La Maillon Fort – The Strong Link

(Bibliothèque de Celsius à Ephèse. Photo de Todd Bolen, www.BibleLieux.com ; Celsus Library in Ephesus. Picture from www.BiblePlaces.com)

Je rends grâces à Dieu, que mes ancêtres ont servi, et que je sers avec une conscience pure, de ce que nuit et jour je me souviens continuellement de toi dans mes prières. – 2 Timothée 1:3

Face aux géants d’Ephèse  – intellectuels, philosophes, et faux-docteurs –  il n’aurait pas fallut beaucoup à Timothée pour se faire écraser. Sans un courage et une force super-naturelle, l’établissement et l’épanouissement d’une église dans cette capitale d’Asie mineure était chose impossible.

Timothée n’avait pas grand chose en sa faveur, humainement parlant. Il était jeune, d’une autre région, et l’ami de Paul le prisonnier de Rome. Et plus encore, dans une société gouvernée par l’honneur et la honte, le symbole de son espérance restait la croix d’un crucifié, l’image ultime de la dérision et de l’abjure.

Timothée avait de nombreuses raisons pour se décourager. Rempli de l’Esprit Saint, Paul, le fortifie.

Et il commence sa lettre dans la louange, communiquant à son « enfant bien-aimé » (1 Timothée 1 :2) une vérité simple et pourtant si forte d’inspiration. Il lui dit « Je rends grâces à Dieu, que mes ancêtres ont servi. » Pour Paul, le ministère des hommes de Dieu ne datait pas d’hier. Tous deux faisaient partis d’une chaîne incassable, établie par Dieu et s’allongeant de génération en génération.

Le ministère que Paul passait à Timothée lui avait aussi été transmit de la génération précédente, qui elle aussi l’avait reçue et ainsi de suite. Timothée tiendrait ferme, par son identité : en Christ, il serait un maillot fort, indestructible, comme l’avaient été ces milliers de fidèles dans les générations précédentes. Peu importe les difficultés, peu importe les circonstances, peu importe le fait que les vrais croyants soient peu nombreux et faibles.  Malgré les infidélités du peuple choisi, Dieu avec toujours protégé un « reste » en Israël, et il ferait de même avec son Eglise.

En Christ, Timothée faisait parti de cette chaîne incassable. Son évangile serait inarrêtable. Affermi par Dieu, Timothée serait un maillon fort. On peut résumer l’encouragement de Paul continuant dans le reste du premier chapitre de son épitre en quelques vers :

Le salut de mon Dieu est inarrêtable
Son témoignage est inébranlable
Sa puissance est indomptable
Son salut est incomparable
Son appel est inconcevable
As-tu honte de cet évangile ?
 
Ses plans ne peuvent être changés
Par sa puissance la mort est brisée
Par sa vertu la vie est donnée
As-tu honte de cet évangile ?
 
Cet évangile sans pareil est insurmontable
Il donne la force de supporter l’insupportable
La foi sur lequel il repose est inexprimable
Y mettre fin ? C’est impensable
Sa vérité est inchangeable
As-tu honte de cet évangile ?
 
Sa protection est assurée
Par l’Esprit, il est gardé
Sa bonté vit à jamais
Tiendras-tu ferme pour cet évangile ?

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. – 2 Timothy 1:3

Faced with the giants of Ephesus – intellectuals, philosophers, false teachers – it would not have taken much for Timothy to get crushed. Without supernatural courage and strength, the establishing and maturing of a church in the capital of Asian minor was impossible.

Humanly speaking, Timothy did not have much in his favor. He was young, of a different region, and the friend of Paul the prisoner of Rome. Even more, in a society governed by honor and shame, the symbol of his hope remained the cross of a crucified man, the ultimate image of derision and ignominy.

Timothy had many reasons to be discouraged. Full of the Holy Spirit, Paul strengthens him.

Thus he begins his letter in praise, inspiring his “beloved child” (1 Timothy 1:2) with the simple and unwavering truth. He tells him “I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors.” For Paul, the ministry of the men of God was not from yesterday. Both him and Timothy belonged to that unbreakable chain, established by God and reaching out from generation to generation.

The ministry that Paul was passing to Timothy had also been transmitted to him from the preceding generation, which had also received it from before. Timothy would stand firm in his identity: in Christ, he would be a strong link, indestructible, just like the thousands of faithful ones from previous generations. No matter what the difficulties, no matter what the circumstances, no matter how few and weak the true believers might be. In spite of the unfaithfulness of His chosen people, God had always kept a “remnant” in Israel, and He would do so with His Church.

