“But the Word of God Is Not Bound!” (2 Timothy 2:1-13)

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 9, 2022

“But the Word of God Is Not Bound!” (2 Timothy 2:1-13)

Do you ever feel constrained or held back, like you’re the prisoner of things that are too powerful for you to overcome? Maybe it’s age. You feel the advancing years taking their toll on you. Maybe it’s sickness. You get over one thing, and then it’s something else. More pills, more trips to the doctor. You feel like a prisoner in your own body. Or maybe it’s a guilty conscience weighing you down. You sense your own failings. Your past sins keep on dogging you. Then there’s the approach of death. We don’t know when that will come, regardless of our age. It’s like how Scrooge saw Marley’s ghost, shackled with chains, rattling and haunting him in the night. The inevitability of death can haunt us like that. All these things–the sadnesses and sorrows of life; the lack of connectedness with people we know we ought to be closer to; the sense of alienation from God, tucked in the back of our head–all these things are like chains wrapped around us, holding us back, weighing us down, binding us up.

“But the Word of God Is Not Bound!” And it is through this word that God frees you from your chains and makes you alive in his love. Today I want you to hear this freeing word that God has for you. And you can hear it in all of our Scripture readings today.

Let’s start with the Epistle. The apostle Paul was bound up and chained–literally. He was a prisoner in a Roman jail when he wrote this letter to Timothy. Now Paul had been arrested and imprisoned a number of times in his career as an apostle. For example, he had been in jail at Philippi, Paul and Silas had been, with their feet fastened in the stocks. Then at midnight there was a great earthquake; their chains were loosed and the doors were opened. Later on, Paul was imprisoned again. He was taken to Caesarea, and then off to Rome, where he was placed under house arrest for two years before being released. But that was then, and this is now. Now Paul is in prison again in Rome, but this time it will be for keeps. This time–and it’s probably around the year 66 or 67–this will be the last time Paul will be in prison. But this time there will be no great earthquake to break the bars and loosen the chains. And this time it is not a low-security house arrest that will end in release. No, this time, this imprisonment, will end in Paul being executed, beheaded, for the crime of preaching the gospel of Christ.

Paul is waiting for the carrying out of that sentence as he writes this letter to his young assistant Timothy. He reports that he is suffering for the gospel: bound, he says, “bound with chains as a criminal.” But lest young Timothy get discouraged and dismayed–lest Timothy gets deterred from his task of carrying the gospel forward–Paul adds a very important reminder: I, Paul, may be bound, bound with chains, that is true. “But the word of God is not bound!”

Did you catch that? “But the word of God is not bound!” This is the freeing message that gave confidence to Paul in the face of his impending death. This is the freeing message that gave courage to Timothy, in spite of the prospect of facing persecution himself. This is the freeing message that will lift your spirits today no matter what you are facing. “But the word of God is not bound!”

You see, the mighty Roman Empire could chain up Paul and even put him to death. But they could not chain up the word of God. After Paul would come a Timothy. And what Timothy heard from Paul, he entrusted to faithful men who in turn would teach others. There would be no lack of proclaimers of God’s word. And so it goes, down to our day. The word of God is not bound. It is not bound by persecution. It was not bound to only the age of the apostles. The word of God is not bound. It is alive and active and free, mightier than any prison chains. And the word of God frees up those who receive it in faith. That would be Paul, that would be Timothy, and that’s you and me.

The word of God is not bound. It never has been. That was the case, even hundreds of years before Paul, in the days of the Old Testament. Back then, the nation of Israel was entrusted with the task of being the caretaker, the steward of God’s word. But even so, God’s word of blessing was not limited to only those from the nation of Israel.

Take the story of Ruth, for example. Ruth was a woman from the country of Moab. She was not an Israelite. And so Ruth was outside the covenant of blessing the Lord had established with Abraham. Or was she? Remember, the Lord had told Abraham: “I will bless you and make your name great, and you will be a blessing. In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” All the families of the earth! So here was Ruth, from one of those other nations. But by coming into contact with the people of God, she too came into the blessing! The word of God was not bound by nationality. God’s word crossed that boundary and brought blessing to the Moabite woman Ruth.

The word of God is not bound. It’s not bound by persecution. It’s not bound by nationality. The word of God reaches out. It frees and blesses. That’s what happened in the case of the lepers that we heard about in today’s Gospel. Lepers are unclean. They have a terrible skin disease and have to isolate themselves from other people. “Unclean!” they cry, to keep others away. Except this time, in our Gospel reading, they cry something else: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” You see, they’ve heard enough about Jesus that they sense in him someone who can help. They hope that Jesus will bring them a word of mercy from God, a powerful, effective word that can heal and help. And they’re right. Jesus is the one to ask for such a word. Which is what he speaks, and does. He tells the lepers to go and show themselves to the priests, who will attest to their healing. And even before they get there, as they go, they are cleansed. God’s mighty word of mercy and cleansing and healing was not bound by their disease.

What’s more, one of the men Jesus healed was a Samaritan. Like Ruth the Moabitess, this Samaritan leper was an outsider–not only because of his skin disease, but also because of his ethnicity and religious practice. But the word of God is not bound by any of that. Jesus is able to overcome all barriers. He receives and welcomes, he helps and even commends the Samaritan leper. Jesus is in the business of showing mercy to the marginalized, to all sorts of people, even folks like you and me.

So where do you find yourself in these stories? Are there chains of hopelessness that would try to lock you in, and lock you out from God’s mercy? Is it the fear of what people might think of you or do to you, because you’re a Christian? Then hear the message that freed up Paul and Timothy in the face of persecution: God’s word is not bound! Therefore you are not bound by fear! Are there chains that bind you? Is it the sense of being an outsider, like you’re someone God doesn’t want to bless or help? Then hear the word that blessed Ruth: The God of Israel is your God too! God turns outsiders into insiders. Hear the word that helped those lepers, even the Samaritan: Jesus wants to have mercy on you! Because your faith is in Jesus Christ, your faith will make you well. Not because it is “your faith,” as though you were doing some great thing. No, it’s because your faith is in Christ. He has mercy on you and makes you whole for eternity.

Jesus is the one who brings the word of God to you. Jesus is the Word of God for you! And the word of God is not bound! Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, was not bound by the shackles of death. He conquered death for you. The tomb could not hold him. Jesus is the Redeemer who breaks all your chains and sets you free! Remember Jesus Christ, the Son of God come to earth to be your Savior. Remember Jesus Christ, crucified for all your sins. Those were the real chains that tied you down. But Jesus took your sins and let himself be bound by nails to a cross, where he suffered and died for you, in your place. Those chains of sin are broken! And then: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.” Christ burst the bonds of death that kept all of humanity in its chains. Those chains are broken also ! You are free! Free in Christ!

Our message today: The word of God is not bound! And this is the gospel word that is being preached to you right now! This word is for you, so that you also, as Paul says, “may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” You then, my friends, like Paul said to Timothy, “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

Published in: on October 7, 2022 at 1:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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