Creation: All You Need to Know

Please read Romans 1:18-23 in your Bible.

Creation Sunday (2)

Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

Faith can be found in the stars, so there’s no excuse.

CONTEXT: In 1:16-17 Paul shared the good news that God has revealed SALVATION and RIGHTEOUSNESS for EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES.  It is available to us BY FAITH.

In our culture, the Church is often content to stop there.  We hope to maintain our failing institution by making people happy, causing good vibrations, having positive thinking.  We are hesitant to even get into vs. 18-32, the flip side of the GOSPEL, because we fear offending or the censure of the “politically correct.”

Vs. 18-32 deal with the wrath of God against unrepentant sinners, against all kinds of depravity that stems from their rejection of God.

In the interests of public relations, we’ve dropped the “inconvenient truth” that hell is real.  We just don’t talk about the fact that a person has to confess being a sinner before they can become a saint.  We must be frank about the “bad news” before we get to the Good News.  Heaven without hell is just slick marketing; it is not the whole truth.

We’re observing Creation Sunday today, remembering to be thankful to God and give Him the glory for the wonderful world in which we live.  One aspect of creation is the truth Paul sets forth here: the existence of creation is sufficient proof that God exists.  Because of that, no one can claim ignorance as an excuse.  Creation itself tells us all we need to know.

  1. God’s wrath is being revealed and there are no excuses. (18-20)

THE WRATH OF GOD is His just and righteous sentence of the unrepentant.  Don’t be misled by an emotional reaction to the word WRATH.  God’s wrath is not about revenge, it is about justice.  It would be unjust (and unloving) for God to simply ignore sin, especially the sin of unbelief.

God has delegated enough of His authority to each person to make up their own mind; to decide for themselves and be responsible for their decision to accept or reject his offer of salvation.  Accepting it places one on a life-long path of spiritual maturing resulting in heaven.  Rejecting it place one on a life-long path of spiritual denial, resulting in hell.

Paul wrote about the WRATH OF GOD BEING REVEALED in the present tense because we live in the time between the Ascension and Second Coming, an age where we’ve been warned what is to come.  Those who receive God’s pardon based on Christ’s substitutionary death are no longer under WRATH.  Jesus took care of it for us. Those who refuse God’s offer remain under WRATH.  It is their choice.

How does God reveal His will?  One form of revelation set forth in these verses is General Revelation.  Creation testifies to the existence of a Creator.  Paul makes reference to General Revelation in v. 20.

Personal Revelation occurs in the person of Jesus Christ.  Especially in the three years of His earthly ministry, Jesus’ words and deeds reveal the character and will of God.  Specific Revelation is the Bible.  As we learned recently, God used human beings to record His words detailing His character and will.  Neither of these types of revelation are referred to in this passage.

Individual or Direct Revelation occurs on a personal level through dreams, visions, angelic experiences, God’s voice, circumstances and experiences.  Paul makes reference to Direct Revelation in v. 19.

Paul’s point: those under WRATH fully deserve it.  They are guilty, worst of all, of GODLESSNESS.  That alone condemns them to hell.  Unbelief is the only “unforgiveable sin.”  Think about it: the only way to be forgiven is by having faith.  If you refuse to have faith, forgiveness is not an option.  In spite of all the evidence creation provides, some folks stubbornly persist in their rejection of God.

Secondarily, they are condemned by their WICKEDNESS because even the kindest deeds done apart from God are as FLITHY RAGS (Isaiah 64:6).  Our minds can be troubled when we think of people we know who are good, moral people being self-condemned to hell.  This is worldly reasoning.  The Bible rejects any notion we can earn salvation by good deeds or any other means in our control.  We can’t redefine WICKEDNESS on the basis of whether or not we like a person or know somebody “that way.”  In the end, it doesn’t matter if a person is sincerely or insincerely wrong.  Polite unbelievers are condemned just as thoroughly as impolite ones.

They are also guilty of suppressing the TRUTH by means of their WICKEDNESS.  Listen to people when they talk about their beliefs.  If the word “I” appears frequently in their words that is a sign of making up one’s own beliefs, not receiving what God has revealed.  God wants us to use our freedom and our brains to recognize the truth and commit to it, not to make up something because it seems more sensible or excuses our sin.

No one can use the excuse of ignorance.  As Paul wrote, WHAT MAY BE KNOWN ABOUT GOD IS PLAIN TO THEM, BECAUSE GOD MADE IT PLAIN TO THEM.  Here is Paul’s reference to Direct Revelation, as we defined it earlier.  No one else may perceive God’s revelation to them, so we accept by faith what Paul says here is true: God, in some way, makes the truth PLAIN to every person.  Again, no one has an excuse.

Paul asserted God MADE IT PLAIN because the visible qualities of CREATION point to GOD’S INVISIBLE QUALITIES.  This is Paul’s reference to General Revelation as we defined it above.  The universe offers testimony that God exists and that He may be found.  This is an article of faith, so we don’t need science to verify this teaching.  However, to the degree that science increases our understanding and appreciation of creation, it is useful to our faith.

For example, the beauty of creation ought to give us a sense of God’s love and attention to detail.  In this way, visible aspects of creation give us insight into the INVISIBLE QUALITIES of God.

The bottom line is THAT MEN ARE WITHOUT EXCUSE. This is the purpose of Paul’s argument; to show that no one can use the excuse of ignorance to justify their unbelief.  To put it another way: there is no fence to sit on.  There is no “neutral” position on this issue.  A person either chooses to believe or to disbelieve.

People can show a lot of creativity when it comes to excuse-making.  However, on Judgment Day God knows the truth perfectly and will not be fooled.  He will act in perfect justice.

  1. Those who deny God put them-selves under His wrath. (21-23)

People who reject God cannot claim ignorance as an excuse.  The truth is, we choose to recognize God or refuse to recognize him.  There is a set of knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors that come with acceptance of God.  People who truly recognize God can, themselves, be recognized by the way they live.  We don’t live this way in order to be saved, but because we are saved.

On the other hand, people who reject God tend to behave in ways that betray their refusal to believe.  Their behaviors may not be vividly sinful, but they trend toward selfishness and sin.

Since they have no excuse, their rejection of God is their choice.  That they have made a choice can be seen in two ways.  First, they refuse to glorify Him AS GOD.  Instead, they live to glorify creation (self or the world).  They give no heed to God, doing nothing to honor Him.  Indeed, their life has been spent drawing attention away from God, instead of drawing attention to Him (which is what “glorifying” means).

Second, they refuse to give THANKS TO HIM.  All that exists owes its existence to God.  Gratitude is certainly appropriate.

Being thankful is also good for us.

– It puts our focus on God and His supply rather than our needs and our perceived lack.

– It requires us to pay more attention to solutions (which come from God) than to problems (which we create for one another).

– Thankfulness prompts us to pray and worship; both needful activities for spiritual maturity.

– An attitude of gratitude motivates us to serve God and others, to witness gratefully to what God has done for us.  Service and witness make us more mature and they also essential means by which we share our faith with others.

Before heaven is denied them, Paul listed earthly effects of being under God’s WRATH: the futility and darkness of their inner life.  THEIR THINKING BECAME FUTILE in the sense that it did nothing to produce true spirituality.  Their resistance to the truth guarantees their beliefs and decisions will ultimately end in frustration and destruction.

THEIR FOOLISH HEARTS WERE DARKENED: darkness is a biblical symbol of ignorance and evil.  In the Bible, a “fool” is someone who is ignorant of God and behaves poorly because of it.  Biblically, the HEART is a figure of speech for the inner life of a person, not really separating thoughts and emotions or making the rational and sentimental distinctions we tend to make when we draw a difference between “head” and “heart.”

ALTHOUGH THEY CLAIMED TO BE WISE, THEY BECAME FOOLS.  So many people reject God out of pride; on the basis of their big brains they think they’re too smart to believe in God.  We see examples of obnoxious atheists and even antitheists in our own time.  They have no interest in a respectful public dialogue, merely using media to condemn believers.

An especially damning proof of their foolishness is the “fool’s bargain” they made in exchanging THE GLORY OF THE IMMORTAL GOD FOR IMAGES MADE TO LOOK LIKE MORTAL MAN AND BIRDS AND ANIMALS AND REPTILES.

The other effects Paul describes here are SEXUAL IMPURITY (vs. 24-27) and every other kind of depravity (vs. 28-32).  We don’t have space to address those items in this post.  I believe they are self-explanatory of one is willing to cast off the blinders put in place by political correctness and moral relativism.

Way to Go, MA!

Please read Luke 4:38-44 in your Bible.

Way to go, Ma! (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

I’m sorely tempted today.  On the one hand, today we recognize the ladies in our lives: it is our Mother’s Day service.  So a mother-in-law joke or two is sort of on-topic.  And – as this message is on tape delay, I can get away with it!  On the other hand, today is Mother’s Day, so mother-in-law jokes are less appropriate.  And most of you know where I live.  So let’s compromise.  If you know a mother-in-law joke, type it in the “comments” section below the video.

Here are a couple holiday-appropriate stories.  On a Mother’s Day morning, two young children told their mother to stay in bed.  As she lay there looking forward to having breakfast in bed, the smell of bacon floated up from the kitchen.  But she waited and waited and finally could stand it no longer.  She went downstairs to discover her children finishing up plates of bacon and eggs and toast.

“As a surprise for Mother’s Day,” one of them explained, “we decided to cook our own breakfast!”  I assume she was surprised!

On another Mother’s Day another family decided to surprise grandma with breakfast in bed.  Unfortunately, the surprise was spoiled for when they got to grandma’s house they discovered she was still in bed, feeling ill.

As they were making their exit, a young granddaughter stood beside grandma’s nightstand, not budging, her eyes fixed on grandma’s dentures soaking in a glass of water.

The mother said, “Honey, we’ve got to go.  What’re you looking at?”

The little one pointed to the glass and said, “The tooth fairy will never believe THIS!”

Now we’re ready to go on to Luke 4:38-44, where Simon Peter’s mother-in-law played a supporting role.

CONTEXT: Jesus had just made a big appearance in a synagogue at the Jewish Sabbath (LKE 4:31-37).  It was there He cast a demon out of a man.  The amazed witnesses spread word about Jesus THROUGHOUT THE SURROUNDING AREA.

In chapter five, Jesus will begin calling His twelve disciples, do a couple more dramatic healings, and teach on the subject of fasting. We are clearly at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry and He got off in dramatic fashion.  Our passage is an interlude of sorts.  Here we see Jesus using His healing power on a personal scale, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, then on a public scale as all kinds of sick folk were brought to Him, and finally defining His mission as preaching.  We can see how these three brief incidents set forth a summary of what Jesus’ ministry was all about.

