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Titus 2 – Like a Good Neighbor…

Like a Good Neighbor…

There are so many things in this chapter of Titus that sound like an abbreviated version of several chapters of 1 Timothy.  The basic premise of this chapter takes up several chapters like it in 1 Timothy (2, 3 and parts of 4).  The idea is that Christians should be good people by the measure assigned by the community they live in.  Its all about being beyond reproach.  

Check out verse 5.  The reason women should behave in the way Paul is instructing Titus is so that the word of God will not be maligned.  Its about how the community perceives Christians.  And then the same is true of the men in verse 8.  They must follow Paul’s instructions so that those who oppose them will be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about the church.  Again, public perception matters.

One of the great tensions in the New Testament is that the early Christian movement is entirely counter-cultural.  When Jason was taking care of some of the early church leaders, a mob rightly accused them of turning the whole world upside down wherever they went.  And yet, Paul is very intent to instruct Timothy and Titus to guide the church towards being good citizens and good community members.

Unfortunately, I think Christians today miss this very often.  In fact we get it completely backwards.  We tend to be confrontational with our communities by attacking things we don’t like while having no impact on the world at large.  Perhaps it’s time to reconsider both our purpose and our approach.  Certainly Paul understood the church’s goal to be liked by those around the church while they completely turned everything on its head.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2012 in Pauline Epistles, Titus

 

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2 Timothy 4 – Ear-Tickling Good

Earlier this week I was reading an article from Outreach Magazine that discussed the oft quoted idea that sometimes your greatest form of evangelism is how you live your life.  The article, found here puts forth the idea that evangelism requires words.  Personally, I agree with this idea.  I think that how we live our lives as Christians is extremely important and can open doors (or more accurately, living badly can slam doors shut) for evangelism to take place.  But at the end of the day, evangelism requires a believer who is willing to tell somebody what it is they believe.

Use Your Words Well

In this chapter, Paul is giving Timothy valuable ministry instructions.  Always be willing, at any time of the year and in any situation to preach the word.  And don’t get the visual of a pulpit here.  Neither Paul nor Timothy ever stood behind a pulpit preaching from their notes to a large number of people in pews.  Those are all constructs of the modern church.  Preaching simply meant sharing your faith and what you knew to be true about the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that others could be saved.  And what are the three main things your teaching should accomplish: correcting, rebuking, and and encouraging.  This should come as no surprise if you have read Paul’s epistles which endlessly correct, rebuke and encourage the church.  Correction applies when somebody is teaching, preaching, or believing in something other than what the Apostles (Paul included) taught about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Rebuke is when somebody begins intentionally living in sin or in opposition to God’s will.  And encouragement is what helps people doing well to keep doing well.

E. Torrini’s “Older Gentlemen Tickling the Ear of His Wife”

He cautions Timothy to avoid messages that will “tickle people’s ears.”  This is often watered down to simply mean “preachers shouldn’t just preach easy, happy sermons all the time.”  But that’s not necessarily the case.  After all, Paul dedicated his life to preaching the Gospel, that is the Good News of Jesus.  Preaching should be good and should be good news.  What he is saying is that Christians should not compromise the first two obligations mentioned above, namely correcting and rebuking, in order to not offend.  Ear-tickling-sermons are those that offer encouragement specifically to those who need correcting and rebuking.  And when ministers effectively do this, they protect the sound doctrine or healthy teachings of the church.

Other Concluding Stuff

Paul’s letter takes a dark and personal turn here.  Paul seems to realize that his time is drawing short in this section.  He makes sure that Timothy and the church know the names of several who have betrayed him and abandoned him.  If Alexander was causing problems for Timothy, this letter would have helped Timothy to reestablish some authority and position over Alexander in the church.

As always, Paul throws in a few greetings at the end.  Luke is still with him and was with him throughout much of his imprisonment.  I think that Paul likely contributed heavily to Luke’s writings, especially providing his own account of the events in Acts during this time.  Paul mentions Erastus, who stayed in Corinth.  I have seen the Erastus Stone in Corinth, which many believe to have indicated that this same Erastus possibly donated a street as a citizen funded civic project and as such had his name engraved on it.  It can still be seen today.  Pretty cool stuff.  

