1 Timothy

The Quest (1 Timothy 6:11-21)

Paul began his letter to Timothy by stating the goal of the church.

“They [the church] should concern themselves with welcoming in and bringing about the Kingdom of God, which is all about faith. Our teaching about this journey is intended to bring us to a single goal—a place where self-giving love reigns from a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a genuine faith.”

The rest of the book has been talking about those things. When we get to the conclusion, Paul gives a bookend that sounds very similar.

You are a man of God. Your quest is for justice, godliness, faithfulness, love, perseverance, and gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith! [Agonize the good agony.] Cling to the eternal life you were called to when you confessed the good confession before witnesses.  Before God—the life-giving Creator of all things—and Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, who made the good confession to Pontius Pilate, I urge you: keep His commandment. Have a spotless, indisputable record until our Lord Jesus the Anointed appears to set this world straight.

In His own perfect time, He will come—blessed is the only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords. He alone possesses immortality; He makes His home in matchless, blinding, brilliant light that no one can approach—no mortal has ever even seen Him, and no human can. So let it be that all honor and eternal power are His. Amen.

Here’s what you say to those wealthy in regard to this age: “Don’t become high and mighty or place all your hope on a gamble for riches; instead, fix your hope on God, the One who richly provides everything for our enjoyment.” Tell them to use their wealth for good things; be rich in good works! If they are willing to give generously and share everything, then they will send ahead a great treasure for themselves and build their futures on a solid foundation. As a result, they will surely take hold of eternal life.

O Timothy, protect what was entrusted to you![the gospel]. Walk away from all the godless, empty voices out there, and turn aside from objections and arguments that arise from false knowledge.  (By professing such knowledge, some are missing the mark when it comes to true faith.) May God’s grace be with you.

______________________

I’ll be honest: sometimes, when I read the Bible, I get tired. I know what a good quest looks like.

I grew up reading the stories of King Arthur and His knights (which I even forced on my high school literature classes for a time).  As a kid, I listened to the record of Rankin Bass’s The Hobbit, then read the Lord of the Rings every Christmas break during high school.  I’ve seen Indiana Jones, The Princess Bride and Guardians of the Galaxy; I know about the pursuit of Superbowl rings and NBA championships and NCAA tournament winners. There’s even that little bird in the kid’s stories who just wants to find his mother.

We all know what a quest is – and we all quest.

Sometimes it’s subconscious – we just end up giving our time, energy and emotion to something we have by default decided is important.  It could be people, or relationships, or family, or a job, or leisure. It could be a conscious choice: the environment, healthy living, injustice, poverty, a particular person, our family. When we find a cause we believe is worthy of our time, energy, money and emotion, we will give our life.

When the cause is noble, just, and good, we applaud those who fight no matter the cost. We admire William Wilberforce and Mother Theresa as well as our friends who fight to do life better. It’s the addict who celebrates their first year clean, or the married couple that has gone to counseling faithfully, or the person who has determined to pursue godliness even when those around them do not.  It might cost them time, money, comfort and even friends, but we encourage them because the cost is nothing compared with the value of the quest.

When the cause is lousy, we cringe at what great cost is being spent on such an unworthy goal. Watch an episode of the Bachelor or Jersey Shore or Honey Boo Boo and tell me if you don’t just want to weep for the lives that are being wasted. I see interviews occasionally with sports stars or Hollywood celebrities where they are so desperate to gain the world they lose their soul - and often their health, reputation, and friends. If we are not careful, our quest can destroy us.

But there are good quests too, such as “justice, godliness, faithfulness, love, perseverance, and gentleness.” These are not cheap, and they don’t come easily. If you want a pearl of great price you may have to sell everything. You have to fight for it. If you want to find your life you will have to lose it. If you want to follow Christ, you will have to take up a cross. Jesus bids us to come and die before we can truly live.

Paul says that going on a quest for godliness means you will have to fight the good fight.

“Keep His commandment.” This cannot be more clear. You fight the good fight and cling to eternal life through obedience. That is not what saves you, but it’s the only proper response to your claim of faith, and it’s how you fight the good fight. On the one hand, this is intimidating, because we will never do it perfectly, and we can run into the danger of legalism, judgment and shame. On the other hand, there is comfort here.

What if I don’t feel God’s presence? Keep His commandments. What if I am in despair? Keep His commandments. What if my world is crumbling, and life seems hopeless? Keep His commandments. What if I fail? Pick myself up and keep his commandments. That is how we maintain our quest. However, because we will do this imperfectly in spite of our best efforts, we need to....

“Fix your hope on God.” This particular passage stresses that you can’t put your hope in money. You also shouldn’t put it on reputation, power, sex, comfort, health, or good looks. Not on the next job promotion or election. . Not on a happy marriage or children who make you proud or a large retirement account. Certainly not on your ability to keep God’s law. None of those are bad things, but they cannot give you the hope you seek. I used to sing an old hymn: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wondrous face. The things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” To stay true to your quest, you must keep your eyes fixed on the hope of God.

“Be rich in good works.” Does God want you to be wealthy? Absolutely. Wealthy in kindness and generosity. Rich in love and gentleness. Money is not a bad thing, but the love of it is the root of all kinds of evil.  If God has given you the kind of gifts and talents that help you make money, make money for the glory of God and the furtherance of His kingdom. Just don’t make it an idol. You can't serve money and serve God. Your quest is not money; your quest is to build up a treasure of good deeds.

“Walk away from all the godless, empty voices.” Of all the topics in this book, Paul is relentless on this particular one. Don’t forget that ideas have consequences. You must cling to truth. There have always been godless voices, but I think we face some unique challenges today. Thanks to technology, we have access to soooo much information, and we can read and process it by ourselves. This is not necessarily a good thing. We need a community of the church to help us do this so that we don’t unintentionally begin to absorb ideas that will shipwreck our faith.

This is Paul’s final plea to Timothy. It’s the last thing to remember. This is a big deal. In the spirit of Paul’s admonition and my having a role similar to Timothy’s, I must offer this.

There is a recent book that has swept through a lot of Christian circles. As your pastor, I feel I must tell you that William Young’s The Shack full of distortions about God, sin, salvation, human nature, and eternity. [i] I understand that parts of the book are profoundly moving to many people, especially as it relates to processing why God allows pain and suffering. Yes, there are parts of The Shack that offer good things (a focus on the goodness of God, forgiveness, etc). But being moved is not the only thing that counts, and the good things are surrounded by bad theology.  Lest you think I am making too much of this, just hear me out.

In the forward to C. Baxter Kruger's book The Shack Revisited, Young wrote, "Please don't misunderstand me; The Shack is theology. But it is theology wrapped in story, the word becoming flesh and living inside the blood and bones of common human experience." It’s not just fiction; Paul Young is trying to change your theology. His recent book Lies We Believe About God makes his theology clear.

  • He denies the classic Christian teaching of human depravity. “Yes, we have crippled eyes, but not a core of un-goodness….blind, not depraved is our condition.”
  • He insists that God is not sovereign, but that he “submits rather than controls and joins us in the resulting mess of relationship…”
  • He believes in universalism. “God does not wait for my choice and then ‘save me.’ God has acted decisively and universally for all humankind. Now our daily choice is to either grow and participate in that reality or continue to live in the blindness of our own independence. Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying!”
  • He thinks the Cross was a mistake. “Who originated the Cross? If God did, then we worship a cosmic abuser, who in Divine Wisdom created a means to torture human beings in the most painful and abhorrent manner. Frankly, it is often this very cruel and monstrous god that the atheist refuses to acknowledge or grant credibility in any sense. And rightly so. Better no god at all, than this one. The alternative is that the Cross originated with us human beings. This deviant device is the iconic manifestation of our blind commitment to darkness. It is our ultimate desecration of the goodness and loving intent of God to create, an intent that is focused on the human creation. It is the ultimate fist raised against God.”
  • He says hell is in the presence of God. He quotes Romans 8:38-39 which says nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God. Therefore, hell cannot be a place where we are separated from God. Rather, Young says, hell is God. It is "the continuous and confrontational presence of fiery Love and Goodness and Freedom that intends to destroy every vestige of evil and darkness that prevents us from being fully free and fully alive."

That’s hard for me to write, because I know that book has been meaningful to many people, and because it has provided a means by which many people who feel like God is disant and uncaring are reminded that God is personal and near. Is it possible that God can draw people to himself through this book? Sure, but it will be in spite of much of its distorted theology, not because of it. There will need to be some corrective teaching so that the trajectory of distorted theology explored in The Shack will not lead to the blatantly false theology of Lies We Believe About God. 

So I have to say something, becaue Timothy’s challenge is my challenge. I cannot walk away from it. If we want to quest like Paul challenged Timothy, we must reject the voices that can potentially shipwreck our faith with bad theology, even if the means by which the message is presented moves us.

So I know what a quest is, and I also know what it costs, and so sometimes, when I read the Bible, it makes me tired. No wonder Paul wrote in Galatians 6, “Don’t grow weary in doing well.”

That’s why I like that, after all the advice in this letter to Timothy, and after telling him that he is going to need to fight for and cling to his faith, Paul reminds him why that quest is so good, so important, and why it is the only one that matters in the end. Why should Timothy do all these things over and over again?  Why should Timothy never give, never grow weary in pursuing godliness? Because the God He is pursuing in his ultimate quest is awesome.

At this point in the letter, it’s almost as if Paul just can’t help himself. In the middle of instructions, he suddenly branches off into extravagant praise:

Blessed is the only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords. He alone possesses immortality; He makes His home in matchless, blinding, brilliant light that no one can approach—no mortal has ever even seen Him, and no human can. So let it be that all honor and eternal power are His. Amen.[ii]

There is no cause other that Christ that deserves our worship. Only Christ gets that ultimate allegiance from us. Only Christ deserves the fullness of our heart, soul, mind and strength. As we close this series, I want to close the same way Paul does, with a time of reflection and worship of the awesome God we serve.

_________________________

[i] Here are some recommended resources for The Shack (and Young’s latest, Lies We Believe About God).

JESUS CALLING is another popular book that is worth reconsidering, not so much because of its content but because of the precedent it sets about how God speaks to us.

[ii] I find it fascinating how Paul both borrowed from his culture in teh service of preching the gospel. In his address on Mars Hill he quotes several Greek poems and plays; Adam Clarke points out in his commentary that he believes Paul’s language here reflects a knowledge of his cultural contemporaries as well. Like he did on Mars Hill, Paul takes the language others used in praise of false gods and turns it to the True God. 

Don’t Neglect Your Gift (1 Timothy 4:12 – 4:16)

 “Don’t let anyone belittle you because you are young. Instead, show the faithful, young and old, an example of how to live: set the standard for how to talk, act, love, and be faithful and pure. Until I get there, make sure to devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching. Don’t neglect the gift that was given to you through the prophecy spoken when the company of the elders laid their hands on you. Cultivate all these practices; live by them so that all will see how you are advancing and growing. Take care of yourself, concentrate on your teaching, and stick with these things. If you do, then you will be effective in bringing salvation {sanctification] to yourself and all who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:12-4:16)

 

There's a scene at the beginning of The Equalizer where a young lady named Teri asks Robert (The Equalizer) what happens in Hemingway’s story, "The Old Man and the Sea." Robert tells her that the old man catches the fish. She asks, "Why didn't he just let the fish go?" Robert replies, "Old man's gotta be the old man. Fish has got to be the fish. Gotta be who you are in this world, no matter what." 

In the context of the story, I don’t think it was a statement of fatalistic resignation or some silly version of, "You are perfect just the way you are!" Robert was pointing out that we are all made for a purpose, with a role to play. We have to find that purpose and live it. It's an acknowledgment that we are made for some things and not others. You see the importance of this principle in Scripture numerous times, but I am going to point out my favorite one: Gideon. We meet Gideon in Judges 6 (11-14):

“Now in Ophrah, a messenger from God sat under an oak tree that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite. Gideon, the son of Joash, was beating out wheat in the winepress so that the Midianites could not see what he was doing. The  messenger appeared to Gideon and said, “The Eternal One is with you, mighty warrior.” Gideon replied, “Sir, if He is with us, then why has all this misfortune come on us? Where are all the miracles that our ancestors told us about? They said, “Didn’t the Eternal deliver us out of Egypt?” But now He has left us. He has made us servants of the Midianites.” The messenger of God replied, “Go out with your strength and rescue Israel from the oppression of Midian. Do you understand that I am the one sending you?”