Jesus’ mission centered on preaching and included healing.

  1. What a Mother-in-Law Peter had! (38-39)

Jesus and Simon (whom Jesus would call to ministry in 5:10) left the synagogue for Saturday dinner.  Maybe something equivalent to our Sunday dinner?

Simon’s mother-in-law was sick at the time: she had a HIGH FEVER.  In 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul wrote that Simon Peter was married. The fact that his mother-in-law lived with Simon may imply that her husband was dead.  In that case, she no longer had a home of her own and had to come under some other male’s headship.

As most people lived in single-room homes, a contagious illness was a threat to everyone who visited the house.  On this occasion there was more than family involved: Mark reported the whole city had gathered outside the home.  One reason Jesus acted promptly was to allow the safe use of Simon’s home.

Luke was a physician and accordingly, he gives us a little more information than Mark or Matthew: Luke tells us her fever was HIGH (a serious condition) and the miracle Jesus used to heal her.     All Jesus’ healings used different methods and means.  He did not want anyone to think that the healings happened because of certain words, gestures, or some kind of medicine.  The healings were neither magic nor medicine.

In this case, however, Jesus’ method was similar to what He’d done earlier in the synagogue: there He’d rebuked the demon and it left.  Here he rebuked the illness the FEVER in Simon’s mother-in-law and IT LEFT HER.  Luke alone adds the detail AT ONCE to give more evidence to the supernatural, miraculous nature of this healing.

It is a small detail, but Luke recorded that Jesus BENT OVER HER to speak the words of rebuke.  He was not intimidated by her illness, Jesus got “up close & personal.”

Once healed, Simon’s mother-in-law got up and showed hospitality to Simon, Jesus and all who’d come along.  Whatta gal!  She might have wanted to rest, but instead she got up and went to work feeding Simon’s guests.

  1. What a healer Jesus was! (40-41)

WHEN THE SUN WAS SETTING means the Sabbath was over; people could travel without breaking the Law and Jesus could heal without breaking the Law.  Word spread fast and people took advantage of having a healer in their midst.

Jesus healed ALL the people brought to Him, in their VARIOUS KINDS OF SICKNESSES.  First, we note Jesus did not discriminate between persons (He healed the ALL) or between diseases (VARIOUS KINDS).  On this occasion Jesus healed by LAYING HIS HANDS ON THEM.  On other occasions He would use other methods.

On the other hand, He cast out demons with a REBUKE.  Ironically, it was the demons who were the first to testify Jesus was the SON OF GOD.  Jesus silenced them and cast them out with a rebuke (as he had cast Simon’s mother-in-law’s fever).  His word alone was sufficiently powerful to overthrow Satan’s minions from these people.

The fact that Luke reported a difference between SICKNESSES and DEMONS implies that not all illness is an affliction from the devil.  People of his time assumed illness was caused by evil spirits or the patient’s sin, but this is not always true.  Unfortunately, that error persists among Christians to this day.

Why did Jesus silence them?  This happens a lot in the Gospels, especially in Mark.  It is called the “Messianic Secret.”  Early in His ministry, Jesus wanted people to focus on His message and not get distracted on deciding whether or not He was the Messiah.  Jesus sought to exert control on public opinion in order to make it most powerful just prior to His arrest, trial, and execution.  This was intended to force the hand of the authorities.  Jesus managed public opinion to leverage His own death!  Since that week was about three years away, He wanted to keep things chill at this time.

Another reason for the “Messianic Secret” was an attempt to limit the size of the crowds following Him.  Big crowds would inhibit Jesus’ movement and ministry.  Worse, they might force the issue too soon.  In John 6:15 we read that Jesus withdrew from a crowd because He knew they intended to make Him King by force.  Jesus wanted no earthly crown and He did not want to put His people in harm’s way by inciting a riot!  Jesus was in control.

  1. What a preacher Jesus was! (42-44)

Every preacher must withdraw regularly to A SOLITARY PLACE to prepare for preaching and recover from preaching.  In 5:16, Luke explained this practice: BUT JESUS OFTEN WITHDREW TO LONELY PLACES AND PRAYED.  This aspect of a preacher’s life is like juggling, trying to keep the “balls” of time for people, time for study, and time for self all in the air at once.  When these three demands get out of balance, troubles ensue.

THEY TRIED TO KEEP HIM FROM LEAVING THEM: this is the opposite kind of reaction Jesus got from the people of His hometown, Nazareth, when He preached in their synagogue (Luke 4:28-30).  It was also the kind of situation He was working to avoid.

Jesus responded by telling them He hadn’t been called to Capernaum only, but had to preach to THE OTHER TOWNS ALSO.  Jesus’ mission was to TEACH THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD.  The KINGDOM OF GOD is a key teaching in Jesus’ ministry.  Of the 64 times this phrase is used in the New Testament, 31 of them are in Luke.  In His teaching, Jesus said that the KINGDOM OF GOD arrived with Him and that it was also not fully present until the end of the age.  The Kingdom exists spiritually in everyone who follows Jesus.  It will exist physically in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Luke did not mention Jesus’ healing ministry at all in verse 43.  This omission may imply that His healing ministry was secondary to His preaching, though it was clearly His healing power that the people wanted most.

Jesus left them and kept His word: HE KEPT ON PREACHING IN THE SYNAGOGUES OF JUDEA.  (The name JUDEA was, confusingly, used as the Roman name of the province where Jerusalem was located and in a more general sense for everywhere in Palestine where Jews lived, including Galilee.) Jesus was sent first to the Jews; in Matthew 15:24 He said, “I WAS SENT TO THE LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL.”  He met the people where they were, where they gathered for worship.

Jesus’ mission centered on preaching and included healing.

We have observed the good example set by Simon’s mother-in-law, who, when healed, rose from her bed of sickness and set to work to provide for her son-in-law and his guests.  Though she is not named, her example has been preserved throughout the ages.  She set a very high standard of love and service.

In this set of verses Luke provided us with a set of situations that summarize the earthly ministry of Jesus.  He was public and private, personal and communal.  He ministered healing, deliverance from evil, and preached the Kingdom of God.  Writing the book of Acts, Luke quoted this same Simon Peter’s summary of Jesus’ ministry, re-affirming the truths we have observed in this passage from his Gospel: “HOW GOD ANOINTED JESUS OF NAZARETH WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT AND POWER, AND HOW HE WENT AROUND DOING GOOD AND HEALING ALL WHO WERE UNDER THE POWER OF THE DEVIL, BECAUSE GOD WAS WITH HIM.” (Acts 10:38)

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, “Luke,” Laurence E. Porter.

The NIV Application Commentary, “Luke,” Darrell L. Bock.

The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, “The Gospels,” Darrell L. Bock, Ed.

One Perfect Life, John MacArthur.

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, “Luke,” Walter L. Liefield.

The Daily Study Bible Series, “The Gospel of Luke,” William Barclay.

Who is ‘Us?’

Please read 1 John 2:18-27 in your Bible.

Mirror Image_v07 (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      Today we celebrate our voluntary association with churches across our nation in a denomination called “American Baptists.”  Next Sunday we’ll do the same for our association with other American Baptist churches across the Dakotas.

The key word there is “voluntary.”  Baptists historically emphasize the freedom of each local church while at the same time recognize the practicality of working together to get more done.  Put another way, we value independence but practice interdependence.

Occasionally, the tension between those competing themes makes problems.  But as families are supposed to do, we solve our problems and remain in relationship.  Issues are rarely solved neatly or easily, but we work at resolution so we can remain in communion with each other.

We ask ourselves, “Is it worth the effort?”  One clue to an answer: over the last couple generations of American church life, the other six major Protestant denominations have lost followers at a horrific rate.  Alone among the “Seven Sisters” of the American Protestant churches, American Baptists have grown slightly over that time.  I would explain that as being the result of the evangelical and conservative churches like our own remaining in biblical truth and insisting the denomination do the same.  The boundary of any group is a definition of who they are and who they are not.  Today we’ll examine what John taught about the identity of true believers and the necessity of remaining in fellowship.

Denominational life is like family life; benefits accrue only to those who stay in relationship.

  1. Who we are not.

We are not ANTICHRISTS (18).  The term “antichrist” appears only in John’s letters.  In this verse He used it in both plural and singular forms. This tells me that “antichrist” is a movement of opposition, not just a single notorious individual.

According to verse nineteen the ANTICHRISTS were at one time in the church, but at no time did they really belong there.  The church is for Jesus’ followers, not Jesus’ detractors.  They are “against Christ” in the sense that they denied the truth about Jesus and taught falsehood instead.  In the Greek, the prefix translated “anti” also meant “in place of, against, and opposed to.”  The false teachers were not neutral on the subject of Jesus being the Christ; they were strong deniers of it.

John warned the fact that such individuals were present indicated they were in the LAST HOUR.  Jesus taught that prior to His Second Coming there will be an increase of persecution, of opposition to the truth.  The LAST DAYS precede the end of history and the world as we know it.  God will replace this sin-stained creation with a new heaven and earth.  This is the culmination of His plan, established before the creation of the universe.  Though two thousand years of history makes the LAST HOUR sound less immediate, the phrase refers to the time between Jesus’ Ascension and His Second Coming.  We are still in the LAST HOUR.

We are not quitters (19).  John’s reasoning seems rather circular: “We know we they were never Jesus people because they left us.  If they had belonged to Christ, they would never have left.”  However, his point is simply that “actions speak louder than words.”  No matter how pious they may have sounded or seemed their real intentions were betrayed when they walked out on the church.

By way of contrast, John used the word REMAIN five times in this passage.  Instead of leaving the church as the ANTICHRISTS had done, the true followers distinguished themselves by remaining.  The same Greek word is used extensively in John 15, in Jesus’ illustration of the VINE and the BRANCHES.  There He taught every good thing is possible to those who REMAIN in relationship with Jesus.  No good thing is possible apart from that close relationship.

We don’t lie about Jesus (22-23).  A specific falsehood these false teachers were purveying was the denial that JESUS IS THE CHRIST.  They tried to convince people that Jesus was not the Messiah; not God the Son.  True faith affirms the dual nature of Jesus Christ; He is both God and man.  To deny one or the other is an incomplete and false teaching.

This is a fundamental truth is implied in His name.  “Jesus” is our Savior’s given name and symbolizes the human side of His nature.  He was born a human being and existed in history, interacting with other human beings.  “Christ” is not His last name, it is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “messiah.”  This title symbolizes His divine nature.

We will not be lead astray (26). The two main subjects of John’s letters are truth and love.  In relationships, it is difficult to preserve both, but that is what God calls us to do.  John revealed that a purpose for his writing was to warn the people about false teachers in their midst.  They operated in neither truth nor love.  Instead, their purpose was to lead the people ASTRAY; away from the truth.  Whatever their motive, the false teachers knew the church folk would be easier to manipulate if they didn’t know the truth.

