James 5:13-18 — A faith that prays

As I said before, a lot of James at first glance seems disjointed, but the more that I’ve read this book, the more I’ve come to see the overall flow of it. And here James comes back to an idea that he started in chapter 1, prayer in the midst of trouble.

In chapter 1, he said that if you are going through trial to ask God for wisdom, but to ask in faith. Faith that God is good. Faith that God’s way is best.

Now he comes returns to this thought, saying,

Is any of you in trouble? He should pray. (13)

Pray for what? Pray for wisdom and pray for help. But again, we need to pray believing in the essential goodness of God. Because if you doubt that, your prayers will be totally ineffective. (1:5-6)

But we shouldn’t just pray when we’re in trouble. James tells us,

Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.

It’s easy to remember God in our times of trouble. But do we remember him in the good times as well? Do we thank him for his goodness? That’s part of faith too. Believing that every good and perfect gift comes from him. (1:17)

James then returns to the idea of praying through trials, saying,

Is any of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. (14-15a)

This is no guarantee of healing, no matter what some people may say. Paul himself prayed for people who didn’t get well. (II Timothy 4:20, for example).

But nevertheless, if we are sick, James says to pray and to have the leaders of the church pray for you as well. The oil was either a symbol of the Holy Spirit’s work in healing, or it was used as an ointment for healing. Again, though, the idea is that through prayer, we express our faith in God. By praying, we put ourselves in the hands of God to heal…or not, trusting that whatever he chooses to do is best.

There are times, however, when sickness is the result of sin. And so James says,

If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other that you may be healed. (15-16)

It calls to mind the time Jesus healed the paralytic in Mark 2. Before dealing with his physical ailment, Jesus dealt with his sin.

I’m not saying that all sickness is the result of sin. But there are many people, for example, who have suffered physical aliments because of bitterness and unforgiveness in their hearts. And by dealing with their sin first, their physical ailments were also healed. That’s another reason James says to pray when you are sick or troubled. Prayer can reveal these kinds of spiritual issues and bring healing to them.

He concludes by saying,

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (16-17)

In short, never think prayer is a waste of time. That it is ineffective. Even for the “ordinary” person, if we come to God in faith, prayer can accomplish great things. Not because we’re speaking some magic formula or incantation. But because the God we pray to is great. And when we trust him, he can accomplish great things in us and through us.

How about you? Do you sometimes think prayer is a waste of time? Or do you have the faith to pray in the good times and bad?

 

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James 5:1-12 — How faith responds to suffering

James started this letter by talking about how God uses trials to make us mature and complete. And for the last several chapters, he talked about how true faith should look as it matures. That true faith causes people to grow in love, speech, and in purity. And that is the endgame for God. That we would become more like Christ as we draw near to him.

Now having drawn that picture, he comes back to how we should deal with our trials.

On first glance, the first six verses of chapter 5 look like a continuation of his condemnation of the wealthy Christians that we saw in the last few verses of chapter 4.

But taking a closer look, it seems much more likely that James is echoing the Old Testament prophets who condemned those who persecuted or oppressed God’s people. That there were rich people who hoarded their wealth and failed to pay their workers their wages. Who condemned and murdered innocent men by their greed and self-indulgence. And James warns, “Your time of judgment is coming.”

But then he turns to the suffering Christian. And he says,

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains? You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. (7-8)

In short, part of perseverance is faith. Faith that God will judge the unjust and that justice will ultimately come. Just as the farmer trusts God to provide the rains he needs so that his crop will grow, so we should trust God to provide the justice that we all long for. And as we wait in faith, we will bear the fruit of righteousness in our lives.

That’s hard, though. And sometimes in our frustration, we not only get angry with God, but we turn on each other. So James says,

Don’t grumble against each other brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (9)

If in our impatience and anger at our situation, we turn on each other, God will hold us accountable for that. So James tells us,

Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (11)

When you look at the lives of the prophets, many, if not all, suffered greatly. Yet in the midst of their struggle, they continued to to be faithful, preaching the Word of the Lord, no matter how much they were reviled. Job too suffered, and though he struggled with understanding the whys, he never gave up on his faith on God either. And in the end, God vindicated them all.

And so James tells us, “Learn from them. In the midst of your trials, be patient.”

It’s easy to say God is good when all is going well. It’s much harder when we’re going through trial.

Finally James says,

Above all, my brothers, do not swear — not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No”,” no, or you will be condemned. (12)

Here I think James is saying, “No matter how bad things get, hold on to your integrity. Don’t let your trials take that away with you. Always stay unflinchingly honest lest your dishonesty detract from your testimony.”

How do you face your trials? Do you turn against God? Do you turn against those around you? Do you let your trials take away from your integrity? Or do you stand unflinchingly in the face of it all, believing that God is good and will bring you through?

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James 4:13-17 — How true faith expresses itself (Part 8)

I think with this passage, James pretty much concludes his speech on how true faith expresses itself. And again, throughout his whole letter, he has focused on love, speech, and purity.

In these last few verses, I think he’s going back to the theme of purity and not becoming polluted by this world.

Part of that pollution is the love that people have for the things of this world. But part of that pollution is the arrogance that comes from having the things of this world. Here we see Christians who were pretty successful in the world, successful business people and merchants. And because they were so successful, they were starting to forget their need for God. They had forgotten that all that they had ultimately came from him.

And so James says,

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. (13-16)

In a lot of ways, this is connected to verses 10-12.

In those verses, James asked, “Who are you that you think you have the right to judge your neighbor, to despise him by slandering him and treating him like dirt?”

Now he again asks, “Who do you think you are that you boast as you do? You’re nothing. You’re mere mist, here today and gone tomorrow. You don’t even control how much breath you have left in your life.”

So what do we get from all this? Put away your arrogance. Draw near to God and humble yourself before him.

And stop despising others. Rather, get back to what Jesus commanded and start loving your neighbor as yourself.”

James then concludes,

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do, and doesn’t do it, sins. (17)

And so we come full circle to what James said earlier in chapter 2, that faith without works is dead. For if you are walking in arrogance, judging others with your mouth, neglecting the needs of those around you, and living in adultery with the world, do you really have faith? Or is your faith mere words, an empty shell.

What kind of faith do you have?

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James 4:11-12 — How true faith expresses itself (part 7)

Having addressed hearts that had been polluted by their love for the world, James now gets back to the tongue and how polluted hearts can affect it.

James talked earlier about how they were always fighting and quarreling among themselves and how that caused them to hate each other. Literally he says, “kill,” but I highly doubt they were actually killing each other. Rather, I think they were killing each other in their hearts.

Why do people murder? Because they despise others in their hearts. They treat them as something less than someone created in the image of God. That’s why Jesus said,

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.”

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Here you see Jesus equating harboring anger in your hearts toward others, and as a result despising them, with murder.

I think James was doing the same. The people were so in love with the world, they started to envy and despise those who had more than they did. And that led them to say things they shouldn’t. To slander others and call them fools or worse.

So James says,

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. (11)

So often when we talk about not judging others, we think of not judging their sins. But here, I’m not so sure James is talking about judging people’s sins. I think he’s talking about judging them in terms of calling people “fools,” or “no-good,” or the like.

We saw another case of this in chapter two, when people in the church were sitting in judgment on the poor, despising them and giving more honor to others simply because they were rich.

So what James is saying is, “Don’t you dare judge people and see then as anything less than people created in God’s image. God’s law says you are to love them as yourself. God law says that you are not to despise or slander them in any way. And when you have the gall to judge them and see them as anything less than people created in his image, you speak against the law and judge it. You’re not keeping the law; you’re judging God’s law as not worth keeping.”

James then warns,

There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you — who are you to judge your neighbor? (12)

In short, there is only one lawgiver and judge, and that’s not you. So get off your high horse, and as James said in verse 10, humble yourself before the Lord. Stop acting and speaking as if you’re so much better than others. You’re not.

How about you? How does your faith express itself when it comes to dealing with people? Do you sit on judgment on others, calling them no good? Calling them stupid? Wishing they were dead?

Or does it express itself with the love, mercy, and grace that God gave you?

 

 

 

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James 3:13-4:10 — How true faith expresses itself (part 6)

James here briefly gets away from talking about controlling the tongue (he’ll return to it later), and starts talking about the third way that faith expresses itself: purity.

He said back in James 1:26 that an essential part of true religion or faith is, “…to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Here he goes into more detail as to what he means.

There were more than a few among those James was writing to that had ambitions of becoming a teacher in the church. And as we saw before, James cautioned them, saying not everyone should become teachers because they will be judged more strictly. (3:1)

He then says, “Do you really think you’re wise and understanding enough to be a teacher? Look at your hearts! Many of you are harboring envy and selfish ambition in your heart. That kind of “wisdom” comes from the devil, not God. And all that kind of wisdom will lead to is evil. (13-16)

Having said that, he gets to the true root of the problem. These people were being polluted by the world. And it was affecting how they thought and acted.

He says,

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on our pleasures. (4:1-3)

In short, he’s saying, “Look at you! You’re so in love with this world that you actually hate and envy those who have more than you. And because of that, you’re constantly fighting and quarreling with them. But not only is your love for the world affecting your relationship with others, it’s affecting your relationship with God. The only reason you talk to God at all is that you hope to get the things of this world. And God won’t honor that.”

James then gets really harsh.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (4)

James echoes here the words of the Old Testament prophets, who compared the people of Israel to whores and adulteresses (Ezekiel 16 and the entire book of Hosea for example).

When we love the world, it incites envy in the heart of God (5). We often think of envy as a bad thing, but there is a righteous kind of envy. A husband or wife has righteous envy when their spouse cheats on them. And when we turn our backs on God to whom we rightfully belong in order to pursue this world, he envies intensely.

And yet, if we will return to him, he always shows us grace (6). So James tells us,

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands you sinners, and purify our hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up. (7-9)

What kind of faith do you have? Is it a double-minded faith? One that claims to believe in God, and yet prostitutes itself by seeking the things of this world?

We are called to be priests of God, holy and pure. And as priests washed their hands and purified themselves before approaching God, so we need to wash our spiritual hands which are stained with sin and purify our hearts before God. We are not to indulge in the “joy” of worldliness. Rather we are to repent of it.

How about you? Are you being polluted by this world? Or does your heart belong to God alone?

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James 3:2-12 — How true faith expresses itself (Part 5)

I suppose I could have just titled this blog, “The tongue,” or some other such title. But I wanted to remind myself that this is really part of a longer argument that James is making. That faith expresses itself in love, in purity, and in our speech.

This passage is kind of a revisitation of chapter 1 verse 26 where James wrote,

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

We pointed out when we first looked at this that the reason for this is that our tongue shows the true state of our heart.

So many times people will say apologize for something they said by saying, “Sorry about that. It just kind of popped out.”

But the question is why? Why did it pop out? It popped out because it was there in your heart. It didn’t just pop out of nowhere. It resided in your heart, and when the time was ripe, it burst out.

And the thing is, because we all have sin in our hearts, there are any number of things there ready to pop out when we least expect it.

That’s why James tells us,

We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. (2)

Words are much quicker to come out of our mouths then our body is to act on any thought we may have. And so if our heart ever comes to the point of maturity and completion that nothing bad ever pops out, it would be safe to say that we most likely would never do anything wrong.

But of course, as long as we are on this earth, there will always be sin in our hearts. And that’s why James says,

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. (7)

And the thing is, what we say can shape our lives as well as the shape of others. Just as a bit can turn a horse completely around, and a rudder can do the same to a ship, so the tongue can completely turn the life of a person for good or bad.

Unfortunately, too often it turns a person’s life for the worse. James compares it to a spark that can bring down an entire forest. What you say can destroy your whole life, or the life of another. And because of that, James says that such a tongue is set on fire by hell itself.

Jobs are lost because of our words. Marriages die because of our words. Children are crushed because of our words. Friendships are broken by our words.  And yet so often we speak them so carelessly. Is it no wonder that James calls them a deadly poison? (8)

James says,

With the tongue, we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth comes praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. (9-10)

Put another way, how can we say we love God when we curse people who are made in his image?

He concludes,

Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (11-12)

The truth is, while these things should not be, they do happen when it comes to our words because of what’s in our hearts. We have both fresh water and salt water there.

So if you wonder why you struggle so much with your tongue, consider the source of your words? What is in your heart? What bitterness, anger, or other ugliness is there? Because until you let Jesus deal with what’s there, you will never be able to control your tongue.

So let us pray as David did.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

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James 3 — If you would be a teacher

As I look back on my life, I kind of marvel at how I have gotten to this point in my ministry. I just ask myself, “How did I get here?”

It all started simply enough, I suppose. My brother started working with an organization called Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) as a summer missionary when he was in high school and college. Then a friend of mine also decided join CEF, and one day said words that changed my life. “Are you going to join CEF this summer too?”

He seemed greatly disappointed when I said no. But that started the wheels in motion in my heart, and the next summer I started ministering to children teaching them God’s word. And from there it snowballed.

I went from teaching children to teaching my peers. Then I moved to Japan, and started teaching the Bible to my students. And then out of the blue, my pastor asked if I would speak at a home church. From there, that opened up opportunities to speak in larger church services. And here I am.

I almost want to say, “I didn’t ask for this.” But perhaps it would be more accurate to say, “I didn’t expect all this.”

But here I am, in the position I’m in, and I face this passage. And it’s a heavy one for me and all who would be teachers in the church.

James said,

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (1)

Why? Two reasons.

First, if we are not careful in our teaching, we can lead people astray from the truth that is in Christ.

Second, when we stand in front of people preaching God’s word, they then pay particular attention to whether we live those words or not. We are to be examples to God’s flock. And when we fail, we can cause great damage to that flock.

It is the second that I think James is more concerned about here. We’ll talk more about the tongue as it concerns Christians in general tomorrow, but I think it would be good to focus on it from the standpoint of those who preach God’s word first.

Paul talks about the damage that we can cause to people with our tongues. He calls it a fire that can consume and destroy. (6) He calls it a restless evil filled with deadly poison. (8)

And for teachers that is the ultimate irony. With our speech we can exhort, rebuke, and edify. But with our speech, we can also destroy. And James asks,

Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? (11)

Quite frankly, it shouldn’t. As teachers, our mouths should be instruments of God, but when we tear people down, using biting sarcasm and cutting words, they instead become instruments of Satan. And this shouldn’t be.

James then gets to the root of all this: our hearts.

He asks,

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (13)

In other words, a truly wise and understanding teacher proves himself not by his words preached on the pulpit, but by his life off of it. And a truly wise teacher walks in humility, concerned with nothing but loving God and the people God has given him.

But some teachers are not this way. They are always comparing themselves with others. They compare themselves with other teachers with more successful ministries. Or they compare themselves with their flock, always looking down on them. And James warns,

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (14-16)

What is the wisdom that should characterize the teacher? James tells us.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (17-18)

Teachers, what kind of harvest are you raising in your church? One of chaos and evil? Or one of peace and righteousness? If you see a lot of the former, before you judge anyone else, look at your own life. Which characterizes your life more? Verses 14-16? Or verses 17-18?

What standard are you living up to?

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James 2:17-26 — How true faith expresses itself (Part 4)

There was something that I wanted to add in the last blog, but it was getting long as it was, so I decided to put it here.

One thing that I have been trying very carefully to do is to make clear that maturity and completion as a Christian takes time. One does not become a perfect Christian the day he or she is saved.

Abraham certainly wasn’t. I talked yesterday about how his faith was made complete with his putting of Isaac on the altar. But he did struggle with this faith a lot up until that point. We saw that with his sleeping with his wife’s slave Hagar. We also see it in Genesis 20 where he lied to a king named Abimelech, saying Sarah was his sister (technically true, she was his half-sister, but not the whole truth) because he was afraid Abimelech would kill him in order to take Sarah.

I say all this to make two points.

First, I have challenged you to think about your faith. And it would be easy for you to focus on your failures, and say, “Maybe I’m not really saved at all. After all, I still don’t see all the fruit of love in my life I should have, and I still fail in so many ways.”

But that’s not my intention nor was it James’. The people we are challenging are those who claim it is possible to be a Christian, and simply live the way that they want to. The people who say, “I have faith, you have deeds,” as if there were no connection whatsoever between the two.

But as we have seen, there is a connection. True faith in God always leads to a change in life. Because if you truly have seen his love for you in the cross of Christ, and you truly do love him for that, then you will naturally want to do the things that please him.

The question I would ask you if you’re questioning your faith is this: “Do you really love God. Do you have a burning desire to please him?”

If you can say yes, then I wouldn’t worry too much about you, because change will happen. Like I said, it may be hard and it may be painful. But it will happen.

Second, I think we need to be very careful about judging those who we feel are not changing “fast enough.”

People grow at different paces. And while actions often show the state of the heart, you know as well I do that it’s not a perfect measure. Some people look really good, but in their hearts are not right before God. On the other hand, other people may seem hypocritical, but when they are at home in their room before God, they are crying out, “God why am I this way? Forgive me. Help me.”

The only people whose faith we should be questioning are those people who blatantly don’t seem to care about becoming godly. Who always make excuses when they hear the Word of God and reject any rebuke for their actions on the basis that they are “saved by faith alone.”

These are the people that I’m challenging, and I believe James is too.

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James 2:17-26 — How true faith expresses itself (Part 3)

We said yesterday that it’s not simply enough to say, “I believe in God,” in order to be saved. Nor, for that matter, is it enough to say “I believe that Jesus died for my sin and rose again” in order to be saved. True faith always leads to a changed life, and that first and foremost expresses itself in love: love for God and love for others.

A “faith” that never grows to express itself in that way is not true faith at all. It’s merely empty words. As empty as saying to a needy person, “I hurt for you. God bless you,” and then walking away without doing anything to help them.

James then says,

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (18)

It’s difficult to know how to take this verse, especially since we don’t know where the quotation marks should be. (There are no quotation marks in Greek.)

One way this could be read is that the “someone” mentioned is an outsider, a non-Christian, who looks at the so-called Christian who claims he believes in God but shows no love or compassion to those around. And this someone is saying, “Why should I follow your God? You have your faith, but I’m a much better person than you.”

The other way it could be read is that James is that “someone” and that all those words should be in quotes.

Either way, James is saying, “Do you really have faith? Prove it. Talk’s cheap. You say that you really believe in God, but how do I know? I can’t see your heart. All I can see is your deeds. And your deeds, particularly your lack of love for God and others, make me seriously doubt that you really have faith in God at all. Because if you really knew God’s love, it would eventually start to flow out from your life.”

And this, I think, is how we deal with the seeming contradiction between James and Paul. Paul says we are justified by faith apart from works (Romans 3:28). James says we are justified by faith and works. (2:24)

We are justified by God by faith alone, but we are justified (or “proven”) as true believers before people by what we do. Why? Because God can see the heart. People can’t.

The interesting thing is that James and Paul use the same person and passage to prove their points. James says,

Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. (21-22)

The question is, who was he considered righteous by? By God? To an extent, yes. But more importantly, his outward actions proved to the people around him that he truly believed in God. They couldn’t see his heart. For all they knew, he was a total hypocrite. In fact, his previous actions may have made them think just that. After all, he had had so little faith earlier that he slept with his wife’s slave (with his wife’s permission) in order to have an heir. Why? Because he had started having serious doubts that God would give him an heir through Sarah like He had promised.

But when Abraham later was willing to sacrifice Isaac on the altar, even though Isaac was the one through whom God had promised Abraham’s family line would continue, it showed everyone around that Abraham really did have true faith. He had grown from the man who wavered and sometimes acted hypocritically into a man who truly lived out his faith.

That’s what James meant when he said,

And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. (James 2:23)

When did Abraham believe God and have it credited him as righteousness. Before the sacrifice of Isaac? Or after? Well before. In fact it was before Isaac was even born. (Genesis 15:6)

God knew his heart right then and there. He knew Abraham believed him, and so he justified him on the basis of that faith. But that faith came to maturity and completion when Abraham put Isaac on that altar.

Like I said yesterday, maturity and completion of faith may take time. It may be a struggle, and it may be painful at times. But where there is true faith, there will always be progress, and eventually people will be able to see it.

What kind of faith do you have?

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James 2:14-26 — How true faith expresses itself (Part 2)

I think it’s easy at times to parse the Bible into neat little sections, especially as we do our daily Bible reading. What I’ve been noticing more and more over the past year, though, is that when we do that, we often miss the flow of what is being said.

So often people kind of detach these verses from all that was said before, but really, it is all part of one long argument. And this specific argument goes back to chapter 1 verses 26-27, where James talks about how true religion, true faith, leads to love, a tongue under control, and a pure life.

More specifically, this passage is continuing James’s thought of faith expressing itself in love. Paul himself talked about this, saying,

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6)

James has been specifically talking about this in terms of how we treat the poor and lowly, and said that when we mistreat them, we are acting as sinners. We may not be committing murder or adultery, but we are nevertheless lawbreakers in God’s sight. And so James tells us, don’t judge the poor and lowly as lesser people. Rather show mercy to them. (2:8-12)

He then uses this line of thought to reinforce his general point, that true religion and faith should lead to a changed life.

He says,

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? (2:14)

Again, in the context, he’s talking about deeds of love. Can you claim to have faith if you have no love?

He then illustrates his point.

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead. (2:15-17)

Here, James shows the emptiness of words if it is not backed up by action. If someone tells a person in need, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” it sounds good. It sounds loving. But if it never leads to action, that lack of action proves that all those words had no real meaning behind them. They’re just empty words, and not love at all.

In the same way, if someone says, “I believe in God,” it sounds pious. It sounds Christian. But if over the course of time, that person’s life never changes, their life proves those words of faith have no meaning behind them. They’re just empty words, and not faith at all.

James emphasizes the point, saying,

You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder. (2:19)

In short, mere mental assent to the truth is not enough to save you. Merely saying, “I believe in God,” is not enough. True faith always leads to a transformed life. In particular, it leads to a life in which you truly love those around you. Change may take time. It may be a struggle. But if there is true faith, there should always be progress.

If then you look back on your life and you can’t see any changes that God has brought about in your life, making you more mature and complete in him, then it’s time to question, “What kind of faith do I have?”

More on this tomorrow.

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James 1:26-2:13 — How true faith expresses itself

One of the things that James really is strong on is that true faith expresses itself in more than just saying, “I believe in God.”

Many people today say, “I believe in God.” But as we will see in later passages, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a saving faith.

A saving faith leads to a transformed life. We saw that one reason God allows trials into our lives is so that we might be transformed, that we might be made whole and complete as we learn to trust in him through those trials.

And as we look at the next few chapters, we see three ways we should see our lives changing if we are truly saved. One is in speech. The second is in love. The last is in purity. (It strikes me that Paul also talks about all these things in I Timothy 4:12)

James says first,

If anyone considers himself religious, and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. (1:26)

James will get much more into this later, but I will say this. Many people today who struggle with their tongue often take it lightly. They swear, they lie, they slander, they verbally abuse. And it never occurs to them that their words show what is in their hearts. If there is garbage in your heart, garbage is going to come out. If you think you’re a good Christian and garbage is spewing out of your mouth, James says you’re deceiving yourself and your Christianity is worthless. It’s worthless because your “faith” has yet to transform your heart. There’s garbage there and you don’t even notice it’s there.

James then says,

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (1:27)

James will explain later what it means to keep from being polluted by the world. But at this point, he goes into great detail on the third way in which our lives should change if we have true faith: the love we have for others.

If we have true faith, we should have a heart that has mercy on those around us. On the widows and orphans. (1:27) We should have a heart that does not discriminate showing more honor to those who are rich, while despising the poor. A heart that judges not by appearance but through the eyes of God who has chosen many that the world despise to be his children and to inherit his kingdom. (2:1-2:7)

And James tells us,

If you are keeping the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (2:8-9)

So many people say, “Yes, I’m a good Christian. I don’t murder, I don’t steal, I don’t commit adultery.”

And yet they fail to love those around them with the love of Christ. Instead they despise them. James says of such people, “You’re not as good as you think. In God’s eyes, you are a law-breaker because you don’t love the people around you.”

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were much the same. They didn’t love. They kept a lot of other rules, some of which God didn’t even require. But they discriminated, they judged, and they despised many of the people around them. And Jesus rebuked them for their hypocrisy. How many people that call themselves Christians would Jesus rebuke today?

So James concludes,

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (2:12-13)

When we live by the law of love and mercy, we set people free and show ourselves to be God’s children. When we judge and despise people, we show ours faith is not as strong as it should be.

What do your words and actions show about your faith?

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James 1:19-25 — Open hearts

At times, I must admit this letter James wrote seems a bit disjointed. He just seems to jump from topic to topic. But the more I’ve been reading this letter as a whole, the more united it has become.

In this passage, at first glance, seemingly out of nowhere, James brings up something very similar to what we see in Proverbs. He says,

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (19-20)

There is, of course, much truth to this in our relationships. If we would be quicker to listen to people, slower to speak, and slower to get angry, our relationships would be much better.

But I’m not so sure that James is talking here about our relationships with others. I think he’s talking about our relationship with God. Earlier he talked about how God uses our trials to make us mature and complete. That during these times, he teaches us to trust him and to do things his way.

The problem is that during times in of trials, too many times, we’re not willing to listen. Instead we rage at God, saying, “Why are you letting this happen to me!”

But James told us in verse 18 that through his word of truth, he gave birth to us. Through the word of the gospel we heard and accepted, he saved us from our sin and made us his children. And it is that same word that transforms us day by day into Christ’s likeness, making us whole and complete.

So James is saying here, “Be quick to listen to that word. In your times of trial be quick to listen to what God is trying to tell you. Be slow to speak. Be slow to complain. Be slow to rage against God because of your trials. For that kind of anger will not bring about the righteous life that God desires to develop in you.”

He then says,

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. (21)

In short, God is trying to purify you through these trials and his word. So when he speaks, open your heart to what he’s trying to teach you. His word can save you not only from your trials, but save you from the multiple problems that come when you sin.

So don’t just mentally assent to what God is saying to you. Do it.

James puts it this way,

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does. (22-25)

A lot of people think of God’s law as taking away our freedom. They think his law takes away from the enjoyment of life. But God’s law actually brings us freedom. It frees us from bitterness and resentment. It frees us from the chains that destroy our marriages, our relationships, and our lives. It frees us to have the full life that God intended for us from the very beginning. And as a result, we find blessing.

How about you? As you go through struggles in your life, are you getting resentful and bitter toward God? Or do you open your heart to him? God wants to use your trials to make you whole.

When he whispers, do you listen?

 

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James 1:13-18 — For our good

“Why is God doing this to me? Does he want me to fall?”

Sometimes, as we go through trials, that’s how we feel. That God actually wants us to fail so that he can punish us.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, God allows trials in our lives, but it is not to punish us or break us. Rather, he allows these trials that we might become “mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (1:3)

And so James tells us,

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (13-15)

The word “tempt” in Greek is actually the verb form of the word “trial.” Because of that, perhaps James’ readers got confused when hearing that God “tests” us. Many people have the same confusion today.

Yes, God tests us. He wants to see what is inside of us, and he wants to use these tests to strengthen our faith in him.

But God never tempts us to do evil. He never says, “Hey why don’t you lust after this girl,” or, “Why don’t you start berating your spouse,” or, “Why don’t you curse me?”

All these temptations, James tells us, come not from God, but from our own sinful selves. Our own sinful desires lure us, and if we take the bait, it gives birth to sin, and eventually leads to death.

But that’s not what God desires for us.

Rather James tells us,

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (16-18)

In other words, every act of giving from God is good. And every gift that he gives us is perfect. There is no malicious giving on his part. And there is no gift that he gives that is defective. And that shows in the gift of salvation. God could have left us to die in our sins. But rather, he chose to give us life through his Son.

And God is not like shifting shadows, who one day will seek to bless us, and the other to destroy us. Rather, again, his goal is that we might become whole and complete. That we would, as the writer of Hebrews puts it, “share in his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10).

So remember that whatever you’re going through, God is not trying to destroy you. He’s not trying to wreck your life. We do enough of that on our own.

Rather, through our trials, he’s trying to teach us to trust him. And as we learn this, we see God’s goodness and faithfulness, and come out through the fire as pure gold, whole, complete, lacking nothing.

 

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James 1:9-12 — Where we put our trust

Who or what do you put your trust in? Trials tend to reveal this clearly.

For many, it’s in worldly wealth. They think that money is the solution to all their problems. And so for those who have wealth, they pour all their money into their problems. And for those without, they waste all their time pining after it.

But in doing so, they become double-minded. While they may be asking God for wisdom to deal with their trials, they’re really looking toward money to solve their problems.

So James says,

The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position—because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. (9-11) 

In times of trial, it’s easy for those without worldly wealth and status to moan after them as if these things would be the solution to all their problems.

But James says, “It’s not wealth or worldly status that counts, but the heavenly wealth and status that you have in Christ. So though you may be struggling through these trials, keep your eyes on the things that are eternal, not the things of this world. And be content with what you have, knowing that God is with you and will help you through your trials, whether you have money or not.”

It’s in fact very similar to what the writer of Hebrew said to his readers.

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6) 

On the other hand, it’s easy for those who are rich and who think they should have it all together to be humbled by their trials and to wonder what’s going on. To wonder if God has abandoned them.

But James tells the rich, “Take a lesson from the low position you are now in. All your wealth is not saving you from your trials. All your riches, all your possessions will pass away. You will pass away. So let your trials refocus you on the things that really matter. And stop relying on the things of this world to save you. Put your faith in God.

Then he says to both rich and poor,

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (12)

In short, don’t waver under trial. Don’t waver by seeking the things of this earth and putting your trust in them. This earth with all its wealth and all its trouble will pass away. But you are looking toward something that will never fade away, everlasting life in heaven, and rewards that will never perish.

What trials are you going through now? Where is your focus in the midst of them? Where are you putting your faith? In money? Or in God?

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James 1:1-8 — That we may be mature and complete

What is God’s intention and desire for us?

In a word, “wholeness.”

That we would be whole in our relationship with him. That we would be whole in our relationships with each other. That we would be whole in every aspect of our lives.

That’s a comforting thought, isn’t it? We all want to be made whole.

The next thought might not be so comforting: It is for the purpose of being made whole that we go through many of the trials and struggles we do.

That’s why it’s hard for us to accept James’ word to us when he says,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (2-3)

Pure joy? When we face suffering?

Yes. Pure joy. Why? Because these trials produce perseverance in our lives. Why is perseverance so important?

Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (4)

In short, the path to wholeness is one of persevering through trial. For through those trials, we learn to cast aside trusting ourselves and our own wisdom.

The reason our lives are so broken is that we have spent our entire lives trusting ourselves and our own wisdom. But through our trials, we learn just how vain life is living that way.

But when we turn to God, learning to trust him and his ways, and we persevere in living that way even through trial, then we find wholeness. In our relationship with him, with each other, and in every aspect of our lives.

That’s why James tells us in the next verse,

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (5-8)

As I read this, I can’t help but think of Hebrews 11:6, where it says,

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Wholeness comes down to trusting God. If we doubt God’s goodness in our lives, we will never do the things he asks. And if we don’t do the things he asks, our lives will remain the broken shells they are.

How about you? Do you want to be whole, when all the while you’re holding on to your wisdom and your ways? You can never be made that whole that way. That way leads only to brokenness and despair.

But if you will trust in God, he will bring you out of the trials you are going through. And he will bring you out mature, whole, and complete.

What will you do?

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Hebrews 13:20-25 — Equipped

I love how the writer of Hebrews closes his letter.

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (20-21)

So often in our Christian lives, we forget the grace of God and think we have to live this life in our own strength. That when trials come, we must endure in our own strength. That we must hold on to faith through our own mental toughness and willpower. That we must achieve holiness through our own efforts and those efforts alone.

But here, the writer of Hebrews brings us back to basics: that it is God who gives us the grace to do all these things. That Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment for our sins and make us right before God. And now, that same power God used to raise Jesus from the dead is at work in us.

It is God himself who equips us with everything good in order to do his will. And day by day, he works in us what is pleasing to him.

We’re not on our own. We were saved by God’s grace. And we live each day by his grace.

How are you living your life? Are you living each day tired because you are relying on your own strength and wisdom to achieve the things you think God wants you to do? Are you discouraged because you just don’t seem to have the willpower to change yourself with all your sins and faults?

Remember that you were saved by God’s grace. And that grace is not simply for your salvation, but to transform you into the person God has created you to be. You are not on your own. So don’t try to live that way. Instead live each and every day resting in his grace.

Grace be with you all. (25)

 

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Hebrews 13:17-18 — Following and praying for your leaders

I have great respect for the pastors who have been over me.

I’ve been teaching God’s word for a long time, but have never sensed the call to be a pastor. If all being a pastor meant was teaching God’s word, I could probably do that. But a pastor is called to do much more in shepherding the flock God has given them.

We forget that sometimes. And not only do they have the responsibility of shepherding the church, they have the everyday responsibility of shepherding their families as well.

These are heavy responsibilities. And most take them seriously. For they know that one day they will answer to God for what they have done. And because of the specific responsibilities they have over God’s flock, they are held to higher account than most people.

And so the writer of Hebrews tells us,

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage of you. (17)

Like I said, being a pastor is tough as it is. It becomes even tougher when his own flock starts sniping at him. Criticizing him. Tearing him apart for every mistake that he makes. Questioning every decision he makes in leading the church.

The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Don’t do that. Follow them. Submit to their authority.”

Why? Because God is the one that gave them that authority. And ultimately, he is the one they are accountable to. He is the one who will judge them if they go off the right path, not you.

When we are constantly criticizing and tearing down our pastors, their job becomes a burden instead of the joy God intends it to be. And that is not only bad for them. But it’s also bad for us. Instead of being able to focus on all the things God has called them to do, they are forced to put out all the fires in the church.

And all the while Satan laughs.

So don’t be a part of that.

Is there no room, then, for criticism of a pastor? Certainly there is.

If they’re getting into false teaching, they must be confronted. If they’re neck deep in sin and immorality and will not repent, they must be confronted. And Paul deals with such situations in I Timothy 5.

But if you’re simply dealing with differences of opinion, in the direction of the church, in how things are run, etc., follow the leader God has given you. It’s entirely possible that they see things that you cannot.

And if your pastor does make a mistake in these things (and they inevitably will)? Don’t snipe. Don’t criticize. Build them up. Encourage them. And above all, pray.

The writer of Hebrews said,

Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. (18)

Most pastors are the same. Even though they feel like they have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way, they still fall. They still make mistakes. So pray for them.

What is your attitude toward your pastor?

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Hebrews 13:7-16 — Serving the one who never changes

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (8)

This is a famous verse, and one of my favorites. It reminds me that my Lord is unchanging. And that is comforting in a world where people change all the time, and not always for the better. In Jesus, we have someone we can always rely on, someone whose word we can trust, and someone who will always be faithful to us.

That’s why the writer of Hebrews tells us,

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. (7)

For the Jesus that transformed them, and who worked in them and through them is the same Jesus that transforms us, working in us and through us. So as we look at our leaders faith and all that God did in their lives, we can be encouraged that if we walk in faith, we too will see God’s work and faithfulness in our lives.

And it’s why the writer of Hebrews tells us also,

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. (9)

In other words, Jesus brought us the message of grace. And because he is unchanging, his message will not change. He will not all of a sudden say, “Hey, you need to eat and avoid certain kinds of food to be right with my Father.”

So we should run from anyone that would bring us teaching that would take us away from the grace of God. We no longer live by law, but by the grace of God. Our goal is no longer to please God to earn our salvation. Rather, because we have already received our salvation through Christ, we seek to please him out of gratitude and our love for him.

The writer of Hebrews then tells us the great privilege we have in Christ. He says,

We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. (10)

What is he talking about? He’s talking about the priests and the sacrifices of atonement they offered for sin. The priests were allowed to eat from some of the sacrifices, but they could not eat from the sacrifices made on the Day of Atonement. Instead the sacrificed animals were completely burned outside of the camp where the Israelites pitched their tents (11).

But at the altar of the cross, we “eat” of the one who is the Bread of Life. That is, in coming to Jesus and putting our trust in his work on the cross, we now have eternal life. So the writer of Hebrews tells us, “We have a right that even the priests of the Old Testament didn’t have. They could not take part of the sacrifices of atonement. In Christ, we can.”

And then the writer of Hebrews goes back to the theme of the unchanging Christ.

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. (12)

That is, this Jesus in the past offered his life completely to atone for our sins outside of Jerusalem.

Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. (13)

In other words, let us now go to that same Jesus who is waiting for us outside the camp, that is this world. Put another way, let us leave behind all the sin and pleasures of this world, being willing to suffer for doing so, just as Jesus suffered for us.

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (14)

This world is not our true home. Our true home is in heaven, where this same Jesus reigns forever and ever.

And so the writer of Hebrews concludes,

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (16-17)

Each day then, through our words and our deeds, let us glorify this Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

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Hebrews 13:5-6 — What we love, what we put our trust in

I’ve gotta admit, having money makes life easier. It makes it easier to deal with serious health problems, as we can afford more expensive types of treatments. It allows us to have better cars or homes when our old ones are breaking down. And of course, it not only makes life easier, it can make life more comfortable and enjoyable as well.

But I suppose the question we need to ask ourselves is, “What do we love?”

And just as importantly, “What do we put our trust in?”

Those are the questions, the writer of Hebrews poses to us. He says,

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (5-6)

What do we love? Money, and the things that money can buy? These things pass away. They can buy happiness for a short time, but eventually we tire of them, or they grow old and break, and discontent stirs in our hearts again. And there are many people in this world who go through this endless cycle of discontent, never finding true happiness.

On the contrary, many people actually wreck their lives out of their love for money and things. They go bankrupt, they destroy their marriages and families, they wreck their health, all for the love of money and pleasure.

And so God says, “Keep your life from the love of money and be content with what you have. Stop pursuing these things. You will never find contentment from these things. You can only find contentment in a relationship with me. I will never leave you nor forsake you. All that you need to make you happy and content you can find in me.”

