Thursday, December 30, 2010

Purposeful, Ordered Design

How Men and Women Reflect Godly Character in the Church

A couple of months ago Newsweek ran a series of stories on the ‘new macho.’  I didn’t realize that the old macho was old.  Maybe that means I’m getting old, since I never caught up with old macho.  But the feature attempted to highlight the changing attitudes towards what is and is not culturally acceptable about being manly.  Regardless of where current culture is, there has always been a divine plan for masculinity and femininity.

Although it’s been quite a bit of time since I’ve been able to get back to 1 Timothy, today we continue with chapter 2.  After speaking about gospel-advancing prayer, Paul’s attention turns to God’s purposeful, ordered design for church gatherings, and particularly about men and women in the life of the church.  Verse 8 acts as the pivot point: it concludes the prior thought, and at the same time segues to the next point.

Many would agree that this specific text of Scripture is one of the more difficult passages of the Bible to interpret.  In light of that, we need to remember a few important presuppositions from a historical-grammatical perspective of the interpretation of Scripture.

  1. The goal from this perspective is to understand the author’s original intent—what he meant by what he wrote, and what he intended the original audience to understand.
  2. More difficult, obscure texts of Scripture should be interpreted in light of easier, clear texts of Scripture.
  3. When a Scripture writer addresses a specific issue, or instructs a specific point, to a specific audience, he never says anything he wouldn’t more generally say to any other audience, nor violate other Scriptures in the process.
  4. Scripture cannot mean (now) what it never meant.

There are of course other historical-grammatical principles for interpretation, but these are key to understanding this text.  Here is the next section, on purposeful, ordered design in the church:

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; (9) likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, (10) but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. (11) Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. (12) I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. (13) For Adam was formed first, then Eve; (14) and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (15) Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2.8-15, ESV)

How can men and women particularly reflect God’s character through the church?

1. By design, Christ followers are to focus on the internal rather than the external. (1 Timothy 2.8-10)

Students of the Word know this is not a newly introduced concept.  After all, we know that “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16.7, ESV).  We hear Jesus talking about not being like the Pharisees who are “like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23.27, ESV).  Paul hits on the same idea.

He starts with the guys.  Instead of being angry, contentious men, these men were encouraged to be known for their faithful prayers that flowed out of a pure heart (see v. 8).

Coming just after the section of primary importance concerning gospel-advancing prayer, Paul wraps up that idea by saying that men should not focus on what they can gain by exerting contentious authority.  Instead they must humble themselves in prayer.  Perhaps this confronted a local problem in these Ephesian churches, but ultimately it points to something basic in male human nature to be competitive.  But sinful nature can take it to being combative or obnoxiously macho.  Men want to prove themselves to other men, and women.  Against that notion, Paul submits the idea that it would be positively countercultural if men were more concerned with humbling themselves before men and women in prayer for their church, community, and society.

The comment about lifting holy hands refers less to any command about lifting them, I believe, than that hands that are lifted must be holy, which supports the idea that the larger point is in regard to humble prayers.

He then speaks to the ladies.  Instead of being vain, ostentatious women, these women were encouraged to be known for their good deeds that flowed out of a Godward pursuit (see vv. 9-10).

In much the same way as men, women can be concerned with appearance more than what’s going on inside.  This Scripture does not say that women shouldn’t care about appearance, nor that they should be homely at church (as some have wrongly argued that it does!).  That misses the point.  Perhaps Paul was confronting their need to look different from the world, but that’s ultimately not his central point.  When a woman is more concerned about her outward appearance than her internal character, she has missed the mark, just like the men in verse 8.  In fact, Peter says essentially the same thing in 1 Peter 3.3-4.

Ultimately, what he is promoting is that, by design, men and women are to focus on the internal, rather than the external.

2. By design, church leaders are to follow the pattern of creation rather than the culture. (vv. 11-14)

Perhaps it’s easier to begin by stating what this text does not mean.  It does not mean women at worship gatherings must be in complete silence—several examples in Scripture make that apparent.  It does not mean merely that men can speak as opposed to women.  I believe it directs ladies to participate at the worship gatherings in a quiet, respectful manner, reflecting the same design as in the home.

There are some things that God has set in order that we will learn from, even when we don’t realize we’re learning from them.  It’s been a mystery but revealed in Christ that ultimately women and men are equal in Christ and yet God calls us to differing roles of leadership and submission.  Marriage is intended to reflect that (see Ephesians 5.15-33, esp. v. 32).  Although many marriages fail to do this, when it works the way God has designed, the pattern changes from an authoritarian man who wants to assert authority into a beautiful servant leadership that desires to demonstrate love toward one’s wife, encouraging her to be more like Christ.  It’s a radically different outlook than most of the world seems to understand.

Paul appeals to the order of creation to explain a larger principle that God wants us to get.  When it’s done well, male leadership in the church is simply an extension of what’s taking place in the home.

I believe that the reasoning behind verses 13 and 14 is to show that when Adam abdicated his leadership for what looked nice, he failed to protect his bride and she sinned.  Eve focused on the external, and Adam failed to lead.

Cultural norms will shift.  Paul is saying that church leaders are to follow the pattern of creation rather than the culture.

3. By design, Christian homes are to become a place of honor rather than insignificance. (v. 15)

This is widely regarded as one of the more difficult verses in all of Scripture to interpret, but the context of purposeful, ordered design in the practices of the church sheds ample light on its meaning.

Our culture, then as now, minimizes the value of what takes place in the home.  The role God gives homemakers in raising their children to know God’s grace...is incalculable.

“Saved” in this verse cannot mean justification, for obvious reasons, since the Bible is clear that salvation is not from works.  It could have the meaning, to rescue, or to preserve.  The author says that the process of raising children (“childbearing”) is highly valued before God, and therefore a woman’s value is elevated, not diminished.  Culture feeds a lie that being in the home is not important.  However, the most important thing that a woman (or man) can do is to raise a child to know God.

In the context, and the larger point that Paul is making, it seems most appropriate to understand that in v. 15 he is specifically speaking to women who may feel the pressure of the culture to usurp a leadership role at church or home (as a means of gaining significance), and challenging them to see the exceptional value God places on the management of the home, in raising the next generation of godly leaders.  Christian homes are to be a place of honor rather than insignificance.

Regardless of whatever position one takes on this text of Scripture, it is clear that there is a purpose and design behind the home and the church, and God is revealing something beautiful about His character in the process.

[This is part of a larger series on 1 Timothy called The Community of Truth.]

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas All the Time

And Some Year-end Transitions

Somehow it never ceases to amaze me how early in the year businesses start to decorate with Christmas items.  I'm not opposed to starting to celebrate the season early—I love it!  But late October?  When it's still warm outside, at least in our climate, I have trouble getting into the mood.

