It is Possible (Part 3)! In parts 1 & 2 of this series, we looked at how God has both called and equipped His followers throughout history, and we noted that the call often seemed impossible. What makes the call to heart-language Bible translation work exciting is that it is both a tangible and visible outworking of the Great Commission. The challenge is this: the sheer number of language groups without Scripture in their own languages is 3799! Additionally, even in 2022, with so much information available, a significant lack of awareness of the desperate need for it still exists. It might seem like an insurmountable task to reach almost 4000 language groups, but it’s definitely not impossible for the God who created them.
One reason we love the Bible is because as we look into those beautiful pages, we see for ourselves that God has always supplied what His people have needed in order to follow His call. In our last blog (It Is Possible Part 2), we saw how He used Lydia as a key person in establishing the early church in Thyatira. Like Lydia, we are contributors, catalysts, builders, and doers as members of the body of Christ in the areas that God has equipped us. We are equal before the cross of Christ. In the field of Bible translation, especially grassroots mother-tongue translation work, we can see His hand at work through us in each of our different capacities.
Another example is Theophilus. His name is mentioned in the opening sentences of the books of Luke and Acts: Luke 1:1-4 says: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (NIV). Acts 1:1-2 says: “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen” (NIV).
We often skip past these opening verses without much thought – but if we slow down and take a closer look, we can see how profound this portion is. These references to Theophilus show us that these writings were a dedication. Like modern-day dedications at the beginning of our books, it is a way for the author to acknowledge and honour a person or people who have had an impact on them. We don’t know precisely how Luke knew Theophilus – some theologians think that Luke might have been his personal doctor. Bible scholars believe that Theophilus was probably a man of wealth and social standing with a high position in society – perhaps a governor. He might even have been Luke’s patron or benefactor who paid for the costs and dissemination of the book of Luke and Acts; what a glorious call!
Luke responded to God’s call on his life by trusting Christ. He dedicated himself to using his time, his fervour and his intellect to studiously record and detail our Lord’s ministry and the beginnings of the early church. It also looks like Theophilus also responded to God’s call on his life to put his trust in Jesus Christ and pour out his devotion to the Lord by being a friend to Luke, and possibly giving him the financial and relational support needed to complete the work of writing. In our modern context, we might be tempted to see their relationship as simply a two-dimensional, material transaction. But no! It was deeply relational and heart-felt with full depth of meaning for both men. Each was helping the other to grow in the Lord, equal at the foot of the cross, both pouring their gifts out in obedience to God.
Look at the immeasurable blessing that relationship has been to God’s people ever since – the books of Acts and Luke! Imagine what our faith would lose without Acts! We would live our Christian lives without knowing about Pentecost! If Luke & Theophilus hadn’t obeyed God’s call, we would only have three Gospels instead of four. We would have Paul’s letters, but we wouldn’t have the dramatic story of his conversion along the Damascus road. We would know that the Gospel spread beyond the Jews, but we wouldn’t know how. Without Luke and Theophilus we would have missed out on many of the Bible’s best stories that tell us how the early church expanded beyond Israel.
For the brothers and sisters in Christ called to become mother-tongue Bible translators, they can be encouraged and emboldened richly by the example of Luke the Evangelist. His work, empowered by the Holy Spirit and fuelled by brotherly love within the church family, has impacted the people of God in ways he could never have imagined! For the brothers and sisters in Christ called to give towards the work of the Gospel and heart-language Bible translation, they can take great encouragement from seeing both the relational and spiritual value of Theophilus’ work. Their role is to evaluate how to use the blessings God has given them in ways that strengthen and support the Body of Christ. The joy of sharing resources blesses them, and they also rejoice in personally being involved in the cycle of God’s faithfulness to all His people. Knowing that when they support a translator, they impact a whole community for generations to come!
The patron, or the ‘sharer’ of God’s resources, and the missionary (Bible translator) both participate equally in what God is doing throughout the world for the expansion of His kingdom. They hold each other up as members of the same Body, in their different roles. Like Theophilus and Luke. Like Lydia and Paul. Like the ancient Jews who worked toward the building of the Temple. The immeasurable value of the kingdom of God is that He leads us to help each other fulfil His call. We have the privilege of loving one another by building each other up and spurring each other with our eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ as we wait for His return. In the waiting, we stand unified in His grace with heart-language Bible translation where we add our little bit of hard work, and we continue to believe that It Is Possible! Please join us next month as our blog focus will be on what it takes to be a translator.