Scripture Reading: 2 Timothy 2:1-13, Romans 6:5-10, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
Two weeks into my first year teaching history at a private school in Nashville, the Latin teacher stopped at my door. He was tall and round about the middle, with short hair, deep eyes and a soft-spoken voice that carried kindness on every syllable. His oldest daughter was in my class, and when he asked if I wanted to share lunch at the picnic tables, I hesitated. Life had taught me to suspect older men, to assume their intentions were nefarious. But Ben Ellis just wanted to share turkey sandwiches and talk about history. Trying my hand at trust, I said yes.
Over the next year, Ben made a habit of stopping at my door, checking in, dropping off history resources and pep talks in equal measure. His wife and five children became regulars at our dinner table; my husband and I at theirs. Ben was one of the first people to encourage me in my writing, buying a copy of the crappy short story I wrote about birds and pretending not to notice the typos.
And then everything changed. Esophageal cancer invaded his body. Soon, he was no longer round about the middle. Soon, he was no longer teaching.
During his months of treatment—even up until the last days on earth—Ben enjoyed singing hymns, in particular a call-and-response song that goes like this:
I am bound, (I am bound)
I am bound, (I am bound)
I am bound for the Promised Land.
It was true of him, and it is no less true of me. We are bound for another place. But it’s important to remember that the word “bound” has many different meanings.
Of course, “bound” can mean you are headed somewhere, and we are headed for eternity with God. Jesus promises that He is preparing a place for us, so that we can be with Him forever in that place. We can be confident in that promise because Jesus’ resurrection was not a fairy-tale. It was a historical event verified by more than 500 witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:6). Because Jesus destroyed death, death no longer determines our final destination.
Bound can also mean shackled, as in, bound in chains. On earth, we are certainly entangled with suffering. Paul tells Timothy not to shy away from that truth. He reminds Timothy that our temporary struggle is like that of a soldier, an athlete, or a farmer—people who sacrifice willingly, trusting that their efforts will reap a later reward. But as Christians, our reward is not a prize or a harvest. Our reward is not a change in our circumstances, or the healing of our cancers. Our reward is the person of Jesus Christ. We are bound, yes, but we are bound for something. We are bound for Him.
Paul was bound for the Promised Land too. He was literally shackled—his only connection to the outside world, his pen. And he proclaimed the gospel loudly, disregarding that his message almost certainly would lead to his execution.
But in all the ways we are bound, God is not bound. While we are moving toward heaven, He is unhindered by time and space. While we are limited by our lack of resources, depleted energy, and grief at the suffering all around us, He does not grow weary. His Word is at work in the world—everywhere, always. And that is great news.
As I consider the limitations on my life, the suffering I wish was over, I cling to God’s promise. Though I am weak, He is strong. Though I am bound, He is already here.
Claire Gibson is a writer whose work has been featured in publications including The Washington Post and Entrepreneur Magazine among many others. An Army kid who grew up at West Point, New York, Claire is currently growing roots in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Patrick, their son, Sam, and their dog, Winnie. Her debut novel, Beyond the Point, will be published next year.