The mood I'm talking about is of course those cozy, fuzzy feelings we like to have, or hope to have, during that special annual season from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  The problem is that we tend to forget we are to celebrate Christ's first advent, His first coming, every day.  My prayer for my immediate and extended family is that we all would appreciate and celebrate the sweet feeling of living in the gospel of Jesus every morning.

Speaking of extended family, my family is quite excited to soon call Fellowship Church in Burlington, North Carolina our "family."  As January approaches, we are working through all that it takes to transition our lives, so that we may plant them there.  We look forward to getting to know you, Fellowship!

But this week, it’s certainly cold enough.  Merry Christmas everyone!  Celebrate Jesus' first advent every day!  Every day may not be a holiday, but with Jesus, it is a holy day.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gospel-Advancing Prayer

It is impossible to think about how to be the church and do church life without also considering our need to pray.  Just a quick glance at the letters of the Apostle Paul clearly indicates our need to rely on and express dependence on God for everything.  So we pray.  This idea is no less true in the letter of 1 Timothy.  In fact, he gives it even more prominence here.

As we have seen thus far in our 1 Timothy series, Paul has been clear that he is deeply concerned about the advance of the gospel, and he talks about protecting, promoting, proclaiming, and preserving the gospel.  So what is the first thing he urges Timothy and the church at Ephesus to do to keep the gospel progressing?  He urges them to pray.  Here:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, (2) for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  (3) This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, (4) who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  (5) For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, (6) who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.  (7) For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.  (8) I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling. (1 Timothy 2.1-8, ESV)

We cannot gather together as Christians in a self-absorbed way without stopping the progress of the gospel dead in its tracks—and the way to avoid being self-absorbed is to humbly pray.  What are some specific ways we can advance the glory of God and His gospel in our worship gatherings?  It begins with gospel-advancing prayer.

1. We advance the gospel by valuing the priority of our prayer. (1 Timothy 2.1-4)

Immediately after challenging Timothy to fight the good fight of faith, he urges him and the Christian brothers and sisters there to pray.  He shows how the two ideas are connected by starting with “then” or “therefore,” which means that this urging towards prayer flows from the need to get the gospel out to everyone.  We see how he exhorts them to value prayer as a priority in a couple of ways.  First, among all the topics he could launch into, he starts with prayer, and even says, I urge you “first of all” (v. 1).  Even if he did not mean to specifically imply valuing prayer by that term, in which case it could be understood as, “of first priority,” the mere fact that he comes to that topic first shows that he is valuing prayer in making it a priority in the order of topics in his letter.

We also see the way he urges them to value prayer as a priority in the way he describes it.  He says that this kind of prayer is good and acceptable before God (v. 3), since it focuses the church on the mission before them: that of advancing the good news of Jesus.  As a result of making it a priority, they would see their own attitudes change and could see their cultural circumstances become potentially peaceable and more conducive to the gospel (v. 2), and many more might be saved (v. 4).  Clearly, we are to value the priority of prayer.

2. We advance the gospel by remembering the purpose of our prayer. (vv. 5-7)

Paul then reminds them why they are to pray, and in the process essentially lays out the gospel in one sentence: We needed a mediator between us and God, and only one Person could fill that role, the one who is fully God and fully man, Jesus (v. 5).  It is because of His sacrifice in our place that we can have life (v. 6).  And Paul was convinced that his role was to proclaim that gracious gospel to the nations (v. 7).

We know that Paul is still on the topic of prayer since he will again mention prayer specifically in verse 8.  So here in the middle (between verses 1 and 8) he clarifies for his first century readers, and us, that the reason we pray in this way is ultimately to be involved in the progress of the gospel.  That may not be the purpose behind every instance of prayer, but in this context it is exactly what Paul was saying.  We should remember the purpose of our prayer.

3. We advance the gospel by maintaining the purity of our prayer. (v. 8)

Some Bible translations group verse 8 with what follows after it, and some place it with what came before.  I think both are somewhat correct, since it concludes the prior thought, and then acts as a transition sentence into the next.  It seems obvious, however, that at the very least he is concluding these thoughts on prayer, since he explicitly mentions prayer in verses 1 and 8, like bookends around his thoughts.

That being the case, in verse 8 I think Paul is challenging specifically the men to step it up and lead in gospel-advancing prayer.  He will address women in a moment, but for now his attention is on the men, who he speaks to as if they were failing in their leadership in prayer.  Paul uses the term “in every place” elsewhere to refer to public worship, and that seems to be consistent here.  If so, he is calling out the men who were either failing to pray, or were failing to pray with purity in their motives.  He specifically mentions praying with “holy” hands.  The issue is holiness, not whether you lift your hands in prayer.  How do we know that?  Because he says as much in the next phrase: Pray with “holy hands without anger or quarreling.”  In other words, pray in a holy way.  We must maintain clean hands, so to speak, and pure hearts, in our prayer.

After introducing the gospel, of all of the specific topics Paul could have addressed in the church first, he begins with gospel-advancing prayer that is prioritized, purposeful, and pure.  Maybe we should too.

[This is part of a larger series on 1 Timothy called The Community of Truth.]

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Intense Desire for Ministry

We can never, of course, repay God for His goodness to us through the gospel.  Nor should we try.  But that doesn’t mean that we don’t sense a deep desire to serve and honor Him.

That desire is what the Apostle Paul was showing as he continued his first letter to Timothy.  After describing the command he told Timothy to issue concerning the integrity, goal, grace, and progress of the gospel, Paul is overwhelmed as he recalls all that God has done in his life.  So before he can continue, he pauses to praise God.  In what some biblical commentators (incorrectly) call a tangent, Paul actually illustrates his point about the work of the gospel by remembering the power of God though the gospel in his own life.

Although Paul knows he can never and should never try to pay off any perceived debt regarding is salvation, he realizes that he owes God his life, and that he is “under obligation” as he puts it, to live in a Christlike way and to serve Christ by serving others.  Listen to how he understands that idea of being a debtor:

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.  So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh, [but to live according to the Spirit]…. (Romans 8.11-12, NASB, emphasis added)

I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.  So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. (Romans 1.14-15, NASB, emphasis added)

He was so driven and enthused and impassioned because he knew the depth of his sin, and yet he knew the power of the gospel of Christ to save him and set him on a new path of life, worship, and service (ministry).  This is no tangent or rhetorical digression from his topic on the gospel (in chapter 1).  On the contrary, his own life is his illustration, because Paul’s own amazing transformation is the example he knows best!  First, here is the next text from 1 Timothy, and then we’ll make some observations.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service,  (13) even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor.  Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief;  (14) and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.  (15) It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.  (16) Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.  (17) Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1.12-17, NASB)

Indeed, we serve God out of delight, not duty.  And yet, the overwhelming thought of His grace compels us to desire to give our lives to Him in return.  What do I do with this desire?

