When the Least-expected Does the Unexpected.

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines. And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron. And his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons. In the days of Saul the man was already old and advanced in years. The three oldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul to the battle. And the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. David was the youngest. The three eldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father's sheep at Bethlehem. For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening.

And Jesse said to David his son, “Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers. Also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See if your brothers are well, and bring some token from them.” – 1 Samuel 17:1-18 ESV

The exact timeline of the story of David can be a bit difficult to piece together. Samuel, who wrote the book that bears his name, seems to have been less interested in providing a precise chronological outline of David’s life than he was of highlighting the details of how he came to be king. A case is point is the reference to David found in chapter 16. It was made by one of King Saul’s servants when the king began to suffer the effects of the harmful spirit placed upon him by God.

Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.” – 1 Samuel 16:18 ESV

He refers to David as a man of valor and a man of war. But the last reference we have of David is that of his anointing by Samuel. Immediately after that event, David is said to have returned to his sheep. And with David being the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons, it is believed that he could have been no older than 15 at the time of his anointing by Samuel. So when did he become a man of valor and war? It would seem that some significant time has passed since David’s anointing – enough time for him to grow up and join the army of Israel. He must have gained some experience in battle to have earned the reputation as “a brave warrior, a man of war” (NLT). But regardless of how much time has passed, one thing remained unchanged about David: …the Lord was with him (1 Samuel 16:18). David had the Spirit of God resting upon him. He had the power and the presence of God available to him. His anointing with oil by Samuel made his selection by God to be Israel’s next king official, but it was his anointing with the Holy Spirit that would make him fit for the office of king.

It is interesting to note that when Saul sent for David, he was found back with the sheep. So whatever deeds of valor and bravery he had done must have been done on the side or as a result of his responsibilities as a shepherd. Later on in the story, David himself will recount to King Saul a few examples of his exploits in the field caring for the sheep. It seems that it wasn’t as safe an occupation as one might thing.

“Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears…” – 1 Samuel 17:34-36 ESV

But back to our timeline. David had been hired by the king and given the responsibility to minister to Saul when he experienced the fits brought on by the “harmful spirit.” He was also made the king’s armor bearer. Which presents another interesting issue. When chapter 17 opens, the Israelites are preparing to do battle with the Philistines. And while King Saul is there with all his troops, David, his armor bearer, is not. He was at home tending the flocks. The text tells us that “David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem” (1 Samuel 17:15 ESV). It seems that David was pulling double-duty, balancing the demands of a bi-vocational lifestyle that required him to split his time between his responsibilities as a shepherd of sheep and a servant to the king.

It is essential to keep in mind that, all during this time, David was the God-appointed and Holy Spirit-anointed successor to King Saul. And yet, here he was dividing his time between tending sheep and plucking out tunes on his lyre in order to calm the heart of the current king of Israel. Saul was still on the throne and tasked with the responsibility of defending the nation of Israel from their enemies. But he was ill-equipped for the job. He no longer enjoyed the anointing of God’s Spirit. He had all the physical attributes to make him “a brave warrior, a man of war,” but when Goliath challenged the armies of Israel to send out a champion to fight him, Saul and his troops were “dismayed and greatly afraid” (1 Samuel 17:11 ESV).

Samuel’s interest is not so much in establishing an exact chronology of the events as he is in creating a stark contrast between the warrior-king and the shepherd-servant. With the introduction into the story line of Goliath and the Philistines, Samuel reminds his readers that there is something far more significant going on here than just who will sit on the throne of Israel. This is about the future well-being of the people of God. The king of Israel was to be much more than a figure head. He was to be the leader of God’s people, providing them with physical protection and spiritual direction. He was to be a man after God’s own heart, who listened well, followed instructions obediently, and protected God’s people faithfully. Saul was tormented by a spirit that attacked him relentlessly, leaving him unable to do his job as king. Goliath represents a physical manifestation of that same spirit, tormenting the people of God and creating in them fear and dismay. They stood before their enemy leaderless and helpless. They had to suffer his daily taunts and jeers, unable to do anything about it. He demanded that they send one man who would be willing to face him a winner-takes-all match. But no one stepped forward. Nobody had the guts to face the Philistine champion and keep God’s people from becoming their slaves.

The stage was set. Saul, the king, stood immobilized and paralyzed by fear. But all of that was about to change, when the Lord’s anointed stepped onto the scene. David, the sheep-tending, lyre-playing, armor-bearing, food-delivering son of Jesse was about to provide an unforgettable lesson in faith and godly leadership. The least-expected was going to do the unexpected. The sheep-tender was about to become the giant-killer.

A Final Word of Warning.

 2 Timothy 4

Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. – 2 Timothy 4:2 NLT

This was all serious business for Paul. He wasn't mincing words or beating around the bush. The proclamation of the Gospel and the desire to one day present those under his care as mature in Christ drove Paul's efforts. He lived and worked as if God was watching his every move. Paul answered to a higher authority, namely God Himself, who was relentless in His desire to have His Son's saving work proclaimed to the world and His Word carefully and accurately taught to the church. So Paul viewed his work with a certain soberness and seriousness, and he attempted to pass that attitude on to his young disciple, Timothy. As he wrapped up his second letter to this young man, he warned him to remember that God was watching. The righteous Judge of the universe was observing his every move and would one day pass judgment on all that he had done. So Paul encourages him to "preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2 NLT). In other words, he was to stay the course, do his job, maintain his focus and not lose sight of his primary responsibility as a shepherd of the flock of Jesus Christ.

These words of warning were necessary because Paul knew the truth about the world in which he and Timothy both lived. Paul was neither a pessimist or a wide-eyed optimist. He was a realist. He knew that mankind, apart from Christ, was on a downward trajectory and that any efforts to spread the Gospel were going to be met with apathy and even antagonism. One of the primary problems Timothy would face would be resistance to the Gospel message – not so much in the form of outright defiance as in the more subtle, but no-less-insidious form of apathy. In every generation, those who attempt to proclaim the truth will be faced with the constant temptation to twist its content in order to make it more sensational, palatable, and successful. The desire for larger audiences and a greater impact has always been the siren call of ministry. The danger comes when, in an effort to attract more people, we begin to alter the truth to make it more appealing. Paul warned Timothy, "a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths" (2 Timothy 4:2-3 NLT).

Packed pews, popular Podcasts and best-selling books are not the litmus tests for successful ministry. The temptation will always exist to judge our effectiveness based on numbers rather than transformed lives. The key for Paul was the faithful proclamation of the Word of God, regardless of whether people wanted to hear it or not. The truth is not always popular. Our job is not to tell people what they want to hear; providing them with false hope and ourselves with a false sense of accomplishment. Timothy was to preach the Word, patiently correcting, rebuking and encouraging. Telling people what they want to hear will never help them get where they need to go.

This entire letter has been filled with admonitions regarding faithfulness. Paul wanted Timothy to remain faithful to his calling, faithful to the Word, faithful to his flock, faithful to Christ and faithful to the end – just as Paul himself had been. "As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful" (2 Timothy 5:6-7 NLT). Paul wasn't bragging. He was simply encouraging Timothy to consider his life as an example of faithful service. Paul didn't measure his success based on numbers, but on his own determination to remain faithful to his calling. He was willing to leave the results up to God. Because he had proclaimed the Gospel, preached the truth and prepared the people of God by faithfully and accurately teaching them the Word of God – he could face the future with confidence. He could eagerly look forward to the return of Christ and fearlessly face God knowing he had faithfully fulfilled his calling to the best of his ability.

Paul's life had not been an easy one. It had been filled with trials and difficulties of all kinds. But he was content and confident that he had lived his life well. He knew that God had been a constant part of his life over the years. "But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength so that I might preach the Good News in its entirety for all the Gentiles to hear. And he rescued me from certain death.Yes, and the Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly Kingdom. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen" (2 Timothy 4:17-18 NLT). His life had been a joint effort between himself and God. He had faithfully played his part and he knew that God had been beside him every step of the way – even in his darkest moments. But his greatest confidence was that God was going to faithfully take him home. His hope was in the future, not the present. His motivation was eternal, not temporal. His ultimate reward was in heaven, not on earth. As believers, we will not be held accountable for the results of our efforts on behalf of God. God will not measure our effectiveness based on our own human achievements, but on our faithfulness to Him. Faithfulness requires dependence on God. The Old Testament prophets were rarely successful – if we judge their efforts based on numbers of converts or the popularity of their message. But they were successful in God's eyes, because they were faithful to their calling. They did what they had been called to do. They remained faithful regardless of the circumstances or the apparent failure of their message. Their reward was of a heavenly nature, not an earthly one. They had to remain faithful to their calling and trust God for the outcome. That is one of the hardest things for us to do as believers. We are results-oriented. We are trained to judge success based on visible results. Too often in the church, nickles, noses, and numbers are the criteria we use to measure success. And in our efforts to produce those results we can find ourselves tickling ears, twisting the truth, and compromising our faithfulness. Oh that we might hear and heed the call of Paul today. "Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching."

Father, may we be a people of faith and faithfulness. It is easy to come to faith in Christ, because it is completely provided for us by Him. We simply have to believe. But to live in faithfulness is difficult. To keep our eyes focused on the future reality of our faith is hard for us to do. We get distracted by the cares of this world and we measure our success by the wrong standards. You have called us to live faithful lives based on a reliance on Your Word and a dependence upon Your power. Don't let us compromise Your message in an attempt to get better results. Don't let us rely on our own efforts in the hopes of producing greater success. Keep us faithful to You.  Amen.

Practical and Profitable.

2 Timothy 3:10-17

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NLT

As far as Paul was concerned, the Word of God was a non-negotiable necessity for the people of God. An understanding of God's Word was essential for anyone who wanted to live the life Christ died to make possible. Our salvation was accomplished solely through the efforts of Christ on the cross, with nothing done on our part to earn or deserve it. But our sanctification, or continued transformation into the likeness of Christ is ongoing and dependent upon the wisdom and guidance found in the Word of God, as well as the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.