In Christ, Timothy belonged to that unbreakable chain. His gospel was unstoppable. Affirmed by God, he would be a strong link. We can summarize Paul’s encouragement in the rest of the first chapter of 2 Timothy in a few lines:

The Gospel of my God is unstoppable
Its testimony is unshakable
Its power is untamable
Its salvation is undeniable
Its calling is irresistible
Are you ashamed of that gospel?
 
Its purposes cannot be broken
By its might death is beaten
By its virtue life is given
Are you ashamed of that gospel?
 
This awe-inspiring gospel is indestructible
It gives strength to bear the unbearable
The faith it rests on is incomparable
To end it? It is unthinkable
Its truth is unchangeable
Are you ashamed of that gospel?
 
Its protection is insured
In the Spirit, it is secured
Its goodness will endure
Will you stand for the gospel?

The Godly Man – 2 Timothy 1:15-18


Intro

Towards the end of the 19th century, as the globalization of the world was slowly increasing, a nationalist group in China, known as the Boxers, began to rise against foreign imperialism and influence, particularly against Christianity. This uprising quickly became violent as in 1900 some Chinese forced foreigners to take refuge in the legation quarter, where embassies were located. Pressed by the Imperial Court, the Chinese Empress supported the boxers and declared war on foreign powers, putting a siege on the Legation Quarter for 55 days. The war was extended across 26 prefectures of China. During this first summer, many foreigners and as many as 2000 Chinese Protestants were killed.

During that time the rebels captured one of the mission stations and sealed off all the exits except one gate which they left open. Then they took a cross and put it on the dirt right by the gate, so that it would be difficult not to walk over it by going through the gate. Following this, the Boxers told the missionaries and all the students who were there, since it was some kind of a mission school, that all of them had to go through the gate, and whoever would trample the cross could go free. The first seven students did just that. But then, the 8th student, a girl, came to the cross, knelt down, prayed for strength, stood back up, and walked carefully around the cross right into the firing squad. The 92 other students, which were all that were left, did the same thing and walked to their death rather than denying Christ and trample His cross. [pause]

The example and courage of this woman of God was enough to feed the souls of 92 people and give them strength to lay down their very lives for the sake of the gospel. This is what true courage does. It is contagious, it generates strength, and it is unstoppable.

This courage is one of the key virtues needed for the minister of the gospel. We have already discussed in our two past messages of this series how ministry comes with difficulties. It comes with pain and suffering, with trials and opposition. It is hard and it is foolishness in the eyes of the world. Why should people suffer for something that does not grant immediate pleasure? People might endure hardship to get their lusts satisfied, but why in the world should they suffer for Jesus Christ, someone who already left this world?

Once a month I go to a place called the Bible Tabernacle, a rehab center for homeless people, drug addicts, ex-convicts and all sorts of people. This Saturday, as I was walking to the chapel to go preach, I was talking to Andy, and asked him how he was doing. He answered me: I’ve blown it again. I was caught smoking drugs again and I’m just thankful that I wasn’t kicked out and sent in the streets again.

For the pleasure of one beefed up cigarette he was willing to risk spending the winter in the cold.

That’s how the world thinks. It’s not that they are not willing to suffer, but they can’t suffer for what truly matters. For this it takes a spiritual man, man of God. A man of conviction. A man of true courage.

That’s who Paul was, and that is who he wanted Timothy to be. And in order to have his disciple rise to that state, Paul encouraged Timothy to remember several things. In our first message of this series we saw that he reminded Timothy of his calling and of his gifting. Then we saw how he reminded Timothy of the superiority of the gospel. Today, he reminds Timothy of the example of a man of God, Onesiphorus.

Onesiphorus was a model in that he was a living example of what Paul wanted Timothy to be. A man of God, full of courage and conviction.

Do you want to be a man of God?

Then let us together look at 3 aspects of a man of God, so that we would learn to be examples in the faith.

2Ti 1:15  You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.

2Ti 1:16  May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains,

2Ti 1:17  but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me–

2Ti 1:18  may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!–and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.

I. A Man of God is Courageous (v.15-16)

The first aspect that we see from verses 15-16 is that a man of God is courageous. A man of God stands up in times of adversity and takes initiative in spite of danger.

2Ti 1:15  You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.

2Ti 1:16  May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains,

The first chapter of this book is full of reminders. We saw in our first study how many times Paul used vocabulary relating to remembering and reminding. Here again, he begins and ends this section with the verb “to know.”

He begins “you are aware” or literally “you know this thing.” Paul is not telling Timothy anything new. He is simply reminding him of things he has witnessed so that he could call them to remembrance and be challenged by them. As we will see, Onesiphorus had modeled what Paul wanted of Timothy, for him to come to Rome unashamed, what it meant to be a man of God, an example that Timothy was to follow.