Who or what do we trust to solve our problems? Again, it is so easy to put our trust in money. Money can solve a lot of our problems. But it can’t solve all of them. And in some cases, it can actually make things worse. But when we turn to God, we find the one who can uphold us in all circumstances. More, he will not abandon us in the hard times.

And because of that, we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.”

How about you? Who or what do you love? And who or what do you put your trust in?

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Hebrews 13:4 — Honoring our marriages

When you look at the spiritual and moral landscape of the United States, Japan, and many other countries, it’s amazing to see how the concept of marriage has deteriorated.

You don’t even need to dip into the idea of gay marriage to see this; just look at heterosexual ones. How far have we departed from God’s intention for marriage?

Marriages where two people truly become one, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Marriages where they remain one for life. Marriages where they are so united, that it would be unthinkable to cheat on their partner.

What do we have instead? Cold marriages. Abusive marriages, both physically and verbally. Affairs. Selfishness, divisiveness, and ultimately divorce.

Why? We don’t honor marriage. We definitely don’t honor the marriage bed anymore. Is it no wonder that our marriages are in the state they are in?

And so the writer of Hebrews admonishes us,

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. (4)

Think about this. When you don’t honor marriage, and when you don’t keep the marriage bed pure, God doesn’t just turn a blind eye to it. He judges it. If you stray from your marriage and go the arms of another man or woman, he will judge you for it. When you despise the marriage bed and you sleep with someone before you are married, God judges you for it.

Why? Because you are meant for one person. You are meant to join yourself as one to only one person, not two or three or more.

So when you sleep with people before you get married or you cheat on your spouse, you despise the marriage bed and what it represents, the joining of two people as one in a permanent bond.

But you also despise the marriage bed if you are cold to your partner. If you withdraw physically and/or emotionally from them. If you’re selfish, only looking out for your own needs, and not caring a whit for your partner’s needs. If you’re abusive toward your partner. Because when you act this way, it again is totally contrary to what the marriage bed represents.

Do you honor marriage?

Do you honor your own marriage, seeking to bring true oneness to it?

Do you honor others’ marriages, refusing to engage in adulterous activity that would break that marriage up? Do you instead do everything you can to encourage that couple draw closer to each other as one?

If you’re single, do you honor your future marriage, keeping yourself sexually pure for the one you will marry?

If you don’t, God will judge you. It is no light matter to him. He will judge you.

What does God see when he sees your attitude toward marriage?

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Hebrews 13:3 — Remembering the imprisoned

I considered just finishing up Hebrews today, but I did want to look at some tidbits in this final chapter a little more closely.

Here in verse 3, as a part of showing brotherly kindness, the writer of Hebrews says,

Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (3)

I think it’s pretty clear from the context that he’s saying to his readers not to forget their fellow Christians who were imprisoned or suffering for their faith.

Paul certainly suffered that kind of abandonment as we saw in II Timothy.

Perhaps there was fear of being associated with those in prison for their faith. Perhaps there was a feeling of helplessness at the situation and wanting to distance themselves emotionally as a result.

But the writer of Hebrews tells them, keep showing love. Don’t abandon them, in your heart or your actions.

That’s the context.

But as I read this passage, God spoke to me in another way. There are many people around us who are imprisoned in other ways. They’re in an emotional prison. Or they’re imprisoned by illness or circumstances. And it can be so easy to distance ourselves from such people, in part because we feel helpless, in part because it’s emotionally hard on us to deal with them.

But God says, “Remember them too. Don’t distance yourself from them emotionally. Visit them in the prison they are in, and do what you can to help. At the very least, be there for them and show them you care, even if you don’t know what to say.”

And then there are others in spiritual prison. Satan has locked them up, captives to their own sin. And God tells us, you were there once too. You remember what that was like. Satan once made your life miserable too. So remember them. Reach out to them with my love that they may be set free.

How about you? Do you remember those who are imprisoned around you? Do you show them the compassion of Christ?

Or do you just kind of distance yourself from them?

Remember the words of Jesus.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

 

 

 

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Hebrews 12-13 — Because we have this inheritance

We’ve talked the last couple of days about the inheritance God offers us in Christ and the dangers of refusing this inheritance.

But if as Christians we have now received this inheritance, how then shall we live? The writer of Hebrews tells us,

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. (12:28)

What does that mean practically? Basically chapter 13 tells us what true worship is. And it’s not just singing songs.

It’s loving those around you, especially your brothers and sisters in Christ. (13:1)

It’s showing hospitality, even to those you don’t know. (13:2)

It’s showing mercy to those around you. (13:3)

It’s honoring your wife and husband and keeping your marriage bed pure. (13:4)

It’s loving and trusting God more than money. (13:5-6)

It’s following the example of the spiritual leaders God has put in your lives. (13:7)

It’s living a life based on the grace of God, not on legalistic rituals and rules. (13:9-10)

It’s being willing to suffer for Christ, and holding to the eternal, not the temporal. (13:11-14)

It’s worshiping God with a sacrifice of praise. (13:15)

It’s  doing good and being generous with those around you. (13:16)

It’s being subject to the leaders in your church, building them up and not tearing them down, bringing strife and division into the church. (13:17)

It’s praying for those around you, especially those involved with ministry. (13:18)

How about you? Have you received the inheritance of the children of God? And out of the thankfulness of your heart, are you offering daily sacrifices of worship to God?

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Hebrews 12:15-29 — If we turn our backs on God

There are two sides to every coin.

And we see that in this passage. On one hand, there is the inheritance that God offers to us if we will become his children and heirs.

On the other hand, there’s judgment if we refuse.

Considering the awesomeness of the inheritance that could be ours, and the great love Christ showed by paying the price for it on the cross, how can we refuse?

Yet many do. They trade the temporal for the eternal. And instead of living for God, they live for themselves. This despite the fact that in doing so, they end up hurting God, others, and even themselves. And because of this, when they die, they will be judged.

As long as we have breath, we have the chance to turn and repent. But once we die, there is no turning back, no repentance, and no chance of blessing. As with Esau, many will seek God’s blessing with tears, but will not be able to gain it.

As the writer of Hebrews said earlier,

Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. (9:27)

And so now he warns,

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven…for our “God is a consuming fire.” (25, 29)

Often times, the picture of God as a consuming fire is a picture of his holiness and judgment. You see it on Mount Sinai when he gave his law to Moses. You see it when he judged Aaron’s sons and the enemies of Israel. And you see it here.

If you refuse him and his offer of life, only judgment remains.

Nobody likes to hear that. They like to hear only of God’s love. But God must judge rebellion and sin. Either you let Jesus pay the price for you, or you pay it yourself. There are no other options.

What will you choose?

 

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Hebrews 12:16-29 — The inheritance we have

We saw yesterday that the writer of Hebrews warned us not to be like Esau who tossed aside his inheritance because of his ungodliness, and was unable to regain it though he begged for his father’s blessing with tears.

And we said that many people are like that today. God has offered them the right to become his children and heirs, but because of their love for sin and the things of this world, they reject the inheritance that could be theirs.

Why is that so bad? Because of just how awesome and precious that inheritance is, and the price that was paid so that we might take hold of it.

It’s hard to see the connection between verses 17-18 in the NIV, but there is one. Just add the word “for” at the start of verse 18. (It’s there in the Greek. For some reason, the NIV omits it).

The writer of Hebrews says,

[For] You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” (18-21)

When God revealed himself to the Israelites on Sinai and gave them the first covenant that included the promise of an earthly inheritance, it was an awesome thing. There was a fire, darkness, gloom and storm, and a fearful voice. And the people were commanded, “Don’t approach the mountain. If even an animal touches it, it must be killed.” Even Moses was frightened to approach God on this holy mountain.

But all that said, it was a physical mountain. It was of this world. And the inheritance they received based on this covenant was only a temporal one.

Now though, we approach a completely different mountain, with a new covenant, and an eternal inheritance. The writer of Hebrews tells us,

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (22-24)

Note the differences here. We’re not going to an earthly mountain to approach God, but a heavenly one. And we don’t come before God cowering with fear, but with rejoicing. Why?

Because while we come to a God who will judge all people, Jesus is our mediator, and he put the new covenant into effect with his own blood. And while the blood of Abel cried out for justice and vengeance, the blood of Jesus rings out with a cry of forgiveness and mercy. So we won’t be standing before God trembling in fear. Rather we will stand in wonder at his grace.

More, although this earth will one day be shaken and all old things removed, we will receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken and will stand forever. (28)

All this awaits us.

How then, can we be like Esau, and reject such an awesome inheritance paid for at such a great cost?

How about you? God offers you life. Will you accept it? It’s as easy as a prayer.

Father, for too long I have been seeking joy and and happiness from the things of this earth. But I realize now that the things of this earth can never bring me satisfaction. That joy and peace can only be found in you. Forgive me for turning my back on you for so long. For hurting you, and those around me out of my pursuit to please myself. Thank you that Jesus died on a cross to pay the penalty for my sin. Now be my Father and my King. Show me the path of life each day. In Jesus name, amen.

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Hebrews 12:14-17 — Holiness

“Sure, I’m a Christian. I believe the Bible. I believe in Jesus.”

Many people in the church say this, and yet their lives don’t show it. They’re still living the way they always have, and there is no change or growth in their lives.

When pressed on this point, many say, “This is just the way I am. I’ll never change.”

Or, “You’re being too judgmental.”

Or, “Yes, but there are reasons for my actions. Surely God understands.”

Or, “I don’t believe that this part of the Bible is for today. It doesn’t apply to me.”

Or worse, “It doesn’t matter how I live. God’ll forgive me. So I’ll just sin, and ask for forgiveness later.”

But if there is no real change or growth in your life, and these are your attitudes, then it may be time to seriously question your Christianity.

Throughout church history, there have always been tares among the wheat. People who proclaim to be Christians, who even make confessions of faith and are baptized, but were never truly saved.

And that’s why I think the writer of Hebrews says what he does in this passage. He said,

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (14-15)

“Without holiness, no one will see the Lord.”

Do you believe that? You cannot live a willfully unholy life and still claim to be a Christian. There is a vast difference between a person who truly mourns for their sin, yearns for holiness, and grows in holiness as time goes on, and the person who simply doesn’t care. The grace of God is for the former. There is no grace left for the latter. How can you claim the grace of God when all the while you’re spitting on the work Jesus did on the cross by indulging in sin? And how can you claim to love God when you don’t care that you’re doing things that hurt him?

There were people like that in the time of Moses. Moses, in fact, warned about people like that, calling them “bitter roots,” and the writer of Hebrews alludes to this.

Moses said,

Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.

When such a person hears the words of this oath, he invokes a blessing on himself and therefore thinks, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way.”

This will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. The LORD will never be willing to forgive him; his wrath and zeal will burn against that man. All the curses written in this book will fall upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven. The LORD will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for disaster, according to all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law. (Deuteronomy 29:18-21)

In short, there were people among the Israelites who thought that because God had made a covenant with the nation, that Israel would be his people and he their God, that they were now safe. That because they were part of the Israelite community, God would bless them, even if they went their own way.

And Moses said, “No. Though they are part of this community, they are not safe. And God will judge them.”

More, he warned, “Expel such a person. His attitude will spread like bitter poison to those around.”

In the same way, many people go to church thinking, “Hey, I’m part of this church community. So God will bless me even if I go my own way the rest of the week.”

And the writer of Hebrews warns them, “That’s not how it works. God will judge you.” And he warns, “Don’t be like Esau who threw away his inheritance by seeking temporal pleasures. Though he later sought the blessing with tears, he was unable to get it.” (16-17)

So it is with us. Many people will stand before God someday and seek the inheritance of the saints, but be unable to get it, though they shed many tears, because while they were here on earth, they spit on Jesus and his work on the cross by living selfish, ungodly, and unholy lives.

So take a good look at yourself. Do your attitudes show a love for God and a desire to be holy as he is holy? Or do you really not care? If it’s the latter, you’re deceiving yourself if you think God will accept you, and you will end up missing the grace of God on the day of judgment.

Where is your heart?

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Hebrews 12:1-13 — When we face trials

No one likes to face trials in life. But God does allow them. Why? The writer of Hebrews tells us in verse 10.

God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.

We are broken people in a broken world. But God’s goal is to heal us and make us into the whole people he created us to be. He desires to purge all the filth from our lives and make us holy as he is holy. To make us perfect reflections of him.

And he does so by fire. Our character is revealed by fire. What we really are is revealed, not during the good times, but during the bad. If our character is good, trials will reveal it, just as they did with Job. If our character is not, that will be revealed too as it was with King Saul.

But in facing ourselves for who we really are, we are then confronted us with a choice. To stay the way we are, unholy and sinful. Or to turn to God and cry out, “God I’m a wretch. Save me. Change me.”

And when we do, we will see not only God’s amazing grace, but God’s amazing transforming power.

As we listen to him and by faith obey him, doing the things he tells us to do, we’ll see him shape our character into his likeness.

Is it a pleasant process? Generally not. The writer of Hebrews tells us,

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (11)

The question is again, though, what will we do when we are in the fire?

What should we do?

First look to Jesus.

Look to him in faith knowing that he started the process of salvation in your life, and he will finish it. He hasn’t merely said, “Well, I’ve given you all the tools to change. You’re on your own now.”

Rather he says, “Let me show you how to use those tools.”

And step by step he works with us. And he will not leave our side until the job is complete.

Look to Jesus knowing that he endured hardship too. He endured the cross itself. He knows how hard life can be. But his trust in the Father was rewarded, and he is now sitting at the Father’s side. And our trust too will be rewarded and we will be seated with him in glory someday if we persevere.

Second, remember that all that you’re suffering through is not because God hates you or is because he is sadistic, wanting you to suffer. Rather, he disciplines you because he loves you. He wants the very best for you.

Our earthly fathers may or may not have shown the loving discipline they should have. Their motives or methods may have been wrong at times. But God’s motives and methods are always pure and loving.

Therefore.

Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. (12)

Or, as my sister likes to say, “Buck up, baby.”

And,

Make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (verse 13 from the ESV)

In other words, do what is right. Follow the path God has shown you. You’re already lame. You’re already hurting. And if you keep following the path you’re on, your bones will go out of joint. But if you follow the path God is showing you, you will find healing. It may be hard. It may be unpleasant. But you will find healing.

What will you do?

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Hebrews 12:1-2 — We also

Running has never been my thing. I recently have picked it up again though my runs tend to be very short, no where near a 10k, no less a marathon.

But as Christians, we are called to join the great race, the race of God’s kingdom. To some degree, we are already in God’s kingdom. Jesus said the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21). And each day we are to live as subjects of that kingdom. We are to live for the purposes of that kingdom, and the King who reigns it.

But the day will come when we will see the kingdom in all its fullness. And as Christians, that is what we all long for.

It is what the great men and women of faith lived for. And it is what the writer of Hebrews charged his listeners to live for. His listeners were going through a tough time, and were suffering because of their faith. Others were struggling with sin in their lives. And still others were weighed down by their love for the world, by doubts, or other things.

And so the writer of Hebrews tells them,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (1)

For some reason, the NIV and some other translations omit a word in their translation here. It’s a simple word: “also.”

The ESV reads this way,

“let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Maybe the translators for the NIV just felt it wasn’t so important to translate. I don’t know. But when I read that “also,” it makes me think that these men and women of faith that the writer mentions in chapter 11 were just like me. They also had to lay aside sin in their life, sin in which they struggled to get untangled from. They also had to lay aside the weights of doubt and the things of this world. And because they did so, God commended them for it.

And now, we too are called to follow their example and lay aside the sin and other things that would weigh us down as we run this race we’re in.

At the same time we lay these things behind, however, we are to look ahead. To what?

To Jesus. He was the author or pioneer of our faith. He blazed a trail for us to reach the Father. Through the cross, our sins can now be forgiven and we can have peace with God. And he is also the perfecter of our faith. Though we are now imperfect, though we struggle with sin and doubt in our lives, he will not stop working in us until we are complete.

And so through every trial, through every struggle, we are to keep our eyes on him. When we look at what’s around us, it is easy to get discouraged by what we see. By the evil we see. By our sin.

But take your eyes off of these things. Fix them on Jesus. Then run, shedding the things that are keeping you from doing so, and especially the sin that would cause you to fall. And Jesus will lead you home.

 

 

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Hebrews 11:36-40 — What a life of faith does not mean

There are a number of people who seem to think that if you have enough faith, your life should be all smooth sailing. No health problems, no financial problems, just a happy-go-lucky life.

They apparently have never read this chapter.

Certainly, many of these men and women of faith had their shares of victory. But others were tortured, mocked, flogged, put in chains and imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, went about clothed in sheepskin and goatskin, destitute, afflicted, mistreated, wandering about in deserts, mountains, dens, and caves.

And none of them…I repeat…none of them received their full reward while here on earth.

Were these excoriated for their lack of faith? They would be by a lot of these “faith-teachers” today.

“Why were you destitute? Why were you living out in the desert? God intends for you to be wealthy and prosperous. Clearly you didn’t have enough faith.”

“You were imprisoned and put to death for your faith? Surely if you had had enough faith God would have delivered you.”

“You didn’t receive all the promises of God here on earth? Clearly you didn’t have enough faith or God would have HAD to give it to you.”

But is this what the writer of Hebrews says of them? No.

He says,

These were all commended for their faith. (39)

And rather than saying they were not worthy of the good things of life because of their lack of faith, he says,

the world was not worthy of them. (38)

In short, God never promises that if we have enough faith, we’ll just sail through life. All of chapter 12 as we’ll see says just the opposite.

Life can be hard. We may suffer despite our faith.

But what a life of faith means is that though this life may be hard, we see beyond those hardships to the reward that awaits us. The writer of Hebrews tells us,

God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (40)

Through Christ, all the saints of old along with us will be made perfect, free from sin forever. And at that time, when all things are made new, all sorrow and suffering will be a thing of the past. And that’s what faith ultimately looks to. Not to the joys we experience on this earth (although God in his grace does give us that too). But to the joys of life with him in eternity.

How about you? Are you expecting that your faith will lead to an easy life here on earth? God never promises that. But what he does promise is that if you keep your eyes on the promise of eternity, you will ultimately not be disappointed.

To what are you looking to?

 

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Hebrews 11:32-35 — Faith and grace

I have to admit that I have trouble understanding why people like Gideon and Samson are mentioned in the “Hall of Faith” despite their failures.

It’s amazing to me that their failures are not even mentioned in this chapter.

But perhaps we see in this list the grace of God. That though we are flawed, though we sometimes stumble in our faith, through Christ, God does not see our flaws. Rather he only sees us as people clothed with the righteousness of Christ.

And that should be a comfort to us.

So often, we beat ourselves up for our failures, for the times that we failed to trust God and made a mess of things.

But while it is important to repent in those times, we should not let these failures discourage us or make us think we’re now worthless in God’s sight.

Remember instead that when God sees you, he sees his Son who died for you. And though you may have failed time and again, he holds no record against you. Your record has been wiped clean. He will not accuse you on the day of judgment. Rather, he will welcome you with arms open wide. Not because you are perfect. But because you have put our faith in the One who is, and who died for us and rose again.

So as much as you may fall, you too may someday find yourself in that “Hall of Faith.” And as with all the Baraks, Jephthahs, Gideons, and Samsons, God is not going to be pointing out all your failures, but all your successes.

So as Paul said,

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

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Hebrews 11:32-35 — When we trust God

Have you ever noticed the people that the writer of Hebrews mentions as “paragons” of faith in verse 32? Most of them were hardly paragons.

Samuel, though he was a great judge and prophet, failed greatly when it came to raising his sons.

And while David was the greatest king in Israel’s history, he stumbled badly twice, once in his sin with Bathsheba, and once in counting his fighting men out of his pride.

Yet at least for the most part, these were good and faithful men.

The rest?

Most people when they think about Gideon only think about his triumph over the Midianites. But after that, his actions were hardly stellar. He took vengeance on two cities that refused to help him in his fight against the Midianites. Then, although he refused kingship, he nevertheless started to act like one taking multiple wives, and even naming his son Abimelech which means, “My father is king.”

More, he made a golden ephod which was usually a garment that priests used for consulting God. So it almost looks like he was trying to take on that duty as well. Worse, the people started to worship that ephod and it became a snare to him and his family.

Barak? He refused to go to war against Israel’s oppressors unless Deborah the prophetess went with him.

Samson? Sure he brought a measure of deliverance to the Israelites from the Philistines. But he broke all his Nazirite vows in the process, drinking wine, touching dead carcasses, and allowing his hair to be cut. More, he was sexually immoral and vindictive. The fact that he delivered the Israelites seemed more incidental than intentional on his part.

Jephthah? By a foolish vow he made, he either unintentionally was forced to put his daughter into the service of the Lord, never to marry or have children, or he actually sacrificed his daughter on an altar, completely contrary to the commands of God.

Why in the world, are these latter 4 mentioned as paragons of faith?

Maybe for the simple reason that they are not paragons.

They were ordinary sinners just like us. They did many awful things. But when they actually did put their trust in God, they did awesome things.

What can we learn from them? God can use you to do great things if you’ll just trust in him day to day.

But when you fail to do so, you are also capable of doing horrific things.

How people will look at you at the end of your life will greatly depend on how you live. Will you consistently, day in and day out, put your trust in God? Then people will look at you as they do with Daniel and his friends. As men that shut the mouths of lions and quenched the fury of the flames.

But if you are one day trusting him, and one day living for yourself, you’ll find yourself with the legacy of a Samson or Gideon. People who accomplished great things when trusting God, but making an utter of mess of things when they didn’t.

Which will you choose?

 

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Hebrews 11:23-31 — A faith that knows who to fear

It has often been said, “If you fear God, you need not fear anyone else.”

Jesus himself warned us,

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

And that’s what you see in these people. People who knew who to fear. Not kings or rulers or anyone else, but God.

More they knew that if they did not put their trust in God, nothing and no one would be able to protect them from his wrath.

Moses’ parents feared God, and so even though the Pharaoh commanded that all Hebrew babies be killed, they hid their son. And when they could do so no longer, they left him in God’s hands, and God honored them for it.

Moses could have led a comfortable life as a prince of Egypt, the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. But out of his fear for God, he left it all behind, and was willing to suffer reproach and abuse for the sake of Christ. All the pleasures of this life, he knew, would mean nothing if his relationship was not right with God. More, he knew that by following God, he would find true reward, a reward that is eternal.

And so he left Egypt with the people of God, not fearing Pharaoh’s wrath. He also showed fear for God by keeping the Passover, and because he and the Jews did so, they were spared the death of their firstborn. The Egyptians, secure in their own faith on the other hand, found that they had feared the wrong gods. Even Pharaoh himself lost his son.

Because the Israelites feared God, they could pass through the Red Sea unharmed. The Egyptians, however, feared the sea and their Pharaoh even more than that, and drowned as a result.

Because the Israelites feared God, they took Jericho by following what others would have called a futile plan, marching around a city for 7 days, blowing their horns.

And while the rest of the residents of Jericho put their trust in their walls, Rahab refused to do so. She feared God and protected the spies that had come into the city. So while the rest of the people in Jericho were killed, Rahab and her family were spared.

The long and short of all this is, “Who do you fear?” And “Who will you put your trust in?”

If we trust in our money to protect us, our government, or our own abilities and skills, and we fail to trust God above all, when judgment day comes, all those things will prove to be futile to save us.

If we fear people and what they can do to us instead of God, we may preserve our lives but lose our souls for all eternity.

But if we fear and trust God, we will find favor with him, and he will reward us.

Who do you trust? Who do you fear?

 

 

 

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Hebrews 11:17-22 — A faith that believes that God is good

“God is good.”

“All the time.”

“All the time…”

“God is good.”

I’ve been to a couple of churches for which this was kind of a mantra.

But how many of us really believe it? Oh sure, in good times it’s easy to believe and say with enthusiasm.

But in hard times?

Or how about in times when we don’t understand what God is doing?

Or in times when we can’t see what the future holds?

Do we still believe that God is good?

This is a fundamental question of faith. For as the writer of Hebrews says,

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (6)

“He rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Put another way, “He rewards those who believe he is good. That he will keep his promises. That he will not let our labors go in vain. That our struggles are not for nothing.”

But do we believe this enough to keep seeking him no matter our circumstances? Unless we do, we cannot please God.”

Abraham believed this. God promised that he would have many descendants through Isaac. But then one day, God turns around and says, “Abraham, give your son to me as a sacrifice.”

Not a simple dedicating of Isaac’s life to God’s service. But a literal sacrifice.

How Abraham’s mind must have spun. For the three days it took to reach the mountain where he would sacrifice his son, what thoughts went through his mind?

“How can God ask this of me? He promised I would have descendants through Isaac. But how can that be if Isaac is dead?”

But in the end, Abraham concluded, “God is good. He will keep his promises. And if he asks me to sacrifice my son, then it must be that he will raise him up again. He is the God of life and death. And he is good.”

He lifted up his knife to kill Isaac, and as we know, an angel stopped him and said, “No, you don’t have to do that. Now I know that you fear God.”  (Genesis 22:10-12)

God was good.

Isaac saw this and because of that, he could bless his sons Jacob and Esau although the future was still cloudy. In his time, he still hadn’t truly inherited the land God had promised. He only had the plot of land that his father Abraham had purchased. But Isaac believed God was good, and blessed his sons in that belief.

Jacob went through a lot of trials in his life, most through his own doing, some not. But through it all, he saw God’s goodness and faithfulness to him, and so when he was ready to die, he also was able to bless his sons with that knowledge.

Joseph too went through a lot, being taken to Egypt as a slave, but seeing God’s goodness and how God used that situation not only to save himself but his entire family. And though he had a good life in Egypt, he knew that God was good and would return his family back to the land God had promised. And so he gave instructions that when that time came, they would bury his bones there.

How about you? What are you going through in life? Can you say from your heart God is good? That God is faithful? That God will keep his promises to you?

Unless you truly believe that, you will never be able to please God.

What kind of faith do you have?

 

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Hebrews 11:11-12 – – Faith to see beyond (part 2)

“It’s impossible. I can’t do it.”

How often do we see situations in life and say that, if not with our mouths, then in our hearts?

That’s how Abraham and Sarah must have felt. God first gave them the promise of a child when they were 75 and 65 respectively. Twenty-four years passed and still no baby had come. In the meantime, they had made their own plans to have an heir, as Sarah gave her slave Hagar to Abraham in order to have an heir through her. But God said, “No, this is not what I meant when I said I’d give you a son. You will have a son through Sarah.”

At this, Abraham laughed. And now with them 99 and 89 years old, God again promised that Sarah would have a baby, and this time Sarah laughed. It seemed utterly impossible. But eventually, they both saw past their own limitations and saw that with God, all things are possible. And so they kept on trying to have a child.

And the writer of Hebrews tells us,

By faith Abraham, even though he was past age–and Sarah herself was barren–was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. (11-12)

How about you? What situations are you going through that seem utterly impossible? Many things seem utterly impossible because of our own weaknesses and limitations. But God has no weaknesses or limits.

So do you have the faith to see beyond your own weaknesses and limits and put your trust in him who has no limits?

Lord, so many times, I look at my situation, and can only see the impossibility of it. It’s impossible because I look at myself and see that I don’t have the power to change things. But Lord, you do. So help me to see beyond my weaknesses. Help me to see beyond my limitations. And help me to trust in you and do whatever you ask of me. Because I know you’re God of the impossible. And with you, all things are possible. In Jesus name, amen.

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Hebrews 11:8-16 — A faith that sees beyond

This earth is not our home.

Most Christians know this. But how many actually live this way?

Abraham did. The writer of Hebrews said of him,

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (8-10)

For Abraham, the land he would receive as his inheritance was Canaan. For us, it is a new heavens and new earth.

Abraham made his home in Canaan, even though it really wasn’t his yet. And until its “transformation” into the land God promised him, he lived there as a stranger in a foreign country. In a land that was filled with paganism and sin, he lived a life that was pleasing to God.

In the same way, this world we live in now will someday be transformed and we will inherit it as God’s children. But until that day, it is filled with sin and the worship of things that are truly not gods. So here we live, not as citizens of this present world, but as strangers in a foreign country, looking forward to the day when all things will be made new.

So how should we live? We should live doing all that God asks us to do even if we don’t see all the results in our lifetime.

For Abraham, God promised to make him a great nation and to give him many descendants that would inherit the land of Canaan. And so Abraham left his father’s household and his very country to go where God directed him. But when he died, he only had one son and the small plot of land he had purchased in order to bury his wife Sarah.

The same could be said of Isaac, except he had two sons.

And the same could be said of Isaac’s son Jacob, except he had twelve sons, and he died in Egypt where God through his provision kept him and his family alive in a time of famine.

Each of them followed God’s will. But none of them saw the promises completely fulfilled. And the writer of Hebrews says of them,

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.

People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.

If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (13-16)

God always keeps his promises. He did make Abraham into a great nation. And though nations have come and gone over the millenia, Israel still stands. And the day will come when all Christians, both Jews and Gentile will stand as one great nation, pointing to Abraham as our father.

But until that day, do the things God has asked of you. You like Abraham may not receive everything God has promised in your lifetime. But you will see his promises realized in the end. And even on earth, your children and your children’s children will reap the benefits of your faithfulness.

Moreover, remember that this world is not your home. If you’re always looking back at your old life, you will have opportunity to return. But in doing so, you’ll lose all the good things God had planned for you. So keep longing for your heavenly home and be faithful, knowing that God has prepared a city for you, and that one day he will come back for you and make all things new.

Remember what Jesus told his disciples,

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2-3)

Amen. Come soon, Lord Jesus.

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Hebrews 11:7 — A faith that prepares for judgment

Judgment day.

It’s not a subject that people like to talk about. Particularly non-Christians. Oh, they don’t mind the thought of criminals and other “evil” people being judged by God.

But somehow, when they think of “evil” people, they never seem to include themselves in that number. They somehow fail to see just how evil their sin is in God’s sight, or they brush it off as trivial.

But judgment day is coming.

And for us as Christians, true faith recognizes that and prepares for it.

We see that in the life of Noah. The writer of Hebrews tells us,

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (7)

God told Noah that a day of judgment was coming. That a flood would come that would wipe out the entire population of the earth. And because of that, he was to prepare.

So Noah did. Despite the jeers of his neighbors for building an ark in the desert, despite the mocking he took for warning them that the day of judgment was coming, he prepared. And by doing so he was saved. More, through his actions, the world’s lack of faith was highlighted, and so when judgment came for them, there was no excuse.

The question for us then is, do we have that same faith that Noah had. Do we really believe a day of judgment is coming. Are we doing what we can to save our family, preaching the gospel to them? And are we warning those around us of the judgment to come no matter what abuse we may take for doing so?

Will God be able to say of us on judgment day that our faith stood out in a world that was lacking in it?

What will God say of you when judgment day comes?

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Hebrews 11:1-6 — The need for faith

Why is faith so important?

Because for whatever reason, it is the one thing that God desires from all of us as his creatures.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that it is for their faith that God commended all that came before us. (2)

More, it is our faith and that faith alone that will commend us before God even now. For from that faith, everything else springs: the love we have for him, the worship we offer him, and the obedience and loyalty that we have for him.

Think about it. If we do not believe that he exists, that he loves us, and that he is looking out for our best, will we love him? Will we worship him. Will we be loyal to him and obey him? Fear may take care of the latter three, but God does not want us to worship him, be loyal to him, and obey him out of fear. Rather, he wants us to do these things out of our love for him.

And for this reason, the writer of Hebrews tells us,

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (6)

Think about Cain for a moment. Why was his sacrifice rejected? We don’t know all the details, but from what the writer of Hebrews tells us, it ultimately came down to the fact that his offering did not come from his faith in God.

Perhaps he gave his offering grudgingly, muttering in his heart, “Why do I have to give this to God?”

Perhaps God had required an animal sacrifice, and Cain thought, “Why aren’t the things I grow as a farmer enough? I’ll just give what I want to give.”

But whatever the reason, Cain failed to show faith in God. And because of that, God rejected his offering.

Abel, on the other hand, offered his sacrifice by faith. And because of his faith, he loved God, was loyal to him, and obeyed him. So when God saw his sacrifice, he gladly accepted it.

Think about Enoch. He was one of two people that never tasted death. (Elijah was another). God simply took him to be with him.

Why? Because “he walked with God.” When the Old Testament was translated into Greek, they translated “walked with God,” as “pleased God.”

In short, to please God, you need to walk in close relationship with God. But you cannot walk  in close relationship with God if you don’t believe he exists, believe that he loves you, and believe that he’s looking out for your best. It is simply impossible.

How about you? Do you want to live a life pleasing to God? Do you want to have his commendation in your life?

Then ask yourself: Do I truly believe he exists? Do I really believe he loves me? Do I truly believe he is looking out for my best?

Until you can answer yes to all three questions, you’ll never be able to truly please him.

Where is your heart today?

 

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Hebrews 11:1-6 — The foundation of our faith

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. (1-2)

A lot of people see these verses, and think of them as the definition of faith.

But how often do we think about what exactly we are putting our faith in? How can we be sure of what we hope for, if the object of our faith is not reliable?

How can we be certain of what we do not see, if the one who makes the promises we rely on is powerless to fulfill them?

And so our faith starts and ends with God. Who is he? Does he even exist? If he exists, does he really care for us? Is he trustworthy? Will he keep his promises to us? Is he even capable of keeping his promises?

This whole first section addresses these questions. The writer of Hebrews says in verse 6,

Anyone who comes to him must believe that [God] exists.

This is the one basic truth that lies at the foundation of our faith. That there is a God. That he truly exists.

Granted that, does he really care about us? Or did he just create us on a whim, and hasn’t given us a second thought since?

The writer answers that too.

He rewards those who earnestly seek him. (6b)

In other words, God does pay attention. He does care about us and what we do. And when we seek him, he does reward us.

But even granted that he wants to reward us for seeking him, does he have the power to do so?

The writer tells us in verse 3,

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

If everything was created at God’s command by things that were not even visible, does he not have the power to do anything he desires? Of course he does.

So in these verses we see the foundation of our faith. God exists. He cares. And he has the power to do what he has promised.

The only question is: do we truly believe these things in our heart? And will we put our trust in him?

A chair can be made of the strongest wood and put together by the finest craftsman. It is totally reliable, and it’s reliability is totally independent of what people may think about it. But a person will not sit in it unless he or she first trusts it.

In the same way, God exists, he cares, and he has the power to do all that he has promised. All these things are real, and their reality is totally independent of whether we believe them or not.

But unless we truly believe these things, we will not put our trust in God.

How about you? Do you truly believe these things? How you answer that question will not only affect your relationship with God, but how you live the rest of your life.

We’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

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Hebrews 10:32-39 — In a little while

God never promised us an easy life. In fact, Jesus promised us just the opposite. That there would be times of trouble. That people would even hate us for following Christ.

And while that may or not be real to you right now, it was very real for the people reading this letter.

They had been publicly humiliated and persecuted. They had been tossed in prison and had even had their possessions taken from them. Through it all, they had stood. For a while.

But now, they seemed to be teetering, and so the writer of Hebrews encourages them, “Don’t fall now. Don’t let all that you’ve endured until now be for nothing. Hang in there. You will be richly rewarded if you don’t give up.” (32-35)

Then he says,

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. (36-37)

“In just a little while.” Those words resonate with me.

In just a little while, all these hardships will pass away. In just a little while, Jesus will come back for you. And when he does, all these things you’re going through will become as shadows. All your hardships will become as distant memories in the light of Him.

Until then, what do we do?

But my righteous one will live by faith. (38)

In short, keep trusting God. Keep believing that he will do all that he has promised. For it is that faith that will give us the hope to keep going when everything is falling down around us.

But if we shrink back, if we lose our faith and constantly walk about in fear and doubt, we cannot and will not know the approval of God in our lives. For there is no way to please him if we live that way. (38)

But as the writer of Hebrews asserts,

We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (39)

What hardships are you going through? What doubts are you struggling with?

Take your eyes off of these things. These things will only cause you to shrink back in fear. But these things are only for a little while.

So put your eyes back on Jesus. Remember his faithfulness. Remember his love.

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

— Helen H. Lemmel,

 

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Hebrews 10:26-31 — If we choose to reject Christ

What will you do with Christ?

When all is said and done, that is the ultimate question that everyone has to answer. For those who decide to put their trust in him, they find life, both here in this world and in the world to come.

But for those who hear the message of Christ and reject it, there is no hope for them in this life or in the life to come. And that’s what the writer of Hebrews warns in this passage. He says,

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  (26-29)

What is the writer saying here? If we deliberately sin by rejecting Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, there is no other way of salvation. There is no other sacrifice God will accept, whether it be animal sacrifice, the sacrifice of “good” deeds, of money, or anything else.

The writer tells us that even with the Mosaic law, a law brought by angels (2:2), people would perish for their rebellion against God on the testimony of two or three witnesses.

How much more then will people be punished for continuing to rebel against God when Christ himself offers us this salvation bought with his own blood? It’s as if we are treating the precious blood he shed on the cross as if it were nothing. As if it were just ordinary blood as common as a bull’s or a goat’s.

And in rejecting Christ, we trample him under foot and insult the Holy Spirit himself.

The consequences of such behavior?

For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”

It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (30-31)

In short, we will be judged. If we will not let Christ pay the penalty for our sin, we will have to pay it ourselves for all eternity. And there will be no escape.

How about you? What will you do with Christ? Will you accept the gift of grace he offers that he paid for with his own blood?

Or will you spit on his gift, and continue to rebelliously walk your own way?

You can receive his grace or you can receive his wrath. Which will you choose?

 

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Hebrews 10:19-25 — Opened up

This is one of my favorite passages in scripture, and one I committed to memory a long time ago.