1. I respond to Him with my life as an offering of thanksgiving and praise. (1 Timothy 1.12, 17)

Notice that Paul bookends this great interjection with praise: he starts by saying he thanks Christ Jesus (v. 12), and then ends it with a brief Christ hymn (v. 17).  Some believe that verse may actually have been a recognizable hymn to these early believers.  Regardless, Paul remembers the transformation of his life, and cannot help but let that memory overflow in an offering of praise and thanksgiving.  He desires to praise God in words and song, but he also proves his praise by the demonstration of his life.  We must come to the point where we realize our entire lives are an offering back to God.  Paul said as much to the Corinthian church:

For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4.15, NASB)

When we offer ourselves up to serve others for His glory, He gets the thanksgiving.  You are an offering of praise.

2. I respond to Him with my life as a worker with a purpose. (vv. 12-14)

Simply put, Paul knew he was on a mission.  He had a task, a purpose for which he was on earth.  And when the thought of God’s saving transformation overwhelmed him, he shared the clarity and certainty of that purpose with his readers.  Despite the fact that he had formerly engaged in a terrible lifestyle (v. 13), God had shown mercy and considered him faithful, placing him into ministry, or service (v. 12).  Paul never got over this, and neither should we.  He was clear on his calling:

For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2.7, NASB)

…for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. (2 Timothy 1.11, NASB)

Whether or not you are an apostle like Paul (you’re not) or a pastoral staff member is irrelevant: God has transformed you out of your former lifestyle or kept you from a further rebellious lifestyle in order that you might serve Him, and serve others for His sake.  You are a worker with a purpose.

3. I respond to Him with my life as an example for nonbelievers. (vv. 15-16)

Finally Paul notes that his transformed life has been an example for those who have not yet trusted in Christ through the gospel for their salvation.  He calls himself the worst kind of sinner—in his own words one who blasphemes (v. 13) Christ and his work.  Christ took that kind of man and made a prime example out of him, to show that no one, nor any sin, is out of the reach of God’s mercy and grace.  He uses all kinds of difficult situations as examples we can learn from:

Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.  …Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. (1 Corinthians 10.6, 10.11, NASB)

So why not learn from a key example like Paul, and be used by God to reach someone else?  You are an example for others.

Some folks shy away from talking about “owing” anything back to God, for fear that others might be confused in wrongly thinking that salvation is in part due to our works.  While we must never diminish the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, we must also not forget, in the words of Paul, that we are under obligation.  To help me remember, I have used the first letter of the points above as an acronym.  As an…

Offering of thanksgiving and praise, and a
Worker with a purpose, and an
Example for nonbelievers

…I remember that I OWE Him my life.

[This is part of a larger series on 1 Timothy called The Community of Truth.]

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Finding God’s Will Is Not As Hard As We Think

[The following longer article is a revised, expanded version of two earlier posts here and here from nearly three years ago.]

Growing up I heard several well-intentioned preachers describe being in the center of God’s will.  Taking a cue from one interpretation of Romans 12.2, which mentions the “good and pleasing and perfect” will of God, these teachers were inferring from that text that there is a specific dot in the middle of life where the perfect will of God resides, and that we should try to stay in the dot, the center of God’s will.  Because of that interpretation, I have seen numerous attempts to help explain God’s will in terms of concentric circles, a funnel, and lots of other interesting analogies.

Concentric circles At best these depictions of God’s will seemed a little humorous (can you imagine God shifting your personal cosmic funnel to make sure you get back down to the dot, the center?).  At worst, they appeared to describe God as essentially bending His will or not really being in control after all.  When properly understood, this type of description can be useful, but I think it lends itself to too much misunderstanding about God.

Others take a different approach that is also helpful, but not as much as it could be.  They define God’s will in various categories, or at least into differing ways in which we view God’s will.  They speak of God’s sovereign will, His moral will, and His personal will (again in concentric circles).  These somewhat align with the “good and pleasing and perfect” will of God.  Others describe the same basic ideas as God’s will of decree (sovereign), His will of desire (moral, found in commands in Scripture), and His will of direction (personal plan for me).

Please don’t misunderstand me: When properly understood, we absolutely must understand that there are differing facets in what we can comprehend about God’s will.  Each of the approaches above has value.  But let’s be honest.  Most of us simply want to ask God a question and have Him answer it.  Most of us are still focused on the personal, directional will of God—for me!

I realize that not making a decision “until I’ve heard from God” or “when I have a peace about it” sounds very spiritual, and it’s certainly well-intended.  However, more often than not we are paralyzed by indecision in our failure to use God-given wisdom.

There has to be a better way to understand God’s will, I thought.  Something that acknowledges His divine sovereignty and my human responsibility.  Something that allows me the opportunity to go ahead and make a decision and run with it.

__________

This next idea is not new with me, and I’m so thankful that some Bible teachers pointed me in this direction a long time ago.  It involves the question of doing God’s will versus finding God’s will.  It is entirely possible that the reason we cannot hear God’s voice in an unclear direction is because we are not following Him in His clear direction.

God has told us several times in Scripture what His will for us is.  Theologians call this God’s will of desire, or His moral will for us.  Here are five of the specific things that Scripture tells us is God's "will" (in Greek, θέλημα) for us.

1. It is God’s will that all who trust in Christ Jesus will have eternal life.

For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day (John 6.40, NASB, emphasis added).

2. It is God’s will that all believers be consumed with His Spirit.

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.  So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit… (Ephesians 5.15-18, NASB, emphasis added).

3. It is God’s will that all believers be progressing in holiness.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.  For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4.3-7, NASB, emphasis added).

4. It is God’s will that all believers be constantly joyful, prayerful, and thankful.

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18, NASB, emphasis added).

5. It is God’s will that all believers be obedient for the sake of nonbelievers.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men (1 Peter 2.13-15, NASB, emphasis added).

My wording on point #5 is not meant to imply that our obedience isn't for the glory of God, or secondarily for our benefit in growth, or anything else for that matter.  Peter simply reminds us that our obedience in submission validates the gospel in our lives, to the degree that others notice and cannot deny the power of God at work in us—the power of a changed life.

This idea of doing God’s known will, as opposed to chasing after a mysterious plan from God, runs throughout the Bible.  Here is a partial list of New Testament verses that speak clearly of doing God's will.  Each text appears to assume believers should already know God's will in these areas in order to do it.

  • Matthew 7.21
  • Matthew 12.50
  • Mark 3.35
  • Luke 12.47
  • John 4.34
  • John 9.31
  • Acts 13.22
  • Acts 21.14
  • Ephesians 6.6
  • Hebrews 10.36
  • Hebrews 13.21
  • 1 John 2.17

Finding God’s will is not as hard as we think—it’s in the Bible.  So, how are you doing?  Are you fulfilling what you know is God's will for you?  None of us can say that we are always doing God's will—all the time, in every area listed above.  But are you pursuing these things?  Are you maturing in them?  Are you making progress?