Paul reminded his young disciple, "But you, Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance. You know how much persecution and suffering I have endured. You know all about how I was persecuted in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra — but the Lord rescued me from all of it" (2 Timothy 3:10-11 NLT). Timothy was well-acquainted with Paul's life and had watched his mentor model the Christian life integrity, faith and purpose. He knew that Paul was a student of the Scriptures and applied them daily to his own life and ministry. Paul was intimately familiar with the character of God as revealed in the Word of God. The Gospel message was not something new or novel, but simply an extension of the redemptive plan that God had revealed all throughout the writings of Moses and the prophets. It was Paul's familiarity with the Old Testament Scriptures that gave him such a remarkable understanding of just who Jesus really was and the significance of what His death, burial and resurrection had accomplished. It was the Scriptures that kept Paul from misinterpreting Christ's mission or giving it his own spin, as many of the false teachers had been doing. It was Paul's faithfulness to the Word of God that resulted in much of the persecution he endured on behalf of God. And Paul made it clear that persecution and suffering were not just reserved for him alone. He told Timothy, "Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12 NLT). Persecution and sanctification are inseparable in the life of the believer. The life of true godliness will always attract the attention of the enemy and result in spiritual attack. If there is one thing that Satan hates more than salvation, it is sanctification. An individual who surrenders his or her life to Christ, but then lives as if nothing has really happened, is no threat to the enemy. But should that individual begin to spend time in God's Word and listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in their life, Satan will sit up and take notice. He will turn up the heat. He will do everything in his power to derail their efforts and distract their attention to other things. Satan's desire is to keep believers ignorant of God's Word and so distracted by the things of this world, that we become ignorant and impotent. Our knowledge of the truth as revealed in the Word of God, is the greatest threat to the father of lies. As long as he can keep us out of the Word, he can mislead us with tantalizing and plausible-sounding half-truths.

But Paul reminds Timothy that the Scriptures are the inspired words of God, designed to teach us what is really true. It is the Word of God that tells us the truth about who God is and why the world is in the sorry state it's in. The Word of God tells us the truth about sin and the reason we need a Savior. It paints a painfully clear picture of our condition and shows us the only remedy. It is through the Scriptures that we learn right and wrong, truth from falsehood, and fact from fiction. The Scriptures comfort, convict, and correct. They guide and enlighten, inspire and encourage. They equip and instruct us how to live godly lives. As the people of God, we are dependent upon the Word of God for our spiritual well-being. The Scriptures are to be non-optional in the life of the believer. But Bible knowledge is not to be our ultimate goal. Knowledge of the Scriptures is a means to an end. "God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work" (2 Timothy 3:17 NLT). The Word of God is intended to reveal the will of God so that we might accomplish the work of God. Satan doesn't fear our knowledge of Scripture. He fears when we apply it to our lives and allow it to transform us into the likeness of Christ.

Father, Your Word is essential to living the Christian life. But it can be so easy to treat it as an optional part of day. Too often we leave it out and then wonder why we don't sense Your power and feel a nagging need to know Your will. Make us a people of the Word. Draw us into to it daily. But don't just let us study it to increase our own knowledge and impress others. Help us to apply its truths to our daily lives and live in obedience to its commands.  Amen.


 2 Timothy 3:1-9

They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! – 2 Timothy 3:5 NLT

These nine verses pack a powerful punch to the stomach. In them, Paul provides Timothy with a prophetic glimpse into the future state of the world. He refers to this time as the "last days." By this, Paul meant the days preceding the return of Christ for His bride, the Church. It is a reference to the final days that will lead up to the rapture of the Church. In a sense, the last days are not relegated to a specific length of time, but refer to an era or epoch of time. Paul believed he was living in the last days. He had warned the believers living in Ephesus, "So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days" (Ephesians 5:15-16 NLT).

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul had written, "Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons" (1 Timothy 4:1 NLT). In essence, the last days began with the resurrection of Christ, the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the Church age. But there is an ever-increasing degree of apostasy and spiritual apathy taking place. Things are not getting better. They are getting worse. And this period of time will climax with the return of Christ for the Church, commonly referred to as the Rapture. In the meantime, the society in which we live will continue to exhibit an increasing apathy toward spiritual things and an ever-growing antagonism toward God. Paul gives Timothy 19 specific characteristics of this age, and it isn't hard to see that they are alive and well in our day. People will be narcissistic and this self-absorption will be accompanied by an unhealthy love of money, something Paul had warned Timothy about repeatedly. But not only will people love themselves, they will boast about their own accomplishments, exhibiting a pride and arrogance based on their own self-importance. In reality, they will worship themselves rather than God. They will be abusive to others. Children will reject parental authority. A spirit of dissatisfaction will lead to a growing ungratefulness. Nothing will be considered holy anymore. People will be heartless and callous. They will be unforgiving and quick to slander others with their words. A lack of self-control will permeate society, resulting in brutality and a hatred for what is good and right. People will be quick to betray one another, headstrong, swollen with conceit, and love pleasure more than they love God. But the most damning characteristic of this age will be the pseudo-spirituality that permeates society. Paul says, "They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly" (2 Timothy 4:5 NLT). The last days will be marked by spirituality, but it will be a sham and a show. There will be all kinds of talk about spiritual things, but those who claim to be religious will reject the one thing that can truly transform their lives and make them godly: The saving work of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Word of God. People will express belief in Christ, but refuse His deity. They will claim to be Christians, but deny the resurrection. They will say they believe in God, but live as if He doesn't exist; worshiping pleasure and self instead of Him. Paul warns Timothy to "Stay away from people like that!" (2 Timothy 4:5 NLT).

Evidently, Paul believed that these kinds of people existed even in Ephesus and were part of the local body of believers there. These kinds of people prey on the spiritually weak and needy. They show up as teachers, but what they teach denies the truth of God and offers a counterfeit faith. They infiltrate the church, offering up their own opinions as the truth of God. They sound great, but their words are counterfeit and contradictory to Scripture. They present half-truths. They mix a little bit of Scripture with a lot of conjecture, producing a deadly cocktail of deceptive lies that lead to godlessness, not godliness. These nine verses are a dead-on description of the age in which we live. They describe a world in which self-love is rampant and pseudo-spirituality is ubiquitous. But true godliness is impossible apart from God. Spirituality is the by-product of the Holy Spirit of God. It cannot be manufactured by man or replicated apart from a relationship with the Spirit of God who indwells those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Fake faith is not saving faith. Religious activity will never make anyone right with God. Going to church will not help anyone get to heaven. Paul wanted Timothy to know that the truth of the Gospel message was going to be increasingly more important as time wore on. Love of money, pleasure and self were going to make it more and more difficult for people to love God. Apart from a recognition of their own sin and their need for a Savior, people would never escape the dead-end trajectory marked by the last days. The truth of God's Word is the antidote to the difficult days ahead. As bad as things may get, the Good News is still the answer to what ails mankind.

Father, there is no doubt that we are living in the last days. We are surrounded by all the things that Paul lists. And some of us struggle with them in our own lives. Open our eyes and help us to see that the Good News is the answer. Give us courage to teach it, preach it and live it out in our own lives so that the world can see that true spirituality is available only through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Help us live out what we say we believe. May we be a refreshing alternative to the characteristics listed in these verses. Amen.

Ready, Willing and Faithful.

2 Timothy 2:15-26

If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work. – 2 Timothy 2:21 NLT

As stated earlier, a big part of Paul's letter to Timothy focused on the topic of faithfulness – God's faithfulness to man and man's faithfulness to God. Here Paul reminded Timothy to be a "good worker" – someone who could be depended upon to do the right thing and to do it well. Rather than seek the approval of men, Timothy was to work diligently and faithfully, so that one day he might stand before God and receive His approval, having no cause for shame or regret. That meant that Timothy had to live his life from an eternal perspective, recognizing that his future reward was far more significant than any earthly praise or promotion he might receive.

Paul put a high priority on Timothy's ability to accurately handle the teaching of the truth of God's Word. Like a dedicated and diligent worker, he must take painstaking precautions in teaching and defending the truth. He could not afford to give it his own spin or place on it his own perspective. The Word of God was not to be subjective and open to interpretation. God had an intended meaning and purpose behind it, and a faithful worker would take the time to understand what God was saying and teach accordingly. This was essential for Timothy to know because he found himself surrounded by false teachers who were twisting the truth of God and, unwittingly, leading people into ungodliness. Paul mentioned two of these people by name, and clearly articulated their crime: They had been teaching that the resurrection of the dead had already taken place. They had misunderstood the truth regarding the future reality of the bodily resurrection of the dead and spiritualized it to mean that believers were already resurrected with Christ and that all of the blessings that come with salvation were to be experienced in this life. Rather than focus of a future of the resurrection and the reality of heaven, they were teaching that you could have "Your Best Life Now." It would seem that this was the first incarnation of the prosperity gospel. These two men, through a misunderstanding of the truth of God, were wrongly encouraging believers to see the Gospel as nothing more than a quick fix to all of life's problems. This kind of talk was worthless and foolish, leading only to godless behavior. But a faithful worker would remain faithful to God's truth, teaching only what He intended, regardless of what others might want to hear.

Paul quotes from two Old Testament passages in order to assure Timothy that God knows His own. He recognizes His own children and one of the distinguishing characteristics of a child of God is godly, not godless, behavior. If we belong to Him, our lives should reflect that reality. Paul used the metaphor of household vessels to further convey the idea that within the church there are faithful and unfaithful Christians. Paul stated that in a wealthy home there could be found vessels of all kinds, some made of gold and silver, and some made of wood and clay. The more expensive vessels were reserved for special occasions, while the more common vessels were for everyday use. But in either case, purity and cleanliness were prerequisites for usefulness. A dirty gold pitcher was of no more use than a contaminated clay pot. The key to usefulness was cleanliness. "If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work" (2 Timothy 2:21 NLT). The specialness of the utensil was not based on the material from which it was made, but on its purity. Those within the church who saw themselves as gold vessels because of their position as teachers, but who falsely proclaimed the word of truth, were actually defiled and unusable by God.

Purity meant everything, so Paul warned Timothy, "Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts" (2 Timothy 2:22 NLT). Timothy was to pursue a life of righteousness, faithfulness, love and peace, and surround himself with those who shared the same desire. Paul was not telling Timothy to avoid the false teachers like a plague or read them the riot act, but to "gently instruct those who oppose the truth" (2 Timothy 2:25 NLT). As Timothy pursued a life of godliness and remained faithful to the truth of God, he would be equipped to handle all those, both inside and outside of the church, who stood in the way of the Gospel and its message. Timothy's faithfulness would equip him to deal with the unfaithful and the faithless in a loving and Christlike way.