Every year on the Day of Atonement, the people would wait outside the tabernacle as the High Priest went through the Holy Place and entered into the Most Holy Place with the blood of the sacrifices to sprinkle the ark of the covenant and make atonement for the sins of the people. (Leviticus 16:15-17)

But when Jesus went through the true holy places in heaven, he did something that no priest before him was ever able to do. He tore down the curtain that stood between God and us. When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain that hung between the Holy Place and Most Holy Place was torn in two. (Matthew 27:51-52)

And by that one action, God was telling the people, “The way into my presence has now been opened up.”

And so the writer of Hebrews tells us,

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (19-22)

After Jesus entered the Most Holy Place in heaven with his blood, he didn’t merely exit again with the barrier still standing between God and us. Rather, he came out to us and said, “The way is now open for you to come into the Father’s presence. Come, let us enter together.”

And so the writer of Hebrews says, “Don’t just stand outside the tabernacle, away from God’s presence. Draw near. Jesus has opened up the way through his death on the cross. And just as the atonement cover was sprinkled with the blood to purify it from the sins of the people, so now your hearts are sprinkled by the blood of Jesus and made pure before God. You no longer have to fear standing in front of God because of your unholiness. Through Jesus, you have been made holy.”

He then charges us,

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (23)

When trials in life hit, it can become easy to fall away from Christ and the faith that we have in him. We wonder if God really does care, if he truly is faithful and will keep his promises.

But Jesus proved his love and faithfulness to us by going to the cross. How then can we doubt him? So when times get hard, hold on to him, knowing that he is faithful.

And when you see others faltering in your faith, the writer tells us,

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (24-25)

Sometimes people say, “I don’t see why I need to go to church. I’m fine by myself.”

But that is a very selfish way of thinking. Even if it were true (and it isn’t), others need you. They need your encouragement. And you need theirs. We are to spur one another on toward love and good deeds and not let ourselves get discouraged or complacent.

So consider, think, plot, and plan just how we can get our brothers and sisters to reach out in love and touch this world around us. Especially in light of the fact that Jesus is coming again soon.

The way has been opened up for us to come to God. Are you taking advantage of it and drawing near? And are you encouraging others to draw near to him as well?

The Father is waiting for you. What will you do?

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Hebrews 9:11-10:18 — Why all this blood?

One of the key points for this passage that we’ve been talking about is shadows and copies. And in the midst of all this, we’ve been talking about all the sacrifices of bulls and goats that were made as a shadow of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus would make on the cross.

But that begs the question: why do we need a sacrifice at all?

Why couldn’t God simply just forgive our sins without the need for blood? Couldn’t there have been another way?

Really the only way I can answer that is to look at what Jesus went through. To look at Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane when he cried out, “If there’s any other way, please take the cross from me.” (Matthew 26:39)

If there truly was another way, wouldn’t have God found it? But for reasons that are truly known only to him, a sacrifice was needed. The writer of Hebrews tells us that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (9:22)

We see the seeds of this from God’s commands in Leviticus 17:11. There, God said,

For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.

The idea is that blood represents life. And so for one person’s life to be spared, another life had to be taken. In the Old Testament, it was the life of a bull, sheep, goat, etc. But as we’ve seen, they were imperfect sacrifices.

For one thing, an animal’s life does not have the worth of a human’s life. For another thing, the animal’s death was not voluntary on its part.

But when Jesus came, he was not just fully human, he was fully God, and thus his life was sufficient to pay for our sins. And as we saw yesterday, it was a truly voluntary act on Jesus’ part. He told the Father,

“Here I am — I have come to do your will, O God.” (10:9)

There are two other things, however, that the writer of Hebrews points out that may help us to understand the need for blood in our atonement.

First, he calls Christ the ransom that set us free from sins we committed by breaking God’s law (9:15). In other words by dying on the cross he paid the price necessary to set us free from the domain of darkness and bring us into God’s kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:13)

Second, he compares the new covenant with a will (the words for covenant and will are actually the same in Greek, so there seems to be a wordplay here). And just as a will does not come into effect until the one who makes it dies, so the new covenant could not come into effect until God the Son died.

However you look at it, God deemed it necessary that Christ die in order for us to live. And now that Christ has done so, the Holy Spirit comes into those who put their trust in Christ and he transforms their hearts. He writes the law of God in their hearts so that it become only natural that they start to do the things that please him. And as for their sins committed in the past, he says,

Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more. (10:17)

And so the writer of Hebrews concludes,

And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. (10:18)

As Jesus himself said, “It (the work of salvation) is finished.” (John 19:30)

I don’t know about you, but I marvel at it all.

Did Jesus have to die? In a sense, no. He could have let us perish and saved himself. But he loved us so much that he sacrificed everything you and me.

So let us always look upon the cross and the blood Jesus shed with awe. Jesus paid a terrible price, but he did it out of his love for us.

As one song puts it,

Amazing love!
How can it be?
That you my king should die for me?

Amazing love!
I know it’s true.
And it’s my joy to honor you.

In all I do, I honor you.

— Chris Tomlin

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Hebrews 9:9-10:18 — What shadows and copies can and cannot do

For the last couple of days, we’ve been talking about shadows and copies.

And essentially what we’ve been saying is that shadows and copies can show us pictures of reality. A shadow can give us a general idea of what a person looks like. A toy train which is modeled after the real thing can show us what a train can do.

But ultimately, they can’t do all that the real thing does. A shadow of a person cannot talk, listen, or touch anything. A toy train cannot transport live people from one place to another.

And so the writer of Hebrews tells us that while the tabernacle, gifts, and offerings were pictures of our relationship with God and what needed to happen in order for us to draw near to him, ultimately, they could not actually bring us into his presence.

In particular, the sacrifices and gifts offered to God could not clear our consciences before him. They were just temporary regulations that were put in place until the reality came (9:9-10).

What is the reality? Christ.

Christ came to this earth, and after dying on the cross for our sins, he entered the true tabernacle in heaven. But unlike the earthly priests, he didn’t offer the blood of goats and calves, but his own blood. And while the blood of goats and bulls could make things ceremonially clean, Christ’s blood can actually cleanse our consciences themselves and set us free from the penalty of sin. (9:11-15)

And because his blood shed on the cross was sufficient to do this, he only had to do it once, and after that he sat down at the right hand of God, his work of salvation complete.

The earthly priests, on the other hand, never really  could rest from their work. Rather, they had to bring sacrifices endlessly year after year because the sacrifices of bulls and goats they brought were not sufficient to clear our consciences. All the sacrifices did was remind us of our sin and our need for forgiveness, the need for an ultimate sacrifice that would truly take away our sins (10:1-4)

But of Jesus’ sacrifice, the writer of Hebrews says,

He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (10:14)

And so though all the Old Testament sacrifices were at one time required as a picture of Jesus and his work on the cross to come, once Jesus came, saying, “Here I am…I have come to do your will, O God” (10:7), the old, imperfect sacrifices were set aside to make room for the one perfect sacrifice that could truly make us holy.

Now because of what Jesus has done, we have hope. The writer of Hebrews tells us,

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance–now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (9:15)

And again,

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (9:27-28)

Shadows and copies cannot give us the hope of eternal life. But in Jesus we have that hope. More, we have the hope that he will indeed return someday and bring our salvation to completion.

No, our hope is not in shadows and copies. Our hope is grounded in the reality that is Christ. So whenever we feel discouraged or without hope, let us always return our eyes to him, knowing that those who do will never be put to shame. (I Peter 2:6)

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Hebrews 9:1-8 — Shadows and copies (part 2)

Yesterday we read in chapter 8 that the tabernacle was a shadow and copy of the true tabernacle. Here in chapter 9, we see in what way it was a mere shadow and copy of the real thing.

The ark of the covenant was a symbol of the presence of God. He was said to be enthroned on the cherubim that sat on the cover of the ark. The ark itself was placed in the Most Holy Place, and therefore the Most Holy Place was considered to be the place where God dwelt in the tabernacle.

Because of this not just anyone could enter the holy places. Only the priests could enter the Holy Place, the section just outside the Most Holy Place. And only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place, and that only once a year on the Day of Atonement in which sacrifices were offered for the sins of the people.

And the writer of Hebrews tells us,

The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. (8)

In other words, the first tabernacle was in a sense a barrier to a relationship with God. People were actually physically blocked off from his presence by the curtain that hung between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. For that matter, most people couldn’t even get as far as the Holy Place.

The same was true of Solomon’s temple, Ezra’s temple, and Herod’s temple which replaced the tabernacle. The physical barrier was a picture of the spiritual barrier that hung between us and God in heaven. Our sins separated us from him.

But as we will see in the next part, Jesus tore that barrier down. All I’ll point out at this point are two things the writer of Hebrews brings up. That in order to enter the Most Holy Place, the priests had to pass two things: a lampstand whose light never went out, and the bread consecrated to God. Is it any coincidence that Jesus called himself the light of the world and the bread of life? In order to go into the presence of God, you must go through Jesus.

And just as the high priest needed to bring blood when entering the Most Holy Place as an atonement for the Israelite’s sins, so Jesus entered the Most Holy Place in heaven with his own blood to atone for our sins.

Now because of what Jesus has done, we have free access to the Father.

It’s hard to fathom as a Christian not having that access. But for many years, people simply didn’t have it. So as Paul wrote, and as I recall as Christmas season draws to a close:

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (II Corinthians 9:15)

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Hebrews 8 — Shadows and copies

A lot of people wonder at the Old Testament and why we even have it. Especially the parts about the making of the tabernacle and all the laws, many of which are no longer applicable to us today.

The reason is found in these next three chapters, and is summed up in verse 8 of this chapter. They were all shadows and copies of spiritual realities.

The writer of Hebrews says specifically that the tabernacle was a shadow and copy of heaven itself. Even though the tabernacle was obviously not even close to being as glorious as heaven, nevertheless, because it was a copy, Moses was warned to make everything exactly as he had been told.

But the tabernacle wasn’t the only thing that was a shadow and copy. Many of the laws that we don’t understand today were too. The ideas of unclean and clean, for example, and the laws concerning food, leprosy, and even mildew were all pictures of sin and the need to stay pure as God’s people.

The sacrifices were shadows and copies as well. As we said yesterday, they were not sufficient to deal with our sins, but they looked forward to the perfect sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.

And finally, the covenant that God made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai was a mere shadow and copy of the the true relationship he wanted with us. The laws he gave them were all external to themselves, and it was up to them to try to keep them all. And if they did, God said he would be their God and they would be his people. That they would be his priests and a holy nation for him.

But because these laws were not truly part of the Israelites, they were unable to keep them. And so God said,

“The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.

This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (8-12)

In the old covenant, God gave the Israelites law. But in the new covenant, God promises to put the law into our hearts, changing us from the inside out.

Under the old covenant, the Israelites had priests and prophets to teach people to know God. And even then, there was a distance between God and the people. They didn’t really have a personal relationship with him.

But now, Jesus is our priest, and he brings us directly before his Father and we will know him personally.

So let us rejoice that we no longer need to deal with shadows and copies which were imperfect, but that through Jesus, we now have what is real. A real relationship with God with hearts purified through his sacrifice on the cross.

And let us draw near to him, not just now at Christmas time, but every day.

 

 

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Hebrews 7 — King of righteousness, King of peace, our Priest forever

Merry Christmas from Japan, everyone.

As we remember Christ today, I suppose it’s only appropriate to read this passage and remember just who he is. And he is far more than a baby in a manger.

The writer of Hebrews calls him a king and priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Melchizedek was a character who “mysteriously” appears and disappears in Genesis 14. I say this not in a supernatural way, but unlike most characters we see in the Bible, we see nothing of his genealogy. We don’t know who his parents or children were. We see nothing recorded of his birth or death. He just appears in the story of Abraham, and then we never see him again. As far as we know, he could still be living (although he most certainly isn’t).

And in Melchizedek, the writer of Hebrews sees a picture of Christ. Melchizedek’s name meant, “King of Righteousness.” And he was also the king of Salem, a city whose name means “peace.” (It would later become Jerusalem). And of course, in Jesus we see him who is the true king of righteousness and peace.

More, just as Melchizedek’s genealogy  and very death is unknown, Jesus himself, though he had an earthly genealogy, lived much further back in eternity before the world even began. And having been raised from the dead, he will live forever, never to die again.

Why is this important? Because he has also become our priest forever. Back in the Old Testament under Mosaic law, there were many priests that came from the tribe of Levi. They served under a covenant that God made with the people, that if they would keep his commandments, he would be their God and they would be his people.

Why then do we need another priest if God’s law had already provided one, and not just one, but many throughout the years?

Because the law was imperfect. In what way was it imperfect? It was imperfect in that nobody could keep it perfectly, and could thus only bring judgment on those who were under it.

The priests themselves were imperfect. Day after day, they had to offer sacrifices for their own sins before they could offer sins for the people.

And even the sacrifices they offered were imperfect. As the writer will point out later, if they had been perfect, we would have had no more need for sacrifices. One would have been enough. But the priests needed to offer the sacrifices day by day because they were insufficient to cover our sins.

So the writer of Hebrews tells us that we needed a better way to have a relationship with God and a better priest.

And both are found in Jesus. He was greater than all the other priests in several ways.

First, his “lineage.” He was of the spiritual line of Melchizedek, who blessed Abraham himself. The writer of Hebrews points out that the greater is always the one that blesses the lesser, and so the priesthood of Melchizedek is greater than that which comes through Abraham’s descendant Levi. (4-10)

But more, God made an oath to Jesus that he made to no other priest. He said,

The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’ (21)

And in that promise we see a third reason. Jesus was made a priest, not simply based on some law that said he had to be a descendant of Levi, but he was made a priest based on “indestructible life.” (16)

And so the writer of Hebrews tells us that now,

a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. (19)

In what way?

Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. The writer of Hebrews explains.

Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need–one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. (22-26)

Jesus offered one sacrifice for all time by dying on the cross for our sins. And because it was a perfect sacrifice, our salvation is complete. All we need to do now is put our trust in Him. (27)

That’s the hope we have. So this Christmas, let us praise the King who makes us righteous before God because of his sacrifice, who brings us peace with God, and who remains our priest forever.

Merry Christmas!

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Hebrews 6:9-20 — Impossible (or “The reason for our hope”)

I said yesterday that if you hold that Hebrews 6 says it is possible to lose your salvation, then once that person falls away it is impossible to get it back (6:4-6). There is no out.

One reason is this passage here where the writer of Hebrews says something else is impossible. It is impossible for God to lie (18). So the possibility of a person coming to repentance once they have fallen away is the same as the possibility of God lying: Zero.

But while one of these impossibilities should cause us to fear, the other gives us great hope. And that, more than anything, was what the author of Hebrews was trying to give us.

He says,

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case–things that accompany salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (9-12)

In short, “I know all this about the impossibility of repentance after falling away and being cursed and judged sounds scary, but I’m sure it doesn’t apply to you. Your life does seem to show the fruit of salvation. So I want to encourage you to hang in there, even though things are tough right now. For if you do, your hope in Christ will not be in vain.

He then points to the promise made to Abraham, that God would bless Abraham and give him many descendants. Why? Because we are heirs to that promise. (Galatians 3:7-9)

And when God made that promise he also made an oath, swearing by himself since there is none greater than God. And because Abraham believed that promise, though he had to wait 25 years, God gave him a son in Isaac, and Isaac eventually became a great nation in Israel, just as God promised. And through Jesus, we who believe in Him are all children of Abraham.

Why did God feel it necessary to give an oath? Because he is unreliable? No. The writer of Hebrews says,

God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. (18)

Because God’s promise and oath are unchangeable, we can be doubly sure of our hope. And now the writer of Hebrews tells us,

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (19-20)

When it says that Jesus went before us, it literally says in the Greek that he was our forerunner. What’s a forerunner?

When weather was bad and a ship couldn’t enter a harbor, a small boat, a “forerunner” would carry the ship’s anchor into the harbor and put the anchor down there. And because the ship was already anchored in the harbor, the sailors could have hope they would eventually arrive there safely.

In the same way, Jesus enters into God’s very presence ahead of us. And because of that, we have hope that one day we will follow him into God’s presence, accepted and beloved as his children.

So when the storms of life hit, and our ship is tossed by the waves, let us not give up hope or think that God has abandoned us. Jesus has gone on before us. He has anchored us, and we will come safely home someday.

 

 

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Hebrews 6:4-8 — Impossible

This is one of the more controversial passages in scripture. Many Christians use it to try to prove that it is possible for a person to lose their salvation. The writer of Hebrews says,

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.(6:4-6)

At first glance, it sure looks like it’s possible to lose your salvation. But I want to bring into focus a single word in there: “impossible.”

If you are going to say that it is possible for a person to fall away and thus lose their salvation, you also have to say it is impossible for them to get it back. There is no out.

The word impossible there in Greek has exactly the same meaning in English: impossible.

The question, though, is if that is true in our experience? How many people do we know that “fell away” and yet later came back to God?

According to this passage, they must have never really “fallen away” because they came back.

So if you are going to say that a person can lose their salvation, you have to have a very narrow definition of “fall away.” It has to mean someone who has completely hardened their heart to God such that they will never come back again. But we can never say with any certainty that this is true of anyone until they actually die.

And even if they do die, the question becomes, “Did they really fall away? Maybe if they had had a little more time, they would have eventually come back.”

I personally believe that once a God saves a person, they are always saved. I don’t think it’s possible for God to choose someone to be saved before time began (Ephesians 1:4-5), and then be caught by surprise when they “fall away,” thus causing God to reject them.

What do I then make of this being “enlightened, tasting of the heavenly gift, sharing in the Holy Spirit,” and all the rest?

I think the best thing to do is point to Judas Iscariot. All these things perfectly describe Judas. He had all the teaching of Jesus, perhaps was even convinced by it initially. He tasted of the heavenly gift, sharing in the power of the Holy Spirit, performing miracles and casting out demons like the rest of the disciples (Matthew 10:8). And yet, Jesus knew from the beginning that he never had true faith and was going to betray him (John 6:64).

In short, he was the perfect tare in the wheat field. He looked like a believer, he acted like a believer, but he never truly believed.

And that’s what you see in the latter part of this passage.

Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (7-8)

The other 11 disciples, though they had their share of weeds, ultimately produced the crop that comes from salvation. Judas, on the other hand, when all was said and done, only produced thorns and thistles in his life, and he perished because of it.

Add to this that the writer of Hebrews had also talked about the Jews who had come out of Egypt. They experienced the giving of the law, experienced all the miracles, and yet because they never really believed, never entered the promised land. From all this, I think the warning is clear: genuine faith is necessary for salvation.

What kind of “faith” do you have? Are you truly a believer? Then it should show in your life. You should be maturing, becoming more and more like Christ each day.

A “faith” that bears no fruit will ultimately shown for the counterfeit faith it is on the day of judgment, if not before, when those who claim to be Christians “fall away,” proving themselves to have been tares all along.

What kind of faith do you have?

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Hebrews 5:11-6:3 — What true maturity is

There are some Christians that long to grow deeper in the faith. To learn the deep things of scripture that go beyond the simple gospel message. The question is, “Are they ready for it?”

The audience that was reading this letter to the Hebrews apparently wasn’t.

The writer tells them,

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! (5:11-12)

What does he mean by milk? He tells us in chapter 6. It’s things like repentance from sin, the importance of faith, Christian baptism in contrast perhaps to Jewish washing rituals, the laying on of hands, perhaps in reference to receiving the Holy Spirit, and to resurrection and judgment.

All these things our basic to our Christian faith. We need to know them. But they are just a starting point. A starting point to what? A starting point to being made complete and whole.

And that means going beyond hearing the message, but having it become practical in your life. To truly trusting that God loves you and that his way is best. To believing we are really dead to sin now, and are called to live a new life in Jesus as new creations. To loving God so much for what he has done, that our actions, our thoughts, and our very lives are colored by that love.

In short, we put away sin by the power of the Spirit who works in us, and put on righteousness becoming more and more like Christ each day.

That’s what maturity is. It isn’t simply knowing the Bible. It’s not simply knowing about the deep things of God. Maturity is becoming Christlike in every aspect of our lives. Put another way, maturity is becoming whole as people. It’s becoming the people that God intended us to be from the very beginning.

But immature people are still very much incomplete in their character. They still don’t even know what it means to be whole as people. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way,

Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. (5:13)

In contrast, he says about the mature,

But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (5:14)

A truly mature person hears the Word of God and puts it into practice. And through that experience of putting the Word of God into practice, they learn what it means to be whole. They learn what things are truly good and what things are evil.

But many Christians are still slow to learn. The ESV puts it,

You have become dull of hearing. (5:11)

How does that happen? We hear God’s word, he pricks our heart to action, but we choose to do nothing. And in so doing we harden our hearts to him. And the more we do that, the less effect God’s Word has on our heart. The result? We remain broken, incomplete, and immature.

How about you? Are you a doer of the Word? Or do you merely a hearer of it?

God wants us to be whole and complete. But that will never happen as long as we continue to harden our hearts to him.

How mature are you?

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Hebrews 4:11-5:10 — Why we can dare to draw near

How would you like to have your whole life exposed for all to see? Nothing hidden. Your life an open book for the world to see?

Now think of standing before God on judgment day with that book open before him and him asking, “What do you have to say for yourself?”

The writer of Hebrews tells us,

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (4:11-13)

That is a scary thought. Not only will every action will be exposed, but every thought, every attitude will be laid bare before God. There will be no hiding of anything on the day of judgment. If you’re totally honest with yourself, that ought to scare you to death.

And yet, we can dare to draw near to God. Why? Because of Jesus.

The writer continues,

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. (4:14-15)

We saw before that Jesus blazed the path to salvation before us as our pioneer. And now he goes before us into heaven before the Father to intercede for us.

And when the Father sees him, he delights in him. He’s not like some judges who have an adversarial relationship with criminal defenders. Rather, he himself appointed Jesus as our priest. (5:4-6)

More, when Jesus stands before the Father, he intercedes for us with compassion because he understand all we go through. He understands temptation. He understands how difficult it is to follow the Father’s will in a world as broken as we live in.

While he was on earth, daily he offered up prayers with loud cries and tears before the Father. And at the garden of Gethsemane, he sweated blood in his anguish to obey the Father’s will. He knows how hard it is. And yet, he obeyed his Father in everything, to the point of going to the cross. And now, he has become our source of salvation if we will just follow in the path of faith that he has blazed for us (5:7-10)

And when we falter, when we act ignorantly and waywardly, he deals with us gently, picking us up and setting us back on the right path. (5:2-3)

For all these reasons, the writer of Hebrews now tells us,

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (4:16)

Do you have that confidence standing before God? Or do you feel like God is always looking down on you, ready to blast you for your sins?

Cast those fears aside. Jesus stands with you. He took your punishment for you. Punishment is no longer waiting for us. Rather, mercy and grace await you. So let us draw near to the Father, knowing he loves you and will welcome you as his precious child.

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Hebrews 3-4 — The need for faith

Many people want to know God’s blessings in life. Many people want to find true life and joy. But far too few are willing to put their trust in God in order to obtain these things.

And that’s the problem that the writer of Hebrews addresses in this chapter. He talks about a day of “rest” that comes from God. And there’s a three-fold meaning to that. One is the rest of no longer trying to work to gain our salvation, and simply putting our faith in Christ.

The writer says in chapter 4,

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. (9-10)

Here we see the true meaning of the Sabbath day as pictured in the Old Testament. God gave the Jews a picture of the true joy and contentment that comes from trusting in him. Once a week, they would not work or labor, trusting God to provide for their needs. And in doing so, they found rest and peace from all their labor.

In the same way, when we put our trust in God and Christ’s work on the cross, we find rest from all our efforts to save ourselves and we find peace with God.

Secondly, we find peace and rest in our daily lives. Though we may have troubles, because we trust in God, we don’t panic or live in anxiety. Rather, we rest in the peace of God that surpasses all comprehension. (Philippians 4:7)

And finally, the day will come when we will truly rest. All the struggles and trials of life will be over and we will see Jesus face to face.

This was a rest that another “Jesus” couldn’t provide. It may surprise you to know that Jesus and Joshua are the same name in Greek. And while most modern Bibles translate Hebrews 4:8 “Joshua”, the name is exactly the same one used for “Jesus.” The translators used “Joshua” to avoid confusion.

What did Joshua do? He provided rest in the sense that he brought the people into the land God promised them. But their rest was never complete there. Why? Because they failed to trust God. When things got tough in their battles against the inhabitants there, they gave up and settled for what they had conquered.

And so for the Jews and for all people today, there remains a day of rest that will come only when we fully put our trust in God.

But as I mentioned before, the problem is too few do. We see this all the way back in Egypt where the Israelite slaves labored for years. They longed for rest. They longed for salvation. They longed for true joy and life.

Moses promised that God would give it to them, and they followed him. But from the very beginning, you could see that they were lacking in faith. You see it when Pharaoh made them work harder because of his confrontation with Moses. You see it at the Red Sea when they were trapped by Pharaoh’s army. You see it in the desert when they longed for food and water. And you see it when they refused to enter the land God had promised because they feared the inhabitants.

They said they wanted life and joy. They said they wanted rest and the blessings of God. But ultimately, they never believed. As a result, they never did enter the land. They all died in the desert. It was their children that entered, and again, even their children never entered into true rest because of their unbelief.

That’s what the writer of Hebrews was warning against. There were many Jews among his readers that heard the message of the gospel, and like the Israelites coming out of Egypt, were drawn by it. But they never really believed and fell away. (4:2) And the writer warns them time and again, “Don’t be like them. If you do, will never enter God’s rest. You’ll never find true life.” (4:11)

How about you? Do you want to find life and joy. Do you want to know God’s blessing in your life? Then you need to trust God and his Word. It is God’s word that will test where your heart really is, and if you truly trust God. And it is by his word that God will judge you. (4:12-13)

What will he find when he does?

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Hebrews 2-3 –Why we dare not ignore the gospel

One of the key themes you see throughout Hebrews is the supremacy of Christ. In chapters 1-2, you see his supremacy over the prophets and the angels. In chapter 3, we see his supremacy over Moses. And in chapter 4, we will see his supremacy over Joshua.

But there is a key point we need to remember as we consider Christ’s supremacy. If he is indeed supreme over all the angels and the other messengers of God, and all of them proclaimed the message of God and people were held to account for what they heard, then we dare not ignore the message that Christ brings.

We see this in the first few verses of chapter 2, where the writer of Hebrews says,

We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?

This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (2:1-4)

Here, the writer of Hebrews seems to be referring to the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 33:2, Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19). And the writer says the people were judged when they failed to keep this law, even though it was brought by “mere” angels of God.

But now Jesus himself has come and given us the gospel through his own mouth and the mouths of the apostles, and God testified to their veracity by performing signs, miracles, and wonders, not to mention all the gifts of the Spirit that were poured out. And if the Father, Son, and Spirit themselves testify to these things, not simply angels, will we not be held more accountable? Of course we will. And there will be no escape from hell if we ignore this gospel that God in Trinity has testified to.

The writer then compares Moses to Jesus. Moses had been a great leader. God used him to deliver the people from slavery in Egypt and through him taught the people His law.

And yet, the writer says,

Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. (3:3-6)

Moses, the writer says, was a mere servant. A faithful servant, but a servant. And as much as the Jews were held to accountable to a servant like Moses in keeping the law he taught, we are held far more accountable to Jesus because he is God’s Son and the builder of God’s house, the church.

Because of this, we dare not ignore the gospel of salvation he brings. There is no higher court of appeal to go to. He is our final judge.

So the writer tells us,

Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. (3:1)

How about you? Are you taking the gospel lightly? As a message that you can simply ignore?

Whether you like it or not, you will be held to account for it. So believe it and embrace it while you still can. And if you do, you will find life. To reject it means judgment and death. More on that next time.

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Hebrews 2 — What Christmas is all about (part 3)

For the past couple of days, we’ve been looking at Christmas through the lens of Hebrews. First, we talked about how it was because of Christmas that we can truly see what God is like. That through Jesus, the invisible God became visible.

Then yesterday, we talked about the second reason Jesus came. That because of our sin, this world became messed up. We were meant to rule over this earth as God’s representatives and children, but our sin made a mess of this world and our lives.

But when Jesus came, he paid the price for our sin, taking God’s wrath upon himself. Now he has blazed the way to salvation for us. All we have to do is trust in and follow him, and God’s original plan for us will come to fruition. The day will come when we will reign with Christ for all eternity, crowned with glory and honor.

There is, however, a third reason Jesus came, and we see this also in chapter 2. He came to identify with us. To truly understand us.

So often, we think of God in heaven, and he seems too transcendent. How could such a God truly understand all that we go through.

But God came down to earth in Jesus Christ, and he experienced all that we do. The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus, our “pioneer”, was made perfect through suffering (10).

What does that mean? Wasn’t Jesus already perfect? Certainly in terms of sinlessness he was. But he became more “complete” as a Savior by identifying with us in every way. By taking on human flesh and learning what it means to suffer in an imperfect world, to go through the strongest of temptations and overcome, and ultimately to die and overcome death itself.

Because Jesus did all of that, the writer of Hebrews says,

Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (11)

In other words, because Jesus became a man, he truly became one of us. And he can call us brothers and sisters and really mean it.

Throughout the Psalms that are quoted in verses 12-13, you see the joy of Jesus as he calls us his own brothers, sisters, and children. He makes no distinction between us and him.

Again in verse 14-15, it says,

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

Like us, Jesus took on flesh and blood. But unlike us, he never sinned. And now by offering the perfect sacrifice for sin, he destroyed Satan’s hold over us and has set us free from the fear of death and hell.

But there’s one last thing. The writer of Hebrews tells us,

For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (17-18)

Put another way, he understands our weakness as he never had before because now he himself has experienced it. And because of that, he has become a merciful high priest for us. So when we now cry out because of our struggles with sin or the pains of life, he understands.

That’s the wonder of Christmas. Of “God with us.” The wonder is that he now truly understands us.

I love the song that says,

He knows all the struggles you are going through.
He knows the pain you’re feeling.

He hears the silent cries you hold within your heart.
And he wants so much to show you
That he knows.

–Brian Becker

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Hebrews 2 — What Christmas is all about (part 2)

What’s wrong with the world today? Until we answer that question, we can’t really answer what Christmas is about. And that’s what the author of Hebrews addresses here.

He says in verse 5 that in the world to come, when all things are made new, the earth will not be made subject to angels, but to the human race. And like the psalmist, he marvels, saying,

“What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.” (6-8)

Here it seems the psalmist and the writer of Hebrews is speaking not of Jesus, but of people. And they marvel at the grace of God that though we are but dust, lower at this time than the angels, that the day will come when we will be crowned with glory and honor, and rule over all things, even the angels.

Paul told us in I Corinthians 6:3 that the day will come when we will even judge the angels.

That’s what God meant for us from the very beginning. When he created Adam and Eve, he said,

Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground. (Genesis 1:28)

And the writer of Hebrews says,

In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. (8b)

And yet. Is that how things really are? The writer continues,

Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. (8c)

Why not? Because of sin.

Sin is what’s wrong with the world. Sin corrupted everything. It broke our relationship with God. It broke this world. And it broke us. Because of that, we see natural disasters, disease, and death.

And that’s why Jesus had to come.

The writer continues,

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (9)

Jesus left heaven, and became one of us. He lived among us, taking our form that was lower than the angels. A form that was mortal. A form that could get sick and die. But through his death on the cross, he paid for our sin so that we would not have to pay for it ourselves.

And now, Jesus is crowned with glory and honor. He has become the “author of our salvation.” That word “author” is now translated in the new NIV, “pioneer.” Jesus went ahead of us, living a perfect life, and then suffering and dying for us. And now we follow the path of salvation he blazed for us.

We don’t have to find the path to salvation. The path has already been made. He’s done all the hard work. All we have to do is trust in and follow after him.

Why did Jesus come to this earth as a baby 2000 years ago?

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (14-15)

But not only we have been set free from the power of sin and death, now the way has been paved for us to be crowned with glory and honor and to rule this world as coheirs with Christ as God intended from the very beginning.

That’s what Christmas is all about. So this Christmas, let us praise God not just for what he did 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, but praise him for what he is doing now, and what he will do in the world to come.

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Hebrews 1 — What Christmas is all about

As I write this, Christmas season is well in swing and is in fact just around the corner.

And in Hebrews, we find out just what Christmas is all about. Who is this Christ that came? And why is he so important?

The writer of Hebrews starts by telling us,

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. (1-2)

In other words, while there were many prophets throughout the centuries, now in these last days, we find one that was greater than them all. Greater than Isaiah and Jeremiah, and Daniel. And while these men spoke many things clouded in mystery, these mysteries were all revealed in Jesus Christ. He is, as John put it, the very Word of God made flesh (John 1:1, 14), and all the scriptures find their fulfillment in him.

But who is he, really?

Jehovah’s Witnesses claim he is the archangel Michael. But the writer of Hebrews flatly denies this.

Instead, he said,

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (3a)

The picture here is of a signet ring thatsignet ring was put into wax and then pressed onto paper. And Jesus is the exact representation of the very nature of God. All that God is can be seen in Jesus. Jesus himself is the radiance of God’s glory.

The writer then says,

After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (3b)

Here we see the why of Jesus’ coming. To die on a cross that our sins may be forgiven. But after he died, he rose again, and now is sitting at the right hand of God the Father in glory. And on the day, Jesus rose from the dead, the Father said,

“You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” (Verse 5, but also see Acts 13:32-34 where Paul uses this passage in reference to the resurrection.)

In ancient times, a king who was over another had a “father-son” relationship with the king who was subject to him. God himself said that of his relationship with Solomon (II Samuel 7:14)

And the writer of Hebrews makes very clear, “No angel ever had this said to them. Only Jesus.” (4-5)

More, when God brought Jesus into the world, he said,

Let all God’s angels worship him. (6)

We see that during the angel’s worship in front of the shepherds. And on the day Jesus returns to earth, God will again command, “Let all the angels worship him.”

That’s significant, because only God is worthy of worship. The Father could not say that if Jesus were not one with Him. (Luke 4:8)

And while angels are compared to things created things like wind and fire (7), Jesus is called the eternal God himself, and the creator of all things. (2, 8-12)

Finally, no angel had the position of authority that Jesus has. Rather their job is to serve those who will be saved because of the work Jesus did. (13-14)

In short, as glorious as angels are, Jesus is so much more. He is God himself in human flesh. And when he came, he revealed to us who God really is.

Not only that, but through him and him alone we find salvation from our sins and the gift of eternal life.

That’s what Christmas is all about.

More on this tomorrow.

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Philemon — If our faith is genuine

In II Corinthians 5:16-17, Paul wrote,

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (16-17)

Here we see the results of a genuine faith. We no longer see Christ the same way and neither do we see the people around us in the same way.

And there is no story that better illustrates that than this letter to a man named Philemon.

Philemon was apparently a leader in the Colossian church, and the church itself met in his house. Nevertheless, he lived in a time when slavery abounded. Slaves made up approximately a third of the Roman population.

Sometimes people wonder why early Christian leaders like Paul didn’t speak directly against the practice. My guess is he knew change wouldn’t come through politics but through changed hearts. And the only way hearts would be changed is through the gospel.

Many Christians trying to bring change to their nations would do well to remember that. This is not to say that people should not be politically involved. What it does mean is that any long-lasting change must come through the transformation of the human heart. And politics and new laws cannot effect that.

At any rate, while Paul was under house arrest in Rome, he met a man named Onesimus. We don’t know the exact circumstances under which they met, but whatever they were, it seems that Onesimus became a Christian through Paul (10).

And as Onesimus grew in the faith, he actually started serving with Paul, becoming a beloved and trusted friend.

But there was a problem, Onesimus seems to have been a runaway slave. Apparently, he had stolen from his master and run away to gain his freedom. But now as a Christian, his conscience probably smote him. He knew he was in the wrong, and he felt like he had to return to his old master. But to do so could very well mean death under Roman law. Onesimus’ fate was purely in the hands of his master should he return.

And perhaps under this burden, he shared his heart with Paul. When Paul asked him, “Who is your master?” to Paul’s surprise, Onesimus’ master was Philemon, a close friend of Paul. Philemon himself, it seems, had also become a Christian through Paul (19)

With that, Paul wrote this letter on Onesimus’ behalf. But Paul, though he had the authority as an apostle to tell Philemon what to do, refused to do so. Instead, you see him appealing to Philemon as a friend and as one he greatly loved.

What did he tell Philemon? He told Philemon that God’s hand was in all that had happened (15-16). Oh certainly God didn’t tell Onesimus to run away. Onesimus did that all on his own, sinning not only against Philemon, but against God.

But God reached out to him and directed him right into the path of Paul. And now this “useless slave” had become someone truly valuable, useful to Paul in the ministry. (11-13)

(Onesimus’ name itself meant “useful.”)

Now Paul told Philemon, “Onesimus is no longer the same man he was when he left you. He is not just merely your slave anymore. He is now a new creation in Christ. And your brother.” (16)

More Paul said,

If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me….I will pay it back–not to mention that you owe me your very self. (18-19)

Paul here does two things. He offers to pay for what Onesimus has stolen. But in doing so, he gives a subtle reminder that Philemon himself had his debt of sin paid by Jesus. And as much as he might have owed Paul for bringing the gospel message that saved him, he owed Jesus much more, because Jesus was the one who actually paid the price.

How did Philemon respond? We don’t know. But Paul was confident that Philemon would do what was right. (21)

Why? Because Philemon was a new creation too. And Paul was confident that he would see Onesimus in the same light that Paul saw him.

The real question, though, is, “What about you? Is your faith genuine? If it is genuine, it should transform not only how you see Christ, but others. It should lead you to forgive because you have been forgiven. It should lead you to love and accept those around you, because Jesus loved and accepted you.”

What kind of faith do you have?

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Titus 3 — No room for license, no room for pride

We covered the first part of Titus 3 in the last blog, but because it connects with what we’re talking about today, I might as well put it all together.

Again in verse 1, he talks about how we are to obey those in authority, and then he says in verse 2 that we are to,

slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

It’s easy sometimes for Christians to become uncharitable or judgmental towards unbelievers because of their sinful actions. But Paul says we are not to slander them, but are rather to be peaceable and considerate, showing them true humility. The last, I think is especially important. As Christians, we are to be humble and gentle with them in their failings. Why?

