One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

TOMS: 2 Timothy 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

October 27, 2007

Paul continues his instructions to his protege Timothy:
"But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people." (3:1-5)

Of course the "last days" Paul talks about are any time in the church age. Mankind is and always has been (at least since the Fall) depraved. Unfortunately, some people in the church are tolerant of evil and, in some cases, practice evil. These are the people Paul tells Timothy to avoid and, if necessary, separate from.

"For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men." (3:6-9)

Paul is not talking about sexual sin here. Instead he is talking about smooth-talking false teachers leading people, especially women, astray. Notice Paul says these women are "burdened with sins." These false teachers are very manipulative, and they use people's guilt against them. These teachers say nothing of the grace of God, and do not remind their hearers that God has already forgiven them and wants them to move ahead with their lives in His power. Instead they bring up the past against them. These teachers have a facade of intelligence, but they are foolish when it comes to the true wisdom of God

"Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." (3:12-17, ESV)

This is of course one of the foundational passages that states the doctrine of inspiration. Inspiration means that God supernaturally oversaw the work of the writers of scripture. Don't get this confused with mechanical dictation. There are certainly examples - passages from the Old Testament prophets and John's book of Revelation are two - of instances where God told the writers what to write. On the other hand, the scribe who copied down the genealogies in Chronicles probably had no idea he was writing Scripture, but God directed what he wrote, too.

Friday, October 30, 2015

TOMS: 2 Timothy 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

October 26, 2007

Here we have Paul wrapping up his legacy. Here is a piece of his advice to Timothy: 
"You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (2:1-2) 

This is a very important message. Yes, God has promised to preserve the church, but He preserves it through us. It is the responsibility of the leaders of the church to preserve sound doctrine. 

"Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops." (2:3-6)

The Christian life is not easy. Paul makes three analogies here, and all of them have a different message: the soldier, the athlete and the gardener. A soldier must learn to endure through all sorts of hardship and he must not be distracted by the things of civilian life that keep him from doing his work. The athlete must work to prepare and work to win the contest, but he must also play by the rules. The rules, of course, for the Christian are those found in the Bible that have been passed down by the faithful men. The gardener works hard all year, but there are rewards: he gets the first taste of the fruit. Even so, there are rewards for the Christian.

"Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." (2:8-10)

There are a few Christians who take the doctrine of election to such an extreme as to say there is no need for evangelism. And some who doubt election paint everyone who holds to it with that broad brush: that they don't believe in preaching the Gospel to the lost. Paul defies the stereotype: he believed in election and he was passionate about spreading the Gospel. Paul traveled hundreds of miles on foot, suffered beatings, imprisonments and all sorts of mistreatment so he could share in the reward of leading the elect to salvation.

"The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself." (2:11-13)

This is an important passage about the judgment. God rewards us in the same way we act on earth. God is faithful and will not kick us out if we are really bad, but we will lose rewards. Whether or not it is possible for someone genuinely born again to deny Christ is something I leave to the experts. I don't think it is possible, but I guess that comes down to how you defy "deny." If someone cracks under extreme physical and mental duress, that is different from someone who openly and repeatedly denies Christ.

"Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some." (2:14-18) 

Paul was fearless when defending the faith, even mentioning false teachers by name. I think more good pastors and teachers need to mention some of the false teachers in our day by name and explain why they are wrong. You would need to be prudent about it, but people need to know to avoid false doctrine. Of course they will recognize false doctrine when they are taught the truth, as the first part of the passage tells us.

"Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels." (2:20-23, ESV)

I think what Paul is saying here is that in the visible body of Christ, the church at large (the "great house"), there are good and bad people, similar to Jesus' teaching in parables like the tares and the wheat and the fishing net. Those who are genuinely born again and striving to be a vessel for honor for the Lord will cast off the dishonorable vessels: false teachers, false believers, etc. I know this is very different from a similar analogy that Paul uses in Romans 9. But given the context, I think the lesson Paul wants us to learn here is that we can become a vessel of honor.

We are given a lot of advice when it comes to resisting temptation. But when it comes to sexual lust, there is only one solution: flee! We are playing with fire if we think we can handle this temptation. We need to avoid opportunities for temptation, and if we find ourselves in a situation, we need to get out of it like Joseph did.