So often, we don't or cannot hear God's voice on the unknown, specific, personal areas, because we are not attempting by His Spirit to do His will in the known, general, universal areas.

__________

We have looked at the question of doing God’s will versus finding God’s will, but what about those folks who are truly, as best they understand, following God’s known, stated will?  That brings us to the second question, regarding divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

As long as you are doing God’s known will—what He has told us in the Bible, and the above list of five areas is a good place to start—then there is nothing wrong with pursuing what you believe to be God’s plan for you in how He has designed you.  So what should we do with basic life decisions such as: Can I leave this job?  Do I move to that area?  Should I ask out or go out with this person?  Can I make this purchase?  And on and on?

It is interesting to me that very few New Testament texts discuss God’s will regarding a personal decision—at least in the context in which we think of it (job, move, dating, etc.).  Big clue: Sometimes the silence of Scripture—the absence of something from Scripture—is teaching us something by implication.  Although there are many more texts regarding God’s will that speak of doing God’s will instead of finding it, when it comes to using the term, will, in the sense of a personal decision, we see two uses in Romans that I think are particularly helpful. The first is in the first chapter.

For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you (Romans 1.9-10, NASB, emphasis added).

Here we have the missionary apostle, Paul, who is trying to reach more people with the good news of Jesus.  He wants to make it to Rome, but has not found a way within God’s will to do it yet.  He sure has tried, but the proverbial doors have been closed.  Notice what it says in the sentence above.  He hopes to “succeed” “at last” by the will of God.  In other words, he has tried before, and failed, so to speak, because it was not—or perhaps not yet—God’s will.  It was not a failure to keep trying to make it to Rome for the gospel's sake; it simply wasn't the right time.  I love how the NKJV translates this verse (10).  Paul says he is “making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you” (emphasis added).  That translation doesn’t distort the Greek text at all.  I believe that is what Paul is essentially saying: “I’ve been trying to go there, but haven’t yet found a way within God’s will to go.  God has been changing the path every time I’ve tried.”  Notice the dual role of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.  Scripture teaches that they go hand in hand.

The second clarification for us comes in Romans 15.

For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while—but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. …Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company (Romans 15.22-25, 30-32, NASB, emphasis added).

Again, we see Paul saying that he has been prevented from going to Rome to see them.  And although it may have appeared to be earthly forces that kept him from going, the implication seems to be that God has caused or allowed the delay for reasons unknown to Paul at the time (see also Acts 16.6-7, and Acts 19.21).  Paul kept making plans, believing himself to be in step with God’s Spirit (i.e. in part, the five clear areas of God’s will that we listed above), and moving forward with his plans to do what he thought was best according to how God designed him.  He knew that if it did not turn out to be “God’s plan,” then it would not ultimately happen—or not happen in the same way Paul intended.

Or think of it another way.  Perhaps he could (humanly speaking) recklessly “force” something to happen, which might open up God’s clear disapproval and discipline.  Sometimes God causes or allows us to move forward with plans, knowing that we will fail and learn from the failure.  Everything is a teachable moment for us.

So, we see the apostle Paul walking by the Spirit of God, all the while making plans and decisions based on God’s design for him.  We don’t see him stressing over the fact that he doesn’t know God’s exact, perfect will, and therefore paralyzed from making the next decision or taking the next step.  He knows God will change the plans if needed (as He certainly did with Paul—he eventually made it to Rome, but not at all in the manner in which he envisioned in his letter to the Romans).  The Bible calls that wisdom.  Wisdom for life’s daily decisions.

Making wise decisions and moving on with our lives.  …Not a bad pattern to follow.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Loving Command – Miniseries Archive

We began this series on the biblical letter known as 1 Timothy with a miniseries called A Loving Command.  Paul starts off his letter to Timothy with a loving command for the church there.  The command?  Don’t teach strange doctrines.  Instead, they and we along with them, are to protect the integrity of the gospel, promote the goal of the gospel, proclaim the grace of the gospel, and preserve the progress of the gospel of Christ.  It’s for the glory of God, and it’s for our good.  Here are links to the miniseries.

  1. A Loving Command (Introduction)
  2. Protecting the Integrity of the Gospel (1 Tim 1.3-4)
  3. Promoting the Goal of the Gospel (1 Tim 1.5-7)
  4. Proclaiming the Grace of the Gospel (1 Tim 1.8-11)
  5. Preserving the Progress of the Gospel (1 Tim 1.18-20)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Preserving the Progress of the Gospel

My two-year-old son last week lined up all of his cars end to end, and announced to his mommy and daddy that he had made a car train.  He then proceeded with a people train and a book train.  Car train  The book train was especially interesting, because after constructing it he realized that it would serve as a great track.  He placed one of his motorized toy trains on the “book train”—the books were laid flat—and tried to make his toy train go down the new track.  The problem was that every other book was thicker than the ones next to it, so after every couple of books he had to assist his motorized train in going forward.  It was a ton of extra work, but he didn’t care as long as his train was making forward progress.

His quirky and fun resolve made me think.  Seriously, I wish I had as much resolve for the forward progress of the gospel and the glory of God!  He was so diligent, but I get lazy.  That’s the concern that Paul had for Timothy in writing the letter we call 1 Timothy.  He wanted to ensure, as much as possible, that Timothy (and we) preserve the progress of the gospel.

At this point in the series we have seen that, like Timothy so long ago:

1. We are to protect the integrity of the gospel of Christ.
    (1 Timothy 1.3-4)

2. We are to promote the goal of the gospel of Christ.
    (1 Timothy 1.5-7)

3. We are to proclaim the grace of the gospel of Christ.
    (1 Timothy 1.8-11)

4. We are to preserve the progress of the gospel of Christ.
     (1 Timothy 1.18-20)

You’ll notice that we skipped verses 12-17 for the moment.  That’s because in this miniseries of posts we’re looking at the command that Paul instructed Timothy to place before the Ephesian church.  The folks in Ephesus, certain teachers in particular, were commanded not to teach strange and false doctrines (v. 3).  The same Greek word for command is used in verses 3 and 5, and then we see it again in verse 18.  Some folks write off the instance in verse 18 as Paul moving on to another idea and simply using the word again in a different sense.  I don’t think so.  I think he’s finishing the thought he has been explaining and illustrating since verse 3.  We talked a little about that loving command in the intro post.

So here Paul concludes that thought, beginning in verse 18:

This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.  Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1.18-20, NASB).

