How Dr. King and the apostle Paul faced the prospect of death

January 21, 2023
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Daily Scripture

2 Timothy 4:5-8

5 Endure suffering, do the work of a preacher of the good news, and carry out your service fully. 6 I’m already being poured out like a sacrifice to God, and the time of my death is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. 8 At last the champion’s wreath that is awarded for righteousness is waiting for me. The Lord, who is the righteous [or just] judge, is going to give it to me on that day. He’s giving it not only to me but also to all those who have set their heart on waiting for his appearance.

As our country remembers the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this week’s GPS is built around six short quotations Dr. King might have used on social media (had it been available in his day) and their Biblical roots.

Reflection Questions

In 2 Timothy, Paul knew his earthly life would soon end, because the Roman emperor hoped killing him might stop others from becoming Christians. Scholar N. T. Wright said, “The picture we get…is of a man facing serious trouble and likely death, beset with problems and anxieties…. He lives in the present world, Caesar’s world, as already a cheerful citizen of the world to come, Jesus’ world.” * On April 3, 1968, Dr. King spoke in Memphis, TN at a rally supporting fairer treatment for city sanitation workers. He told his Apr. 3 audience, “I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.” ** An assassin shot and killed him the very next day.

  • Hebrews 2:15 said by dying and rising again, Jesus “set free those who were held in slavery their entire lives by their fear of death.” That was clearly true for both Paul and Dr. King. Has Jesus’ presence in your life set you free from the fear of death? In what ways is it liberating to surmount that fear? You may feel as though you have only a relatively short time left to serve God in this life, or you may be looking forward to many decades of faithful service. Is the present course of your life such that you are confident that, whenever it ends, you will be able to say, as Paul did, “I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith” (verse 7)? If not, what “mid-course corrections” do you want to make to make Paul’s words also your personal testimony?
Prayer

O Jesus, you walked into the darkest, deepest place we face—into death itself—and then emerged, alive and victorious. Keep me on course to end this earthly life in faith and triumph, as Paul and Dr. King did. Amen.

© 2022 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
References

* Wright, N. T., Paul for Everyone: The Pastoral Letters: 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus (The New Testament for Everyone). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

** From https://www.afscme.org/about/history/mlk/mountaintop.

GPS Insights

Penny Ellwood

Penny serves as the Location Pastor for Resurrection Blue Springs in Blue Springs, MO.

My husband and I were fortunate to spend this past week on Maui with friends. One of our excursions for the week involved ziplining across the mountain ridges in the high country. I’ve never ziplined before and I find as I grow older that I have an increasing fear of heights. I was not sure what my reaction would be when it came time and I knew that one run was over 600 ft high above a valley and another three-quarters of a mile long. We were given our instructions and strapped and buckled into the harnesses. The trial run was a breeze, although when I hit the braking device at the far end I was startled at the jolt and the clap from the contact of my harness carriage with the brake.

We hiked up to our first line, which stretched from one ridge to the next across a wide valley. This was the second to the longest of our seven runs. You could see planes coming in for a landing in the valley below us. The guide threw my carriage over the line, hooked the straps to my harness carabiners and it was time to go. I said a little prayer, wished I’d taken my diet a more seriously and decided to trust the equipment and our guides. The young man assisting asked if I was ready, unhooked me from the safety tether, and I was off, flying through the air high over the treetops. It was exhilarating and over much too soon. I reached the other platform and touched the ground with only a slight tremble in my knees.

My little encounter with the fear of death over for the moment, I was proud of myself for not letting fear hold me back. Of course, this was nothing like Paul and Dr. King were facing as they lived out their faith and proclaimed their message under a real threat of death. I would imagine we can all name a place or a situation in our lives when fear has kept us from moving forward. I love the verse that Paul uses a few chapters earlier to encourage the young evangelist Timothy, who he mentored and was encouraging to carry on his ministry. In 2 Timothy 1:7 Paul says, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Fear on one level or another is something that we all deal with. The question becomes, is that what God desires for us, to live in a spirit of fear?

Fear is one of the tools Satan uses to keep us from doing things we are destined to do! I think this dark emotion rules the lives of WAY too many people, and I’m guessing there are some of you who, like me, wrestle sometimes with fear. Fear can keep us from living fully into our calling. There are a lot of things that can cause fear to well up inside of us, but as 1 John 4:4 reminds us, what do we have to fear? “Little children, you are from God and have overcome [the evil one], for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

So let me ask you a question: what are you afraid of? What is fear keeping you from doing? Where is it coming from? I am not talking about ziplining or skydiving now. Are you afraid of rejection? Is your fear of failure or commitment holding you back? God does not give us a spirit of fear! We need to remember who we serve! To remember who our God is and to follow his instructions, and trust our guide and equipment!