We don’t need to know how to argue with persons trying to persuade us to a contrary view, but we do need to keep our focus on Christ and simply refuse to be moved away from the faith we have received (JUST AS IT HAS TAUGHT YOU, REMAIN IN HIM).

  1. Who we are.

We are anointed (20+27).  “Anointing” is the biblical-era practice of applying oil to the body.  It was commonly done as an act of hospitality and for healing.  Less commonly, anointing had the purpose of ceremonially setting a person or object apart for God’s purpose.  For example, kings and priests were anointed for service; temple furnishings were anointed before being used.

John used anointing as a symbol of the “set-apart” status of Jesus followers.  We have received an ANOINTING FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT (20). Because they had received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, true followers are set apart to a divine purpose; to uphold truth and love. This is only possible because the Holy Spirit resides in us.

We know the truth (20-21, 27).  An important outcome of this anointing is knowledge of the truth.  The Holy Spirit grants every believer two important things: first, the illumination of Scripture.  The Holy Spirit enables every follower of Jesus the ability to read the word of God with understanding.  The Spirit enables us to apply what we’ve read and will bring it to mind when we need to recall what it said.

Second, Holy Spirit gives discernment.  As we live the life, the Holy Spirit enables believers to know the difference between good and evil.  When we can’t put a finger on how we know, we know because the Spirit told us.  God does not require us to have “blind faith” – just the opposite – we are to study the word, test it, learn what it says, and stay steady in the faith we have received (27).

The truth remains in us (24-25). God promises that His word and the Holy Spirit will REMAIN in the ones who REMAIN in Him.  Contrary to what our culture teaches, truth is not dependent on each person’s viewpoint.  It is not for us to make up a faith that suits us.  It is our job to receive the truth as defined by the Bible and the church, and make it our own by increasing our understanding of it.  By doing this, we receive the reward promised to those who REMAIN: ETERNAL LIFE.

Denominational life is like family life; benefits accrue only to those who stay in relationship.

There is a late-night talk show host whose name I won’t mention because I don’t like Jimmy Fallon’s politics.  One thing he does almost weekly is get the American public to do his work for him by tweeting responses to a topic he has chosen.  Here are some funny replies to #dumbestfamilyfights.

#1 = “My sister once screamed at me for an entire car ride because I was looking out her window.  To this day my whole family will randomly yell, ‘DON’T LOOK OUT MY WINDOW!’ at each other.”

#2 = “The day the clocks turned back for daylight savings time.  Members of my family kept arguing about what time we should feed the cat so she wouldn’t be confused.”

#3 – “My brothers often argue with each other on who is the ugly one between them both… They’re identical twins.”

#4 = “I jokingly asked my family: ‘How many of each type of animal did Moses take aboard the Ark?’  My Grandma says; 2.

“When I tried to tell her it was Noah, not Moses, she said I was wrong and stormed out of the room!  Dad says, ‘We don’t talk religion at the dinner table!’”

#5 = “For years, my dad has sworn he needs glasses, but my mom says he’s just ‘not trying hard enough.’”

RESOURCES:

Message #545

https://www.nbc.com/the-tonight-show/photos/hashtag-gallery-dumbestfamilyfight/3420957

Advent Angel Sighting #3

Please read Luke 1:26-38 in your Bible.

Advent Angel Sightings 2_final (1)

 (Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

In March of this year it was announced that a statue titled “The Virgin and Laughing Child” is actually a work of Leonardo Da Vinci.  It is said that he created the work in 1472, when he was 19 or 20 years old.

The statue depicts a woman holding a young child whose face bears an obvious expression of delight.  Religious art scholar Diane Apostolos-Cappadonna sees the charming sculpture as an expression of Da Vinci’s Christian faith.  She concluded the article, “Simply put, Leonardo illustrated how Jesus’ humanity came from his mother and his divinity from God.”

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/what-leonardos-depiction-of-virgin-mary-and-jesus-tells-us-about-his-religious-beliefs/

CONTEXT: Gabriel’s appearance to Mary followed his appearance to Zechariah six months earlier.  While the two accounts have many similarities, we will focus on the aspects of Mary’s account that are unique.  In the process we will continue to learn about angels and also appreciate the very positive example Mary has set for us in regard to our own obedience to God.

Mary had a faithful response to God’s message.

  1. Mary’s unique situation.

Of the six birth announcements delivered by angels, Mary and the unnamed mother of Samson (Judges 13) are the only women to receive one.  John Nolland wrote that while this section is similar to the other five birth announcements, it is also similar three passages where God called Moses, Gideon, and Jeremiah to do special things.  Mary is being told a lot more than “Congratulations!  You’re having a baby!”  After all, her child would be the greatest human being ever born.

Unlike the men, Mary was not afraid at the angel’s appearance, but was GREATLY TROUBLED by his words (29).  She must have realized in an instant that normally a man required to make a baby: she was troubled to think who this man might be and how this would affect her betrothal to Joseph.

Mary alone was said to have FOUND FAVOR WITH GOD (30).  While this can be assumed in the other four situations, it is not directly stated by the angelic messengers in the other birth announcements.  However, the emphasis of the word FAVOR is on God, not Mary.  Contrary to the belief of our Catholic friends, there was nothing superhuman about Mary.  The word meant “furnished with grace.”  Grace is always about the giver, not the gifted.

Grace is received because the giver decided to give it, not because the gifted deserved it.  The Bible teaches we are saved by grace.  It is not by our works, but by God’s love that we enjoy salvation.

Finally, Mary’s is the only virgin birth – ever (34).  People allege there are virgin births in other religions or in mythology, but none of them are in analogous to what Luke tells us about Jesus’ birth.

  1. Mary’s faithful response.

She started out TROUBLED and wondering but ended up trusting God.  I wonder how reassuring Gabriel’s explanation was (35-36).

In those days the Holy Spirit was not often mentioned, so that alone might have put Gabriel’s explanation outside Mary’s frame of reference.

She must have wondered what the word “overshadow” meant.

As it was used in the Bible, the term “overshadow” simply referred to the presence of God.  For example, in Exodus 40:35, the word referred to God’s presence in the form of a visible cloud that “overshadowed” the tabernacle.  Gabriel’s use of this term was meant to remind Mary of the cloud and to reassure her that her pregnancy would be miraculous, a creative act done by God Himself.

Verses 32-33 and 35 promise her child will be the greatest man to ever live. In her circumstance, would that be comforting, exciting, or intimidating?

Gabriel relates news that Mary possibly did not know: her kinswoman Elizabeth was having a miraculous baby of her own.  Knowing she was not facing this on her own must have been encouraging to Mary.

Surely the most convincing thing Gabriel said to Mary was his assurance, NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD (37). It was in response to this statement that Mary declared her willingness to serve.

Without understanding everything that would be required, Mary simply obeyed (38).  She understood her role in all this: not the center, but a SERVANT.  “MAY IT BE TO ME AS YOU HAVE SAID” communicates wholehearted acceptance of God’s will.

“Parthenogenesis” is the $10 term used in biology to refer to the development of an egg into an organism without fertilization.  There are animal and insect species that reproduce in this way.  However, science alone cannot explain the Virgin Birth.  Indeed, it has often been denied on a scientific basis.

This doctrine is one of central importance to our faith, so we should be unwilling to surrender it just because science can’t account for it.  The Virgin Birth is a handy example of an issue where faith has to trump science.  It is a belief where the question of “how” – as Mary asked it – is not at important as the question “why” – as Gabriel explained it.

Mary had a faithful response to God’s message.

Biology aside, this passage stresses the historical fact that Mary was a virgin when Gabriel brought to her God’s message of her holy Son.  (So much so that it’s stated twice in v. 27!)  I believe this is important for several reasons, one of them being that in the cultures of this day, it was widely believed that the father actually made the baby, the mother merely incubated it.  Believing that, people would naturally assume that Jesus inherited a sin nature through his earthly father.  However, as there was no earthly father, Jesus did not start out life hampered by a sin nature as you and I did.  So when Paul wrote GOD MADE HIM WHO HAD NO SIN TO BE SIN FOR US, SO THAT IN HIM WE MIGHT BECOME THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD (2 Corinthians 5:21), he affirmed that Jesus did not even have a sin nature.  Jesus was innocent from birth and maintained His purity throughout life.

What we learned about angels in this passage is that they are likely to take a hand when events are of historic importance.  The birth of the one and only Son of God is obviously important.  Based on the dialogue Gabriel had with Mary we may note in addition to delivering messages, angels are often called upon to explain the message to their human recipients.

Mary is a fine example for all of us to follow because obedience preceded understanding.  That’s what faith does: it allows us to obey God even when we don’t understand all the implications of His will.  Mary asked the “how” question and received a full answer, but it’s unlikely she knew in that moment all that being suddenly pregnant would cost her.  It’s unlikely she knew or cared about the biology.  When she was reminded that “Nothing is impossible for God,” she accepted that statement at face value and moved forward to obedience.  Similarly, we must never allow worldly thinking or fear stop us from being faithful to obey God’s call.

 

Resources:

Unmanly Men: Refigurations of Masculinity in Luke-Acts, Brittany E. Wilson

Word Biblical Commentary #35a: Luke 1-9:20, John Nolland

Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible, Luke, Justo L. Gonzalez

“Virgin and Laughing Child” is unveiled as Leonardo da Vinci’s only surviving sculpture

Advent Angel Sightings #1

hand it to you

Please read Daniel 8:15-27 in your Bible.

A man who lived on Long Island, New York ordered an expensive barometer.  It was advertised as a precision scientific instrument, a reliable guide for predicting the weather.  When it arrived he was extremely disappointed to find that the dial was stuck, pointing to “Hurricane.” After shaking the barometer very vigorously several times, its new owner sat down and wrote a scorching letter to the store from which he had purchased the instrument.  The following morning, on his way to his office in New York, he mailed the letter. That evening he returned to Long Island, to find the barometer missing – along with his house! The barometer had been right. There was a hurricane!

When we receive bad news we have an unfortunate tendency to blame the messenger.  That tendency is at play in Daniel, the scene of our first Advent Angel Sighting in this series of messages.  Daniel lived during the time the Old Testament people of God (Judah) were conquered by the Babylonians.  They suffered this setback in fulfillment of God’s prophecy of 70 years of captivity in a foreign land.  Daniel was the best and brightest young men of Judah.  The Babylonians cultivated his leadership skills and gave him considerable authority in their government.  The story of the lion’s den is a small part of the life of this extraordinary man of God.

CONTEXT: Chapter eight records the second of Daniel’s prophetic visions.  This one involved a supernatural ram and goat locked in an epic struggle.  The appearance of the angel Gabriel is to explain the meaning of the imagery employed in chapters two and seven, which were beyond Daniel’s understanding.

God’s messages demand a faithful – not fearful – response.

  1. Angels are God’s messengers:

their messages can be disturbing.

Here in Daniel eight we learn two things about angels. The first is that angels can take on the appearance of a human being (verse fifteen refers to Gabriel as ONE WHO LOOKED LIKE A MAN).  The Hebrew word for MAN (geber) is literally, “strong man.”  The visitor is named Gabriel, which means “man of God.”  Note the similarity of geber and Gabriel: we could translate his name as “strong man of God.”  If it helps, picture Arnold Schwarzenegger in a robe.

In the Old Testament, only Daniel names angels.  Those named are Gabriel and Michael.  The fact that they are named distinguishes them from the innumerable host of angels and may imply they are of a superior rank.

Notice how Daniel down-plays this event: the angel Gabriel “looks like a man” and the voice of God “sounds like a man’s voice.”  But there is no doubt this is a divine visitation.

Secondly, angels are messengers who deliver God’s messages to people.  As we read in verse sixteen, “GABRIEL, TELL THIS MAN THE MEANING OF THE VISION.”)

Daniel was disturbed by the vision and the visitation.  In verse seventeen he wrote, I WAS TERRIFIED AND FELL PROSTRATE.  Elsewhere in the Bible, we see this self-humiliating pose as typical when approaching royalty.  This was how Esther approached the king in Esther 5:2.  The Apostle John took this position when he encountered the SON OF MAN (Revelation 1:17).

We see this again in verse eighteen: I WAS IN A DEEP SLEEP, WITH MY FACE TO THE GROUND.  This wasn’t a sudden urge for a nap or a swoon. This word for SLEEP is used elsewhere in the Bible to describe a trance-like state in which a prophet receives a vision.  The fact that Gabriel lifted Daniel to his feet with a touch is another detail that gives this scene a supernatural quality.

The encounter took its toll on Daniel, as we see in verse 27: I, DANIEL, WAS EXHAUSTED AND LAY ILL SEVERAL DAYS.  I WAS APPALLED BY THE VISION THAT WAS BEYOND UNDERSTANDING.  We’ve all had the experience of having a nightmare that affected us so profoundly we lose sleep over it.  But not many of us have been so deeply affected that we were ILL for DAYS afterward.

But why was Daniel APPALLED at the message he’d received?  That Hebrew word can also be translated as “desolate, devastated, wasted, helpless,” so it is an extreme condition.  The simplest explanation is that he understood verses nineteen to twenty-five as warning of additional persecutions that would befall God’s people. He may have understandably felt they had already suffered enough and was saddened to hear more was to come.

What can we understand about this vision?  This passage, like all of Daniel’s visions, has been the subject of much speculation by people looking for clues to the end times events that are part of our future.  Based on the text alone, there are three things we can say with certainty.

Firstly, the vision looks to the future from Daniel’s perspective: to THE TIME OF THE END (verses seventeen and nineteen), a time in the DISTANT FUTURE (v. 26).  The expression THE TIME OF WRATH is used four ways in the Old Testament:

– One, for God’s wrath against His people for their unfaithfulness.

– Two, for God’s wrath against the foreign nations who made themselves enemies of His people and persecuted them.

– Three, the term marks the end of one historical era and the  beginning of another.

– Four, the end of reality as we know it; the putting away of the physical universe to replace it with an eternal creation.  We are tempted to assume the vision depicts God’s WRATH against the wicked at Judgment Day, but we need to be careful to note the context and determine which of the four meanings is appropriate to the text before and after it.

Secondly, verse 25 tells us this vision depicts the victory of God over the forces of evil in the world.  The fact is that the time of evil is limited and that God will win.  Apocalyptic literature like Daniel’s visions are given to encourage the faithful to resist the temptation to give up.  We are to be steadfast in our faith because we are assured the time of our trials is limited and that the end of the story is that God wins.

Thirdly, as this vision was BEYOND the UNDERSTANDING to a great man of faith like Daniel, we must approach it humbly.  As God gives us wisdom to attempt to understand it, we must give grace to others whose interpretations may not agree with ours.

  1. How are we to react to disturbing messages?

We can do no better than to follow Daniel’s example – humble yourself and pray (as we read Daniel’s prayer in chapter nine).  It was humbling for Daniel to admit he could not UNDERSTAND all the implications of this vision.

Chapter nine records a prayer of worship, recounting God’s mighty deeds on behalf of His people in times past.  It’s as if Daniel is reminding God He has been merciful with His people in the past in the hope He will show them mercy in the present.

In the Bible anyway, angel sightings are almost always shocking events.  Again, following Daniel’s example, we should be shocked into action, not frozen with fear.  Notice in verse 27 that the vision laid Daniel out for SEVERAL DAYS, he GOT UP AND WENT ABOUT THE KING’S BUSINESS.

After the vision had been explained to Daniel, the angel Gabriel ordered him to SEAL it up until the time the prophecy was fulfilled.  This command was a common feature of apocalyptic literature.

However, Daniel obeyed this command in an interesting way.  He did not put a physical seal on it, but a linguistic one.  Chapters two through seven of Daniel were written in Aramaic, a commonly used language in Daniel’s time, one his Babylonian captors would have readily known.  From chapter eight on, Daniel wrote in Hebrew – his home language – something his Babylonian overseers would not likely have been able to read.

The Apostle Paul would come along 100s of years later and explain the MYSTERY of the Gospel, revealing God’s plan for salvation as realized by Jesus Christ.  In effect, he was opening and explaining the salvation significance of OT prophecies like Daniel’s.

God’s messages demand a faithful – not fearful – response.

          Preparing this message, I searched “angel sightings,” and as you can guess, there was quite a variety of stuff on the web related to that title.  One website had a page where they had photographic evidence of the existence of angels.  Another one offered similar claims of sightings of Santa Claus.  This is a problem that occurs when we try to convince people of the reality of spiritual things by using earthly means.  I wonder why an angel would bother to mask his appearance to the naked eye but allow his picture to be taken.

It is a hard balance to achieve, but I believe it’s good to retain a healthy dose of skepticism when people want to use science to prove faith.  Angel sightings and miracles are a couple instances where the line gets blurred and it makes me skeptical about the means and the motive.

So we will limit our search for angels to the pages of Scripture.  My prayer is that our search will be part of for our Advent search for the Christ child, our personal spiritual preparations to celebrate His birth.  Keep your eyes and your heart open to God’s messages to you in this Advent season.

 

Resources:

Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Daniel, A. R. Millard

Kingdom Come, Sam Storms

The Daily Study Bible Series, Daniel, D. S. Russell

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #11, Daniel, Gleason L. Archer, Jr.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/19164/in-september-1938-a-man-who-lived-on-long-by-stephen-wright?ref=TextIllustrationDetails

How Can I Trust God?

How can I trust God_final (1)

(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

The front of a woman’s red station wagon was crushed when an elephant at a circus sat on it.  The owners of the animal apologized, explaining that the animal, for some reason, simply liked to sit on red cars.

In spite of the damage, the woman’s car could still be driven.  On the way to the garage she was stopped short by an accident involving two other cars just ahead of her. When the ambulance arrived a few minutes later the attendants took one look at her car, then ran over to assist her. “Oh, I wasn’t involved in this accident,” she explained. “An elephant sat on my car.”

The ambulance attendants quickly bundled her off to the hospital for possible shock and head injuries, despite the lady’s vehement protests.

(Bits and Pieces, October, 1991, retrieved from https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/6805/elephant-sat-on-my-car/)

Sometimes you don’t know who to believe!  Or whom to trust.  Good news – our God is trustworthy!

Trust in God is founded in faith and deepened with experience.

  1. We need faith to trust God (Proverbs 3:5-6).

CONTEXT: Proverbs three is a chapter that extols the benefits and value of wisdom.  There is a pattern in 3:1-12: the odd-numbered verses express the obligations of the person seeking wisdom and the even-numbered verses promise a reward for keeping those obligations.  We will focus on verses five and six explain the role of TRUST in our search for wisdom.

COMMENTS:

The word TRUST meant to rely on someone for security.  It is a confidence based on who God is, not on who you are.  TRUST IN THE LORD requires three things of the faithful wisdom-seeker.

First, TRUST…WITH ALL YOUR HEART (5).  The key word here is ALL.  Trust is not indicated in partial commitments, withholding some for self.

Second, LEAN NOT ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING (5).  There is certainly a practical side to wisdom, but that is not an aspect of the spiritual.  Truly wise people are not limited to the things they know because of training and experience, they know other things because God has revealed them.  God reveals wisdom in His word and by the Holy Spirit, working outside “common sense.”  If there is ever a conflict between worldly wisdom and divine wisdom, we must choose God’s wisdom.

Third, IN ALL YOUR WAYS ACKNOWLEDGE HIM (6).  Biblically, the word “way” can be equivalent to our word “lifestyle.”  It is the direction our choices take us.  The words WAYS and PATHS in this verse both refer to the character our decisions have created within us.  We encounter the word ALL again in v. 6.  We need to acknowledge God’s ownership of our bank accounts, home, family – everything.  If Jesus is not Lord over all, He’s not Lord at all.

The benefit of trusting God promised here in Proverbs 3:5+6 is HE WILL MAKE YOUR PATHS STRAIGHT.  As anyone who’s driven down a long straight prairie highway can tell you, it’s easier to stay on the road.  The promise of a “straight path” is a promise of a life that’s easier to live.  By way of contrast, Proverbs 2:15 + 9:18 uses the image of a crooked path as a sinful way through life.  These verses warn that crooked paths lead to death.

  1. We deepen our trust as we experience reliance on Him (Malachi 3:9-12).

CONTEXT: Malachi 3 warns that the Day of Judgment is coming and it will not go well for the Israelites because they have stolen from God by being unfaithful in their tithes and offerings.

COMMENTS:

Verse nine states the WHOLE NATION is UNDER A CURSE because they dared to rob God.  The Hebrew word used here for NATION typically referred to the pagan nations, not Israel.  This is a clue how upset God is with His people at this point.  Their failure to be obedient in the command to tithe is cast in the worst possible light: it is robbery, stealing from God! The penalty for robbing God is being CURSED by God.

Verses ten to twelve move away from the threat of curses to the promise of blessings if they would only obey God.  These verses emphasize the value of personal experience as a means of deepening our trust in God.  “TEST ME IN THIS” the LORD declared.

