“The word of God is not bound” (2 Timothy 2:9 CSB). Say that with me: The word of God is not bound.
If you’ve never noticed, we Americans like to think about freedom. A lot. It seems one of the deepest cultural fears is the idea that something will happen and we won’t be free. We celebrate freedom every year in a shindig of fireworks and booze (never a good combination, but we’re Baptists here, right? So, fireworks and soda, which is a little safer). And you might remember that brief time after 9/11 where French fries were redubbed by some as freedom fries.
We love our freedom!
And you know what, as a Roman citizen in the First Century, Paul loved freedom too. Even while encouraging contentment in Christ, regardless of your situation, Paul told slaves in Corinth: “If you can become free, by all means take the opportunity” (1 Corinthians 7:21 CSB).
When Paul enjoyed freedom, he used the opportunity to spread the Gospel far and wide, allowing only the Spirit of God himself to turn him in a different direction. Yet, Paul also spent a good amount of his ministry not free. The letter of Second Timothy was written from prison and would be Paul’s final letter, for soon he would depart this life. Yet, Paul knew that even if he was in jail for the very thing he longed to do (tell others about Jesus), even if chains kept him fixed to a wall, even if he was left alone and his traveling companions deserted him—regardless of how bound he might appear, it wasn’t going to stop the spread of the Gospel.
Sometimes we lose sight of this reality. We operate as if God is dependent on us, as if he stakes everything on us to build his church and see the nations reached for his glory and grace. Yet, the Bible is clear, the only one God is dependent on is himself. This is why Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). We’re invited into the process. God lets us participate in his plan to bring joy and blessing to the nations, that we too might experience that joy and blessing. But even if we are silent, Jesus said, the rocks will cry out.
Paul had great confidence in the spread of the Gospel. He was a missionary and apostle that God used in mighty ways to disperse the message of Jesus far and wide. A large chunk of the New Testament came at Paul’s hand as the Holy Spirit inspired him. Countless churches across the Roman Empire were started because of Paul’s direct work or influence.
Yet, the Gospel and growth of the church did not depend on him. And it doesn’t depend on us.
The Gospel is bigger than a person, a church, or a nation. Its power to spread and change people’s lives is as immense as the God who gave us the good news. This is why we certainly can enjoy freedom and vote for freedoms, but we should not fear the loss of liberty. Nor should we depend on kings and politicians to protect the church. Instead, we rely on the God who will accomplish exactly what he wants, we use our freedom to spread the Gospel as far and wide as we can, and if a day were to come that we lose our freedom because of our love for Jesus, then we remember: The word of God is not bound.
That humble dependence keeps us focused on what is really important: Loving our neighbors the best we can, serving their needs as we are able, and seeking ways to tell them about the God who loves them more than they could imagine.
How are you using your freedom to spread the Gospel?
Mike Bergman is the pastor of a very normative church in small-town America. He is passionate about the weather, his family, foster care, and Jesus.