 

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2012 in 2 Timothy, Pauline Epistles

 

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2 Timothy 2 – Focus, Focus, Focus

Focus on Jesus

A good soldier is focused on his officer’s commands and doesn’t get distracted by civilian affairs.  An athlete plays by the rules and does not stray from them.  The farmer should benefit from the harvest.  These three professions are all require hard work and extreme focus.  If you get distracted from your purpose then you will fail.  Paul tells Timothy that he must be like these examples and remain firmly focused.  On what?  On Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.  Timothy must remain focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not allow himself to become distracted by insignificant arguments, whether they relate to the church or are of the world.  He must keep the main thing the main thing.

Don’t Get Distracted

Paul then instructs Timothy to remove distractions from the people.  Don’t let them get caught up arguing about words.  There are more important things to focus on.  Don’t let the people get caught up in godless chatter and just drumming up things to bicker about.  There are more important things to focus on. Don’t let wicked morons like Hymenaeus and Philetus cause division and spread false teachings.  Don’t get distracted by youthful desires, but pursue the virtues of the faith.  Don’t sweat the petty things, but focus on what matters.  Be gentle with those who disagree with you.

Are you noticing a pattern.  I am not sure how many ways Paul can say that Christians, especially leaders like Timothy, should stay focused and avoid distractions to the Gospel and the work of the Kingdom.  The question for you and me today is what things distract us from the Gospel and how can we become more focused?

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2012 in 2 Timothy, Pauline Epistles

 

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1 Timothy 6 – Good Slaves

Some of the problematic texts in the New Testament are those that seem to condone the use of slavery.  This passage happens to be one of those.  To our modern American sensibilities this is horrific.  How could the early church sanction the practice of slavery in any way?

Well, there’s a few things that we need to understand about slavery in Israel, and I think one of the ways to understand it is to look at modern constructs of slavery in America.  For example,  I am personally enslaved to Quicken Loans, Visa, and the IRS.  My masters allow me to choose where and how I work so long as I give them what I owe them at the time intervals they establish.  Currently, they collectively allow me to keep half of what I earn while they get the rest.  If I don’t do what they require they will limit my future spending options (credit score), garnish my wages, take my home away, or maybe even throw me in jail. Granted, I allowed myself to become their slave in exchange for their paying my debts up front and I can buy my freedom anytime at a prearranged price.  This is similar in many ways to the early American practice of having indentured servants, where American landowners would pay for a European person’s passage to America in exchange for 7 years service.  In these ways, selective “slavery” can be a functional tool.

I do think though that Israelite slavery often functioned more like this than the cruel and violent slavery America practiced for centuries.  Israelites could sell themselves into slavery (like I did with my mortgage) and then buy their freedom eventually (like I hope to with my mortgage).  Admittedly there are examples in scripture where conquered nations were forced to be slaves or masters were cruel and there are no good excuses for this.

Unfortunately, the horrible evil of slavery that is part of America’s past and continues to have echoes into our present, causes us to read many passages of Scripture in this vein.  When you study God’s instructions on slaves and masters in the law and Paul’s teachings on slavery in the New Testament, I think it looks more like the indentured servant practice seen in Colonial America.  I don’t believe that anything in the Bible ever condoned or sanctioned the slave trade that treated humans like animals.

In 1 Timothy 2, Paul teaches that the early Christians should pray for their leaders.  Well, at this point their leader was the Roman Emperor Nero, who burned Christians as human torches.  Certainly he wasn’t sanctioning Nero’s actions, but rather telling Christians to live as well as they can within whatever context they find themselves.  If you are under a cruel dictator, pray for him and be good citizens so he will leave you alone and you can do the work of the Kingdom of God.  If you are a slave, be a good servant to your master so that it will reflect well on you and the one you truly serve, that is Jesus.

Certainly there are other good and valuable teachings in 1 Timothy 6 and I encourage you to make sure you read it all yourself, but I did want to take some time to deal with this difficult and uncomfortable topic.

