I’ll never forget my daughter Maeve’s 17th Birthday. We were on vacation in Williamsburg, VA, at the time, but there was no way she was going to miss the appointment for her driver’s license test, which she had made exactly a year earlier on her 16th birthday, the day she got her permit. We drove six hours to the DMV at Baker’s Basin. I peeked out the window of the waiting room as she attempted to parallel park, and I honestly couldn’t tell if she had made it. But when she got out of the car with a big smile on her face, I knew she had passed and my worries were just going to get bigger! She had gotten the state's approval to drive, and I was going to have to share the road with her.
What would it take for us to get God's seal of approval? Paul gives Timothy a list of criteria for licensure as a God-approved worker, and each of these criteria can speak to us about what effective Christian faith looks like. We're not just to shoot for the bare minimum requirements, but we are to work at maximizing each of these traits in our lives:
First, proclaiming the gospel (v. 8). "Remember Jesus Christ raised from the dead, a descendant of David -- that is my gospel," writes Paul. ). The gospel transforms the world, and Christian workers must be ready to work with and for God in sharing the good news.
Secondly, practicing endurance (vv. 10-13). When we die with Christ we are raised to live a new life -- a life that "reigns" with Christ as he reigns over the world (v. 12). The Christian life is not easy and we will struggle, but Paul reminds us that God is always faithful.
Thirdly, avoiding stupid arguments (vv. 14, 16, 23). Christians are notorious for engaging in stupid arguments about minor points in the faith. God-approved Christian workers constantly focus on important things like the gospel, the kingdom and the word of God, not the things that divide us.
Finally, Rightly explaining the word of truth (v. 15). The "approved" worker (which means "tried and tested" in Greek) is qualified by the constant trying, testing and wrestling with the truth of God as he or she studies the Scriptures and tests them out in his or her own life. An approved Christian worker is always cutting through the junk that keeps people from following the basics of the gospel by straightening out the crooked and confusing ways that the gospel of Jesus' lordship gets twisted. Licensed Christian workers, then, are those who devote a great deal of time to prayer and studying Scripture as a means of constantly honing their knowledge and love of God and God's Word.
Following Christ requires us to continue to work on these skills as part of God's overall plan for changing us so that we can participate with God in changing the world. No trip to the DMV is necessary, just a daily focus on doing our best for God and the mission to which we are called!
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Rev. Dr. Shannon Smythe
United Presbyterian Church