There is nothing wrong with farming, but Gideon was not made to farm; he was made to fight. Gideon had forgotten who he was – who God made Him to be. Note the combination of how this will work: Gideon is to “go out with his strength” - because “I am the one sending you.” So God will send Gideon to a place where Gideon’s strengths will allow him to flourish in the service of God’s kingdom.

Paul is clearly reminding Timothy of his spiritual calling. It’s not clear what precisely it was, but the laying on of hands was a type of ordination, a formal and weighty confirmation of the gift God had given[1] – in this case, the ability to lead in the church. Then Paul says, “Don’t neglect it. Cultivate. Live. Grow. Take care of yourself. Concentrate.” Even supernatural gifts require ‘sweat equity’ on our part.  

We are not all called to be Timothy, but I think the principle applies to us all.

“The word χάρισμα may be applied to every gift of God bestowed on man by God…  In the N. T. it denotes both generally the new spiritual life wrought in the believer by the Holy Spirit, and also specially every faculty imparted for special Christian work…” (Meyer’s NT Commentary, biblehub.com)

Paul in encouraging Timothy about his particular gift because it’s a letter to Timothy. I don’t think we are meant to get to caught up in what the gift was, or how we can get what Timothy had.  This reveals a broader truth: God gives gifts. I am going to broaden this and address the gifts that have been given to us in the larger sense as described in Meyer’s commentary. It will include our spiritual gifts, but it will also include a look at the many ways in which God gives to us things that make us “us,” and how we can use these things for the glory of God.

Here’s our working question: How can we “go out in our strength” and use it for the glory of God and the good of His kingdom? How can we be sure we are not neglecting the many kinds of gifts that God has given us?

GODLY PASSIONS (point you towards where you need to take your gifts)

David said, "My zeal for God and his work burns hot within me." (Psalm 69:9). Jeremiah said, "Your message burns in my heart and bones, and I cannot keep silent." (Jeremiah 20:9)

We typically are passionate about something. It could be a cause (poverty, depression, abuse, addiction) a group of people (the persecuted, imprisoned, the poor, the unborn, the church, or your family) or a talent (music, athletics, sports, cooking). I love the quote from Eric Liddell, the Olympic sprinter featured in Chariots Of Fire: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure.”

Passionate emotions are part of our ‘image bearing’ of God, but they can also be a hint about where God wants us to take our gifts. What breaks your heart or brings you joy? What are the things that are not okay with the world? What are the things that, when you do them, you ‘feel God’s pleasure’? Your passions may be a signal about where you need to take the gifts God has given you. If the people who know you were asked right now what you are passionate about, how would they answer? Maybe….you should ask them J

OPPORTUNITIES (help you discern how to use your gifts)

We talked a little bit last week about the phrase, “You can be anything you want to be.” It’s not true. You are going to be restrained by your financial situation, family obligations, the economy, your education, the particular need of the city or church in which you live, your background of life experiences, your health or physical ability, your intelligence…

God is sovereign over our circumstances, but we are responsible for what we do in our circumstances. What can I do in my present circumstances? Can I change them or not? How do I “go out in my strength” in the midst of them? I’m not saying we should be resigned, but we should be realistic.

GIFTS

Some of these gifts are creational gifts: God made the world in a particular way, and as biology and heredity unfold, you are born a particular way. God is the First Cause, but not necessary the immediate cause. I don’t think God looked at Anthony in the womb and said, “I think I will have you be extroverted when you are young and then trend introvert for your entire adult life. And here’s some ADD and heart problems.” But God did look at the world and say, “I want biology to work this way,” and here I am. Some of these are supernatural gifts: the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to those who follow Christ.

  • Creational Gift: Personality – (http://www.16personalities.com/personality-types). Myers-Briggs Personality test is used by 80% of Fortune 500 Companies. There is even a website that will match you up with careers. [2]
  • Creational Gift: Intelligence Type: Multiple Intelligences. According to Howard Gardner, intelligence is 1) The ability to create a valued product or service or solve problems or 2) the ability to gather new knowledge. There's Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”), Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”), Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”), Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”), Musical intelligence (“music smart”), Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”), Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”), Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)  - http://www.institute4learning.com/resources/articles/multiple-intelligences/
  • Creational Gift: Strengths (http://www.strengthsfinder.com/home.aspx). Big Picture or details? Visionary or implementer? Talk or listen? Think or do? Quick on your feet or methodical? Organize or implement? What about the quirks you have -  let's call it the ‘abilities in your disabilities’. I found a website called “151 Positives of ADHD.”[3] Here’s a slide about 25 Things To Love About ADD.[4] Goalkeeper Tim Howard credits his Tourette’s for his ability as a goalkeeper. He says it gives him an advantage by channeling his nervousness (though doctors think it could just be that the mental and physical discipline he has developed helps him).[5]  Dyslexics are better at identifying visual clues. They can spot what looks out of place in a room. People who read less have more of a holistic perspective. 35% of entrepreneurs have dyslexia,[6] which is a huge overrepresentation. People with Asperger’s often have advanced vocabularies and pattern recognition. They tend to focus on details, work well alone. They are sincere and good at sticking with rules and boundaries.[7] NASA is one place in which they flourish, so much so that “Dr. Temple Grandin, an adult with autism who became a successful engineer, academic and speaker, believes that her disorder is an asset. She once famously called NASA a sheltered workshop for people with autism and Asperger Syndrome. She believes that people with autistic spectrum disorders are the great innovators, and “if the world was left to you socialites, nothing would get done and we would still be in caves talking to each other.” (http://www.yourlittleprofessor.com/the-benefits-of-aspergers-syndrome/)
  • Spiritual Gifts: In Christianity, spiritual gifts (or charismata) are endowments given by the Holy Spirit. These are the supernatural graces which individual Christians need to fulfill the mission of the church. They are described in the New Testament, primarily in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4. (http://www.lifeway.com/lwc/files/lwcF_PDF_Discover_Your_Spiritual_Gifts.pdf) Also, check out the footnote for a list from Ministry Tools Resource Center.[8] The Bible is clear that God gives gifts as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:11). You don't have earn these. You don’t level up like you are in a spiritual video game. Whatever you have will be God’s gift to you. Use it wisely and well for God’s glory and the good of the church.

AFFIRMATION (helps you focus on your gift)

What do others say about you? What do you hear over and over? If you don’t know, ask. Email five to ten people close to you and ask them for feedback. What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? What kind of thing could you see me doing? What should I just probably not do? (https://hbr.org/2005/01/how-to-play-to-your-strengths/). And then take the advice seriously. How many times do we read in Acts, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us?” God speaks through his word, his spirit – and his people. Listen to them all.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

Don’t neglect the gift that was given to you through the prophecy spoken when the company of the elders laid their hands on you. Cultivate all these practices; live by them so that all will see how you are advancing and growing. Take care of yourself, concentrate on your teaching, and stick with these things. If you do, then you will be effective in bringing salvation to yourself and all who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:12-4:16)

Note the reason we do this. It’s not about us and our ability to look or be awesome. It’s not so we can make more money. It’s about Christ. It’s about surrendering who we are to Jesus, then focusing who we are in the service of Christ for the sake of His message of salvation, which is the only true hope of the world.  

This brings me to the greatest gift: salvation. Salvation reminds us that God will take you – you with your terrible family of origin, and your hidden or not so hidden sins, and your pain and sorrow, and your self-loathing and depression, and your anger and lust, and your addictions and heartache and loneliness, and your trail of sin…. and he will forgive you and make you new.

Don’t neglect the gift of salvation. None of these other gifts matter without this. Other than spiritual gifts, you can learn everything I just told you by watching Oprah. The gift of salvation is the only thing that makes the other gifts worthwhile, and it gives you the reason you even pursue them in the first place: to spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

[1] http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/laying-on-of-hands.html

[2] https://www.careerplanner.com/List-of-Personality-Types-and-Careers.cfm

[3] http://www.addcoach4u.com/positivesofadd.html

[4] http://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/benefits-of-adhd#2

[5] https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/06/the-benefits-of-having-tourette-s/340609/

[6] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-advantages-of-dyslexia/

[7] http://www.yourlittleprofessor.com/the-benefits-of-aspergers-syndrome/

[8] http://mintools.com/gifts-list.htm

 

The Fables That Fail Us (1 Timothy 4:1-10)

2-19-SERMON.jpg

 But even so, the Spirit very clearly tells us that in the last times some will abandon the true faith because of their devotion to spirits sent to deceive and sabotage, and mistakenly they will end up following the doctrine of demons. They will be carried away through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences have been branded with a red-hot iron, saying, “Don’t marry. Don’t eat such-and-such foods.” But God created all these to be received with gratitude by people who hold fast to the faith and really comprehend the truth. For everything God made is good. That means nothing should be rejected as long as it’s received with a grateful heart, for by God’s word and prayer, it is made holy.[i]

Place these truths before the brothers and sisters. If you do, you will be a good servant of Jesus the Anointed, raised and fed on words of true belief, trained in the good instruction you have so clearly followed.  Reject worldly fables. Refuse old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself toward godliness. Although training your body has certain payoffs, godliness benefits all things—holding promise for life here and now and promise for the life that is coming. This statement is worthy of trust and our full acceptance. This is what we work so hard for! This is why we are constantly struggling: because we have an assured hope fixed upon a living God who is the Savior of all humankind—especially all of us who believe.

 

There were two problems facing Timothy in his church: One was a problem of what people believed, and the other was the problem of what people did. We have to believe things that are true, and then do the hard work of living in that truth.

Paul doesn’t pull any punches here. He says there are doctrines of demons, worldly fables and scandalous tales that sear the conscience of those who hold to them. The language is that of cauterizing a wound or being branded as a slave. The things we believe and then commit to first leave a mark, and they eventually tell others who our master is. [ii] Something will brand us and identify us, and it will be the thing to which we give our hearts and minds.  The Bible says we will all be servants or slaves of something. And it will true, or it will be a fable.

THE CULTURAL FABLES THAT FAIL US

Follow Your Heart. That’s a terrible idea – unless your heart is aligned with the heart of God. Just because your heart tells you something is the right thing doesn’t mean it is. How many times have we thought, “I would love to do this!” or “This just feels right!” and then had it end badly.  The history of pain in the world is built on the people who followed their hearts – unless their heart was aligned with the heart of God.  Jon Bloom writes[1]:

“If we make our hearts gods and ask them to lead us, they will lead us to narcissistic misery and ultimately damnation. They cannot save us, because what’s wrong with our hearts is the heart of our problem. But if our hearts believe in God, as they are designed to, then God saves us (Hebrews 7:25) and leads our hearts to exceeding joy (Psalm 43:4).Therefore, don’t believe in your heart; direct your heart to believe in God. Don’t follow your heart; follow Jesus. Note that Jesus did not say to his disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled, just believe in your hearts.” He said, “Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1).

Success Is Measured By Money, Sex and Power. I’m not saying these things are bad. God is the author of all of them, and so when used as God intended they are good indeed. But if any of these things are your marker for the good life or a standard by which you gauge your reputation, worth or the significance of your life, you are going to find out what living in the rat race is really like. In the end you will find what Solomon did: it’s all meaningless in terms of ultimate value (see Ecclesiastes). “For me to live is Christ,” said Paul (Philippians 1:21).  Success is “Christ in me, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). I don’t need money, sex or power. I don't need toys or a bigger home or the best vacation. I don’t need to have fame. I don't need to reject them if they come my way, but in the end, you can have all the world – give me Jesus.

Live Without Boundaries/No Rules/ No One Can Tell Me What To Do. Do you remember Outback Steakhouse’s slogan, “No Rules Just Rights”? I didn’t even want that to be true at Outback. I hoped they followed rules of cleanliness when they made my food. (Wash your hands; don’t sneeze in my food; make sure the expiration date is good).  I get it – they were planning to make my food the way I wanted it. But even that is done within rules.

A world without boundaries or rules is chaos. There’s a reason we panic when a dam wall is in danger of bursting, or someone veers onto our side of the road, or a restaurant gives its customers salmonella because they broke rules of good sanitation. Without boundaries, we die. Everything has a design or a purpose, which means there is a formal or informal ‘instruction manual’ that shows us how things are meant to be, and under what circumstances they will flourish. Within boundaries, we live. This is true in the spiritual as well as the natural world. Live within godly boundaries (read Proverbs for starters).