So first Paul reminds Timothy of straight-forward facts. He affirms, “all who are in Asia turned away from me.” Now, we must understand that this is some kind of hyperbole. The region of Asia, which is really in Paul’s day the western part of modern Turkey, had for its most important city Ephesus, where Timothy was ministering and where Onesiphorus was from. So we know it couldn’t be that all in a literal sense had abandoned Paul, since at least there were two faithful disciples who had not.

This could be better understood however in light of what Paul mentions in Ephesus 4:16

“At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!

Roman trials were in many ways similar to ours. There was a judge, a jury, an attorney, a prosecutor (or accusatory) and also many witnesses. But when it came to witness in favor of Paul, nobody showed up.

Now, was it risky? Certainly. If as we believe Paul had been arrested by Nero following the Great Fire of Rome, then the terms of his sentence would have been nothing short of treason, public threat, and possibly murder.

Associating with Paul or identifying oneself to him was dangerous.

And this is why everyone abandoned him. They literally “deserted” him. They turned away from him. It is a verb implying rejection and disaffection. Abandonment.

Even Sadam Hussein had people protesting against his arrest at the risk of open shame and possibly their very lives.  But not Paul. This man who had brought his disciples to the knowledge of God and to eternal life, was abandoned by them.

But particularly painful for Paul was the fact that those who abandoned him were from Asia. Paul’s ministry in Asia, particularly in Ephesus, had been a climax in his ministry. There he stayed for over 3 years, teaching daily in the hall of Tyrannus, “so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 19:10).

Paul’s stay in Asia had not been without troubles. We remember the commotion in Ephesus, led by Demetrius, in defense of “Artemis” or “Diana,” the goddess of the city. In his second letter to the Corinthians he also wrote,

“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” (2 Cor 1:8)

These people from Asia, Paul had loved to the point of risking his life for them. But they would not do the same for him. With Phygelus and Hermogenes, they all left him.

Now, we do not really know who those people were. This is the only mention of them in the Bible. All we know is that Paul knew them and Timothy knew them. They were probably believers and even leaders among Christians. People who had proven to be of value for the gospel. Names of good reputation.

And here even though the term of abandonment is strong, it does not necessarily imply apostasy. Simply failure. Demas, on his side, who had been a partner of Paul for years, we see in chapter 4 left him for the love of the present world. He took advantage of Paul being put aside to finally do what was on his heart.

You can imagine Paul being at one of the lowest point in his life. The people that he had loved and that he still loved were deserting him and dissociating themselves from him one by one.

But then comes verse 18:

2Ti 1:16  May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains,

But while a growing movement of believers seemed to have begun to dissociate themselves from Paul, one man stood for him, Onesiphorus. And while others abandoned Paul, this man did not. His heart was consecrated for Paul and for the ministry, and there could be no shame or threat that would stand in the way.

And here in this verse 16 we see both the strength of Paul’s character and Onesiphorus’ character. Paul is in jail, abandoned by all, ready to die, and he is praising the Lord and praying for the family of his friend. And it is interesting what he is praying for. He is praying for mercy.

Now, you don’t pray for mercy for someone who is doing well. Praying God to have mercy is that same as praying Him to have pity. That’s a prayer of someone in need. For Onesiphorus and his family, to have helped Paul had come at a great cost.

Trips to Rome were long and dangerous, but even more, to stand for the name of Paul was a great act of courage. Paul’s name had become shameful. He was a prisoner ready to be executed. In the eyes of the government and the whole Empire, he was a scandal. Now, to make a trip all the way to Rome, Onesiphorus was probably a man with certain financial success. We see that he has a household, he is not a servant or a day-laborer, he is a well-established man. This might be part of what he used to refresh Paul, as we read. But we must also remember, associating with Paul could cost him everything. Not only his very life, but also his business, his influence, the future of his family. Even future ministry opportunities, as he stood in opposition to others.

But Onesiphorus was not ashamed of Paul’s imprisonment. He was willing to lose everything so that he could continue to refresh this man of God, as he had done in the past.

To “refresh” in Greek comes from the root to “re-vive” or “re-soul.” It is the action of giving life again, to restore the soul, to give spiritual refreshment.

And this is what Onesiphorus was about. It fits his name well, meaning “one who brings profit.” He was a man of God, a man who believed that giving spiritual blessings to others was even more important than life itself. That’s conviction. That’s courage. That’s the attitude of a true man of God.