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (3-7)

In short, we were no different from unbelievers before we became Christians. We too did stupid things, we sinned, and were in fact slaves to sin. God didn’t save us because we were better than the rest of the people around us. Rather, he saved us because of his mercy. And he showed kindness and love to us when we didn’t deserve it by sending his Son to die for us.

Now God has made us new creations through his Holy Spirit who he has poured into our hearts. And now because of all he has done for us, we are made righteous in his sight and we have the hope of eternal life as his adopted children.

So there’s no room for pride as Christians. And we are not to look down on those who are “unholy.” Rather we are to reach out to them with the same love that God showed us.

At the same time, as I mentioned in the last blog, there’s no room for license when it comes to sin if we are Christians.

We are no longer the same. We’ve been washed by the blood of Jesus. We’ve been made new creatures in him. How then can we go back to a life of sin and the things that were destroying us?

And so Paul says,

This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. (8)

And again,

Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives. (14)

So while there’s no room for pride in our own righteousness, there is no room for license either.

Even in Paul’s day, he faced both problems. He faced those who proud of how “righteous” they were by keeping the law and those who were proud of their Jewish pedigree. And he faced those who argued that they could live however they wanted to. (9)

But concerning both, Paul said,

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (10-11)

How about you? Do you live in pride, thinking you’re so much better than others? Remember you were not saved because of who you are or what you did. You were saved because of who God is and what he did.

Are you living a life of license? You were saved that you might be free from that. That you might become completely new and find true life and joy, not the counterfeit this world offers.

How are you living?

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Titus 2:2-3:2 — A call to godliness

This is a passage that is nothing short of a call to godliness among God’s people.

There are a lot of people who claim to be Christians. But as Paul said in chapter 1,

They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. (1:16)

You cannot claim to be a Christian and simply live the way you want to. God has called us to be be holy. What does that mean practically? Paul tells them.

Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. (2:2-6)

All fiercely practical.

Later he gives instructions to the slaves, which are practical for employees today.

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive. (2:9-10)

Then in chapter 3, he gives instructions concerning our attitude toward authority, that we are to be subject to them (3:1).

Finally he gives us instructions on how we are to treat each other, that we are to do good to one another,

to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. (3:2)

And to Titus himself, Paul says,

In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. (7-8)

In other words, Titus was not simply to teach these things, but to live them that he might be an example to all the church of the kind of life they were to live. Just as importantly, by living that way, no legitimate reproach could come upon Christ and his teaching.

“But we are saved by grace! These instructions sound so legalistic,” some may say.

Yes we are saved by grace and by grace alone. But what is true grace? Does true grace teach us to live however we want because we are saved by the cross of Christ?

No. This grace,

teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (2:12-14)

Grace wasn’t given us as a license to live unholy lives. Rather grace was given us that we might become holy. Jesus bought us out of slavery to sin and purified our hearts by his blood that we would become his own people. A people who want to please him and are eager to do what is right.

And this is so important to Paul, that he tells Titus,

These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you. (2:15)

How about you? Are you using the grace of God to give you an excuse to live how you want to? Or are you so grateful for what he has done for you, that it’s your greatest desire to please him?

As a Christian, you have been called to godliness. Are you living that way?

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Titus 1:1-2:1 — Standing for truth

This is the last of the pastoral letters, in which Paul instructs a man named Titus on what he needed to do with the churches in Crete. Apparently, there was a lot of false teaching there, similar to what Timothy was facing in Ephesus. There were those getting into myths and genealogies on one hand, and legalism on the other. All this despite the fact that these churches were still relatively young.

Also, because of their immaturity in Christ, the people had little idea of what it meant to live holy lives.

So from the very beginning, Paul talks about how God called him for the sake of the believers that they may know the truth, a truth cannot be separated from godliness. And it’s a truth, Paul says, that leads to eternal life which God has promised to all who believe. (1:2-3)

But because of a lack of leadership in these young churches, Paul tells Titus to appoint elders/overseers in the churches. They were in effect to be the pastors of these churches. And as with Timothy, Paul tells them there are two important things a pastor or elder must have.

The first is character, that they must be above approach as people. (1:6-8)

The second is that they hold to the truth and that they relay it to those God has put in their charge. The reason?

For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach–and that for the sake of dishonest gain. Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” (1:10-12)

Even in the church today, we see much of the same thing. People who don’t like what God has taught in his Word and corrupt it. People who lead entire families away from Christ by teaching things that are false. Some, as in the case of Cretan teachers, do so for the sake of money. Others corrupt it because they have bought the lie that we have to earn our salvation and that God’s grace is not enough. Others corrupt it because it teaches against the kind of life they want to live.

But in each case, Paul tells Titus,

Rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith. (1:13)

In short, stand for the truth. Don’t just let lies slip by unchallenged. God is a God who never lies, and we are to imitate him. (1:2)

There are many, Paul says, who profess to know God, but by their works and by their teaching deny him. Why? Because their minds and consciences are corrupt. They simply do not want to accept the truth. But Paul charges Titus,

You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. (2:1)

Though others may stray from the truth, we are to stand for it. And we are not to compromise.

How about you? Do you stand for truth? Or do you let lies slip by, letting people go to their own destruction. Even worse, do you twist the truth to suit your own sinful desires?

We will stand before God someday based on what we did with his truth. What will he say to you on that day?

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II Timothy 4:16-22 — Though we may stand alone

I can’t help but think that Paul felt the same thing Jesus did during his trial.

Like Jesus, Paul stood alone when he stood on trial for his life. All the people he could have reasonably expected to support him were nowhere to be seen.

And perhaps in remembering Jesus’ response to those who had failed him and his prayer at the cross, Paul now prayed,

May it not be held against them. (16)

But how was Paul able to stand facing the hostile “lions” in court?

Paul tells us.

But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. (17)

Though Paul was abandoned by all his friends, he still sensed the Lord’s presence by his side. More, he sensed the Spirit working in him as he gave his defense, just as Jesus had promised his disciples. (Mark 13:11)

And so even in the midst of a trial to condemn him, Paul boldly preached the gospel.

But on top of that was the hope that Paul had. He said,

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (18)

Paul wasn’t saying that he believed God would spare his life. He fully believed his time had come and that he would die. (6)

But he knew that though the Romans could kill his body, they could not touch his soul. He was fully confident that God would take his soul to be with Christ forever. And because of that, he had peace.

How about you? Do you have the confidence, hope, and assurance that Paul had?

As I said before, Jesus never promised an easy life. On the contrary, he promised that we would face trouble. (John 16:33)

But in the midst of the fire, remember that Jesus is with you. Though everyone else may abandon you, he never will. And though your very life may be taken from you, he will guide you safely home.

So whatever you’re going through, hang in there. Don’t give up. Instead,

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3)

And as Paul prayed, so I pray for you now.

The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you. (22)

 

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II Timothy 4:9-15 — The unfaithful, the faithful, the restored, and the condemned

As we near the end of this letter, Paul mentions several different types of people, the unfaithful, the faithful, the restored, and the condemned.

Demas, unfortunately, was one of the unfaithful. He had worked with Paul previously (Colossians 4:14, Philemon 1:24), but Paul now says of him,

Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. (10)

What exactly pulled Demas away, we are not sure. Perhaps it was the lure of money and wealth. Perhaps it was falling in love with a non-Christian woman. Or perhaps it simply was that he was tired of suffering for the sake of Christ. He had seen Paul go through much suffering, and after suffering along with him for many years, decided he had had enough.

Others, however, were faithful not only to Paul, but to Christ. We see this in Crescens and Titus who apparently were sent by Paul to do the Lord’s work elsewhere, and Luke, Paul’s constant companion and perhaps personal physician.

Then there’s Mark. This is the same man that Paul once argued with Barnabas about in Acts 15. Paul had considered Mark unreliable because he had deserted them on an earlier missionary journey, but Barnabas wanted to give him a second chance. As a result, Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways.

But now, Paul says of Mark,

Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. (11)

Mark had proven Paul wrong, and learning from his past failures, now had shown himself to be a faithful servant of the Lord, and Paul acknowledged him as such.

Finally, we see Alexander. What harm exactly he caused Paul, we don’t know. If he was the same Alexander from I Timothy 1:20, perhaps his excommunication from the church had caused him to turn Paul into the Romans who were now persecuting Christians openly under Nero.

Whatever the case, Paul said of him,

The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message. (14-15)

Here we see two principals concerning those who oppose us and the gospel. First, place them in God’s hands. Don’t let bitterness consume you or cause you to try to take revenge.

But second, forgiveness doesn’t mean you just let someone hurt you again and again. We need to keep our guard up against such people until they repent

But the main question is, what kind of person are you?

Are you like Demas? You came to faith in Jesus, and at first things were great. But now, other things are pulling you away from Christ. Are the things of this world causing you to be unfaithful to him? Are hardships causing you to think about giving up? Don’t give in to those temptations. This world, with its pleasures and trials are only temporary. So be faithful. Shoot for the eternal, not what will last only a short time.

Are you like Mark? Have you failed in the past and feel like you can’t be used anymore for the Lord’s work. Remember that God is the God who restores. He restored Peter and the rest of the disciples when they failed Jesus before the cross. He restored Mark. And he can restore you. All you need to do is repent.

Are you like Alexander, hardened against God and the gospel? Be warned. God is patient, but as things are you stand condemned. Repent before it’s too late.

And for all of us who are in Christ Jesus, through everything we go through in life, let us as Paul said in Romans,

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12)

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II Timothy 4:1-8 — Finishing the race

I don’t know if Paul could have given a stronger charge to Timothy than he does here.

Paul foresaw a time when people would no longer put up with sound doctrine. Rather, they would simply gather to themselves teachers who would say whatever they want to hear. He foresaw a time when people would stop listening to truth, and turn aside to myths. (3-4)

Sound familiar? We’re here.

And it would be so easy for us as teachers and as laypeople to simply go with the flow. To compromise Christ’s teaching.

But Paul tells us what he told Timothy.

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. (1-2)

As I said, a strong charge. He gives us this charge, reminding us that even now we stand in the presence of God and of Christ who will judge us. He charges us in view of the fact that Jesus will come back someday and set up his kingdom. What is this charge?

Preach the Word. Not just the parts people like to hear. All of it, giving the full counsel of God, even if it’s unpleasant to hear.

He says, “be prepared in season and out of season.” Essentially what he’s saying is, “Preach the Word whether it is convenient or inconvenient.

It’s not always convenient to preach the Word. Sometimes we’re in a hurry to do other things. We have our schedules; we have our plans. But God brings someone into our path that needs to hear what He has to say.

Sometimes it’s not “convenient” because we know what we say will agitate the other person and upset them. But Paul says, “You stand before God and before Christ. He will come back, he will set up his kingdom, and when he does, he will judge you and them. So whether it’s convenient or not, preach the Word.

Correct them. When they have a false view of the truth or of what’s right and wrong, correct their way of thinking.

Rebuke them. If they fall into sin or are teetering on the brink, warn them of the consequences that they might repent.

Encourage them. When they feel like giving up because of hardship, encourage them to keep their eyes on Jesus and not give up.

And in the face of a world that rejects truth and persecutes those who preach it, Paul tells us,

But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (5)

Though false teachers abound, though we may face trials, don’t panic. Endure what hardship you go through, boldly share the good news of Jesus Christ, and fulfill the ministry God has given you, namely to touch the lives God has put in your life.

Finally Paul tells us, “It’s up to you now. My life’s work is finished. I have fought the good fight for God. I have finished the race he has given me. And I have not compromised the faith I preach through everything I’ve been through. Now I await my reward, the crown of righteousness that Christ will award to me on the day of judgment.” (5-8)

But then he adds, “That crown is not only for me. But it is for all who have longed for his appearing.” (8b)

How about you? Are you longing for his appearing? Are you truly praying, “Your kingdom come?”

How you finish this race depends on how you answer that question.

Where is your heart?

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II Timothy 3:10-17- Though this world goes from bad to worse

If anyone thinks that this world will get any better, they’re not reading the same Bible I am. Until the day Christ comes back, things will get progressively worse. And that shows most starkly in the ungodliness of the people in this world, even those claiming to be Christians.

And Paul’s words seem more real to me now than they did even ten or twenty years ago. Paul says,

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (12-13)

Paul doesn’t say that people who want to live a godly life may be persecuted, or could possibly be persecuted. He said they will be persecuted.

Why? Because evil men and false Christians will go from bad to worse. Those who are teachers deceive, teaching things contrary to the Word of God, and those who listen are falling for everything they say.

The result is a more and more corrupt morality and a more and more corrupt world. And with that corruption comes a hatred for anyone that will dare shine the light of God’s word into that darkness. Jesus himself said,

Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3:20-21)

We see this clearly in the world today. Everything is tolerated…except the Word of God.

Paul in his day experienced that hatred. He reminds Timothy of all that he went through for the sake of the light, and he warns him, “This is not an aberration. It will not only continue, but get worse as people fall further and further into darkness.”

How are we to respond in the face of this darkness? Paul tells us.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (14-16)

In short, hold on to the truth. Though people may turn from the truth, though people may try to extinguish it by persecuting you, hold on to the truth and keep proclaiming it. Why is it so important to hold on to God’s word?

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (17)

God’s word is our life. And it equips us for every good work that we do in the face of this darkness. It’s the sword that can pierce the heart and banish the darkness in the souls of people.

More, it teaches us what is right, rebukes us when we are wrong, picks us up when we fall, and trains us to be godly. And finally, it gives us the strength to endure anything we go through in this dark world as God himself through his Spirit whispers his words of life into our souls.

Jesus never promised an easy life if we follow him. He said,

In this world you will have trouble. (John 16:33)

If you stand up for the truth, if you shine the light into this dark world, you will find trouble. But continue to hold to the light. Don’t let the darkness extinguish it from your soul. And as Jesus said,

Take heart! I have overcome the world. (John  6:33b)

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II Timothy 3:1-9 — A mere form of godliness

There are many people in this world who are religious. Who go to church, a mosque, a synagogue, a shrine, or a temple. They perform religious rituals, praying, reading their sacred scriptures, and perhaps even giving up some of their money. And yet, though they may look pious, they are rejected by God.

Why? Because though they may have the form of godliness, that’s all it is. The outward appearance of godliness, empowered by their own efforts or even hypocrisy. And all the while these people deny the power of God himself in their lives.

Some deny it by denying God himself. They turn away from the truth that is found in Jesus Christ. They follow instead the teachings of Buddha, Muhammad, or other religious leaders. But while these people may have some truth or some good interspersed with these teachings, they deny Jesus Christ as the only way to the Father. All the righteousness they may have are mere filthy rags to God because they have denied his Son and reject the cross upon which he died. More, they deny the resurrection power that could transform them and bring true righteousness into their lives.

Others claim to be Christians. They claim to follow Christ. But it is a mere charade. For they are actually, “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of God.” (2-4)

They too have the form of godliness. They go to church. They smile and sing and pray and tithe. But their lives are an empty shell, devoid of the power of God in their lives.

Some of these people are teachers. But Paul compares them to Jannes and Jambres, the two magicians that opposed Moses in Egypt. They boasted great power from their gods, but their claims proved empty when confronted with the living God.

Others are are “learners.” But because they never come to the truth because they have already rejected it. They hear only what they want to hear, and filter everything else out.

You cannot claim true godliness when you have rejected Jesus Christ himself. And you cannot claim true godliness when all you have is a religious show that has no effect on your heart.

Paul said the time was coming, terrible times, when more and more people will be like this. We are here. We are in those times. All you have to do is to look at the world around us and you’ll know it’s true.

And when Jesus comes, he will separate the wheat from the tares. He will separate those who have the mere form of godliness from those who are truly his own, who are day by day being transformed by the power of God into his likeness.

When he comes, what will he find in you?

 

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II Timothy 2 — To be a good teacher

As I look at this passage, I am challenged as to the kind of teacher I should be.

What does it take to be a good teacher of the Word of God?

1. Pass on what you know. Especially pass it on to the next generation of teachers after you. You won’t be here forever. So make sure that the wisdom and knowledge God has given you doesn’t die with you. (2)

2. Be faithful in your life and your teaching. Don’t compromise either in the face of persecution or suffering. Remember who your commanding officer is. Remember who you are trying to please. You cannot please God if you are trying to please people. Too often, when we try to please people, we end up compromising our lives and our message. (3-4)

3. Work hard at your preaching. Know the rules of interpreting scripture. Know how to rightly interpret God’s word and then present it in a way that people can understand. And know that if you do so, you will reap the fruit of that in the changed lives of the people you teach. (5-6, 15)

4. Ponder over the words of God. Don’t just gloss over them, thinking you already know what they mean. Meditate on them. And God will give you insight that you didn’t expect. (7)

5. Remember Jesus Christ in your messages. Remember to make him the center of all that you teach. Keep the gospel that changes lives central to all that you say. (8-9)

6. Seek the salvation of those you teach. Don’t just seek to win arguments. Seek to win souls. Show people that you genuinely care about them, and don’t simply want to win an argument. Correct people when they’re wrong, but with gentleness, praying that God may grant them repentance. They are not the enemy. They themselves have been captured by the Enemy and God wants to set them free. (10, 24-26)

7. Don’t get involved in pointless arguments. There are some arguments that generate a great deal of heat and very little light. Avoid them. (14, 23)

8. Flee from the false teaching that infects many churches today, teaching that would deny the Word of God and all it stands for. That kind of teaching will spread quickly and infect all who hear it, destroying them. And you will be held responsible. (16-17)

9. Finally, be sure that you yourself are a clean vessel that God can use. Flee impurity. More, pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace. (20-22)

How about you? What kind of teacher are you?

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II Timothy 1:15-2:13 — The grace to endure

One of the reasons Paul asked Timothy to come visit him was that many people had abandoned him, and except for a precious few, he was all alone. For every Onesiphorus who went out of his way to find out where Paul was imprisoned to encourage him, there were many more such as Phygelus and Hermogenes who had abandoned him. (1:15-18).

Why did these two abandon Paul? Possibly because of the persecution that had landed him in prison, and the fear that they might end up like him. Perhaps they had tried to hang in there for a while, but in the end, they had been pushed past their ability to endure and left.

Many people are like that today. They become Christians, and when all is well, they are filled with joy. But when trials come, though they may try to endure for a time, eventually they fall away. How does that happen? It happens because they forget the grace by which they were called to live, and instead try to live on their own strength. And when their own strength fails, they have nothing left to lean on.

It’s very easy to look at verses like those in chapter 2 verses 3-6 and think, “I have to do this on my own strength. I have to be the good soldier. I have to train hard and keep all the rules. I have to pour all my strength into this work God has given me.”

But in putting all your focus on what you have to do, you forget where your strength comes from.

We in short forget what Paul said before all his words about being a soldier, athlete, and farmer. He said,

Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. (2:1)

What does that mean? Most people tend to skip over it because it’s not as easily understood as being a good soldier, athlete, or farmer.

But it’s absolutely vital.

You see, it was by grace you were saved. Not by your own efforts. And it is by grace that we are to live each day. Just as you depend on God for your salvation, you need to depend on God as you live your daily life. And especially as you face hardships and persecution.

Yes, we are to seek to please God, and not get caught up in the things of this world. Yes, we are to do the things he has asked us if we are to receive a heavenly reward. Yes, we are to work hard, knowing that our labor will not be in vain.

But if our focus is on “I have to do this in my own strength,” we are destined to fail.

We were saved by grace. And we are to live each day by grace. That is, we are to live by the Spirit that God has given us to dwell in our hearts, the Spirit who gives us power, fills us with love, and gives us the self-discipline we need to do his will. (II Timothy 1:7)

That’s why Paul tells Timothy,

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. (8-9)

In other words, in all your struggles to endure, remember Jesus Christ. Remember he is your starting point and your ending point. He is the one God promised to redeem us from our sin. He is the one who was raised from the dead and gives us life. And ultimately, he is the one who will bring us through our trials, and take us with him into glory. Remember that. Don’t try to make it through these trials on your own.

And then Paul reminded Timothy. Yes I am chained. I am weak. I can be bound. But God’s word is not chained (9). His work will be accomplished. And it is with that hope that I continue my work in the face of death. Because I know that through me, people will come to faith in Christ and find the grace that you and I have both found.

He then closes with a hymn of encouragement. Encouragement to endure. Encouragement at the faithfulness of Christ. Paul sang,

If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. (12-13)

It’s fitting that he finishes that hymn with a word of grace. For our ability to endure starts with grace and ends with it.

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II Timothy 1 — Because we have hope

Although there are two more letters from Paul to go through after this one, this was the last letter Paul ever wrote. And it’s a very poignant one, because it came at a time when Paul knew he was going to die. Unlike other times when he was in prison, and he was reasonably sure he would be set free (Philippians 1:23-26), he had no such hopes this time. Nero had started his persecution of the church, and it looked like Paul himself was going to be executed. And in fact, he was.

And so he wrote this letter to a young man he had mentored for many years. One purpose was to ask Timothy to visit him before he died. But it was also to encourage him not to be discouraged by all the persecution and trials that were going on, and to continue to be faithful in his love and service toward God.

From the very beginning of this letter you see this. Here was a man on death row for preaching the gospel. And in the very first line, he says,

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus. (1)

The promise of life. In the face of death, Paul had the promise of life. Why? He tells us in verse 9-10 as he talks about how God displayed his own purpose and his grace toward us through Jesus Christ. And now through Jesus, he has “abolished death and brought life and immortality to life through the gospel.”

So many people fear death because they don’t know what lies beyond it. But Paul knew. He had seen heaven itself (II Corinthians 12:1-4). And he knew that there was life beyond the grave. That just as Christ was raised from the dead, so will we, and we will be clothed with immortality. And on that day, we will sing, “”Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55)

It was because of this hope that he preached this gospel he had been entrusted with. And it was why, though he suffered for the gospel, he could say,

Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. (12)

Paul knew his work and his suffering were not in vain. But he laid all these things in God’s hands, knowing that he would be rewarded someday.

Because of this assurance, and because he was certain that Timothy had the same faith, and the same Spirit dwelling within him, he told Timothy,

I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (6-7)

Perhaps Timothy was feeling somewhat overwhelmed by everything, by the problems he was facing in the Ephesian church, by his mentor facing his death. Perhaps he was tempted to just give up.

But Paul encouraged him, “Hey, God gave you the Holy Spirit in your life. And he is not a spirit of weakness or timidity. Rather, he is the Spirit that gives power, fills you with love, and the ability to be faithful to Christ in your work and your life.

Because of this, Paul charged Timothy,

So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. (8)

And again.

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you–guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (13-14)

In other words, keep on keeping on. And know that you don’t have to do it alone. I may soon leave you. But the Holy Spirit is living in you and he will help you.

How about you? Are you discouraged by the way this world is going? By how ungodly it is becoming? By the troubles that are coming into your life because of your faith in God?

Don’t lose heart. God has his purposes and they will not be thwarted. Satan tried to thwart them and thought he had done so at the cross, only to find out that it was his ultimate defeat.

Now we have the hope of life. More, we have God’s promise of life. So let us hold on to what we have been taught, and continue walking in faith, filled with the love of Christ, and sharing that love with all we meet.

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I Timothy 6:5-19 — What we pursue. What we put our hope in.

I suppose I could have finished up I Timothy yesterday. But there were a lot of things that Paul talked about in that passage that I couldn’t get into yesterday, and so that’s what I want to finish with today.

The people in this world pursue many things. They pursue fame, pleasure, power, and security. But perhaps the thing they pursue most is money. Fame often leads to riches. And money seems to be the easiest way to obtain pleasure, power, and security.

And for some preachers of the gospel, then in Paul’s time, and even now, their main pursuit in life is worldly prosperity.

But Paul tells us this is not what we are to pursue. He says true prosperity is found in godliness alongside a heart of contentment.

And in a lot of ways, the two are intertwined. Truly godly people don’t find contentment in the things of this world. They find contentment in knowing that they’re at peace with God. In God, they find that they truly have all that they really need.

Ungodly people can never be content, at least not in the long run. They are never satisfied. They always want more. And the more they have, the emptier they become. And even if they somehow manage to find contentment in their life apart from God, they will eventually find that it is not lasting. For as Paul said,

We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. (7)

And when the day of judgment comes, people will stand before God with all their power and possessions stripped from them. And on that day, God will ask not, “How much money do you have? What possessions do you have to offer me?” Instead, he will ask, “What did you do with my Son?”

So Paul warns Timothy, “Don’t pursue riches. Loving money only leads to evil and ultimately will plunge people into eternal destruction.” (6:9-10)

Even in this life, many people see their lives destroyed by their love for money. How many lives and families have been destroyed because of people’s love for money through gambling? How many lives and families have been damaged or destroyed because people become workaholics in their pursuit of money? So many people have been pierced with grief because of their love for money.

That’s why Paul tells us,

But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  (8)

What are we to pursue then, if not money? Righteousness. Godliness. Faith. Love. Endurance. Gentleness.

If we were to pursue these things in our lives, how much better would our lives be? How much better would our marriages and relationships with others be? More importantly, how much better would our relationship with God be?

It is the pursuit of these things that truly lead to great gain in our lives.

Paul then become very practical for those who have riches. It’s so easy for those who are rich, and even those who are not, to put their hope and faith in money. But Paul told Timothy,

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (17)

He then tells them,

Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (18-19)

Used properly, money is not a bad thing. It can do a lot of good. It can touch a lot of lives. And in using your money in this way, we lay up treasures that will never fade, and find what true life is all about.

Our pastor challenged us this past Sunday to sacrifice some of our money that we would normally spend on Christmas presents to give to the needy. My wife and I plan to join others in the church in doing that.

How about you? What are you pursuing? Where is your hope in life?

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I Timothy 6:3-21 — When we get away from the words of Christ

We live in a world today that wants little or nothing to do with the words of Christ. They take the parts they do like, and reject the parts they don’t. But if we claim to be followers of Christ, we can’t do that. Jesus himself made that very clear. (Matthew 7:21-27)

And Paul reiterates this truth to Timothy. He said,

If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. (3-5)

I can’t help but think that Paul was thinking of Jesus’ parable of the house built on sand and the house built on the rock when he wrote this, because he draws the same conclusion that Jesus did. That those who don’t follow Jesus’ words truly understand nothing. They think they’re wise, and may even take pride in their “wisdom,” but in truth, they are fools.

And it shows in the fruit of their lives. Their words cause envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions, and constant friction among those who hear. And their words twist what godliness is, turning it into a way to get rich. You don’t have to watch long on some “Christian” broadcasts to see that this is going on even in our day.

So Paul charges Timothy at the end of this letter,

Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. (20-21)

In short, “You’ve been entrusted with the very words of Christ. Guard them in your heart. Don’t let others cause you to abandon them for what they are calling ‘knowledge.’

“And make sure you teach and insist on the truth that brings life (2-3). Don’t let attacks on the truth of Christ go unchallenged. For the day is coming when Christ returns and you will be held to account for what you were entrusted with.” (13-14)

How about you? You may or may not be a pastor, but you too have been entrusted with the words of Christ. Are you holding to them? Or are you letting your convictions waver in the face of our culture?

Reject the “wisdom” of this world. Don’t let the world’s arrogance pull you into rejecting Christ’s words too. Rather, guard Christ’s words in your heart. And when they are attacked, make a stand, teaching and insisting on what is true.

The words of this world lead to death. The words of Christ lead to life. Whose words do you wield in your life?

 

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I Timothy 6:1-2 — That God and the gospel not be slandered

I talked last time about how pastors are held to a high standard so that God and the church might not be slandered. But as you look throughout this letter, you see that all Christians are Christ’s representatives. And as such, we are to be careful how we behave.

In chapter 5, he talked about how the younger widows (and looking at the context, all housewives) were not to give the enemy room for slander by their behavior (5:14). Now here in chapter 6, he says the same concerning slaves. He says,

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers. Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service are believers, and dear to them. (1-2)

We don’t have slavery in our country now, but the principal still holds in our workplaces. And so not only for those who stay at home, but for those who work, we are to be Christ’s representatives.

We are to honor our bosses and always do our utter best as if we were serving Christ himself. When people see us at our jobs, they should see us uncomplainingly doing all that is required of us, and when necessary even more.

How terrible it would be for people to look at the Christians in their workplace and say, “Boy, that’s a substandard worker. He’s just a total cancer in this place. We’re better off without him.”

If people think that of us, will that draw them to Christ? Of course not.

But if people see us working harder than everyone else, with a good attitude, and doing our job well, it draws their respect, and then if they find out we’re Christians, it brings glory to Christ and the gospel. We’ll be like stars shining in this dark world that we live in. (Philippians 2:15)

How about you? Do you bring glory to God by how you work in your workplace? Or do you bring disgrace to his name and the gospel?

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I Timothy 5:19-25 — The standard to which pastors are held

The standard to which pastors and elders are held is a very high one. Why? Because they represent Christ to their congregation and they represent the church to the world. We’ve all seen what happens when they fail in this and scandal rocks the church. It not only hurts people within the church, but damages the church’s reputation in the world.

And so while Paul does require two or three witnesses before admitting a charge against the pastors and elders, he makes it clear to Timothy that when the charge is proven, he cannot simply ignore it. Rather he is to bring it in front of the church and rebuke that pastor or elder.

Why? For one thing, it proves there is no double-standard between the leadership and the congregation. Second, it shows the church that sin is taken seriously and will not be ignored no matter who commits it. Third, it serves as a warning to those who are being tempted to sin in the same way.

But as important as it is to deal with these problems when they come up, it’s even more important to do everything possible to make sure that it doesn’t happen at all. That we choose leaders who are full of integrity and won’t fall in such a way that it brings disrepute to the name of Christ and to the church.

Because of this, Paul told Timothy,

Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. (22)

When people were chosen as pastors or elders, people like Timothy or Paul would lay their hands on them, praying for them, and committing them to God for that work.

So what Paul was saying was, “Don’t be hasty in choosing someone to be a pastor or elder. Don’t share in their sins by supporting them for that position without checking them out first.”

And the most important way to test a pastor or elder was to watch their lives. Paul said,

The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden. (24-25)

In other words, some people are easy to disqualify because their sins are so obvious. Other sins, though, are not so easy to see, and you won’t notice them until you have spent time with that person and gotten to know them.

On the other hand, there may be other people that you think are not so special or qualified. But when you take a closer look at their lives, you’ll see that they are the very ones that are most qualified.

Either way, watch those within the church who are candidates for pastor or elder. Make sure of them before assigning them to that position. If you don’t, you could very well find yourself with a disaster on your hands.

While Paul is focusing on pastors and elders, I think you could extend this to any ministry where a person needs to take a leadership role. It might be for the process of choosing people to be small group leaders or Sunday school teachers. Anyone who represents the church as a leader or teacher is to be held to a high standard.

So we need to be careful who we choose.

And for those who are in leadership or teaching positions, we need to be careful to always represent Christ well by how we live.

How careful are you being?

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I Timothy 5:17-18 — Supporting and honoring our pastors

Pastors are not perfect. And because they’re up on the pedestal at church, they often become easy targets for criticism. And far too often, we neither honor nor support them the way that God commands us to.

And God does command us to do this.

Paul wrote,

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” (17-18)

Paul tells us here how we are to look upon our pastors and elders in the church. We are to consider them worthy of not just honor, but double honor. We are to respect them and support them.

How are we to support them? With our prayers, first and foremost, but also with our encouragement. And with our finances.

Sometimes people argue that tithing is not a New Testament command. I happen to agree with that. But most people who make such arguments usually stop there and say, “Therefore I have no obligation whatsoever to support my church financially.”

But Paul makes it crystal clear that is not true. He says you do have an obligation to support your pastor financially.

Put it this way. If your pastor is forced to work an outside job in order to support his family (remember that Paul said in verse 8 that a person that fails to do this is worse than an unbeliever), how much time can he put into the message on Sunday? How much time can he put into counseling those who are hurting? How much time can he put into all the pastoral duties God has given him? Not much.

And yet one of the main complaints that people in the church have is that their pastor is not fulfilling his obligations. If you’re making that complaint, let me ask you: “Are you supporting your pastor financially so that he can?”

More, are you supporting him in other ways? Are you praying for him? Are you encouraging him with your words? Are you seeking to take the burden off of him by actually participating in ministry so that he doesn’t have to do everything himself?

Or are you just simply sitting in church waiting to be ministered to?

The church is a body. Each person has a part in it. Are you playing your part?

Now don’t get me wrong. There are times when a pastor is to be criticized. Paul will go into that later. But there are fair criticisms and unfair ones.

And among the unfair ones are criticizing him for not doing all you feel he should be doing, when you’re not doing all that you’re supposed to be doing.

So before you start criticizing your pastor, look at yourself. Are you honoring and supporting your pastor? Are you doing everything you can to make his job easier? Or are you just sitting on your chair at church, taking potshots at him?

Where is your heart?

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I Timothy 5:9-16 — Though we may grieve

There are few things more painful than the loss of a spouse or a loved one. And it is easy to start going into free-fall when that happens, both in our lives and in our faith.

That’s apparently what was happening with some of the younger widows in the Ephesian church.

Some in losing their husbands, looked for solace in another man, and unfortunately, turned for that comfort to unbelievers. But by marrying unbelievers, they turned from their faith and started worshiping the false gods their new husbands worshiped. (11-12)

Others, in receiving financial support from the church, saw no further need to do anything productive with their lives. Rather, they became idlers, gossips and busybodies. (13)

For these reasons Paul told Timothy not to put younger widows on the church’s financial support list. Rather he encouraged them to get married once again (to believers — See I Corinthians 7:39), have children, and manage their households.

What does this have to do with us today? It sounds perhaps a little chauvinistic, that a woman’s only possible purpose in her life is found in her family. But if you look at I Corinthians 7 where the widows weren’t falling into these traps of sin these Ephesian women were, Paul told them it would be great if they remained single so that they could serve the Lord more effectively. (I Corinthians 7:39-40)

I think the main thing Paul wanted more than anything else for these younger widows in Ephesus was to not let their grief take control of their lives. To not let their grief become a reason for making foolish decisions, abandoning their faith, or wasting the remainder of their lives.

Rather, he was telling them, “Despite your grief, you still have your whole life ahead of you. God still has good things for you. Don’t lose sight of that by making foolish decisions that will pull you away from God. And don’t waste your life. Fulfill the purposes God has created you for.”

And though Paul was talking to the younger widows, he probably felt the same way concerning the older ones. That’s why he told the church to support only those widows who were known for their good deeds. The church was to have nothing to do with widows who looked only to themselves and lived for themselves. Rather, the church was to care only for widows who remembered that God still had purpose for their lives despite their grief, and who lived that way.

How about you? Are you letting your grief turn you inward, thinking only of yourself? Are you letting your grief cloud your decision-making, doing things that are foolish? Or are you letting your grief pull you away from God?

Remember that God loves you. He still has a plan for you whether you’re young or old. So though you may grieve, keep your eyes on Jesus. Remember that he still has a purpose for you. Ask him to show you that purpose. Walk hand in hand with him each day. And the God of all comfort and peace will be with you and heal you.

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I Timothy 5:5-10 — Dead, even while you live

Paul is talking specifically here about widows, but the words he speaks is relevant to all.

In talking about the kind of widow the church is to support, he says,

The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. (5)

In other words, the church was to meet the needs of truly godly widows who had no means of support, but whose hope was in God. They were women who throughout their lives, were known for their good deeds, serving and helping those around them. (9-10)

And I have to believe that even in their old age, even after their husbands died, they continued in these things. They didn’t engage in pity parties or start looking only to themselves and their own needs. Rather, they continued to turn their face to God and committed themselves in Christ’s name to touching the lives of others.

But then Paul said,

But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. (6)

The ESV puts it,

She who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives.

Many times, people, not just widows, get to the point in life where they think, “I’ve done enough for others. It’s time to live for myself.”

For many that’s at retirement. For others, it can come even earlier than that. But either way, it’s a very selfish way of living. And God says that when we focus merely on ourselves, we become dead even while we live.

God did not raise us with Christ simply to live for ourselves. As Paul wrote the Corinthians,

[Jesus] died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:15)

To live for yourself is not life at all. It’s death. It is when we get our eyes off of ourselves and onto God and what he wants us to do in the lives of those around us, that we truly find life.

How about you? Where is your focus? On yourself? On what God and others can do for you? Then you are dead while you are still living.

God has called you to so much more. So let us get our eyes off of ourselves and onto the God who has given us new life. And let us live that new life.

Who are you living for?

 

 

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I Timothy 5:3-8 — Practicing our faith within our homes

I suppose our faith gets no more practical than within our homes. Because while we can hide our true faces from our pastors and fellow church members, we can’t hide them from our family. They see us as we really are. And what we are at home shows what we truly are in our hearts.

I think that’s one thing Paul has in mind as he wrote these instructions to Timothy concerning the care of widows. The church in those days took care of widows within their congregation (We see this in Acts 6, for example).

And Paul tells Timothy,

Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. (3)

But then he adds,

But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. (4)

The ESV puts it,

…let them first learn to show godliness to their own household.

Godliness is not something we are to merely have when we leave our homes, but something we should have within them. And godliness should not just be shown to people outside our families, but it should be shown especially to people within them.

Paul emphasizes that point in verse 8.

If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (8)

Paul is specifically talking here about providing the material needs of our family members. But godliness doesn’t stop there. It continues in how we treat each other day to day, in our patience, kindness, and love for one another. The godliness we have also shows in the forgiveness and generosity we extend toward one another.

In short, godliness should show in how we treat our family. For if we are unable to show these things to our family, what kind of faith do we really have?

This is not always easy. As I said yesterday, we can choose our friends, but we can’t choose our relatives. And family can grate on us in ways friends can’t because there are natural boundaries between friends, namely, we usually live apart from each other. The boundaries are much thinner with family because we actually live with them. Plus there are obligations we have to family that we don’t have to friends.