One of the most devastating forms of this lie in our culture is that the unfettered, blatant freedom to choose whatever sexual lifestyle or action we want is empowering and healthy. It’s not – emotionally, mentally, physically.[iii]  Freud was wrong about a lot of things involving sex that have influenced our cultural perspective (just google ‘Freud was wrong’).

You don’t need a Bible that explains God’s design. Just read the sociological and medical literature on this. Contrary to what Scarlet Johansson thinks[2], we are not designed for promiscuity; we are designed for faithfulness. Once again, you don’t need a Bible to find this out. Do you know what group of people report the highest sexual satisfaction? Boundaried people; specifically, married religious people. You won’t see that on your TV, but it’s the reality. This doesn't’ mean marriage automatically guarantees this. It’s more complicated that. But if you just let sociology point you toward the good life sexually, you will find that it points toward the biblical revelation of God’s design: get saved and get married. The Law is a Teacher (Galatians 3); God, your designer, tells you what to do for your good and His glory.

You’re Perfect Just The Way You Are/You’re On The Right Track, Baby, You Were Born That Way. No, you’re not. I’m not either. You have issues. If you don’t know that yet, you will learn soon enough. Your teacher in college will give you a C, and you will have earned it. Your boss will write you up, your girlfriend or boyfriend will be rightly upset with you, and your parents will not like every decision you make, and you are going to make a fool of yourself on social media at some point. No one is perfect but God, and He, too, is well aware of your deficits.  

If anything, I am relieved to know I am not perfect just the way I am, because if I’m perfect, I am deeply disappointed in perfection. That would also meant that there is no way I can improve – and if that were true, I would be full of despair. But as C.S. Lewis noted, God wants to take the shack of your life and turn it into a mansion. That will take some remodeling.

Learn to see your frailties and failures with honesty but without shame. Grow. Build your strengths and at least address your weaknesses, but don’t hide the fact that you are imperfect. We all know it already. It’s okay. We aren’t either. And it is in the midst of our weakness that the strength of God is seen most clearly.

It’s My Life (My Actions Don’t Impact Anyone Else). Sure they do. Everything you do forms you, and then you take the constantly formed ‘you’ with you wherever you go.

  • Pornography harms you – and everybody around you, because you are training yourself to think of people and sex in a particular way.
  • What you ingest will catch up with you (food, drink, drugs, etc), and people around you will be effected.
  • What you read, listen to, and watch will form how you view the world, and then, “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)  “Where your treasure is your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) People around you are impacted for better or worse.
  • Your sex life has a ripple effect in your partner: You are both learning something about love, commitment, honor, forgiveness, patience – or you aren’t. You are both forming opinions about what men and women are like. That will profoundly influence you and the way you view and interact with other men and women on multiple levels.
  • If you get three hours of sleep every night because you are playing video games, and you are cranky the next day because you are exhausted, your work and your family will pay.

It’s never just your life. It’s always our life. Your actions will inevitably impact everyone around you.

If It Feels Good, Do It. That’s a bad standard for when to act. Sometimes it works – a nice jog feels good (or so I hear), and it turns out you probably should do it. Maybe being generous feels good. Awesome. But to simply say that we will follow our feelings rarely ends well. I would love eat a ton of fried food again. I would love some days to just give people a piece of my mind with no regard for grace. Lust, greed and selfishness beckon us all, I suspect. Should we do it? For the love of God and His Kingdom, no. If it’s right, do it, no matter how it feels.

Believe In Yourself And You Can Do Anything. I appreciate what’s trying to be accomplished here. Be confident; you are probably more capable than you think.  I’m good with that. But you will always let yourself down. You can’t do everything. We are all limited by who we are and the circumstances around us. That’s not a bad thing, but it is a thing. And I’ve got to tell you – I’ve been believing less and less in myself for a while now, and it’s been increasingly freeing. I no longer believe I have the power to be the parent or husband or pastor I should be. I do, however, believe that Jesus has the power, and that with his help I can continually improve. Without that, I am without hope. Believe in Jesus; you can do what He calls you to do.

THE CHURCH FABLES THAT FAIL US

Good Christians Have Health, Wealth, And Physical Blessings. I will just point you to apostles, all of whom were martyred except for John, who was exiled to a prison island. Or the millions of Christians around the world now and throughout history who lives short, brutal lives before giving their life for Christ. Or the martyrs right now in the Middle East who are being burned alive after watching their children killed. Or the sub-Saharan Christians who love Jesus and live in abject poverty.

Let’s look at it another way: How many Christians deserve health and wealth because of how good they are? None. No one is righteous on their own (Romans 3:10). Good Christians are only good because Jesus has given His goodness to them as a miraculous gift of grace. Health, wealth and physical blessings are not bad things if they used for God’s glory, and God may well grant them for the sake of His gospel message to be spread. But these are not biblical markers for knowing whom God likes and whom He doesn’t.

It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe As Long As You Are Sincere (Or As Long As It Helps You). I hope going through 1 Timothy has put this fable to rest. True belief matters. People can be sincerely wrong. Not all roads lead to God. Not everything promoted in Christendom is correct. For example, the ‘heavenly tourism’ books have a lot of flags. All of the popular ones have some really troublesome theological material in them, and some of them have been dismissed by the authors themselves.[3]

“But is has inspired people and pointed them toward the reality of eternity!” Yes indeed; it has done that. But it has pointed toward truth with lies. It has gone beyond the Bible or even contradicted the Bible to point people toward the Bible. Even if it bears some fruit, it’s a dangerous precedent.

If all that matters is that something helps you or inspires you, you don’t necessarily need gospel truth, because there are a lot of smart people who can help you manage your sin and organize your life so that you feel better than you do now. You can just go to the self-help section of the bookstore and spare yourself taking up the Cross of Christ, because that’s really hard. It matters what you believe, and because it’s true, it will help you in a way that is lasting.

God Will Give Me The Desires Of My Heart. It’s in the Bible, but we have to be aware of the context. He won’t give you your sinful desires, though he may give you over to them. He won’t give you your selfish desires, though He may give you over to them. God doesn’t say “how high” when we say, “Jump!” Here’s the whole verse: “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him" (Psalm 37:5-7)

God will give you the desires of your heart if they align with the desires of God’s heart, because then it’s part of God’s plan, not yours.

God Wants Me To Be Happy. God is not opposed to happiness. If fact, I think he’s a pretty big fan. But that’s not God’s goal for you. God wants you to be holy. God wants you to be righteous. And if God’s work in you to bring this about requires that you be unhappy, God will have no problem making you unhappy. How many people’s lives in the Bible would you describe as “happy”?  Yet God was at work in them, and their lives were deep, meaningful, purposeful, and profoundly important. I have no doubt happiness was a part of their life, but that’s a byproduct, not a goal. God wants you to be holy – which is the road to joy (Psalm 16:11).

God Uses Extraordinary People. Sure, sometimes, but not because they are extraordinary. We really have to be careful with this idea. God’s not waiting for you to dream big dreams or be wild at heart before He can use you. Usually, God uses very ordinary people. Often he uses sub-ordinary people. When he chose the disciples, he chose the dropouts that no other rabbi wanted. Normally, a student asked a rabbi if he could be a student. A rabbi never sought out students. But that’s what Jesus did. He chose men who either nobody wanted or who didn’t really want to get that involved. You don’t have to be extraordinary – because that part is up to Jesus. God uses people – even you.

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So how do we avoid fables? Good Instruction. Some things are true and some things are not. We have to identify error and lies at times. This commitment leads us away from the bad effects of false believes and moves us toward the blessing that comes with leading godly lives. Paul says Godly living holds promise for life now and the life to come. God made us; he knows how we function best. He knows what we are made to be and do. When we see and understand God’s design for our lives, and we are content to live in that design – that’s the good life. That’s something to build on.

Paul says we will have to train. Disciples are not passive. There is a reason Paul uses sports analogies. You don't finish the race by sitting and watching.   We are called to train spiritually like an athlete trains physically in “good instruction.” We will have to wrestle with false ideas and worldviews at times. There are a lot of voices out there clamoring for your attention. Don’t just accept what they say at face value – and that includes what you hear taught from the pulpit of this church. Read. Study. Pray. Then do all those things with other Christians. 

And it’s worthwhile. As you train in instruction you train in godliness. You mature. You build spiritual muscles and skills. You develop into the disciple God has intended you to be. And you will find that it “benefits all things, holding promise for life here and now and promise for the life that is coming.”[iv]

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[1] http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-follow-your-heart

[2] http://www.lifenews.com/2017/02/15/pro-abortion-actress-scarlett-johansson-claims-monogamy-is-not-a-natural-thing/

[i] I like the commentary from Jamieson-Fausset-Brown on this verse.

Sanctified—"hallowed"; set apart as holy for the use of believing men: separated from "the creature," which is under the bondage of vanity and corruption (Ro 8:19, &c.). Just as in the Lord's Supper, the thanksgiving prayer sanctifies the elements, separating them from their naturally alien position in relation to the spiritual world, and transferring them to their true relation to the new life. So in every use of the creature, thanksgiving prayer has the same effect, and ought always to be used (1Co 10:30, 31).

[ii] “Having their conscience seared with a hot iron - They bear the marks of their hypocrisy as evidently and as indelibly in their conscience in the sight of God, as those who have been cauterized for their crimes do in their bodies in the sight of men. It was customary in ancient times to mark those with a hot iron who had been guilty of great crimes, such as sacrilege, etc. And the heathens supposed that even in the other world they bear such marks; and by these the infernal judges knew the quantum of their vices, and appointed the degrees of their punishment. There is a saying much like that of the apostle in the invective of Claudian against Rufinus, whom he supposes to be thus addressed by Rhadamanthus, one of the infernal judges: -

"Thou fool, why dost thou deny what is so manifest? Behold the deep-burnt marks deform thy conscience; the appearance of them has grown up with thy vices; neither can the crimes which thou hast committed hide themselves." – From Adam Clarke’s Commentary

[iii] http://www.everydayhealth.com/longevity/can-promiscuity-threaten-longevity.aspx

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201304/the-lingering-psychological-effects-multiple-sex-partners

http://www.markgungorshow.com/show/8185

http://www.heritage.org/education/report/harmful-effects-early-sexual-activity-and-multiple-sexual-partners-among-women

http://salvomag.com/new/articles/salvo24/holy-matrimony.php

[iv] “Having promise, of the life that now is - The man that fears, loves, and serves God, has God's blessing all through life. His religion saves him from all those excesses, both in action and passion, which sap the foundations of life, and render existence itself often a burden. The peace and love of God in the heart produces a serenity and calm which cause the lamp of life to burn clear, strong, and permanent. Evil and disorderly passions obscure and stifle the vital spark. Every truly religious man extracts the uttermost good out of life itself, and through the Divine blessing gets the uttermost good that is in life; and, what is better than all, acquires a full preparation here below for an eternal life of glory above. Thus godliness has the promise of, and secures the blessings of, both worlds.” – From Adam Clarke’s Commentary

The Mystery Of Godliness (1 Timothy 3:14-16)

I am writing all this to you, hoping I can come to you before too long; but in case I am delayed, you will know how one ought to behave as a member of God’s family—the assembly of the living God, the pillar and foundation that support the truth—  and I think you will agree that the mystery of godliness is great: He was revealed in the flesh and proven right in the Spirit; He was seen by the heavenly messengers, and preached to outsider nations; He was believed in the world, and taken up to the heavens in glory.

The context: Paul has been warning Timothy about false teachers; he’s been stressing the connectedness of our beliefs and our actions. Here he connects what we believe with how we live once again.

We can’t get around the fact that this book has a lot of ‘oughts.’ Paul reminds Timothy that there is a particular way people ‘ought to behave’ if they are members of God’s family. It’s yet another reminder that following Jesus will cost us something: in this case, our autonomy. If we join the team, our lives our not our own anymore.  We see this in smaller ways all the time: work, sports teams, clubs. If we want to be a part of them, we have to align our lives with their vision of the good life.  If we want to be associated with them, if we want to represent them, there is an obligation attached.

In a much bigger and much more important way, we answer to God; He gets to make the call about how we ought to live if we choose to align ourselves with Christ and His Kingdom.

This is sobering. It reminds us that how we live to a large degree reflects what we believe is true – or at least what will bring us hope and peace.  I’m not denying what Paul called the war within (Romans 7), and I’m not denying that our sins or the sins of others can so damage our lives that we can be trapped in situations where we do what we know we shouldn’t  - and long to be free. I’m only observing a biblical truth: there is always fruit to our lives, and what kind of fruit we bear is a pretty good indicator of what kind of tree we are (Matthew 3:8; Matthew 7:15-20).