And there have been many Onesiphorus’ in history. I would never forget the story of the young wife of a Huguenot who would visit her husband imprisoned. He was sentenced to death for his faith, and she kept coming to encourage him to stand firm as he was awaiting the deadly blow. The soldiers let her do it, because the sounds of her pleas made them believe that she was trying to get her husband to recant and live. When they finally found out what she was doing, they tried to stop her, but instead she began to evangelize them. Because of her perseverance she was thrown in jail with her husband and executed with him on the same day.

True men and women of God do not back off during times of adversity. They stand and put the authorities of this world to shame. Their lives are example. They are characterized by courage.

II. A Man of God is Zealous (v.17)

So first, in verses 15-16, we saw how a man of God is courageous. Secondly, in verse 17, we see through the testimony of Onesiphorus that a man of God is also zealous.

2Ti 1:17  but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me–

We do not exactly know the reasons why Onesiphorus came to Rome. His name, ending in –us, shows that it is Latin. He might have had ties with the city. He might have gone for a business trip. We do not know. But what we know is that whatever brought him to Rome because secondary next to finding Paul.

Onesiphorus searched for Paul earnestly. He applied himself for the task. He took it to heart without giving up. Paul’s writing that Onesiphorus actually found him seems to come as a surprise. Paul was hard to find, and there must have been several reasons for this.

First, as we know, the city of Rome had been destroyed by a great fire. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, the fire had burnt for 6 days, affecting most of Rome. Only 4 of the 14 districts had been spared. The city was certainly changing and in re-construction, and you can only imagine that the comfort of prisoners sentenced to death would be the last priority of the city, especially when it came to those accused of having began that fire.

In fact, the condition of those prisoners awaiting execution was the worst of all. One of the prisons, in which many believe that Paul had been incarcerated, was named the Mamertine prison, a famous place that had been used to keep notorious prisoners such as Vercingetorix, my distant Gallic cousin who let the armies of what is now France against Rome.

This prison, initially built as cistern for an underground spring, had been transformed to keep the criminals that were condemned to death. It was in some ways a dungeon in the ground, a circular pit of about 30 feet in diameter with a hole at the top a little larger than that of a manhole in the street. It would be common for 30-35 prisoners to live in the pit in the same time.

There was also a door on the side of the pit that allowed that natural spring, which had now become the city’s sewage, to fill the room, drawn the prisoners, and wash them back out. The door would then be shut again until the place would drain and ready for another 30-35 criminals.

Key prisoners, such as conquered rulers and notorious criminals would be taken out of the hole to be paraded in the streets of Rome and executed.

My Gallic cousin with the long complicated name stayed there 5 years before he was killed publically.

Whether Paul was in that particular jail or not, we can’t be certain, although the fact that he was hard to find could imply that he was in a pretty similar condition.

This is why he would ask Timothy to come before winter and to bring a cloak, so that he would not die of cold.

In human standards, definitely a condition to be ashamed of.

But now imagine Onesiphorus, knocking on doors, asking officials, wondering through Rome, doing all he can to find Paul. The more he looked, the greater the danger on his life would increase. The more he persevered, the more the opportunities for him to be accused of the same crimes that brought Paul in prison increased.

There is no doubt the persecution against Christians had raged in Rome. Most of us have heard stories of them being used as human torches in Nero’s palace. The fact that Paul was hard to find had surely some implications concerning the state of the other Christians. Paul, who had ministered greatly in the city under his first house-arrest was certainly known and appreciated by the true believers of the town. Yet no one could bring him a cloak. No one had come to his first defense. Who knows who could give directions to Onesiphorus.

But this faithful believer was zealous for his convictions. He knew Paul desperately needed encouragement. He knew that Paul was suffering and needed to be refreshed again. These convictions to encourage and build up the great apostle of the faith were enough for him to persevere even at the risk of his life.

And that is what it means to be a man of God. A man of God is a man of conviction. A man who is not guided by mere opinions but who is taken captive by belief in the truth; who is controlled by it, who is owned by it, and who will not be halted by anything.

Do you call yourself a man of God? Do you see yourself as a man of God? Then test yourself to see what kind of zeal you apply in the things of the Lord.

What made Onesiphorus different from Phygelus and Hermogenes was that he wasn’t driven by circumstances. He was faithful regardless of what people thought, of what people could threat him with or what people could do to him and even his family. And even in times of great danger, he kept pressing on.

How zealous are we to take steps of faith? To take risks in our walk with God? To take risks in our giving? To take risks in loving people? To take risks in spending less time doing stuff and praying more?

How eager are we to see holiness in the church? Do we take ownership and pain in the sin of the body, or do we find comfort and pride in comparing ourselves to those that are less mature? How zealous are we to see people repent? To see the Bride of Christ be made perfect? Do we pray for these things?