God called upon His people to do the right thing; to bring in THE WHOLE TITHE.  Upon the condition of their obedience  He promised to THROW OPEN THE GATES OF HEAVEN AND POUR OUT SO MUCH  BLESSING THAT YOU WILL NOT HAVE ROOM ENOUGH FOR IT.  He promised to prevent negative things like loss of crops.  He promised positive things like respect and success. The promise is that many blessings – material and personal – will be poured out from heaven to the degree that even the pagan NATIONS have to acknowledge Israel was BLESSED.

The word DELIGHTFUL makes a great promise sweeter still.  In Isaiah 62:4 God called Israel “Hepzibah,” which meant “my delight is in her.”

These verses affirm the reality that only those who take faith-based risks will ever know how trustworthy God truly is.  To put it another way, “If all you ever do is what you can do by yourself, you will never know how trustworthy God is.”

Trust in God is founded in faith and deepened with experience.

          A little boy was walking down the beach, and as he did, he spied an elderly woman sitting on the sand. He asked, “Are you a Christian?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Do you read your Bible every day?”

“Yes.”

“Do you pray often?”

Again she answered, “Yes.”

With that the little boy asked his final question, “Will you hold my quarter while I go swimming?”

What do you need to give to God as you head back out into the waters of life? I invite you to establish your trust in Jesus.

(Author unknown, retrieved from https://www.family-times.net/illustration/Trust/202753/)

Let’s stop for a moment.  If you ask a room full of church people “Do you trust God?” 99.9% of them are going to answer in the affirmative.  If you ask them, “With what do you trust God?” be wary of the one who too quickly answers “Everything.”

The truth is likely to be something less than everything.  Trust in God is a matter of sacrifice.  To trust God means we sacrifice things most dear to us, putting them entirely under His control.  To trust God requires us to love God more than self, people, possessions, and church COMBINED!  People who trust in God may buy insurance, but they don’t rely on it to “take care of them.”  People who trust in God may set money aside as a sound financial strategy but they don’t believe that savings will prevent calamity nor will it console them when trials come.  People who trust in God will not manipulate others or wield legalisms because no one can stand in for you on Judgment Day.  People who trust in God have their eyes set on heaven: not just as a place they’ll end up “someday,” but also as a reality we are trying to recreate in our daily experience.

 

RESOURCES:

Proverbs, Tremper Longman III

Message #772

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

#5 – Proverbs – Allen P. Ross

#7 – Malachi – Robert L. Alden

 

 

Defined by Faith and Fear

phobia

Phobias are fears that deeply affect the sufferer.  They are not entirely rational, and in fact, can be so strong that rational thinking is hijacked by the fear.  As we’re on the subject of fear this morning, I thought we’d begin with a look at some of the strangest fears people have.

“Nomophobia” is fear that your cell phone, for whatever reason, is going to stop working.  It’s estimated that over half of all cell phone users are affected by this fear.  Based on my experience, I’d say it’s worse than that!

“Ancraophobia” and “anemophobia” are two words for the fear of wind.  People with this phobia are anxious next to an open window or under a hair dryer.

You might guess “spectrophobia” is a fear of ghosts, but you’d be wrong.  It is a fear of mirrors and a dread of seeing one’s image in a mirror.

“Linonophobia” is a fear of string.  There is an online test you can take to assess the severity of your fear, but I’d think just waving a string around would be easier.

“Ablutophobia” sounds like a fear of Popeye’s adversary Bluto, but it’s a fear or bathing or cleansing.  Interestingly, this rare fear is more common in women and children than it is in men.

“Allodoxophobia” is, believe it or not, a fear of opinions.  Don’t you wish politicians and media types would get a dose of this?  The 24 hr. news channels would go out of business!

These are some unusual, new, and weird examples of things that people fear and they sound amusing.  However, in real life, phobias can be severe to the point of crippling a person’s life.  In those cases, serious steps need to be taken to relieve these fears.  God did not create us to live in fear, but in freedom.  While we may not be bound up by a phobia, fear still affects our thinking, attitudes, and decisions.  In our passage today, Jesus sets forth two kinds of fear.  One is good and necessary; the other is bad and unnecessary.  We’ll analyze this passage to understand which is which and how we are to deal with fear.

CONTEXT (v. 1) = Acc. to 11:38, this set of teachings was delivered in or near the home of a Pharisee, following some very strong rebukes Jesus delivered to the Pharisees.  It’s hard for us to picture a crowd this size gathering to listen to the goings-on in or near a person’s home, but it happens in the Gospels. There were so many people, Luke wrote that they numbered in MANY THOUSANDS and THEY WERE TRAMPLING ON ONE ANOTHER.  This is Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew’s Gospel.

What provoked Jesus’ rebuke was His host’s fussing about Jesus not going through the ritual of washing His hands before the meal.

Followers are defined by faith, not anxiety.

  1. Three things we must not fear.

In verse four Jesus taught, “DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THOSE WHO KILL THE BODY AND AFTER THAT CAN DO NO MORE.”  Followers of Jesus know there is more to life than what this world holds. Everything in this world, including pain, is temporary.  In a sense, even death is temporary as we are raised to life to face judgment.  No matter the persecutions and trials we face in this life, we can be encouraged to know they’re nothing to be afraid of because they are temporary. Don’t waste a moment being anxious about worldly things, no matter how scary they may seem; God is more powerful than all of them and He will deliver you.

In verse seven Jesus urged, “DON’T BE AFRAID.”  His reason?  God has not forgotten you.  He cares for the most common kind of bird: you can be sure that He cares for you.  Put anxiety away; trust in his knowledge of you (HAIRS) and His high evaluation of you (MANY SPARROWS). Anxiety gains power when we doubt God loves us or that He exists at all.

Similarly, in verse seven, Jesus said, “DO NOT WORRY” referring to anxiety over people who oppose our faith.  Jesus warned His disciples that the leaders of their own people would drag them into court and persecute them.  He promised that they needn’t worry about such experiences, even about what they might say in their own defense.  His promise was the Holy Spirit would supply a defense; He would inspire them with the best possible words that would result in the best possible testimony to their persecutors.

  1. Three things we must fear.

Jesus commanded, “BE ON YOUR GUARD AGAINST THE YEAST OF THE PHARISEES, WHICH IS HYPOCRISY” (v. 1).  This section is an example of how the context aids interpretation.  We observed the context section above that a huge crowd had gathered.  Notice the detail in v. 1; JESUS BEGAN TO SPEAK FIRST TO HIS DISCIPLES.  This is a sidebar Jesus held with the Twelve.  He used this occasion to give them a warning about the YEAST that is HYPOCRISY.  In other words, don’t be a hypocrite.  Put these facts together and here’s what Luke is depicting: the vast crowd felt like a victory.  The temptation in this kind of situation will be to please the people so they will stay and come back for more teaching later.  This is human nature.  How many times have we seen people with a distinctly Christian witness in music or preaching become popular and immediately their witness changes, it gets watered down in order to maintain that popularity.

Jesus used the image of YEAST because it is something that works silently but effectively permeates the whole loaf.  That’s why He warned them about hidden and secret things coming to light.  Sneaky compromises with the world made just to be popular will always backfire.  Our God who sees all will also tell all, so avoid hypocrisy.  Be afraid of being exposed as a hypocrite and be sincere from the beginning.

Jesus delivered the most serious warning in verse five, “FEAR HIM WHO…HAS THE POWER TO THROW YOU INTO HELL.”  While it may not sound good, this is the good kind of FEAR, the kind that motivates us to be wise to know what God commands and obedient to Him.  To be sure we get it, Jesus said “FEAR HIM” twice in this verse.

Don’t bother worrying over human violence that can only kill your body: instead, be concerned about God who has THE POWER TO THROW YOU INTO HELL.  The worst any person can do is hurt and maybe kill you TEMPORARILY.  They are not worthy of fear.  What God does is eternal and HELL is eternal separation from God, which is literally THE “fate worse than death!”

Having delivered that warning in verse five, Jesus gave two promises in verses six and seven that are positive motivations to FEAR God.  First, God is mindful of SPARROWS and you are much more important than them.  Relax in the knowledge God has not FORGOTTEN you. Second, Jesus said God has taken the time to number the hairs on your head.  That kind of knowledge indicates intimacy and constant watch care over us.

Wise people fear God above all others and don’t have any fear left for hypocrites or violent punks or any other kind of threat the world can mount.  Fearing God means we don’t abuse grace by accepting His gifts and avoiding our responsibilities.

Verses eight to ten direct us to fear the consequences of disowning God.  Before that, Jesus made a promise to His followers.  Verse eight might be paraphrased as follows: “You be faithful to me and I promise I will be faithful to you, especially when it matters most; at the gates of heaven.”  Loyalty in this life is rewarded in eternity.  We don’t EARN eternal life by being loyal, but our loyalty to Christ is one aspect of a true, saving faith.  It’s interesting how Jesus referred to Himself directly in the present time and to Himself as the SON OF MAN at that future time.  If you understand the meaning of that term as it originated in Daniel 7, then you understand its significance.

Verses nine and ten are a warning to unbelievers.  Jesus is NOT trying to make His disciples anxious about their salvation; that is a bad kind of FEAR.  Instead, He is attempting to motivate unbelievers to come to faith & be saved.  To DISOWN Jesus is to be guilty of disbelief.  Disbelief is refusal to accept the truth and be changed by it reveals a person who has no faith at all.

Back to Jesus’ warning about HYPOCRISY (v. 1): these verses are a warning to unbelievers who have only a pretense of faith.  A superficial faith is more likely to turn from Jesus because of temptations or trials.  The consequence is dire: the worst possible circumstance imaginable.  DISOWN Jesus and He will DISOWN at the worst possible time, on Judgment Day.  Such a person will be lost for all eternity, cast out of God’s presence.

Verse ten has confused a lot of people.  Rather than list all the ways this warning has been interpreted, I want to tell you what I believe Jesus meant, based on the context.  Jesus’ warning there is an “unforgivable sin.”  As it is unforgiveable, the guilty party can’t be saved.  It is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because it is a rejection of the Holy Spirit’s witness to an unbeliever convicting them of sin and calling them to repent, putting their trust in Jesus.  It is unforgivable because, as the previous verse indicates, the person has denied Jesus all the way to death.  When he/she stands before the throne of judgment, it is too late; they are self-condemned.  Logically, God cannot forgive those who refused His offer of forgiveness.  Our just God gives them what they wanted in this life; separation from God.

Followers are defined by faith, not anxiety.

Commenting on this passage, Darrell S. Bock wrote, “This passage asks fundamental questions about our identity.  Will we fear God or the masses?  Does our affirmation come from above or from our neighbors?”  People-pleasers are fearful folk.  We’re seeing the results of the Church in America trying to “fit in” with the culture.

On the liberal side, there is an evil spirit of accommodation.  In that case the Church has followed the dictates of political correctness, adopting it as “gospel.”

On the conservative side, there is an evil spirit of adaptation.  We have attempted to use worldly weapons of politics and money to fight ungodliness.  In fact, Charles Colson wrote in The Body, “Ironically, political flirtations and dalliances have threatened the church’s independence in the West even more than the direct opposition of Communists in the East.”

The most biblical and godly way is once again in the middle of these extremes.  We need to stay true to Scripture and away from worldly philosophies and methodologies.  We need to be sensible consumers and critics of culture, employing prayer, scripture, and positive responses as often as possible.

This battle is not for our culture, but for the people mired in it.  We direct our efforts at individuals to save them.  Culture and government are not our tools.  We rely on the Holy Spirit and the word of God.  We do not have to win in this world because we know this world is doomed to destruction and are assured that God is going to win.  Only what is of Him survives.  That is our only concern.

 

RESOURCES:

The Body, Charles Colson

The NIV Application Commentary, Darrell L. Bock

Ten Completely Bizarre And Completely Weird Phobias

 

Put On Your Work Clothes (Part Two)

Armor of God_final (2)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Please read Ephesians 6:10-20 in your Bible.

CONTEXT = The Apostle Paul used the word FINALLY (v. 10) in the same way some preachers do; not really meaning they are coming to an end.  They give you hope it’s about to end, but when all is said and done, the word “finally” fell in the middle of their time.  To satisfy my own curiosity, I looked it up and found that Paul used the word FINALLY seven times.  In Philippians he used it twice!  Three times, it appears in the middle of the letter, four times in the last chapter, but never in the last paragraph.

Here in Ephesians, the word FINALLY indicates Paul is getting to the last important subject.  The actual end of the letter is personal greetings and a blessing.

Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.

  1. True strength and power is a gift from God. (10-13)

In verse ten it is written, BE STRONG IN THE LORD AND IN HIS MIGHTY POWER. In the original language, the verb translated as BE STRONG is in what’s called “passive voice.”  This means the word itself indicates the source of this strength is not from within us; it is received, not generated.  Our part is to seek God and trust in His strength rather than rely on our own personal strength.

As Paul made clear in the next phrase – IN THE LORD – God gives us strength.  In fact, Paul is so eager to reinforce this point he added IN HIS MIGHTY POWER.  Aware of human nature to trust in ourselves, Paul tripled down on this emphasis.  POWER and STRENGTH are the same words Paul used in Ephesians 1:19-20 to explain how God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

The word FULL (complete) used in reference to the ARMOR OF GOD in verses eleven and thirteen is important.  The intent is to reassure us that when God promises to strengthen us for battle, we are FULLY prepared, not partially.  His strength is all we need.  It is a call to spiritual maturity using language akin to the FILLING of the Spirit.

Our STRUGGLE is properly understood as resistance against spiritual evil (verse twelve).  The word STRUGGLE is borrowed from sports and pictures two wrestlers grappling with one another.  Though people do evil and oppose God, mere FLESH AND BLOOD do not provide their own spiritual power.

Instead, people who do evil are powered by spiritual evil. RULERS and AUTHORITIES are two words Paul commonly used for beings of spiritual evil.  He has already done so twice in this letter (see 1:21; 3:10). Paul referred to the POWERS OF THIS DARK WORLD.  The expression “world powers” was widely used in all cultures of Paul’s day to refer to spirits or demons.  Paul added the word DARK to signify these are evil beings who influence people to do sinful things.

Bible writers saw two spiritual kingdoms at work in the world, unseen except for their interactions with people.  There was the Kingdom of God on the one hand and the kingdom of Satan on the other.  While these kingdoms are in conflict, they are not equal in power and the kingdom of Satan is doomed to destruction.

Paul also described them as SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.  The phrase SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL refers to all demonic and evil spirits of all types.  It may surprise us to read they exist IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS, where we expect to find peace and tranquility.

There are two ways of looking at this seeming contradiction.  One, HEAVENLY REALMS refers to the “spirit world,” the reality that exists alongside our physical reality.  It is a more general term while “heaven” specifically refers to the place where God is enthroned.  Two, in accord with John’s Revelation, we see the current version of heaven is not a place of idyllic peace and quiet, but is a place of conflict between spiritual beings of good and evil.  The conflicted condition of earth reflects the conflicted condition of heaven.  That version of heaven will be replaced by the NEW HEAVEN and NEW EARTH described in Revelation 21-22.

According to verses thirteen and fourteen, the goal of our STRUGGLE is simply to STAND.  The word appears four times in this passage, according to our English Bibles.

Paul warned a DAY OF EVIL was coming.  Though he refers to it as a single day, Paul doesn’t necessarily mean one DAY OF EVIL for all people, but whenever a time of STRUGGLE arises in a person’s life.  We needn’t be too literal here.

In the face of what would otherwise be an overwhelming spiritual force, God makes us able to STAND our ground, resist temptations and enduring trials.  AFTER YOU HAVE DONE EVERYTHING refers to the alertness commanded in verse eighteen.  Prayer is the means by which we PUT ON THE FULL ARMOR OF GOD.  This underscores our need to prepare for a DAY OF EVIL by maturing in our spiritual life.

Paul said it again: we are to STAND FIRM.  God doesn’t expect us to win the war for Him, just to survive it with our faith intact.  The word means “stand against” or “resist.”

  1. Symbols of the implements of spiritual warfare. (14-17)

#1 = THE BELT OF TRUTH BUCKLED AROUND YOUR WAIST.

This image appears first in Isaiah 11:5: “He shall be girded with righteousness around the waist and bound with truth along the sides.”  The TRUTH includes but is not limited to biblical teaching, as all truth comes from God.

Being prepared to resist evil requires us to learn, accept, and use the truth about ourselves as well.  Spiritually maturing people are humble and humility is an accurate self-understanding.  Humble people are not self-centered; they do not think too highly or too lowly about themselves.  More importantly, they know their giftedness, their role, and all the strengths God has provided them.

It’s possible that Paul listed the TRUTH first because that’s the first thing the Enemy will try to corrupt.  As did the serpent in the garden, the devil will try to cloud our understanding of what God said and what His will is.

#2 = THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Isaiah 59:17 depicts God as the Divine Warrior with this detail of His appearance: “He put on righteousness as his breastplate.”  RIGHTEOUSNESS is moral integrity; conformity to the will of God.

The lack of righteousness puts sinners at a distance from God (see Isaiah 59:14) but nothing is closer to your heart than a BREASTPLATE.  This is a symbol of close fellowship with God.  To PUT ON this BREASTPLATE requires us to seek to live in moral purity and wholeheartedly commune with God.

#3 = FEET FITTED WITH THE READINESS THAT COMES FROM THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.

Paul may have thought about Isaiah 52:7, which says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” One’s footwear takes on obvious importance when the objective is to STAND.  Paul does not specify any particular kind of footgear, so that’s not the point.  The point is preparedness, as indicated in the word READINESS.  In this case, it is READINESS to be a witness to the Good News of salvation in Christ, which is THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.

It’s ironic that Paul uses the word PEACE in this teaching about spiritual warfare.  However, speaking the word of God, telling people the Good News of Jesus Christ, these things bring about peace.  Peace is the heart of the Good News.

The best way a believer can oppose a lie is to tell the truth.  Also, if people know the truth, they will be better equipped to resist a lie.  In John 8:44, Jesus described Satan as “the Father of all lies.”  When the truth is told, Satan is directly opposed.

Followers of Jesus PUT ON this piece of armor by learning the word of God.  Concentrate more on the word itself, less on what people have said about it.  By studying and memorizing the word of God, you will be prepared to speak the word of God at every opportunity.

#4 = THE SHIELD OF FAITH, WITH WHICH YOU CAN EXTINGUISH ALL THE FLAMING ARROWS OF THE EVIL ONE.

FAITH is trust in God, being convinced and assured that He keeps all His promises: we are in His hands.  A physical shield is defensive equipment, held in one’s hands.  A Roman shield was four feet high, two and a half feet wide and several inches thick.  It provided complete protection from arrows if the soldier set the base on the ground and knelt behind it.  If he stayed behind the shield he would be safe from slings and arrows.  This image explains Paul’s comment about the devil’s arrows.  Notice Paul’s assurance that the SHIELD will defend against ALL the devil’s arrows.

In the Bible, God is described as our shield (Genesis 15:1; Psalm 5:12), but there is no Old Testament passage that shows God employing a shield in His role as “divine warrior.”  The image of FLAMING ARROWS is biblical: in Psalms 7:13 and 144:6, God is the one who shoots them.  Among weapons of the time, a flaming arrow was the most feared because it delivered a fiery material that could not easily be put out; it was a devastating weapon against wood structures.

In our experience, trials and temptations involve human beings and/or material things, but Paul identifies the archer as THE EVIL ONE.  This is a reminder of v. 12.  This is essentially a spiritual war.  Our chief opponent is a spiritual being whom we can resist, if we fight with God’s weapons and His strength.

A SHIELD is an apt symbol of FAITH because it is our knowledge of the truth and our trust in God that empowers us to withstand our enemy’s trials and temptations.  Faith is trust in God as our protector; we are safe as we stand behind Him.

#5 = THE HELMET OF SALVATION.

While the SHIELD OF FAITH image was original to Paul, the HELMET OF SALVATION is part of the description of God as the Divine Warrior in Isaiah 59:17: “He will put…the helmet of salvation on his head.”  God not only fights on behalf of His people but he also makes His divine armaments available to his people.

1 Thessalonians 5:8 was Paul’s first use of THE HELMET OF SALVATION.  There it was a more forward-looking view of salvation as the congregation in Thessalonica was concerned about salvation connected with Jesus’ Second Coming.  Here’s Paul’s pastoral concern is centered in the immediate moment, in how our SALVATION enables us to STAND amidst our present STRUGGLE.

A helmet offers much-needed protection of the head, but a trade-off is it often restricts the wearer’s peripheral vision.  To PUT ON this piece of armor, the believer needs to focus his attention on Christ, ignoring distractions and non-essentials (see Hebrews 12:2).

#6 = THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT, WHICH IS THE WORD OF GOD.

A SWORD is the only offensive or attacking part of this spiritual armory.  The fact that is a symbol of the Scriptures means that believers are to use God’s word to resist every experience of spiritual evil.  (Evangelism is an example of this use of the SWORD.  It takes the fight to the devil because we are using the word to convert enemies into friends.)

On the other hand, a SWORD was also a defensive weapon, used to parry or block attacks by an enemy.  The symbol is just as flexible, so we understand that the word of God can also be used to answer all attacks on our faith, in both the physical and spiritual worlds.  (The study of how to rationally defend our faith is called “apologetics.”  This is an example of a defensive use of the word.)