But then Paul promptly comes back the ‘mystery of godliness,’ the incarnation of Jesus on earth. Once again, God will equip us to do what he demands of us. It’s because of Jesus that the church can be the pillar and foundation of truth.

Three reminders about the importance of the church.

The church is God's household.

Membership in God's household implies at least three things: refuge, responsibility and interdependence.

Refuge: Church should be a safe place in a hard culture. I don’t mean compromising. I mean a place where no one is mean; where justice and mercy are both implemented; where we value everyone as an image bearer of God enough to speak truth with grace, and to exercise both tough and gentle love. We laugh about ‘safe spaces’ on college campuses, but in the early church, the Christian community was a safe space in a much more profound way in the midst of a violent and degrading culture. This does not mean enablement; this does not mean we gloss over sin or compromise on truth. It means that people must see the sacrificial love of Jesus embodied in us. People might walk away from us or the church because they just don’t think what we have to say is true, but they should never walk away because we pushed them away with our attitudes and words.

Responsibility. We are God’s ambassadors. I am a Weber; opinions are formed about the Weber name by what I do – and what all my relatives do as well. I am an American; I am male; I am a Buckeye; I am a CLGer. What I do builds or tears down the reputation of all these things. We share the name of Christ; our reputation builds or tears down His. This is inescapable. People form an opinion about God when they form an opinion about God’s family.

Interdependence. In many ways, family carried with it a weight of obligation in biblical times that it doesn’t necessarily carry today. Generations would live together; there were inheritance issues, and social expectations, and a strong sense of honor associated with defending one’s family. What’s the 21st century update? We need each other. We weep and mourn and laugh with others (Romans 12:15). We bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). There are fifty-nine times in the New Testament the phrase “one another” is used.[1] It’s a big deal.

God never meant for there to be lone wolf Christians.  We are in this together.

The Church Of The Living God.

The so-called gods of the surrounding pagan cultures aren’t alive. Artemis is just an idol. This new ecclessia (gathering) of Christian people is distinct: a living God dwells within it (2 Corinthians 6:16). It’s a reminder that God is active, near to us, listening to our prayers, involved in our lives. The Holy Spirit prays for us when we don’t have words (Romans 8:26); Jesus intercedes for us (Hebrews 7:25). Even the Word of God is active and powerful (Hebrews 4:12). This is important, because we cannot accomplish the work of the church without a living God’s help.

The Pillar and Foundation that supports the mystery of godliness

Some think this may be a reference to the doctrine that shows up in the upcoming hymn; most think it’s a reference to the fact that the church exists to protect and teach the truth. The "mystery" is the appearance of Christ in history as the plan of salvation was fulfilled in the cross and resurrection (compare a verse from last week, 1 Timothy 3:9). The Jews had always wondered how the Messiah would save them – it was through Jesus.

The Hymn

Now Paul cites a hymn or a fragment of a hymn which commemorates Christ's appearance and ministry on earth.

He appeared in a body and was vindicated (defended and cleared) by the Spirit.

First, note the natural/supernatural duality of this claim. Jesus was not just some kind of phantom before or after his Resurrection. He was not just a man. He was fully man even as he was fully God. Second, note the divine stamp of affirmation. The Spirit bore witness to Jesus: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased," (Matthew 3:17, 17:5, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22). After he left earth, the Holy Spirit continued His work. All the Jesus said and did was proven by the Holy Spirit.

Was seen by angels and preached to outsider nations.

Once again, we are reminded that there is a supernatural and a natural world. God’s glory is declared in world both seen and unseen, and on earth, His gospel is meant for everyone.

Was believed on in the world and taken up in glory.

His resurrection and ascension gave an obvious and public display of his divine nature and glory, and as a result of witnessing the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, many believed.

Here’s what stands out to me: As much as Paul has been talking about the importance of righteous living, he never grounds our ability to do this in us. It always comes back to God at work in us. It’s always about Jesus.

He tells the church, “Here’s how you ought to behave as a member of God’s family.” I don’t know about you, but I feel the weight of the ‘oughts.’ The responsibility of being part of God’s family, of being part of an earthly ‘pillar and foundation of truth’ tasked with faithfully spreading the good news of the gospel. I am well aware of my failures, and it’s easy for me do be discouraged.

 This is an impossible task on our own power.  No wonder Paul adds that the mystery of godliness is great.  Not great just because it’s a miracle, but great because of how it transforms even us. If I may paraphrase Paul: “The church ought to believe and live a certain way because it has to be a cultural pillar and foundation of truth – so it’s a good thing we have Jesus.”  Remember: God will not call us to something for which he does not equip us.

And then he sings. About Jesus.

He was revealed in the flesh and proven right in the Spirit; He was seen by the heavenly messengers, and preached to outsider nations; He was believed in the world, and taken up to the heavens in glory.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3i-_VWxOAc[/embed]

 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MNtAQ4pZuE[/embed]

 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1QjKqyGh8s[/embed]

[1] http://www.smallgroupchurches.com/the-59-one-anothers-of-the-bible/

 

The Qualities of Godly Leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-13)

As we’ve been going through Paul's letter to Timothy, we've seen that there has been a problem in the movers and shakers in the church in Ephesus. False teaching and pagan practices have been creeping in, and Timothy needs to put people in positions of leadership that will safeguard orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxy (righteous living) for the sake of the spread of the gospel.

I’m putting our church leadership on the hot spot today. I am keenly aware of that. I am also going to challenge all of you today, because what Paul requires of leaders ought to be a standard for all of us.

Here’s another statement you may trust: if anyone is seeking a position as overseer in the church, he desires an honorable and important work. Here are the qualifications to look for in an overseer: a spotless reputation, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, sensible, respectable, welcoming to strangers (allowing them into his home), and gifted to teach.  Disqualify any drunk or violent man.

Look for a gentle man; no belligerent fellow can follow this calling. And he should be free from money lust. He should exert good control over his own household, and his children should obey and honor him.  (If someone can’t manage his own household, then how can he take care of God’s family?)

He mustn’t be someone recently converted; otherwise, he may become arrogant and fall into the devil’s condemnation. He should also be respected for his character and known as an honorable person by people outside of the church so as to avoid the pitfalls of the devil (“avoid the pit into which the devil fell).

The same standards apply to deacons: they should be dignified. Double-talking hypocrites, heavy drinkers, and those greedy for ill-gotten gain should not be considered. They should be people who hold tight to the great mystery of faith with a clear conscience. Put these deacon-candidates to the test first; and if they come through without stumbling, then send them out to serve.

Again the same applies to women (wives?) in key positions; they should also be dignified, not backstabbing gossips but self-controlled and faithful to the core. Now deacons should live faithfully as the husband of one wife and be in control of their households, including their children. Those deacons who serve well will achieve a good standing for themselves in the community and have great confidence to walk in the faith that is in Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King.

I am going to first separate the three categories of people mentioned, then walk through the qualifications.

1. Overseer/elder/pastor  Overseer is mentioned other times (Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; Acts 20:17-38; Titus 1:6-7; Romans 12:8, 1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11) and is often used synonymously with "elder" or “pastor”. Those three terms are sometimes used differently in churches today to make a distinction in roles in the church, but they demand the same qualifications. In a nutshell, they are responsible for the spiritual leadership and guidance of the church.  They protect and promote true doctrine and righteous living. 

2. Deacons  The office of deacons emerged as the church grew. There was too much for overseers to do; they needed another group of leaders to share the load (Acts 6:1-6).  This freed up overseers to focus on protecting and promoting true doctrine and righteous living. The deacons generally  focused on basically everything else in the church. This is not only practically demanding, it requires a level of spiritual accountability that is very similar to that of the overseers. 

3. Women (or wives) in key positions. This could have included a number of things, since women were very involved in the early church. This passage appears to be talking about deaconesses specifically, so see the previous comment on deacons. 

Now, on to the list of qualifications (which I am going to combine for the sake of time). 

Spotless reputation/ respectable/ Respected for his character; known as an honorable person by people outside of the church. 

There is an image attached to this word, a metaphor, of a boxer who is so good that his opponent can’t land a single hit. This has to do with more than just leadership within the church: there is the issue of public witness. When people both inside and outside the church hear that you are in leadership, does it make sense to them? They might not agree with your doctrine, but they ought to look at your life and think, “Yep. That was a good call. You want them to lead.” This matters, because a disgraced leader brings shame on the church and undermines the message of the gospel (3:15).

If rumors spread about bad character or actions, do people latch on to them because it’s in line with what they know, or are they skeptical – “That doesn’t sound like them.” Granted,  we aren’t perfect, and we can’t control what others think (fairly or unfairly) but does our public life rob accusations of their power or give them life?

Husband of one wife. Literally, a "one-woman man."Based on other passages of Scripture, it doesn’t seem likely Paul was saying they had to be married, or that this was a blanket ban on remarriage (1 Corinthians 7:39-40; 1 Timothy 5:14). After all, exceptions to the rule prohibiting remarriage were made in the case of adultery (Matthew 5:32; 19:9) and when an unbelieving spouse left (1 Corinthians 7:15). 

The qualification appears to be a requirement of faithfulness in marriage. Perhaps this is a way of highlighting that our private life has consequences for the church. The phrase is probably stressing that, if they are married, the quality of their marriage matters.   This does not demand perfection – that doesn’t happen on this side of heaven – but it does demand a consistent faithfulness characterized by honor, mutual submission, and sacrificial love. 

So let’s address a lurking question here: why doesn't it say the wife of one husband? Can only men be overseers? I need to address this, but since it is not the main point of my sermon (See the footnote at the end for more clarity).

Sober-minded. This doesn’t mean they could never laugh. It means they needed to be clear-headed and vigilant in overseeing the life of the church. They had to have a good head on their shoulders. 

Sensible. One meaning is ‘balanced, stable, or moderated. Not given to excess.’  This suggests the need to control impulsive behavior, not to overindulge appetites. They can’t be compulsively self-destructive in their lifestyle.  Today we might talk about all kinds of addictions: compulsive eating, gambling, shopping, online surfing, or drug and alcohol abuse. It would include controlling one’s emotions in a balanced manner.

Welcoming to strangers (allowing them into his home). Hospitality was crucial in the NT culture, and even more so in the church. This was different than just inviting people over for lunch (though it could include that). It had more to do with a call to show honor towards everyone while being radically generous in caring for them with all your resources. All believers were to practice hospitality (Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9; Titus 1:8).

Gifted to teach. Considering the problem of false teaching going on in Ephesus, this qualification would include some ability to be able to present solid doctrinal teaching (5:17; 2 Timothy 2:1) and show why false teaching was wrong (2 Timothy 2:24; Titus 1:9). There is a division of labor among the elders alluded to in 5:17; this suggests the ability to publically teach or preach might not need not be the strong suit of all the overseers, but it would include the ability to do this informally. 

Not drunk or violent. That means exactly what it says. Don’t live like you are in a reality show ☺

Gentle; not belligerent. Not one who picks a fight. There is an ability to absorb personality flaws and differing opinions with graciousness. An overseer who is thin-skinned and can’t take criticism, or who can’t seem to ever acknowledge the possibility that he might be wrong, or who causes controversy not by defending true doctrine but by failing to consider if he is gracious is going to cause problems. 

They must be fair and reasonable. I keep coming back to this summary: they must be safe physically, emotionally, spiritually, and in their attitude and demeanor.

Free from money lust. Don’t be greedy. Be generous. We can’t serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24)

Exerts good control over his own household, and his children should obey and honor him. A household at this time would have included the wife, children, maybe extended family and servants (if you had the money). Some Christian householders in Ephesus owned slaves (think indentured servant).  Leaders in the church needed to exhibit godly leadership at home. To suggest this meant perfection would be at odds with the rest of the New Testament. I’m not sure it even means that the husband must answer for all the sins or rebelliousness of other members of the household. People have free will and make choices. But was he a godly leader? Did he offer a godly example combined with godly leadership?  Did he maintain his witness and raise the spiritual and moral bar in his home? It’s not enough to be a ‘good man’ publicly; he must be so privately as well.

Not recently converted (or he will become arrogant). The apostle's term means puffed up, a metaphor that reminds us of a balloon. It’s is light, and has nothing in it but air.

Part of the danger with new converts is that they can think they must be spiritually awesome because they are leap-frogging over people who have been Christians for longer than they have. This does not suggest that leaders must be chosen based on the ones who have been saved the longest; after all, we all have different gifts and callings. Perhaps the question to ask is this: do they want to be a leader because they want the reputation? Or so they can have power? Or because they think they are awesome? That’s a bad sign. If they are chosen to lead because they are spiritually mature enough to step into their gift of leadership, that’s a good sign.  Honestly, if leaders generally feel like they are in over their head, that’s probably a good sign, because they are. It’s only with God’s supernatural help that they will succeed.

Not double-talking hypocrites. They shouldn’t be two-faced or lead a double life. Their stated belief and their lifestyles need to match. They shouldn’t ‘talk out of both sides of their mouth,’ representing themselves one way and then another depending on their audience.  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ‘be all things to all people’ as Paul did. He was good at presenting the Gospel in a variety of ways that often looked very different. We are talking here about not being a person whose witness for Christ ebbs and flows depending on the audience.

Holding tight to faith with a clear conscience. They should be grounded in true doctrine, not easily led astray by false teachers. Once again, true faith leads to right conduct. Doctrine matters, because ideas have consequences. 

Not backstabbing gossips. That’s pretty blunt. Keep in mind what we talked about last week: gossip was a problem in this community. No wonder he calls it out.

So that’s the standard for leaders in the church. It’s also the bar that is raised for all of us. You don’t have to be in church leadership to feel the weight of this. So how do shoot for this without becoming wrapped up in a legalistic rat race?

  •  Pray ‘with upraised arms.’ I love the image from last week: open before God and others about the reality of our lives. It symbolizes humility; it requests inspection of hands and heart. We surrender our integrity, reputation and public witness to the scrutiny of God and others. 
  • Immerse ourselves in Scripture. With all the commands about clinging to doctrine, we must be students of the Word. Read the Bible, commentaries, books. Listen to podcasts. Study deeply, widely, and with discernment. [Note: I don't know of any Christian leader with whom I agree about everything. We unite on the creedal core of the faith, but not necessarily on secondary issues.]
  • Submit to accountability in church community. We need accountability on our doctrine and our lives. We can deceive ourselves pretty easily about how we are doing. We must live in humble, submitted community.
  • Praise God for doing the work we can’t while doing the work we can. I’ve used the phrase before: God demands that we put ‘sweat equity’ into our faith. God does all the work we can’t, but he has given us the privilege and responsibility of, to use Paul’s words, running the race and fighting the good fight. Getting saved doesn’t erase our reputation; being a Christian does not guarantee everyone will now admire us. God won’t magically give us a good reputation. The Holy Spirit doesn’t illuminate Scripture we don’t read. God will empower us miraculously, but we have a responsibility too. 

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ON WOMEN IN CHURCH MINISTRY

  Let’s first give some context to what was happening in the early church.

  • Women were elevated in the early church that was unprecedented in those cultures, including Judaism.  
  • Jesus had women who sat at his feet, suggesting he taught them as disciples, which was remarkably unusual. 
  • Paul insisted women be educated in the church in a time when nobody educated women. 
  • Women were so prevalent in the early church that the Romans mocked the church for having so many women. 
  • At a time when Jewish men thanked God they were not women, Jesus appeared to women first after his Resurrection, and Paul insisted that in Christ there was no “male or female.” 
  • We see women as deaconesses, prophetesses, and evangelists, co-workers with Paul, teachers, and perhaps even in an apostolic role .
  • Wealthy women were patrons who hosted house churches and would have been very involved. 

It is crucial that we understand that women flocked to the church because it was a haven of safety and opportunity, and it offered them a value, worth and dignity that was unprecedented.  Here's a brief list of how women were elevated in both worth and role in the New Testament, beginning with the life and ministry of Jesus.

  • The angel appeared to Mary, and everyone had to take her word even though women were considered unreliable liars in Jewish community.
  • Jesus' disciples included several women, which was highly unusual (Luke 8:1-3)
  • Christ's first clearly identifies himself as the true Messiah to the Samaritan woman (John 4:25-26).
  • He treated female outcasts with dignity (Matthew 9:20-22; Luke 7:37-50; John 4:7-27).
  • Jesus appeared to women first after His resurrection as eyewitnesses.
  • At Pentecost, women were there praying with the other disciples (Acts 1:12-14). They clearly understood sound doctrine and experienced spiritual giftedness (Acts 18:26; 21:8-9).
  • Paul ministered alongside women (Philippians 4:3).
  • Paul applauded their faithfulness and giftedness (Romans 16:1-6; 2 Timothy 1:5
  • Couples evangelized with him (1 Cor. 16:3)
  • Paul says that Andronicus and Junias labored with Paul in apostolic work (Romans 16:7)
  • The church in Philippi met in the house of Lydia, a seller of purple cloth. Paul’s visit to her suggests she had a leadership role of some sort (Acts 16:35-40).
  • Phoebe (Rom 16:1-2) is called a deacon and a leader.
  • Priscilla, along with her husband, taught Apollos (Acts 18:26).
  • The four daughters of Philip appear in Acts 21:9 as prophetesses. Eusebius viewed these daughters as “belonging to the first stage of apostolic succession.”
  • When the Roman governor Pliny the Younger interrogated church leaders, he included two slave women called ministrae (deacons).
  • Clement of Alexandria wrote that the apostles were accompanied on missionary journeys by women specifically to preach to women.
  • Jerome (330’s) was so impressed with Roman women studying with him that he sent some church elders to one of them, Marcella, to resolve a question of hermeneutics.
  • Augustine (400’s) claimed that Christian women were wiser in spiritual matters than were many philosophers.
  • Fabiola founded the first Christian hospital in Europe.

There is one position in church that women did not hold in the New Testament: overseer (elder or pastor). Was that a timely command put in place because of cultural dynamics, or was that a timeless command that is rooted in a theology of church leadership? Christians attempting to read the Bible accurately disagree about this, sometimes very vigorously.

One thing is clear.

This is clearly about roles in the church, not inherent worth. In the same way we see the Trinity having different roles with no devaluation of worth, men and women have roles in the church without devaluation of worth. There is no sense anywhere in Scripture that one’s sex is connected with being greater or lesser as a human being.  This is about roles. Men and women are egalitarian (equal) in worth while being complementarian in roles.  

If a man reads this and thinks, “I am clearly more awesome than women,” he has totally missed the point. If a woman reads this and thinks, “Crap. I’m not as good as a man in the eyes of God,” they have missed the point also. This is about roles, not worth. 

I have read quite a bit of the discussion among Christians about how to understand this passage, and there is not settled agreement. However, I do know that for most of the past 2,000 years, the church has generally (though not entirely) viewed this distinct role of men as ‘overseers’ in the church as a timeless command for the church. CLG has submitted itself to the weight of the historical church’s interpretation of this passage, as do I.  

Truth, Humility and Peace: The Hard Work Of Church Community (1 Timothy 2:8-15)

In 1 Timothy, Paul keeps coming back to two things: orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (righteous action). Pretty much everything in the letter relates to these two things in some fashion. Before Paul moves into a discussion of ecclesiology (church structure) in Chapter 3, he addresses a dynamic happening in Timothy’s church where men and women were being influenced by bad teaching and responding in troubling ways.

Paul’s solution may sound odd to us, but it made sense to his audience, and there are implications for us today. Here’s the passage:

So here’s what you tell them; here’s what I want to see: Men, pray wherever you are. Reach your holy hands to heaven—without rage or conflict—completely open. Women, the same goes for you: dress properly, modestly, and appropriately. Don’t get carried away in grooming your hair or seek beauty in glittering gold, pearls, or expensive clothes. Instead, as is fitting, let good works decorate your true beauty and show that you are a woman who claims reverence for God. 

It’s best if a woman learns quietly and orderly in complete submission.  Now, Timothy, it’s not my habit to allow women to teach in a way that wrenches authority from a man. As I said, it’s best if a woman learns quietly and orderly. This is because Adam was formed first by God, then Eve. Plus, it wasn’t Adam who was tricked; it was she—the woman was the one who was fooled and disobeyed God’s command first.

 Still, God, in His faithfulness, will deliver her through childbearing as long as she remains in faith and love and holiness with self-restraint. (1 Timothy 2:8-15)

Can we just acknowledge right up front that this is an odd passage? Christian theologians and Bible scholars have wrestled with this passage for as long as it’s been around. Is this about some specific dynamic in Timothy’s church or in Ephesus? Is this a timeless comment about women and men?

What I’m going to attempt to do this morning is show why this was important for them to do what we talked about last week: ‘lead quiet and peaceful lives, with holiness and godliness, for the sake of the spread of gospel.’  Then I want to challenge us with how this might apply in our lives today.

A historian from the 1st century B.C., Pompeius Trogus, wrote about an apparently well known “nation ruled by females”:

“They also dismissed all thought of intermarriage with their neighbors, calling it slavery rather than marriage. They embarked instead upon an enterprise unparalleled in the whole of history, that of building up a state without men and then actually defending it themselves…. Then, with peace assured by their military success, they entered into sexual relationships with surrounding peoples so that their line would not die out. After conquering most of Europe, they also seized a number of city-states in Asia. Here they founded Ephesus.”

“The mother of the gods,” Artemis, was worshipped in Ephesus. The priesthood was dominated by women. Men could become priests after renouncing their masculinity and going through ritual castration. They also abstained from certain types of food.

Josephus recorded that some of the Jews had incorporated some of these traditions into their brand of Judaism. They shunned marriage and often avoided women altogether. They abstained from meat and wine (it might stir their passions like the ladies did).  They also thought this gave them a special ability to interpret the Mosaic law in unusual ways, which they justified by referring to seemingly endless genealogies through which they claimed to be the descendants of Zadok, who was the first High Priest in the Temple of Jerusalem.

So, note what we are dealing with so far:

  • A rejection of marriage by Gentile women and Jewish men;
  • A worship of the mother goddess which empowered women and emasculated men literally and figuratively;
  • A belief that denial of pleasure (in this case sex and certain foods) led to spiritual power. This was fueling self-righteousness and judgment.
  • A fascination with genealogies meant to place people in a line of spiritual authority, both in Judaism (Zadok for the men) and in the local temple cults (Artemis for the women). This was leading to a sense of superiority and arrogance.

Remember: Paul just said, “Lead quiet, peaceful lives in godliness and holiness…” So how do they accomplish this as they are facing these challenges? 

MEN: DON’T BE ANGRY AND LIFT HOLY HANDS WHEN YOU PRAY

The solution for the men was to lift up holy hands in prayer – not just pray like Paul wrote just a couple paragraphs earlier, but to pray with hands uplifted. Why the more specific command?

  • The Jews apparently stood and turned open, empty palms toward heaven. Perhaps it was a way of asking Him to put something into the empty hand, like a beggar who has nothing and holds out his hand.
  • It shows a relationship where the one raising his hands is lowly with respect to the other.
  • It also symbolically raises hands that are supposed to be clean, and uncovers a heart that is supposed to be pure (according the Psalmist – Psalm 24:4). That stance reminds men that they have nothing to bring to God on their own merit, not their self-denial or their lineage. They are in submission, not having authority over God; and they are exposed, offering their lives for God’s inspection. If they take that seriously, that’s a sobering thing.  

WOMEN: DRESS MODESTLY AND LEARN QUIETLY

Women were gravitating toward a style of temple worship in which were some pretty wild temple priestesses who were publically loud and immodest and generally disdainful of men. The general public did not like them, and Roman authorities were greatly concerned because this was upsetting a divinely ordered family structure and would displease the gods.

The immodest and showy dress that accompanied this often signaled a woman’s loose morals and independence from the responsibility of her family. That was not a signal the church wanted to send.

It seems like this was coming into the church through the women because at least the single women and the widows were being actively recruited (this idea comes up later in 1 Timothy). They were bored and restless; they had no family responsibilities (which left little to do in Ephesus); because women were not formally educated in Greek, Roman or Jewish culture at the time, they didn’t know enough about their faith to be discerning when faced with false teaching (1 Timothy 5:15; 2 Timothy 3:6-7).

In addition, it was considered a shame for women to speak in public venues. Aristotle wrote in Politics, “Silence is a woman’s glory.”  The Greek ecclesia (which was also used for church assemblies) was a man’s domain. The few times we have record of women giving speeches, they brought shame on their family even if the speech was praised. [1], [2]

They were buying into false beliefs, and their public immodesty and boldness were undermining what was seen by everyone as respectable.[3]  We noted last week that the early church wanted “to make the heathen rulers sensible that they were good subjects. For thus they might expect to be less the object of their hatred.” – from Biblehub’s commentary on 1 Timothy[4] On a practical level, Paul was giving instruction on how to be ‘good subjects’ in the eyes of the state even while educating them on the biblical foundation for his commands.

ADAM FIRST, THEN EVE

In the religious culture of Ephesus, life had its origin in Cybele (Artemis), a woman, and sin originated with various male gods. Paul reminds them how this clashes with the biblical narrative: it was Adam, a man, who was the source of life; it was Eve, the woman, who introduced sin.[5] Once again, there is a lot of discussion about the implications of this, because Adam’s not off the hook either: “By one man sin entered into the world” (Romans 5:12). Jesus is called the New Adam, not the New Eve.

The broader theological implications (and I’m sure there are many) are not my focus this morning. Whatever Paul is saying theologically, I think he is making the same practical point to the women that he is making to the men: There is no room for men or women to claim a religious superiority because of their lineage from Zadok -  or Artemis.

SAVED THROUGH CHILDBIRTH

Honestly, there is no real consensus on what this means. It’s the only time this word is used in the New Testament. I favor the idea that Paul is talking about how spiritual formation looks in the lives of women living in Ephesus. We think of salvation as a moment; Paul thought of salvation as an ongoing process, including what we would now call sanctification.[6]

I suspect what he is saying is contrasting what happens when women in his culture were not married and raising families in a church community. They were bored, distracted, easily manipulated by false teaching, even drawn into pagan worship. Those who stayed in the church were succumbing to false teachers. This was going to lead them away from Christ. Being married, raising a family in the church, being focused and purposeful and being under the instruction of true doctrine and the spiritual leadership of godly husbands would build their faith; this would be the means by which they would experience God’s process of sanctification (‘deliverance’) through the raising of the family in the broader context of church life. [7]

Several things stand out to me in this particular section: A healthy church will be characterized, by truth, humility, and peaceful community.[i]

Truth: look at how the false teaching within the church and outside of the church were destroying fellowship and shipwrecking faith. Ideas have consequences. There are other places where Paul says that preachers with bad motives are still preaching the gospel, and that’s what’s important (Philippians 1). Here they aren’t teaching the gospel, and it’s tearing the church apart. The anger among the men, the subversion of decorum and even worship among the women – that is not a quiet and peaceful life lived in godliness and holiness. That is not a game plan for furthering the good news of the gospel.

It’s a reminder that we must be a people that embrace and defend truth, specifically solid doctrinal teaching, or it will tear us apart. We hear talk about living in a ‘post-truth’ world; now more than ever, we must be students of truth. It’s a daunting thing to challenge someone’s doctrine, but we must be bold (and gracious) defenders of truth, while being humble recipients of whatever challenges we receive.

Humility: We must stand with our spiritual arms uplifted to let God examine our hands and our hearts. And we must see that grime on what we have to offer so that we can appreciate what Jesus has done for us. There was no room for them to be proud because of their lineage, their self-denial, or because they were a man or a woman.

How boldly do we pray with the Psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts. See if there be any wicked way in me.” (Psalm 139:23).  We’ve been coming back to this idea a lot lately, but it’s there in the text a lot lately.

  • “Lord, did I represent truth this week?”
  • “Did I do it with love and compassion, speaking boldly but gently, or did I do it with sarcasm and bitterness?”
  • “Lord, did I pray for my friends and my enemies? Did my heart break for the things that break your heart?”
  • “Lord, did I call on you for help, knowing that unless you build everything in my life it will be in vain?”
  • “Lord, did I praise you as I should, seeing your presence in every moment, acknowledging that it’s not by my might, and it’s not by my power, but it’s by your Spirit that all good things happen?”
  • “Lord, have I repented of my sins as I should? Have I forgiven others as you have forgiven them?”

There is no room for arrogance or self-righteous judgment in God’s kingdom. We are called to honest introspection and surrender to God, and to do so with openness and in humility.

Peaceful Community: The solution for both the women and the men was that they followed Christ into deeper Christian community. It is in the fellowship of other Christians that we find stability, refinement and purpose.

God often uses our walk with others as a means of our sanctification.

Karl’s been working with kids in this church for almost 10 years, and he noted last week how being in that ministry has built and stabilized his faith. He teaches big concepts to kids. He interacts with them, their parents and other workers, which will build character.  He gets to know most of you in the process.

I think what has happened in Karl shows an important principle: purposeful involvement in church community makes a difference. Our community of influence that we give and receive makes a difference. A responsibility for the spiritual nourishment of others makes a difference. Being forced into situations where you are challenged, or criticized, or praised all are part of your spiritual formation.

We need each other. We need to plug in to God’s kingdom. Purposeful service accompanied by good Christian fellowship is often a key means of our sanctification.

 

Some Recommended Resources (with varying opinions)

Saved Through Childbearing.  Andreas Kostenberger. http://cbmw.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/2-4.pdf.

Should Women Teach in Church?  Greg Koukl http://www.str.org/articles/should-women-teach-in-church#.WIJ7KneZOb8.

Was Paul For Or Against Women In Ministry? Craig Keener http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/200102/082_paul.cfm

“Made – In Complementary Community.” https://clgonline.org/madein-complementary-community-part-1/

Commentaries at biblehub.com. They were instrumental in helping me in this sermon, as were the other articles.

 

[1] Several Roman writers instruct women to just go home and be quiet. One ancient inscription that read, “Theano [the wife of Pythagoras], in putting her cloak about her exposed her arm. Somebody exclaimed, ‘A lovely arm.’ ‘But not for the public,’ said she. Not only the arm of the virtuous woman, but her speech as well, ought to be not for the public, and she ought to be modest and guarded about saying anything in the hearing of outsiders, since it is an exposure of herself; for in her talk can be seen her feelings, character, and disposition.” Juvenal, a Roman poet, wrote: “Wives shouldn’t try to be public speakers; they shouldn’t use rhetorical devices; they shouldn’t read all the classics-there ought to be some things women don’t understand. . . If she has to correct somebody, let her correct her girl friends and leave her husband alone.”

[2] No wonder Paul warned against a woman teaching and practicing something he called “authentein” against “a man” (1 Timothy 2:12), a word which means to dominate , exercise dominion over, or wrench authority away from a man. In his 2010 book, “Insight into Two Biblical Passages: The Anatomy of a Prohibition, 1 Timothy 2:12, the TLG Computer, and the Christian Church,” Wilshire notes that authentein had the following meanings: “doer of a massacre”; “author of crimes”; “perpetrators of sacrilege”; “supporter of violent actions”;  “murderer”;  “slayer of oneself”;  “perpetrator of evil;  “one who murders by his own hand.”  http://juniaproject.com/1-timothy-pauls-language-original-context/

[3] “Here Paul also forbade women to "teach," something he apparently allowed elsewhere (Romans 16; Philippians 4:2,3). Thus he presumably addressed the specific situation in this community.” – Craig Keener

[4] Some scholars have pointed out that in the letter to Corinthians Paul identifies the men as “husbands”; Craig Keener and Greg Koukl have suggested that the men in this letter to Timothy may be better translated as “husband” in accord with the letter to Corinth.

[5] In a culture where typology or archetypes mattered (one person stands in for a whole group of people), this distinction mattered. 

[6] Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. From the same as teknogoneo; childbirth (parentage), i.e. (by implication) maternity (the performance of maternal duties) -- childbearing.

 [7] For what it’s worth, women had great leeway in the ‘private’ sphere of their own homes – business, education and raising of the children, social connections, etc. They were very skilled and capable, and among their circle of female friends there were often thriving businesses. There was decent money to be made through manufacturing and trade, and plenty of women (including some prominent members in the early church) did this. Read Proverbs 31 to get an idea of how productive, valued and impactful women were.

 

 

 

Living With Kings: Prayer, Peace and Gravity (1 Timothy 1:18 – 2:6)

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 "Timothy, my dear child, I am placing before you a charge for the mission ahead. It is in total agreement with the prophecies once spoken over you. Here it is: with God’s message stirring and directing you, fight the good fight, armed with faith and a good conscience. Some have tried to silence their consciences, making a shipwreck of their lives and ruining their faiths. Hymenaeus and Alexander are among these; I have had to hand them over to Satan so they might learn not to speak against God. So, first and foremost, I urge God’s people to pray. They should make their requests, petitions, and thanksgivings on behalf of all humanity. Teach them to pray for kings (or anyone in high places for that matter) so that we can lead quiet, peaceful lives in godliness and holiness, all of which is good and acceptable before the eyes of God our Savior who desires for everyone to be saved and know the truth.  Because ‘There is one God and one Mediator[1] between God and us— the man Jesus, God’s Anointed, Who gave His life as a ransom for all so that we might have freedom.’The testimony was given to me at just the right time. This is exactly what I was appointed to do—tell everyone His story—as a herald, an emissary, a teacher of the outsiders in faith and the truth."

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Paul has already mentioned two kinds of doctrine in his letter to Timothy: the proper knowledge of Jesus (orthodoxy), and the proper embrace of life under the lordship of Jesus (orthopraxy).[2] Without these, we shipwreck our faith. If you want a sense of how seriously Paul takes this, watch The Finest Hours, or The Perfect Storm. Paul knew something about shipwrecks. I’m sure he didn’t choose this word casually.

So Timothy has to address that. In this case, “turning them over to Satan” does not mean he has some kind of authority to damn them. It seems to be more of a formal church pronouncement where they pray that God removes his blessing or protection so that the two men mentioned can experience the disaster of where their lives and teaching are going - but for the sake of restoration.

This opening section of warning about protecting orthodoxy and orthopraxy is followed immediately with the command to pray in every possible way. The four words used all mean different things, but they basically cover the full range of prayer. Just…pray.

 Then Paul gets specific.The church is to pray for all people and for kings and those who are in authority, so Christians can lead quite and peaceful lives. God really likes this, because He desires the salvation of everyone.

I heard the verse about quiet and peaceful lives a lot growing up. That was the Mennonite goal at the time. We just wanted to be left alone. We got our wish, but that wasn't necessarily a good thing. Our community was quiet and peaceful, but not necessarily evangelist or welcoming. We liked things how they were. We didn’t need someone to show up and rock the boat.  (NOTE: A lot has changed in that community since then. I don’t think that characterization still holds true).

We forgot to read the rest of Paul’s thought. This prayer is specifically related to evangelism. We pray for rulers to allow us to live peacefully, which is good in the eyes of a God who wants all people to be saved. We don’t pray for our leaders simply so we can live comfortably. We pray for our leaders so that they will create or at least allow a cultural climate in which we can freely share the gospel.

This practice began with the worship of the Jews when they were in exile (Jeremiah 29:7). There were times the Jewish people would even offer sacrifices for the kings - not to them, but for them (Ezra 6:9-10; also recorded in the historical, non-canonical book 1 Maccabees 7:33).

The Jews, by Augustus' order, offered a lamb daily for the Roman emperor until the destruction of Jerusalem, which the Zealots apparently brought about by stopping the practice (as recorded by Josephus in Wars of the Jews). So there was a practical reason for trying to honor rulers as much as possible.

The theological reason is that human government is part of God’s design (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13). The church was to pay taxes (Romans 13:7), honor the ruling authorities (Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 2:17) and pray for them. Note some early records in the church: 

  • "We pray to God, not only for ourselves, but for all mankind, and particularly for the emperors." (St. Cyprian, defending himself before a Roman proconsul)
  • "We pray for all the emperors, that God may grant them long life, a secure government, a prosperous family, vigorous troops, a faithful senate, an obedient people; that the whole world may be in peace; and that God may grant, both to Caesar and to every man, the accomplishment of their just desires." (Tertullian)
  • "We pray for kings and rulers, that with their royal authority they may be found possessing a wise and prudent mind." (Origen)
  • "Let us pray for kings and those in authority, that they may be peaceably inclined toward us, and that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all piety and honesty [or, 'gravity']" (Liturgy of St. Clement).
  • "Remember, Lord, our most religious and faithful kings... that in their serenity we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity. Remember, O Lord, all rulers and all in authority, and all our brethren in the palace, and the whole court." (Liturgy of St. Basil)[4]

So we pray for the state to fulfill its God-given function of maintaining an orderly, peaceful environment, and we live in obedience as best we can without breaking our conscience or denying the gospel, because it’s in the best interest of spreading the good news of the gospel. But there is more. The description of the manner of Christian living (godliness and holiness) contains hints of how our witness is bolstered by the quality of our lives.

