Thursday, 5 November 2015

Engagement without Entanglement

You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. 2 Timothy 2:3-4

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

How do we engage in warfare without becoming entangled? How do we live our lives in cultures that are often hostile to the gospel without being sucked in?

I think Christians have battled with this throughout the ages. There are two opposite errors. The first would be to withdraw entirely from the world, to live in monastic seclusion and spend days in prayer, fasting and meditation. However, this misses the point for several reasons. Firstly, people who do this are quick to discover the darkness of their own hearts. Secondly, as the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans, how can somebody hear about God if nobody tells them? We have a responsibility, as Paul instructed Timothy, 'Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering...' (2 Timothy 4:2)

The opposite error is to try so hard to 'be all things to all men', that we forget our purpose, our mission and our holiness. There are times when well-meaning Christians try so hard to walk amongst their unbelieving friends that they are sucked into a vortex of attitudes and behaviours that do not give God glory. Does much effective Christian witness occur in noisy nightclubs? Really?

The other morning as I read Paul's letter to Timothy, I was challenged afresh. We are called to be here, and to seek to serve and honour God with every thought, word and action. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism stages, the 'ultimate end of man is to serve God, and to enjoy Him forever'. But how do we really do that? How do we protect ourselves from the errors of the extremes described above?

I do not think there is a simple catchphrase answer to this! I believe it might be a tightrope that we continue to walk throughout our Christian lives! However, here are some initial thoughts:

1) Do not forget that the Lord said, 'Be holy for I a holy'. Take time to reflect on what holiness means. Do not become blase to the amazing work of Christ. I suggest reading Leviticus followed by Hebrews and reflecting on these things.

2) Pray about everything (Philippians 4:6). Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). God cares about the small details. Jesus gave us a model prayer, and part of that included the words, 'lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil'. We are warned that 'the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking who he may devour' (1 Peter 5:8). Paul's letter to Timothy, quoted above, clearly sets the context as that of a battle - we must not forget this.

3) Have accountability. If you are going into a situation which feels very dark, very godless, or where you know you will encounter temptation (such as parties, bars, nightclubs, or other situations which you will be aware of), ask others to pray for you. Ask them to hold you accountable for your conduct. And pray together.

4) Spend regular, quality time alone, reflecting and meditating on the truth of the gospel. Read the Bible. Pray. Sit quietly and listen for the still small voice of God. If you have a true, active, ongoing relationship with God, that will overflow in your speech and your attitudes.

This week, how are you going to engage with the world around you for the purposes of glorifying God, without becoming entangled?

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