Monday, January 31, 2011

Treasures From Tertius

I love finding short texts in scripture and digging out some insights from them for preaching. Notice I said short texts, not necessarily brief sermons on them!

This past Sunday I brought a message from Romans 16:22. Just a little verse, but loaded with lessons and applications.

The Apostle Paul is concluding his massive, comprehensive tome on the doctrine of salvation, his letter to the church at Rome(a great choice for a Bible book to spend 2011 in, reading and studying and reflecting). Because of poor eyesight or illegible handwriting or both, he had secured the services of an amanuensis, or secretary, to do the actual writing for him as he dictates. Thus in this little verse we are introduced to Tertius, the scribe, who in one sentence interjects his own short, warm greeting to the readers at the very end of the epistle.

After careful meditation, I discovered ten practical insights to pass on to you from that tiny statement that most readers would pass over as insignificant. God's word is so rich, isn't it(2 Timothy 3:16-17)? My own heart was warmed as I shared these thoughts with you. And the sermon wasn't that long! The ideas were meant to deepen faith.

Take lesson #5, for example. Based on the example of Tertius, I said the Christian walk is not just about meeting obligations and doing jobs but about building relationships and being part of a community. This secretary was working hard, listening carefully to Paul's words and then meticulously copying them down. In so doing he is serving the Lord and helping to advance the kingdom. He is laboring behind the scenes in a faithful way. Nevertheless he takes the opportunity to greet the readers and to personally, intimately interact with them. Perhaps he knew some of them, perhaps not. He saw the value of being connected and bonded to God's family. He was not just task-oriented and duty-conscious but was interested in people and being in relationship with them.

We miss something if we quickly exit the church building as soon as the benediction is pronounced without briefly lingering to spend a little quality time with our fellow believers. We're only cheating ourselves if we don't take advantage of chances to get into close-knit huddles(S.S. classes, choir, Bible studies, small-groups) with other Christians where we can be nourished and challenged and encouraged. We need one another! We draw strength from each other. It's quite possible to sit in a pew every Sunday or to hold some major church position and not really know or be known by, any other disciples who can refresh and inspire us and hold us accountable in our growth. Like Tertius, we must take the initiative to reach out and build networks of friends that can laugh with us and cry with us and pray with us and offer wise counsel when we need it. Lone-ranger Christians eventually crash and burn!

I like application #8, too. It also draws on the experience of this humble amanuensis in reminding us that not everything in the Christian life will be fun. There surely must have been some moments for this guy when the job of taking dictation got tedious. Certainly his fingers probably got tired and ached. It wasn't a glamorous, out-front, on-the-platform kind of Christian service. It definitely wasn't emotionally titillating, even though Paul's Spirit-inspired thoughts and words must have fed his soul. But Tertius was ministering. He was making a difference. He was pleasing the Lord. He was playing a part in God's great overarching plan to get the glorious message of the gospel out to the world. The task may have seemed at times to be dull and mechanical but the Lord would use his efforts.

Regrettably, the entertainment-saturated, success-oriented culture around us today has so crept into the Church that many believers have the idea that if something in the Christian life doesn't turn you on or pump you up it must not be of God. If the sermons don't excite you or the worship music doesn't thrill you the Lord must not be at work.If we go through some trial of illness or suffering we conclude that God doesn't care or if a church can't report big, glowing statistics it's labeled a failure. What happens is that we base our walk with God so often on our feelings and emotions, which are fickle and up-and-down. If we're not careful, the menial, routine chores(taking a turn in the nursery or mopping the fellowship hall floor or rehearsing for weeks on one choir piece or bagging groceries for the needy or diligently preparing a Sunday school lesson) begin to look like uninteresting and unimportant assignments that we'd rather avoid on our way to the next scintillating Christian concert or dynamic seminar. If we're not paying attention, we end up seeing our faith as a way to get our needs met and to feel good instead of as a channel for serving Christ and promoting His purposes. We have to understand that even though prayer and Bible study and sitting with a sick friend and working through a relational problem toward reconciliation or explaining the plan of salvation to a lost friend may not always give us a giddy high they are still beautiful, significant, soul-building acts that honor the Lord and bring glory to His name. Usually it's the slow, methodical, often grinding stuff in our Christian pilgrimage that stretches us and shapes us into godly character.

Make no mistake. Mostly unknown Tertius was rewarded for his work. That's insight #6. He had the great privilege of sitting with, and assisting the Apostle Paul. He had the joy of knowing his contribution to the crafting of this letter would have an impact. His name, because of the inserted greeting in verse 22, would forever be associated with this foremost piece of biblical writing. And in Heaven there would be trophies, too. You, as well, will be richly rewarded, both now and in eternity, for whatever you do to advance the cause of Jesus. In Matthew 10:42 you have our Lord's word on that!