But if we are to become godly, it needs to start with how we treat our family, for that is the test of true godliness.

How godly are you?

 

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I Timothy 5:1-2 — Our attitudes towards those in the church

As a pastor, Timothy had to deal with people from a variety of ages, people older than him, people who were his peers, and people who were younger than him.

And the thing that Paul reminds him here is, “You are not Lord over these people. These are family members. Treat them as such.”

He said,

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (1-2)

There were times when Timothy would have to confront men that were older than him. Paul is not saying here that he should never rebuke his elders. Rather, he was to refrain from doing so harshly. To refrain from unduly upbraiding them or humiliating them. Paul said, “Think of these men as your own father, as people deserving of respect.”

He said the same of older women, that Timothy was to treat them as if they were his own mother. He was to deal with them gently and with all honor and respect.

For the younger men, he was not to lord himself over them either, but rather to treat them as brothers.

And for the younger women, he was to be careful how he dealt with them as well. There would probably be women that would be attracted to a godly man like Timothy. And he was to be careful to treat them as he would his own sisters, not abusing his position as pastor in any way.

It is important, though, not just for pastors to remember all this. But as members of the church, we are to think the same way. To remember that we are all one family in God.

As has often been pointed out, you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your relatives. And in Christ, we are all family. So don’t look down on your family members or treat them as dirt. Remember to treat each other with respect, with all purity, and above all, with love.

How are you treating your family members?

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I Timothy 4 — To be a leader of God’s flock

As I look at the whole of this chapter, the words resonate with me, and it shows me just how powerful these words Paul gave to Timothy were.

They were words that challenged Timothy to be the leader in the church God had called him to be. And they are words that everyone who is a pastor needs to take to heart.

What did Paul say?

First, he charged Timothy to teach the church the Word of God. In a world where teaching was becoming corrupt, where what was good was taught to be evil, and what was evil was taught to be good, Paul laid out clearly what was truly good. And he told Timothy,

If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. (6)

In other words, “Do you want to be a good minister of Christ, Timothy? Then lay out the truth of God before this flock he has put under your charge.”

He makes this much stronger in verse 11, where he charges Timothy,

Command and teach these things.

Teach what things? Teach godliness. Teach about the hope we have in God, who saves all who believe.

But in doing so, Timothy was not to teach from his own wisdom, but to make God’s wisdom the center of all he taught.

Paul told him,

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. (13)

Often times, pastors teach a lot of good things, even godly things, but the center of their message is not scripture, but their own thoughts and experiences. But Paul says, “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture. Make Scripture your starting point, and then from there preach and teach what God has said. Don’t simply preach and teach your opinions.”

But not only was he to teach these things, he was to live them as well. Paul told Timothy,

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. (12)

Timothy was young compared to some of the people in his congregation. But Paul said, “Young or not, you be an example to the people in your church. Be an example in what you say, how you live, how you love, in the faith you proclaim, and in your purity of life.”

Perhaps some of the false teachers were trying to shout Timothy down. To intimidate him into silence because of his youth. But Paul reminded him that the gift he had came from God, and he was to use it. (14)

And then he told Timothy,

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. (14-15)

In short, be diligent in teaching God’s word. Be diligent in practicing godliness. Immerse yourself in these things, so that people can see that you too are growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ, and follow your example.

Finally, Paul concludes,

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (16)

Here Paul reminds Timothy to be vigilant. To guard against temptation that would bring him down, and to be sure to teach what is right. Why? Because as a leader and pastor, his influence was an immense responsibility. And by doing these things, he not only would save himself, but the flock God gave him. But if he didn’t he could bring down the flock with him, and God would hold him to account for it.

It is no light thing to be a pastor. Only those so called should become pastors. And for those who have been called, it would be well to remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians.

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. (I Corinthians 4:2)

How about you? Are you proving faithful?

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I Timothy 4:7-12 — To become truly godly

As I mentioned before, in Paul’s day, there seemed to be people in the church that preached a superficial spirituality through asceticism and through a strange teaching involving myths and genealogies. But Paul makes it clear to Timothy, “Don’t waste your time on such things. Focus on what really matters.”

Specifically, he told Timothy,

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales;rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance
(and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. (7-11)

The most important thing to Paul was becoming the people God called us to be. To become the people God saved us to be. What kind of people is that? A people like Him. A godly people.

Paul says that godliness has value both in this life and in the life to come. Why? Because it affects the two things that matter most. Our relationship with God and our relationship with others. When we fall into sin, it breaks both of those relationships.

When it says, “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance,” it actually seems to be pointing to the value of godliness, rather than the fact that we have put our hope in God. The new NIV reflects that interpretation.

But it brings up a point that cannot be forgotten. Our hope for godliness does not come merely from our own self-effort. Yes, Paul says, “Train yourself to be godly.” But in order to become truly godly, our hope must be in God, that through his Spirit he will constantly transform us into the likeness of his Son.

And in training ourselves to be godly, the most important thing is to listen to our Trainer. In speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. In all these things we are to follow the instructions of our Trainer. And as we choose to follow him, he will give us the power to do what he asks.

How about you? Are you listening to your trainer?

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I Timothy 4:1-6 — Seared consciences

We live in a world where people no longer seem to know what good or evil is. Things that are evil, they call good. Things that are good, they call evil.

Why? What has happened to us?

The problem is not new. It was present even in the time of Paul. And here he pinpoints what the problem is.

He wrote to Timothy,

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.

They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.

For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. (1-6)

Paul warns Timothy that the days would come when people would abandon the faith and follow the teachings of demons. And one of the hallmarks of this teaching is an inability to distinguish good from evil. Why do people fall for this kind of teaching?

Because their consciences have been seared. Their consciences have been so badly damaged, they can no longer distinguish good from evil. The people in Paul’s day were taking things that God called good (marriage, food, etc) and calling them evil.

On the other hand, they were stirring up all these myths and controversies that were dividing the church and taking them away from the true gospel, and calling them good.

The issues are different today, but the problem is the same. Because of people’s seared consciences, they call what is evil, good, and what is good, evil.

And so Paul told Timothy, “You need to tell your people the truth that you have been taught since you were young. Don’t let them be deceived by these false teachers. Don’t let your people’s consciences becomes seared as these false teachers’ consciences have become.”

For pastors and teachers in the church, Paul’s charge remains the same. Don’t compromise on the truth of God’s word. Though our culture may push us to change what God has said, don’t let them. For in giving into our culture, we give in to the doctrine of demons.

And for you in the church, immerse yourself in the word of God. Let His word be your standard, not our culture, lest your conscience become seared as well.

How about you? Are you finding yourself trying to explain away scripture to fall in line with the world? Don’t let your conscience be seared by the teachings of demons. Let us hold to the truth of God’s word, forever calling good, good, and  evil, evil.

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I Timothy 3:16 –The wonder of the gospel

Christmas is right around the corner, and I think it can be so easy to take for granted what it’s all about. Do we truly wonder at what it really means?

Paul did.

He said,

Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great. (16a)

The mystery of godliness. So many people in Paul’s time said that the key to godliness was their own self-effort. That it could be found through asceticism or through keeping the law. Others were saying it was found in these myths and genealogies that they were promoting.

But true godliness does not come through religion or self-improvement. It comes through Jesus Christ and what he did for us.

Paul wrote,

[God] appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. (16b)

God came down to this earth as a tiny baby in Jesus Christ. God who created this world. God, the one who sustains all things by his word alone. The true King of the universe, apart from whom nothing would exist. He came as a helpless child.

Jesus grew up as a carpenter’s son. He knew hardship as a youth with Joseph his father passing away, leaving him to care for the family.

He then left his home to start his ministry, preaching to the people. He showed them who God really is. He showed them the power of the kingdom, casting out demons, healing the sick, and raising the dead. And yet they crucified him, just a week after declaring him king.

But the Spirit showed him to be the Son of God with power by raising him from the dead. The angels proclaimed his resurrection to his disciples. He himself appeared to them, and then was taken into glory. His disciples took this news to the world, and even now, Jesus’ name is preached and believed on throughout the world.

And it is through this gospel, that people are now made righteous before God, their lives transformed by the very power of God that raised Jesus from the dead.

That’s the wonder of the gospel. That’s the wonder of Christmas.

May we, his church, be the pillar and foundation of this truth, proclaiming it to this world that is dying and without hope.

Let us never become calloused and take for granted the glory of this gospel.

How about you? Do you still wonder at this gospel you believe?

 

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I Timothy 3:14-15 — Why our conduct matters

From the beginning of chapter 2 until verse 13 of chapter 3, Paul has been talking about the church. About how the men and women should conduct themselves during the service. About the types of people that should be pastors and deacons in the church, and the kind of character they should have.

And then he brings it back full circle to his overall point that he started in chapter one. That the most important thing is that God’s work, God’s kingdom be advanced. (1:4).

That’s why Paul blasted the false teachers, and all the controversies they stirred up. It hindered the work of God.

But the other thing that can hinder God’s work is when his own people don’t conduct themselves properly. And that’s why in chapter 2 he addressed how the men and women should behave in the church and why in chapter 3 he addressed the issues of the leaders in the church.

Now Paul concludes this section by saying,

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (14-15)

The church is to be the pillar and foundation of God’s truth to this world. When people see the church, the men, the women, and all the leaders within the church, they should see the truth of the gospel, not only in our words, but in our changed lives. That our leaders don’t act as the leaders of the world do, and that the men and women in the church behave differently from the men and women of this world.

But if we are no different from the world, if our leaders are just as corrupt as the world’s leaders, if the men and women in the church behave no differently than the people of this world, the truth of God becomes tarnished in their eyes, and the truth we proclaim crumbles in the light of how we live.

This is not how things should be. But too often it is.

So let us watch how we live. Let us, as God’s church, conform no longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Let us not bend to the pressures of our culture and how our culture says things should be. But let us stand together as the pillar and foundation of truth to this world.

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I Timothy 3:8-13 — So you want to be a leader?

We talked yesterday about being a pastor or elder in the church. And for most Christians, they have no desire to be those things.

There are more people, however, who seek to be leaders of ministries. They seek to be the person who helps take care of church finances, or takes care of ministries to the poor, or organizes small groups, or organizes church events, or runs the welcome team, etc.

Though not all churches use the word deacon, a person in these positions could rightfully be called a deacon. They are people, separate from the ministry of pastor or elder, who have been given responsibilities in order to help keep the church running smoothly and allow the pastors and elders to focus on their jobs.

For a lot of people, though, they think their gifts alone qualify them for that office. They don’t.

As with pastors, Paul doesn’t point to their gifts first and foremost when talking about the qualifications of deacons. He points to their character. They are to be people who are,

worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. (8)

As with the pastors, they are to be faithful to their wives and manage their families well. (11)

Unlike pastors, they don’t need the ability to teach the Word, but they should know their faith well and live it. (9)

We are also not to simply throw people into such roles of leadership. Rather, they are to be tested first, and if they prove faithful, and their character is impeccable, then we can place them into these roles of leadership. I have seen firsthand what happens when we don’t, and the results are not pretty.

There is some debate as to whether verse 11 refers to deacon’s wives or deaconesses. I tend to go with the latter. Paul makes no  mention of a pastor’s wife and what she should be like. Why then would he make specific mention of a deacon’s wife? That said, it is a debatable issue.

Either way, they are to be,

women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. (11)

The last thing to note is that whatever their duties, they are to be servants. In fact, that is what the word deacon means. Servant. And as servants of God and servants of the church, they are to be faithful and serve well.

Paul concludes by saying,

Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus. (13)

By serving well, not only do you gain a good reputation within the church, but you also see your faith strengthened as you see God at work in you and through you to touch the lives of those around you.

Do you want to be a leader in the church? What kind of character do you have?

Are you a leader in the church? If so, are you serving faithfully?

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I Timothy 3:1-8 — So you want to be a pastor

This passage, admittedly, is not for many people very practical for the reason that they have no desire to become a pastor.

I myself have not sensed any calling at this point from God to become a pastor. Whether that changes or not, I don’t know, but if I haven’t been called up to this point, I doubt it will change now. Then again, I never thought I’d become a missionary either, and here I have been in Japan for 20 years now.

But for those of you want to become a pastor, this passage is very important. And for churches looking for a pastor, this passage is also very important. For it sets forth the qualifications that a pastor (overseer is the term it uses) or any church elder should have.

Paul writes,

Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. (1)

The words that strike me most here are “if anyone sets his heart on being an overseer.”

I look at my life and that has never been my life goal. But for some, God has put that desire in their hearts. And Paul says, “If that’s where your heart is, that’s a good thing.”

But then he lays out the qualifications of a pastor. And I think it’s noteworthy that Paul doesn’t start with what seminary you went to or what kind of education you have. He starts with character.

He says, “So you want to be a pastor? What  kind of character do you have? That’s what I’m most interested in.”

Are you above reproach? Is there any impropriety that people can rightfully accuse you of? Are you a person that people can look to as an example in how to live?

Practically speaking, are you faithful to your wife? Are you faithful to your marriage vows? If you are not faithful to your wife, how can we expect you to be faithful to God and his church?

Are you in control of your emotions, or are you quick to fly off the handle?

Do you practice self-control in all you do? In eating, drinking, dealing with members of the opposite sex, in spending money, in spending your time?

Are you a person that’s easy to respect because of how you live your life? Do you have a good reputation, not only among those within the church, but those outside as well?

Are you hospitable, willing to open your home to others, generous with your time and money?

Are you given to violence, or are you gentle, even when provoked…by your wife and your children especially, but by anyone?

Are you peaceable, or are you quick to argue with people? Do you in fact take delight in causing a ruckus and stirring things up?

Are you a lover of money? Is money your god? Are you looking for the “good life” as defined by the world? Or are you as Paul was, content in all circumstances? (Philippians 4:11-13)

Do you manage your family well? Do your wife and children respect and love you?

All these are matters of character. It’s also one reason why if you’re a young Christian, you should put off ideas of becoming a pastor. The quality of humility is vital if you want to become a pastor. More than a few pastors have fallen because of pride, and people who become pastors when they are too young as Christians are especially susceptible to that.

If you have all these things, then there’s one last qualification you need. The ability to teach. You may know what you believe, but can you communicate it to those around you clearly?

But again, you may be the most gifted teacher, able to teach God’s word clearly and effectively, but if you don’t have the character to go along with that gift, you are not ready to be a pastor.

Do you want to become a pastor? What kind of character do you have?

 

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I Timothy 2:11-15 — The leadership role (part 3)

There’s one last part to this passage that has yet to be addressed and then I’ll make a few closing comments on it.

Paul writes in verse 15,

But women will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (15)

One of the study Bibles I use calls it a “notoriously difficult passage to interpret.”

And it is. What does Paul mean?

I think one thing that we can definitely rule out is that he meant women need to have children in order to be saved. For as Paul said,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

What then does Paul mean?

Remember that in verse 14, that Paul had just said, “It was not Adam who was deceived but the woman.”

Those sound like pretty harsh words, and perhaps Paul knew it. It sounds like, “Women, it’s Eve’s fault that we’re in this mess.”

And so I think Paul was trying to soften his statement.

What I think he’s pointing to is the sentence that God passed on Eve. What was the sentence? That she would experience an increase in pain in childbirth.

And Paul is saying, “That pain that you go through in childbirth is symbolic of the pain that has come into this world because of Eve’s sin. But though you have this physical reminder of this spiritual reality, know that you will indeed be saved if you walk in faith in Christ and his work on the cross, in love for God and for others, and in the holiness of God.”

A similar use of the word “through” is used in I Corinthians 3:15,  that though Christians go through the fire of judgment and some or even all of their works are burnt up, nevertheless they will be saved because of their faith in Christ.

Final point. I have read a lot of the arguments that the Christian egalitarians have written on the matter. Though they bring up some interesting points at times, and while there is certainly a lot of interpretation that has to be imposed on the texts by both sides to make sense of these passages, it is my conclusion that the egalitarians must stretch a lot further on their interpretations to come to the conclusions they do.

I think that the interpretation I am giving is more consistent with the text, and I feel much more comfortable sticking with the clear teaching of Paul than with the many assertions made by the egalitarians, often with proof from vague passages (e.g. that Junia (Romans 16:7) was an apostle in the sense that Paul and others were) or assumptions that can never be proven (e.g. that there were false women teachers in Ephesus).

Nevertheless, as I said, both sides need to stretch somewhat to make their points since we can’t ask Paul exactly what he meant. As a result, I’m not inclined to be dogmatic on this point. I have, for instance, worked with women head pastors, and never felt it was my place to tell them, “You know, I don’t think you should be in this position.”

In short, you can you argue with me on this point. You can tell me I’m wrong, and I’m willing to listen. But unless you can come up with clear teachings from scripture that qualify what Paul says in this passage, you’re not likely to convince me. But from my standpoint, no matter how you may feel about me for my stance, I will not let it affect my love for brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with me. I just ask that you would do the same for me.

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I Timothy 2:11-15 — The leadership role (part 2)

We looked yesterday at Paul’s instructions that the women were not to teach or have authority over the men when the Christians were gathered in the church setting.

I pointed out that I don’t think these were church or culture-specific instructions and gave some of my reasons why.

But what reason did Paul himself give for these instructions?

For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. (13-14)

Many interpretations of Paul’s meaning have been given for this passage. One is that Paul is looking to the idea of firstborn in the Old Testament. That the firstborn had preeminence in the family. Note that this preeminence has nothing to do with superiority of nature. All in the family were equally human. Nevertheless, the firstborn was given a higher position, and the others were to look to him as their leader in the family when the father died.

And in I Corinthians 11:3, Paul talks about how man is meant to be the head of woman, pointing to the order of creation as the reason in verses 8-9.

But there’s another implication that comes from Adam being created first besides being the head of Eve. He was meant from the very beginning to be her teacher, particularly when it came to God’s instructions.

Note in Genesis 2 that when God told Adam about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Eve had not yet been created. So Adam had to teach her what God said.

Could not God have told Eve this directly later? Possibly. But everything in the Genesis account points against it.

First, think about why Satan approached Eve instead of Adam. It’s much easier to make someone doubt what God has said if they hear it secondhand as Eve did. It’s much more difficult if they hear God’s words firsthand. More on this later.

Second, the words Eve used were different from what God had said. She said, “We may not touch the fruit.” God had never said that. In my opinion, this was probably something Adam added to further protect Eve from the possibility of disobeying God.

Third, why did God call Adam to account first? If Eve was equally responsible for the words God spoke, as she would have been had she heard God directly, would not have God addressed her first, or at the least addressed her and Adam both at the same time? But he didn’t. He called Adam.

With all this in mind then, that Adam had to teach Eve what God had said because she didn’t hear from God directly, it explains much of the story of the fall and what Paul is trying to say to Timothy.

Think about what Satan said to Eve. He starts by saying, “Did God really say…?”

Many interpreters take this to mean that Satan was questioning God’s truthfulness. And certainly Satan did twist God’s words.

But has it ever occurred to you that he might have also been trying to get her to question Adam as her teacher?

Certainly he wanted Eve to question God. But it was much easier to get her to question Adam.

And so what I think Satan was really saying was, “Eve, did God really say that you can’t eat from any of the trees in the garden? Maybe Adam got it wrong. Oh, I see, Adam told you that God permits you to eat from every tree except the one in the middle. But would God really say that? I don’t think so. You won’t die if you eat that fruit. Actually, I think God wants you to eat it, because if you do, God knows you’ll be as wise as him. Adam just got things mixed up.”

This is, I will admit, an unorthodox view of what Satan was trying to say. But consider these two points.

First, God never rebukes Eve for disobeying his command. Did you notice that? God specifically rebukes Adam for breaking His command, but not Eve, although both are punished. Why? Perhaps because in her mind she wasn’t rebelling against God. She was simply deceived into thinking Adam was wrong.

Don’t get me wrong. She still sinned. She still broke the command. She still had to be punished. But she sinned first and foremost because she didn’t trust her husband and his teaching. And because she didn’t, she was deceived.

Adam, on the other hand was not deceived. He knew full well what God had said. And he willfully disobeyed.

Second, it explains a very puzzling thing. Why, if Eve sinned first, is Adam held responsible for sin coming into the world? (Romans 5:12, 15). Many interpreters say it’s because he was the leader in the family. And that’s true.

But I think there’s another reason. I think it’s because Adam was the one who truly broke the relationship with God by willfully not trusting and obeying him. I don’t believe Eve thought she was doing this. She was deceived into thinking that Adam got God’s command wrong. Adam, however, had no such excuse.

My point? Paul was telling Timothy, “Look how things were in the beginning. From the beginning, man was to be the teacher and leader in his dealings with woman. And Eve didn’t fall because Adam was deceived. Rather she broke God’s command because she didn’t trust and listen to her teacher Adam. And by not listening to Adam, she was deceived and came to great harm.

Therefore, Timothy, women in the church are not to follow Eve’s example. By doing so, they leave themselves open to deception as Eve did. Rather, they are to follow and trust the men God has placed in leadership in the church.”

This is getting long, so we’ll wrap this up tomorrow.

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I Timothy 2:11-15 — The leadership role

I suppose I should say right off, considering the controversial nature of this topic, that the views I express here are not necessarily the views of my church. These are my views that I have come to as I have studied the scriptures. I’ve never really discussed these things with my pastor, and to be honest don’t know where he stands on it. It’s simply never come up.

But as I look at this passage, I think it’s very clear that the leadership role in the church was meant to be taken by the men in the church. Paul says this idea of male leadership is true in the marriage relationship (Ephesians 5:22-24, I Corinthians 11:3). And from this passage, it seems clear to me that this idea extends into the church as well.

Paul writes,

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. (11-12)

A few points here. First, Paul wanted the women to learn. He wanted them to learn more about God and his ways. He wanted them to come to a fuller understanding of the “mysteries” of our faith. (3:16)

But they were to do so while recognizing authority in the church, God’s authority first and foremost, and the authority of those God had put in charge of the church.

Of course, men should do this as well. And there were definitely men stepping outside of these bounds of authority, challenging Paul and the other leaders of the church such that Paul had to confront them and kick them out (1:20).

Why then did Paul feel the need to say this concerning the women? Probably because the women were doing more than simply challenging the authority of Paul and the other leaders. But in doing so, they were stepping outside the leadership structure God had established within the church in which the men would lead.

This is the main problem I have with people that try to say all this stuff about women not teaching a man or having authority over a man being culturally defined and restricted to this particular situation.

Men were teaching false doctrine. Yet Paul didn’t say, “All you troublemakers, you should be quiet and learn with full submission.” He said, “You women in the church, be quiet and learn with full submission.”

Nor did Paul say, “All you troublemakers, you people like Hymenaeus and Alexander, I don’t permit you to have teach or have authority.” He specifically says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man.”

Further, if the problem was (as some claim) that the women weren’t well educated and therefore were not allowed to teach or have authority, why restrict it to “over a man?” Why not “I do not permit women to teach or have authority at all?”

Add to that the fact that godly women like Eunice and Lois (Timothy’s mother and grandmother) taught Timothy about God and the scriptures (II Timothy 2:1:5; 3:14-15) and the fact that Priscilla (who along with her husband in a private setting had taught a man named Apollos the Word more accurately) could very well have been in the Ephesian church when Paul wrote this letter (II Timothy 4:19), Paul could hardly have been restricting all teaching activities from the women. Rather, in the context of this passage, Paul seems to be saying that within the church service, women are not to teach or to exercise authority over men.

Why? We’ll take a look at the reasons Paul gives tomorrow.

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I Timothy 2:9-10 — Where your beauty lies

“Beauty is only skin deep.”

It’s a phrase that is often said, but how often do we truly believe that? More, how often do we act as though we believe it?

For the Ephesian women, it seems as though they had a hard time buying it. And it seems that many were dressing somewhat seductively even within the church which caused no small problem even in those days. It’s also possible that the wealthier of the women desired to show off their wealth by how they dressed, putting to shame those of lesser means.

Either way, Paul said to them,

I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. (9-10)

In other words, what defines a woman should not be how beautiful or sexy they are on the the outside, but how beautiful they are on the inside. If women spent as much time developing their inner beauty as they did their outer, they would truly become the beautiful creatures God created them to be.

And all that starts with a relationship with God. To seek and understand his love above everything else. To be defined, not by what others think of you, but by what God thinks of you. To derive your worth not from yourself or from anyone else, but from the One who created you and declared you “good” in His sight. (Genesis 1:31)

Women, how do you feel about yourself? Insecure? Not good enough? Are you always seeking the approval of those around you?

Or do you truly understand that God accepts you as you are? And do you understand that as you submit to him in your life, that’s when you truly become beautiful?

Where does your beauty lie?

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I Timothy 2:8 — Manning up

No, this has nothing to do with Peyton or Eli or any football player for that matter. :)

It has everything to do with being a man. The man that God has called all Christian men to be.

In verses 1-4, Paul charged all the Ephesians (through Timothy) to pray. And we talked about how if we are to wage spiritual warfare and win this world for Christ, prayer is where everything starts.

And then Paul says in verse 8,

I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.

Here, Paul is not talking about Christian men and women in general. He’s specifically talking to the men.

And he’s saying to them, “Man up. Take up the responsibility that God has given you.”

What responsibility? I think more than anything it’s the responsibility to lead in the church.

Certainly the women were to pray as well. But God has called the men in the church to lead, and so Paul specifically tells the men, “When it comes to prayer, you are to lead the way. Don’t leave it to the women to do all the praying. You need to lead. You need to be the example for everyone else in the church.”

The problem seems to be that the Ephesian men weren’t. Instead, they were busy arguing about all the things we talked about earlier: genealogies and myths that led to false pride and false doctrine. They went on and on in vain discussions that generated a great deal of heat, but very little light. And in doing so, they neglected to pray. And all the while, I have to believe Satan was laughing.

How often do we men in the church do the same. Oh, we may not argue about genealogies and myths. But we argue about politics. We argue about how to run the church. Or we get off on all kinds of non-essential doctrines. When is Jesus coming back? Is he coming pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib?

Just as bad, we have personal arguments and personal issues with each other that divide us. We spend so much time arguing with each other, that we forget our mission: to take the gospel to the people around us. The result? We forget our mission and we forget to pray. And Satan sees this and laughs at us.

This failure to man up can extend to the home as well. We yield spiritual leadership to our wives. Instead of leading our families in prayer and in the reading of the Word, we let our wives take that role. Instead of praying for and with our wives, we argue with them over both the trivial and non-trivial. Instead of showing humility, love, and forgiveness, we cling to pride, bitterness, and anger. Satan delights when he sees us act that way.

How about you? You are to be a man of God. Are you acting like one? It’s time to man up. And that starts in one place. On your knees before God. Is that where you are every day?

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I Timothy 2:1-7 — Where our battle starts

In chapter 1, Paul starts by condemning those who were stirring up all kinds of controversies based on false doctrine that were taking the Ephesian church away from its main mission: to spread the gospel to those around them (1:3-6).

He then ends the chapter by charging Timothy to fight the good fight for God’s kingdom, or as the ESV puts it, to “wage the good warfare.”

Part of that was dealing with the false teachers. But part of that was getting back to doing God’s work which the church had been distracted from doing by all these false teachings and controversies.

And so in chapter 2, he lays down the groundwork for where our work and battle begins. Where does it start? Paul tells us.

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1-4)

Here we see what our work is. It’s to see that all are saved and come to a knowledge of the truth of the gospel. That’s God’s will. This is not to say that all will be saved, but that it is his desire. And his desire should be ours.

But our work starts with prayer. To see the needs of those around us for Christ and intercede for them.

So many times we pray for people’s physical needs, and that’s important. But do we do so at the neglect of their greatest need, their need for salvation?

I think one reason why we don’t prioritize it is because we don’t really believe in hell. We don’t believe in its reality. And even if we believe in its reality, we don’t really believe in eternal punishment. If we did, and we realized that’s where many of our loved ones are headed, would we be so indifferent to where they are spiritually?

God certainly isn’t. And so he did something about it. Paul tells us,

For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men–the testimony given in its proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle–I am telling the truth, I am not lying–and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles. (5-7)

We were all slaves to sin and headed for eternal death. But God bought us out of slavery by sending his Son to pay for our sin on the cross. That’s the meaning of “ransom,” here. It’s the payment given to buy someone out of slavery.

The work is done. All people need to do is to receive it by faith. But before they can receive it, they need to hear about it. That’s why God sent Paul out, to announce this salvation to the world. And that’s why God sends you now.

But again, it starts with prayer. Praying that God would open the eyes and ears of those we love that they may see their need for him. Praying that God would work in our leaders in government and open their eyes and ears as well so that the path of the gospel will be that much smoother.

But there’s one last thing. Paul says that we are to give thanks for everyone. It’s easy to do that for those we love. It’s not so easy for those we don’t. Why are we to give thanks for them?

I think it’s to remind us that no matter how hateful or depraved they may be, they are still precious in God’s eyes. We need to see past their exterior and see people that Christ died for. And by giving thanks for them, we are forced to see them more as He does.

God has called us to battle. So let us march into battle…on our knees.

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I Timothy 1:18-20 — When we violate our consciences

Our consciences are a gift from God. God has given them to all people, even non-Christians to give them a sense of right and wrong. Without our consciences, this world would be far worse than it is now.

The problem, of course, is that our consciences are not perfect, having been stained by our sin. But when we become Christians, the Holy Spirit starts to whisper to our hearts and shape our consciences, and as we listen to him, we become more and more like Christ. At least, that’s how things should be.

Unfortunately, the false teachers in Timothy’s time were not listening to the Spirit as he poked their consciences. Rather they violated their consciences, ignoring what the Spirit was saying, and as  a result shipwrecked their faith. Instead of holding to the truth of the gospel, their love for money and prestige had twisted their beliefs, and as a result, their teaching as well.

And so Paul told Timothy,

Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. (18-20)

Paul told Timothy, “Don’t be like these false teachers. Fight the good fight. Take on these false teachers for the sake of the gospel, and hold on to your faith as you have been taught. And hold on to a good conscience too.”

This mirrors what Paul had said earlier, saying that the goal of their teaching (and/or warnings) is “love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (5)

So Paul says, “Since this is the goal of our teaching, hold on to them.”

He then said, “Some have rejected these.” A better translation is “Some have rejected this,” referring to a good conscience. The NLT makes this very clear, reading,

Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. (19)

Paul then gives two examples of such people, Hymenaeus and Alexander, who shipwrecked their faith by violating their consciences.

Many people do the same today.

Some violate their consciences because, after all, “We are all saved by grace. And if we are saved by grace, why not just live as I want? I can just ask for forgiveness later.” But they ignore the fact that because God has saved us, he now calls us to holiness. (I Thessalonians 4:1-8)

Others violate their consciences by convincing themselves that what scripture calls evil is actually good. We see this with homosexuals claiming to be Christians. They know what the scripture teaches about homosexuality, yet because they feel they can no longer fight their sinful passions, do everything they can to pervert the gospel that has been preached for 2000 years.

The gospel and the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality has never changed. But more and more people are violating their consciences and as a result shipwreck their faith.

Note that Hymaenaeus, Alexander, and others were not saying, “We reject Christianity.” They said, “We embrace Christianity,” when all the while they were changing the gospel itself. Many people do the same today. They say, “We are Christians,” and yet violate conscience, changing the faith they have itself.

It is a dangerous thing to violate your conscience. To do so inevitably leads to compromise and a corruption of the gospel you say you believe.

Let us not do that. Rather, let us as Paul charges, hold on to faith and a good conscience, seeking above all things to please our Lord.

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I Timothy 1:12-17 — Wondering at the grace of God

How often do we fail to wonder at the grace of God in our lives? How different would our lives be if we truly did so.

That was one of the differences between the false teachers and Paul. The false teachers didn’t truly understand the grace of God. For them, the gospel was about making a buck. About prestige and honor for themselves. For Paul, the gospel was a marvel that changed his life, and made him want to share this good news of God’s grace with as many people as he could.

Paul said,

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 

The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  (12-14)

Here you can see Paul marveling at the grace God had shown him. That though he had once blasphemed Christ, persecuted His church, and was responsible for the murder of many of His people, yet God showed him mercy. More, God poured out his grace in such abundance that it more than covered Paul’s sins, as horrible as they were. And now, Paul had come to faith and was filled with a love he had never known before.

And because of this, he could say with confidence,

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (15-16)

In short, Paul had truly come to realize, “Jesus died for me.”

It wasn’t that others needed to be saved, but Paul had been fine as he was. Instead, when Jesus appeared to Paul in that blinding light, Paul saw for the first time just how badly he needed mercy and grace in his life.

The problem with most people today, even Christians, is they can’t see that. They think they’re okay. Or at very least, think that they’re not that bad. “Sure Jesus died for me. But he had less to die for in my case.”

But as I’ve said before, it’s as we truly come close to Christ and step into his light, we see what a desperate state we are in. That we are completely stained with sin and in need of salvation. And until we understand that, we will never marvel at the grace of God in our lives.

Paul did realize it, and because he did so, he burst out into song, singing,

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (17)

How about you? Do you marvel at the grace of God in your life?

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I Timothy 1:5-11 — Failing as a teacher

James once said,

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1)

Many Christians like the prestige that comes from being a Bible teacher. But there is real danger when they think they know what they’re talking about, and they don’t. That is only compounded when their motives become twisted.

Paul deals with both these issues when telling Timothy to deal with these false teachers. He said,

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. (5)

In the NIV, it seems to say that the goal of Paul’s command to Timothy to warn these false teachers is that they would develop a heart of love, springing from a pure heart, good conscience, and a sincere faith. It’s also possible, though, that Paul was contrasting the false teacher’s teaching with his, and he was telling Timothy that the goal of true teaching should be to produce love in its hearers, coming from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

Either way, it seems here that these false teachers were no longer operating out of love, and had furthermore abandoned a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Many in fact seemed to preach out of a desire to gain money and ultimately, out of a love of the world. (6:3-10). This ironically despite the fact that they were teaching a form of asceticism to their own people (4:2-3). These men also seemed to take great delight in stirring up arguments and creating conflict (6:3-5), rather than promoting the love and unity of Christ that comes from the true gospel.

And again, their teaching was corrupt, the reason being that they truly didn’t know what they were talking about. Paul said of them,

They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. (7)

For these teachers, they seemed to be turning to the law of Moses and teaching it to the Ephesian church, while failing to understand the law’s purpose. The law, Paul says, is not meant for those who are righteous, that is those who have been made righteous by God through faith. Rather, it is for those who are unrighteous, to point out their sin and turn them to God. (8-11)

These teachers didn’t understand this however, and were leading people astray as a result.

Many people today have the same problem as these teachers. They confidently affirm and teach a lot of things concerning the Bible. But the truth is, they have no idea what they’re talking about and people are being led into astray by their false teaching.

How about you? Are you a pastor or teacher in the church? Do you lead a Bible study? A Sunday school? What kind of teacher are you?

What are your motives? Pride? Respect? Or love?

And are you putting the necessary time into your preparation. More importantly, is the Word an important part of your day every day? Do you truly know the Bible well, or are you confidently teaching things you truly know nothing about?

Not everyone should be a teacher. Remember, you will be judged for what you teach.

What will Jesus say to you when you stand before him on the day of judgment?

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I Timothy 1:1-6 — Wasting our time on vain speculations

There are a lot of strange ideas that float about concerning the Bible.

Some people try to cast doubt on the authorship of Paul’s epistles. There are many today that strongly doubt I Timothy, II Timothy, and Titus were written by Paul. Never mind that their “evidence” is hardly conclusive.

Others argue that we can’t know what the original writings of the New Testament were because we don’t have the originals, only copies. No, we don’t have the original New Testament writings. But evidence shows that the differences in the copies we do have affect no major doctrine of scripture, and that we can get pretty close to the original.

Yet other people think there are secret “codes” found in the Bible and that we have to ferret them out.

The thing is, we can argue about all these things ad infinitum ad nauseum. Ultimately, what it comes down to is, you can make arguments both ways. Which will you believe?

And to argue endlessly about these things will not only fail to convince those who don’t want to believe, but you waste a lot of time that could be spent reaching those who are open to the gospel.

That, I think, is one of the main issues that Timothy faced as he led the Ephesian church. They didn’t argue about the things we do today. But people were trying to spread myths, possibly expanding the stories of the Old Testament characters and arguing about their genealogies, ultimately leading to false teachings. What exactly these things were, we don’t know. But the result is similar to what we see today. A lot of time wasted trying to argue these things down and a neglect of the gospel as a result.

Most of the neglect came from those who taught those vain things, but some also came from those trying to defend them.

So Paul told Timothy,

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work–which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. (3-6)

In short, Timothy was to warn any who were teaching false things or engaging in these worthless speculations, and ultimately kick them out if they failed to repent. Paul already had done this with two men Hymaenaeus and Alexander (1:20) but there were still many others to deal with.

And the reason he was to do this was because it failed to promote the true work of God, namely the spread of the gospel, and the salvation that comes by faith. It failed to do so because the true gospel wasn’t preached by these teachers, and it caused all sorts of vain controversies that people like Timothy had to deal with rather than preaching the true gospel.

So what do we get from this? First, we need to deal with people in the church who get away from the gospel and start teaching things that are ultimately vain speculations. “What does the secret code in the Bible say?” “Who really wrote the book of I Timothy?” “Can we really know what the original New Testament documents say?”

Am I saying that we ignore them? No. Address them. Give answers. But if these “teachers” continue to stir up these things, rid the church of them.

And if you’re in a church where the pastor is doing this and you can’t vote him out, leave the church.

But second, don’t waste too much time arguing with people who believe these things. Because ultimately, it does come down to faith. Not blind faith. But faith based on evidence. For some people, though, they feel the evidence isn’t enough. For some people almost no evidence is enough. And no amount of argument will ever convince them. So don’t waste your time with them.

Instead, focus on preaching the gospel and on those whose hearts are open to it. Time is precious. Let’s not waste it.

