December 7, 2015

Back To Basics

Have you ever had a premonition about the end of your life—not a morbid, suicidal death wish, but a flash of recognition that life hangs from a delicate thread? I had one recently after a beloved family member was killed in a tragic car accident days before the wedding of her only son.

I suddenly became painfully aware of how quickly life can change. Commitments to pay bills were instantly upgraded to convictions about how to change the world. Rather than look backward, I calculated the hours of each day in a forward march to the beat of a different drum.

This is not unique. Paul, aging apostle to the Gentiles, had a premonition (Acts 20:25). And what had been a possibility (Phil 2:17) became a certainty in A.D. 67 when he was rearrested by Nero and sentenced to death. His testimony (not a deathbed confession) appears in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, where he clearly stated that he had a date with destiny for which he was well prepared. However, while awaiting his execution, he was determined to continue to serve his Master, even from a prison cell (verses9-13).

Paul left us a legacy about how to prepare and live for our dates with destiny. He stated that he had fought the good fight, using terms borrowed from the athletic contests of his day to describe his struggles for Christ (Acts 20:17-35). He understood the distinction between fighting the good fight after a life of battling in the bad (Acts 8:1-3; 9:1, 2; Phil. 3:4-6).

When, like Paul, we fear the corruption of our corporate faith, it’s easy to think we are enforcing God’s will by persecuting others who think and see things differently. Paul finished the course set before him after his Damascus road conversion. This seems like a favorite metaphor, also used when Paul addressed the elders at Ephesus (Acts 20:24). As he reviewed his life he could confidently assert, “I am innocent of the blood of any of you” (verse 26). Why? Because he practiced what he preached (Heb. 12:1-3).

Paul kept the faith, his faith in and with Christ. The result was the certainty that “the crown of righteousness” (not diadema,symbol of imperial rule, but stephanos, the simple wreath of victory, Rev. 14:14) was put on layaway by God for his reward on that great, blessed date Paul had with destiny. The exciting part of Paul’s testimony is that this crown is also laid away for “all who have longed for [Christ’s] appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).

Here’s the thriller I missed: In most English translations epiphaneian, the word for “appearing,” can and should be interpreted as Christ’s incarnation (cf. 2 Tim. 1:10). This brings out the fullness of meaning that those who receive the crown of victory from the just and righteous Judge will believe that Jesus, the God-man, came to earth in human form and will return as such. When He returns, He will be Christ incarnate, and we will recognize Him. Therefore, those who have this hope (seeing Christ incarnate at His second coming) purify themselves just as He is pure (1 John 3:2, 3).

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Hyveth Williams is a professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary.