The writer of the book of Hebrews describes the Christian life as a race (Heb. 12:1). It is that, and as the context indicates there are things that can weigh the runner down. In addition, the runners are opposed. Stated plainly believers are in a spiritual war. This truth is brought out by the apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Ephesus (Eph. 6:10-18). If a person is doing well in either a race, or a battle, they are moving forward, they are advancing.
At times in the course of our Christian journeys we may get stuck. What I mean is that, for whatever reason, we do not advance or mature as we should. During these times we may need a little help, a bit of encouragement in order to get us moving again. This encouragement can come in the form of reminders given to us by other people, or it can come from recalling parts of our own spiritual journeys. All of us at some time have probably needed a bit of prodding to get us back on the proper path in our spiritual life. Reminders can help us move forward. Usually someone has to remind the person in need of a truth that will help them. In the remainder of this article I would like to take a brief look at three biblical texts in which reminders are set forth as correctives for believers in need. Two of the texts were written by the apostle Paul and one was written by the author of the book of Hebrews.
The first one we will consider comes from the apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians 4:15 Paul identified himself as the spiritual father of the believers in Corinth. This was true in that he founded the church there (Acts 18). The words he wrote in 1 Corinthians 4 were written to the whole church. In view of the fact that Paul brought the gospel to them he believed he should serve as an example of how one should live as a Christian. In the very next verse, 1 Corinthians 4:16, he told the Corinthians to imitate him. In order to help with this, Paul said that he was going to send Timothy to remind them of how he lived. Paul initiated this action because he determined that they needed it. However, he enlisted the help of Timothy to remind the Corinthians of these principles. In this passage Paul was not being an egomaniac or displaying a superior attitude, he was genuinely concerned about the spiritual welfare of the believers in Corinth. His desire was to help them.
We might wonder why Paul did not just send them a list of things to work on instead of sending Timothy to them. I think there are a couple of possible reasons for this. First, with Timothy going to Corinth he could report back to Paul that the necessary reminders had been communicated to the believers there. If Paul just sent a list he would not know if they paid any attention to it until the next time he visited. Second, if there were questions about anything Timothy said, it would be easier for Timothy to answer their questions in person than for the church to keep writing to Paul for clarifications. The apostle John also recognized the value of personal contact, it is, at times, to be preferred over written correspondence (2 John 12; 3 John 13-14).
The second text I would like us to look at comes from the book of Hebrews. No one knows for sure who wrote this book because the author does not identify themself in the text. In the letter it is clear that the author was writing to urge the believers on in their walk with the Lord. Near the end of the letter the writer refers to it as a “word of exhortation” (Heb. 13:22 NIV). One of the things the writer did to try to move them on toward spiritual progress was to urge them to remember their “earlier days” (Heb. 10:32 NIV) in the faith. By recalling how they conducted themselves in the early days, even in the midst of adversity, it could help them to return to the zeal and perseverance that they had at the beginning of their Christian lives. They had these qualities in the past and they could have them again. Remembering our earlier Christian life can be helpful to us as well. The past can be a good teacher. In Revelation 2 Jesus urged the church in Ephesus to remember how they had lived so that they could get back to their first love (Rev. 2:4-5). In the Christian life there can be a tendency to drift away from the commitment and zeal we once had. Remembering our earlier Christian life can serve as a corrective when this happens.
The third text I would like to mention was also written by the apostle Paul. The verse we will be considering was written to an individual, a minister, one whom Paul knew very well, his name was Timothy. In 2 Timothy 1:6 Paul urged Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God” (NIV) that was in him. He knew that Timothy had this gift, because Timothy received it when Paul laid his hands on him. The great apostle urged him to use what he already had. At times we need trusted people in our lives who will remind us to “be all we can be,” to use all of the power that the Lord has given us, to function in the fullness of the power of the Holy Spirit. In short, these people urge us to be good stewards of the gifts that God has given to us. This reminder would certainly benefit Timothy in that he would operate at a higher level of effectiveness (which would, no doubt, be more satisfying to him). It would also benefit those he ministered to. God’s purposes would be more fully served.
This brief study has shown us a number of things. The biblical texts demonstrate that reminders can be given to individuals or to a whole congregation. They also show us that reminders can be given in order to spur believers on to more mature Christian living or more powerful ministry. Both of these are good things. Sometimes we, as believers, need to be reminded of the past in order to move forward in the present. The Scriptures we have looked at, and others, can help move us forward. However, reminders are not confined to Scripture. In addition to Scripture, God sometimes sends messengers to us for this purpose. If you have trusted people in your life who offer spiritual reminders to you, do not dismiss them or treat them with contempt. Be thankful for them. God may use them to inspire you to greater maturity and growth. This benefits everyone and serves God’s purposes.
About the Author
John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Zion Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written articles and book reviews for a number of publications including the Pneuma Review, the Africanus Journal of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christian Trends Magazine, in India, and Berita Mujizat and Jurnal Jaffray, both in Indonesia. He is also the author of four books.