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II Thessalonians 3:16-18 — Finding peace

I couldn’t help but notice the similarity in Paul’s words in verse 16 and his words in I Thessalonians 5:23-24. In the latter, he writes,

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

Now here in verse 16, he writes,

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

The Thessalonians had been in turmoil. They were going through persecution. People they loved had died, causing them to wonder what would happen to them and their loved ones when they died. More, false teachers had come into the church teaching them that they had missed the second coming of the Lord, throwing them into a panic. And on top of that was the trouble caused by the idlers in the church.

But now, having dealt with all these things, Paul prays that they would know peace. Peace through trial. Peace through the death of loved ones. Peace in knowing that the Lord is coming for them.

God wants us to have peace at all times and in all ways. How can we know that peace? Ultimately it comes through a relationship with God.

It comes by knowing that God has chosen you as his child. That what he has started in your life, he will complete. That he will sanctify you through and through until you are transformed into the likeness of his Son.

It comes by knowing that God has not abandoned you, even though you may be going through fiery trials. By knowing that all that you’re suffering through will not last, but that Jesus will come and make all things right.

And it comes by confessing the sin that God points out in your own life, the sin that puts a barrier between you and him. And by his power, putting that sin aside in your life.

That’s how we find peace. It starts with him, and ends with him.

As one song puts it,

It always comes back to you.
Yes, it always comes back to you.

Emotions may blind me,
Hard times will find me,
The questions remind me what’s true.
It always comes back to you.

— Kim Boyce

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II Thessalonians 3:6-15 — When we discipline a brother or sister

It’s never pleasant to confront a brother or sister in Christ. Anyone who thinks it is should probably be the last person to do so. Still, there are times when it is necessary.

And here Paul gives us some insight on how it should be done. As we saw yesterday, there were some in the church who were idlers and refused to work even though they were healthy enough to do so. When Paul was there, he had warned them, and in his first letter to the Thessalonians, he had again admonished them to work. But still they continued in their laziness. So now Paul says,

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. (6)

Pretty strong words. I think one thing Paul meant by this was that the Thessalonians were not to give these idlers any “help” whenever they asked for food or money. But more, Paul later tells the Thessalonians to put these people out of the church entirely that they may feel the shame of their sin (14).

Still, there are two other things to note. One was that the Thessalonians were to watch themselves, that they would not be influenced by the laziness of these brothers and sisters. And it was probably for that reason that Paul told them,

And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right. (13)

But the other thing to note is the manner in which we are to warn the straying brother or sister. Paul said,

Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (15)

It should not be with hatred that we deal with such people, but with the love of God. Our goal should not be to destroy them, but to restore them.

Are there brothers or sisters you know that are straying from God and his ways? What are you doing about it?

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II Thessalonians 3:6-13 — A hypocrite? Or an example?

Too often, Christians are called hypocrites. Too often, they are.

But Paul wasn’t.

Apparently, when he came to Thessalonica, he noticed from the beginning some problems with people who were lazy. It was so bad, he actually straight out laid down a rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (10)

But Paul didn’t just lay down this rule, he lived it. Although he had every right to earn his living from the gospel, he never insisted on taking advantage of that right. Instead, Paul said,

You yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. (7-8)

Why?

We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. (9)

And because they lived this way, they could come down hard on those who didn’t. He told the Thessalonians to keep away from such people. He criticized these idlers sharply, saying they weren’t busy, but rather busybodies. And he commanded them in the Lord to start working. (11-12)

Many people often quote the passage where Jesus says, “Don’t judge or you will be judged.” But what Jesus was condemning was not righteous judging, but hypocritical judging. He was condemning those who were quick to judge others’ faults but couldn’t see their own. (Matthew 7:1-5)

But in Paul we see someone who not only judged, but was truly an example of what a Christian is.

Now Paul makes clear that we are to only judge those within the church not those outside. (I Corinthians 5:9-13)

But if we are to judge those within the church, the one thing that we need to be careful of is that we are not hypocrites, but truly examples of the life that God has called us to live. And people should be able to look at our lives, and not only see someone who talks the talk, but walks the walk as well.

This is not to say that we must be perfect before we can judge. But we do need to constantly keep a humble attitude before God and others, looking more to our own faults than to the faults of others. The closer you get to Jesus and his light, the more clearly you should be able to see the dirt in your own life. And if you can’t see any dirt, then you’re not as close to Jesus as you should be, and you’re in danger of falling into the kind of hypocrisy that marked people like the Pharisees.

How about you? Are you a hypocrite? Or an example?

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II Thessalonians 3:1-5 — When we’re in the midst of trial

I’ve mentioned many times that God has never promised us an easy life.

Paul certainly didn’t have an easy life. He was beaten and persecuted for the sake of the gospel. He was shipwrecked and stretched beyond his ability to endure. And ultimately, he was martyred for his faith.

And yet through all his trials, he kept on. How was he able to do so?

He asked the Thessalonians,

Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. (1-2)

I think there were several things that gave Paul the ability to keep going.

First, he saw the fruit of what he was suffering. That through the Thessalonians, the Philippians, and others, he could see God working and was reassured that all his work and suffering was not in vain.

Second, he had people praying for him. And he always made sure to ask people to pray for him. He never said, “I’m okay. I can get through all these trials on my own.” Rather, he said time and again, “Pray for me. There is a lot of evil out there. And there are a lot of evil people around me. So pray. I need it.”

Third, he realized the Lord is faithful and good, even when he was among hostile people. He said

Not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. (2-3)

And so he encouraged the Thessalonians to keep on as he was keeping on, saying,

We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. (4)

He then concludes with the key to being able to stand in the midst of trial. He prayed,

May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. (5)

So often, we let trials lead us into bitterness, anger, and feelings of abandonment by God and others. And because we feel this way, we turn inward and throw pity parties. How could anyone, after all, understand what we are going through?

But Paul prays, “Don’t let your trials lead you away from God. Instead, let them lead you to him. Don’t run away from God because of your trials. Run to him.”

More, he says, “Remember Christ. Remember what he endured for you. That he was betrayed and abandoned by those he loved. That he was mocked, beaten, and then crucified. And yet he endured. Why? Because he loves you.

“So when you are feeling like you can’t endure any more, look to him. He understands exactly what you’re going through. And he cares. You have not been abandoned.”

The writer of Hebrews put it this way,

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3) 

And again,

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

So if you are feeling beaten down by life and abandoned, my prayer for you is the same as Paul’s.

May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. (5)

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II Thessalonians 2 — Hope through tribulation

I’ve mentioned before that I do believe that most Christians will live to see the Antichrist and that the rapture will not happen until Jesus comes to destroy him. This passage is one reason why I think so.

One argument that people come up with for the rapture coming before Antichrist appears is that if that’s true, and there are certain other signs that must happen before Christ comes, then Jesus couldn’t come any day and that there is no reason to be ready for his return until those signs are fulfilled.

For that, I have two answers.

One, as I’ve mentioned before, while it’s true that I believe certain things must happen before Christ comes for his church, that is not true when it comes to Christ coming for you. In other words, tomorrow is not promised you, and Jesus may call you home this very night. And if that happens, will you be ready, or will you be like the man in Jesus’ parable (Luke 12:13-21) who was not prepared to meet God when God suddenly summoned him to judgment?

Second, this argument goes square against what Paul says here. Paul himself says, “No, Christ hasn’t come yet. There are certain things that must happen first.” And if what Paul said held true then, what really has changed? Nothing. Jesus still hasn’t returned. We still don’t know when he will return. And I believe that if people argued (like the Jehovah’s Witnesses do) that Jesus has already come back, Paul would tell us the same thing that he told the Thessalonians. “Jesus hasn’t come back. Certain things must happen first.”

Admittedly, this is disconcerting, particularly to those who believe that we will avoid the Antichrist altogether.

But there is hope. First, Paul told us in I Thessalonians that we won’t suffer the wrath of God that the rest of the world will in the tribulation (I Thessalonians 5:9). Peter also tells us that God knows how to preserve the righteous, while punishing the unrighteous. (II Peter 2:9)

More, Paul told the Thessalonians,

From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2:13-14)

In short, though you may go through trials, still God has chosen you to be saved…and he will save you. He called you and you will share in Christ’s glory someday.

And so he concludes,

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (15-17)

No matter what we go through then, even if it’s the great tribulation, Paul admonishes us to hold on to the truth that we have received. And more, hold on to Jesus. For it is he who will give us encouragement, hope, and strength to do what is right even in the darkest of times.

As I’ve said before, I hope I’m wrong. I hope Jesus does take us to heaven before Antichrist comes. But if I’m right and we do see him, hold on to Jesus. He will see you through.

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II Thessalonians 2 — Why many will perish

In chapter 1, there is a disturbing passage.

Paul tells the Thessalonians,

God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you…He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power. (6:8-9) 

If you want to define hell, verse 9 pretty much sums it up. It’s being shut out from the presence of the Lord forever. Some people try to think of destruction as annihilation, but every scripture we see shows hell is a conscious state. And what is hell if it isn’t being shut off forever from the One who is life, love, and joy?

But why? Why are people shut off from him?

I think we see the answer in this chapter.

Here Paul addresses a misunderstanding of something he had written earlier. Some people were worrying that Jesus had already come and that they had somehow missed it.

And Paul says, “No, when Jesus comes, it will be crystal clear. There will be no missing of it. You will know.”

How?

In short, Antichrist must come first. He will oppose God, and he will set himself up as God in the temple, probably one that has yet to be built in Jerusalem. From the time of Paul, and even before that, we have seen the power of lawlessness in the world, inspired by the Father of Lies who would destroy us. But he has been restrained, probably by the Holy Spirit.

The day will come, however, when the Spirit will step aside and all hell will literally break loose, with Satan having free reign on this earth. This Antichrist will come with counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders, and many will be deceived into thinking he truly is Christ. And ultimately they will perish for it. (3-10)

Why?

They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. (10-11)

Here we see the main reason why so many people perish in hell. God has given them the truth of the gospel. Even those who never hear the gospel, they have the witness of creation and their own conscience (Romans 1). And yet, they refuse to love the truth that they may be saved. Instead, they delight in their own wickedness.

Most people today don’t believe, not because they can’t believe, but they don’t want to believe. Because they know that if they choose to believe, they cannot simply continue in their sin, but must repent. And they don’t want to do that.

And so God says, “Fine, you don’t want to believe the truth. Here is a very powerful lie. Go ahead and consume it.”

They do, and for all eternity, they will embrace their wickedness, cursing God, never coming to repentance. That’s why people perish.

How about you? What do you do with the truth? Will you embrace it and be saved? Or will you cling to your own sin and perish?

Remember the words of the Lord who said,

As surely as I live…I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! (Ezekiel 33:11)

Why choose death when you can choose life? The choice is yours.

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II Thessalonians 1 — That God may be glorified in you and you in him

Nobody likes suffering. And it’s easy to question why God allows it. But here we find some answers in Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians.

As I’ve mentioned before, the Thessalonian church was started in the midst of persecution. Paul was literally forced out of the city and it was very difficult for him to get back in, thus causing him to send Timothy to go for him and sending two letters to the church to encourage them. This is the second of those letters.

What was the result of the suffering that the Thessalonians went through? We see the answer in Paul’s first words to the them. He said,

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. (3)

Despite all their sufferings, their faith grew and so did their love, just as Paul had prayed (I Thessalonians 3:11-12)

And because of this, Paul said,

Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. (4-5)

I kind of pondered that phrase, “All this is evidence is that God’s judgment is right.” What does that mean?

I think it means that God always does what is right, that he never makes mistakes. And so when he allows trials and suffering in our lives, he does so knowing that they will not destroy us, but instead will purify us so that we come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)

This was proven true in the Thessalonians who were not destroyed by their trials, but came out with both stronger faith and love in their lives. And because of this, Paul says, “Despite your suffering, know that you will be counted worthy of God’s kingdom.”

He then encourages them that though there may seem to be no justice in this world, God would judge their persecutors, and would give the Thessalonians rest. It kind of reminds me of God’s words of comfort to the martyred saints in Revelation 6:9-11.

And Paul says that all this would happen,

on the day [Jesus] comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (10)

I love this verse. When Jesus comes back, God will be glorified in us whom he saved and who lived for him despite many trials, not giving up. At the same time, we will marvel at him who through his grace saved us though we were totally unworthy. More, we will realize that the only reason we made it through our trials was because he was there with us all along, strengthening us.

And so Paul prays,

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (11-12)

Why do we go through suffering? Ultimately it’s so that God may be glorified in us and us in him. And no matter what you go through, if you choose to continue to follow him, he will fulfill every good purpose you have and bless every act prompted by your faith.

And on the day he comes back, he will look at you and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant…Come and share your master’s happiness! (Matthew 25:21)

Amen. Come soon Lord Jesus.

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I Thessalonians 5:16-28 — Because the Lord is coming (part 2)

As Paul concludes this letter, he gives the Thessalonians some final instructions on how to live in light of the Lord’s coming.

He told them,

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (16-18)

The Thessalonians were going through a lot of persecution. But Paul said in the midst of it all that it was God’s will for them that they rejoice, pray continually, and give thanks in all their circumstances whether good or bad.

I can’t help but wonder if Paul looked back to this experience in Phillipi, just before he came to Thessalonica. He and Silas had been beaten and thrown into prison for the gospel. How did they respond? They rejoiced, singing hymns to God, praying and giving thanks in the midst of their circumstances. The result? God literally shook that place and not only delivered Paul and Silas, but brought salvation to their jailer and his family.

And so now, because of his own personal experience, he could encourage the Thessalonians to do the same in the midst of their hardships.

Paul then admonished the church,

Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. (19-22)

How do we put out the Spirit’s fire and extinguish his work in our lives? First and foremost by not listening to him and trusting him. That was the problem with the Israelites while they were in the wilderness on the way to the promised land. (Hebrews 3:17-19)

That’s why Paul says don’t treat prophesies with contempt. God can speak through people even today. But at the same time, test their words. Test them by scripture to make sure their words are from God. And if they are, hold on to them. If they are not, reject them. But however God speaks to you, through people, through his Word, or whatever, don’t just dismiss Him. In doing so, you put out the Spirit’s fire in your life, and when the Lord comes, he will hold you accountable for it.

Finally, Paul ends with a prayer.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (23)

And Paul reminds us,

The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. (24)

Because the Lord is coming, may we live lives that are holy and blameless. But remember that it is not by your own efforts that this will happen, but by the power of his Spirit. So hold on to Him. Don’t quench him in your life. But let him fill you to overflow, not only making you blameless and holy, but touching the lives of those around you.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (28)

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I Thessalonians 5:12-15 — Because the Lord is coming

After talking about being ready for the Lord’s return, Paul gives us some instructions on how we as a church and as individual Christians are to live. And he starts with our relationships with each other.

In talking about our leaders within the church, Paul says,

Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. (12-13)

How often do we take our pastors and other church leaders for granted? How often do we criticize them and disrespect them for their mistakes or failings?

The truth is, we all fail. We all could be subject to criticism if the spotlight were put on us. But while it is true that leaders are to be held to a higher standard, Paul tells us, “Respect your leaders. They’re working hard for you, probably more than you know. And don’t just respect them, hold them in the highest regard. And don’t just hold them in the highest regard, but do so in love because of all that they do for you, for God, and his kingdom.”

Why? Because the Lord is coming. We don’t have time to constantly criticize our pastors and leaders for every little fault they may have and every little mistake they may make. God will hold them responsible for what they do. He is their judge, not you. So instead of making their lives miserable, Paul says,

Live in peace with each other. (13b)

Remember that while they may be over you in the Lord, they are also your brothers and sisters. So instead of fighting against them, work with them as God leads them and you.

Paul goes on to say,

And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (14)

Pastors and leaders in the church are not the only ones subject to criticism. Often times, others are too. And if they are truly in sin, Paul tells us we are to warn them.

For others, they are timid and easily intimidated by the Enemy in this spiritual war we fight. So encourage them. Stand and fight by their side. Help them be strong in the midst of their circumstances.

Others in the church are weak, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. And Paul says to help them. For they are our brothers and sisters too.

And for all these, we are to be patient with them, knowing that the Lord is patient with us too. God hasn’t given up on us. We shouldn’t give up on each other.

Finally, Paul says,

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. (15)

Even within the church, people wrong us. And it can be hard to forgive. But again, the Lord is coming. And we can’t afford to hold grudges and bitterness in our hearts. So Paul says to again leave judgment to God, and instead respond with kindness to those who wrong us.

And not only to those within the church, but to those without, that they may see the love of Christ and may be drawn to him too.

The Lord is coming soon. How are you treating your pastors and leaders? How are you treating your brothers and sisters in Christ? And how are you treating those people God has put around you outside the church?

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I Thessalonians 5:1-11 — Being ready for Jesus…whenever he comes for you

A lot of people wonder when Jesus will come back. The Thessalonians wondered about it back in Paul’s day. People wonder about it today.

But Paul essentially reiterates what Jesus said: “We don’t know when Jesus will come back. So be ready for his return every day. That way you’ll never be surprised.”

Paul says,

Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

While people are saying, “Peace and safety,”destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.

For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.

But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1-9)

One thing we learn about the last days before the Lord returns is that people will have a feeling of security. That all is well, and that without God. Jesus said people will be feasting, marrying, buying and selling, planting and building. Such were the times before the flood. Such were the days before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. These things in themselves, of course, are not evil in themselves. But these people had turned their backs on God and had become completely immoral, calling good “evil” and evil “good.”

Sound familiar?

And just as God swept down on them in judgment, so God will sweep down on judgment once again when Jesus returns. And only those like Noah and Lot will be spared. Why were they spared? Because they were ready for the Lord’s coming in judgment.

So Paul tells us, don’t live in the darkness of sin, but live as children of light. Live lives such that if they are exposed, you have nothing to be ashamed of.

Put on faith, believing in the love God has for you, and believing that his way is best. Put on love, love for God and love for others, letting it shape your attitudes and your actions. Put on the hope of your salvation, so that you don’t get discouraged by the hardships you face. Rejoice in knowing that God hasn’t called you to suffer his wrath,but to receive his salvation.

And know that though you will be with the Lord forever someday, that starts today. He desires that we live in relationship with him…today…as we live here on earth. (10)

Finally, remember that though the Day of the Lord, the day of his return to earth, is still in the future, for you, the “Day of the Lord,” the day he comes back for you personally, could happen at any time. You could die in an accident. You could have a sudden heart attack. You could die in an earthquake. Tomorrow is not promised to you. So be ready.

How about you? If the Lord came for you today, would you be ready?

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I Thessalonians 4:13-18 — The hope that we have

“Hopes are for the living; the dead have no hope.”

Those were the words of an ancient Greek poet, and it epitomizes how many people in Paul’s time saw death. For that matter, I talk to many Japanese today that have that same outlook. They have no hope beyond the grave. For them, this life is all there is.

For some reason, many of the Thessalonians had a similar outlook. Perhaps in seeing their own people die for their faith, they wondered, “What will happen to them when Jesus comes? Will they miss out on the hope and joy of his coming?”

To this, Paul gives a clear no.

He told them,

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven,with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.

After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

Therefore encourage each other with these words. (13-18)

Why do we have hope beyond the grave? Because Jesus himself experienced death and was raised again. And Jesus told us, “Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19)

Paul tells us more, that when Jesus comes back, those who have already died will be raised to meet him.

Paul teaches in Philippians that when we die, we immediately go to be with the Lord (Philippians 1:23), and Jesus’ own words to the thief on the cross were that the thief would join him in paradise that very day. (Luke 23:43)

So the picture seems to be that whatever remains of all those who have died in Christ, bones, dust, or whatever, will be raised and joined to their spirits which are in heaven now. And after that, we Christians who are still alive will also be caught up to meet Jesus and we ourselves will be changed, given new bodies that are imperishable and incorruptible. (I Corinthians 15:51-53)

I do believe, by the way, Christians will be around for the tribulation period when Antichrist shows up. I really hope I’m wrong, but that’s how scripture looks to me. It also shows in the word that Paul uses for “meeting” the Lord in the air. The word is has the idea of meeting a VIP outside a town and escorting him back to their town. And so the picture seems to be that we Christians will meet the Lord in the air and escort him back to earth where he will begin his thousand year reign. And Paul says from that point on, even though there is much to happen after that, including a final rebellion by Satan, we will always be with the Lord, never to face death ourselves again.

That’s the hope we have. And that’s the hope we are to share with those around us who have no hope. And that’s the hope we are to encourage our brothers and sisters with when life becomes a struggle and they feel they can’t go on.

Our troubles will not last forever. Jesus will come back, and all will be made right. So though all that we go through in life, let us rest in this hope that we have.

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I Thessalonians 4:9-12 — That we may win respect

Hypocrisy.

If there is a word that people like to throw at Christians, it’s hypocrisy.

And too often, it’s all too fitting.

Unfortunately, it was also true in the time of Paul. By the way some Christians were living, they were bringing Christ into disrepute. And so Paul dealt with that in writing to the Thessalonians.

In chapter 4, he’s talking about how we should walk in a manner that pleases God. Yesterday, we talked about being a clean temple for God. In the first century, as is true today, sexual morals were extremely loose, and so Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to be sexually pure, and not defile their bodies which are the temple of God. For when we live impure lives, we blend into society rather than standing out from it. And as God’s temple among unbelievers, we are called to stand out.

Paul then shows the Thessalonians another positive way to stand out from society. He told them,

Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. (9-10)

The world knows all about lust. They know much less about what true love really is, and most spend much of their lives trying to find it as a result. But Jesus said,

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:35)

When we as Christ’s church love each other, it attracts them.

When the the world sees Christians couples who still love each other even after years of marriage it attracts them.

When the world sees such diverse people in one church caring for each other despite their differences, it attracts them.

When the world sees the church reaching out to touch the lives of those who are hurting, it attracts them.

Why? Because they see something we have that they don’t.

And so Paul tells the Thessalonians, “You do love each other. But do so more and more. Let your light shine ever brighter through the love that you have.”

But there was another problem that the Thessalonians had. A number of them were lazy. Perhaps they thought the Lord was coming soon, so they thought, “Why work?” And they were just leeching off of other Christians. In doing so, however, they brought disrepute to the name of Christ.

And so Paul says,

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (11-12)

We cannot live as leeches and shine the light of Christ. Nobody likes a leech.

Further, we’ll see in II Thessalonians that not only were people leeching off others, they were being busybodies. And people were looking at them, and saying, “Is this what a Christian is?”

And so Paul admonishes them, “Work. Don’t be dependent on anyone. For in doing so, you’ll win the respect of those unbelievers around you.”

How about you? When others see you, what do they see? Do they see a person filled with the love of Christ? Do they see people who are diligent in all they do?

Do you stand out in this world for the right reasons?

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I Thessalonians 4:1-8 — To be sexually pure

We live in a world much like the times of the New Testament, a world in which sexual impurity is rampant. We see it in TV shows, movies, commercials, the internet; wherever you look, it’s there.

But in buying into the times, we take a cheap imitation of what God intended for us. Instead of lasting relationships where two people truly become one, we take temporary thrills which ultimately leave us broken and empty. The numbers of people that have been devastated by sexual sin are innumerable. We see divorce, children without fathers (or mothers), unwanted pregnancies and abortions, STDs, and people torn emotionally apart because of it.

In short, we are far from the whole people that God intends us to be.

And so Paul tells the Thessalonians and us,

Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him.

The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. (1-6)

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.”

What does that mean? It means that we are to be set apart for him. To be his temple that he can dwell in. Paul says in I Corinthians that our bodies are his temple. (I Corinthians 6:19)

But in order for our bodies to be set apart for him, we need to be sexually pure. For when we sin sexually, Paul tells us that we sin against our own body. (I Corinthians 6:18)

Put another way, when we sin sexually, we defile the very temple of God. And so right after Paul tells us that it’s God’s will we be sanctified, he adds, “that you should avoid sexually immorality.” That means any kind of sexual activity outside of marriage.

Paul tells us that we are not mere animals that simply give into their “instincts.” Nor are we like those who don’t know God and his will. God has revealed himself and his will to us. And he has given us the ability to make choices. More, he will hold us responsible for those choices.

When we sin sexually, we wrong the brother or sister that we sleep with. Not only that, if they are married, we wrong the one they are married to. And if we are married, we wrong the one that we are married to. And Paul says we will be judged for that.

For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. (7)

Just as God called the Israelites from all the nations to be a holy people, he calls us to be holy as well. The question is, are you?

Paul is very strong about sexual purity, saying,

He who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit. (8)

In other words, Paul is saying, “I’m not just giving you my opinions. This is what God is saying. And if you reject what I’m saying, you’re rejecting God.”

Are you rejecting God by the way that you’re living? By violating a gift that he has given to bind two people in marriage?

Remember Paul’s words when he says,

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (I Corinthians 6:19-20)

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I Thessalonians 2:14-3:13 — Ready to face opposition

Nobody likes persecution. Nobody likes being disliked. But as Christians, that’s a reality that we have to prepare ourselves for. There are some people that simply will not like us because of our faith in Christ.

This is a truth that all Christians need to be prepared to face, and Paul made sure the Thessalonians were ready when he was with them. He said,

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. (3:2-4)

Destined for trials. Destined for persecution. These are not words that Christians want to hear, but Paul warned the Thessalonians about these things. And because of that, they were prepared. When persecution came from their own people, they didn’t falter. Rather they stood firm. (3:6-8)

And so should we.

But remember that God does not call us to stand in our own strength. We need to rest in his strength.

Part of that comes from continuing to grow in our faith through the Word of God. Paul prayed that he could come to the Thessalonians once again so that he could, “supply what is lacking in your faith.” (10)

None of us are perfect in our knowledge of Christ. All of us need to continue to grow in our faith. So we need to continue to plug ourselves into his church in order to get the spiritual nutrition and strength we need to stand in times of trials. That comes through the preaching of the Word. But it also comes through the relationships we have with each other as God pours out his love in our hearts, and we learn to love each other and all those God puts into our lives. (12)

But most importantly, it comes as God himself strengthens our hearts through his Spirit who dwells in us. And so Paul prays,

May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (13)

As we live our lives for Christ, Satan will oppose us. That’s a given. We see it in Paul’s life , we see it in the Thessalonians’ lives, we see it throughout church history.

Are you ready to face his opposition?

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I Thessalonians 2:13-16 — Words of God? Words of men?

We often talk about the Bible as the Word of God. But do we treat it that way? As words that truly come from God and are to be obeyed? Or as words from men, to be followed if we like them, but can be discarded if we don’t?

The Thessalonians had made their choice, and we see it in verse 13. Paul tells them,

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. (13)

God works in our hearts as we hear his Word and receive it into our hearts. The question is, do we receive it?

Some words are easy to receive. Words about God’s love and grace. But other words are not so easy. Words about holiness. Words about our accountability to him.

Of course, the most important words we need to receive are the words of the gospel. That we can be saved only through faith in Christ alone and his work on the cross. That we can do nothing to save ourselves, and that we need to turn to Christ for our salvation.

Those in the Thessalonian church believed right away. But others didn’t. The Jewish leaders killed Jesus and the prophets that came before him. They then compounded their evil by driving out Paul from Thessalonica and other places for preaching the gospel. And Paul said of them,

They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last. (16-17)

These Jews as well as the Thessalonian’s own countrymen treated God’s words as mere words of men. The result? They heaped up sin in their lives and God’s wrath fell on them.

How about you? How do you treat the words of God? As words from one who should be obeyed? Or as mere suggestions from flawed humans?

God will hold you accountable for the words that you have heard him speak.

So let’s take them seriously and follow them, that we might find blessing, and each day be transformed more and more into his likeness.

What is God telling you today?

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I Thessalonians 2:1-12 — Genuine ministers

I was reading Philippians 1 with my wife the other day, where Paul talked about how he praised God that the gospel was spreading even though it was through people who preached with impure motives. (Philippians 1:15-18)

The implication being of course, that God can use people to spread his gospel and have it be effective even though these “ministers” will receive no reward at all.

But Paul not only preached the gospel, he was a genuine minister in every way. And we see that in this passage. We see that in his boldness in preaching, even in the midst of persecution (verse 2, but also see Acts 16-17). And when he taught, he taught accurately, not trying in any way to deceive or manipulate the Thessalonians, but with pure motives. (3, 5)

In short, he acted as someone who had been given a trust from God, and more than anything, he sought God’s approval above anyone else’s. (4, 6)

Sometimes Christians soft-pedal the word of God because they are afraid they might offend people. But Jesus offended people all the time by speaking the truth, particularly the Pharisees and other religious leaders. And he not only spoke of the love of God, but of the judgment to come for all who rejected him. (Matthew 7:21-23 and 25:31-46 among many other passages)

Paul picked up on the example of Jesus. He told the Ephesians,

Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (Acts 20:26-27)

Here he references Ezekiel 33 where God warned Ezekiel not to hold back on warning the people of God’s coming judgment, because if he did, God would hold Ezekiel responsible.

So Paul’s purpose whenever he preached the gospel was not to please people, but his Lord.

And yet, his heart for people was also very evident. He never demanded things of them as an apostle of Christ, abusing his authority with them. Rather he was gentle with them, willing to give up his very life for them. (7-8)

As a mother, he nursed them in their faith, and as a father, he worked hard for them so that they would not have to support him, but rather that he could support them. More, as a father, he encouraged, comforted, and urged them to live lives worthy of God. (6-12).

And as a spiritual parent, he was an example to them, living a life that was holy, righteous, blameless, and totally above approach.

That’s what a genuine minister should look like.

But before you start looking at these things and start judging you own pastor, look at yourself. You see, you are called to be a minister too. A minister to your family, to your friends, and to those around you. You are, as Paul put it, Christ’s ambassador to those God has put in your life. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

So the question is: are you a genuine minister of the gospel that God has entrusted to you?

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I Thessalonians 1 — A genuine faith

This is one of Paul’s earliest letters, perhaps his earliest, written during his second missionary journey. It was written to the church in Thessalonica, and many things that Paul alludes to in this letter can be found in Acts 16-17, from his troubles in Phillipi to all that happened when he started the church in Thessalonica.

When you read Acts 17, you find out that he was forced to leave Thessalonica much earlier than he had probably wanted to because of some troublemaking Jews who despised the gospel, and who as a result, got him in trouble with the local authorities.

Because of this, and perhaps because of persecution these new Christians were going through from their own countrymen, Paul had been worried that perhaps they were starting to falter in their faith. And so he sent Timothy to check on them, and to his relief, he found that despite their afflictions, they were doing just fine.

And so from the very beginning, he tells them how much he thanks God for all of them. But in doing so, I think we see the marks of a genuine faith. What are they?

Paul says,

We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (3)

1. A genuine faith doesn’t simply sit. It produces fruit, namely good works. Jesus said, “You can tell a tree by its fruit. A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.” (Matthew 7:16-20)

2. A genuine faith is prompted by its love for God and for others. It doesn’t do things because it feels obligated or forced. It delights to do these things.

3. A genuine faith has hope for the future, that Jesus will come back and that all that is wrong in the world will be made right. And because of that, it can endure all things, including any trials or persecutions that may come.

That’s what Paul and others saw in the Thessalonians.

But there is more.

4. Genuine faith comes when people hear the gospel, and the Holy Spirit convicts their hearts of sin. In short, people cannot claim to have genuine faith and willfully continue in sin. Rather, they understand how bad it is, and the price Jesus paid that we might be forgiven. (5)

5. Genuine faith comes with the power to change through the Holy Spirit, who not only convicts us of sin, but renews our hearts so that we can live a new life. (5) He in fact, comes to dwell within us and renews us day by day.

6. Genuine faith is also filled with joy through the Holy Spirit, even when facing trials. (6)

7. Genuine faith makes itself known to the those around them. People around us can tell there’s a difference in us. (8)

What kind of difference? That we no longer serve the gods of this world, whether idols, money, possessions, sex, or other such things. That we now in every way serve the true and living God. As a result, our focus is no longer on things of earth, but on things of heaven. And with that comes love, hope, and inexpressible joy, which brings us right back to our first three points.

What kind of faith do you have?

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Colossians 4:17-18 — Faithful

If there is one word that I think encapsulates this passage, it’s “faithful.”

Tychicus, “a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.” (4:17)

Onesimus, a once unfaithful slave (see Philemon), but now a “faithful and dear brother.” (9)

Aristarchus, faithful to the point of being imprisoned for the Lord along with Paul. (10)

John Mark, cousin of Barnabas. Like Onesimus, he had once been unfaithful, leaving Paul and Barnabas in the middle of a missionary journey (Acts 13:13). But now, along with Justus, Mark was faithful to Paul, comforting him in his time in prison. (10-11)

Epaphras, a man faithful in “wrestling in prayer” for the Colossians and “working hard” for them. (12-13)

Unfortunately, Demas (14) would later prove to be unfaithful, leaving Paul for love of the world (2 Timothy 4:10).

And so finally, fittingly, a charge from Paul to a man named Archippus.

See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord. (17)

In short, “Be faithful.”

How about you? Are you faithful?

If you feel you are, remember Demas, and be steadfast. Don’t lose your faithfulness for love of the world.

And if you feel you aren’t, remember Onesimus and Mark. They too at one point were unfaithful, but God gave them a second chance. And God will give you a second chance too.

So wherever you’re at in life, be faithful, that you may receive praise from God on the day of judgment.

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Colossians 4:5-6 — Walking in wisdom

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (5-6)

Being wise. Or as the ESV puts it, “walking in wisdom.” Making the most of every opportunity.

How many opportunities do we miss to share the gospel because we aren’t looking for it. Are we making the most of every opportunity?

I had a unique opportunity with my daughter Yumi the other night. She’s six, and my wife and I have been sharing the gospel with her for years, reading Bible stories to her and praying with her almost every night. She also has gone to Sunday school for the last three years. But every time I shared the gospel it seemed that though she kind of understood, she wasn’t quite ready to become a Christian.

And then a couple nights ago, she talked about how her Sunday school teacher had told her that Jesus was in our hearts, and she seemed happy about that idea. I’m not sure if that’s exactly what her Sunday school teacher said. I’d hope her teacher didn’t give such a blanket statement, but at any rate, I asked Yumi, “Really? Have you asked Jesus to come into your heart?”

At which she stopped short, and said, “Um, no.”

And so I told her that Jesus only comes into our hearts if we ask him. I then talked to her about the gospel again, and for the first time really had her attention from start to finish. And that night she prayed to receive Jesus.

I’ve been praying for Yumi for some time, and always shared the gospel with her at every opportunity, so when the time came, I was ready for it. But I wonder how many other opportunities I miss because I’m not ready for them.

How many opportunities do I miss because I am not wise in the way I act with outsiders? How many opportunities do I miss because day to day, my conversation is not full of grace, but of complaining or criticism? How many opportunities do I miss because my speech is not “seasoned” with salt, full of flavor, a bit of sting at times (for the gospel can sting the unbeliever’s conscience), but full of God’s love each day?

I don’t want to miss those opportunities. How about you?

Our time on earth is short. Are you making the most of your opportunities?

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Colossians 4:2-4 — Praying behind the front lines

I wonder if we understand just how important our prayers are behind the front lines. There are so many people, pastors and missionaries especially, who are out there on the front lines. And many times, we act as if they don’t need our prayers. They are by definition, after all, “spiritual,” right?

But it is these very people on the front lines that need our prayer the most. Paul certainly recognized his need for others’ prayers. And so he told the Colossians,

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (2)

The idea of “devote” is to be persistent, to hold fast and not let go. In short, don’t just blow off a quick prayer and go on your merry way. Truly engage with God in prayer.

Paul says to be watchful. Watch for what God’s trying to do around you and ask him how to pray in the midst of what he’s doing. Remember also to have a thankful heart. Don’t just make your prayers a “give me” list. But make it a time to remember God’s goodness in your life and draw near to him.

But Paul then gives specifics on the kinds of things people on the front lines need prayer for. They need prayer that God would open up doors of opportunity to preach the gospel. And they need prayer that God would give them the words so that people can clearly understand the gospel.

One would think, “Just preach the gospel. What’s so difficult about that?”

But while the gospel message remains the same, they still need wisdom on exactly what words need to be said to  break through whatever blinders Satan has put on unbelievers.

So as you think of the missionaries and pastors you know, pray for these things. They need your spiritual support.

And let them know you are praying for them as well. It’s always encouraging to know you’re not fighting alone, but that you have people behind the lines supporting you.

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Colossians 3:17-4:1 — Living as Christ’s representatives

I love the way the NLT translates verse 17.

And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (3:17)

Whenever we do something in the “name of someone,” we do act as their representative, but I had never seen that verse in that light before. And it seems to flow over into the following verses.

Wives, as representatives of Christ to your husband, respect your husband and submit to his leadership in your home. (3:18)

Husbands, as representatives of Christ, love your wife, and don’t be harsh with them. (3:19)

Children, as representatives of Christ, obey your parents. (3:20)

Fathers, as representatives of Christ, don’t embitter your children, lest they become discouraged. (3:21)

Slaves, as representatives of Christ, obey your masters in everything and not just when they’re looking, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord. (We, of course, don’t have slaves nowadays, but we could equally say these things of any working person.) (3:22-25)

Masters, as representatives of Christ, treat your slaves (or in our day, employees) fairly because you know you have a Master in heaven. (4:1)

In other words, in all our relationships, remember who you’re representing. You’re representing Jesus Christ. To your husband, to your wife, to your parents, to your children, to your boss, and to your employees.

When you disrespect your husband as head of the family, what kind of representative are you being?

When you treat your wife harshly, what kind of representative are you being?

When you disobey your parents, what kind of representative are you being?

When you embitter your children, what kind of representative are you being?

When you work half-heartedly, what kind of representative are you being?

When you treat your employees unfairly, what kind of representative are you being?

In all your relationships, with friends, neighbors, coworkers, brothers and sisters in Christ, what kind of representative of Jesus Christ are you being?

Can others see him in you? Or do they only see you?

What kind of representative of Christ are you?

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Colossians 3:1-17 — Living like Christ truly is our life

“Christ is my life.”