How zealous are you to be read by the Word? Hebrews 4:12 is clear the Word reads us. It discerns our thoughts. It is like a mirror James said. How zealous are we to be changed by the Word? Or have we already arrived? What eagerness, expectation and prayer are there around our time in the Word?

Oswald Sanders noted, “So strong was Jesus’ zeal that His friends thought He had abandoned common sense (Mark 3:21) and His enemies charged Him with having a demon (John 7:20)”

As Piper said, brothers, let us not become professionals. People who have figured things out. People who stop pressing on, especially in times of difficulty.

But let us be like Jacob, not wanting to let go of God until He brings a blessing. Let us be like Moses, when told by God that he would be given the Promised Land but that God Himself was not coming but was sending an angel instead, crying out, “Show me Your glory! I’m not going if you are not going! And if you come, show your glory!!”

Onesiphorus was on a mission, and apparently it had been a mission that not many people had been willing to undertake. But he was zealous, and he completed his mission. And Paul was strengthened.

Like Onesiphorus we are on a mission. We have limited time, limited resources, limited energy, and the world is against us. But if we want our lives to count, we must be zealous. A man of God is a zealous man. Someone who does not stop to grow. Someone like Paul, who runs to win the race.

Wherever God sends you, don’t run behind. Be an example. Be a leader. Be a man of God. Let your kindness be known to all men. Let your prayer life be a source of inspiration. Let your knowledge of the Word be a knowledge of God, personal, deep, alive, and not just intellectual.

Find your mission, within God’s Great Commission, and suffer for it until it is completed and you go in peace.

III. A Man of God is faithful (v.18)

Onesiphorus was courageous and zealous, but he was also an example of a man of God to Timothy because he was faithful.

2Ti 1:18  may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!–and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.

Here again is Paul’s second request for mercy for Onesiphorus, this time in an eschatological sense, in a similar manner that he expressed in his first epistle to the Thessalonians.

Some believe that Paul’s prayer for Onesiphorus implies that he had died during his journey to Rome or back from Rome, and Roman Catholics even use this passage to defend the doctrine of prayer to the dead. In Latin there is an expression that was used to describe such reasoning, “Capilo Tracte” meaning “pulled by the hair.” In other words, it is way over-stretched and it is just non-sense. First there is no evidence that Onesiphorus had died, and even though it is somehow unusual that Paul asked for blessings for his household in v.26 and for him at the Day of the Lord, he certainly had his reasons for it.

First of all, Onesiphorus had gone all the way to Rome, and was probably there for more than a simple visit to Paul. And if he was away from his family, they certainly needed mercy. Also, as Paul had stayed in Ephesus for such a long period where Onesiphorus was with his family, and Onesiphorus often refreshed him and served him, we can assume that Onesiphorus’ family had a part of that.

In fact there even was an apocryphal writing, The Acts of Paul and Thecla, which mentioned Onesiphorus as exercising hospitality to Paul during one of his journeys.

The reason why Paul was praying on behalf of Onesiphorus wasn’t because he was praying for the dead, but because he was praying God to be generous to his friend in rewarding his faithfulness.

Onesiphorus’ trip to Rome had not been the only proof of his dedication to Paul and to the ministry. While in Ephesus, he was constantly serving him. The word for “all” could be translated as “how many things.” he had been there again and again, faithfully.

And this is what brought Paul much joy, even in the midst of those horrible conditions in which he was living. He was seeing a true man of God, continuing to be faithful even when it cost, even when it hurt, even when it worked against his reputation.

But as an author said rightly, “today’s church wants to be raptured from responsibility.” The commitment of our people is more based on how they feel rather and on unshaken convictions.

Let me read to you an anonymous letter written some time ago that illustrate this:

Dear Sir,

You manufacture aspirin tablets that relieve sufferings, colds, and fevers. The mixture used in your tablets makes it possible for people to get out of bed and fight off headaches, bad nerves, and muscle spasms. I have noticed that these tablets work wonders on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and especially well on Saturday. But people who take them on Sunday seem to get no relief. They claim they cannot get rid of their aches and pains and are thus not able to attend Sunday school and church. Is it possible to put in an ingredient that will work on Sunday? Hopefully, A Concerned Pastor

And we laugh but the truth is that our churches are lacking of people that are faithful and courageous in the same time. That are faithful and zealous in the same time. That not only are committed, but that are always seeking to take things to the next step, to move forward, to grow in Christ-likeness and in the effectiveness of their gifts. The truth is that we are lacking men of God.

Biblical faithfulness is not only to do the same thing all over again without getting tired. That is called complacency. It is called traditionalism. Yes you want to keep in line with the truth, but you want to do everything in your power to keep on doing it better and better and better.

I have a brother who is very faithful. Every time he goes on the piano he plays the exact same song. Well, that’s the only one he knows.