Paul is carefully reminding Timothy that it will cost him to keep the glorious gospel (v. 11) advancing.  To do so, he must maintain a faithful heart and a good conscience (v. 19).  At times, he must contend (fight) for the faith (v. 18).  At times, he must exercise gracious and tough discipline on those who have strayed from the faith (v. 20).  All of these things will be difficult at times, but each of them is necessary to preserve the forward progress of the gospel of love and grace.

It even took Paul to prison, but that didn’t stop the gospel from advancing—it actually aided its progress:

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear (Philippians 1.12-14, NASB).

What a life to be lived: one in passionate pursuit of the glory of God to the degree that personal temporary (earthly) sacrifice is a norm, in order that others may hear and know of the glorious gospel!  Because of what God has done for me in giving me a future and hope, I desire to do all that I can to preserve the progress of that good news, and to model it and share it with those who don’t yet have the hope that Jesus provides.

So Paul starts off his letter to Timothy with a loving command for the church there.  The command?  Don’t teach strange doctrines.  Instead, they and we along with them, are to protect the integrity, promote the goal, proclaim the grace, and preserve the progress of the gospel of Christ.  It’s for the glory of God, and it’s for our good.

[This is part 5 of 5 in a miniseries titled, A Loving Command.  The larger series on 1 Timothy is called The Community of Truth.]

Friday, August 13, 2010

Proclaiming the Grace of the Gospel

Be honest: How many of you, when you hear the words, law and Bible, think of Charlton Heston as Moses holding two very large stone tablets?  Of course, the tablets need to have very nicely rounded edges at the top, and be straight across the bottom, as do almost all depictions of the Ten Commandments.  If you don’t believe me, just search Google Images for representations of the Ten Commandments.

Charlton Heston Ten Commandments Confusing the intent of biblical law has been a perennial problem.  Perhaps among the greatest temptations in handling the Scriptures is to paint biblical law as something other than what it is, and its intended effect, especially when it comes to that which is known as Mosaic Law found in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible were one five-part book, sometimes referred to as the Book of the Law).  There are multiple ways to misuse biblical law, and I don’t intend to exhaust all of them here.  I’ll only mention two.

The first is to say that following the various laws of the Bible is necessary for salvation.  However, the biblical gospel makes clear that, left to ourselves, we are completely incapable of fulfilling the law, and thus could never be saved if that were the requirement.  Another temptation is to go to the other end of the spectrum and claim that, since following the law doesn’t provide salvation, the law must be bad.  To the contrary, the Scriptures clearly speak to the goodness of the law, and its intended effect.  Note what Paul says about the intent and purpose of the law:

So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3.24, ESV).

So the gospel enters to point us to faith in Christ, not law.  To miss this point is to miss the gospel—which is all about grace.  This idea is all throughout the Bible, and we see it again here in 1 Timothy with regard to our responsibility as believers: we are to proclaim the gospel as grace.  Here is what we have seen thus far:

1. We are to protect the integrity of the gospel of Christ.
    (1 Timothy 1.3-4).

2. We are to promote the goal of the gospel of Christ.
    (1 Timothy 1.5-7)

3. We are to proclaim the grace of the gospel of Christ.
     (1 Timothy 1.8-11)

In these next verses we see that if we miss the grace of the gospel, there is no gospel at all.  It may be tempting to try to apply laws to earn favor with God, but that was not God’s design.  The law is good because it points us to our need of One who can actually fulfill the law.  That is Paul’s point in this next section:

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted (1 Timothy 1.8-11, ESV).

To say, as Paul does above, that the law was not laid down or given for the just, is to say that those who assume they are righteous through following the law will never actually be righteous through the law.  They are self-righteous, in their own minds.  Actually, the law is in place for sinners (all of us apart from Christ) to see that we are sinners and need a Savior in accordance, as he says above, “with the glorious gospel.”

Notice what Paul is specifically doing in his sin examples: he is purposely drawing a parallel to the Ten Commandments, to show that not even trying to follow the Ten Commandments can remove one’s need for the gospel of Jesus.  Note the general correlation of the verses above to the Ten Commandments, listed in Exodus.  Here’s the latter portion:

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor
(Exodus 20.12-17, NASB).

Obeying laws can never remove sin.  That truth is all over the Bible.  So part of our job as believers is to proclaim the gospel for what it is: that Jesus saves us by grace through faith in Him, in His accomplished work on our behalf.

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy… (Titus 3.4-5, NASB).

[This is part 4 of 5 in a miniseries titled, A Loving Command.  The larger series on 1 Timothy is called The Community of Truth.]

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Clarity Gain of Pain

Several weeks ago, from about mid-June through parts of July, I experienced some of the worst physical pain I have ever felt.  During those days, I began a post to remind myself and share with you some things I was learning through that difficult time.  However, the pain was so intense that I began this post in late June and did not return to it.  Until now.

Here is a portion of what I wrote.  I say a portion because the other parts are unintelligible (just kidding):

Although the last three days have shown slight improvement, today marks two weeks of pain in my left upper back due to a pinched nerve.  As I write, I am in pain.  It has been near constant, gnawing, sometimes piercing, and at intervals excruciating, pain.  I can certainly imagine worse pain, but don’t desire to experience it.

In order to relieve some of the pain, I have tried every way I can imagine to reposition my body.  I have laid down.  I have sat as tall and straight as I can.  I have slumped.  I have paced the halls at the office and at home.  I have stretched and stretched.  Almost no relief.  I have tried acetaminophen and ibuprofen, and then tried alternating the two.  Nothing.

With this type of discomfort, it is phenomenal how much of one’s life it takes over.  My wife can tell you that there have been long stretches of these days when I have been basically helpless—and useless!  It has even placed a strain on our interaction.  For most of the day, I have not been able to mentally concentrate, and very little physical activity has taken place as well.  Several nights I have paced the floor at 1 or 2am trying to reposition my neck and back to ease the pinched nerve, before falling over into our guest bed and crying in pain.  I mean tears.  I had prayed about it, but not “cried out” to God.  In these instances, I quite literally cried out to Him....

Where was I going with the above post?  I wanted to remind myself, during the few daily moments when I could focus my attention, that God was teaching me about my dependence on Him.  Continually on my mind were all the folks around us who have chronic pain.  God was giving me a reminder, once I (hopefully) exited on the other side of those tough days, that I could do nothing unless God granted it.

It was during those few moments when I wasn’t focused on the pain that I was able to regain an acute clarity of all the things I needed and wanted to accomplish just as soon as the pain was over.

And so I developed plans, in my head, of goals and tasks that I needed to complete if and when I regained the ability to do them.  The pain was acute and necessary to remind me just how miserable it felt to be personally incapable—apart from ability that God graciously provides.  Eventually a team of chiropractors was able to help fix me.  But the whole episode gave me perhaps the best clarity I have discerned in several years regarding what matters most, and that I cannot squander any of the days of my life and the opportunities they offer—all of which are precious gifts from our Creator.