Father, if there was ever a time when faithfulness to the truth of Your Word was needed, it is now. There is so much falsehood and subjective information being taught as truth. Even within the church, there are those who misunderstand and misapply Your Word so that it ends up leading Your people astray. The Gospel has been altered to such a degree that it no longer looks like the same message that Paul preached. Call Your people back to the truth of Your Word. May we learn to be faithful to Your truth and not some version of our own. May we be pure vessels, ready for You to use to pour out Your message of hope, love and mercy to the world around us. Amen.

Passing the Mantle.

2 Timothy 2:1-14

Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them.. – 2 Timothy 2:3-4 NLT

Paul was a man who was passionate about his calling and totally realistic about his situation. He was in prison in Jerusalem yet again, facing trial and the distinct possibility of losing his life. And while Paul felt like he had much work yet to accomplish for the Kingdom of God, he had to recognize that his days on this earth were numbered. So he began to focus his attention on men like Timothy, attempting to prepare and train them to carry on the work of spreading the Gospel and caring for the growing family of God. Paul encouraged Timothy to take all that he had him teach and pass it on to others. He wanted Timothy to find other "trustworthy people" with whom he could share the Gospel message and the truths regarding life as a Christ-follower.

The ministry to which Timothy had been called was not going to be easy. He had to have the mindset of a soldier, complete with a sense of dedication and a determination to persevere under trial, seeing his work as a form of spiritual warfare. Like a soldier, Timothy's life was going to require focus and a freedom from distraction, even from the good things of life. "Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them" (2 Timothy 2:4 NLT). Like Paul, Timothy answered to a higher authority, the Sovereign God of the universe. He was enlisted into Kingdom service by God Himself and was to remain faithful to his King and his calling at all times. Paul reminded Timothy that a runner in a race must compete according to the rules if he wants to win. He can't bend the rules or shorten the course in an attempt to gain victory unfairly or unethically. Winning is impossible without obedience, just as fruitfulness is impossible with diligent, faithful work. It is the farmer who works hard all year long who gets to enjoy the fruit of his labor at harvest time.

At this point in his letter, Paul made an interesting shift from Timothy and his responsibilities, to the life of Jesus. He refers to the Lord as Jesus Christ, the only place in all of his letters where he arranged His names in that order. It would seem that he was attempting to emphasize the humanity of Christ. He was Jesus the man and the Messiah. Paul tells Timothy, "Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach" (2 Timothy 2:8 NLT). Jesus was a descendant of David and heir to the throne of Israel. He was also the Messiah of Israel. And yet He had to suffer and die. In order for Jesus to be raised from the dead, He first had to go through the agony and pain of the crucifixion. He had to endure separation from His Heavenly Father. And it was the reality of Jesus' suffering, death, and ultimate resurrection that formed the basis for the Good News that Paul preached. It was the reason for which he suffered and for which he was willing to endure anything in order for its message to "bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen" (2 Timothy 2:10 NLT). In referring to "those God has chosen," the "elect" in other translations, it would seem that Paul is calling Timothy to endure hardship in order that those who have come to faith in Christ might grow in Christ. In other words, Paul is charging Timothy to see to it that the body of Christ is cared for and that he sees to its spiritual growth.

Paul included what appears to be a poem or song that may have been part of a hymn in the early church. It carried a message that called believers in Christ to live lives of faithfulness.

If we die with him,     we will also live with him. If we endure hardship,     we will reign with him. If we deny him,     he will deny us. If we are unfaithful,     he remains faithful,     for he cannot deny who he is. (2 Timothy 2:11-13 NLT)

It is a reminder to live our lives in light of the reality of the resurrection. In salvation, our old nature was crucified with Christ. But one day, we will also experience resurrection and eternal life with Him. This is the same point Paul made in his letter to the Romans. "And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him." (Romans 6:8-9 NLT). Paul includes a sobering warning to remain faithful. Christ's faithfulness is unwavering and is not based on our own faithfulness. He is unchanging and His faithfulness is part of His character as God. So, in light of Christ's consistent and constant faithfulness to man, Paul challenged Timothy to live his life faithfully in return. Not only that, he was to call the people of God to faithfulness as well. Denial or rejection of Christ was unacceptable. Unfaithfulness was unthinkable. In view of all that Christ had done – His coming to earth as a man, His suffering at the hands of man, His death on behalf of man, and His resurrection to make possible the restoration of man – Paul saw no other response than a life of faithful, loving, grateful service to God in return.

Father, this life is not easy. It sometimes requires difficulty and suffering. But Your Son suffered on my behalf. He died so that I might live. He was raised again so that I might know that there is life beyond the one I experience on this earth. Help me keep my focus on eternity. Help me remember the unfailing faithfulness of Christ so that I might live faithfully in this life. Amen.

The Faithfulness of God.

2 Timothy 1

For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. – 2 Timothy 1:9 NLT

Nero was on the throne in Rome. Paul was in prison yet again, after having enjoyed a brief time of freedom. Every Christian was persona non grata having been falsely accused by Nero for the burning of Rome in 62 A.D. Timothy, Paul's young disciples was more than likely still ministering in Ephesus when this letter arrived. Unlike many of Paul's other letters, this one is deeply personal rather than theological. Paul's intent was to encourage Timothy in his work as a minister of the Gospel, but also to persuade his young friend to come visit him in Rome. He greatly desired to see Timothy again, referring to him as "his beloved child (1:2). "I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again" (2 Timothy 1:4 NLT). There is an intimacy to this letter that makes it like no other that Paul wrote.

The basic theme of Paul's letter to Timothy was faithfulness, beginning with the faithfulness of God. This was what kept Paul going, in spite of his less-than-pleasant circumstances. "And God chose me to be a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of this Good News.That is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to himuntil the day of his return" (2 Timothy 1:11-12 NLT). Paul was confident in his calling, but he was also confident in the promise of Christ's return. God would be faithful to fulfill His promise by sending back His Son to gather His people and take them to be with Him. But this letter was also a reminder to Timothy of Paul's own faithfulness and a call to Timothy to remain faithful as well. Paul would also stress the need for all followers of Christ to remain faithful in whatever circumstance of situation they encountered.

Paul started out by commending Timothy's faith which had been passed on to him by his mother and grandmother. He encouraged Timothy to "fan the flame" of the spiritual gift given to him at his ordination. Paul wanted Timothy to actively use and perfect his God-given ability. There was no time to relax or to grow complacent. Timothy's gift had not left him, but a gift unused becomes wasted and ineffective. He was not to be timid or fearful, but bold in his efforts for the Gospel, living a life marked by power, love, and self-discipline. Under the current circumstances, it would have been easy for Timothy to grow weary, give up and throw in the towel. His faith was under test, and Paul wanted him to pass with flying colors. But to do so, he would have to remember his faith, recall and rely on his Spiritual gift, refuse to be ashamed of the Gospel message, and be ready and willing to suffer for its sake. Paul reminded Timothy, "That is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to himuntil the day of his return" (2 Timothy 1:12 NLT). Paul's faith was in God. He fully trusted his Heavenly Father to accomplish His will through him, regardless of the seemingly negative circumstances in which Paul found himself. Paul would not recant his faith in God because God remained faithful to him. He wanted Timothy to stay the course and remain strong, keeping his faith focused on the faithfulness of God.

Paul called Timothy to carefully guard the truth that had been entrusted to him. He had been given the privilege of being a minister and messenger of the Gospel. Finding himself in difficult circumstances and under constant pressure to give up, it would have been easy for Timothy to throw in the towel and compromise his faith and convictions. He was a young man facing extreme conditions and under tremendous pressure to keep the church pure, while modeling a life of faithfulness and moral integrity. Living as a Christian in a hostile world was never intended to be easy. It requires that we remain focused on the faithfulness of God, never forgetting that He has not yet completely His plan of redemption. Our salvation, while completely paid for by Christ, is not yet completed. This world is not our final destination. Yet, if we're not careful, we will tend to think that this is all there is, and expect all of God's blessings to show up in this life. Paul was in prison. His circumstances were far from perfect, but his faith was unwavering. He knew that his suffering was all part of God's divine plan, and that there was a rhyme and reason to it all. Faith in the faithfulness of God is what will give us the strength and endurance to weather the storms of life. He is not done yet. We can fully trust Him to finish what He has begun. Our salvation will one day be completed with our glorification. We will be fully and completely transformed into the likeness of Christ, experiencing for the first time what it means to be fully sinless and totally righteous. That future promise should motivate us to endure the difficulties of this life. The Good News of Jesus Christ reminds us of the reality of new life now, and eternal life to come. "And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News" (2 Timothy 1:10 NLT).

Father, You are faithful. You can be trusted to complete what You have begun. And while things around me may appear difficult and formidable, You are in no way limited by my circumstances. Your plan is perfect and Your power to bring it about is limitless. Help me to live a life of faith based on Your unwavering faithfulness. Keep me focused on You and not my circumstances. Amen.

Good Works In Light of God's Grace.

Titus 3

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. – Titus 3:8 ESV

This entire letter to Titus has been focused on the behavior of believers. Paul wanted Titus to understand the vital importance of Christian conduct both inside and outside the local church fellowship. In the final chapter section of his letter, he told Titus to "Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone" (Titus 3:1-2 NLT). Paul believed that Christians should make the best citizens. Our internal heart transformation, made possible by Christ's death and the Holy Spirit's presence, should result in external behavior modification. Believers should be willfully submissive and focused on doing good works. They should be courteous, gentle and humble in their interactions with others – both inside and outside of the church.

