly mind!”  He was worldly, and he was selfish.  He seized the opportunity to get something for himself that he neither earned nor deserved.

“I will chase after him and get something from him.”  (2 Kings 5:20b  TLB)

He wasn’t going to let Namaan return home with all those expensive gifts.  If Elisha was too dumb not to take them, then he, Gehazi, would make sure he got something from Namaan.  He was a worldly, selfish, opportunist.

Certainly, the temptation must have been great.  How much could a prophet him paid him, after all?

We get a clue to this man’s character with the words “I will.”  He thought about it before he did it.  He planned to chase after Namaan; it didn’t just happen.  A lot us are “overtaken” by sin because of our sinful natures, that is, we get caught up in something sinful before we even know it.  But this thing that Gehazi did was not something that “overtook” him; it was a planned, deliberate sin.  He saw something that he wanted, and he schemed a way to get it.  Deliberate, sinful rebellion is what took place.

3.  Deceitful heart, deceitful actions

As soon as his mind was made up, Gehazi took off running after Namaan and all that good stuff Elisha refused to take.

So Gehazi caught up with him.  (2 Kings 5:21a  TLB)

He was slippery and he was stealthy.  Driven by his own greed, Gehazi caught up with Namaan.  We’ve already caught a glimpse of Gehazi’s pitiful character, now we see it contrasted with Namaan’s sterling character:

When Naaman saw him coming, he jumped down from his chariot and ran to meet him.  “Is everything all right?” he asked.  (2 Kings 5:21b  TLB)

Namaan has, once again, shown himself to be a changed man!  No longer do we see the proud, arrogant military commander of a few verses earlier.  Now we see a man concerned about others.  Namaan, recipient of God’s mercy, grace, and healing touch, had been a fallen, sinful man, yet now displays the grace of a true believer.  Gehazi, on the other hand, was one who had enjoyed all the privileges of being surrounded by God and God’s grace, and he is about to use that same grace to further his own selfish ends.

“…my master has sent me to tell you that two young prophets from the hills of Ephraim have just arrived, and he would like $2,000 in silver and two suits to give to them.”  (2 Kings 5:22b  TLB)

What a bold-faced lie!  Like a lot of con-artists, Gehazi mixes in just enough truth to make the lie sound like the truth.  The true part of the story comes from 2 Kings 4—

Elisha now returned to Gilgal, but there was a famine in the land. One day as he was teaching the young prophets, he said to Gehazi, “Make some stew for supper for these men.”  (2 Kings 4:38  TLB)

Gehazi implied that these men were destitute on account of the famine.  We can see how Namaan could draw his own conclusions.  We can also see how a black heart can manifest itself in sinful actions.  Sin always lies in wait, looking for the right opportunity to strike.  Who knows how long Gehazi had worked for Elisha?  He demonstrated in the past that he had faith.  Somehow he had been able to keep his sinful heart in check.  But without a new heart, it was only a matter of time before sin found this man’s Achilles’ heel.

For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.  (Romans 7:11  TLB)

4.  Temporary success

Gehazi’s lie seemed to yield success.

“Take $4,000,” Naaman insisted. He gave him two expensive robes, tied up the money in two bags, and gave them to two of his servants to carry back with Gehazi.  (2 Kings 5:23  TLB)

Namaan’s generosity is to be applauded.  He got the gifts ready personally for Gehazi to take back with him.  He gave the conniving servant even more than he asked for.  By now, Gehazi must have been amazed how well his lie had worked!  He may have even in his mind given God the credit for giving him so much.  A lot of Christians behave like that; they acquire things, sometimes by very devious means just like Gehazi, and when they seem to get away with it, they rejoice in their good fortune.

As we read what Gehazi did and of his success, the question must be asked:  Does the end justify the means?  Some people think that it does.  Some Christians think that it does.  But the Bible teaches us something else completely, and what happened to Gehazi’s drives the truth home.

5.  Shocking discovery

Gehazi’s deception continued—

But when they arrived at the hill where Elisha lived, Gehazi took the bags from the servants and sent the men back. Then he hid the money in his house.  When he went in to his master, Elisha asked him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?”  “I haven’t been anywhere,” he replied.  (2 Kings 5:25  TLB)

He hid the money and he lied outright to Elisha.  He sounded like a teenager.  “I haven’t been anywhere” is what a kid would tell his father!  Nobody can nowhere; you’re always somewhere!  For such a good lying con-man, this was a real dumb thing to say; a pathetic attempt to cover up a sin.

Christians would never do that, would they?  Think about the last time you went to pray with unconfessed sin in your heart or about the last time you lied to God by justifying your sin.

What happened next reminds us of Deuteronomy 32:32b—

…you may be sure that your sin will catch up with you.  (TLB)

This is one of those verses that we wish was not in the Bible.  Here’s another one—

A man who refuses to admit his mistakes can never be successful. But if he confesses and forsakes them, he gets another chance.  (Proverbs 28:13  TLB)

He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.  (Proverbs 28:13  NKJV)

Did Gehazi actually think he’d get away with what he did?  Look who he was working for!

But Elisha asked him, “Don’t you realize that I was there in thought when Naaman stepped down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to receive money and clothing and olive farms and vineyards and sheep and oxen and servants?  (2 Kings 5:26  TLB)

Elisha confronted Gehazi.  He knew where his servant had been.  You could argue that Elish simply knew Gehazi’s heart, but his detailed knowledge of what transpired showed that Elisha’s knowledge was miraculous.

Gehazi’s lies probably made everything worse, but in Elisha’s rebuke is a hint that what Gehazi did was far more serious than first thought:

Is this the time to receive money and clothing and olive farms and vineyards and sheep and oxen and servants?  (2 Kings 5:26b  TLB)

In other words, Gehazi’s greed had cast a dark shadow over the honor and integrity of Elisha’s office as a prophet.  Elisha did his work with NO expectation of pay.  What Gehazi did put Elisha on the same level as all the prophets-for-hire running around at this time in Israel.  Furthermore, Gehazi’s selfish act showed that he had no faith in God to provide for his needs.

There is no such thing as a “secret sin.”  God knew what Gehazi had done, and Elisha did, too.  Because he took advantage of his privileged position for personal gain, Gehazi had to be punished.  In an ironic twist of fate, Gehazi, who had chased after Namaan, a former leper, in order to get something from him, really did get something:  Namaan’s disease.

Gehazi became a victim of his own selfishness.  He became full of a disease and was banished.  The apostle Paul got it right:

For none of us lives to himself…  (Romans 14:7 NKJV)

The sins we engage in that we think effect nobody, actually harm the entire Body of Christ.  Gehazi’s sin harmed himself, Elisha, and even the honor of the Lord.


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