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2012 in 1 Timothy, Pauline Epistles

 

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1 Timothy 4 – Christian Leader Test

Paul is giving Timothy some oft quoted advice in this passage.  It’s used all the time in youth ministries and devotionals and the such because it says “young.”  However, the only reason Paul addresses Timothy’s youth is to point out that some people might not naturally look to him as a leader so he needs to be sure to be a good example.  In other words, Paul would have given this advice to anybody seeking to be a leader in the church.  If you want to be a good Bible class teacher, deacon, parent, witness for Christ or any other important leader in the church then you should strive to be an example in these ways.

Be an example in speech, life, love, faith, and purity.  When you set an example in these areas people will open themselves to be influenced by you and be more open to your presentation of the Gospel.

So here is the test.  I would encourage you to give yourself a grade on the following areas.  If you are currently a Christian leader, you need to strongly consider these criteria since Paul says they will determine whether or not you will be an effective leader in the church.  If you aspire to be a leader in the church then the best way to start is by improving your example in these areas.

1.  Speech – Do you use profanity or God’s name in vain?  Are you honest?  Do you say what you mean and mean what you say?  Are you an encouragement to others?  Do you speak about your faith or relationship with God before others?  Do you talk badly about others when they aren’t around?  Do you gossip?

2.  Life – How does your life reflect your priorities?  Do you choose work over family or church?  Do you value possessions over giving to God or others?  Are you kind?  Do you go out of your way to serve others?  Do people enjoy spending time with you?  Where do you spend your time?

3.  Love – Do you only love those who love you?  Do you forgive easily?  Do you show kindness to family and strangers?  Do you give good gifts?  Do you contribute to your relationships as much or more as you get out of them?  Are you there for people you care about during tough times?  Do you make sacrifices for others?

4.  Faith – How do you deal with difficult times?  Is prayer just something you do or part of a serious relationship with God?  Are you growing in your faith through spiritual disciplines?  Are you an active part of a faith community/church?  Do you share your faith with others?  Do you have a spiritual mentor?  Are you a spiritual mentor to somebody else?

5.  Purity – In your relationships with others, do you have good motives?  Do you struggle with lust or pornography?  Do you flirt with people other than your spouse?  Do you dress to get the attention of the opposite sex?  Do you make coarse jokes?  Are you genuine in your relationships with others?  Are there things in your life you would be embarrassed to tell your mom?  Your spouse?  Your Bible class teacher?

So my advice is to take the section that you got the lowest grade on and really work on improving that aspect of your life as a Christian example to others.  Pray about it and then do something.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2012 in 1 Timothy, Pauline Epistles

 

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1 Timothy 2 – Pray for Leaders and Haughty Women

Pray for Leaders

Today I have stayed off of Facebook for two reasons.  First, I was sick all day and pretty much laid around.  Second, I didn’t want to see all of the raw emotion being flung around in the aftermath of the election.  When I finally did, I found something somewhat amusing.  Interestingly, we happened to be in 1 Timothy 2 today which deals with this precise issue.

When your guy wins the election you will post something like “Okay, the election is over and America spoke.  WE voted for ________ and he won fair and square.  So now it’s time to come together and unite to make the best country for all of us.”  For examples of this please see anybody who voted for George W. Bush or Barack Obama.

When you guy loses the election you will post something like, “We’ve lost the country.  It’s all over.  I can’t believe there are enough people out there who think _________ can be President.  After all he is a (war criminal/violator of the Constitution) and he belongs in jail.”  For example, please see anybody who did not vote for George W. Bush or Barack Obama.

What would the Apostle Paul say on Facebook if he was around today: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”

My prayer tonight is that God will bless President Obama with health, wisdom, success, and many other good things.  Paul also mentions that the reason to pray for leaders is so that Christians might live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  The reason to pray for the earthly kingdom is so that it won’t come into conflict with God’s Kingdom.  And I don’t care who the President is…he/she is not going to be the Messiah and fix everything because Jesus already claimed that role and Jesus is going to still be King of Kings and Lord of Lords no matter who wins an election.