So much of what should motivate us is the grace and mercy we received from God. A believer should never assume an air of superiority or spiritual arrogance. The thought, "but for the grace of God, go I" should constantly be on the mind of the Christ-follower. Paul reminds Titus, "Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other" (Titus 3:3 NLT). While we should fully appreciate out status as sons and daughters of God, we should never forget the reality of our condition prior to coming to Christ. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul gave a long list of all those who would not inherit the Kingdom of God: "those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NLT). But before the Corinthian believers could smugly smile and look down their noses at those kinds of people, he reminded them, "some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11 NLT). Our pre-conversion condition should be easy for us to remember, because we see it all around us, in the lives of those with whom we live and interact. The lost world is a constant reminder of our former lost state. At one time, we were no better than them. In fact, Paul reminds us that God "saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5 NLT). Mercy, not merit, was the basis for our salvation. So God's grace should motivate us to live graciously among those who have yet to hear and accept the Good News of God's love. We enjoy a right standing with God because of the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. We also stand to inherit eternal life, rather than eternal condemnation. The reality of those two statements should motivate us live godly lives among the ungodly. Our behavior should be radically different than that of the lost among whom we live. God's good grace should motivate good works among His people that will prove beneficial to all – both saved and lost alike.

Our presence on this earth is intended to be effectual and infecting. We are to be difference makers. God has called us to be salt and light, agents of change in a world of decay and darkness. And our greatest influence will not be through words, but actions. Jesus Himself told us, "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples" (John 13:35 NLT). The Gospel professed and proven is far more powerful than the Gospel merely proclaimed. Changed lives are the greatest proof of the Gospel's life-changing power. Christ-like conduct among Christ-followers will always be the strongest evidence for our conversion. Our Spirit-empowered transformation should result is a transfiguration of our conduct and character, resulting in a radically different relationship with the world in which we live.

Father, sometimes it is far easier to talk about our salvation than it is to live it out. We can brag about our life change, but fail to model it for those with whom we live. Make our salvation real. Make our conversion tangible, resulting in true behavior change. May our lives be marked by good works that are motivated by Your good grace revealed in our lives through the gift of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Totally Committed.

Titus 2

He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. – Titus 2:14 NLT

The real point of Paul's letter to Titus is to stress and promote changed behavior in the lives of believers. This is not a treatise on behavior modification. In other words, Paul is not condoning that the believers on the island of Crete simply start trying to act differently and modify their actions through self-effort. That would be pointless and futile. No one can truly change themselves by themselves. But what Paul was encouraging Titus to look for and expect was a gradual change in the character and conduct of the people under his care. The inner presence of the Spirit of God combined with a steady diet of the Word of God should produce measurable change in the people of God.

Paul emphasizes that Titus must "teach what accords with sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1 NLT). Paul always made a direct correlation between what someone professed to believe and how they behaved. There was to be no disconnect or disagreement between the two. Orthopraxy – correct practice – was to flow from orthodoxy – correct beliefs. As far as Paul was concerned, the two were inseparable. And so he encouraged Titus to teach and promote the kind of behavior that was in keeping with sound doctrine. "No condition and no period of life is to remain unaffected by the sanctifying influence of the gospel" (J. J. Van Oosterzee, “The Epistle of Paul to Titus,” in Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, 11:15). The Gospel was to be life-altering. It was to affect and infect every area of an individual's life. The Good News isn't just that we get to go to heaven when we die, but that we can be radically reformed in this life. We can live differently in the here-and-now, not just in the hereafter.

Paul wastes no time in getting specific. He tells Titus to "teach the older men to exercise self-control, to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely. They must have sound faith and be filled with love and patience" (Titus 2:2 NLT). Their faith must be practical and visible. They are to "act their age," and to reflect a measure of spiritual maturity that should come with age. All the characteristics Paul lists are marks of maturity.

Titus was to instruct older women "to live in a way that honors God" and expect them to "teach others what is good" (Titus 2:3 NLT). These women were to be mentors to the younger women in the church, teaching them how to live and love well. They were to model godly behavior and encourage younger women through example and exhortation. Godliness should be contagious. Godly conduct is not to be some subjective, arbitrary decision left up to the individual, but is to be based on the Word of God and modeled by those who have a strong faith in God.

Paul went on to instruct Titus regarding young men and even slaves. Everyone was expected to life differently. Godly conduct was not something reserved for the spiritual elite or the professional pastor. It was to be the aspiration and expectation of everyone who called themselves a Christ-follower. Every believer has been "instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures" and to "live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God" (Titus 2:12 NLT). We have been given the capacity to change. God doesn't leave it all up to us. He has placed His Spirit within us and provided His Word to guide us. But we must listen to what the Spirit says and obey what the Word commands. We must seek the wisdom of God in the Word of God. We must desire righteousness over unrighteousness. We must devote ourselves to God rather than to the things of this world. What makes this all possible is a proper perspective. Paul tells Titus to teach those under his care that right living here on this earth is best accomplished when "we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed" (Titus 2:13 NLT). In other words, an eternal focus will allow us to view life on this earth in the proper perspective. Godless living and sinful pleasures will lose their appeal when considered against the reality of our future hope. The more we learn to see ourselves as eternal, rather than temporal, creatures, the easier it will be to focus our attention on pursuing the kind of behavior that reflect who we really are.

The bottom line for Paul was that Jesus Christ "gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds" (Titus 2:14 NLT). He didn't just give His life to take us to heaven. He gave His life to transform us into His own likeness. And while that process will some day be completed in heaven, it is to be an ongoing part of our lives as we live on this planet. Becoming increasingly more like Christ is to be the goal of every individual who claims to be a follow of Christ. Our salvation is to result in our ongoing transformation and sanctification. What we believe about Christ should result in behavior that reflects Christ.

Father, we desperately need for our behavior to accurately reflect our beliefs. Too often, there is a disconnect between the two, which is why so many people refuse to have anything to do with Christianity or Christ. As Your own people, we can be the worst form of advertising when it comes to the Christian faith. We ask that You continue your transformative work in our lives, calling us to live differently and distinctively in this world. Give us an eternal perspective and a passion for godliness. Amen.

Character Counts.

Titus 1

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. – Titus 1:9 NLT

Like Timothy, Titus was one of Paul's protégés. He was a Greek Gentile whom Paul had evidently led to Christ. This young man had actually accompanied Paul on several of his missionary journeys and had gained the great apostle's trust, so that Paul was confident in sending him out on his own on numerous occasions as his representative. In fact, Paul had sent him to the island of Crete in order to help establish some sense of order within the churches there, including appointing elders to help him lead. "This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you" (Titus 1:5 NLT). As in the case of Timothy, Paul had to instruct Titus how to deal with false teachers who had become a real problem within the fledgling churches on Crete.

Titus found himself ministering in a place where the reputation of the inhabitants was far from stellar. Paul even quoted Epimenides, a 6th Century BC philosopher and religious prophet who happened to be a Cretan himself. He said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons" (Titus 1:12 NLT). Paul went out of his way to paint a less-than-flattering picture of the people of Crete. He described them as"insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party" (Titus 1:10 NLT). Evidently, not only were the false teachers men of poor repute, so were some of the members of the local churches in Crete. So Paul spent a great deal of time in his letter talking about good works. He wanted Titus to understand just how important good character and moral behavior should be to the life of every believer. Paul commanded Titus to deal harshly and firmly with those whose lives were marked by laziness and lying. He didn't want his young disciple to tolerate the disorder and chaos these kinds of people were bringing into the church. He told Titus to "rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith" (Titus 1:13 NLT). Rebuking and restoration were both to be a part of Titus' ministry on Crete.

One of the first things Titus was to concentrate on was the appointment of elders for the local churches on Crete. Part of the problem of disorder was based on a lack of qualified leadership. So Paul told Titus what to look for in the kind of men needed to help lead the churches there. Notice that Paul's description has much to do with character and says little about Scripture knowledge, academic requirements, business success, or even leadership skills. Instead, Paul mentions qualities and characteristics that would have been visible to all those who knew these men. Titus was to look for the outward evidence of an inward transformation that had taken place in the lives of these men due to their relationship with Christ and their knowledge of the Word of God. Each of them were to "hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sounddoctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it" (Titus 1:9 NLT). In other words, they had to know the truth of the Gospel and the realities regarding God and His redemptive plan for man if they were going to be able to refute falsehood and defend the Good News from attack.

But the real point Paul seems to be making is the contrast of character between these future leaders and those who were doing harm to the church. Those who would lead the church had to be men who were above reproach or blameless. This didn't mean that they had to be perfect or sinless. The Greek word Paul used referred to the fact that these men were to have no glaring character flaws and they didn't live their lives in such a way that it would cause people to point their fingers in criticism, resulting in harm to the reputation of the church. They were to be loving husbands who didn't have reputations for unfaithfulness. They were to be fathers who had proven themselves capable leaders at home, having seen their children come to faith in Christ and who were modeling lives of moral integrity and obedience. Paul went on to say that an elder candidate "must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain" (Titus 1:7 NLT). Instead, he was to be "hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined" (Titus 1:8 NLT).

Titus was going to need help in dealing with the disorder and negative moral influences within the churches on Crete. He couldn't handle it on his own. So Paul emphasized the need for him to find the right kind of men to lovingly lead the flock of God, providing much-needed discipline and modeling the character of Christ to all those around them.

Father, the church needs men of character today. We desperately need those whose lives are marked by moral integrity and faithfulness to help lead and protect Your flock. We are surrounded by those who would love to destroy and distract Your people, and far too often those within the church lack the spiritual maturity to care for themselves. So we ask that You would raise up men and women who are filled with Your Spirit and firmly founded on Your Word to lead Your church. Amen.

The Goal of Godliness.

1 Timothy 6:11-21

But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. – 1 Timothy 6:11 NLT

As Paul wraps up his letter to Timothy, he gives him one last charge. He calls him to live differently and to see he life as distinctive and set apart from all those around him, including those who are crave money and have wandered from the faith. Unlike the false teachers for whom godliness was merely a way to become wealthy, Timothy was to run from that kind of attitude and make true godliness his sole goal, along with ever-increasing faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Paul tells him to "pursue" godliness – which in the Greek meant "to run swiftly in order to catch" or of one "who in a race runs swiftly to reach the goal." Money, materialism, popularity, power, pleasure, significance, comfort – none of these things were to be the focus of Timothy's life. And while Paul is addressing this last section of his letter to Timothy, it is really a call to all believers of every age. Paul had made it clear to Timothy that he was to "Teach these things … and encourage everyone to obey them. Some people may contradict our teaching, but these are the wholesome teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. These teachings promote a godly life" (1 Timothy 6:2-3 NLT). Everything Paul had shared in his letter was intended to be practiced and promoted among the people of God. As a leader, Timothy was to be an example of godly living to all those under his care. Paul had told Timothy, "Don't let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity" (1 Timothy 4:12 NLT).