Once again Paul mentions that Timothy needs to avoid getting bogged down in Biblical minutiae. This is good advice for us, too.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

TOMS: 2 Timothy 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

October 25, 2007

This is Paul's last epistle. It is not the last in order in our Bibles, but it was the last one he wrote. This epistle is more somber and at the same time more urgent, because Paul knows he is facing death.

You can really feel Paul's love for Timothy in the opening passage: 
"I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." (1:3-7)

I like that Paul is telling Timothy not to be afraid. As we talked about earlier, Timothy seems to have had issues with fear and doubt. Meanwhile Paul is staring death in the face, and yet he doesn't change. He is more concerned about encouraging others than he is worried about himself. There are very subtle clues in this epistle that this was his last. Paul certainly didn't tell us that in his letter. He didn't gripe or complain about his situation or despair that this was the end.

"Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me." (1:8-12)

Paul's motive for writing is purely encouragement of Timothy. And the reason both he and we can be confident in Christ is the fact that we were given "a holy calling...before the ages began." Salvation isn't our doing, it is the Lord's. We can be confident in our salvation because God is the one who chose us. If we could do anything to change God's saving purpose in our lives, none of us would have any hope of salvation. Our salvation originated with God and He is the one who keeps us until that great Day.

This epistle is intensely personal, almost as personal as Philemon: 
"Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me— may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus." (1:13-18, ESV)

How shameful it would have been to hear your name in one of Paul's letters as turning away from him. I cannot imagine. On the other hand, it would be wonderful to hear your name read as one of Paul's dear friends and supporters. I wonder if Phygelus and Hermogenes knew how much they had hurt Paul. A lot of times we (or at least I) go through our lives and we are so focused on ourselves that we don't pay attention to others. It's not that we don't love or appreciate others, we are just too busy. If we are too busy to encourage others, we are too busy. We need to slow down and give more of our time to others. Or maybe that is just something I need to do.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

TOMS: 1 Timothy 6

For an introduction to this series, click here.

October 24, 2007

Well I had a great time in Wisconsin the past few days, for those of you who may have been wondering where I was. The weather was nice (except for Monday) and it was great to see some of the things that have changed and some of the things that have stayed the same in Watertown and elsewhere. But of course the company I had was the best part of my time. But let's get busy here.

Here we have the conclusion of Paul's first letter to his young friend Timothy. Paul wraps up a few things, and, typical of Paul's style, they cover a wide variety of topics. Paul begins with an enlightening discussion of masters and slaves: 
"Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain." (6:1-5)

Notice very carefully what Paul is saying here. In the broad context, which continues later in the chapter, the passage is talking about contentment. This passage gives us the best glimpse of Paul's view of slavery. He tells slaves to be content with their lot in life and not to try to lead a revolution. Apparently there were some teachers who were trying to stir up slaves against their masters, and Paul tells us that is not where the focus of Christians should be.

Greediness has been a temptation for all time. Man always wants more, wants something he can't have. And some teachers were apparently feeding into this fleshly desire, telling them that God wants them to be wealthy and successful in this world. Always be careful of preaching that appeals to your physical or social desires. Everybody wants to be rich, happy, and have lots of friends. God is not so much concerned about these things as He is about us being conformed to the image of Christ.

"But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." (6:6-10)

Contentment is the attitude the Lord wants us to have. That's not always easy, but the Lord knows what is best for us. Our flesh wants to have more and more, and many people throughout history have fallen into the never-ending cycle of wanting something, getting it, and then wanting something else. Love of money is not limited to rich people. Poor people can just as easily lead lives full of jealousy and covetousness as rich people can. It is a temptation common to everyone, and God calls us to resist that temptation and learn to trust Him for our needs and be content with the things He brings into our lives.

Notice that Paul's formula is "godliness with contentment." Most of us have problems with both of those, and some have a problem with the contentment part. But remember the warning to the church at Laodicea in Revelation. Those people had contentment without godliness. That is also wrong.

A lot of people have the idea that we are supposed to serve God just because we love Him, and of course that is a big part of it. But notice that Paul says that "godliness with contentment is great gain." Nowhere in the Bible will you find that we are told not to seek eternal rewards. On the contrary, this and many other passages tell us that God will be glad to give us the rewards we earn and we should strive to earn them.