If you thought right now is, “But Kent, it’s so hard to pray for him when….”  You might be right.  But a lot of God’s commands to us are difficult.  Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.  And besides, no matter who the President is, it’s easier to pray for him than a Roman Emperor who demands you worship him or die.

Haughty Women

I want to focus on the instructions to women that deal with modesty.  This isn’t a new idea for women in God’s Kingdom to behave and dress modestly.  In fact, if you will look back at Isaiah 3 there is a rather lengthy section dealing with immodestly dressed women who sway their hips and flirt a lot.  What’s interesting is that this section falls right in a long description of the many injustices and problems that exist in Israel that are going to lead to the Babylonian Exile.  Serious stuff.  Check out this passage from Isaiah:

The Lord says,
“The women of Zion are haughty,
walking along with outstretched necks,
flirting with their eyes,
strutting along with swaying hips,
with ornaments jingling on their ankles.
Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion;
the Lord will make their scalps bald.”

In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, the earrings and bracelets and veils, the headdresses and anklets and sashes, the perfume bottles and charms, the signet rings and nose rings, the fine robes and the capes and cloaks, the purses and mirrors, and the linen garments and tiaras and shawls.

Instead of fragrance there will be a stench;
instead of a sash, a rope;
instead of well-dressed hair, baldness;
instead of fine clothing, sackcloth;
instead of beauty, branding.

We often skip over this passage in 1 Timothy 2 because we just want to focus on the more controversial and admittedly troublesome instructions about women being silent.  However, the issue of women behaving in immodest ways and in their clothing is very serious. God wants women who portray beauty in their attitude, actions, and treatment towards others.  God is more interested in women who reflect his characteristics to the world, rather than ornate sensual worldly external beauty.  It’s definitely something to think about.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2012 in 1 Timothy, Pauline Epistles

 

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My Knee Hurts…

Two weeks ago I sprained my knee in an indoor soccer game.  It hurt, but then it felt better so I played again.  Now it’s worse.  Moral of the story: I’m a dummy.  But it got me thinking about some of Paul’s comments on the church as the body of Christ, especially from 1 Corinthians 12.  In verse 26 he says, “ If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”  This has become especially apparent to Ryan and I over the last two or three weeks as we have preached these sermons on how to persevere through tough times in our lives.

When I finished my sermon two weeks ago, I stepped down on the stairs below the stage and began looking at the people in church and realized how many of them were going through or had been through serious struggles in their lives.  I saw children who had lost parents and parents who had lost children.  I saw people who were having serious career struggles (and resulting identity and purpose struggles).  I saw several who were having a hard time paying bills.  Two or three had been in my office that very week crying and sharing their brokenness with me.  I will be honest and tell you that I almost started to cry while we sang the invitation song.

If you were here last Sunday you probably heard Ryan’s voice crack a time or two as he experienced that same realization and emotion from the pulpit.  We were talking about it afterwards and about how real the struggles are in the lives of the people in this church.  I know that this has affected our prayers this month and I can truly understand the heart of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12.  When one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts.

I am not entirely sure what the point is of sharing this, to be completely honest.  I suppose I want to tell anybody who is part of our church that when you hurt, I hurt and this church hurts with you.  If you are hurting and haven’t told anybody, then you are deceiving yourself and robbing your church family of their desire to be there for you.  If you don’t have a church family to be with you during your good times and bad, then please come be a part of mine.  If not mine, then find yours.

And thank you to all of you who have hurt and cried with me over the years.  And thanks for sharing in my rejoicing too!  I’ve got a great family.

 

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2012 in Hot Topics

 

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2 Thessalonians 3 – Lazy Christians

So the largest part of this chapter is dedicated to convincing people that idleness isn’t becoming of a Christian.  What in the world is going on here?  Well here’s one possibility…

What would you do if you found out you just won the lottery?  Would you quit your job or keep working?

What if you found out you only had one month to live?

And what if you won the lottery the day before you found out you had one month to live?