As believers, our lives are always on display, and others are watching. Our behavior and conduct is constantly being witnessed by God Himself, our fellow believers and the lost. Paul wanted Timothy to live his life well and consistently. He told him to "fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you" (1 Timothy 6:12 NLT). For Paul, perseverance and consistency of faith was essential. He wanted Timothy to finish well. He wanted him to keep his eyes on the goal, which was the return of Christ. The reality of that event was to never be far from Timothy's heart and mind, so that he would live his life in such a way that no one could find fault with his character or conduct. There would certainly be those who disliked and disparaged his life because he lived it for God, just as Paul had experienced. Suffering for the sake of Christ was always acceptable and expected. But Pauldidn't want Timothy to do anything that would harm his reputation as a believer or bring dishonor to God.

Paul gives Timothy one last message concerning those who are rich in the things of this world. He doesn't condemn them, but simply warns them that they are not to put their trust in their money, because it is unreliable. It makes a lousy god. Instead, they were to put their trust in God, who is the ultimate provider of all that we need. Those who had been blessed with money were to see it as a God-provided resource to be used for the care of others and the cause of the Kingdom of God. They were to be "rich" in good works and generous to those in need. God called them while they wealthy, so God must have had a purpose for placing them in the body of Christ in that condition. By focusing their attention on obedience to God and service to others, they would learn that their wealth was just a tool in the hands of God, not a treasure to be horded and held onto.

Some of Paul's last words to Timothy were, "guard what God has entrusted to you" (1 Timothy 6:20 NLT). He was to see his own salvation and the news of salvation through Jesus Christ as invaluable and worthy of his constant protection. Leadership in the body of Christ is a dangerous calling and it comes with great responsibilities. Timothy had been entrusted with the message of the Gospel and the care of the flock of Jesus Christ. He had an obligation to put the needs of the congregation ahead of his own. And yet, he was also to guard himself – watching over his character and conduct constantly. The same message applied to Timothy that Paul shared with the elders from Ephesus: "So guard yourselves and God's people. Feed and shepherd God's flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders" (Acts 20:28 NLT). The goal for all spiritual leaders should be godliness – not only for themselves, but for all those under their care. But godliness without God's grace is impossible. This journey of faith to which we have been called is only possible through an ever-increasing dependence upon God. We need His Word to teach and guide us. We need His Spirit to empower us. We need His grace and mercy to miraculously meet us where we are along the way and constantly remind us that godliness is our one and only calling.

Father, make us godly. Continue to mold and make us into the likeness of Your Son. Keep us focused on the one and only goal that we should all have – our godliness. Don't let us get distracted by the things of this world. Prevent us from loving the world more than we love You. May our godliness as individuals and as members of the body of Christ be what drives and motivates us all the days of our lives – until You call us home or send Your Son to come and get us. Amen.

True Godliness.

1 Timothy 6:1-10

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. – 1 Timothy 6:6-8 NLT

True godliness should make a difference in the way we live our lives. In this short series of verses, Paul addresses three different groups of people in the church in Ephesus. His point was to remind Timothy that the Christian faith was to be a practical part of everyday life. It was to make a difference in the way believers lived and interacted with the world around them. First, he addresses slaves – specifically those slaves who had come to faith in Christ and were now part of the body of Christ. Slavery was a huge part of the culture in Ephesus, with all kinds of slaves living and working in the community. Some had been sold into slavery. Others had been forced into slavery because they had been unable to pay their debts. And these slaves would have been of various backgrounds and cultures. There would have been both Jewish and Gentile slaves. But the ones to whom Paul is referring are believing slaves – those who had placed their faith in Jesus Christ and were now part of the local fellowship in Ephesus. Paul encourages Timothy to teach these individuals to show respect to their masters and to work hard. Paul doesn't spend time condemning slavery or attempting to disrupt the social fabric of his day. He doesn't condone slavery, but neither does he condemn it. He simply wants those who find themselves impacted by it to live their lives in a way that would honor God and illustrate godly behavior. In his letter to Philemon, a Christian slave owner, Paul was asking him to receive back Onesimus, a runaway slave who had become a believer. Paul encouraged Philemon, "he is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord" (Philemon 1:16 NLT). Faith in Christ does not always change our circumstances, but it does change the way we should live within them.

The next group Paul addressed were false teachers – those who were contradicting Paul's teaching and stirring up "arguments ending in jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions" (1 Timothy 6:4 NLT). These individuals were obsessed with arrogant and lacked true understanding. They had turned their back on the truth of God and were concocting their own version of the truth. And their motivation was purely selfish and financial in nature. Paul said, "to them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy" (1 Timothy 6:5 NLT). Their ministry was materially motivated. And their godliness was all for show.

But Paul had a different understanding of godliness. It was to be, in and of itself, the objective. It was not to be a means to and end. Godliness was not to be used as a device to gain respect, power, or financial gain. It was sufficient in and of itself. And when godliness was accompanied with contentment, it would prove more than profitable to an individual's life. That's why a godly slave could remain a slave and be content with his lot in life. Circumstances have little or nothing to do with godliness and should have virtually no impact on the degree of our contentment. Godliness is not dependent upon material possessions. The godly individual does not rely upon the accumulation of things to find contentment. Which is why Paul writes, "So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content" (1 Timothy 6:8 NLT). The motivation of the false teachers was money. The motivation of the godly is Christ.

Paul ends up this section talking about those who love money. Each of these three groups were part of the church in Ephesus. There were slaves, false teachers and lovers of money participating in the body of Christ there. And not all those who had a love affair with money were false teachers. There were obviously some who had much and wanted more, and there were those who had little and dreamed of having more. In both cases, the love of money would prove to be dangerous. "…people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction" (1 Timothy 6:9 NLT). Their lives are not marked by contentment. Godliness is not their goal, the accumulation of wealth is. God is not their provider and protector, money is. Paul does not condemn money or wealth. He simply points out that the love of it and obsession over it is potentially harmful for the believer. It can have devastating consequences on a believer's pursuit of godliness.

True godliness is accompanied by contentment. The desire for more of anything, other than Christ, can be deadly to the believer. The desire for something other than Christ for our contentment, joy, fulfillment and hope can also prove to be harmful to our spiritual maturity. Slaves needed to be content with their circumstances and live godly lives right where they were. The false teachers needed to be content with the truth of God's Word and the message of Jesus Christ, just as it had been preached, and live godly lives without expecting any financial reward in return. Those who loved and long for money were to be content with their current financial status and live godly lives regardless of how little or how much money they had. Godliness combined with contentment is the real currency of God's Kingdom.

Father, may we learn to pursue godliness more than anything else in this earth? We get so obsessed with changing our circumstances, thinking thatis the key to happiness and contentment. But the reality is that You are and have always been the only source of contentment for our lives. Help us to continue to discover that true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. Amen.

Choose Wisely.

1 Timothy 5:17-25

Remember, the sins of some people are obvious, leading them to certain judgment. But there are others whose sins will not be revealed until later. In the same way, the good deeds of some people are obvious. And the good deeds done in secret will someday come to light. – 1 Timothy 5:24-25 NLT

Paul has already addressed the qualifications for elders earlier in his letter, but now he deals with the more practical realities of how Timothy is to interact with these essential church leaders. It's interesting that he chooses to address elders immediately after giving Timothy advice on how to care for widows in the church. It would seem that, to Paul, both groups are important to the life of the church, and neither are to be overlooked or taken for granted. It would be easy to forget about widows in the church because they tend to be out-of-sight, out-of-mind even in society. Paul didn't want that to happen in the church as well. But the same thing could be said of elders. Once a man is chosen to serve as an elder, it would be easy to overlook him and just assume that all is well and that his spiritual life is just fine. It would also be easy to take these men for granted and end up neglecting their needs or failing to show gratitude for the significant role they play in the health and care of the church.

So Paul tells Timothy to care for those men who voluntarily commit their time, talent and energies to the oversight of the local church. They should be honored, respected and cared for, especially those who preach and teach. In the early days of the church, these men may have received financial compensation for the time they spent minister to the spiritual needs of the church. It would appear that they may have been bi-vocational, holding down secular jobs and sacrificing part of their work hours to serving the needs of the church. Serving as an elder, which would have included teaching, preaching, leading, and praying for the local congregation, would have been a time-consuming job. So Paul encourages Timothy to ensure that these men are taken care of adequately. Quoting Deuteronomy 25:4, Paul compares the efforts of an elder to those of an ox used to tread grain. "You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain." An ox, as it pulled a stone wheel over the stalks of wheat to separate out the grain, was allowed to reach down and eat as it worked, providing it with incentive to continue to do its job. In a similar manner, elders who worked hard on behalf of the body of Christ, should be compensated and cared for, in order to reward and encourage them for the efforts.

And because elders served in a leadership capacity, they were going to be open to criticism and accusations. There would be those who disagreed with their teaching and disliked their leadership at times. Paul tells Timothy to "not listen to an accusation against an elder unless it is confirmed by two or three witnesses" (1 Timothy 5:19 NLT). He was to give these men the benefit of the doubt, refusing to take at face value the word of one individual who might bring an accusation against an elder. If Paul were to ever discover that an elder has sinned, he was to confront them in private, and if that man proved unrepentant, he was to be reprimanded before the entire congregation, serving as a strong warning to the other elders and reinforcing the seriousness of their role as the spiritual leaders of the church. In all of this, Timothy was to act as an objective party, not showing favoritism or taking sides. While treating elders with respect and honor, he was not to unfairly side with them over and against the congregation.

Paul also warns Timothy not to be too hasty when appointing elders. To lay hands on a man, ordaining him for this highly important spiritual role, was a serious matter and should be done soberly and carefully. The one who appoints a man to this high office, only to find out that he is unqualified for some reason, shares in his sin and shame. He is culpable for having put the congregation at risk. So Timothy was to be extremely careful when selecting men for the role of elder. But Paul knows that not all sins are obvious at first glance. There would inevitably be those cases where a man was appointed to the position of elder, only to find out later that he had some hidden sin in his life that disqualified him. It was going to happen and, when it did, Timothy would have to deal with it. But there would also be cases in which a man's good character might lie hidden and unseen. There would be those men in the church who were less obvious and whose good deeds were done behind the scenes, out of sight and unrecognized by those in the congregation. That's why it was so important for Timothy to choose carefully. The "obvious" candidates are not always the right candidate. He must look into the hidden character of each man considered for the role of elder. As God told the prophet Samuel when he was looking for the next king of Israel, "The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT).