So teach us to number our days
That we may gain a heart of wisdom
(Psalm 90.12, NKJV).

There is of course an old, frustrating cliché that says, “No pain, no gain.”  It’s annoying primarily because it’s true.  And I pray I don’t forget it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Promoting the Goal of the Gospel

I would make a terrible salesman.

It’s just not in me.  Several dear friends are involved in sales and understand how to do it in a winsome manner that benefits both buyer and seller.  But I would feel like I might offend someone and never make a sale.

salesmanUnlike the friends I described, most of us can probably remember a time when an acquaintance or even a stranger came to us saying they wanted to share something with us, and it turned out to be a sales pitch.  Or even if it’s not a sell they’re pushing, what they needed to discuss in some way ultimately benefitted them, not us.  Many of these episodes are intentionally deceptive, which makes us skeptical of all kinds of things that we are told are for our good.  A pushy and selfish promoter comes off as annoying instead of being winsome and attractive.

Sadly, there are those who try to sell or promote the gospel for the sake of their own dishonest gain.  In this series on 1 Timothy, in the previous post we looked at what it means for us to protect the integrity of the gospel of Christ from outside attacks, and today we see that we are to promote the goal of the gospel, which is love.  Here is the outline so far:

1. We are to protect the integrity of the gospel of Christ.
    (1 Timothy 1.3-4)

2. We are to promote the goal of the gospel of Christ.
     (1 Timothy 1.5-7)

In Paul and Timothy’s day, as in ours, there were people who subverted the gospel for the sake of their own sordid gain.  These people misuse the gospel and its blessings for all sorts of self-centered reasons, among them:

  • Money.  Since the first century A.D., people have been trying to make money off of the gospel (see 2 Corinthians 2.17).
  • Attention.  Some people appear to use the gospel simply in an effort to look good or smart—people whose primary goal is to gain recognition, rather than advancing the cause of Christ (see Acts 8.9-13, 18-21).
  • Power.  Others may enjoy the semblance of authority that being a so-called teacher of the gospel gives them, instead of looking out for the interests of those who desperately need the grace of Christ (see 1 Peter 5.3).
  • Sin.  None of the above—neither money, nor attention, nor power—are sins in themselves, but when improperly obtained or expended, can lead to sin.  In this way, some fall into corrupting the gospel simply because doing so will benefit their sinful lifestyle.  If they can redefine the gospel, they can reinterpret Scripture, and thus reinvent God in their own image (see Romans 5.20—6.4; Titus 1.10-11).

The goal of the command not to teach false doctrines (1 Timothy 1.3) is the same essential goal of the glorious gospel (v. 11).  The section that’s in the middle ties together these ideas, and clarifies the goal of the message:

But the goal of our instruction [or, command; see v. 3] is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.  For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions (1 Timothy 1.5-7, NASB).

As we see above, the goal of the command not to teach strange doctrines was ultimately love: love from a pure heart, love from a good conscience, love from a sincere faith (v. 5).  Some folks may want to be teachers of God’s word for their own benefit, and not for the purpose or goal that God gives us.  These people often don’t even know what they’re talking about, or how to live it, and their talk is meaningless (vv. 6-7).

To the contrary, Paul’s—and then Timothy’s—command to rid the fake gospel-promoters of false teaching is not so that he could gain money, attention or power.  It was for love.  We said in the previous posts that if a command is motivated by love, issued in love, and if the goal or end of it is love, then such a command is wonderful.  Here Paul could not be more plain.  The goal is love.  Love from God to us, and then through us to those who don’t yet know Him.

God’s love is available to those who call upon Him.  The purpose of the gospel, and of protecting it from false doctrine, is love.  Have you experienced His love through the gospel?

[This is part 3 of 5 in a miniseries titled, A Loving Command.  The larger series on 1 Timothy is called The Community of Truth.]

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Protecting the Integrity of the Gospel

On my way home from work yesterday, I heard NPR reporter Richard Harris comment to Melissa Block that there were complications in the “top kill” procedure being employed by BP in order to stop the current massive flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  This process involves filling a mixture of a dense mud-like substance into the rig’s blowout preventer (the part that didn’t prevent the blowout) in hopes of stifling the flow of crude oil.  Harris said that different types of top kills had been successful in the past, but some had not—and that there were risks.  It is possible that if they place too much weight inside the preventer or the well at the wrong pressure, they could actually cause the metal of the well pipe to sheer, thus allowing pressurized oil to escape through the pipe and then through the sea floor—as if the current disaster were not enough.  So they are quite concerned with protecting the integrity of the well wall.

In our last post, we introduced the idea that Paul was communicating to Timothy the preciousness of the gospel by urging him to command certain people not to pervert the gospel, nor to take the gospel lightly, but to uphold it.  The idea of issuing a command may sound harsh, but we saw earlier that if a command is motivated by love, issued in love, and if the goal or end of it is love, then such a command is wonderful.

I think the entire letter is wrapped around this idea.  Your translation may use a different word than command, like charge or instruct.  But we see the idea of this command three times in chapter 1 (vv. 3, 5, 18), and once again in chapter 6 (v. 13).  Clearly Paul took it seriously, and wanted Timothy to do so as well.

So how do we uphold the gospel?  How do we follow Paul’s urging of Timothy’s command?  It begins by protecting the integrity of the gospel.

1. We are to protect the integrity of the gospel of Christ.
     (1 Timothy 1.3-4)

As Paul is leaving the city of Ephesus, he wants to leave the church there in the capable hands of Timothy.  And his first priority is to protect the integrity of the gospel message he had taught there.  He tells Timothy:

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge [command] certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. (1 Timothy 1.3-4, ESV)

The faithful, godly stewardship he mentions is the message and work of the gospel (we’ll see that later in v. 11).  We should make no mistake: The gospel message has internal integrity.  It was conceived in the mind of God, was effected and placed on display in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and has been shared with consistency and power since the time of Christ.  The concern in protecting the integrity of the gospel does not come from within the message.  No, the concern, like the integrity of the well mentioned above, comes from external pressures that threaten to corrupt its good work.

How?  Throughout the New Testament, one of the gravest concerns the Scripture writers had was of the increasing influence of wrong teaching in their day.  False doctrines had infiltrated the church even in its earliest days.  Paul had warned his church plants to be on guard for the gospel for the sake of the church.  Here is what he tells the Ephesian church leaders on a different occasion:

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.  I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.  Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.  And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.  (Acts 20.28-32, NASB)

Paul was genuinely concerned for their welfare.  He tells them not only to watch out for outsiders, “savage wolves” who would come in to the community of truth in an attempt to corrupt the gospel message, but also for the deceivers among their own people, the wolves in sheep’s clothing who would desire to draw people away with a false gospel.