"As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called 'knowledge,' for by professing it some have swerved from the faith." (6:17-21, ESV)

Here is another instance where Paul tells believers to seek heavenly rewards. He tells Timothy to tell the rich people in the church to use their wealth to gain eternal rewards. Compared to most people in the world, we Americans are rich. Shame on us if we don't use our wealth to carry forward God's work.

Paul ends his letter with another warning to Timothy about not getting involved in petty arguments about the Bible. Even back in his day, there were things difficult to understand that got people in trouble. And apparently Timothy was willing to take up those arguments, in good faith trying to win the person to sound doctrine. Paul tells him not to get sidetracked, but instead keep his focus on the important things. Things have only gotten worse in our time. People get bogged down over very minor issues and go off on tangents based on a verse or two. Don't fall into that trap. Keep your focus on pleasing the Lord and on teaching and practicing the simple gospel of the Lord Jesus. Sure there are things that we don't completely understand. But we do know that the Lord Jesus came into this world to save sinners, and that after we are saved we need to grow in grace. Fulfilling that goal will take a lifetime anyway. Getting sidetracked on secondary and tertiary issues is foolish.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

TOMS: 1 Timothy 5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

October 19, 2007

Paul has a lot of specific instructions here in this chapter about people in the church: 
"Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." (5:3-8)

I think if you look at the last verse of this passage, it is obvious that this passage is talking about the church supporting widows. Notice Paul says that if the widow has children let "them"- that is the children- show their piety by providing for their mother. For Paul, a "true widow" would be a widow without a family. This is the kind of person the church should provide for. Of course in our time the government takes care of everyone. Going into this much detail about providing for widows shows that the Lord intended for the church to take care of the poor. But the church let the government take its role, and we are the worse for it on all sorts of levels.

This context of church support of indigent members is important to remember when reading the next section: 
"Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. For some have already strayed after Satan. If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows." (5:9-16)

I think Paul's point about younger women learning to be idle explains what he is talking about. We have seen the disastrous results of welfare for single moms in our society. Paul warns against giving younger people a free ride, and lists the consequences that will happen. But I think it is most important to note that this is not talking about accepting younger single mothers into the membership of the church. A simple reading of this passage might lead you to think that, but deeper study will reveal the truth.

"Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,' and, 'The laborer deserves his wages.' Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear." (5:17-20) 

Paul says that elders, that is leaders of the church, be honored, but also that they be punished more severely if they do fall into sin. Also I want to point out that the second scripture quoted is a quote of Luke 10:7. Paul and the other church leaders immediately recognized that many of the writings being passed around among the churches were indeed Scripture, on a par with the Old Testament.

"No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments." (5:23)

Timothy apparently did have health problems. Whether these were a symptom of his poor self-esteem or were unrelated to anything else, there is no way we can know. If anything, this verse, along with several others, demonstrates that the Apostles were not teetotalers. Alcohol was very common in Roman society. Not only that, but alcohol was often used to purify and sweeten regular drinking water, which often came from cisterns or polluted wells. Paul makes this statement very matter-of-factly, not with some kind of secret agenda and not in a joking way.

"The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden." (5:24-25, ESV)

This is an interesting verse. It is an interesting comment on human nature and it is a more important comment on the nature of God. It is true that some people are very good at hiding who they are and not revealing the truth about themselves. Sometimes it is bad things they are hiding, and sometimes it is good things. But the Lord sees all, and He will reveal everything one day.

Monday, October 26, 2015

TOMS: 1 Timothy 4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

October 18, 2007

"Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer." (4:1-5)

Notice that Paul associates legalism with the apostasy of the last days. This is more of a reference to the general spirit of apostasy that has affected the church throughout history than about the final apostasy that leads to the rise of the antichrist. All of the apostle writers mention about the problems in "the last days" and I think it is instructive that Paul includes legalism here. Legalism is a dangerous threat to true Christianity at all times.

"If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." (4:6-12, ESV)

There is a lot of good stuff here. Have you ever heard a preacher whose whole sermon seemed to be one funny story after another? I think that is a lot of what Paul is aiming at here, with his remark about "silly myths." It is an easy trap to fall into: to let your teaching be dominated by irreverent stuff that is irrelevant to the gospel. 

The line "the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe" is the way Paul describes that the offer of salvation is made to all men, but is only applied to those who believe.

