Dr. Philip W. McLarty
When Kathy and I first met, she was teaching an Awana group on Wednesday nights at her home church. If you’re not aware, Awana is an acronym taken from the scripture lesson for today: “Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed.” The stated mission of Awana is “to help churches and parents worldwide raise children and youth to know, love and serve Jesus Christ.”
What Kathy loved most about Awana was that it teaches children to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, to love the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments by memorizing select verses, and, as importantly, to be reverent to God and respectful of others.
When Kathy and I started seeing each other, I looked for various ways to impress her and win her favor. Knowing how important Awana was to her, I wrote a little song and dedicated it to her. It goes like this:
“Lord, I wanna be an Awana, an Awana I wanna be;
To know you in my heart, yes, that’s the life for me.
Awana! Awana! A workman and not ashamed;
Dividing the truth of your Word to the glory of your name.”
I admit it’s not all that great, but, hey, it got her attention, and that was the point. Besides, it reflects the words of Paul to Timothy when he said,
“Give diligence to present yourself approved by God,
a workman who doesn’t need to be ashamed,
properly handling the Word of Truth.”
(2 Timothy 2:15)
Paul begins this chapter by giving Timothy three models to go by – a soldier, an athlete and a farmer. It’s these three models I’d like for us to look at more closely this morning. My hope is they’ll inspire you, in your own way, to become an Awana.
The first model is that of a soldier. Paul writes,
“You therefore must endure hardship, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
No soldier on duty entangles himself in the affairs of life,
that he may please him who enrolled him as a soldier.”
(2 Timothy 2:3-4)
Soldiers are trained for battle. They must be brave and courageous and willing to die, if necessary, defending their country. If you had to pick one word to describe a good soldier, you couldn’t do better than pick the word obedient. A good soldier is one who obeys the orders of his superior officers without question.
I wouldn’t have made a good soldier. I was young and rebellious and quick to challenge authority. If my superior officer had given me an order I didn’t like, I would have tried to reason with him, or point out why that wasn’t a good idea, or ask if I could have time to think it over. I would’ve spent more time in the stockade than on the battlefield.
The hallmark of every good soldier is unwavering obedience, and that’s what Paul would have Timothy give to the Lord Jesus Christ. The same goes for us today. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave his disciples clear marching orders for living this new life in him. Here’s just the tip of the iceberg:
“You have heard that it was said,
‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’
But I tell you, don’t resist him who is evil;
but whoever strikes you on your right cheek,
turn to him the other also.”
“You have heard that it was said,
‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I tell you, love your enemies,
bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you,
and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you,”
Jesus taught his disciples not to lay up treasures for themselves on earth (Matthew 6:19); not to be anxious about tomorrow (Matthew 6:27); but to be at all times charitable, prayerful and forgiving. (Matthew 6:1-14)
So, what part of this do we not understand? He commands, and we are expected to obey. Can anything be simpler than that? Yet, we take his words with a grain of salt. As for obedience, the popular notion is, “Can I get back to you on that?”
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I was riding with a police officer in Hope one evening, and we got to talking about how little regard people have for the law. We were sitting at a corner watching the traffic, and the officer said, “You see that car? The driver doesn’t have his seat belt fastened.” Another car passed by with a busted tail light. A pickup drove by with a load of teenagers riding in the open bed.
Is there anything or anyone we’re willing to obey without question?
• Children question the authority of their parents.
• Students question the authority of their teachers.
• Perpetrators of the law question the authority of the judicial system.
• In one way or another we question the authority of God.
This evening, in our Officer Training class we’ll focus on the Bible and the authority of scripture. In the Reformed faith, we like to say that the Bible is the authority for what we think, say and do.
Is it, really? Most of us pick and choose which scriptures to follow. We avoid passages that step on our toes. We interpret the passages we do choose according to our own preconceived notions. For example, Jesus told his disciples,
• “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37-38)
In the Old Testament, God deemed Abraham righteous because he was willing to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, in obedience to God. (Genesis 22:2-14) Have you ever known parents like that? I’ve known parents who wanted to ring their child’s neck, but not out of obedience to God. Here’s another:
•Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how many times must I forgive him – as many as seven times?” Jesus replied, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22)
It’s not easy to forgive someone who’s hurt you deeply. True forgiveness is rare. We’d rather hold a grudge. Then there’s this:
•Jesus’ parting words before he ascended to heaven were, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ….” (Matthew 28:19-20)
I don’t have to tell you: Churches decline when they stop making disciples and settle for taking in new members.