This symbolic SWORD is said to be OF THE SPIRIT because all Scripture has been revealed by the power and action of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).

The use of the WORD OF GOD in Isaiah 11:4 employs a ROD instead of a SWORD, but it shows how the WORD is to be used in attack mode; “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.”

Jesus’ followers take up the SWORD OF THE SPIRIT as they apply God’s word to their lives.  Biblical literacy is an essential part of discipleship.

  1. Prayer is where spiritual warfare is won or lost. (18-20)

(NOTE: Paul does not list prayer as a separate implement of war.  Instead, prayer is the means by which the implements listed are PUT ON.)

Verse eighteen is a general call to prayer.  In chapters one and three, Paul has modeled prayer for them.  Here he develops the quality and quantity aspects of prayer.  The command to PRAY IN THE SPIRIT calls us to a quality of prayer which is made possible only in connection with the Holy Spirit.                 Prayer is not a performance or a ritual.  It is more than conversation, it is communion with God (see Romans 8:26-27).  The phrase WITH ALL KINDS OF PRAYERS AND REQUESTS indicates that the form of prayer is not at all at issue.  There is no room for legalism or judging other people’s prayers. This is also an important point for the Ephesians who needed to know the distinction between incantations and prayers.  God knows every heart, what is actually in a person when they pray.  so what we can see and hear is only the surface.

Paul also addresses quantity of prayer in the following phrases, each of which is quantified by the word ALL.

– ON ALL OCCASIONS means “at every opportunity.”  One of the most appropriate questions we can ask is “May I pray for you?”  It reflects 5:26, MAKING THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY, BECAUSE THE DAYS ARE EVIL.

– ALWAYS KEEP PRAYING FOR ALL THE SAINTS includes a couple versions of the word “all.”  When prayer is not bound by legalities, one is free to pray at any moment, in silent communion with God, even in the midst of a crowd.

– The object of our prayers is for one another: ALL THE SAINTS.  Our prayers to PUT ON the armor are not just for ourselves, but for each other to be similarly clad and ready for battle.

WITH THIS IN MIND refers to Paul’s teaching on spiritual warfare as a motive to pray, being alert to the signs of the conflict all around us.  In Mark 14:38 Jesus called His disciples to “watch and pray” to avoid falling into temptation.

To be ALERT or watch requires we believe something is going to happen.  The more immanent the event seems, the more motivated we are to watch out for it.

Verses nineteen to twenty are Paul’s call to prayer for himself, to not be intimidated into silence by his imprisonment. Paul requested prayer specifically for his speaking: WHENEVER I OPEN MY MOUTH.  In the phrase, WORDS MAY BE GIVEN ME Paul brings to mind Jesus’ promise to His followers that when they are persecuted and drug before the rulers of the land, He will give them powerful words (see Luke 21:14-15).

SO I WILL FEARLESSLY MAKE KNOWN THE MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL. PRAY THAT I MAY DECLARE IT FEARLESSLY AS I SHOULD anticipates Paul’s opportunity to appear before the Roman Emperor.  Imagine the intimidation factor of standing before the man who ruled the empire that spanned the known world!

Remember Paul has used the word MYSTERY to refer to the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.  (This is the seventh time in Ephesians he’s used the word!)  It is synonymous with “Gospel” and refers to the revealing of God’s plan of salvation.

Paul’s prayer concern was that he would fulfill His mission as an AMBASSADOR of the Gospel in spite of the limitations of his CHAINS.  Paul endured imprisonment in Rome for two years and for a similar length of time prior to being brought to Rome.

As he indicated in Romans 1:16-17 and 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul was never ashamed of his imprisonments, because he knew he was God’s AMBASSADOR; the highest status available to a human being and more importantly, because his message was eternal life from God.

Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.

Reflecting on the state of the Church in America and our church, I see two problems with this topic of spiritual warfare.

One, we act as if there were no war going on at all.  The Church has been “unequally yoked” (see 2 Corinthians 6:4) with our culture.  That worked OK in earlier generations when the influence was primarily in favor of the Church.  However, in the last two generations, American culture has come to exert greater influence over the Church.  The Church and the culture are virtually indistinguishable and are headed in the same self-destructive direction.  As the Church takes very little pains to be counter-cultural, we are being drug down with them.

Thus, one step in this war with spiritual evil is to stop allying ourselves with worldly evil.  The Church must throw off its yoke, end its association with a “post-Christian” culture that increasingly hates and blames us.

Two, we act as if we have no idea who the enemy is.  Inside the walls of local churches, we too often treat one another as the enemy.  In petty disputes over worldly things like letters and numbers, we divide and deride and attempt to dominate one another.

There are, no doubt, persons in every congregation, who have no good business being there.  This is indicated when we treat one another as competitors or enemies, forgetting our struggle is against evil spiritual powers.  Our brothers and sisters are supposed to be our allies.

In short, we are the Israelites all over again.  We befriend the pagans and take on their ways instead of loving one another.  We accept idols and reject the living God.

For all these reasons we must heed Paul’s call to preparedness for war.  In part, living is struggling.  We need to heed God’s word and know with whom we are to struggle and with whom we are to be allied.  Whenever the Israelites followed God into battle, they were victorious.  May the same be said of us.

 

RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold

A Full Time Heritage

Timothy Family PicturePlease read 2 Timothy 1:1-7.

CONTEXT = 2 Timothy is Paul’s final letter.  It was written during his second imprisonment in Rome, a brutal ending to Paul’s life.  His cell had only one hole in the ceiling to admit light and air.  Worse, as 1:15-16 tells us, some of Paul’s associates had deserted him.

These circumstances would be enough to discourage anyone and you could understand if Paul struggled to accept the horrible things he was facing.  In his loneliness, God turned his thoughts to Timothy, a young man – a Greek – who had been his mentor in ministry.  Paul wanted to make certain Timothy received the full measure of instruction and support, everything Paul could put in a letter to this pastor whom he’d trained.

It is our blessing that these words have been preserved in Scripture for they provide a touching example of how essential it is that our faith be grounded in a heritage of sincere service.  Normally we speak of “heritage” as something from our past.  This passage obviously confirms that understanding of the word.  However, I want to challenge your thinking to recognize that a heritage starts as something we receive from previous generations; it is part of our past.  It is also something we are working on in each present moment.  It is of immediate importance because it guides how we live each day.  Finally, a heritage is something we’re creating for those who follow behind us.  A faithful heritage is something found in all three time periods; past, present, and future. We see all three of these eras of heritage in Paul’s greeting at the beginning of this letter.

Be mindful of the heritage you have received, the one in which you live, and the one you are creating.

  1. The Apostle Paul’s heritage.

Paul held the status and ministry of an apostle (1).  He was AN APOSTLE OF CHRIST JESUS.  The word “apostle” means “one with a message.”  It is similar to “angel.”  A modern equivalent might be “missionary.”

It gets a little confusing because the first Apostles were the thirteen men whom Jesus chose to be His closest disciples.  Later, the title would be used for preachers going into new areas of the world and leaders of the Church.  I keep it straight by reserving capital “A” Apostles as designating the thirteen men whom Jesus chose directly.  Everyone else – persons with this gift – gets a small letter “a.”

BY THE WILL OF GOD: Paul’s apostleship was unique; in Acts 9:15 the Lord told Ananias about Paul: “HE IS MY CHOSEN INSTRUMENT TO CARRY MY NAME BEFORE THE GENTILES AND THEIR KINGS AND BEFORE THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL.”

Or, to put it another way, Paul’s apostleship came about ACCORDING TO THE PROMISE OF LIFE THAT IS IN CHRIST JESUS.  THE PROMISE OF LIFE is the Good News Paul would carry into the Gentile world.  It is an exclusive message: the PROMISE OF LIFE is only kept IN CHRIST JESUS.

Paul exemplified the blessing of Christ-like character (2).  This kind of character is not natural; it comes FROM GOD THE FATHER AND CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD.  He offered three aspects of that kind of character.

GRACE = supernatural help to cover sins and other shortcomings (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

MERCY = kindness above and beyond what might be considered “deserved.”

PEACE = inward tranquility that comes from trusting God will take care of you.

Paul referred to his family’s intergenerational service to God (3).  I THANK GOD, WHOM I SERVE, AS MY FOREFATHERS DID.  The word FOREFATHERS is quite general; it could refer to immediate generations or Paul’s ancestors all the way back to Abraham.  In Romans 11:1 Paul proudly referred to himself as an ISRAELITE, A DESCENDANT OF ABRAHAM, FROM THE TRIBE OF BENJAMIN.  (He wrote more details in Philippians 3:4-6, where the Apostle established himself as a faithful Jew: a “Jew’s Jew.”)

He executed his service WITH A CLEAR CONSCIENCE: CLEAR meaning “pure;” not compromised with sin.  This was important to Paul; he mentioned it two other times in 1 Timothy (1:5; 3:9) and once in a sermon in Acts (23:1).  On the other hand, he went into some detail to show he was the WORST of SINNERS in 1 Timothy 1:12-16.  This may sound contradictory, but Paul in these passages, the Apostle Paul contrasted his sin with his salvation.  He wanted Timothy to understand how God had done so much to save him.

Service through prayer is indicated in the phrases I THANK GOD and I CONSTANTLY REMEMBER YOU IN MY PRAYERS.  Prayer is the means of service by which things happen.

  1. Pastor Timothy’s heritage.

An important part of Timothy’s heritage was his heart-felt relationship with Paul.  Verse two identifies Timothy as Paul’s SON in the faith.  MY DEAR SON (agape teknon) is obviously an affectionate way to speak about Timothy.  Relationships between believers are supposed to be characterized by love, but Timothy clearly had a special place in the Apostle Paul’s heart.  Paul may have first met Timothy in the city of Lystra, in Asia Minor, on his First Missionary Journey (Acts 14:8-21).  Paul took Timothy along on his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 16:2-3).

Verse four speaks to a close relationship in two different phrases.  RECALLING YOUR TEARS probably refers to the time they parted company last.  Acts 20:37-38 reports the tears as Paul left the city of Ephesus (where Timothy pastored) for the last time.  I LONG TO SEE YOU SO I MAY BE FILLED WITH JOY.  How many relationships do you have where seeing that person fills you with JOY?  I pray you have many.  Indeed, the number of such relationships may be a mirror to your own character and the depth of Christ’s love in you.

Like Paul Timothy benefited from an inter-generational faith in God.  In his prayers, Paul had been reminded of Timothy’s SINCERE FAITH.  Timothy’s faith was received (his faith FIRST LIVED IN YOUR GRANDMOTHER LOIS AND IN [his] MOTHER EUNICE), but was also personal (I AM PERSUADED NOW LIVES IN YOU ALSO).  Postmodern culture assumes that reality is however you define it and faith is something you need to make up for yourself.  These are utterly false and harmful assumptions.