The last verse is part of Paul's instruction to encourage young Timothy. Timothy apparently had a lot of problems, and Paul is telling him here not to let other people get him down, but to move forward as a leader. Now most people probably did not look down on Timothy, but from this verse I think it is clear that Timothy felt intimidated because of his youth. In our time, verses like this teach us that we need to involve young people in the regular ministry of the church whenever we can, and not just keep them busy playing games in the youth department. How many 20-somethings leave our churches because we had programs for them when they were kids and teenagers, but now they are stuck without a program? I'm not against programs or against people having fun, but everyone needs to learn that the church is about service to the Lord and fellow believers, not about having fun or social networking. And the younger people learn that, the more good they will be to the church.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

TOMS: 1 Timothy 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

October 17, 2007

Most of this chapter deals with the qualifications for a pastor (bishop) and a deacon. Any study of this chapter should note that Paul dealt with the role of women at the end of the previous chapter. This chapter is an expansion of that discussion and a more specific application of those principles.

"The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil." (3:1-7)

This overseer is one of or possibly the primary leader of the local assembly. He is obviously male ("husband of one wife"). A lot of modern teachers say that Paul's teaching here is just reflecting the times, and that since our society's attitudes about the role of women is different, then it is OK for women to lead a church. But remember Paul's primary argument at the end of Chapter 2 was that Adam was created first. That fact has not been changed by our society.

Paul has a lot to say in this passage about a pastor being well-respected in the community. This is a point that too many pastors and churches overlook. A couple of years ago I was working late at the paper office in Piedmont, and a prominent pastor and business man came in to talk to my boss. After he was through talking, I came in his office and my boss said, "It's a shame to say this about a pastor, but I can't sell him any advertising. He doesn't pay his bills." What a terrible testimony.

"Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus." (3:8-13, ESV)

As you have probably read or heard me state before, I think many modern churches have totally missed the original purpose of a deacon. Yes, the root word for "deacon" is "servant" They are to serve the church and serve the pastor. But I think if you look at Stephen and Philip and the other original deacons, they did more than just sit around the church. They were active spiritual leaders. I think (and this is just my opinion) that the original intent of a deacon is more like we think of as an assistant pastor. This person takes part of the pastor's load but is also responsible for the spiritual well-being of the church. A lot of churches I have seen, the deacon board kind of acts as a board of directors. There is no one model of church government dictated by the New Testament, but most of the churches I know that have the "board of directors" model claim to be following the Bible literally and denounce others who have different views, so they set themselves up as easy targets.

Friday, October 23, 2015

TOMS: 1 Timothy 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

October 16, 2007

This is a short chapter but it is chock full of stuff, much of it controversial.

"This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time." (2:3-6)

This passage can get tricky if we are not careful. Yes, God does want "all people to be saved," and Christ did give "himself a ransom for all." But if we only look at verses like this, we can come up with doctrines like universalism and purgatory: the idea that one day God will accept everyone into heaven, maybe after some temporary punishment. Don't believe it. There is so much scripture that tells us that not everyone will be saved. God's judgment is real and it will be eternal. That is a fact. 

Obviously this scripture also runs counter to the hyper-Calvinist position that God wills people into eternal punishment. This is not the case either. God does not want anyone to die without salvation, but He also will not accept anyone who does not come to Him through Jesus Christ.

Verse 5 is a critical verse of scripture. Lots of people, even Christians who want to sound enlightened, say that God can be found in any religion, and that anyone who sincerely follows their religion will go to heaven. Don't believe it. This passage makes it perfectly clear that there is only one mediator between God and men: Jesus Christ.

"I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control." (2:8-15, ESV)

See, I told you this was controversial. The reference to women's clothing, in context, probably refers to clothing worn at church. It is to be characterized by modesty and sobriety. In other words, it is not to draw attention to oneself. This is Paul's definition of modesty, not necessarily length or some other arbitrary standard, although of course clothing which shows off the body certainly draws attention, which is more of what Paul has in mind here. I have seen situations in churches where it seems the ladies are in competition to see who can outdress each other. That is the opposite of what Paul is talking about.

Next Paul talks about the role of women in the church. First of all, it should be noted that Paul says they are to learn. The ideal woman in Roman times rarely if ever left the house. She was not taught to read. Her whole life was to be wrapped up in domesticity. So Paul is actually involving women in the church more than was normal in Roman society. Secondly, Paul is talking about the office of teacher here, not the act of teaching. If a woman has something important to say, she should be allowed to say it. But she is not to be made a regular teacher over the whole church. It should also be noted this passage refers specifically to the church, and has nothing to do with the role of women elsewhere in society. 