Perhaps that’s something like what some Christians in Thessaloniki are experiencing.  They have just accepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ and understand that they are going to be part of an eternal Kingdom and that they are co-heirs with Christ.  They have also been hearing that “Soon and very soon we are going to see the King… Hallelujah!”  If you put these two things together you might decide to quit your job and become idle.  In a community, this can become a dangerous and embarrassing dynamic.  Certainly people are going to start looking down on Christians if they are becoming a burden to society.  So, Paul makes sure and tells those in the church that they are to work and be productive.  Don’t disengage and force others to provide for you.

That makes sense to me.

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2012 in 2 Thessalonians, Pauline Epistles

 

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2 Thessalonians – It’s the End of The World As We Know It…

2 Thessalonians has much of the same emphasis as 1 Thessalonians, largely because it’s written by the same guy to the same people and not a whole lot has changed.  So same song, second verse.  The three focuses of the relatively short letter are end times (eschatology for those of you who like big Bible words), encouragement for persecuted believers (this encouragement is mostly rooted in a good eschatology, which is the study of end times for those of you who like big Bible words), and encouragement to work for a living.  It is odd to me that both letters to the Thessalonians include encouragements to work for a living, making me think there were some seriously lazy folk in and around that church.

Chapter 1 begins with a greeting from Paul, Silas and Timothy to the believers in Thessaloniki.  He then immediately turns to encouraging those who have been persecuted or undergone trials and struggles because of their faith.  They should take great solace from knowing that God will bring justice to his creation.  While things feel wrong now, Christians can have hope because we know God will make everything right.  This faith and understanding should also inspire God’s people towards greater acts of obedience and belief.

One of the common objections to Christianity today is something along the lines of “How can God claim to be good, and all powerful and reign over a creation that’s so full of evil?”  Paul’s answer in 2 Thessalonians 1 is that God would completely agree with most of that sentiment with the caveat being that he’s waiting to fix it all.  For the time being, he has left his appointed people, Christians, here in his creation as forerunners to begin setting this to rights.  So don’t become discouraged, but instead begin declaring and actively transforming the redemptive work of Christ in all creation, reclaiming this world as God’s and promising with hope and faith that Jesus will eventually return to make things completely in accordance with the Creator God’s will once again.  Until then, persevere, stay hopeful, and keep doing the good work of the Kingdom.

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2012 in 2 Thessalonians, Pauline Epistles

 

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1 Thessalonians 4 – Proper Love and Dead Believers

As For Other Matters…

In a number of Paul’s epistles he will have a section where all of a sudden he says “as for other matters.”  When this happens, Paul is going to quickly give several pieces of very concise and practical rules for Christian living.  In this case, Paul has two topics he wants to emphasize.  First, God wants us to be sexually pure.  Look at the reasons given for being sexually pure:

  1. It is God’s will.
  2. It is an exercise in control over the physical body.
  3. It separates God’s people from the passionate lusts of pagans.
  4. It keeps us from taking advantage of our brothers and sisters.
  5. You have been warned and if you violate this, you will be punished.
  6. This isn’t a command from Paul, but as mentioned above, is a command from God.

Are all sins equal?  Yes.  Do Paul’s instructions in scripture indicate that some sins are worthy of special instruction and are somehow more dangerous to us and others?  Yes.  Can they be equally forgiven?  Yes.  Should we give extra special attention to teaching sexual purity?  Yes.  Clear enough?  Uh…..

Second, God wants the Thessalonians to continue in their love for one another and others.  Don’t be troublesome meddlers who upset people, but live quietly and respectfully.  Do good work with your hands so that you won’t depend on others and the world will respect you.

Believers Who Have Died

Ryan explained in detail in his introduction to the book that Paul is having to add this extra instruction on what will happen to those who have died and are believers.  Since many early Christian anticipated the return of Christ to be soon and very very soon they didn’t spend much time thinking or talking about what would happen to those believers who died before his return.  Since years have come and gone and Christians have passed away, Paul needs to add this teaching to those the church already had, making sure they understand that when Christ returns that the dead believers will rise and we who are still alive will rise with them and join Christ, so be encouraged by this news.  To those who were unsure about what was going on with dying believers, this certainly would have been encouraging news!

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in 1 Thessalonians, Pauline Epistles

 

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