Summary: Learning to bear witness for Christ
"I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." — 2 Tim 1:6-7
Anyone who has even a moderate exposure to people has encountered some who are honorable and others who are not. It is surprising how difficult it is readily to distinguish the one kind of person from the other. Though first impressions may be lasting they are not necessarily accurate. Phygelus and Hermogenes seemed to be Paul’s supporters. But when Paul needed them most they deserted him. Paul sought to surround himself with people whose heartbeat for Christ and the ministry was similar to his own. However, he was not entirely successful. It is not always easy to judge a person’s heart based on the words he or she speaks. Paul indicates that there are several things that shape people’s character: their family background, their mentors and peers, God’s call upon their lives, and their willingness to live a God-centered discipline life.
Though a person cannot control what kind of family he comes from, like it or not his family will profoundly affect his character and personality. Everyone is responsible for the kind of person he or she ends up becoming, but one’s family life certainly impacts the end product. Max Jukes, for example, was an atheistic contemporary of the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards. He lived a godless life and he married an ungodly woman. Their descendants include 310 who died as paupers, 150 criminals, 7 murderers, 100 drunkards, and more than half of their female progeny were prostitutes. By way of contrast, the godly Sarah and Jonathan Edwards left multiple generations of individuals who had a tremendous impact for good: of their many descendants, 13 became college presidents, 65 college professors, 3 United States senators, 30 judges, 100 lawyers, 60 physicians, 75 army and navy officers, 100 preachers and missionaries, 60 authors of prominence, one vice-president of the United States, 80 public officials, governors of states, and ministers to foreign countries (see Leonard Ravenhill, www.ravenhill.org/edwards.htm).
Of course, the Bible does not excuse anyone for bad behavior. While one’s home environment may not be ideal it is never an excuse for unrighteousness, nor is it the final determiner of a person’s moral state. Ezekiel 18 sheds some light on this subject. The prophet writes that if someone has a godly parent it is no guarantee that the child will be righteous. A son or daughter may neglect his or her righteous heritage for a life of sin. That person will die for his or her sin: Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die (Ezekiel 18.4). And the opposite case is equally true: if a child has a parent who is devoted to sin, but he himself abhors that evil lifestyle and lives a godly life, he will not suffer for the sins of his father. This is very dramatically demonstrated in the case of the godly Josiah who rejected the corrupt practices of his wicked father Amon (see 2 Kgs 22-23; 2 Chr 34-35).