Paul takes note of the creation order as justification for this. Notice that Paul mentions the creation order first and then the fall. A lot of men notice the fall first, and try to say that men are somehow superior to women. That is not Paul's point. The point is that Eve was created to be a complement to Adam, not the other way around. The fall demonstrates Paul's point, and he does note it as such, but should not be taken as the primary reason.

The word "saved" in the last verse clearly has nothing to do with spiritual salvation. Instead, this verse gives us a beautiful word picture. Yes, a woman was the first to lead the human race into sin. But an individual woman can remove that stigma in her life by rearing godly children. Traditionally women have more contact with children, and they have a great influence. They need to use this influence the right way.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

TOMS: 1 Timothy 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

October 15, 2007

Timothy, of course, was Paul's protege. He was very special to Paul, despite the fact that Timothy had a lot of issues. He had issues with confidence, with self-esteem, and he apparently had health problems as well. The main purpose of this letter is to encourage Timothy for the work that he is doing.

"As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith." (1:3-4)

Paul mentions a lot in this epistle about foolish questions. Apparently Timothy was often sidetracked by trying to fully answer every question brought to him, and Paul tells him not to worry about questions that have nothing to do with genuine doctrine or real life.

"The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted." (1:5-11)

First of all in this passage, notice that Paul says that many people are abusing the position of teacher in the church. This is something the leadership of the church has to take very seriously, more seriously than I have seen in many churches. Most churches, of course, don't have enough people interested in teaching, so any time somebody volunteers, they are usually allowed to just pick their position. But Paul says some people, apparently in the church at Ephesus where Timothy was ministering in at the time, were teaching without complete understanding of sound doctrine.

Secondly notice what Paul says about the law, namely the Law of Moses. It seems here that Paul is saying that the law's purpose is to condemn lost sinners, and not to bully believers, although others say that Paul's point is that those who are self-righteous cannot come to God for salvation. I would say that both of these statements are true, but the former statement fits the context better. We as believers are not subject to the Law. Paul is saying that teachers who try to put believers under the Law are treating their people like pagans.

"I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." (1:12-15)

Paul never got over the fact that the Lord redeemed him from what he was and made him an apostle.

"This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme." (1:18-20, ESV)

This is a very interesting passage. I'm not really sure what it means to deliver someone to Satan. It could be simply church discipline, or it could be something that only an apostle could do.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

TOMS: 2 Thessalonians 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

October 13, 2007

Paul begins this chapter with a word of encouragement, and then gives them a warning about laziness: 
"Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living." (3:6-12)

As is common for Paul, he starts his admonishment by telling them to live like they saw him live. This is a powerful statement in and of itself, and tells us a lot about Paul. The fact that he could confidently say that his people should live like he lived is proof that Paul was more than an evangelist who swoops in and no one sees him during the day, besides maybe the pastor, and then swoops out after a few days. Paul lived among these people, in some cases for years.

Laziness is an easy temptation for most people; I know it is for me. Our flesh tells us that it is fine if we don't do anything, that someone else will take care of things. This is not God's plan. God wants us to earn our keep. More than that, he wants us to be faithful to Him. The old saying that "idle hands are the devil's workshop" applies here, in fact Paul almost says as much. When we aren't doing constructive things, we look for things to do, and those things we find to do usually aren't good things. Paul talks specifically about people who sit at home and gossip and worry about what everyone else is doing instead of minding their own business. The problem is, in most cases, they don't have any business of their own to mind. If we are busy taking care of our own affairs, we won't have the time to worry about others'.

"As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother." (3:13-15, ESV)

Paul has a lot to say about fellowship. In many of his epistles he includes a similar warning to this one: that we are not to eat or have fellowship with someone in the church who is living in sin. Most of us spend absolutely zero time in church talking about spiritual things. We may teach a Sunday School class or we may do all sorts of things when we are supposed to, but when was the last time you had a spontaneous conversation at church with a fellow believer about a spiritual topic? 99 percent of the conversations you hear at church are the same conversations you would hear at a barber shop, in the break room at work, or anywhere else in the world.

This is mostly what Paul is aiming at here. We are to confront someone who is in sin, and, if necessary, do it publicly. It is easy to be silent and talk about someone's sin behind their back and yet act like they are still beloved members of the assembly when they are around. But this is not what Paul wants us to do here. Instead we are to personally address the issue, offer to help, and continue to pray for the person.

Monday, October 19, 2015

TOMS: 2 Thessalonians 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

October 12, 2007

Paul gets down to business quickly here, explaining what will happen leading up to the Rapture: 
"Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God." (2:1-4)

Paul mentions in this passage that the Thessalonians received a false letter from Paul saying the end had already come. Paul says specifically that there will be a "rebellion" first. Now there are several explanations for what the "rebellion" means. Some view it as a political rebellion, but I agree with most that it is a reference to a spiritual rebellion. There is always a spirit of apostasy in the last days, but this will be the great apostasy. Whether we are seeing the beginning of it now or not, I really don't know. I do know that there are things that were never seriously debated in church history that are debated now, such as homosexual marriage. The fact that church leaders cannot understand the clear condemnation of the sin of homosexual acts in the Bible is certainly a sign of something.

Now this scripture seems to indicate that the church will know who the man of sin, or the Antichrist, is before the Rapture. I don't think this necessarily indicates a "mid-trib" Rapture, but it does seem more reasonable based on this passage.

"And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. " (2:6-10)

The wording is a little bit confusing, but if you sit down and analyze it, it becomes clear that the Holy Spirit is restraining evil now during the church age. Who knows how bad things would be today were it not for the work of the Holy Spirit? 

"Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter." (2:11-15, ESV)

The worst punishment God can inflict upon this earth is to allow people to follow their own way to destruction. Mankind is predisposed to evil anyway, and if God does not intervene, he will always find himself in a cesspool of his own making. Not everybody stoops to the absolute lowest level, whatever that is, but mankind always becomes worse and worse. This is what it means when it says God will send them "a strong delusion." God does not have to do anything special for man to deceive himself. It comes naturally. It is just that God will choose not to intervene for most people. Now we know that there will be many thousands of people who are saved during the time of the Antichrist, but as a general rule God will not be working to counteract the work of Satan through the Antichrist, and so mankind will suffer like in no other time in history.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

TOMS: 2 Thessalonians 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

October 11, 2007

This second letter to the Thessalonians seems more urgent than the first letter. Apparently someone had written a letter to the church saying that they had missed the Rapture, and that judgment was coming. Paul wanted to make sure these folks were reassured that this was not the case. He gives them a lot of insight into what will actually happen during the Tribulation.

This particular chapter is once again mostly greeting: 
"We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed." (1:3-10, ESV)

Notice that Paul mentions the judgment of God as a comfort and reassurance for those who were suffering. We are usually afraid of the judgment, or if we are not afraid for ourselves we are afraid for others. This is not a bad way to approach it, but Paul notes that the judgment is coming for those who persecute them. God certainly views judgment differently than we do. We tend to view the bad aspects of judgment, but God looks at it as a good thing. God looks at the judgment as the ultimate righting of all the wrongs. We are dreading it, but God is looking forward to it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

TOMS: 1 Thessalonians 5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

October 10, 2007

Here we have the conclusion of this book. The first part of this chapter continues the thought of the previous chapter concerning the Rapture: 
"Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, 'There is peace and security,' then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief." (5:1-4)

The Rapture is not something we should be worried about. The Lord will come when the time is right and we will know it when He comes. He is not going to hide somewhere.

"So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him." (5:6-10)

In virtually every epistle, Paul includes this warning: to be sober. He gives different reasons, but the admonishment is still the same. Life is serious. Of course it is fine to have a good time and we need to relax and refresh ourselves from time to time, but overall, Christians should not be characterized by an attitude of pursuing fun all the time and not taking life seriously.

As a side note, some people say that the phrase "God has not destined us for wrath" is a proof text for the "pre-tribulational" rapture. I think if you read it in context, it becomes obvious that this passage is talking about us as believers not being condemned to hell.

"We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it." (5:12-24, ESV)

These are some general things that are very hard to actually live out in our daily lives. If we could obey just one of these commands completely, the way the Lord wants us to, our lives would be so different. Now that isn't an excuse, but I know for me particularly, it is hard for me to "rejoice always." Because there are things in life that don't cause me to rejoice.