Instead, faith begins with a foundation on the past, on the teachings and traditions of the Church that have – ideally – been passed on by our own family members.  Like Timothy, faith starts familial and becomes personal as we grow in maturity and understanding.

Paul was a caretaker of Timothy’s faith (6).  The phrase FOR THIS REASON refers to Paul’s knowledge of Timothy’s faith as sincere and Paul’s encouraging Timothy to live in it fully.  I REMIND YOU TO FAN INTO FLAME (“continue rekindling”) THE GIFT OF GOD.  Paul does not explain this figure of speech, so we are allowed to speculate.  We might relate it to the word TIMIDITY in verse seven.  In which case, Paul is urging Timothy to use his gifts and exercise his office courageously.  Based on the fact Paul thought this admonition necessary we might guess that Timothy had not been developing his gifts or not using them for leadership.

WHICH IS IN YOU BY THE LAYING ON OF MY HANDS = Paul may be accused of being a “proud spiritual papa” here, but I believe the emphasis is on Paul’s knowing for certain Timothy’s faith was SINCERE because Paul saw it for himself.  Paul laid his own hands on Timothy in acknowledgement of his faith.  The New Testament posits a number of different uses/meanings of the practice of laying on hands.

– In Acts 6:6, the Apostles laid hands on the first deacons, to commission them for service.

– In Acts 8:17, Peter and John placed their hands on believers in Samaria and they received the Holy Spirit.  (cf 19:6)

– In Acts 9:12-17, Ananias put his hands on Paul and his blindness was healed.

– In Acts 13:3 Paul and Barnabas were commissioned to be missionaries to the Gentiles by the laying on of hands.

– In Acts 28:8, Paul placed his hands on a man to heal his illness.

Whether Paul is referring to Timothy being healed, ordained, or receiving the Holy Spirit, it was a personal connection.

The phrase SINCERE FAITH is almost redundant.  Anything called “faith” that isn’t sincere isn’t faith at all.  This phrasing indicates Paul recognizing Timothy’s faith as real.

  1. Every believer’s heritage.

In the final verse, Paul developed two aspects of the spiritual heritage every believer enjoys.  First, expressed negatively, GOD DID NOT GIVE US A SPIRIT OF TIMIDITY (7).  TIMIDITY = “fearfulness.”  “Timothy” and “timidity” have similar sounds.  There is evidence that confidence may have been something Timothy lacked.  In 1 Corinthians 16:10 Paul urged the Corinthians to do nothing to make Timothy fearful.  In 1 Timothy 4:12 Paul urged Timothy to not allow anyone to look down on him on account of his youth.  The  choice of “timidity” as a translation is unfortunate, because the Greek word has stronger emotion than that.  “Cowardice” would be a better choice.  In Revelation 21:8, the COWARDLY are named among the kinds of persons excluded from the New Jerusalem.

Of more immediate consequence, TIMIDITY saps our strength.  It urges us to give up on God and each other, cutting off the source of true strength.  The result is that we quit thinking about our heritage and focus on our shortage.  This is a deception of the devil that isolates us and makes us easy pickings.

Expressed positively, we all have a heritage of power.  God has given us A SPIRIT OF POWER, OF LOVE, AND OF SELF-DISCIPLINE.  One might say these three qualities are essential for leadership in the church.

POWER = energy, the capacity for getting things DONE!  The Greek word is dunamis; the basis for our English words “dynamite, dynamo, and dynamic,” three powerful words!  Having POWER inspires confidence; timidity often occurs in the absence of POWER.

LOVE = agape; the kind of love that is supernatural in origin.  Of the six words for love in the Greek language, agape is the most unselfish one.  In 1 John 4:18 we are promised that agape love casts out all fear.

SELF-DISCIPLINE is the God-given ability to control our passions instead of being controlled by them. Four times in his three letters to young pastors Timothy and Titus, Paul urges them to possess SELF-DISCIPLINE.  Especially in leadership positions, rash words and thoughtless actions can cause big problems.  Self-discipline is a virtue that helps one avoid these problems.

Be mindful of the heritage you have received, the one in which you live, and the one you are creating.

Four times in verses three through six, Paul used words related to memory; REMEMBER, RECALLING, REMINDING, and REMIND.  We can picture him alone in his cell in a frame of mind and with nothing better to do than to relive memories of his past.  We can understand Paul being nostalgic, even grieving the fact that he will add nothing more to those memories.

I believe God used that understandable frame of mind to motivate Paul to record these final thoughts.  The entire letter demonstrates what we have noted in these first seven verses: the need to be mindful of our heritage.

We need to review and memorialize the heritage we have received.  The past is the time period over which we have no control – what is done cannot be done over.  Yet it is still important because it is the foundational part of our heritage.  It is the things we have received and created that define us in the present.

We need to be guided by our heritage, not by the fits of passion that enflame us in the present.  When we’re too much in the moment, we are prey to peer pressure, passion, and fashion, making poor decisions.  Choices create consequences and that is the stuff of life.

We need to be mindful of the future we’re creating; the heritage that is in the works; the life we will pass on to generations that follow us. We can’t just model it and hope they “catch on,” it must be taught to be caught.

 

RESOURCES:

Journey to a Faithful Finish, Tommy C. Higle

NIV Study Bible

Word Bible Commentary, William D. Mounce

Message #256

Symbols of a Working Faith

vets day

Three kinds of workers illustrate a working Christian faith.

Please read 2 Timothy 2:1-7 in your Bible.  I use the NIV (1984).

From a sermon by Jeff Strite, “Til Death Do Us Part” 2/15/2009: “Every year, hundreds of Civil war buffs get together and put on mock battles. They don uniforms that soldiers of the North and South would have worn back then.

“During one reenactment, it was a hot sweltering day. The civil war buffs are sweating as they maneuvered into position for their battle, facing the usual frustrations involved in setting up such a display. However, one of the ‘Rebels’ got so tired, hot, and frustrated he threw in the towel and headed for the refreshment tent. As he tugged off his wool uniform he was heard to grumble: ‘I quit. We’re not going to win anyway.’

And, of course — he was right! Here was this civil war buff — who knows HOW everything is going to turn out. He’s tired, hot, and discouraged. He KNOWS his side isn’t going to win anyway… so he quits.”

Christian, we are in a similar situation.  The Bible tells us (as we learned last Sunday) who will win the war of good versus evil.  God wins!  How can we consider giving up when we know we’re on the winning side? I know from our vantage point it may appear we’re losing this particular battle, but the outcome of the war is not in doubt.  God calls us to soldier on.  That was Paul’s message to Timothy, too.

The passage begins with Paul calling Timothy to be STRONG, but not in his own strength, in the strength that God’s GRACE provides.  In this way – only in this way – will Timothy be able to keep his calling as a pastor.  His task is to pass along the faith to those who are spiritually mature and share in his work of preaching the truth about Jesus.

Paul uses three illustrations to show Timothy that endurance, obedience, discipline, and perseverance are going to be required to accomplish this work.  If we will faithfully exhibit these marks of integrity God will faithfully make our work fruitful.

  1. Two things distinguish a soldier’s work: endurance and obedience (vs. 3+4).

The first virtue exemplified by a soldier is Endurance.  The phrase ENDURE HARDSHIP is a new word created by Paul, combining the Greek words for “suffer,” “bad,” and “together.”  Normally, we think of endurance as being something we do solo, gritting our teeth and getting through.  Enduring together is a better and more godly way of thinking about it.

The second virtue illustrated by a soldier’s life is Obedience.  A GOOD SOLDIER’s priority is pleasing his COMMANDING OFFICER.  All followers of Jesus have God the Father as our COMMANDING OFFICER. This Greek word literally meant “the one who enlisted us as a soldier.”

In Philippians 2:25 & Philemon 2 the word for GOOD SOLDIER is translated as FELLOW WORKER, referring to Paul’s associate ministers of the Gospel.

With that priority, a GOOD SOLDIER avoids getting INVOLVED IN CIVILIAN AFFAIRS, which are “business, occupations.”  A soldier temporarily sets aside interest in a career as it would distract him.  Instead, he focuses on being a soldier, fulfilling his CO’s orders.

  1. One thing distinguishes an athlete’s work: discipline (v. 5).

His priority is receiving the VICTOR’S CROWN.  This is stephanos, the crown made of laurel leaves that was given to the winner.  It was a kind of “key to the city,” as the one wearing it was treated like a hero all day.  The word for the kind of crown worn by royalty was diadema; headgear that gave the wearer a different kind of celebrity.

With that priority, an athlete COMPETES ACCORDING TO THE RULES – that is – he exercises discipline.  An athlete demonstrates discipline while preparing for competition, devoting time and effort in training.  When he competes, an athlete who truly wants to win competes within the rules of the game.  We’ve seen lots of notorious examples of people who cheated and ultimately lost the big prize.

Self-discipline is difficult, but it is always more satisfying and easier than discipline exerted on us by others.  Paul specified what self-discipline meant for pastors in vs. 23-24.

  1. One thing distinguishes a farmer’s work: perseverance (v. 6).

His priority is receiving a SHARE OF THE CROPS.  In fact, Paul wrote that the HARDWORKNG FARMER deserved FIRST SHARE OF THE CROPS he raised.  Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 5:18, THE WORKER DESERVES HIS WAGES.  As a culture, we’ve gone from being farmers to being gardeners to ordering our food delivered to us.  In these transitions we’ve lost our personal connection to the land and the patience that working the soil demands.  We have to turn to the remaining farmers to learn perseverance.

With that priority, the farmer works hard; he demonstrates perseverance.  Seed does not grow overnight and it will not grow as productively if it is not tended.  The farmer plants the seed with the hope of a good harvest to follow.  While he waits, the farmer tries to reduce the effects of things he can’t control (weather) by doing things he can control (seed selection, weed control, irrigation).  In the field, there is no such thing as “fast food.”  It all takes time.

Three kinds of workers illustrate a working Christian faith.

At the end of our passage (v. 7), Paul did not over-interpret these figures of speech, but instead called on Timothy to REFLECT on them, certain that God would supply him with personal INSIGHT into their meaning.  Similarly, when any of us read the Bible, we need to take time to pray and think about what we’ve read to gain a personal application of the truth.

A chaplain was speaking to a soldier on a cot in a hospital. “You have lost an arm in the great cause,” he said. “No,” said the soldier with a smile. “I didn’t lose it–I gave it.” In that same way, Jesus did not lose His life. He gave it purposefully.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/10716/christian-disciplines-by-paul-fritz?ref=TextIllustrationSerps

RESOURCES:

Sermon #534

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

The Daily Study Bible Series

Zondervan Bible Commentary