Paul wrote in 1 Cor 15:58: « Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding [which means to be in excess, to super-abound] in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. »

What made Onesiphorus an example to follow was not only that he was consistent, but that he did not forget to put the word “faith” in faithfulness.

And Timothy knew this. He knew Onesiphorus’ character and faith ad faithfulness. He knew it very well, as Paul mentioned. He knew the challenges ahead of him and what he needed to do.

CONCLUSION

And I believe it is the same for us. We’ve heard of countless examples of men of God, of men of faith, of men of prayer, of men of conviction, showing us a path to follow. As Onesiphorus had done what was expected of Timothy, to go to Rome unashamed to testify with Paul for Christ, we have also many examples, in Scriptures and elsewhere, showing us what we need to do for each of us to accomplish our mission, as we clothe ourselves with courage, zeal and faithfulness.

And again, as we remember Paul and Timothy, we must also remember this unequaled task and privilege before us, not only to learn from the previous generations but also to be a source of inspiration for the coming generation.

As I mentioned before, I come from a line of pastors. By God’s grace, when I return to France for the ministry, I will be a 5th generation minister. And it all started with my great great-grand-father. He was an American of British parents with a heart for mission. He went to Turkey, but because of his bad health he had to leave the field and went back to America. He died at 33 with Tuberculosis. His son, my great-grand-father lived only for the gospel. I mentioned some of his ministry to you. He had a vision for the Word of God to be read and heard. He was the chairman of a committee of 12 people with a vision that eventually gave birth to Wycliffe Bible Translations, now one of the fastest growing evangelical movements in the world.

My great great-grand-father did not have time to do much in his life. But he passed the baton. He left an example that was followed. And because of his courage and his faithfulness, I am here today being trained and getting ready to return to France.

Onesiphorus is not a famous name. His testimony can easily be overlooked. But he stepped up to show a path that Timothy could follow. He stepped up in courage, zeal and faithfulness as a man of God.

Will you be this kind of man?

En Vaut-il la Peine? – Is it Worth it?

En vaut-il la peine?

         Voici une histoire de mon arrière grand-père Paul Burgess, qui vécut en tant que missionnaire au Guatemala. Visionnaire et implantateur d’églises, son ministère porta beaucoup de fruit. Eduqué dans le monde académique, il était aussi un auteur. Il vécut chaque centimètre de sa vie pour l’évangile. Il mourut après 45 ans de ministère, ayant commencé de nombreuses églises, un Institut Biblique et traduit avec son épouse une grande partie de la Bible en Quiché, une langue Indienne.

         Sa belle-sœur raconte à son sujet : « Aucune route n’était trop pentue pour lui, pourvu qu’il puisse annoncer l’évangile à un Indien de plus. »

         L’extrait provient de sa biographie, « Burgess of Guatemala » écrite par la cousine de ma mère, Anna Marie Dahlquist (p. 125-127) :