I think if you look at it in context (isn't it amazing how much simpler things are when you read more than one verse at a time) it becomes obvious that "Abstain from every form of evil" is one of the most abused verses in the Bible. I have heard that verse used to justify all sorts of ideas, from saying that you shouldn't eat in a restaurant that serves alcohol to not going to a movie rental store. (My, how the world has changed in 8 years!) In context, Paul is talking about true and false doctrine. We are told not to despise prophecies. In other words, don't reject any teaching out of hand just because of who is teaching or whatever. Then we are told to prove all things, hold fast to the good and reject what is bad. Simple. The Bible speaks for itself, and we would do well to follow the clear teaching in the passage above and forget the opinions of man piled onto one particular phrase.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

TOMS: I Thessalonians 4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

October 9, 2007

These Thessalonians must have been right where they ought to have been, because after a very long greeting, Paul says, "Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more." (4:1) In other words, just keep doing what you have been doing. This is different from most of Paul's other letters.

But Paul does have a few words of advice, beginning with this: 
"For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you." (4:3-8)

Sexual temptation has always been a problem throughout history. Immorality was considered normal and natural by many in the Roman world. We know from archeology that large portions of the culture were obsessed with sex and were more out in the open with it than we are today, if you can imagine.

"Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one." (4:9-12)

This passage is pretty self-explanatory, as Paul encourages the believers to continue in what they are doing. 

Paul then leads us into the most detailed discussion of the Rapture to be found in the Bible: 
"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words." (4:13-18, ESV)

This is of course something that has yet to happen in history. The Rapture is only mentioned in a couple of other places in the New Testament. There are many theologians who discount the doctrine of the Rapture. While I agree that it is not as essential that we agree on this doctrine as it is that we agree on the deity of Christ, this passage is very clear that something is going to happen.

The obvious question is when will this happen. Most of the debate revolves around when the Rapture will occur with relation to the Tribulation. I am not sure the Bible gives us a 100 percent clear answer. I have always been taught a "pre-trib" rapture, and I still hold to that, just because I haven't seen any indisputable proof to the contrary, but I have some friends who hold to a "mid-trib" view. I must admit, the "mid-trib" arguments actually make more sense to me than the "pre-trib" arguments. 

I really don't know for sure, and it's not something I'm honestly very interested in debating. I know that whether I see this happen in my lifetime or if I die here on earth that I will be in heaven with the Lord. That's the important thing. He could come any time as far as I am concerned, but I know that He will come at the right time, whether or not He comes in my time frame. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

TOMS: 1 Thessalonians 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

October 8, 2007

Paul continues his personal greeting in this chapter, telling them about what he was thinking while he was in Athens: 
"Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this." (3:1-3)

Paul's troubles were a concern for the folks in Thessalonica. And even Paul was concerned that they were troubled by his circumstances. What a unique relationship Paul must have had with this church. He could not personally go, but he sent Timothy to encourage them.

Paul next gives Timothy's report: 
"But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints." (3:6-13, ESV)

This passage gives us a glimpse of Paul's heart. He is thrilled that the folks in Thessalonica have overcome all the opposition and are hanging in there. Paul had a lot on his plate, and one thing he surely didn't need was to hear about how the church had fallen on hard times. This is an encouragement for us to keep the faith, if only to be a blessing to those who have labored to bring us along, whether it be parents or a pastor or teacher. 

This also shows us how interconnected the body of Christ really is. We pay lip service to that a lot of times, but when we really see it, it makes a statement that all of the world can see.

Friday, October 9, 2015

TOMS: 1 Thessalonians 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

October 7, 2007

I honestly wasn't prepared for this book to be this way. Thessalonians is quite the strange epistle. Practically half the book is a long, extended greeting. Anyway, let's get into it and see what we find.

"For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts." (2:1-4)

One thing you can certainly say about Paul is that he was more concerned with spreading the gospel than he was about anything else. He was not going to be intimidated by anybody, not the Jews, not the Romans, and not false teachers in the church.

"For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory." (2:5-12)

Paul did not care for money. It was nowhere near a top priority in his life. He did not care whether people gave or not. He was appreciative when they did give, and many of his letters include thanks for gifts they sent him. But if the Lord led him to a place, he stayed there. And if that meant making tents or doing something else to make ends meet, that's what he did. If you know me very well, you have probably heard me talking about Joseph, one of my mentors in college. He was from Singapore, and had experiences with a lot of missionaries working there. He was strongly convinced that if possible, a missionary who needed funds ought to find a job in his new country. This would not only provide some money but also gain him new contacts in the community. 

