Imagine a sole world super-power that is a sports-crazed culture deep into Eastern spirituality, political globalism, and religious syncretism. Women find child-rearing an inconvenience and increasingly abandon or abort their babies. Visualize a society where divorce and remarriage touches virtually everyone. The government is increasingly marked by corruption. To pay for the burgeoning number of bureaucrats, more and more taxes are collected and the state increasingly takes over the running of the economy. The rich become richer and the poor become poorer. Growing number of children are handed over to be raised by child-minders. Children in their youth ignore their parents and become increasingly sexually promiscuous. Envision a society overrun by sexual deviancy and perversion. Terrorists besiege on different fronts. Entertainment is the major preoccupation for many and becomes more and more violent to hold the same level of fascination and attraction. Husbands and wives move from complementarian roles to an egalitarian understanding. Suicides escalate. Christian persecution intensifies.
Such was the ancient Roman Empire. It held dominion and authority over the known earth at that time. Living in ancient Rome meant being bombarded with messages that encouraged materialism, instant self-gratification, feminism, liberation from traditional social structures such as marriage, alternative sexual lifestyles, and the viewing of gruesome entertainment like the ripping apart of human beings by wild beasts in sports arenas.
Today in the dawn of the 21st century, many are beset by fear and doubt and face the future with trepidation. Yet, it was amidst this ancient culture, so similar in many ways to ours, that the gospel exploded with unstoppable, life-giving power …. and changed the known world.
Paul’s final words in 2 Timothy 4:1-8 shortly before his execution by the Roman Empire ring with triumph and finality, not despair and fear. They speak to us across the centuries:
"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing."