2 Timothy 2:11-13
This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we persevere, we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him, he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.
Did you notice how different the last of those lines is? The first two are very positive. If we have died with him… If we persevere… However, the third one turns very dark. If we deny him… But in all three of these, we see a parallel response from Jesus.
The first two are a response and promise of salvation. The third one has an equally dark response to what is proposed. If we deny him, he will deny us.
So the first three verses of this little song – and it probably was a song in St. Paul’s time – speak about salvation and damnation. But the last verse does not follow that same pattern. Yes, there is a parallelism in the verse. Unfaithful versus faithful. Or, to reverse that, an eternal love versus failed love.
More simply put, the whole piece is a song praising Christian endurance based on the Lord’s faithfulness.
This is the key point of the difference. It is, in a hidden way, a commentary on the theological virtues of faith hope and love.
Wait a minute! How did I jump to the theological virtues?
Hope and faith come to us almost at the same instant, though I believe hope comes first. We hope that the message of the gospel is true.
But this is what Paul said right at the beginning of this reading from second Timothy. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead,… such is my gospel”, or “this is what I always preach, even when it puts me in chains.” But he then says a great line that we need to remember: “the word of God is not chained.”
This is why we have hope. And hope is intimately tied to both faith and trust in who God is, and what he promised. Listen to the song again: “If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him.”
And once this hope is established in our hearts, it leads our minds to follow in faith. And as these two join our hearts and minds, hope and faith, hearts and minds, it leads us to love of God. It leads us to being faithful.
Remember: the love of God cannot be destroyed or withheld from us. That is why Jesus will always remain faithful. But then, there is also the warning: “if we deny him, he will deny us.” So there is risk that we might fail in pursuing heaven. We can choose to deny him. The result is he will deny us. But his love for us, his faithfulness, never ceases.
I suppose this might be somewhat hard to understand in some people’s minds. And that’s the reason why some people want to think that God will not let anyone remain in hell for eternity. But you must understand that it is because of his love that he will allow people to go to hell. I have said this before: it will be more painful for those people who are in hell to stay close to God and his love that it will be for them to run from God and live in an eternity away from him.
So… as St. Paul says introducing this song: “this saying is trustworthy.” We have died with Christ, we will reign with Christ, provided we do not deny him, or turn unfaithful to his love.
Lord Jesus, you told us we can trust in the constancy of your love – in your faithfulness. We rely on that in our frailty. We know our own lives, but you know us better. We know we have a tendency to fail, to sin. But you know our hearts and our desire to stay with you.
Give us the courage we need to turn our backs on unfaithfulness, on sin, on anything that would lead us to deny you. Help us to live in the virtues you have given us. Only by your help can we succeed in living a life dedicated to you, in living a life worthy to be called Christian.
Only by your help, by your grace, can we have any hope to reign with you forever in heaven. May the Queen of Hope assist us until we arrive safely in your kingdom. Amen.