As a Christian, can you say that? The truth is, he is our life whether we see that or not.

Paul tells us in verse 3 that we have died and that our life is now hidden with Christ in God. Though the world and even we ourselves cannot fully see all that we have in Christ, we have received so much in him.

We have been saved from our sins, our relationship with God restored. Day by day our lives our being transformed into Christ’s likeness, and the day will come when our bodies will be fully redeemed, totally free from sin. More, on that day, we will receive our inheritance in heaven, and be given crowns of glory.

Like I said, all these things are hidden right now. We see some glimpses of these things, but only glimpses. But when Christ returns, then all that we have and all that we are will be revealed as well. Paul puts it this way,

When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (4)

If this is so, then why do so many of us live as we do? Focused not on Christ and all these treasures we have in him, but on this world which is passing away? So Paul tells us,

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (1-2)

Set our hearts on things above. Set your hearts, in other words, on things that are eternal. What is eternal? Our relationship with God. And our relationships with all those who are part of his kingdom. And anything that stands in the way of those relationships needs to be set down in our lives. What things are those? Paul tells us,

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. (5-7)

All these things interfere with our relationship with God. All these put ourselves ahead of God, thinking only of what we desire instead of what God desires. We make idols of sex, money, and other things, casting God aside and breaking the great commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

But Paul also tells us to rid ourselves of things that would destroy our relationships with our brothers and sisters. Things like anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, lies. Why? Because in Christ we are all one. There are no racial or gender barriers between us now. Or at least there shouldn’t be. We are all one family, and we need to treat each other as such. (8-11)

Instead, Paul tells us to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. We are to make allowances for others’ faults (NLT) and forgive each other as Christ forgave us. And over all these things, put on the love of Christ as we deal with each other and live in peace. (12-15)

And the word of Christ is to dwell in us with all its richness. That starts with the gospel, the message about Christ (NLT). Do we dwell on all that he did for us on the cross, and all the grace that he has showered on us? Are our lives rooted and grounded in his love and grace? And does all his teaching on how to live also change the way we think and live our lives?

More, are we filled with gratitude for these things, and do we constantly remind each other of these things? (3:16)

And finally, in all that we do, do we act in the name of Jesus Christ? Do we act as his representatives to this world?

Christ truly is our life. But are we living that way?

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Colossians 1:28-2:23 — The fullness we have in Christ

“Fullness.” It apparently was one of the catchwords of the false teaching that was creeping into the Colossian church. And basically, Paul threw it back in these teachers’ faces by saying, “You have know idea what true ‘fullness’ is all about.”

Paul told the Colossians, “You are made perfect in Christ. The thing that I strive for in my ministry is that you may reach that maturity and fullness in him. I want you to have the full riches of complete understanding and assurance (ESV) concerning the mystery of God. All the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge, however, are not found in these false teachers and their ideas of ‘fullness.’ Rather, they are found completely in Christ. So don’t let people deceive you by their fine-sounding arguments.” (1:28-2:4)

He then told them, “Since it is in Christ that you can find these treasures of wisdom and knowledge, root and build yourself up in him. Remember how you were saved? It was by putting your faith in Christ and coming into relationship with him. So as you continue to live each day, don’t get away from that. Keep walking each day trusting in him and with thankfulness and joy for all he’s done for you.” (2:6-7)

He then warned the Colossians, “Don’t let yourself get sucked into any philosophy that would pull you away from Christ. Such philosophies are empty and are based on mere human tradition and the basic principles of this world.” (2:8)

Other translations translate “basic principles” as “elemental spirits” (ESV) which seems to point to Satanic forces as the source of this teaching.

But Paul makes clear to the Colossians two things. He says, “Do you want to know the fullness of God in your life? Well, all the fullness of God is found in Christ. All that God is, is found in Christ. And now you too find your fullness in Christ. You can’t find it anywhere else.” (2:9-10)

Why is that? Because it is only in Christ that our sinful nature can be dealt with. Christ himself circumcises or cuts off that sinful nature from us in a way that no person can through their own human effort. Through Christ, we die to our old self, and he raises us as a new person in him, living not by our own power, but through the power of God. (11-12)

We were dead. There was nothing we could do to save ourselves. But God himself made us alive, forgiving our sins. He ripped up our certificate of debt that we owed him because of our sins, and nailed it to the cross. And by dying on the cross and then rising from the dead, he totally humiliated all the Satanic powers that crucified him and tried to destroy us. (13-15)

So Paul says, stop trying to add to the work that Christ is done. You already have your fullness in him. Don’t go back to the old religious practices the Jews followed. They were mere shadows of the true reality that is found in Christ. All the sacrifices and religious celebrations pointed to Christ. Since Christ has come, look to him, not the shadows. (16-17)

And don’t get caught up in false religious experiences either, whether it’s worshiping angels or any other creature. When you do that, you separate yourself from Christ. Christ is the one that causes you to mature and grow into completeness. (18-19)

In Christ, you died to these things. How can you now go back to them? And why go back to religious rules that look good, but can’t solve the real problem of your sinful nature? (20-22)

In short, Christ is all. And as I said yesterday, if we want true “fullness” in this life, Christ is the one we are to go to.

The question is, are you? What is your life rooted in? Is it rooted in Christ? Or is it rooted in something else? Who or what is at the center of your life?

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Colossians 1:15-29 — The only One we need

The Colossian church was facing some kind of false teaching that was slipping in among them. What exactly that teaching was is not clear. But one thing that seems to be clear is that people were teaching them that Christ is not enough. That they needed something more. That there were perhaps ranks of angels that they needed to go through to reach God, and that these powers were worthy of worship. That there were “mysteries” that they had yet to learn, and could only do so through these false teachers. And that there were certain rituals and religious practices they needed to follow in order to truly be right with God.

And if there is one thing that Paul seems to emphasize in the rest of the chapter, it’s this: Christ is the only One we need.

Why is Christ all that we need?

For one thing, he is the preeminent one over all creation. That’s what it means by “first-born of all creation.” Not that he was created before all other things as the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach (even so far as to insert, “other” several times into this passage.) But that he is the one who is supreme over all creation. His rank and position is high over anything that was created. (15)

Why is Jesus the preeminent one over all creation? Paul tells us. Jesus was the one who created all things. All things were created through him and for him, including all the angels and other heavenly powers, not to mention us. (16)

On top of that, he existed before all things, and all things hold together through him. We can’t even hold the atoms that make up our body together. Nothing in this world could hold together without him. (17)

God also placed Christ as the church’s head, not angels or anyone else. And he was the example for all the church in that he died and rose again. (18)

If that weren’t enough, all God’s fullness dwelt in him. Because of that, he is the very image of the invisible God. If we want to know who God is, we need not look any further than Christ. (15, 19)

And it is through him and his death on the cross that we are now reconciled to God. We need no other mediator. And through him, we are made holy in God’s sight, without blemish and free from accusation. (20-22)

And as for mysteries of God, THE mystery has already been revealed. It was a mystery that had been hidden for ages and generations, but now is revealed. What is that mystery? That through faith in him, Christ now dwells in us. Whether Jew or non-Jew, Christ dwells in us and we are now one body, one church in Christ, shining God’s glory to the world. (25-27)

So what need is there for anything or anyone else? None. And so Paul emphatically states, “We proclaim HIM, admonishing and teaching everyone about HIM.” Why? Because we are only made perfect in Christ. (28)

Yet so often, we live as though we need more than Christ in our lives. We start pursuing religion instead of Christ. We start pursuing “spiritual experiences.” Or we start pursuing the things of this world to fill us.

But these things will not bring us “fullness,” as the Colossians seemed to be seeking. Only Christ can.

How about you? How are you seeking to become complete? There is only way, and that’s Christ. For he is truly the only One we need.

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Colossians 1:1-14 — A prayer for all believers

If you ever want to pray a prayer for a fellow Christian but are not sure how to do it, and you want to go beyond a simple, “bless so-and-so,” you don’t have to look any further than the prayers of Paul. Time and again in his letters, he gives us wonderful models of how to pray for others according to God’s will.

We see one of those models here in Colossians chapter 1. Paul had apparently never met these Colossians, but had only heard of them and their faith in Christ through a man named Epaphras. But when Paul heard about the fruit that was born in their hearts through the gospel, he rejoiced. More, he prayed for them a very specific prayer. What did he pray for?

First, he prayed that God would fill them with the knowledge of His will with all wisdom and understanding. That is something that we all need as Christians. Why?

And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God. (10)

If we want to please God and bear fruit for him, then we need to know his will in our lives. And as he fills us with his wisdom and understanding, we start to understand who he himself is. We understand how he thinks. We understand what is important to him. In short, we come to truly know him, not just about him, particularly as he imparts his power into our lives. That’s why Paul prays that they would be,

strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (11-12)

God doesn’t want us to live this Christians life based on our own strength. Many people go through trials with endurance and patience, but no joy. Why? Because they are resting on their own strength, not God’s. But Paul’s prayer is not that the Colossians would patiently endure their trials in their own strength. Rather, he prays that God’s power would fill them so that they could not only endure, but do so with joy.

That each day, they would focus not on themselves, but on God. To remember that all they have as Christians is not based on their own efforts, but on what God has done. For he is the one who qualified us to share in his inheritance, not us.

Not only that,

he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption,the forgiveness of sins. (13-14)

Again, all the work is of him. He rescued us from out of darkness. He brought us into the kingdom of his Son. And it is in Christ, not ourselves, that we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.

Yet many Christians forget that. And because we do so, we start trying to live on our own wisdom and strength, and in the process, lose our joy.

But when we are filled with his wisdom, knowledge, and power, when we remember all that Christ has done for us and that all we have comes from him and not ourselves, then we find joy.

So as you pray for your Christian family members, friends, and other brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t just pray a general, “God bless them.” Pray as Paul did for the Colossians.

And pray that God would do these things in you as well.

How are you praying?

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Philippians 4:14-23 — When we give

I mentioned in my last blog that the problem with many Christians is that they are still self-centered. That they’re always focused on their wants and needs.

But that is not God’s will for us, and that’s not how the Philippians were. Paul said of them,

When I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only, for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. (15-16)

For a lot of the churches, they apparently received a lot from Paul, but at that point, that’s all they were doing: receiving. They were not really giving of themselves to others and the Lord at that point.

Now as baby Christians, that’s okay. We need to be fed. But as we mature, we need to learn to not only receive, but to give. And from very early on, that’s what the Philippians apparently did.

Paul himself wasn’t so interested in receiving from the Philippians or anyone else. For the most part, he was self-supporting. But he was thankful to see the seeds of maturity in the Philippians in their giving hearts.

And he assured them that God would not forget what they had done, but that they would be rewarded.

It’s very interesting the phrase he uses in verse 17,

I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.

Is he saying that God will reward them because of the fruit of generosity growing in their lives? Or is he saying that their generosity in supporting his ministry will result in the fruit of saved lives, and that God would reward them because of that fruit?

I kind of think he means the latter, but both are probably true.

More, he tells them, that their gifts were a fragrant offering and acceptable sacrifice to God. And then he closes by saying,

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (19)

Sometimes when we give, we wonder if it’s worth it. We wonder if perhaps we’ve given too much. But Paul assures us here that if we are generous, God has more than enough resources to provide for our needs.

To be honest, I’m still learning that. So many times, it’s hard for me to let go of money in my life. But when we give, not only will we please God, but God will be glorified through that gift as people are blessed. And so Paul says,

To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (20)

How about you? Are you a giver? Or just a receiver?

May the gifts we receive from God not simply stop with us, but flow through us to touch those around us.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. (23)

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Philippians 4:10-13 — The secret of being content

It has been pointed out that we live in a microwave society. We want what we want and we want it now. And when we don’t get what we want when we want it, we grumble and complain.

But is that the way we are supposed to be? Paul certainly wasn’t. In thanking the Philippians for their generosity, he told them,

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (11-13)

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”

How many of us can say that?

Paul says that he had been in times of need, and yet he was content. And when he was in times of plenty, he was content then too.

It’s easy to understand the need to be content in times of need. But how many of us think of the need to be content in times of plenty? Yet too many of us aren’t. We have all we need and more, and yet we complain that we don’t have enough. Why is that? Why do we have so much difficulty being content, even when we have plenty?

Probably because of where our life is centered. For many Christians, their lives are still focused on themselves. They’re always thinking about their wants and their needs. And in thinking about their wants and needs, they fail to realize what is the one thing that truly brings contentment: a relationship with Christ. Knowing him. Experiencing his resurrection power in their lives. Waking up each day, looking in the mirror, and realizing that through your sufferings and trials, you are becoming more like him. And seeing each day that you are grasping more and more just what it is God took hold of you for.

Paul said he hadn’t completely done that, but he probably came closer than most. And because of that, his circumstances couldn’t take away from his joy. When he had little, he rejoiced in Christ. When he had much, he rejoiced in Christ.

In Japan, we have a word, “gaman.” It means to “endure.” And Japanese people pride themselves in being able to “gaman,” through difficult circumstances. The problem is, they tend to rely on their own strength, and as a result, they eventually find themselves stretched beyond their limits.

But Paul didn’t just “gaman.” He rejoiced in his relationship with Christ. And because he did so, he found the strength to endure whatever he went through.

How about you? Are you content? Is Christ the center of your life? Or are you constantly seeking other things, hoping they will make your life complete? Those things will never fulfill you. Only a relationship with Christ will.

What’s the center of your life today?

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Philippians 4:2-9 — Peace in our hearts, peace with each other

As I said yesterday, it’s a little hard to tell the flow of Paul’s thought in these verses, whether he was changing topics, or whether it was all one topic to him.

One particular place where it’s a little tricky is verses 5-6. When he says, “The Lord is near,” is he connecting it more with “Let your gentleness be evident to all” or “Be anxious for nothing.”

Or maybe he’s connecting it equally to both. Because the truth that the Lord is near certainly does impact our own peace of mind as well as the peace we have with each other.

At any rate, Paul says,

The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (5b-7)

So often, anxiety gets the best of us. One of the anxieties we face is our relationships with others, particularly when they aren’t going well as was the case with Euodia and Syntyche. But we also have anxieties about work, about our children, and about our future. And it’s easy to get overwhelmed by it all. What’s the solution?

Remember the Lord is near. Remember he is with you in the midst of your problems and in the midst of your anxieties. And remember that he cares for you.

Remember that he is near in that he will come back again to this earth. And on that day, every tear will be wiped away. All our sorrows and troubles will be a thing of the past and unable to touch us anymore. In short, all the troubles we face now are temporary.

With that in mind, then, be anxious for nothing. But as you face your problems and anxieties, take them up in prayer to the God who cares for you. And as you do, his peace will guard your hearts and minds.

Paul uses a military word here for “guard.” And it’s a reminder that our mind is a battleground. But our God is far greater than any enemy.

I think of Elisha when he was surrounded by enemy troops and his servant was panicking. But Elisha prayed, “God open my servant’s eyes so that he might see.” And when the servant looked again, he saw the armies of the Lord all around Elisha. (II Kings 6)

Because Elisha could see all that, he was filled with peace.

But we can’t be filled with peace when we are twisted up with our anxieties. Nor can we be filled with peace when we are twisted up in bitterness and resentment. So Paul tells us,

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. (8)

Not only will doing this bring us peace in our hearts, it helps bring peace with each other. Too often in our troubles with others, our focus hones in on everything that is negative about them and the circumstances surrounding your relationship with them. But Paul says, don’t focus on those things. Rather, focus on the things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.

More importantly, focus on Jesus who is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.

Follow His example and the example of people like Paul as they went through suffering. And Paul says as we do,

The God of peace will be with you. (9)

How about you? Do you have the peace of God in your heart? Or are you twisted up in your anxieties? Are you twisted up in your resentment and bitterness toward others?

Lord, as you opened the eyes of Elisha’s servant, open my eyes. Help me to see you are near. Get my eyes off of my anxieties. Get my eyes off of all that is negative around me. And help me to focus on you. For it is you that is the source of all good things. Fill me with your peace this day. In Jesus name, amen.

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Philippians 4:2-5 — Maintaining unity in the church (Part 2)

It’s hard to tell, sometimes, the flow of what Paul is saying. Did he mean to divide his thoughts between verses 3-4. Or did he mean to to keep verses 3-5 as a set? Or perhaps the whole line of thought flows together all the way through verse 9?

I’m not sure, but as I was reading this passage, it struck me that Paul had Euodia and Syntyche in mind even as he was writing verses 4-5.

He says,

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. (4-5)

In other words, “Put your focus on God. You all have put your focus on yourselves, and that’s why you can’t get past your own personal pride and settle this dispute. So refocus your life on God. Remember what he has done for you. Rejoice in the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross on you. And let it affect your attitude toward each other. Let your gentleness (ESV — “reasonableness”) be evident to all in the church as you deal with each other.”

Then he says, “The Lord is near.”

And that’s something to remember when we are in disharmony with a brother or sister in the church: the Lord is near.

For one thing, he is there present within the church. He sees your dispute with your brother or sister, and he is heartbroken by it. How then can we continue to fight in his presence, knowing how much he has sacrificed, not only to bring us peace with God, but with each other?

For another thing, he is coming soon. He will return to this earth physically and take us to be where he is. But if he were to come back today, and you were to stand before his throne for judgment, what would he say to you? Would he say, “Well done, good and faithful servant?”

Or would he say to you, “Why did you waste so much time fighting with your brother? Why did you waste so much time bickering with your sister? There was so much to do, and instead of working together to touch this world for me, you let anger and bitterness stand between you.”

What will happen to all our arguments, to all our pride when we stand before Jesus on that day? How much shame will we feel?

The Lord is near. So let us be at peace with one another and fight for unity within the church.

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Philippians 4:2-3 — Maintaining unity in the church

I wonder how much, as Paul was writing this letter, he was thinking about Euodia and Syntyche. These were two women who he had worked with closely in ministry, and cared about deeply. And yet there was a divide between them. What it was that caused that divide we don’t know. Paul certainly doesn’t take sides. Instead, he simply says,

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. (2)

Throughout this letter, he had been saying things like he wanted to see the Philippians standing firm in one spirit, fighting side by side for the gospel. (1:27)

That they should be, “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose,” and following the example of Christ in His spirit of humility. (2:2)

More, he encouraged them to stop complaining and arguing with each other that they might be bright lights to those around them. (2:14-15)

He then reminds them to put aside their personal pride on who they are and what they’ve accomplished and to focus their eyes on Christ. To make knowing him their chief goal. To remember that they are all citizens of heaven now and that they should live that way. (Chapter 3)

And now, having said all this, he pleads with Euodia and Syntyche to put aside their personal pride. To put aside their personal differences, whatever they may be. And to accept one another. To start working with one another once again.

If Paul were alive today, I wonder how often he would repeat those words if he saw the people in the church today. People who love the Lord and are trying to serve him, and yet because of their pride are at odds with others in the church.

I look at these words, and I feel the pain Paul is feeling. Because too many times, I see this kind of division within the church.

But even as people seeing this happen in the church, we cannot just stand still and let the problem fester. Paul said,

Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (3)

Who this “yokefellow” was, we don’t know. But Paul said, “Please help these women reconcile. Step in and do what you can to bring peace between them.”

Too often, instead of bringing peace, we take sides. Or we start to spread gossip. But if we are to have unity in the church, neither is acceptable. As Paul told the Ephesians,

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3)

Are you doing that?

Or are you letting your pride get in the way of making peace with those who have hurt you or those you yourself have hurt?

When you see your brother or sister fighting with another in the church, are you letting your personal loyalty to them get in the way of trying to bring peace between them and the other party?

Too often, people don’t settle their differences. Instead, they let things simmer until things eventually blow up or one of them leaves the church. But does that bring glory to Christ?

The church is to supposed to glorify Christ and show the world who he is. But we can’t do that when there are fissures within the church. Are you one of those fissures? Or are you one that brings healing to those fissures?

Which one are you?

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Philippians 3:17-4:1 — Living as citizens of heaven

The Philippians were very proud of their status as Romans citizens. And many people today are proud of their status as citizens of their country, whether it be America, Japan, or wherever it may be.

But Paul reminds us here where our true citizenship here. He says,

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ… (3:20)

More, he reminds us of our ultimately destiny in Christ.

….who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (3:21)

In short, this world is not our home. And our final destiny is not this corrupt, decaying body. Rather, we have a much higher destiny in store for us. It is because of this, that Paul says earlier,

Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. (3:17)

Paul had mentioned earlier not only himself, but people like Timothy and Epaphroditus, and he said, “Follow our example. Our lives are completely centered on Christ, and not ourselves. And that’s how you should be.”

This was in stark contrast to the people the Philippians lived among and the people who we live among today. People who,

live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. (3:18-19)

In other words, people who live solely for themselves and the things of this world. But who in doing so are headed for destruction.

But that’s not what Christ saved us for. He saved us that we could know him, and to ultimately become more like him. To find true life in him as he not only transforms us, but dwells in us, leading us and guiding us each day. And as we his church walk as citizens of heaven, we shine his glory to the world.

So Paul concludes,

Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! (4:1)

The question is then, is this how you’re living? Focused not on yourself nor the things of this world, but on Christ? Is it your greatest desire to know him and that he be glorified in you? For that is where true joy is found. That is where true life is found. Not in “self-realization” or self-gratification.

If you are a Christian, you are a citizen of heaven. Are you living like one?

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Philippians 3:12-16 — Pressing on

Very few days go by when I don’t realize just how far I have to go to be like Christ. I think marriage does that to a man. I look at the example of the husband Christ is to the church and the kind of husband I am to my wife, and I quickly realize that I fall far short far too many times.

And so as I look at Paul’s words when he talks about how he has yet to become all Christ has taken hold of him to be, I can totally relate to him. Honestly, it can be discouraging. But I cling to what Paul says in verse 12.

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

I like how the ESV puts it,

I press on to make it (Christ’s righteousness, a relationship with him, his sufferings, his death, his resurrection) my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

“Because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” That’s a comfort to me. I don’t have to earn my standing with Christ. He has already made me his own. I belong to him now. I am his child.  And so even when I fail, I don’t need to fear that he will reject me. I am already his.

And so now I press on, not to earn my standing with God, but to fully experience all that I have in Christ. His righteousness. His sufferings. His death. His resurrection. And most importantly, a relationship with Jesus Christ himself. To come to know him as well as he knows me.

So in my failures, and even in my successes, I say as Paul did,

One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (13-14)

I don’t want to dwell on my failures. That will only drag me down. And I don’t want to dwell on my victories. Because that will just make me complacent. But each day, I want to keep my eyes on the prize. I want to see each day what God has for me, and to become the man that he created me to be.

And Paul says that should be all of our attitudes. He says,

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (15-16)

Do you think you’re mature? You’re still not where you need to be. Press on.

Do you think that you’re a failure. God has already made you his own. Press on. And wherever you are, don’t start going backwards.

But live up what to you have already attained. And then push further. Not in your own strength. But in the power of the Spirit who lives in you.

How do you live your life each day?

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Philippians 3:1-11 — Following the example of Christ (part 2)

I wrote a few days ago about how we are to follow the example of Christ.

In looking at Paul’s words here in this chapter talking of himself, it struck me that a lot of what he said could be seen in a different perspective, particularly in light of chapter 2.

Paul said that whatever he had once considered profitable to him, whether it was his status as a Jew and a Pharisee, or all he had accomplished in following the law, he considered loss for the sake of Christ.  In fact he considered everything a loss compared to having a personal relationship with Christ.

He considered them all garbage in order that he might gain Christ and be clothed in His righteousness. And now his chief desire was to know Christ, to know the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and his death, and ultimately, to rise with Christ someday.

In the same way, whatever had been to Christ’s profit, he considered loss for our sake. He considered all that he had in heaven a loss compared to having a relationship with us. He considered it garbage that he may gain us and that he might clothe us with his righteousness as we put our faith in him. He wants us to know him, to share in the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and to be raised in glory just as he was.

That’s why he went to the cross. That’s why he suffered for us. And if he did that for us, how can we not do the same for him?  If he gave up everything for us, how can we not give up everything for him?

May we all follow his example each day.

 

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Philippians 3:1-11 — Where our focus lies

As we live the Christian life, it’s so easy to get off-focus.

Of course, some people can get off-focus in terms of focusing on their jobs, their love life, their possessions, and their money. All these things can get Christians’ minds off of what is really important.

But we can also get off-focus by focusing on rules and how to be the “good” Christian. And by doing that, we forget what our Christian lives are to be all about.

That’s what Paul warns against here. He tells the Philippians,

Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. (2)

What is he talking about? He’s probably talking about the Judaizers that were so prevalent during that time. These were the people that said you need to be circumcised and follow all the Mosaic law in order to truly be saved.

He ironically calls them dogs. Dogs were not looked upon fondly in Jewish culture, and many times, non-Jews like the Philippians were referred to as dogs. But Paul says, “You are not the dogs. They are.”

He says,

For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh. (3)

God had told the Jews in the Old Testament, that more importantly than being physically circumcised, he wanted their hearts to be circumcised for him (Deuteronomy 10:16, Deuteronomy 30:6, Jeremiah 4:4).

And when we become Christians, that’s exactly what happens. Our hearts become truly his through the work of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 2:28-29)

As Ezekiel put it,

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  (Ezekiel 36:26)

But the Judaizers were convinced that all Christians had to be circumcised and keep all the laws of Moses. Because of this, all their focus was on who they were as Jews and what they did to achieve righteousness before God.

Paul, however, tells the Philippians that these Judaizer’s focus was all wrong. He himself could boast of all the things that these Judaizers tried to boast in and more (4-6). But instead, Paul says,

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.

I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (7-11)

In short, Paul said, “My focus isn’t on myself. It isn’t on all my efforts to become righteous in God’s sight. It isn’t on the rules and regulations of religion. These are all rubbish to me now. Worthless. My focus is on one thing and one thing alone: Jesus Christ.

I want to know Him.

I want to be united with Him.

I want His true righteousness, not my “righteousness” that falls far short of God’s standard.

I want to know His power, not my own.

I want to know Him so much that I want to share in His suffering.

I want to die with Him, putting to death my sinful nature by the power of the Spirit.

I want to be resurrected with Him, raised in new life, again by the power of the Spirit.

Him, him, him, him, him, him.

The problem with so many Christians today is that they are not focused on Him, but themselves.

And because of that they get tired. Christianity become a drag, filled with their own futile self-efforts. And their love for Christ wanes.

For how can you have a love relationship with Jesus when you are focused on everything else but him?

How about you? Where is your focus?

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Philippians 2:19-30 — Following the example of Christ

After sharing with the Philippians how they should follow the example of Christ, Paul talks of two men who did just that.

Paul says of a man named Timothy (the same one found in I and II Timothy),

I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests,not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.  (20-22)

Paul had exhorted the Philippians earlier,

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (2:4)

And now here, he tells the Philippians, “Timothy is such a man. So many others live only for themselves. But Timothy is different. He has followed Christ’s example and he is genuinely concerned for you and is interested in your welfare. More, he has been faithful in serving with me for the sake of the gospel.”

Paul then commended another man named Epaphroditus.  Epaphroditus apparently had been sent by the Philippians to help Paul in his ministry. But while he was with Paul, he got sick and nearly died. And so Paul was sending him back. Lest the Philippians think that Epaphroditus was somehow a failure, however, Paul told them, “He is my brother, my fellow worker, and fellow soldier.” More, he told them,

Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me. (29-30)

Just as Christ had been willing to lay down his life to do the Father’s will, Epaphroditus had done the same. And so Paul said, “Welcome him with honor. You would do well to follow his example.”

And so would we. How are you living? Are you looking toward the interests of others above your own? Or are you still looking out for number one?

Are you still living for yourself? Or are you willing to do anything the Father tells you, even if it costs you your very life? Oh it may not cost you your literal life. But God may call you to leave your job. He may call you to leave your country. He may call you to leave your comfortable life in order to serve him. Will you do it?

Will you follow these men’s example? More importantly, will you follow Christ’s?

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Philippians 1:27-2:18 — Shining as the stars

Chapters and verses in the Bible are great in one sense. They certainly make it easier to find passages. But often times, they interrupt the flow of the authors’ thinking, and make us think that they are starting entirely new thoughts when that is not the case.

This is certainly the case with this passage. I was going to just cite verses 12-18, and realized it was simply impossible. Because all of this comes down to one thought: living lives worthy of the gospel. The whole point Paul is trying to make is that we live lives worthy of the gospel by living in unity with one another. And in order to do that, we need to follow the example of Christ who laid down everything for us, putting our needs above his own in order to save us.

And it is at the end of this thought that Paul goes on to say,

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (12-13)

So often we take these verses and apply them individually to ourselves. But once again, Paul is talking to the church as a whole, and is saying, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who is working in all of you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

In other words, Paul is saying, “God has given you all this salvation by the sacrifice of his Son. Now make the most of this salvation you have received. Know that God is working in you, the church, to desire the things he desires and to act according to the purpose that he has for you as his body.”

But we can’t live out that purpose if we are constantly fighting one another, bickering, and as Paul says in another passage, biting and devouring one another (Galatians 5:15).

And so Paul tells us,

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life–in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. (14-16)

When the church is fighting itself, the world looks at it and says, “What makes them different from us?”

But when the world sees a church where people love and serve each other, when they see a church where there is no bickering or complaining, all of a sudden, we become bright lights that make them wonder, “What makes them so different?  I want what they have.”

And so Paul tells the Philippians, “My desire is that you will be those lights so that when I stand before Christ, I can point to you with pride at what you have become.”

He then concludes by talking about his own attitude toward them, saying,

But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on a sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. (17)

In other words, “It’s no burden for me to do the things I have done for you. I myself am merely working out my salvation just as you are. And I rejoice with you at all that God is doing in you. So don’t grieve or worry that I’m in prison for the gospel, but rejoice with me. And as we work and rejoice together, this world will see our light.”

How about you? Is that your attitude? Are you seeing God work not only through you, but through you and the brothers and sisters God has put around you? Are you seeing God work out his purposes as you walk together in cooperation and unity?  Are all of you together shining the light of God that those around may see your good works as a church and glorify your Father in heaven? Or do those around you see a people like themselves, always bickering and fighting?

May we all as a church work out our salvation with fear and trembling that the world may know the Lord who loves them and gave himself up for them.

 

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Philippians 1:27-2:11 — What the gospel is all about

We saw last time that Paul tells us to live a life worthy of the gospel. But what is that gospel?  He makes it crystal clear in chapter 2.

The gospel is all about Christ,

who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! (6-8)

Think about that a moment. Jesus was by his very nature God. But he did not say, “I am equal to the Father and the Spirit. Why should I be the one that goes down to save a wretched, rebellious people?”

Instead, he made himself nothing. He let go of the glory that rightfully belonged to him as God and he became a mere man. And not a king among mere men. But a mere carpenter born of a poor family.

More, he didn’t come doing his own will as he had every right to do. Instead, he came as a servant, humbling himself, doing only what his Father in heaven told him to do. And when the Father told him, “It is time to die for the sins of the world,” Jesus replied, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

Why? Because he loved the Father. And because he loved us. And because of that love, he was willing to lay down everything that was rightfully his to die a shameful death on the cross.

But the gospel doesn’t end there. For Paul says,

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (9-10)

God not only raised Jesus from the dead, but has now placed him above all things as head and ruler over all. And the day will come when all who are saved will fall at his feet in worship, proclaiming him as Lord, unified as one under him, a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, holy and blameless, to the glory of the Father.

And it is this gospel that Paul says we are to live lives worthy of. Since Christ did all this for us, how can we not follow his example? As Paul said,

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.  (5)

We are now united with Christ. How can we not live as he did? How can we not show tenderness and compassion as Christ did, even to those who reject us?

Since we will one day all together worship him as Lord, how can we not now love one another, and work with one another for his kingdom?

And how can we not throw aside selfishness, putting our brothers and sisters’ interests above our own, and laying down our lives for them as Christ did for us?

How about you? Do you believe the gospel? And if you do, are you living this gospel every day?

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Philippians 1:27-2:4 — Living lives worthy of the gospel

When you look at today’s title, “Living lives worthy of the gospel,” what do you think it means? To be a good Christian witness? To be sharing your faith? To live holy lives? Certainly all these things are true. But I think that Paul has something else in mind as he wrote to the Philippians,

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.  (27a)

More than anything, he’s talking about something we’ve talked about a lot recently: unity in the church.

That phrase “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy” actually has the idea of behaving in a manner worthy of one’s status as citizens.

The Philippians had great status as citizens in the Roman empire. They had some special privileges of land ownership and were even free from having to pay certain taxes. As a result of all this, they were quite proud of their status as Roman citizens.

But Paul says, “As proud as you are of being citizens of Rome, be even prouder of the fact that you are citizens of heaven. And live that way. Live in unity as fellow citizens so that,

…whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.  (27b-28)

And Paul warned, “You will be opposed,” telling them,

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.  (29-30)

That’s a strange phrase, “It has been granted you, that is, you’ve been given this privilege of not only believing in Jesus, but also suffering for him.”

But that is exactly how the apostles saw suffering. They saw it as an occasion to rejoice. You see this in Acts 5 when they were beaten for preaching the gospel. And you see it in Paul throughout the book of Philippians as well. They rejoiced because,

…they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name [of Jesus].  (Acts 5:41)

So part of living lives worthy of the gospel is also suffering for Christ’s sake.

But the thing is, while we may at times have to face adversity alone for the sake of Christ, Paul is primarily talking of suffering adversity together with the other believers in the church. And he tells them that as they stand together, showing no fear, but unity in their love for God and their love for each other, that it is a sign to their opponents of their coming judgment and the Philippians’ salvation.

In other words, as their opponents saw the life in the Philippians in their love for Christ and each other, it would show them the death that reigned in their own hearts.

Exactly what should their opponents see in them?

People encouraged by their union with Christ. People comforted by the love of Christ in the midst of trial. People walking in the leading and power of the Spirit. People who are tender and compassionate even to their enemies, but especially to each other. People like-minded, loving each other, and one in spirit and purpose. People who do nothing out of selfishness or conceit, but humble, not looking out for their own interests but for the interests of others. (2:1-4)

That’s what it means to live lives worthy of the gospel. The question is, are we living that way? Not just as individual Christians, but as a church? We, the church, will never make an impact on this world as long as we live as mere individuals, serving only ourselves. It’s time to stop thinking of ourselves as mere individuals, and start living as citizens of heaven.

Remember the prayer of Jesus the night before he died.

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me…May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-21, 23)

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Philippians 1:19-26 — That Christ may be exalted

For me, death seems kind of far away.  I still see myself as young, although I guess I’m technically classified as middle-aged.

But for Paul as he wrote this letter, he really had no idea how much longer he would live.  He was reasonably confident that his trial before Nero would go well and he would be released, but he wasn’t sure.

And so he said,

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. (20)

To Paul, ultimately, he didn’t care one way or another whether he was set free or condemned to death by Nero.  What was important to Paul was that in life or death that Christ would be exalted in him.  So every moment he lived, with every breath he took, he desired to glorify Christ.  And should he die, he wanted Christ to be glorified in that too.

That should be our attitude as well.  To live each day for the glory of Christ.  But how many days go by when that thought never crosses our minds?  We get so wrapped up in our jobs, our lives, our troubles.  In short, we get so focused on the things of this world that Christ gets forgotten entirely.  That’s not how our Christian lives should be.  Rather, our attitude should be the same as Paul’s.

For to me, to live is Christ.  (21a)

Can you say that?  Or are you living for other things?

There may be some of you, though, for whom death is nearer.  Right now my wife’s grandmother is near that time.  She’s 102 years old now, and as of two weeks ago is no longer eating, but is only on IVs, although she is still conscious.

How do you face death?  Can you say as Paul did,

To die is gain.  (21b)

Do you have confidence as Paul did that while life on this earth is a gift, and each day is a chance to glorify God with our lives, that heaven is so much better?  Are you torn between serving Christ here on earth and touching the lives of others, and being with Christ at last?

Or are you clinging to life here, living for yourself, and in utter fear of what lies on the other side of death?

You don’t have to fear.  Stop living for yourself, and put your faith in Christ.  He died on a cross that your sins may be forgiven.  More than that, he showed that he had power over the grave by rising from the dead.  And now he promises, “Because I live, you also will live.”  (John 14:19)

All you need to do is give your life to him.  And in doing so, you will find life.

It starts with a prayer.

Lord Jesus, I am a sinner.  I have turned my back on you and lived for myself.  But in doing that, I’ve hurt others, I’ve hurt myself, but most importantly, I’ve hurt you.  Forgive me.  Thank you for dying on the cross for me.  Now please wash away my sins.  I want to live for you now.  I pray that each day until the day I die that you may be exalted in me.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Philippians 1:12-18 — When we choose to rejoice

Considering all that Paul went through in his life, you would have understood if he had grumbled and complained about all that he went through for the sake of the gospel.

Maybe in times of weakness he did.  But according to his letters and every story you ever read of him, he never did that.  Instead, he rejoiced.

Joy is funny that way.  It is totally unrelated to the circumstances you are in.  Rather, it is dependent on your relationship with God and is something wells up within you despite your circumstances.

You see that in Acts 16 when Paul and Silas were tossed into prison in Philippi.  What was their response as they were fastened in stocks, backs sore from being beaten by whips?  They sang hymns.  They prayed.

And here in Rome, Paul was doing the same kind of thing.  Here he is being guarded by the imperial guard, and it had to be totally different experience for these guards as they came in for their shifts.  In most cases, they probably heard the silence of despair, or perhaps moaning or complaining.  But when they came in for their shift to guard Paul, he’s greeting them with smiles, singing hymns, and sharing the gospel with them.  As a result, soon every guard knew this was no ordinary prisoner, and some of them may have even become Christians.

In addition, because of Paul’s imprisonment and his boldness in preaching the gospel even from there, it caused the other Christians to become bolder in preaching the gospel.  For a number of them, perhaps they saw Paul and thought, “One of God’s apostles is down.  I need to pick up some of the slack and do what I can.”

