The black letters against the stark white background of the placard spoke to my mind almost audibly: “A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.” I don’t remember much about the protest or anything about the individual holding the sign. But the words on the sign are forever inscribed in my memory.
Born in 1970, I was on the tail end of the civil rights movement and have benefited from all of the sacrifice and struggle. I was too young to protest the Vietnam War, and too wrapped up in getting my career off the ground to care about the Gulf War. Things that directly affected the outside world around me were of no importance. In fact, I only happened upon the sign while watching a documentary as a camera panned by a protester who had taken time out of his or her busy schedule to try to make a difference in the world.
What have I stood for in my life that I’d be proud of? What have I done to make a difference for the future generations? As I watched Eyes on the Prize on PBS my heart reverberated with the passion and courage of those who thought not of themselves but of a world without the injustices of that day. But that was then and this is now. As an African-American woman, I have choices today. I can live where I want, vote in local and national elections, go to upscale restaurants. My generation presumably has it good.
Actually, if I think about it, it’s not because of a lack of causes that I’m not more willing to be involved. But yet, I question my involvement. I’ve written letters to my congressmen; participated in heated debates trying to “en
lighten” others, or donated money. But was it enough? Or better yet, is it the answer?
Timothy was a young man probably a lot like me. Raised in a God-fearing home, he was taught by his grandmother and mother from the writings of Moses and the Old Testament prophets. He, perhaps, was being groomed for a particular trade and was content to take his place in society, get married, have a family, and die a happy man surrounded by children and grandchildren. But meeting Paul changed all of that. Well, more precisely, after meeting Paul’s Friend—he knew his life was forever transformed.
It was in the Lystra/Derbe region—Timothy’s old stomping grounds—that Paul was dragged out of the city and stoned to death (or so they thought) for preaching the good news about a man named Jesus of Nazareth (see Acts
14:1-20). Timothy had heard this eloquent evangelist, and his heart burned with an enthusiasm unknown to him until now. This wonderful news of sins being forgiven; being born again; of receiving power to fight God’s enemy from the One who had already defeated him was invigorating. He had found a new purpose in life. He couldn’t keep it to himself. He longed to tell others and give them a purpose—a hope in life too.
I imagine as Timothy stood there, staring in disbelief at the mangled, lifeless form of the man he so admired, his idealistic, short-lived dream lay on the ground with Paul. Dreams of a better world seemed even more out of reach. People mourned and wept. Others took their anger out in riots. But Timothy just stood there. Dumbfounded. Shocked. That is until Paul got up. Not only got up but went back into the city (verse 20) to continue the work God had called him to do!
What an impression on Timothy’s young mind! What a vivid display of power from the God he had come to know in theory but now saw His magnificence in full, Technicolor, 3-D! The Bible says that Paul—still covered in bruises and cuts from the stoning—“preached the gospel to that city, and taught many,… confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21, 22).
Paul didn’t mince words. His life was filled with toil, sacrifice, self-denial, and love for his Savior. The same passion and zeal he felt in protecting the integrity of his Jewish traditions and teachings, he now redirected in promoting the Christ he once hated. He found something to stand for—yes, to die for—and it changed the world.
Timothy wanted to be a part of something that could really make a difference. He saw that there was a bigger picture; a deeper, more universal problem. With ancestry comprised of both Jew and Greek, he was constantly victimized and oppressed by the Romans. The enemy occupied his city. Injustice reigned on every side against the poor, the fatherless, the elderly, and the infirmed. Yet he realized, like Paul, that the solution wasn’t to force the judicial system to make changes. It was more of a grassroots effort—individual, one-by-one, heart by heart.
The real enemy is sin—a sickness of the soul that needs to be rooted out and filled with a lasting love that only Christ can supply. Timothy joined with Paul in teaching about God’s grace that transforms the life. He urged the people that if you want real change in your world, if you desire a new life “let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3).
The movement Timothy was involved in didn’t just stop at voting rights, or equal treatment. It also emphasized the necessity of taking on the “divine nature” of Christ. To daily give “all diligence [and] add to your faith virtue,… knowledge,… self-control,… perseverance,… godliness,… brotherly kindness,… and love…. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was [cleansed] from his old sins” (2 Peter 1:5-7, 9, NKJV).
Paul, in his last letter to Timothy instructed him to “continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14, 15, NKJV). Don’t look to the feeble arm of man. Look to God and the teachings in His Word. In them you will find doctrine, reproof, correction, “instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (see verses 16 and 17).
Now that sounds like something to stand for.
*Texts credited NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.