"For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth." ~ Deuteronomy14:2

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Raising The Standard: Endurance Is Maintaining Commitment To A Goal During Times Of Pressure

"... Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race is set before us." ~ Hebrews 12:1 From the Pages of Scripture: Familiarity often breeds contempt. We may begin by placing other people on pedestals, assuming that they live above the daily struggles we experience. We may even believe that by being around them we, too, will achieve freedom from the distressing pressures of the world. This may have been the motivation of a young man who volunteered to serve the apostle Paul. Before long, though, the disciplines and distresses of Paul's circumstances caused this man to become disillusioned. His commitment was further weakened by a secret love for the pleasures of this world. To his own shame, his name has gone down in Scripture as one who gave up when the pressure increased. How Does Scripture Illustrate The Need To Maintain A Commitment Even During Pressure? Who admired a great man of God so much that he was willing to follow him to prison but was unable to maintain this commitment because of a secret desire? Demas. A man whose name meant "popular one" sat in a closely guarded prison. He was there by his own choice. The man who was actually imprisoned was the one he served --- a mighty man of God whose rugged discipline and spiritual perception had conquered many pagan cities with the Gospel. Their prison was actually more like a headquarters. Dedicated companions came and went. They even had their own personal physician. A steady stream of visitors also came and listened to the Gospel as it was skillfully proclaimed by this prisoner in chains. It was exciting to be on a winning team! During those busy days important letters were written and different men among this trusted group were chosen to carry them to faithful believers in distant cities. This man whose name meant "popular one" requested that his personal greeting be added to two of the letters which were written. As more and more men were sent away, the years wore on, and pressures increased. One day the prisoner dictated a letter to a young man in a distant city, but its message spoke to a hidden need in the life of this servant. "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition." With these words the perceptive prisoner spoke powerfully to that secret struggle raging in the heart of this servant. The days and months slowly passed. Opposition increased against the prisoner. Rather than being released as this man had hoped, the prisoner felt that he only had a short time before he would be executed. The last drops of his life were being poured out for God. One day this servant slipped out the prison door not to return. Now only two remained --- the prisoner and his personal physician. One picked up a pen and began to write. The words he wrote concerned the man who had left --- the one whose name meant "popular one." "Demas hath forsaken me having loved this present world." Thereafter his name would be associated by millions of readers with a man who gave up when the pressures increased. (From Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:10)
What Pressure Caused Demas To Forsake His Commitment To Paul?
The situation surrounding Paul in Rome was grave. In July of A.D. 64, a fire had broken out in a slum area and destroyed half the city. A rumor was circulated that the emperor Nero had set the fire to free space for his own building plans. His scapegoat became the Christians of Rome, and an active persecution of believers followed. In this hostile climate, many of Paul's associates were forsaking him (cf. 2 Timothy 1:15; 4:16). Paul was a prisoner and could not leave. But Demas was not chained to Rome and decided to leave before he was arrested and condemned as well. Concerned for his own safety and lacking the courage of Luke, Demas decided to leave Paul and to lose sight of the future kingdom which Paul so eagerly awaited (cf. 2 Timothy 4:6-8).
What Did Paul Mean By Saying That Demas Loved This Present World?
When Paul referred to being in love with this world, he referred to the world system with its opportunities for pleasure, profit, and fame. To Demas, life was too precious, too full of delightful possibilities to be thrown to Nero's lions for the amusement of thousands of bloodthirsty spectators. He remembered all of the friends and ambitions he had left behind when he became a Christian. The excitement of missionary work with Paul had then offered even more opportunities for him, but now the glamour had completely faded. And so he
"departed to Thessalonica,"
(2 Timothy 4:10) probably the place where he had been born and raised. Demas was like the seeds in the Lord's parable "which fell among thorns," and "when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection." (Luke 8:14) Demas had not heeded Paul's advice to set his "affection on things above, not on things of the earth" (Colossians 3:2) and had slowly become more and more "conformed to this world" (Romans 12:2). As a result, he was unwilling to maintain his commitment to Paul and the Lord during a time of intense pressure and persecution.
What Were The Consequences Of Demas' Lack Of Commitment?