Finally, Paul gives Timothy a little personal health advice. Knowing that all of this could prove to be stressful for Timothy and that this young man suffered from some sort of ongoing health issues, Paul recommends that Timothy "drink a little wine for the sake of your stomach because you are sick so often" (1 Timothy 5:23 NLT). Leading a church can be difficult and stressful. It is a huge responsibility and must be taken seriously. So Paul pleads with Timothy to take care of himself. He must be in good health if he is going to care for the body of Christ well.

Father, leadership in the church is serious business. Forgive us for taking it so lightly at times and for taking those who lead us for granted too often. May we hold these men in high regard, but at the same time, may we hold them to a higher standard. Help us to choose wisely and esteem them highly at all times. Far too often, we take our pastors and elders for granted, seldom considering their spiritual well-being. Their role in the ongoing health of the church is essential. May we never take them for granted. Amen.

Family Matters.

1 Timothy 5:1-16

Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would to your own father. Talk to younger men as you would to your own brothers. Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters. – 1 Timothy 5:1-2 NLT

In the closing part of chapter 4, Paul gives Timothy three essential tasks he must master if he wants to be successful as a man of God. He must teach others, train himself to live a godly life, and he must typify with his life what it means to love and serve God. Now Paul gets even more practical, giving Timothy concrete examples of how to apply what he is learning to everyday life within the body of Christ. While Paul has encouraged Timothy to never "let anyone think less of you because you are young" (1 Timothy 4:12 NLT), he is also not to arrogantly flaunt his position as a shepherd of God and treat those under his care with disrespect. He is to give special attention to his relationships with older men and women in the church, honoring them as he would his own father and mother – giving them the respect they are due. And he to look on those younger men and women in the church as his brothers and sisters in Christ, showing the younger men dignity and interacting with the younger women in purity. Paul wants Timothy to know that being a minister of the Gospel isn't just about disseminating information and doling out discipline to the unruly and unfaithful. Everything hinges on relationships. The church is a family. It is a God-ordained collection of individuals from all walks of life who have been divinely joined together and commanded to care for, love and support on another. Personality conflicts, disagreements, residual sin natures, and personal problems will all tend to cause conflict within the local body of Christ. Timothy needed to know how to deal with the practical side of ministry – dealing with people and problems.

There are always constant needs within the church. In Paul's day, widows were a significant concern, because in that culture, they tended to be overlooked and neglected. Women were often considered second-class citizens with few rights and privileges. Marriage was their safety net. Being a wife and mother was a necessity for most women, providing a roof over their heads, a source of respect within the community, and a means of making ends meet in a culture where jobs for women were few and far between. That's why widows were especially vulnerable. They were viewed as having little value, and were neglected by the culture at large. But Paul encouraged Timothy to care for those widows who had become part of the family of God. He was to see to it that they were cared for, knowing that these women were looking to God as their help and source of hope. The church was to be the hands and feet of Christ, ministering to these women, ensuring that their families were caring for them properly. When there was no family to meet their needs, Timothy was to make sure that the family of God stepped in and cared for them properly.

As usual, these cases are never cut-and-dried. There are always underlying circumstances that must be considered and dealt with. It would be so much easier if we could just say, "Take care of the widows in the church." But there are always insinuating circumstances that make our decisions a bit more difficult and more grey than black-and-white. Timothy was to consider and all circumstances regarding widows. He had to consider their age, existing family relationships, and most importantly, their character. Not every woman who was a widow was to be the responsibility of the church. Careful consideration was to be taken when investigating the needs of these women. In some cases, their families were to be confronted and held accountable for having refused to step in and care for their own. Obviously, there were cases where sons and daughters had chosen to neglect the needs of their own mothers. This was unacceptable and the church was not obligated to take on their responsibility. Younger widows were not added to the "list" of those who received regular support from the church. It was still possible that they could remarry and have their own families and a means of support. It would appear from Paul's statements that the older widows who received care from the church willingly dedicate their lives and service to the body of Christ in return for financial support. They evidently vowed to not remarry, instead giving themselves in service to God. Younger women, if added to this list, if presented with the opportunity to remarry, would find it hard to live out that kind of commitment.

This is a very specific issue that was a real problem in the church in Ephesus. It is less a principle or law establishing the biblical requirements for how to care for widows in the local church than it is a glimpse into the kind of careful consideration that must be applied by shepherds when caring for their flock. The bottom line is that the church is all about relationships. It can be messy and, at times, difficult. There are always variables and certain circumstances that make decision making anything but easy. There are many things to consider when dealing with people and relationships. We must often apply a careful combination of biblical wisdom and common sense.  We must do our homework, considering carefully and prayerfully what God would have us do, always striving to treat all with dignity, respect and honor.

Father, the church can be messy at time. It is filled with so many individuals and so many potential conflicts. The needs are great and sometimes they can seem overwhelming. When it comes to making decisions, it isn't always a case of black-and-white. We have to take the time to find out what is going on and determine what it is You would have us do. Thank You for providing the Holy Spirit as a means of guidance and Your Word as a reliable source of wisdom. Help us learn to live together in love and unity, illustrating for the lost world what it means to be the family of God. Amen

The Exemplary Life.

1 Timothy 4:6-16

Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. – 1 Timothy 4:12 NLT

Our lives are meant to make a difference. But not in the way that the world would have us believe. In this age, the sign of significance is measured in assets, popularity, job title, income, the neighborhood we live in, the kind of car we drive, or even the number of friends we have on Facebook. We live to impress. We exist to consume. We long to make a different in the world, but the terms by which we measure the success of our contribution can be shallow and exceedingly temporal. Paul would have Timothy use a different standard. He wanted this young man to keep his eyes focused on what really mattered, so he gave him a few basic tips to living a life that truly makes a difference.

First, he tells him to teach. Paul wanted Timothy to take what he was learning and share it with those all around him. Knowledge that is never shared is wasted. Wisdom that is never passed on to others ends up being selfish and senseless. Paul's letter to Timothy wasn't meant for him alone. Paul's intention was that Timothy teach the truths contained within it to those under his care. He told him to "explain these things to the brothers and sisters." He challenged him to "teach these things and insist that everyone learn them." The truths of God's Word are meant to be shared, not horded. We are to pass on what we learn.

Secondly, Timothy was to train. And Paul was quite specific when it came to the kind of training he was talking about. Paul said, "train yourself to be godly." The Greek word Paul uses is gymnazō and it means "to exercise vigorously, in any way, either the body or the mind." It is the word from which we get gymnasium. Paul was expecting Timothy to put effort into his pursuit of the spiritual life. Godliness is to be our goal in life, not material success, financial reward, physical health, or personal fulfillment. Paul reminds Timothy that he will receive far greater benefits from the pursuit of a healthy and vibrant spiritual life than he ever will from getting into better shape. Godliness has both temporal and eternal ramifications for the life of the believer. We benefit in the here-and-now as well as the hereafter.

Third, Paul tells Timothy to typify what a believer looks like. He was to be an example of godliness to those around him – in every area of his life. In the way he lived, in his love, his faith, and through a life of purity. Purity includes sexual purity and integrity of heart. The Christian life is to be a holistic life – with no compartmentalization. In other words, there are no hidden or secret areas where the light of God's transformative power does not shine. Timothy's godliness was to touch every area of his life and it was to be a clear model of Christ-likeness to all those around him. And Timothy's young age was to have nothing to do with it. Godliness is ageless. It has nothing to do with the number of years we spend on this planet. But it has everything to do with the amount of time we spend in the Word, with the Lord, and submitted to the Holy Spirit. Godliness is to be lived out for other to see.

Paul gives Timothy one final charge: "Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you" (1 Timothy 4:15-16 NLT). Timothy was to teach others, train himself and typify the life of a believer. And he was to throw his entire energy into making this a reality in his life. The Christian life is not to be a half-hearted life. It's a full-time job that requires our constant attention. We have to regularly examine how we're doing and assess our spiritual well-being. There is no room for complacency or contentment with the status quo. There will be constant distractions along the way. We will be tempted to become satisfied with where we are and how far we've come. But Paul warned Timothy that the goal will not be realized on this earth. Our salvation will be consummated in heaven, not here. This life is not to be all there is. This world is not out home – we're just passing through on our way to somewhere better. Our salvation awaits our glorification. That is our ultimate goal and objective. That's why Paul told Timothy to train himself for godliness. Eventually, our godliness will be complete. We will be done with all the training. We will be finished with the race and done with all the exercise. John reminds us, "Dear friends, we are already God's children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is" (1 John 3:2 NLT). That day is coming. But in the meantime, we are to teach, train and typify. So let's get busy!

Father, give us focus. Help us to not lose sight of the goal – our godliness. It is so easy to let the things of this earth distract and derail us doing what You have called us to do. We need to be about teaching Your truth, training ourselves for godliness and typifying for the world around us what a true Christian looks like. May we take these tasks seriously. May we pursue them diligently – until You call us home or Your Son returns. Amen.

The Foundation of the Truth.

1 Timothy 3:14-4:5

I am writing these things to you now, even though I hope to be with you soon, so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth. – 1 Timothy 3:14-15 NLT

The world in which Paul lived was mired in falsehood, much like it is today. This world is the domain of Satan, who is the father of lies (John 8:44). Everything in this world is deceptive and deceitful. As Satan has always done, he has taken what God has made and attempted to distort and twist it in such a way that it leads mankind away from God. As Paul stated in Romans, "And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles" (Romans 1:21-23 NLT). As a result, "They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself" (Romans 1:25 NLT). John reminds us that Jesus "came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him" (John 1:10-11 NLT). Men preferred the darkness over the Light. They rejected the Truth over the lie in which they were living.