         « De ses bottes luisantes à son chapeau tressé et décoré, le Président Jorge Ubico avait tout d’un général. Et il était le plus stricte, avare, efficace et impitoyable dictateur que le Guatemala ait connu pour des années.
La censure faisait partie de son boulot. Lorsque Paul retourna du Colorado, au début de 1933, il entendit des rumeurs qu’Ubico était mécontent avec l’Almanaque de Tio Perucho. Soigneusement, Paul écrivit une lettre diplomatique d’apologie au président, continuant ensuite ses affaires. » […]
         Et puis, juste quand tout semblait aller bien, le coup tomba.
Paul était dans un train faisant son chemin au travers des plaines semées de palmiers au milieu des chaleurs de mi-août. Alors que les autres marchaient les trottoirs vendant leur punch et tamalitos, Paul, à sa coutume, vendait son Tio Peruchos.
         Le train siffla jusqu’à son arrêt près d’une ville costale encombrée de monde. Soudain, deux policiers armés se précipitèrent, attrapant Paul, et l’escortant hors du train dans la station de police.
         « Vous êtes en état d’arrestation » affirma un officier aux lèvres fines. « Nous devons attendre une réponse de Guatemala avant de continuer. »
         « Puis-je au moins télégraphier mon épouse ? Paul plaida, pris au dépourvu. Avec l’accord de l’officier, il lui envoya ce simple message, « Je me suis fait arrêter. » Il pria ensuite que Dieu lui donne sa paix.
         Deux jours plus tard, Paul, gardé de près, était dans un autre train, lié en direction pour la capitale Guatemala. Là-bas, avec ses mains derrières son dos, il fut emmené au quartier de police. Dans une salle à haut plafond bien décorée, Paul fut questionné pendant un long moment. Puis le chef officier pointa en direction d’un jeune garde.
         « Antonio Munoz ! Emmenez cet homme en prison ! »
         Paul sortit avec le jeune Antonio. Il leva les yeux vers un ciel bleu, où les nuages en lanières flottaient tranquillement au-dessus d’un sommet de volcan raboteux. Puis il regarda autour de lui. Des garçons roulaient des cerceaux and des femmes marchaient avec énergie, portant des bébés dans leurs dos et de grands paniers sur leurs têtes.
         La vie, pour la plupart, continuait comme d’habitude. Mais allait-elle continuer pour lui ? Où serait-elle gâchée par un dictateur furieux et impitoyable ? Si c’était le cas, Paul pensait, il savait où il irait. Il connaissait le Chemin.
         Mais qu’arriverait-il au jeune Antonio? Connaissait-il le Chemin ?
         « As-tu déjà pensé à ton âme ? » Paul demanda au jeune homme.
         Etonné, le policier se tourna vers son prisonnier. Marchant côte à côte jusqu’à la prison, Paul expliqua l’évangile. Puis, arrivés aux portes du bâtiment, il sortit un Testament de poche qu’il donna à Antonia. « Lis ceci, » il urgea, « Je te le donne. »
         Paul fut emmené dans une petite cellule humide. Quelques rayons de soleil se faufilaient entre les barres d’une unique haute fenêtre et pénétraient dans la dégoutante salle. Un garde enleva à Paul sa son argent, sa montre, sa Bible – tout sauf ses vêtements. Puis il fut laissé dans son emprisonnement solitaire.
         Paul regarda autour de lui dans la lumière pâle. Il n’y avait pas de chaise, pas de lit. Sous peu il fut fatigué d’être debout, mais les murs aux odeurs répugnantes sentaient l’urine ; il ne voulait pas s’y appuyer. Il ne pouvait pas non plus s’allonger sur le sol gluant et incroyablement sale. »

         Alors que Paul était en prison, son épouse enceinte était prête à accoucher. Mais lorsqu’il reçut sa première lettre, ce n’était que pour apprendre que leur petit garçon était mort né, étranglé par le cordon. Paul resta dix jours en prison et ensuite pu rester à Guatemala chez un ami en assignation à domicile pour un autre mois. Il avait été arrêté pour avoir protester contre les pratiques injustes de son gouvernement. Lorsqu’il fut relâché, il eu la permission de rester au Guatemala sous la condition que ses écrits soient édités par les autorités.

         Dix-sept ans passèrent. Un jour, lors d’un séjour dans une ville côtière, Paul passa près d’une chapelle nouvellement construite en retournant à l’hôtel après avoir assisté à un service d’une église Presbytérienne. Le culte n’étant pas terminé, Paul décida de se glisser en arrière de l’église, s’esquissant dans la foule d’à peu près 250 personnes. Le prochain extrait est tiré des pages 157-158 :

         « Paul ne reconnut pas l’homme derrière la chaire. Mais au milieu de son message, le prédicateur s’arrêta, plongeant un long regard au banc rigide où Paul était assis, devenant visiblement excité.
         « Mes frères, nous avons un certain missionnaire vétéran visitant notre église aujourd’hui ! Nous voudrions tous l’écouter parler. Mais moi, plus que tous, voudrais l’écouter parler. Laissez-moi vous raconter pourquoi. »
         La voix du pasteur tremblait légèrement alors qu’il continuait. « Autrefois j’étais un policier, et vous, Don Pablo, était un prisonnier. On m’avait donné l’ordre de vous escorter en prison, et vous m’aviez témoigné de Christ, et m’aviez donné un Nouveau Testament. Bien que vous ne l’ayez jamais su, cela fut le commencement de ma vie chrétienne. Et aujourd’hui, dix-sept ans après vous avoir emmené en prison, je me tiens ici et vous invite dans ma chaire ! »
         « Des larmes embrouillèrent les yeux de Paul, alors qu’il se dirigeait vers la plateforme. Cela en valait-il la peine ? Les épreuves, maladies, controverses, les emprisonnements, en valaient-ils la peine ? En valait-il la peine d’être loin de ceux qu’il aimait ?
         Tout en Paul criait, Oui ! Même si ce n’était que pour cet homme – seulement pour Antonio Munez- cela valait la peine. Tout en valait la peine.

Is it worth it?

         Here is a story from my great-grandfather Paul Burgess, who lived as a missionary in Guatemala. He was a very successful church-planter and visionary. Trained in excellent scholarship, he was also a writer. He lived every inch of his life for the gospel. He died after 45 years of ministry, having started many churches, a Bible Institute and translated with his wife a great portion of the New Testament in Quiché, an Indian language.