I don't know if I agree completely with everything he had to say about that, but I do know that it is easy for those in full-time ministry to become too focused on money. I have been in a few services (thankfully not too many) where the offering was the longest part of the service. The preacher or evangelist would get up and talk in endless spiritual platitudes about the blessings that come with giving, when it was obvious that all they were interested in was embarrassing people into giving a big offering. 

I have had the privilege of seeing my longtime pastor, Elmo Parker, be the exact opposite of this. I have known him all my life, and I know that he still supplements his income from his cattle farm. (8 years later, I'm not sure how much he does or is capable of doing on his farm.) If you have ever been around cattle, you know that it is hard work. He also worked in a factory in town for years while still pastoring, in some cases in churches nearly an hour away. He is not focused on money in the least. There have been times when he has forgotten to take up an offering, and there are more times when he almost apologized for taking one. He is probably more sensitive about it than he needs to be, but I admire him for that.

"And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!" (2:13-16, ESV)

This passage is one clue that this epistle was written fairly early in Paul's ministry. The Romans did not care about Christianity until the early 60s AD. The primary source of persecution and opposition in the first couple of decades of church history was the Jews, and Paul writes about them here.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

TOMS: 1 Thessalonians 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

October 6, 2007

This epistle was probably written by Paul a couple of years after Galatians, his first epistle, or at least the first one that is part of the Bible. Certainly it was written early in Paul's writing ministry. Among those who study these things there is no doubt on that point. This is a really short chapter, and so this will probably be short, too.

"We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." (1:2-3)

These people were obviously very special to Paul. The authorities and the Jews in Thessalonica were not very nice to Paul, but the believers there must have been wonderful people. Paul goes on to compliment them further:

"For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." (1:4-10, ESV)

This is of course a typical greeting from Paul, but unfortunately (for my purpose) that's all there is to this chapter. I guess the people who divided these chapters didn't have me in mind. 

It is an amazing thing that God can do in the lives of His people. These Thessalonians were idol-worshipping heathens until they heard the gospel of the Lord Jesus. Paul says that they were such a testimony of God's grace that the work of spreading the gospel in the rest of Achaia (what is now Greece) was helped by their example. 

The end of this chapter mentions "the wrath to come" which is one of the main themes of this entire epistle. We will get to that in the next few days.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

TOMS: Colossians 4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

October 5, 2007

Paul wraps up his epistle with various instructions: 
"Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." (4:2-6)

How many times is my speech "always gracious, seasoned with salt?" It is so easy to hurl insults, even if they are spoken in jest. It is an incredible thing, the power of words, both written and spoken. Of course salt, in this context, harkens back to what Jesus said about us being the salt of the earth. All of our speech is to be encouraging and full of Christian grace and love, both toward the lost world around us and fellow believers.

"Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here. Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, 'See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.' I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you." (4:7-18, ESV)

This is the rest of the chapter. There are some interesting names mentioned here. First Tychicus, who is also mentioned in several epistles. He probably delivered Colossians, Philemon and Ephesians. This passage is why some people believe the book of Ephesians was actually written to Laodicea. You notice that Paul suggests the Colossians read both letters, and Tychicus is mentioned in Ephesians 6:21 as the deliverer of the book.

Onesimus, of course, is the slave of Philemon whom Paul met in prison. Onesimus got saved and returned with Tychicus to Philemon. We will get more into his story when we get to the little epistle to Philemon.

Mark is the one who wrote the Gospel of Mark and who earlier caused the rift between Paul and Barnabas. That Mark was Barnabas' relative sheds a lot of light on why he wanted to bring Mark along. By this point, of course, the rift seems to be healed. Mark is one of Paul's trusted workers, and Paul encourages the Colossians to welcome Barnabas when they see him. And then of course there is Demas, who later left Paul. Perhaps he was not even saved. But we will not know until we get to heaven.

Likely Paul wrote a personal greeting at the end of his epistles in his own handwriting, which is why the last verse seems disjointed from the rest of the passage. 

We are flying through these short little epistles. We will start in Thessalonians tomorrow.