Listen to the way Peter says it:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.  Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.  (2 Peter 2.1-3, NASB)

Harsh words, but the toughness comes from a man who been commanded by Jesus to “feed my sheep.”  The many biblical commands surrounding the protection of the integrity of the gospel message cannot be taken lightly.  They are loving, because eternal life and death are at stake.

[This is part 2 of 5 in a miniseries titled, A Loving Command.  The larger series on 1 Timothy is called The Community of Truth.]

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Loving Command

As a little boy, I must have rejected authority and needed reminding a lot.  I remember one particular story that my mom would tell me over and over again.  It was an apparently true tale about an overseas church leader who lived near a rainforest region.  One evening he saw his son standing under a tree and instantly yelled to his son to lay down.  The son immediately obeyed, without understanding, questioning or complaining.  Then the father called out to the son to get up on his hands and knees, and to begin crawling forward.  Immediately the son responded.  After the boy had crawled a few feet, the father yelled that he should stand up and start running towards him.  And yet again, the son immediately followed his dad’s commands, running until he reached where his father was.  Upon arriving there, the dad turned his son around to reveal that a 10-foot Boa constrictor was hanging just above where the son had been standing.

When my mom would repeat this story to me, in my antiauthoritarian spirit, I’m sure I wanted to say, “I don’t get it, Mom.”  But the point of the story is clear, and she and I both knew that.  There are times when a loving, gracious command is issued, for our good, in a way that we may not immediately understand.  And yet the command needs to be followed, since life and death are at stake.

If a command is motivated by love, issued in love, and if the goal or end of it is love, then such a command is wonderful.

And so begins the biblical letter we know as 1 Timothy—with a command.  In trying to understand the dynamic of the circumstances surrounding Paul’s writing of his first letter to Timothy, I always try to think of what it might have been like to be Timothy in this situation.  What would it feel like if I were a young man in a ministry that was given to me just as my mentor was about to go into another region, leaving me behind to finalize the work in that particular area?  I imagine that he waffled between youthful enthusiastic confidence, and immature feeble fear.  No wonder at times Paul tries to shore up Timothy’s confidence in Christ.  Already approximately in his late 20s to early 30s, Timothy was probably very capable, but easily might have questioned his ability to stand in the face of opposition.

It is this context into which Paul leaves him behind in order to carry out a very important task.  He must rid the church of false teaching.  Easy enough (sure).  More on this in a moment.

I love it when a letter of Scripture explicitly spells out the purpose for which it was written.  In the third chapter, Paul specifically states that he is writing so that “you [Timothy] may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3.15).  Although this specific statement is directed to Timothy (the “you” here is singular), much of the letter clearly addresses the entire church and their role in the community and its culture.  In modern terms, it would be like taking out an ad or posting an online public letter that is actually addressed to a private individual.  Paul was shrewd in the best sense.  He knew that he wanted to get some points across to the entire congregation, but he does it by telling Timothy—in an open letter.  So we know Paul’s purpose is to help them uphold and promote the truth.  And what is truth?  The answer to this question points us back to the first part of the letter where Paul refers to the truth as the glorious gospel of the blessed God (1.11).

As Paul left to go into Macedonia, he urged Timothy to stay in Ephesus and command others not to teach false doctrines—untrue versions or perversions of the one, true gospel.  Just like the story above, Paul understood that getting the gospel right, and keeping it right, was a matter of life and death in an eternal sense.

The command is still in force today, far beyond ancient Ephesus.

So how do we uphold the gospel?  How do we follow Paul’s urging of Timothy’s command?  It begins by protecting the integrity of the gospel, which we’ll look at next time.

[This is part 1 of 5 in a miniseries titled, A Loving Command.  The larger series on 1 Timothy is called The Community of Truth.]

The Community of Truth – Series Archive

A Series on 1 Timothy

Below you can find links to a series we will be developing here in the coming days on the biblical book of 1 Timothy. This post will serve as the series permalink, with parts updated as they are posted. We pray this will become a helpful resource in your Godward progress.

  1. A Loving Command (Introduction)
  2. Protecting the Integrity of the Gospel (1 Tim 1.3-4)
  3. Promoting the Goal of the Gospel (1 Tim 1.5-7)
  4. Proclaiming the Grace of the Gospel (1 Tim 1.8-11)
  5. Preserving the Progress of the Gospel (1 Tim 1.18-20)
  6. Intense Desire for Ministry (1 Tim 1.12-17)
  7. Gospel-Advancing Prayer (1 Tim 2.1-8)
  8. Purposeful, Ordered Design (1 Tim 2.8-15)
  9. Proven Character for Leadership (1 Tim 3.1-7)
  10. Respectable Volunteer Leaders (1 Tim 3.8-13)
  11. The Pillar and Pattern of the Truth (1 Tim 3.14-16)
  12. Falling Away from Faith (1 Tim 4.1-5)
  13. Good Servants of Christ Jesus (1 Tim 4.6-16)
  14. Church Life as Family (1 Tim 5.1-16)
  15. Maintaining Trustworthy Elders (1 Tim 5.17-25)
  16. When God Doesn’t Change My Circumstances (1 Tim 6.1-2)
  17. Godliness with Contentment (1 Tim 6.3-10, 17-19)
  18. Guarding the Trust (1 Tim 6.11-16, 20-21)

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Perfect Injustice

Here is another well-produced video, this time with super photography, on the ministry to street children in Kampala, Uganda that I mentioned last time.  Again, the photography by Phillip Glickman is amazing.  Watch.

Support the ministry of Global Hope Resources.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Vote for Global Hope

Embedded below is a short video about a ministry of Global Hope Resources, and the work of Abby Tracy in Kampala, Uganda.  The piece is a submission by Sophia Ruvolo to YouTube’s Project: Report contest.

Just last week, Abby came to our church while in the States to speak at our missions festival, and she also spoke in my LIFE class.  Her heart for street children in Kampala is contagious.  God is continuing to bless this work, and one small way that you can help this ministry gain exposure is by watching the video, and then voting for it on Project: Report.

If your browser works as it should, you can simply mouse over the video while it plays, and at the bottom of the clip (while playing) it will offer the opportunity to vote.  If you are not able to vote this way, go to the Project: Report channel on YouTube, click on Vote, search among those videos for ‘Global Hope,’ and you will find the same video.  There you should certainly be able to vote (to the right).

Enjoy the video.  Praise God.  Pray for Abby and the kids.  And vote.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Restoring the Family

For many who live in our not-my-fault modern world, the concept of brotherly and sisterly confrontation, and eventual church discipline, seems foreign.  With Christians who grew up in a church context that did not practice discipline, or for nonbelievers who may stumble upon a web post like this, the idea may sound harsh or unloving.  To the contrary, it is a loving and gracious component of what Christ intends for His church.  Ultimately, the idea is to restore those church family members who have wandered away.