Demas was a member of the body of Christ. Scripture says, "And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it." (1 Corinthians 12:26) Demas' desertion caused the body of Christ to suffer. Not only did he greatly disappoint Paul, but he failed the faithful Christians of Rome. Paul was constantly exhorting the believers to be brave in persecution and pointed to himself as an example (2 Timothy 1:8,2:3; Philippians 3:17). The young believers looked to Paul and the courageous commitment of his close associates to help them through those difficult days of trial. To witness one of Paul's inner circle leaving Rome in fear would have been a blow to the entire church and may have caused other weaker members to stumble. Demas also caused Timothy's work outside of Rome to be interrupted. Because he left Paul alone except for Luke, a replacement had to be called in. Timothy had to leave his work and face possible persecution. Finally, Demas forfeited the great privilege of being able to say a the end of his days the words of Paul. "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course. I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:7-8) Illustrated in the World of Nature: This gentle little creature, a member of the order Rodentia, is easily tamed and fascinating in its unique habits. England's King James I was so intrigued by the flying squirrel that he requested one of the members of the Virginia Company's counsel to bring him one for a pet. The flying squirrel is not quite so docile in its dealings with the downy woodpecker, often confiscating the woodpecker's dwellings for its own. The transition is affected simply. The squirrel merely throws out the woodpecker's bedding and makes itself a new nest of finely shredded bark and lichen. Once it finds a satisfactory home, it may remain there for the rest of it's life.
How Does The Flying Squirrel Illustrate The Need To Withstand Pressure?
With raised axe, he prepared to give a mighty swing. The boys were happy and excited about gathering firewood. For weeks they had looked forward to this time. Their father had promised them that as soon as the school year was over, he would take them camping. Now their dream was a reality. They had neatly packed their canoe with all the food, clothing, and equipment necessary to make their camping trip a success. They portaged deep beyond the Canadian border. They had paddled their canoe most of the day and finally decided to turn into shore and set up camp. Each of the adventurers had its own assignment. Once the tent was erected the two boys left to look for firewood. They were careful not to damage a growing tree, but selected a dead cedar to chop. With a vigorous swing of the axe, the young camper's sharp blade sliced into the trunk. As his partner stood back to watch he noticed, to his surprise and delight, a furry little animal poke its head out of a hole in the trunk. They had not noticed the hole before, nor had they considered that the cedar could possibly be a home for anything living. The animal was frightened and leaped from the tree. As it jumped they recognized it to be a flying squirrel. It tried to glide to a distant branch. Its jump was hasty because it didn't have sufficient time to make its pre-flight calculations. It missed its mark and hit the ground with a jolt. The animal was shaken and momentarily stunned. One boy ran over and with a sweep of his hand, grasped the animal. Fearful that it might bite him, he held on to it tightly. Excited, he rushed over and showed his friend. Together they studied the soft, terrified little animal. As he maintained his tight grip on the helpless creature, he suddenly felt the animal go limp. He opened his hand; the squirrel was still. He tried to coax it back to life, but the creature was lifeless. He couldn't understand what had happened. Could the furry little squirrel have hurt itself in its jump? Might the boy have done something to hurt it when he grabbed it? Why was this little animal, so alive just minutes ago, lifeless now? What the boy did not realize was that the flying squirrel is a very gentle, friendly creature. Even if given an opportunity, it probably will not bite. Because it is so fragile and shy, excessive pressure or fright causes the animal to become terror stricken and paralyzed with fear. The flying squirrel does not have the ability to withstand great pressure. Rather than make a forceful attempt to escape, the gentle creature will give up. Its paralyzing fear causes it to go into shock and die.
Scriptural References to the Squirrel
The squirrel is a member of the Rodentia order of animals and, as such, falls within the list strictly forbidden for human consumption (Leviticus 11). The flying squirrel's vulnerability to pressure and its characteristic of experiencing paralyzing fear provide important spiritual applications for us.
"If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small." ~ Proverbs 24:10
The Christian has been called to endure many kinds of pressures. There is the pressure of a Heavenly Father's correction.
"My son, despise not thou chastening of the Lord, no faint when thou art rebuked of him." ~ Hebrews 12:5
There is also the pressure of outside temptations. The Christian is to flee from the presence of temptation and into the presence of the Lord through prayer.
"Flee also youthful lusts." ~ 2 Timothy 2:22
"Men ought always to pray, and not to faint." ~ Luke 18:1
Communion with the Lord through prayer is a control to the area of fear. He often calmed the fears of His saints when they were walking within His will. When God does not remove fear, it may be a signal that we are involving ourselves in pressures which He did not intend us to experience.
"God has not given us a spirit of fear..." ~ 2 Timothy 1:7)

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