Godliness covers the idea of bringing together knowledge of and faith in God and the accompanying lifestyle. It’s living in a way that pays homage to God. When my dad died, I didn’t speak at his funeral. I had my uncle say that I wanted my life to be his eulogy. This is kind of the idea of godliness. The way that we live now pays homage to God. If this was accomplished, there was a practical advantage as well:

“In the first age, when the disciples of Christ were liable to be persecuted for their religion by their heathen neighbors, it was highly necessary, by praying for kings and all in authority, to make the heathen rulers sensible that they were good subjects. For thus they might expect to be less the object of their hatred.” – from biblehub’s commentary on 1 Timothy

Holiness has been translated as dignity, honesty, or reverence (the original word allows for this variety). It suggests a deportment of respectability that is evident to observers. Some translators suggest we should use the word ‘gravity’. There is a weightiness to our lives, one that acts as a lifestyle witness (1 Timothy 3:7; 6:1; Titus 2). I like this commentary’s conclusion:

“The church's prayer for all people is an essential aspect of its participation in the Great Commission. It is prayer that seeks the gospel's penetration into all parts of the world and every aspect of life. The closely related prayer for those whom God has placed in charge of government finds its ultimate purpose too in the accomplishment of God's plan of salvation. Perhaps it is worth noting that we find Paul praying not for the liberation of the land from Roman rule, but for the responsible administration of that rule.”  -from commentary at biblehub.com

There is a universality to this passage on a number of levels.

First, our stance as Christians should be to pray for our political leaders for the sake of the gospel. We should have been praying for President Obama and we should be praying for President Trump like the early church prayed for Roman emperors. If I may offer a sample prayer for this moment in our nation’s history:

“Lord, may President Trump flourish in the pursuit of justice and goodness; may our nation be safe and full of peace; may our national presence in the world bring justice and peace; may we as individuals and institutions care for the poor, the sick, and the outsider; may our political leaders be full of character, integrity and wisdom; may your Holy Spirit and truth work in them to bring them to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. And may we, your children, be granted quiet and peaceful lives for the sake of the gospel.”

If someone new gets elected four years from now, just insert his or her name and keep praying.

Second, a quite and peaceful life is wasted if we do not live in godliness and holiness. We must live with spiritual gravity so that our presence carries godly weight in the world. We can pray all we want, but if our words and actions do not honor God, the kingdom of God and the spread of the Gospel will suffer.  We must commit, with God’s help, to living lives in which our actions testify to the goodness and glory of God.  

Finally, our peace and our godliness are squandered if we do not use the opportunity to spread the gospel. For the 1st century church, the hurdle was Gentiles and Samaritans, two groups of people the Jews figured God just didn’t like and maybe didn’t care about. Those groups aren’t our hurdles today: what groups of people, what kind of people, do we assume God just doesn’t like and maybe doesn’t care about?  What kind of people are the ones we think are least likely to make it into the Kingdom or that we are sure are deserving of God’s wrath? Are we pursuing them? Are we praying for them, befriending them, and being present in their lives?  

Let’s say we are committed to praying that the next four to eight years are times when we as Christians can live quiet and peaceful lives.  Are we just as committed to surrendering our lives so that godliness and holy gravity characterize us? Are we equally committed to using this opportunity to reach out with the good news of the gospel through word and deed?

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[1] “And one mediator - The word μεσιτης, mediator, signifies, literally, a middle person, one whose office it is to reconcile two parties at enmity; and hence Suidas explains it by ειρηνοποιος, a peace-maker. God was offended with the crimes of men; to restore them to his peace, Jesus Christ was incarnated; and being God and man, both God and men met in and were reconciled by him. But this reconciliation required a sacrifice on the part of the peace-maker or mediator; hence what follows.”   - from Adam Clarke’s commentary

[2] http://www.breakpoint.org/features-columns/archive/1448-orthopraxy-over-orthodoxy

[3] In pre-Christian times, the Jews employed  "there is one God" formula found in the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) to counteract polytheism. Paul talked about the oneness of God to demonstrate that all have access to God's salvation: the fact that there is one God of both Jews and Gentiles means salvation for the Gentiles too (Romans 3:29-30; Ephesians 4:4-6).

[4] The first three examples are from Adam Clarke’s commentary; the rest are from commentary found at biblehub.com

Trustworthy Sayings (1 Timothy 1: 8-17)

Last week we talked about the importance of a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a genuine faith that comes from sound doctrine. We also noted there are those who wander from this, who bring arguments and confusion rather than welcoming in the Kingdom of God as expressed by the presence of the church on earth. Paul continues by showing a contrast between a life that rejects the reign of Christ and a life that embraces it, and why embracing Jesus brings life.

You and I know the law is good (if used in the right way), and we also know the law was not designed for law-abiding people but for lawbreakers and criminals, the ungodly and sin-filled, the unholy and worldly, the father killers and mother killers, the murderers, the sexually immoral and homosexuals, slave dealers, liars, perjurers, and anyone else who acts against the sound doctrine (“teaching as it extends to a necessary lifestyle”)[1] laid out in the glorious, holy, and pure good news of the blessed God that has been entrusted to me. (8-11)

First, Paul establishes the standard: God’s law reveals God’s will for the world. We want our hearts to align with God’s so that we love what God loves; we want our consciences to be clear by then doing what God wants us to do. There is a ‘necessary lifestyle’ that is supposed to follow if we commit ourselves to Jesus – not because it saves us, but because it expresses our commitment to the one who has saved us.

We talked last week about how part of the problem in Timothy’s church was that the Judaizers were teaching that keeping the Law would save people. But that’s not the way the law was meant to be used. It was meant to be a schoolmaster, a teacher, showing the way that pleases God. God has revealed His will so that we know if our actions are pleasing to Him, and if what we are doing is promoting or undermining life in the Kingdom of God.

But even the best lawkeeping cannot save us, so Paul immediately moves into the necessity of the intervention of Jesus in our life.

I thank our Lord Jesus the Anointed who empowers me, because He saw me as faithful and appointed me to this ministry despite the fact that at one time I was slandering the things of God, persecuting and attacking His people. (12-13)

 The verb means to "treat or use others despitefully," "to outrage and insult" them. The full phrase says he sinned against God, himself and others – and, ironically, he did it while keeping the Law (at least as it was understood by the Pharisees). Those in the Jewish community would have seen him as the ultimate law keeper, and yet he was one of the worst. Keeping the Law is not enough, especially if it's a flawed human understanding of what God’s Law really says.

He was still merciful to me because I acted in ignorance apart from faith. But He poured His grace over me, and I was flooded in an abundance of the grace and faith and love that can only be found in Jesus the Anointed. Here’s a statement worthy of trust: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and I am the worst of them all.  (14-15)

There were a number of hymns of catechetical teaching in the early Church. This appears to be one: "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." But then Paul adds to it: “I am the worst of them all.”

He talks about his new life in other places (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20), but nothing can alter the fact that Paul was the man that did all these things and is capable of doing them again without the presence of God in his life.

You’ve heard the phrase, “That’s gonna leave a mark?” Sin leaves a mark. I will bear the scar of my shoulder surgery. No matter how healthy I get, I am the man with a repaired shoulder. It doesn’t define me, but it is a part of me. Paul bore the scars of his sin even as those scars revealed the kind of healing only God can give.

The apostle Paul never forgot his former sins and the grace of God that transformed him. The story of Paul’s conversion is repeated multiple times in the New Testament (Acts 9, 22, 26; Gal. 1 & 2; Phil. 3; 1 Tim. 1).  And as Paul himself tells it, his awareness of his sinfulness actually escalates:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:9 - “I am the least of the apostles.”
  • Ephesians 3:8, written later – “I am the very least of all saints.”
  • 1 Timothy 1:15, written later still, and after probably about 25 years of walking with God -  “I am the chief of all sinners.”

He does not say, “I was the chief of sinners.” He says, “I am the chief.”  He does not single out the sins that previously defined him. He does not say, “I am the chief of persecutors.” He is not wallowing in a past that haunts him. This is more of a general realization.

“The sign of growing perfection is the growing consciousness of imperfection.... The more you become like Christ the more you will find out your unlikeness to Him.” – Alexander Maclaren

“When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less.”  C.S. Lewis

Paul doesn't kill Christians anymore, but he is more aware than ever of his constant need for God’s mercy.  The closer people walk with God, the more they are aware of the depths of their sinful nature, which in turn drives them to a deeper appreciation of the grace of God.

But it is for this reason I was given mercy: by displaying His perfect patience in me, the very worst of all sinners, Jesus could show that patience to all who would believe in Him and gain eternal life.  (16)

Notice: the main reason Paul was given mercy was not so that he could be awesome. It was so he would have a testimony for the Kingdom of God. Christians can see in Christ's dealings with Paul the pattern which they can expect for themselves. (The word translated “who would believe” is literally “who are about to believe.”)

Any testimony that points to the saved instead of the Savior misses the point. Paul didn’t want Timothy to think about Paul; Paul wanted Timothy to think about Jesus.

God saves us not because we are awesome, but because he is awesome. We give our testimony so that others gain hope: if God is patient and loving with them, God will be patient and loving with me.  No case is too hard for God. He delights in hard cases. If Paul can be saved, you can be saved. [2]

Every testimony counts as a story of how God has shown patience and love to a sinner in desperate need of salvation. ALL have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. While WE were sinners, Christ died for us.

We have a tendency in Christian circles to put certain kinds of testimonies on a pedestal. I know why we do that – it is meant to find a “chief of sinners” whose life gives us hope (if God can save them, He can save me). I wonder if, at times, we kind of slip down in our chairs and think, “I will never give my testimony. I am just too ordinary…my sins are not that exciting…no one will be in awe when I am done talking.”

Don’t ever think that God can’t use your life to show the glory of his patience and love. Every testimony counts as a story of how God has shown patience and love to a sinner in desperate need of salvation.

May the King eternal, immortal, and invisible—the one and only God—now be honored and glorified forever and ever. Amen. (17)

Paul’s acknowledgment of who he is does not push him into a dark corner of shame and despair. It brings out worship, as if the only way we can appreciate the beauty and grace of God’s forgiveness is by continuously seeing the ugliness of who we are without God.

The “gospel” we hear preached in our day is often a positive message that will help you achieve your full potential or feel good about yourself, succeed financially, or solve your problems.

That’s not the heart of the gospel. Biblical principles will help you in practical ways, but that’s not the good news. The Gospel is that Christ came to save sinners. If you think you’re a basically good person, you are not going to fully understand why Christ came to save you. If you think you have few faults and shortcomings, you will not understand what it means that Christ came to save you.

In Luke 7 we read a story about the connection between honest acknowledgment of who we are and deep response to Christ.  Jesus contrasts the casual and even disrespectful way that one of the Pharisees treats him and the way a local prostitute responds to him. She knew she was in desperate need of Christ and needed an ocean of forgiveness. The Pharisee thought he was tight with God and barely needed any.  What does Jesus say? “Those who are forgiven little love little. Those who have been forgiven much love much.” 

In other words, grace flows from us to the degree that we recognize the grace that has flowed into us.

Do you ever find yourself in a place where you don’t care about other people, or you lack empathy or kindness, or you feel lukewarm in your faith? If so, you may not need to work on feeling kinder or more passionate. You probably are forgetting how much you have been forgiven, how much God loves you, how much he has given you grace when you were a mess.

To remember how much we have been forgiven is the surest way to fill our hearts with gratitude. Paul says, “May the King eternal, immortal, and invisible—the one and only God—now be honored and glorified forever and ever.”

Look at the God he praises: eternal, not limited like us; immortal, not mortal like us; Spirit, not bound in flesh like us. In other words, only a God can save me – more specifically, only this God, revealed in Christ, can take the disaster of a man and make something beautiful.

I often hear the longing expressed that it’s hard to have a heart of worship.  A heart of worship cannot be taught. It cannot be forced or orchestrated. You can go to the biggest conference with the biggest band and the most emotional preacher and the coolest arts and have a great emotional response to all that’s going on around you. That’s an experience of a particular kind of worship, but I don’t think that’s the heart of worship.

We see hear in Paul’s letter to Timothy where the heart of worship begins: a recognition the wretched, broken life that we bring to the table – followed by an awareness of an indescribably powerful and holy God who loves us anyway, who offers us enough grace and forgiveness to cover any amount of sin and damage we have accumulated. That’s when the overflow of our hearts becomes the worship of our lives as we humbly take the grace we have been offered and pass it on to those around us.