With this post I do not intend to write an essay, as it would be lengthy and I prefer not to turn off anyone due to post length alone.  So what follows, in outline form, are the some of the Scriptures and process showing why and how we practice what we do, in a loving way, for the glory of God and the good of His people through the almost lost virtue of church discipline.

Restorative confrontation and church discipline has never been an easy task, and therefore many leaders and congregations have abandoned the practice.  However, God has commanded the discipline for clear reasons and has told us how to do it.

1. Biblical reasons for church discipline

A. For the righteousness of the church

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.  Philippians 1.9-11 (NASB)

B. For the restoration of the congregation

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness…  Galatians 6.1 (NASB)

C. For the reputation in the community

- God's name/reputation is at stake

I am writing…so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth [in the larger community].  1 Timothy 3.14-15 (NASB)

I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?  1 Corinthians 6.5-6 (NASB)

2. Biblical model for church discipline

Stage 1: Private confrontation

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  Matthew 18.15 (NASB)

Stage 2: Pastoral and personal contacts

But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  Matthew 18.16 (NASB)

The Lord’s bond-servant [in context, speaking of church leaders] must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.  2 Timothy 2.24-26 (NASB)

Stage 3: Public challenge

- Publicly within a closed church meeting

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector [i.e., as a nonbeliever].  Matthew 18.17 (NASB)

3. Possible results of church discipline

A. The individual repents and is restored with the congregation

Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.  2 Corinthians 2.6-8 (NASB)

B. The individual refuses and is removed from the congregation

…faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.  1 Timothy 1.19-20 (NASB)

Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.  Titus 3.10-11 (NASB)

In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.  1 Corinthians 5.4-5 (NASB)

Even when the offending individual must be excluded from the church, the ultimate purpose for excluding him or her is always for repentance, reconciliation and restoration—for the glory of God and the good of the individual and congregation.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Succession of Leaders

A couple of weeks ago, the bottom fell out from under the late night TV talk show world.  When local NBC affiliates threatened to preempt The Jay Leno Show due to the show’s low ratings damaging their late local newscasts, NBC decided to shift gears.  Although in 2004 they had contracted with Conan O’Brien, then host of Late Night, to take the helm of The Tonight Show in 2009, his Tonight ratings over the last seven months had not been so hot either.  So NBC’s solution was to move Leno’s existing show to a 30-minute format at 11:35 PM and also move O’Brien’s Tonight to 12:05 AM.  Needless to say, nobody was happy.  O’Brien ended up looking like the victim, and Leno appeared to have lost his creds due to greed.

But backtrack five years.  Then, O’Brien appeared greedy by essentially forcing NBC’s hand and getting the Tonight contract, albeit five years down the road, and Leno looked like the victim of an age-driven push-out (as he would turn 59 in 2009).  Despite appearances, in ‘04 or ‘09, make no mistake—both hosts stand to gain a lot of money and continued fame.

At the same time the nation (or those who couldn’t avoid the pop news) was watching NBC’s succession of show hosts, I had begun a series teaching through the New Testament letter known as 1 Timothy.  Which brings me to the contrast I want to paint here.

Paul and Timothy are no Jay and Conan.

Shocking news, I know.  But when we look into the Scriptures to see this example of a godly succession of leaders unfold—as Paul the apostle essentially hands the reins down to his younger protégé Timothy—we can’t help but notice just how different their transition is from that of modern day superstars.  With intentionality, Paul hopes to pass the truth to Timothy, so that Timothy can pour his life into others, so that they can pour theirs into still others.

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.  2 Timothy 2.2 (NASB)

For the moment, I don’t even mean to criticize the entertainment industry.  But church leadership is not the entertainment industry, although sometimes Christian superstars act like it.  However, when we observe the lives and service of Paul and Timothy, we see two servant-leaders who understand how to transition leadership with grace and honor, and that’s a model I can follow.  So how did they do it?

1. For a godly succession, there was an early emphasis on Scripture.

Paul clearly was raised on the Scriptures.  His eventual transformation found substance because he was already well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures, and he would be able to recognize Jesus as the Messiah.  Note how diligent he was in the sacred texts throughout his earlier days:

If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.  But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…  Philippians 3.4-8 (NASB, emphasis added)

And also:

I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today.  Acts 22.3 (NASB, emphasis added)

Timothy was also given great opportunity at a young age to hear the Scriptures.  The letter of 2 Timothy points out that even from childhood his mother Eunice, and grandmother Lois, taught him the Scriptures that would lead to faith in God, ultimately through recognizing and trusting that Jesus is the Messiah.  Note the emphasis on the sacred texts:

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  2 Timothy 3.14-15 (NASB, emphasis added)

2. For a godly succession, there was a genuine faith for salvation.

Paul’s transformation experience is well-documented in Acts, chapter 9.  He was changed, and saved, as he was on his way to arrest Christians.  However, notice that he understands his salvation and calling to have begun far earlier, even from all eternity:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher.  2 Timothy 1.8-11 (NASB, emphasis added)

Although the details of Timothy’s conversion are not directly discussed in the Bible, it is clear enough that he trusted in Christ.  Most likely, Timothy had recognized Jesus as the Messiah when Paul first visited Lystra, Timothy’s hometown (Acts 14).  Having had the foundation of the Scriptures noted above, Timothy had the wisdom that led to his salvation through faith in Jesus.  Paul recognized it as sincere faith:

For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.  2 Timothy 1.5 (NASB, emphasis added)

3. For a godly succession, there was proven character for leadership.

Paul’s character, and his leadership, are above reproach to any who have honestly studied the Scriptures produced through him.  The genuineness of his faith works itself out in the integrity of his ministry.  He modeled the way for Timothy, and in so doing modeled the role for all of us:

Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me!  2 Timothy 3.10-11 (NASB)

Timothy would eventually follow Paul’s lead and learn this way of life that points others to the glory of God as reflected in the face of Christ.  But before he had even joined Paul’s team, he was earning a reputation as a young man with integrity.  And look what happened as Paul visited Lystra a second time:

Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra.  And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium.  Paul wanted this man to go with him….  Acts 16.1-3 (NASB, emphasis added)

And Paul would later say of Timothy:

But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition.  For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.  For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.  But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father.  Philippians 2.19-22 (NASB, emphasis added)

So what was the result of this kind of progression, with an early emphasis on Scripture, a genuine faith for salvation, and proven character for leadership?  It produced a godly succession of leadership that we’re still writing and reading about to this day.  Paul considered it a trust that is passed from one generation to the next—a treasure to be guarded and shared.

Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.  Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.  2 Timothy 1.13-14 (NASB)

So as you can see below, I’ve decided to start early with my little ‘Timothy’…

Bible time

Our nightly Bible time