Others, unfortunately, had less pure motives according to Paul.  Perhaps they thought to “steal” some of Paul’s sheep while he was out of action.

But through it all, Paul rejoiced because the gospel was spreading despite all Satan’s efforts to keep it contained.

Think for a minute, though.  How would things have been if Paul had instead chosen to grumble and complain?  To throw a pity party?

It probably would have tossed him into a downward spiral that would not only have discouraged him, but those he had ministered to.

But because he rejoiced, it allowed him to rise above his circumstances to the glory of God.

How about you?  What circumstances are you going through?  Do you like Paul choose to rejoice in spite of the bad circumstances you are in?  Or do you throw a pity party?

One choice lifts us above our circumstances to God’s glory.  The other leads to slogging in the mud of despair.  Which will you choose?

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Philippians 1:1-11 — What God is doing in us

This letter that Paul wrote to the Philippians is one that is filled with joy, despite all the trials Paul was going through.  Paul was writing this in prison, probably from Rome, and yet time and again, you see the words “rejoice” and “joy” in this letter.

And one thing that gave him great joy was what God was doing in the lives of the Philippians.  The church in Philippi was the first ever to be started in Europe.  It started when Paul met a wealthy woman named Lydia who feared God, but didn’t really know anything about Jesus.  But when Paul preached the gospel to her, she and her family were saved.  (Acts 16:11-15).

Paul did have some problems there, however, getting throw into prison.  But even there, Paul made an impact, as through him, his jailer and the jailer’s family also became Christians.  (Acts 16:16-40)

That was the beginning of the church in Philippi.  And that church became one of his main supporters in ministry.

And in their partnership with him in the gospel, he saw the good work God was doing in them.  And so he wrote,

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  (4-6)

One of the amazing things of the gospel of Christ is that it starts with grace and it ends with grace.  It is God who reached out to us to save us at a time when we had no thought of him.  Through his grace, he pulled us out of filth of our sin and washed us clean by the blood of Jesus shed on the cross.

But God doesn’t stop there.  He doesn’t just say to us, “Well, I cleaned you up.   Now you’re on your own.”

Rather, Paul says that God continues to work in us even now, and will never stop working in us until we are made complete on the day that Jesus returns for us.

In what way is God working in us?  Paul tells us through his prayer for the Philippians, saying,

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.  (9-11)

Paul prays here that the fruit of love, love for God and love for others, would abound more and more in our lives.  How does it grow?  It grows as we come to know God better.  As we understand more deeply how great his love is, it causes our own love to blossom, not only for God, but for those around us.

And as that happens, we start to understand just how God intends us to live.  We start to make not only good choices, but the best choices.  And as we do that, all of God’s fruit of righteousness starts to blossom in our lives.

But note what Paul says here:  this fruit of righteousness comes not from our own efforts to change.  Rather, it comes as we are joined to him.  Like Jesus said, he is the vine, we are the branches.  Apart from him, we can do nothing.  (John 15:5)

So what do we get from this?  Two things.

First, don’t get discouraged by the sin you still see in your life.  God started a good work in you.  It started at the cross.  It continued as he called you and you responded to him.  And God will continue working in you until you are complete.

Second, stay plugged in to Jesus.  That is the key to change in your life.  Not mere self-discipline or effort.  But Jesus living his life in you.

And as he does, you will see more and more what God is doing in you to his glory…and to your joy.

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Ephesians 6:10-24 — Standing together in prayer

As we close Ephesians, we close with the same drum we’ve been beating for the last 4 chapters:  unity.

Paul has been talking about the spiritual war we are in, and after talking about the armor of God we are to put on, he told the Ephesians,

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.  (18-20)

Here he reminds the Ephesians that on top of all the spiritual armor we are to wear, we are to remember where our strength comes from.  It comes not from ourselves, but from God.  And so he tells us that we are to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.

What does it mean to pray in the Spirit.  To me, it means to let the Spirit lead you as you pray.  To ask him, “How should I pray today?”

Too often, we just talk about what we want to talk about.  And because of that, we miss out on what God wants to talk about.

So be led by the Spirit in your prayers.  Let his prayers be your prayers.  And do it on all occasions, whether good or bad.  Pray using all kinds of prayers.  Prayers of thanksgiving.  Prayers of worship.  Prayers of confession.  And prayers for our needs.

But whatever we pray, we are to stand together in prayer.  Again, we are not called to fight this battle alone.  We are to be one with the other believers in this spiritual war.  And so we are to pray for each other and with each other.

We are to especially stand in prayer with those in the front lines preaching the gospel, praying that God would give them the words to speak, and that he would empower them with his Spirit so that people may be changed.

And for those on the front line, remember you are not alone.  As Paul did, seek the prayers of the other believers, and share what’s going on with you.  Don’t try to make it on your own.  We all need each other.

So wherever you are, let us stand together.  And we will find victory.

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Ephesians 6:10-24 — The armor we fight in

I said yesterday that we do not fight our battles with human weapons, whether it’s literal ones, political ones, or weapons of mere human rhetoric.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is room for the latter two.  We do need to make our voices heard in the political realm, and part of that means using human rhetoric to communicate.  Paul himself did that, dealing with the politicians and philosophers of his day.

But if we are expecting to successfully fight this spiritual war through human weapons alone, we are doomed to failure.

If we are to truly take our stand as we face attack, we need to have God’s armor on us. What is that armor?

Paul starts with the belt of truth (14a) .  Truth should mark our speech.  Truth should mark our lives.  And when lies are being spread all around us, the lies of Satan and the lies of men, we are to counter it with the truth of God.  When hypocrisy and compromise is all around us, we should be known for our integrity.  See Daniel and his friends for multiple examples of this (Daniel 1-6).

Righteousness should be protecting our hearts (14b).  Our hearts are stained and weakened when we sin.  But when we are under attack and accused of wrongdoing, we should never give in to compromise.  Nor should we give in to thoughts of revenge against those who attack us.  As Peter said,

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.  (I Peter 4:19)

Our feet should be fitted with the gospel of peace (15).  Wherever we go, we should rest in God’s peace, knowing that whatever happens to us, our salvation is assured.  And we should take that gospel with us and share it with everyone we meet that they too may have peace with God.

We are to take up the shield of faith, so that when Satan assails us with his fiery darts of doubt, our faith may extinguish them (16).  Doubts can especially creep up in times of trouble and persecution.  We start to question God, “Are you really here?  Why are you letting this happen to us?”  But we are to rest in the confidence that God is in control, and that our faith in him will not go unrewarded.

We are to take up the helmet of salvation to protect our minds from the evil thoughts that rise up within us or that the enemy tries to plant within us (17a).  Each day, we are to be renewed in our thinking by the Spirit of God within us, allowing him to transform us from the inside out.

And finally we are to take up the sword of the Spirit, God’s word, the sole weapon we are equipped with (17b).

When Jesus was in the desert under attack from Satan, each time he countered Satan’s lies with God’s word.  It is the Word of God that shows us what truth is.  It is the Word of God that transforms our minds and our lives through the power of the Spirit.  And it is the Word of God that penetrates people’s heart that they may see the light of the gospel.

So it’s absolutely vital that we know his Word.  Do you?

And are you putting on the rest of armor of God daily?  Or are you leaving yourself wide open to spiritual attack?

Are you ready to take your stand in this present darkness we live in?

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Ephesians 6:10-24 — Standing in the face of attack…together

We are in enemy territory.  I don’t know if you know that, but we are.  Paul says,

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  (12)

This dark world.  This world occupied by the enemy.  But not human enemies.  Spiritual ones.  Satan all his demons occupy this territory, and it’s because of them that we dwell in “this present darkness.”  (ESV)

You don’t have to look far to see it.  Morals are collapsing.  What’s is right is considered wrong, and what is wrong is considered right.  Exactly as Isaiah once talked about when he wrote,

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.  (Isaiah 5:20)

Paul said something similar to Timothy.

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (II Timothy 4:3)

We are here.  This is the world we live in.  This is why Paul admonishes us,

Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (13)

The day of evil.  What does he mean by this?  I can’t help but think that he’s talking about a time of persecution.  A time when Christianity will no longer be tolerated.  Already, we find it under attack in America.  In Canada, there are things Christians simply cannot say on the radio or be shut down for violating “hate crime” laws.

The questions is, as a church, how do we fight back?

Not through our own strength.  Rather, Paul says,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  (10)

Nor are we to rely on human weapons to fight, whether it’s literal weapons, political weapons, or weapons of mere human rhetoric.  Instead Paul says,

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (11)

Again we’re not fighting humans.  We’re fighting the spiritual powers behind this present darkness we are facing.

The thing I keep coming back to throughout the book of Ephesians, though, is vitally important here as well.  While certainly God calls us individually as Christians to take up the armor of God and take our stand against the devil, Paul is telling the church to do this.

Put another away, “All of you.  Put on the full armor of God so that all of you, standing together, can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

Jesus said,

Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.  (Luke 11:17)

And if the church is divided against itself, we have no chance to stand against the enemy.  So again we come to the question of unity.  God has joined us together as one body under Christ.  Satan, however, is trying to tear us apart.  It’s much easier to destroy a church that is coming apart at the seams already than to destroy one that is in complete unity.

And it’s much easier to pick off a lone Christian than it is a group of Christians supporting and protecting one another.

So as we face attack in this dark world, how will we do it?  Divided?  Weak?  Fighting in our own strength with human weapons?  Or united as one, fighting with spiritual weapons in the strength of the Lord?

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Ephesians 6:5-9 — How we serve

We close up this section on family living with one more picture of our relationship with God, namely Christ.

We saw how our marriage relationships are a picture of our relationship with Christ, how our parent-child relationships are a picture of our relationship with God the Father, and now we see how the Roman slave-master relationship is a picture of our relationship with Christ.

It might seem strange to see slave-master relationships as a part of family relationships, but actually that is how they were often seen by the Romans, as slaves were considered part of the household back in those days.

Why Paul (and others in the New Testament) never outright condemned slavery is hard to say.  What they did do was ultimately pave the way for slavery to be done away with by reshaping how people saw slaves.  How were slaves to be seen?  As people, not property.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Paul tells the Christian slaves,

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.  (5-8)

Here again, we see that Paul sees a picture of our relationship with Christ in the family relationship of slave and master.  This picture, unlike the other two of husband-wife, and parent-child, is not based on an ideal, but based on a reality of Roman society at the time.

We see that slavery was not God’s ideal for human relationships in I Corinthians 7:21-23, where Paul said to the slaves, “if you can gain your freedom, do so…You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.”

Nevertheless in that passage as well as this one, Paul pictures us as slaves of Christ.  And Paul says to the slaves, “Just as you serve Christ, serve your masters.  Obey them with respect, fear, and sincerity of heart.  Don’t just do it when they’re looking either, but serve with integrity and wholeheartedly.”

Why?

Because in then end, Christ will reward you for it, as he will all his “slaves.”

None of us are slaves nowadays, but many of us do work, whether it’s at our job earning money or simply doing voluntary work at the church or in other places.  But either way, our attitude should be the same.  We need to remember that ultimately, we are serving Christ, and it should show in our attitudes.  Does it?

I struggle with this sometimes.  And I have had to repent more than once from a poor attitude.  But as we see our bosses and those in charge of us, we should see them as we see Christ, and obey them as we obey Christ.

On the other hand, Paul tells the bosses,

And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (9)

In other words, be just to the people who are under you.  If they are deserving of reward, don’t withhold it from them.  Instead, just as Christ rewards those who are faithful, reward those under you who are faithful.  And don’t threaten them, ruling with fear.  Remember you have a Master too.  And ultimately, you and those who work for you are under one Master.  You have merely been given charge over them for a short time.  And because of this, you yourself are to be faithful to Christ in dealing with the people he has given you.

So the questions is, “How do you serve?  How do you serve your bosses God has put over you?  And how do you serve Christ in dealing with those he has given you?

May we always be found faithful in whatever situation we have been put in.

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Ephesians 6:1-4 — Following our Father’s example

In this chapter, we see an extension of Paul’s teaching on our relationship with God and how it shows in our relationships with each other.

In chapter 5, we see that just as the church submits to Christ as her husband, a wife is to submit to her husband.  And just as Christ loves the church and treats it as part of himself, so a husband is to love his wife and treat her as part of himself, for God has joined them together as one.

Here in chapter 6, we see the parent-child relationship we have with God.  Paul says,

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  (1)

Why is it right?  Because God has given the children to their parents as a trust.  He has given them responsibility over their children for that time of growing up and maturing.  And so it’s only right that children obey, even if they don’t always understand all their parents tell them to do.

It’s also right because it’s a picture of our relationship to God.  He is our Father.  And unlike our earthly fathers and mothers, he truly does know what is best.  And so even when we don’t always understand why God tells us to do certain things, we should obey.  For only in doing so, will we find true blessing.

That’s why Paul says,

“Honor your father and mother” — which is the first commandment with a promise — “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”  (2-3)

A child’s obedience to their parents is to be a picture to them of the blessing that comes when we are obedient to God.

Unfortunately, not all parent-child relationships are a good picture of that.  Why?  Because parents fail to show what God is truly like in their actions.  They don’t discipline their children.  Or just as bad, they discipline them too harshly.

Some parents try to  motivate their children by never praising them and always criticizing them.

Other parents fail to show sympathy for their children in their troubles and may instead mock them.

These things fracture their relationship with their children and warps their view of God as their Father.

And so Paul tells parents,

“Fathers, do not exasperate (or embitter — Colossians 3:21)  your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Just as our Father in heaven loves and raises us, so we are to follow our Father’s example and love and raise our children.

Two questions to close.

How well did your parents portray God to you in how they raised you?  If they didn’t do so well, then remember to take your eyes off of them, and put your eyes fully on Him.  Because no matter how badly your parents failed you, God never will.

How well are you portraying God to your children?  Do they see God in you?

I know I fail too often.  And so my prayer is that God will continue to change me, so that my daughter can see God in me.

What kind of parent are you?

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Ephesians 5:25-33 — Unity in marriage (part 2)

The very interesting thing we find in this passage is that marriage is meant to be a picture of our relationship with Christ.  In what way?

Paul says,

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– for we are members of his body.

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church.  (25-32)

What did Christ do for the church?  He left his home in heaven to join himself with us.  More, he gave himself for us, dying on the cross.  And to this day, he cares for us, taking care of our physical and spiritual needs, and nurturing us with his love.  Why?  Because he loves us as if we were part of himself.  And in fact, in Jesus’ eyes, we are part of himself.

And that’s what a husband is supposed to do.  He leaves his home and his parents behind to unite himself with his wife.  He gives himself up for her, laying down his life for her, caring for her, providing for her both physically and spiritually, and nurturing her with his love.  Why?  Because he loves her as if she were a part of himself.  In fact, in God’s eyes, she is a part of her husband.

The husband is in many ways to be a picture of Christ to his wife.  The wife, in turn, honors her husband and follows his leadership, just as she honors Christ and follows his leadership.

For us husbands then, one question we need to ask ourselves is how much are we reflecting Christ to our wives?  Do we treat our wives as if they were truly part of us?  Or do we treat them as something less?  Christ certainly doesn’t when it comes to the church.  How can we?

And for you wives, one question you need to ask yourselves is, “How much am I submitting to Christ?”  Because if you have trouble submitting to Christ, you will have even greater trouble submitting to your husbands.

Paul thus concludes,

However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (33)

How about your marriage?  How much is it a reflection of the relationship Christ has with his church?

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Ephesians 5:21-33 — Unity in marriage

I have never really thought of this before, but as I’ve been going through Ephesians, it seems to me that this passage is merely an extension of what Paul has been saying throughout.  That is, in Christ, the church has become one, with the dividing wall of hostility that was between us being torn down.

So often, in marriage, however, the wall of hostility seems to remain (albeit not the law of God, which is what Paul is specifically referencing in Ephesians 2:14).  We see the beginnings of this wall in Genesis chapter 3, following the fall of Adam and Eve.

God said to Eve,

Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.  (Genesis 3:16)

The words are striking similar both in English and Hebrew to Genesis 4:7 where God tells Cain,

Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it. (Genesis 4:7)

God told Cain, “Sin desires to take control, but you must be the one that rules over it.”

And in the same way, ever since the time of Adam and Eve, many women have desired to take control of their marriage relationship contrary to the plan of God, but instead found themselves as the one submitting, not out of voluntary love, but merely because of their husband’s physical strength and ability to force them to submit.  And unfortunately, too many husbands use violence and abuse to wrest control from their wives.  Their wives, in turn, fight to get out from under that kind of abusive control.

The result:  a completely fractured marriage, with a wall of hostility between husband and wife, even though they are both supposedly one in Christ.

What’s the solution?

Paul says,

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.  (22-24)

We saw in Ephesians 1:22 that God placed Christ as the head of all things for the benefit of the church.  And as we yield to him, we find blessing.

In the same way, God has placed the husband as the head of the wife for her benefit. And so just as the church yields to Christ, a wife is to yield to her husband.  More specifically, as a wife yields to the Lord, she is to yield to her husband.  For it is in doing so that she will find blessing in her marriage.

There are many women, however, that don’t find this to be true.  And so they fight against the headship of their husband.  Why?

In most cases it’s because we husbands forget something very important.  God has not given us the leadership role in our marriages for our own selfish benefit.  Rather it is for our wives’ benefit that God has given us this trust that we should bless them.

Paul makes this crystal clear in the next few verses,

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word… (25-26)

The ironic thing in all this?  In Christ blessing the church, they become a blessing to him; they in fact become one with him.

And in the same way, when we husbands bless our wives, they become a blessing to us, and we truly become one with them as we God intended from the beginning.  More on this next time.

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Ephesians 5:15-21 — How we walk

One thing that strikes me is how often Paul uses the word “live” in this passage.  I like how the ESV (among other translations) translates it “walk.”

“Walk in love.”  (5:2)

“Walk as children of light.” (5:8)

“Be careful then how you walk.  (5:15)

In other words, each step we take in life should be taken in the knowledge of God’s love for us, and with that love flowing through us.

Each step we take should be as children marked by the light of God.

And as we take each step in life, we are to watch where we are going and where our choices are leading us.

Paul basically sums up all he has been saying so far by saying,

Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.  (15-17)

In other words, let’s not be stupid.  Before, we used to live a life that was leading us to eternal death.  Let’s not go back to that path.  And don’t partner yourself with people going along that path.

That is not to say that we are disassociate ourselves with non-Christians, but that we are not to so tie ourselves to them that they can influence us.  We are to be the influencers, not the influenced.

And twice Paul says, “Find out what’s pleasing to the Lord.”  (10, 17)

Again, though, I want to stress that Paul was writing, not simply to individual Christians in the church, but to the church as a single body.  And he was saying, all of you as a church, need to be wise.  What are you as a church doing?  Are you using your time wisely?  Make the most of every opportunity that you have as God’s church here on earth.

But so many times, the church isn’t.  Instead of being light in the darkness, we join in with the darkness.  We partner with this world in its sin.  Or just as bad, we start tearing into each other, biting and devouring each other with bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness.

And Paul says, “Do away with all that.  That isn’t God’s will for you as a church.  When you do those things, you act as fools.  You’re wasting time.  Don’t do that.  Instead, know what God’s will is for you as his body.”

What is his will?

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  (18-21)

So many times, we see this phrase, “Be filled with the Spirit,” and think of it merely in terms of individual Christians being filled with God’s Spirit.  But Paul is saying, “You, the church, are to be filled with the Spirit.”

Probably the greatest need of the church is to be filled with the Spirit of God.  Instead too many churches are filled with greed, division, and envy.

How much different would this world be if God’s church were instead filled with the Spirit of God, living in his power and under his control.

How much different would this world be if God’s church were so filled with the joy of the Spirit, that they were singing words of encouragement to each other rather than tearing each other apart.

And how much different would this world be if instead of being filled with envy and division, people were giving respect where respect is owed, and honor where honor is owed, submitting to those God has called us to submit to out of our reverence for Christ?

Is this how we’re walking?  As a church?  As individual members of Christ?

How are you walking?

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Ephesians 5:3-14 — Taking sin lightly

If there is one problem in this world, it’s that it takes sin lightly, even to the point of joking about it.  But sin is not something to be taken lightly.  Especially by Christians.

So Paul says,

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (3-4)

In other words, our lives should be so holy, that no one should be able to even begin to accuse us of any impropriety, not even in our speech.  Again, sin is not something to take lightly or joke about.

But how often do we do that when talking about TV shows, movies, songs or anything to do with pop culture.  How often do we ever say, “You know, what that character did in that drama or comedy was sinful.”  Or “What that singer is singing about will lead to eternal death if she doesn’t repent.”

We just don’t think that way.

“Oh come on.  Lighten up,” some of you may say.  “This is the world we live in.”

But that’s exactly the problem.  Too many Christians are becoming like everyone else in the world, taking sin far too lightly.  But Paul reminds us,

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person–such a man is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.  (5-6)

In short, sin is serious business.  People are under God’s wrath because of these things.  People are going to hell because of these things.  How then can we take them lightly?

So Paul tells us,

Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. (7-14a)

God calls us to be totally different from the world around us.  They are living in the darkness of sin.  We use to live that way too.  But now Paul says we are light in the Lord, and because of that we should live that way.  Our lives shouldn’t be bearing sin with all its fruit.  We should be bearing the fruit of all goodness, righteousness, and truth.

So instead of celebrating sin, we should be exposing it with the light of Christ for what it is:  something that destroys.

And we should be calling out to those around us,

Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead,and Christ will shine on you.  (14b)

How about you?  Are you taking sin lightly?  Have you forgotten how serious it is?  Remember that Jesus died because of sin.  And now he calls us and those around us to come out of it, and into new life.  Are you living that new life?   And are you calling others into it as well?

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Ephesians 4:25-5:2 — That we may be one (part 2)

Words are powerful.  They can build up.  And they can tear down.

For this reason, Paul said,

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (29)

That word, “unwholesome,” could also be translated, “putrid.”  Don’t led any “putrid” words come out of your mouth.  What are putrid words?  He tells us in verse 31.  Words of bitterness.  Words of rage.  Words of slander.  Words of malice.

These types of words grieve the Holy Spirit.  Why?  Because they tear apart the body of Christ.  Again, remember the whole key to this passage is keeping the unity of the body.  And we cannot do that when we are biting and devouring each other with our words  (Galatians 5:15)

So what kind of words should come out of our mouths?  “Only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Two key points here.  First, we need to really be thoughtful about the words we speak.  We need to look at the people around us and think about their needs.  Too often we speak without thinking, and as a result cut and tear into the people around us.  But if we take the time to think about the other person and what they need, we’re much less likely to do that.

Second, our words need to be full of grace.  When it says, “that it may benefit those who listen,” it literally means, “that we may give grace to those who listen.”

What kinds of words are coming out of our mouths?  Words of judgment?  Words of accusation?  Or words of grace?

But not only should our words express grace, so should our actions.  Paul tells us in verse 32,

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

That’s not always easy.  Some people are not easy to be kind and compassionate to.  Some people are not easy to forgive.  But here’s the thing: neither were we.  We were “children of wrath,” and under God’s judgment.  And yet God poured out his kindness and his compassion on us, forgiving us our sins.

So Paul tells us,

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (1-2)

When we live as his children, sharing his love and kindness to those around us, we become a fragrant offering to God just as Christ was when he offered himself on the cross for us.

And when we love others, even those difficult to love, we show ourselves to truly be God’s children.  As we do so, that’s when we truly become one in him.

How about you?  Are you showing yourself to be a child of God each day, loving and building up those around you?

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Ephesians 4:25-5:2 — That we may be one

As I’ve been looking at these passages this time around, I’ve been seeing them in a whole new light.  Up until now,  I’ve always thought of these verses as merely touching my personal life.  But as we have seen, Paul has been speaking in the context of the church.  He said that the dividing wall that stood between Jew and non-Jew was torn down, and now all Christians are to be one body in Christ, with nothing dividing us.

With that in mind, he says what does in this passage.  And his whole point is how to maintain unity within the body of Christ.

He emphasizes this right off the bat in verse 25, saying,

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

It’s hard to be one with someone you are not truthful with.  This is true in friendship, in marriage, and within the church.  I think sometimes we take the truth too lightly.  We’re too quick to tell white lies.  Or we see sin in the lives of our brothers and sisters, and we fail to speak truth to them for fear of their reaction.  But as we saw in verse 14, we are to speak the truth, in love, so that they may be built up.

By the way, that’s an important point.  Many people pride themselves on being “brutally honest.”  But what is the purpose?  For most, it’s to tear down the other person.  And if that’s your purpose, you’re better off keeping your mouth shut until your attitude is right.  When you can honestly before God say, “I’m telling them this because I love them and want to build them up,” then that’s the time to speak.

Paul then says,

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.  (26-27)

It’s okay to be angry.  But how do you deal with it?  Do you unthinkingly just blast the other person?  Or do you let it simmer in your heart, letting bitterness take root within you?  Both are wrong, and by doing so, you let Satan have a foothold in your life.

But again, Paul is talking primarily to the church.  And the thing to remember is that when people in the church let anger take root in their hearts, they are giving Satan a foothold in the church itself, to divide and destroy it.

Paul then says,

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. (28)

Here we see an important principle:  It’s not good enough to stop doing evil to one another; we are to do good to one another, and again, the goal is the building up of Christ’s body.

I’ll stop here for now and continue this tomorrow, but for now, here’s the thing to think about:  Are your actions unifying Christ’s body, or dividing it?  Are your actions building up Christ’s body or tearing it down?

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Ephesians 4:17-24 — Becoming all that we were meant to be

In the Disney film “Frozen,” there comes a point when Elsa, the queen, reveals her powers with ice and snow to the people, and because of their fear is forced to flee.  All her life, she had hidden her powers from the world.  But now in exile, she is determined to “Let it go.” elsa-from-frozen-singing-let-it-go To be all she can be.  And so she sings,

It’s time to see what I can do.
To test the limits and break through.
No right, no wrong, no rules for me.
I’m free!

But her “freedom” is short-lived, for when her sister Anna comes, she tells Elsa the mess she has made of everything by “letting go” of her “true self.”  And so Elsa sings,

Oh I’m such a fool, I can’t be free!
No escape from the storm inside of me!
I can’t control the curse!
There’s so much fear!

And when Anna tries to convince her she can repair things, Elsa cries out, “I can’t.”

I wonder how many people who love the song “Let it go” ever realize what Elsa realizes later.  True freedom doesn’t come in simply “letting go” and “discovering ourselves.”

For what is in us will destroy us.  And what’s left is fear of what we are and the realization that we ultimately can’t fix things on our own.

But so many people fail to understand this.  Paul says of them that they walk, “in the futility of their minds.”  More, he says,

They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.  (18-19)

Not all of this, is directly applicable to Elsa, of course.  Frozen is not meant to be a Christian allegory.  But she was darkened in her understanding as to who she was truly meant to be.  She was ignorant due to the hardening of her heart to the people who had rejected her.  And as a result, she simply “let it go,” living her own way, and thinking herself free.

In the same way, many people today are darkened in their understanding of who they were truly meant to be.  They’re ignorant due to the hardening of their hearts, not to a God who has rejected them, but to a God who in love fashioned them into his own image.

But in rejecting God, and who he created them to be, they lose sight of who they really are.  They throw off the “shackles” of right and wrong, living their own way, thinking they will find freedom.  But in the end, they find they are not free at all.  That by “letting it go” and living their own way, they actually make a total mess of things, a mess they cannot repair.”

But Paul says that as Christians, we are not to live that way anymore.  Rather, we are to put off the old self.  That is, put off our old attitudes and habits we had when we were living in rebellion against God because they are utterly corrupt and will destroy us if we follow them.  (22)

What’s the main thing to let go of?  Trying to be independent of God and live our own way.  Living this way doesn’t make us free.  It ultimately becomes a curse to us and binds us.

Instead, Paul says we are to be renewed in the spirit of our minds.  In other words, let God change our hearts and minds, and put on the new self.  What is the new self?  It’s a life, “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”  (23-24)

That’s what we are meant to be.  To be like God.  This is not to say that we will all be carbon copies of each other.  We all have our gifts and talents.  We all have our own personalities.  We don’t lose them when we turn to God.  Rather, just as Elsa’s gifts at the end of the movie, they become the beautiful things they were meant to be.  We become the beautiful creation God meant us to be.

But for that to happen, we need to let go of the attitudes of independence and self-sufficiency from God.  And we need to embrace who we were meant to be:  people created in his image.

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Ephesians 4:7-16 — That we might know Christ’s fullness, that he might fill all things

I don’t know how you can look at the world and not think it’s a mess.  And even as we look at our own lives, we can see the mess we have made of things.  This world we live in, and our very lives are broken and incomplete.  There is only one thing that can make us whole, and that’s Christ.

And that’s why he came.  It says in verses 9-10 that he descended to this earth as a man, dying on a cross for our sins.  He then conquered death, rising from the dead, and ascended into heaven.  And what was the purpose of all this?  That he might fill all things.  That he might fill all people, healing their broken lives, and filling in the emptiness of their hearts.  And that he might ultimately bring healing to this whole creation broken by sin.

Paul says in verse 8,

When [Jesus] ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.

Who were those captives?  Some people think it was the spiritual powers that he conquered.  But I think rather that he captured those who were in bondage to sin, and led them into the kingdom of God, giving them gifts.  What kind of gifts.  One, of course is eternal life.  Another is the Holy Spirit that he gives to each believer who fills us and renews us day by day, making us more like Christ.  A third is the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers that he has put in our lives.

The apostles such as Peter and Paul originally brought us the gospel, the prophets share his message to us to admonish and encourage us, the evangelists were the ones that brought us to Christ, and the pastors and teachers help care for us spiritually, teaching us about Christ, and helping lead us in the way we should go.

But they are not meant to do all the work.  Rather, again, they were gifts to us from God.  For what purpose?

To prepare God’s people (that’s us) for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  (12-13)

In other words, we are all called to build each other up, helping each other grow in faith, helping each other to know Jesus better, and as a result become mature.  Not simply as individual Christians, but as his church, made like Christ in every way, and touching this world around us so that he might fill all things.

It’s interesting, Paul literally says the church is to become “a full grown man.”  Not full grown people.  But a full grown man.  That is to say, we are not simply to be a collection of individuals who are mature in Christ.  But we are to become one body, Christ’s body, mature and complete.

What’s the contrast?

The contrast is to be a bunch of individual infants, tossed back and forth by the waves of life, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching that the world gives (14).

But that is not what we are to be.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.  (15-16)

And as we do, we as the church and as individuals will become complete in him.  And through us, he will start to fill and restore all things.

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Ephesians 4:1-6 — Keeping our unity

Paul has spent the last three chapters talking about how we have all been made one in Christ.  That though Jews and non-Jews had been divided under the Old Covenant, in Christ, the dividing wall was smashed and we are all now one body under one Head.

And in that context, Paul then says,

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  (1)

Again, it would be helpful to remember that these are plural “you”s.  He’s saying, I urge you all as a church, to live a life worthy of the calling you all as a church have received.  What calling is that?  To be one body in Christ.  To be a body in which God declares his wisdom and glory to the world.

And all the rest of the book is with that idea in mind.  How do we live as that body?  How do we be a body in which we can declare God’s wisdom and glory to the world?  Paul tells us.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  (2-3)

Be completely humble.  That one’s a tough one for me.  It’s so easy for me, having been a Christian for as long as I have, and having learned all that I have over the years, to become proud.  But the truth is, I’m still learning.  I still make mistakes.  I still fail.  I still sin.  God reminded of me that this past week.  And so as I deal with others, I need to remember these things about myself.

With that humility should come a gentleness as I deal with others’ mistakes, failings, and sins.  And a patience as well, knowing that God has been utterly patient with me.  That means I need to be bearing with other’s mistakes, failures, and weaknesses, loving them all the while, and not looking down on them or despising them.

He then says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.”

We are one.  God has made us one.  But it takes effort to remain one and break us apart.  Because of our sinful tendencies, unity is in constant danger of entropy.  And it takes a vigilant watchfulness and effort on our part to keep it all together in the bond of peace.

I like how the ESV puts it, be, “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit.”  Are we eager to do that?  Or are we rather eager to put others down, to tear them apart for their weaknesses and failures?” 

Paul reminds us again,

There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called– one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (4-6)

In short, we are all one body.  We share the same Holy Spirit who dwells in us all.  We share the same hope in Christ.  We share the same Lord Jesus who saved us.  We share the same faith.  We share the same baptism into Christ.  We share the same Father who rules overs us all, who works through us all, and is in us all.

So how can we then tear each other apart?

Satan delights in a divided church.  A divided church cannot display the wisdom and glory of God to the world.

So let us put away a divisive spirit among us.  God has made us one.  Let us make every effort then to remain one.

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Ephesians 3:14-21 — That we may be filled with his glory

In I Kings, it says about the completion of the temple Solomon had built,

When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple. (10-11)

Just as the glory of the Lord filled the temple, God desires that his church be filled with all the fullness of his glory.  And that’s what Paul prays for here.

He says,

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  (16-19)

Whenever I’ve read this passage in the past, I’ve always taken that “you” as singular.  But actually, these “you”s are all plural.  And Paul is saying, “I pray that the Spirit would empower you all through his Spirit in your inner being.  I pray that you all would be rooted and established in love.  I pray that you all may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Of course, I think Paul wanted that for each individual Christian.  But as he was writing this, I think he was thinking of them as a unified whole.  They were and we are, after all, one in Christ.  It is the very point he was hammering home earlier in chapter 2, and continues to do in chapters 3 and 4.

So he was praying, “God, please empower your church through your Spirit working in each person.  Lord Jesus dwell in their hearts through their faith in you.  Father, may they be rooted in your love for them.  May that be the foundation of their lives.  And as they root themselves in your love for them, may they also be rooted and established in their love for each other.  As they do, may they really start to see and understand how wide, long, high, and deep are the riches of your wisdom and your love.  And may the result of all this be that you flood your church with all your fullness, with all your glory, just like you filled Solomon’s temple long ago.”

That’s God’s vision for the church. That we would be his temple, filled with his glory, shining his light to the world.

But the thing to remember is this come about through our own efforts.  Rather, it comes about through the work and power of God working in you and the church.

So when you feel discouraged at what you are and what the church is like now, remember that he “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (20)

He can do the miraculous.  He can take broken lives and a broken church and turn it into something glorious.  All we need to do is start cooperating with him.  And ultimately, the day will come when he will be glorified in us and in his Son who bought us with his blood.

So don’t be discouraged.  Instead, let us sing as Paul sang,

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  (20-21)

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Ephesians 3:12 — Freedom and confidence

I wonder how often we take for granted what we have in Christ.

I look at this whole passage in Ephesians 3, and it talks about this mystery that even the Old Testament prophets and priests never really understood, at least, not fully.

What would the Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel have thought when they saw the church today.  When they saw people coming before God with boldness and confidence.  For that’s what Paul says we have now.  In verse 12, it says,

In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.  (12)

One has to think, did even these prophets have that absolute boldness and confidence to approach God as we do.  To call him “Abba, Father.  Daddy.”  Did they feel that freedom?

Somehow, I don’t think so.  There was probably always some fear as they came before him.  They were only too aware of their own failings and sin, even when they weren’t face to face with God.

The priests too knew they had to be very careful when entering the Holy Place and Most Holy Place in the tabernacle and temple.  To not do so, meant death.  How would they have felt, knowing that we now have open access to God without restrictions?

But because of Jesus, not only have we been cleansed from our sin, Jesus has put his robes of righteousness upon us.  Now through him, we can come before God with boldness and have free access to him.

And through us, the angels and demons themselves see something that must make them wonder and fear  (3:10).  A  people who are God’s own, clothed in a righteousness not their own, fully accepted, and confidently, joyfully coming into his presence.

How the Old Testament prophets and priests would have wondered at such a sight.

Do you?

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Ephesians 3:1-13 — Being a steward of God’s grace

I think that for many Christians, they look at my last post that says we all are called to be stewards of God’s grace to those around us, and they say, “But I’m no Paul.  I can’t do the things he could do.  I’m just an ordinary Christian.”

But like I said, you aren’t called to be Paul, nor are you called to be a steward of God’s grace in exactly the same way he was.  Nevertheless, you are called to be a steward of his grace, sharing his gospel and touching those around you.

“But I’m not qualified,” you might say.  Or, “I’m not worthy.”

Do you know that Paul felt the same way about himself?  He says in verse 7-8,

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.  (7-8)

Paul felt totally unworthy to be a steward of grace.  He called himself the least of all God’s people.  Why?  Because at one time he persecuted the church and was responsible for the imprisoning and death of many Christians.

But then he says that despite all this, “This grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

Not because of his own worthiness.  Not because of his own pedigree or talents.  But because of the “gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.”

And the same is true of you.  God calls you to be a steward of his grace.  Why?  Because he has given his grace to you.  And the ability to be a good steward is by no means dependent on your pedigree or your talents.  Nor do you need to rely on your own wisdom and strength.  Rather, being a steward of his grace is dependent on the grace and power he has given to you.  And because of the grace and power he has given you, you can be a steward of his grace.

More, Paul tells us that it is God’s intent that through the church, his wisdom in all its facets would be displayed to the world.  That means you.  You and all the other Christians together are the church.  And God’s will is that his wisdom would be displayed through you.

“But I’m weak.  I’m ordinary.  How can God use me?”

It’s exactly because you are weak and ordinary that God can use you.  Because when you are weak and ordinary, you are forced to rely on God and his strength, not your own.  And as Paul wrote, when you are weak, then you are strong.  (II Corinthians 12:9-10)

And if that’s not enough for you, remember the words of Paul in I Corinthians 1.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (26-27)

God is not looking for the strong to display to his wisdom, but the weak.  So if you feel weak, you’re exactly what God is looking for.  For when people see what God is doing in you and through you to touch those around you, it will amaze them.  And they’ll think of us as the religious leaders did of Peter and John.

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

When people see us, may they take note that we have been with Jesus.

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