So Paul tells Timothy that the church, the body of Christ, is now the instrument of God to spread and support the truth of God in this world. His whole purpose in writing Timothy is to help him understand how people are to live within the household of God, the church. And I think Paul is specifically thinking about the local church context. The local church is the testing ground of our faith. It is where the truth must be applied with love and grace. Even God's life-transforming power made possible through Jesus' death on the cross doesn't work the local body of believers, we are hopeless. But Paul believed it could and should. First and foremost, the church is a household, a family. It is not an institution or organization. It is a collection of different individuals who have all shared in God's undeserved, unmerited favor by placing their faith in Jesus Christ. They have been adopted into God's family and been declared His heirs, all due to the sacrificial, sin-cancelling death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Paul describes this as the great mystery of our faith. "Christwas revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and announced to the nations. He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory" (1 Timothy 3:16 NLT).

This is the truth of God's redemptive plan for mankind. It is this truth that the church is to support and uphold. There is no other version of the truth. It is this truth that leads to godliness. It is this truth that makes the church a living organism, not an organization. It is this truth that provides power through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. It is this truth that gives us hope for the present as well as the future. The church, the body of Christ, is where the message of new life in Christ gets lived out, and where the Light of the world illuminates the darkness of this world. And Paul knew the necessity of the these things because he had seen firsthand the impact of falsehood and heresy within the local church. The enemy was alive and well in his day, attacking the fledgling churches with half-truths, convincing lies, and distorted views of reality. Where there is truth, there will always be falsehood. The Good News regarding Jesus Christ would always be accompanied by counterfeits and knockoffs. One of the things Paul was constantly fighting was the tendency for people to buy into the formula of Jesus + something. Anything that added to Christ's all-sufficient work on the cross was to be rejected as false – a lie from the enemy.

The real and constant danger to the church is compromise. If the enemy can get us to compromise our convictions by ever-so-slight revisions to the truth of God, he can destroy our effectiveness. It is exactly what he did with Adam and Eve in the garden. He got them to question the word of God by cleverly twisting it – leading them to doubt it's veracity and reliability. But the church must be the pillar that supports the truth in the midst of all the falsehood and lies. And the lies Paul warns Timothy about are subtle and deceptive. Whether it was asceticism, the belief that abstinence from certain physical things leads to spiritual maturity, or legalism, the belief that adherence to certain rules and rituals were essential to salvation – these things were to be rejected as lies. They had no place in the household of God. They were dangerous and highly destructive. The key to the church's survival in the hostile environment in which it is called to exist is the truth. We are called to be a "faithful people who know the truth" (1 Timothy 4:3 NLT). It is the truth of God, found in the Word of God, that gives the people of God the capacity to see the lies of the enemy and reject them. Knowledge of the truth brings health and vitality to the body of Christ. Living according to the truth makes the people of God a powerful force for change in the world, causing us to shine brightly in the darkness that surrounds us. Compromise is like a blanket thrown over the church, diminishing its capacity to shine.

Father, we are Your ambassadors and emissaries. Show us how to live in such a way that we truly are the pillar and support of the truth. May the local bodies of Christ around the world become agents of change and beacons of light in the darkness. But for that to happen, we must stand on and stand up for the truth. Your Word must become our only source of truth. Give us the capacity to spot falsehood and reject it for what it is – the lies of the enemy. The world is full of deception. May we become the standard for truth in the midst of all the deceit and distortion. Amen.

A Worthy Aspiration.

1 Timothy 3:1-13

This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position.” – 1 Timothy 3:1 NLT

All men aspire to something. They each have goals and ambitions for which they dedicate their time, talents, and energies. For some men, having a successful career is their greatest ambition and it impacts their entire lives, as they spend every waking moment attempting to make it happen. A few men have legitimate and realistic aspirations for making a name for themselves in the competitive world of sports. Then there are those who simply aspire to be good employees, fathers, husbands, friends and members of the community. But Paul would give us a different aspiration. He would encourage us to aspire to something of a slightly higher nature. It is a job with few perks, a lot of responsibilities, high expectations, no income, a certain degree of anonymity, and some pretty lofty hiring guidelines.

The job Paul would have us consider is that of an elder in the local church. He states, 'If someone aspires to be an elder,he desires an honorable position." The word he uses that is translated "aspires" is the Greek word, oregō which means "to stretch one's self out in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or desire something." But it had another meaning as well: "to give one's self up to the love of money." In fact, Paul uses this secondary meaning in chapter 6 when talking about the love of money. "For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows" (1 Timothy 6:10 NLT). It's interesting that one of the qualifications or characteristics that Paul gives for an elder is that he must not love money, because money will become his aspiration.

Instead, Paul tells Timothy that it is a good thing to aspire to be an elder. But it would seem that Paul's emphasis is less on the idea of a position or job, than on the qualities of the kind of man who would be recognized to fill it. Paul does not go into great detail on the job description of an elder. Instead. he points out the character requirements necessary to be considered as an elder. And I would argue that these qualities should be the aspiration of every God-fearing, Christ-following man in the church today. The Greek word Paul uses is episkopē and it means "overseer." Paul seems to use it almost synonymously with another Greek word, presbuteros, which typically gets translated "elder." Both words convey the idea of someone who has authority for and responsibility over the spiritual well-being of the flock of God. In the book of Acts, we have recorded a meeting between Paul and the elders from the church in Ephesus where he warned them, "So guard yourselves and God's people. Feed and shepherd God's flock--his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders" (Acts 20:28 NLT). Elders had a high calling and a lofty responsibility to guard both themselves and the people of God. Therefore, they had to be godly men of strong character and impeccable morals. They didn't have to be perfect, but they did have to strive to be blameless and above reproach in every area of their lives. It is interesting that the characteristics that Paul lists cover just about every area of a man's life. An elder had to be a man with no compartmentalization in his life – no hidden or secret areas. His home life was just as important as his church life. Every one of the things that Paul lists would have been easy to assess and ascertain – by just about anyone in the church. The qualities Paul lays out are visible or external, open for anyone and everyone to see and evaluate. But they reflect an inner character that flows out into every area of life. The kind of men who were to be considered as elders were men whose hearts had been are were continuing to be transformed by God. They were men who were living under the control of and in the power provided by the Holy Spirit.

But shouldn't the qualities and characteristics Paul outlines be the aspiration of every man? Why wouldn't every man of God aspire to live the kind of life Paul describes, whether he ever gets appointed as an elder or not? The church needs men who are above reproach, faithful to their wives, self-controlled, wise, with good reputations, hospitable, moderate in all things, gentle in spirit, the spiritual leaders in their homes, and respected in their communities. The local church should be filled to the brim with men who are viable candidates for eldership. Remember, Paul told Timothy that if a man aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position. To aspire is "to stretch one's self out in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or desire something." What we should desire as men is not the role or responsibility, but the character of an elder. The position is honorable because the men who occupy it are honorable. Their character is Christ-like and holy. They are not perfect, but they are men who are willingly and regularly being perfected by God. The church needs more men like that today.

Father, some of us aspire for a position more than we do the character required to qualify for that position. We want to be recognized as something and fail to realize that our character is what qualifies us for that for which we aspire. You desire all men to aspire to live their lives in such as way that they naturally qualify to be elders in the local church. Raise us a generation of men whose lives qualify them to shepherd Your flock. We need shepherds today. We need men who, like David, are men after Your own heart, who love Your sheep just as much as You do. Amen.

Sound Teaching and Teachers Needed.

1 Timothy 1:1-11

The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. – 1 Timothy 1:5 NLT

Timothy was Paul's disciple. He had evidently been led to the Lord by Paul during one of Paul's missionary travels to Lystra. During Paul's second missionary journey, Timothy accompanied him to the cities of Troas, Philippi, Berea, Thessalonica, Athens, and Corinth. Timothy was a part of Paul's third missionary journey to the city of Ephesus, and was sent by Paul to minister on his own in the region of Macedonia. This young man also made it to Rome while Paul was there under house arrest. He was well-traveled and well-respected by Paul, having earned the apostle's trust. Paul had sent him to the city of Ephesus, where Timothy was ministering when he received this first letter from Paul. Timothy had evidently written Paul, sharing his desire to return to his side and accompany him in his ministry. But Paul was going to break the news to Timothy that he was needed right where he was. In fact, verse three tells us that when Paul and Timothy went to Ephesus on that third missionary journey, Paul went on to Macedonia, leaving Timothy behind with a job to do. "When I left for Macedonia, I urged you to stay there in Ephesus and stop those whose teaching is contrary to the truth."

By this time in the story of the spread of the Gospel, there were churches all over that area of the world. The Good News was spreading fast and people were coming to faith in Christ at an incredible rate. The problem was that there were far too few men who were equipped to minister to the large numbers of churches springing up. There were infant believers everywhere and no one to lead and feed them. Paul was limited. Much of his time had been spent in prison or under house arrest. He couldn't be everywhere at once. There were no seminaries churning out pastors and teachers. There were no schools raising up and equipping elders for the local churches. But there seemed to be no shortage of false teachers and ill-informed individuals with potentially destructive viewpoints on a wide range of topics. So Paul turned to Timothy. Yes, he was young. He was inexperienced. But he was needed. Knowing that this young man was probably feeling a bit overwhelmed by the task at hand, Paul reminded him what the true purpose of all biblical instruction should be about. "The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith" (1 Timothy 1:5 NLT).

Paul's letters to Timothy have less to do with the teaching of doctrine than the defense of it. The content is practical, not theological. Paul wants Timothy to know how to encourage the believers in Ephesus toward true life change, marked by love that manifests itself in daily life. Paul is looking for practical expressions of love. He knows that there are three things that will prevent that from happening in any believer's life: An impure heart, a conscience that is burdened by shame, and a lack of trust in God. This is basic stuff. It trumps a head full of theology and doctrine every time. But Paul warns Timothy, "some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions" (1 Timothy 1:6 NLT). Somewhere along the way, they had become obsessed with things that were not resulting in increased faith and love. Debating had replaced serving. Controversy had become more popular than showing mercy and expressing love to one another. Paul had warned the elders in Ephesus, "some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following: (Acts 20:30 NLT). These "false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock" (Acts 20:29 NLT).

The main problem seems to have revolved around incorrect teaching regarding the law of Moses. There were those who were presenting their interpretations of the law and its application to the lives of believers, and their instructions were wreaking havoc on the health of the church. Their focus was not on increasing the love and faith of the people of God, but on being seen as experts on the topic at hand. Paul tells Timothy, "they want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently" (1 Timothy 1:7 NLT). These individuals were cocky and confident, assured that their view was the right one. And all of this discussion and debating was causing confusion and conflict within the church. Paul reminds Timothy that love should be the primary motivation for any teacher of the Word of God. Teaching that does not edify and instruction that does not increase faith is misapplied and misses the point. Debating doctrine is useless if it does not ultimately foster more love for God and others. If it does not produce increased devotion to and dependence on God, it is a waste of time.