         His wife’s sister said about him, “No road was too steep for him if only he could tell just one more Indian about the Savior.”

         The extract is from his biography, “Burgess of Guatemala” written by my mother’s cousin, Anna Marie Dahlquist (p. 125-127):

         “From his gleaming boots to his braid-decked cap, President Jorge Ubico was every inch a general. And he was the strictest, thriftiest, most efficient and most ruthless dictator Guatemala had known in years.
Censorship, to Ubico was part of his job. When Paul returned from Colorado, in early 1933, he heard rumors that Ubico was displeased with the Almanaque de Tio Perucho. Carefully, Paul typed a diplomatic apology to the president, and then went on about his business.” […]
         And then, just when everything seemed to be going well, the blow fell.
         Paul was on a train that was rattling its way across palm-dotted lowlands in the mid-August heat. While other people walked the aisles peddling punch and tamalitos, Paul, as was his custom, sold Tio Peruchos.
         The train groaned to a stop just outside a sweltering coastal city. Suddenly, two armed policemen rushed in, grabbed Paul, and escorted him off the train and into a police station.
         “You’re under arrest,” a thin-lipped officer stated. “We must await further word from Guatemala City before proceeding.”
         “May I at least telegraph my wife?” Paul pleaded, dumbfounded. With the officer’s consent, he sent her the simple message: “I have been arrested.” And then he prayed that God would give her his peace.
         Two days alter, Paul, closely guarded, was on another train, bound for Guatemala City. There, with hands behind his back, he was led to the Police Headquarters. In a room with burnishing paneling and high ceilings, he was questioned at length. Then the senior officer motioned to a young guard.
         “Antonio Munoz! Take this man to prison.”
         Paul stepped out with young Antonio. He looked up at the blue sky, where wispy clouds floated gently around a rugged volcano peak. Then he looked down again. Boys rolled hoops and women walked by briskly, babies on their backs and huge baskets on their heads.
Life, for most people, was going on as usual. But would life go on for him? Or would it be snuffled out by a ruthless, irate dictator? If so, Paul reflected, he knew where he was going. And he knew the Way.
         But what about young Antonio? Did he know the Way?
         “Have you ever thought about your soul?” Paul asked the youth.
         Astonished, the policeman turned to look at his prisoner. As they walked side by side for six blocks, Paul explained the gospel. Then, just as they reached the prison gates, he pulled out a pocket Testament and gave it to Antonio. “Read this,” he urged, “I’m giving it to you.”
         Paul was taken to a small, damp cell. From between the bars of a single high window, a few rays of daylight struggled down into a filthy room. A guard stripped Paul of his money, his watch, his Bible – everything but his clothes. Then he was left in solitary confinement.
         Paul looked around in the dim light. There was no chair, no cot. Soon he grew tired of standing, but the fetid adobe walls smelled of urine; he did not wish to lean against them. Neither could he lie on the slimy, unspeakable foul floor.”

         While Paul was in prison, his pregnant wife was about to give birth. But when he received her first letter, it was only to learn that their little boy was born dead, strangled by the cord. Paul remained ten days in prison and then was able to remind in Guatemala City at a friend’s home under house arrest for another month. He had been arrested for condemning injustice practices done by the government. When he was released, he was allowed to stay in Guatemala under the condition that his writings be edited by the civil authorities.

         Seventeen years passed. One day, as Paul happened to be in a coastal city, he passed by a newly built chapel on his way back from a Presbyterian church to his hotel. The service was still in progress, so he entered and sat in the back, fading in the crowd of about 250 parishioners. The next extract is from p.157-158:

         “Paul didn’t recognize the middle-aged man in the pulpit. But in the middle of his message, the preacher stopped, took a long look at the rough-hewn bench where Paul was seated, and became visibly excited.
         “Brethren, we have a veteran missionary visiting out church today! We’d all like to hear from him. But I, more than anyone else, want to hear from him. Let me tell you why.”
         The pastor’s voice trembled slightly as he continued. “Once I was a policeman, and you, Don Pablo, were a prisoner. I was ordered to take you to jail, and you spoke to me of Christ, and gave me a New Testament. Although you never knew it, that was the beginning of my Christian life. And today, seventeen years after taking you to prison, I stand here to invite you to my pulpit!”
         “Tears clouded Paul’s eyes as he made his way up to the platform. Was it worth it? Was it worth all the hardships, the illnesses, the controversies, the imprisonments? Was it worth being so far from loved ones?
Everything within Paul’s soul shouted, Yes! Even if it was only for this one man – only for the sake of Antonio Munoz – it was worth it. It was worth it all.”