The sum of it all is this: We put family before Christ; we hold on to an offense; we could count the number of disciples we’ve made on one hand and have fingers left over.
Our marching orders are clear, but we don’t follow them like good soldiers. We dismiss their authority and do our own thing.
Paul advised Timothy to model himself after a good soldier. Now, as then, only as you’re willing to obey the Word of God and follow the teachings and example of Jesus will you experience the joy of the abundant life he promised his disciples. An old gospel hymn says it best:
When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
Paul gave Timothy a good model to go by – that of a soldier. But that’s not all; he also gave him the model of an athlete. He said,
“Also, if anyone competes in athletics,
he isn’t crowned unless he has competed by the rules.”
(2 Timothy 2:5)
Are you a sports fan? Do you watch the big games on TV? Whether your favorite sport is football, baseball, soccer, golf or tennis, what you see when you watch athletes compete is only the icing on the cake. There’s more to it than that. You don’t just run out on the field and play the game. It takes years of conditioning and training – building muscles, developing techniques, learning to play by the rules. It takes discipline.
The root word of discipline is disciple, and that’s what Jesus calls us to be – those who are disciplined by his teachings and example; those who work, day by day, to stay in shape – praying, studying and walking in his footsteps.
I had a colleague in West Texas years ago who did his own translations of scripture each week in preparation for the sermon. If you’ve ever translated Old Testament Hebrew or New Testament Greek into English, it’s not easy. I’d say it’s grueling. It took him hours, but he did it religiously. He said it kept him on his toes; that he got lazy when he let Bible scholars do all the work.
What spiritual disciplines do you observe to keep you in shape? Do you read your Bible daily? Do you take time to pray? Are you intentional about doing good deeds for others?
You have to be disciplined if you expect to lead a life of faith. You have to be on your toes ready to respond when a crisis occurs, to know what to do and what to say when all hell breaks loose. Paul would have us be as disciplined as athletes in training, fully prepared to win the big game.
But he didn’t stop there. He went on to remind Timothy of yet another model – that of a good farmer. He said,
“The farmer who labors
must be the first to get a share of the crops.
Consider what I say,
and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.”
(2 Timothy 2:6)
My in-laws in Winnie, Texas have been farming rice for over fifty years. Every year they plow the fields and get them ready for planting; then they plant the seed; then they water it and fertilize it; then they watch and wait as it makes a crop. Waiting is the hard part.
Paul would have us know that, when it comes to making disciples and building up the kingdom, it’s going to take time. You have to be patient. You plant the seed of God’s Word and cultivate it in countless ways, and you trust that, in God’s time, others will come to know the Lord and walk in his footsteps.
Patience is the hallmark of every good farmer. Sadly, it’s a rare commodity for the rest of us. Our prayer is, “Lord, give me patience … and I mean, right now!”
When things don’t go our way, we want to take the bull by the horns and do something about it. We’re like the two buzzards looking out over the desert waiting for something to die. One says to the other, “Patience, my foot, I’m killing something.”
Patience is the best indication I know of your willingness to trust God to order and provide. Isaiah told the people,
“But those who wait for Yahweh will renew their strength.
They will mount up with wings like eagles.
They will run, and not be weary.
They will walk, and not faint.”
The psalmist writes,
“Guide me in your truth, and teach me,
For you are the God of my salvation,
I wait for you all day long.”
So, let’s see: We’ve got a soldier, an athlete and a farmer. Each represents an important Christian virtue: Obedience, discipline and patience. Rather than pick one over the others, take them all to heart; for the goal is not to be a soldier or an athlete or a farmer, but to be an Awana – a workman that need not be ashamed.
I’ve never known a better Awana than Dr. Earl Hoggard. Dr. Hoggard was a retired minister in my congregation in Wichita Falls. One Sunday, just before the service began, I asked him if he’d like to offer the pastoral prayer. It was totally impromptu on my part, and, judging from his reaction, I obviously caught him off-guard. Dr. Hoggard was of the old school – meticulous and thoughtful – and so, it threw him off balance, not giving him time to prepare. I quickly recanted and told him if he’d rather not, I’d certainly understand. He hesitated and said, “No, no, it’s O.K. I’ll be happy to offer the prayer. The Lord and I, we’re on good speaking terms.”
Friends, be an Awana.
“Study to show thyself approved unto God,
a workman that needeth not to be ashamed,
rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2013, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.