Which is why the church at Ephesus needed Timothy, and the church today needs men and women who understand that increasing the love and faith of the people of God are the primary responsibility of those who teach the Word of God. Knowledge alone is not enough. It produces pride. Doctrine by itself is insufficient. It can become sterile and little more than head-knowledge. Theology, even that which is sound and biblically-based, is incomplete if it does not result in more love and greater faith.

Father, the church is still in need of those who will take seriously the teaching of Your Word. But we need to understand that our motivation needs to be the same that Paul had. We want to help those we teach havehearts free from impurity, consciences free from disabling shame, and genuine faith in You. That way, their lives will reflect true love for You and others, and a growing faith in You. Amen.


Salvation: A Game Changer.

Philemon 1

It seems you lost Onesimus for a little while so that you could have him back forever. He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. – Philemon 1:15-16 NLT

Philemon was a believer and a slave owner. Onesimus was a believer and a slave. According to the laws of Colosse, Onesimus was the property of Philemon, and yet he had run away. In God's divine providence, this runaway slave had somehow ended up in Rome, come into contact with the apostle Paul, and came to faith in Christ. Paul, who happened to have had a long-standing relationship with Philemon, Onesimus' master, knew it was necessary for Onesimus to return home and make things right with Philemon. So he sent this letter along with Onesimus to help prepare Philemon's heart and pave the way for the restoration of their relationship. But Paul was looking a change in their relationship that would reflect the change that had taken place in both of these man's hearts. They were no longer the same. Yes, Philemon was still a slave owner, as were a good portion of the people in that day. Technically and legally, Onesimus was still a slave, and likely worthy of punishment for having run away. Interestingly, Paul spends no time addressing the issue of slavery, but simply calls these men to recognize their new relationship as brothers in Christ. Paul reminds Philemon that Onesimus "is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother" (Philemon 1:16 NLT). While legally, Philemon had every right to view and treat Onesimus as a slave, Paul emphasizes that their relationship had a new and more important dimension. They were brothers in Christ. They shared a common faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. Paul had earlier written the Galatian believers, "There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28 NLT). He was not saying that these distinctions no longer existed, but that their mutual relationship with Christ altered them in such a way that they would never be the same again. Within the body of Christ, the distinctions and lines of differentiation went away. Faith in Christ was the great leveler. Rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female – these earthly distinctions were trumped by a common bond in Christ. From a worldly perspective, Onesimus was still a slave. But from a heavenly perspective, Philemon was obligated to see him first and foremost as a brother in Christ. Their mutual faith in Christ was expected to change the way in which they now related to one another. In place of revenge and judgment, Philemon was expected to show mercy, grace, and brotherly love. He was expected to view Onesimus not as a runaway slave in need of punishment, but as a brother in Christ in need of encouragement.

It's fascinating to see how Paul handled all the different kinds of relationships in his day. There were so many dividing lines within the church. Race, gender, economic status, social standing, education – these all played a role in the society of his day – and Paul saw how they had become points of contention and division. They even threatened the health and vitality of the church. As people from all walks of life came to faith in Christ, they found themselves in fellowship with people who were unlike them and with whom they shared nothing in common – except their faith in Christ. Masters found themselves attending church with their own slaves. The wealthy were suddenly forced into regular and intimate relationships with those of an entirely different economic status. Men found themselves worshiping side by side with their wives. Faith in Christ had changed everything, for everyone. Paul told the believers in Corinth, "Are you a slave? Don't let that worry you--but if you get a chance to be free, take it. And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ" (1 Corinthians 7:21-22 NLT). The important thing to Paul was notyour circumstances on this earth, but your status from God's perspective. In God's way of thinking, even slaves were free, and free men were now slaves to Christ. The primary goal should not be to try and change our earthly circumstances, but to recognize our new position in Christ. That's why Paul told the Corinthian believers "Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you" (1 Corinthians 7:17 NLT). Freedom is not found in seeking release from slavery, but in Christ. True riches are not of this world, but of a heavenly, eternal nature. Gender or social status does not provide us with worth or value, only a relationship with Christ can do that.

Paul encourages Philemon to accept Onesimus back, not as a runaway slave, but as a brother. He challenges Philemon to recognize the value of this man as his brother in Christ, not as former property. Which is why Paul tells Philemon that Onesimus will have much more value to him now than ever before. He is more than a slave, he is a fellow child of the King. Coming to know Christ changes everything. It may not change our earthly circumstances, net worth, work conditions, economic status, social standing, or perceived value. But it can and should change every one of our relationships because we are no longer the same. A redeemed slave is totally new slave with a new Master and new outlook on life. A redeemed wife is a radically different wife with a new capacity to love. A redeemed husband is to be a drastically different one than he was before. A redeemed employer is a remarkably different individual with a new perspective on leadership. A redeemed son or daughter is a refreshingly different person with a new outlook on the family. Faith in Christ changes everything. It changes lives, alters relationships, improves perspective, transforms hearts, heals hurts, destroys barriers, and encourages unity.

Paul's greatest desire was for Philemon and Onesimus to be restored – not as slave and owner, but as brothers in Christ. He knew that these two men now had something in common that was going to radically change their relationship with one another and impact the world around them as they lived out their mutual faith in Christ in the circumstances of their daily lives.

Father, we have been radically changed because of the saving work of Christ. And while our earthly circumstances may appear to be the same, everything is different because of what You have done within us. May we live as changed people, not because our circumstances have changed, but because we have the capacity to live differently in the midst of them. Amen.

In Need of Nothing.

Philippians 4:10-23

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. – Philippians 4:11-12 NLT

Thanks for your gift, but I never really needed it.

That sounds like a strange way of expressing gratitude to someone who has just shown you generosity. But in essence, that's exactly what Paul writes as he wraps up his letter to the believers in Philippi. They had sent him a gift through Epaphroditus. We don't know the nature of the gift, but it was not the first time they had helped Paul out. His reaction to their generosity seems somewhat strange at first glance, even a bit rude. But Paul is genuinely grateful – for them, not for the gift. "How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again" (Philippians 4:10 NLT). He doesn't thank God for the gift, but sees it as an expression of their growing Christ-likeness. Their generosity was evidence of their increasing maturity. And he wanted them to know how proud he was of them. "…you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty" (Philippians 4:14 NLT). For Paul, the emphasis was not on the gift, but on the givers. He even let them know that he could have done without their gift. He had been perfectly content before their gift had even arrived. This is the part that most of us have a hard time getting out heads around. Paul comes across as rude and ungrateful, almost arrogant. But his point was that his contentment was not contingent upon material goods or circumstances. Paul is under house arrest in Rome. He has limited freedom and no known source of income. And yet, throughout this entire letter, Paul has spent no time complaining about his circumstances or the less-than-perfect conditions under which he is having to live.

Instead, Paul reveals that he is perfectly content. Why? Because over the years, he had learned the secret to contentment. Their gift, while it may have improved Paul's circumstances to one degree or another, had nothing to do with his outlook on life. Whether he had a lot or a little, Paul was content. Material things did not improve his mood. An empty stomach and hunger pangs could not ruin his day or shake his confidence in God. The degree of his neediness had no bearing on his joyfulness. "I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is why a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little" (Philippians 4:12 NLT). So what was this secret? Paul expresses it in the very next verse. "For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength? (Philippians 4:13 NLT). Paul didn't simply harness the power of positive thinking. He wasn't an optimist or some kind of Pollyanna who had an unrealistic outlook on life. He had Christ and Christ was all he needed. His relationship with Christ made it possible for him to endure any and all circumstances. Christ had become everything to him. He was even content to suffer on behalf of Christ. Paul didn't see his suffering as a punishment, but a privilege. It allowed him to experience a little bit of what His Lord and Savior had experienced on his behalf. Which is why Paul wrote earlier, "I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death" (Philippians 3:10 NLT). Rather than focus on his circumstances, Paul had learned to keep his eyes on Christ. He focused his attention on the one who had given His life and made possible abundant life for all who placed their faith in Him. Paul knew that circumstances were a lousy litmus test of God's love. Which is why he had written to the believers in Rome long before he ended up in prison there, "I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39 NLT).

Paul knew that Christ had made it possible for him to have a right relationship with God, and nothing could ever change that. A prison sentence couldn't alter Paul's relationship with God. Lack of food didn't represent a lack of God's love. Less-than-perfect circumstances were a lousy indicator ofGod's unwavering faithfulness. Paul was content to know that he was in Christ and right with God. With Christ's help, he could endure anything and everything. You could take away everything Paul had – his freedom, health, relationships, rights – and he would be content, because he still had Christ. The greater English pastor and theologian, C. H. Spurgeon put it well in his poem, The Soul Satisfied in Christ.

He who delights in the possession of the Lord Jesus has all that heart can wish. As for 'created things', they are like shallow and deceitful brooks-- they fail to supply our needs, much less our wishes. "The bed of earthly enjoyment is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it, and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it."

But in Jesus there is room for imagination's utmost stretch and widest range. When Jesus is enjoyed, He puts a fullness into all other mercies.

The creature without Christ is an empty thing, a lamp without oil, a bone without marrow. But when Christ is present our cup runs over, and we eat bread to the full.

A dinner of herbs, when we have communion with Him, is as rich a feast as a stalled ox; and our narrow cot is as noble a mansion as the great house of the wealthy.

Go not abroad, you hungry wishes of my soul-- stay at home, and feast on Jesus; for abroad you must starve, since all other beloveds are empty and undesirable. Stay with Christ, and eat that which is good, and delight yourself in fatness.

Father, we tend to love the gift more than the giver. We put way too much stock in the things of this earth, instead of in our relationship with You and Your Son. Help us learn to be content with and satisfied in Christ. May we grow ever more content with knowing that we are loved by You and understand that we are heirs of a much more valuable kingdom to come. Our circumstances on this earth are not a reliable reflection of our worth and should not be the source of our joy. If we have Christ, we have all we need. Amen.