That’s a statement about life in the Kingdom of God that is worthy of our faith and trust.

Questions to Consider

  1. I suspect we tend to gravitate toward either seeing ourselves as either “chief of sinners” or “saints in Christ.” How do we balance these two realities in a spiritually healthy way?
  2. Is Paul suggesting we need a past full of really obvious, significant sin in order to understand God’s grace? What is a part of your life that can show others the tremendous depth and power of God’s forgiveness?
  3. Check out the entire story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7. Do you see a connection in your own life between your expressions of empathy and grace for others and how aware you are of your need for forgiveness?

 

“Unless you have been down into the depths of your own heart, and seen the evil that is there, you will not care for the redeeming Christ, nor will you grasp Him as a do those who know that there is nothing between them and ruin except God’s strong hand… Unless we feel the common evil, and estimate by the intensity of its working in ourselves how sad are its ravages in others, our kindness to others will be as half-hearted as our love to God…. Those who know the plague in their own heart, and how Christ has redeemed them, will go, with the pity of Christ in their heart, to help to redeem others.”
- Alexander Macleran

We may say, “I am a thief,” or, “I am a liar,” meaning that I have committed these sins, they weigh upon my shoulders, they are the splinters of my self-hewn cross... We say so in shame. But we do not thereby express an ultimate or God-ordained identity. Quite the contrary. We mean, “This is what I am in a disordered sense, because of what I have done, and because of the evil that I am still fearfully tempted to do.”  Or we might put it this way: “This is the fashion in which the image of God has been deformed in me, so that I am not myself, and my face, my very identity, is sludged up with sin.” - Hutchens and Esolen, “Identity Thievery,” Touchstone

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[1] http://biblehub.com/greek/1319.htm

[2] A side note about testimonies: Paul is writing this to Timothy, who knew Paul’s story. Paul is trying to show Timothy the proper kind of humility he needs to have. I think Timothy is supposed to take up this mantra: “I, Timothy, am the chief of sinners. If anyone is in desperate need of God’s grace, it’s me.” Yet Timothy did none of the obviously bad things Paul did.

 

The Goal Of The Church (1 Timothy 1:1-7)

Paul, an emissary of Jesus the Anointed, commissioned by order of God our Savior and Jesus the Anointed, our living and certain hope, to you, Timothy, my true son in the faith. May the grace, mercy, and peace that come only from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ mark your life. As I said that day I left for Macedonia, stay in Ephesus and instruct the unruly people in the church, once and for all, to stop teaching a different doctrine. Tell them to turn away from fables and endless genealogies. These activities just cause more arguments and confusion. Instead, they should concern themselves with welcoming in and bringing about the Kingdom of God, which is all about faith. Our teaching about this journey is intended to bring us to a single goal—a place where self-giving love reigns from a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a genuine faith.Yes, some have wandered away from these traits and have fallen into a life of endless blabber and nonsense— they wish to become scholars of the law, but they don’t know what they are talking about, and they make these grand pronouncements but clearly don’t understand what they just said. (1 TImothy 1:1-7, The Voice)

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Kids ask all the time, “What’s that for?” It's a natural question. We see designed things, and we figure they were designed with a goal in mind. But even when we know what something is for, we are very good at coming up with all kinds of ways to use things differently than the designer intended.

  • I remember telling Vince what the intended use of the family scissors was, but he soon realized it could also be used on the dog.
  • Sheila told him the purpose of having good clothes and run-around clothes….
  • Heads: You should think; you can run full speed into other people (football concussions)
  • Lungs: You should breathe; you can inhale substances

We can get frustrated if we aren’t on the same page with other people about what a thing is meant to be. What is the purpose of the following:

  • Fishing – To catch fish? To relax? To talk?
  • Supper  - To eat? To connect?
  • Marriage - Happiness? Family? Love? Growth? Spiritual symbolism?
  • Think of the tension in our culture as we disagree about what it means to be male/female, or masculine/feminine. We are disagreeing on fundamental questions of design and purpose.

It is important that we learn the purpose of a thing and then commit to fulfilling that purpose. So what is the purpose or the goal of the Church? According to Paul, the church exists to bring about the Kingdom of God, through faith, characterized by love.

At least three things stood out in Timothy’s church that undermined this goal. (I’m trying to summarize in a way that takes a particular situation and generalizes the principles. Plus, it’s not entirely clear what Paul meant by some of these, so there is some speculation involved).

  • Righteousness By Association. Genealogies were a big deal in ways we don’t understand. Herod tried to erase all record of his genealogy because he was ashamed of it; in doing this, he destroyed a lot of Jewish historical records. Apparently, the Jews were trying to reconstruct lost genealogies by finding obscure people and basically make up a story for them, and they would make every connection they could to try to fit into the family of someone important, mainly because they wanted to be in the line of the anticipated Messiah – as if that somehow made them better. This is the group that in some fashion asks the question, “Do you know who I am?” with the assumption that if you only knew, you would know how important and valuable they are.
  • Religious Jet Set Fantasies. The Greeks were more enamored with the myths, the equivalent of Hollywood gods and goddesses, fantasizing about a life of luxury and indulgence with the gods.[i]  Perhaps the Greek converts were trying to apply this kind of thinking to heaven. When Jesus gave the Beatitudes, the Greek word ‘blessed’ (makarios) had to do with ‘participating in the life of the gods’ – and Jesus made clear it’s not a jet set fantasy. The poor, the humble, the persecuted, the mourners – they all have a place in the Kingdom of God. Apparently, early preachers were replacing the reality of the kind of blessedness that comes with ‘taking up your cross’ with an early version of the health/wealth/prosperity Gospel. This is the group that in some fashion asked the question, “Do you see what I have?” as if cultural standards of health and wealth somehow translated into revealing that they are clearly good people. If you could only see how God has apparently blessed them with comfort and things, you would know how important and valuable they are.
  • Worshiping The Law. Apparently the Judaizers were returning to teaching that observance of the Law could save people – our righteousness, God’s favor, and our worth was earned by being a good person.  This is the group that in some fashion is asking the question, “Do you see what I do or don’t do?” with the assumption that if you only knew, you would know how important and valuable they are. In a church that taught that our attempts at self-earned righteousness was worthless, and God’s loving grace was the only thing that will justify and save us, this was ‘blabber’ and ‘nonsense’ that was causing confusion.  

This strikes me as revealing three ways in which people fight for acceptance, value or a sense of worth: family of origin, success by cultural standards of success, and a resume of good works. This can even become something we believe will help us gauge whether or not we have God’s attention or affirmation.

But what happens when your family of origin is lousy? What happens when you live paycheck to paycheck, or when health and comfort disappear? What happens when, despite your best efforts, you fail to do what you ought to do? If we have placed your hope and worth in those things, then our life crumbles. Our stability is gone. We try harder and harder to make those things bring our life meaning – and that leads to pride and judgment if we achieve it, or anger and bitterness if we don’t.

So how do we avoid this? How do we accomplish the goal or design for the church? We live IN FAITH and WITH LOVE when we surrender to Christ three crucial things.

  • A Pure Heart:The heart was regarded as the inward part of the person and the center of one's spiritual and thought life. The total inner life of the believer, cleansed from sin, could be depicted with the term pure heart” (biblegateway.com).  

Right away, we are relieved of the obligation to be good enough on our own power. We find stability in the positional purity that Jesus offers; that is, when we surrender our life and commit our self to Jesus, He purifies our heart. This is a supernatural work of God. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they will be as white as snow…create in me a clean heart, O God.” Nothing we do contributes to this. Our dirty heart is made clean because God makes it clean. God moves us out of spiritual darkness and places or positions us into the light of righteousness.  Our positional purity as a Christian never wavers even when we sin, because it was never about us being good enough. It was about Jesus being good enough.

Our family, success or moral strength do not place us here. There is no room to boast and no need to despair. God does the heavy lifting.

  • A Clear Conscience: [ii] A pure heart had to do with our interior life; a clear conscience reminds us that our actions need to align with a pure heart. This is a part of what we call conditional purity. We can make choices that either encourage or undermine the new purity God has given us. We can say anything we want to about how we feel about ourselves and our relationship to God, but what do we do matters. Does our exterior lives confirm what we claim is happening on the inside? 

“The conscience is that part or faculty of the mind that gives awareness of the standing of one's conduct as measured against an accepted standard.” (biblegateway.com)

I may say that I love my wife, but if I constantly mistreat her or betray her with my words or actions, you would have good reason to believe that I am lying. My conscience would in no way be clear. Our interior lives and exterior lives are meant to align. A positionally pure heart is meant to lead to conditionally pure actions that result in a clear conscience.

And in that kind of community – whether in the home or in the church – the Kingdom of God flourishes not just because of what is happening in us, but what is happening around us because of Christ at work in us. None of us are perfect – there’s a reason the church must model repentance, grace and forgiveness – but the more we are committed to living in a way that our conscience remains clear, the more we make the beauty of the Kingdom of God tangible.

  • Genuine Faith: This has to do with what we believe. It’s about  embracing the fundamentals of Christian doctrine – particularly, the person and work of Jesus. We need to increasingly understand “the reason for the hope that lies within in us.” [iii]  We don’t all need to be Bible scholars or answer all manner of obscure question, but we need to be committed to “rightly dividing the word of truth.”

A pure heart and a clear conscience are built on the person and work of Christ, and it’s in the Bible that God has revealed what we need to know in this area.  

God promises that the Holy Spirit will work in those who have committed to following Jesus, but we are tasked with knowing Scripture so that we can know more about Jesus: studying, listening, talking with other Christians, praying, etc. Look at any other area of life: if you want to become knowledgeable, you must do the hard work that leads to knowledge. God will help to turn your knowledge into wisdom, but knowledge doesn’t occur magically. We ‘study to show ourselves approved unto God” even as “he who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it.”

We live in a culture that is increasingly dismissive or hostile toward Christianity. Some of it is unfair; a lot of it is because the world is having a difficult time seeing pure hearts, clear consciences, and genuine faith. That’s a call to revival. Perhaps more than ever, it is important that the church as a body fulfill God’s design and purpose for his representatives on earth.

The church is meant to be a place where being in the family of Christ is far more important than the family from which you came; where spiritual blessings like a pure heart are far more important than material wealth and comfort; where a clear conscience motivated by a pure heart characterizes our community; where God is worshipped not only in spirit, but in truth.

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[i] “As the term is used in the New Testament (always in the plural--1 Tim 4:7; 2 Tim 4:4; Tit 1:14; 2 Pet 1:16), myths is consistently a pejorative and polemical classification. It classifies material not simply as untrue or legendary but as pernicious in its (or its author's) purpose to justify immoral or improper behavior on the basis of a divine or traditional pattern.”– commentary from Biblegateway.  In the case of the early church, I suspect  they brought in the idea of ‘blessedness’ from the Greek ideals and tried to apply them to what God must be like, and to what God had in store for them in this life (and perhaps the next).

[ii] “The concept of individuality bred into us in the West was foreign to Paul's culture. Conscience tends to function individualistically in us to produce feelings of guilt. For Paul and the ancient Mediterranean culture in general, conscience was the internal judgment of one's actions by that one's group--"pain one feels because others consider one's actions inappropriate and dishonorable" (Malina 1981:70). Honor and shame, rather than guilt, were the operative feelings. Therefore, Paul's readers would perceive the conscience as sending internal signals evaluating the rightness or wrongness of behavior (past, present or future) as a member of a group.” – commentary from Biblegateway

[iii] “Heresy in reference to a doctrine denotes one "that was sufficiently intolerable to destroy the unity of the Christian church. In the early church, heresy did not refer to simply any doctrinal disagreement, but to something that seemed to undercut the very basis for Christian existence" (Brown 1984:2)…doctrines pertaining to God and Christ and the nature of salvation and justification, because the very substance of the gospel message and the salvation that rests on it lies in these things. Teachings that tend to characterize and distinguish the various Christian denominations (views about baptism, Communion, church government, gifts of the Holy Spirit and the role of women in ministry, among others) may certainly be held to with passion, but the differences here derive mainly from biblical passages capable of more than one reasonable explanation. The term heresy is not appropriate in this latter context. As Paul saw it, heresy posed a dual threat. It endangered the church and individuals who would be drawn into error, perhaps beyond the reach of salvation. It threatened the church's evangelistic mission in the world, by contaminating the gospel.”  - commentary from Biblegateway