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Titus 1:5, Romans 12:16

Be Merciful To Me, A Sinner

In Paul’s letter to Titus, Chapter 1 and Verse 5, Paul tells Titus why he left him on the Island of Crete. “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.” There were two reasons. The first reason is so that he might “set in order” what hadn’t been “set in order” yet. The root word from which the phrase “set in order” comes from is orthoo (or-tho-o). We get the medical specialties of orthodontics and orthopedics from that word. It literally means to make straight. Orthodontists straighten teeth or put them in their proper order. Orthopedics is the setting of broken bones or straightening of bent limbs. Apparently, the church on Crete had crooked teeth and broken or malformed bones.

Of course, Paul wasn’t referring to literal teeth or bones. To push this analogy beyond the reasonable, the crooked teeth that needed to be “put in order” were those church members or teachers who refused to submit to the authority of the Apostles’ teachings or to the Apostles’ appointments of qualified leaders in the churches on the Island of Crete. They had their own agendas and caused great turmoil. Paul adds a second reason for leaving Titus on the Island of Crete. Paul wanted him to “appoint elders in every church.” I could go on to push the analogy further and say that the “broken bones” in the church in Crete were those unqualified, self-appointed leaders who rejected apostolic authority and taught their opinions as doctrines of God, causing great cacophony amongst the believers in the church. They were making disciples of their own opinions rather than disciples of Jesus Christ. They added a works system that confused the Gospel message of salvation by grace through faith. This always results in a division in the church and destroys the beautiful, intended life of harmony amongst the believers of Jesus Christ.

Nothing functioned the way it should. The church looked like a mouth full of crooked teeth, uncooperative with the order of God’s intended design. The church looked like a body with all its bones out of joint, a grotesque perversion of God’s creative order. God is a God of order. There is a rhythm in everything God created. You see it in the movement of the planets and stars, in seasons, in the beauty of the flowers of the field, in the surf of the sea, the beat of the human heart. God put all creation in perfect harmonious order. When we get out of tune, trouble results, and strife erupts. When legalists take over a church, a critical spirit arises and disputes over personal opinions regarding law keeping or just plain lifestyles. Pride becomes an overpowering force dividing the members based on personalities in the church. Paul wrestled with this problem with the believers in several of the churches that he planted. He actually confronted the Corinthians when they were divided over which leader to follow Peter, Paul, Apollos, or the super-spiritual ones who claimed they followed Christ. Paul told the Romans and all the churches from their day to ours to “live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16). The only way we can do that is to focus on the grace God gave to us all as sinners. We are all sinners saved by grace. This is not a room we enter once and then pass through on our way to perfection. It’s the place we are to remain. When Jesus observed the two men in the Temple praying, one of them looked up to heaven and told God how glad he was that he was not like others. He tithed everything he had. He did not commit murder or adultery. He observed all the sabbath laws. This was the Pharisee. The other was a publican. I think that equates to a tax-collecting sinner. He hung his head and acknowledged that he needed God’s grace. He said, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus told his disciples that it was the sinner who was justified. I can’t imagine that sinner coming back to the Temple the next week and praying the prayer of the Pharisees. It was the attitude of his heart that Jesus was complimenting. It’s that attitude that promotes harmony and health in any church.

 

 

 

 

2 Timothy 1:5

A Great Heritage

Some commentators focus on Paul’s letter to Timothy as a primary exhortation to stay strong in the faith and to withstand the persecution he is facing in Ephesus. Some of them read as if Paul is afraid that Timothy might be in danger of losing his faith. I don’t see it that way at all. I think Paul has unshakable confidence in his young disciple. Paul tells Timothy how certain he is of Timothy’s faith. In 2 Timothy 1:5, the focus is on certainty, not doubt. He says, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” Paul does not doubt Timothy’s sincerity or his faith. He’s confident that Timothy will hold firm to the convictions that have been planted in his heart through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul told Timothy that he was praying for him. He knew Timothy was facing severe trials, and Paul prayed that God would strengthen him as he lived through those trials. Paul then affirmed his confidence that Timothy would persevere. Paul called Timothy’s faith “sincere.” The Greek word used here is the one from which we get “hypocrite.” But the word is prefixed with a negative preposition. It would be “non-hypocritical.” Timothy’s faith had no hypocrisy in it! Hughes explains, “Their faith was genuine. It penetrated their hearts and wills so that everything was touched by it—their fears and hopes and loves and desires and joys and compassions and zeal. They were the genuine article. And such faith had come to characterize Timothy as well. This was not a case of eugenics (good breeding). Rather, he had seen faith in them, then he came to Christ, and then his life demonstrated the same genuineness.”[1]

Just as Timothy’s mother and grandmother stood firm in their faith, Paul was sure that Timothy’s faith would not falter also. There’s something to say about a good heritage. Matt Proctor tells us about Teddy Roosevelt and his son, who followed closely in his footsteps. In 1898, Teddy resigned from his role as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy to join the Calvary. Teddy said, “I want to explain to my children someday why I did take part in the war, not why I didn’t.” Teddy was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for leading the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill. In 1944, at 57 years of age, Teddy Roosevelt Junior led his troops in the landing at Normandy. Proctor recalls, “At first, his superiors had denied his request to go: ‘You’re 57 years old. No other general is going ashore with the first wave of troops.’ But he insisted, ‘It will steady the men to know I’m with them.’ After his third request, they finally agreed. So that June morning, Teddy Jr. strapped on his boots and led the charge up the beach under fierce German gunfire and on to victory. For his courage, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor … just like his father. The leadership of each generation is the legacy they leave to the next.[2] In his letter, Paul referred to Timothy as his “beloved son.” Paul was in a Roman prison for the last time and writing one of his very last letters before being beheaded for his faith around 64 AD. According to early Church History, in the year 97 AD, Timothy was an 80-year-old Bishop in Ephesus. He tried to halt a procession in honor of the goddess Diana by preaching the Gospel. The angry pagans beat him, dragged him through the streets, and stoned him to death. Although we suspect that Timothy’s father was a Pagan, we know that his mother and grandmother raised Timothy in the faith. Paul, serving as Timothy’s spiritual father, set an example for Timothy of sincere faith.

[1] Hughes, R. Kent, and Bryan Chapell. 2000. 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] Proctor, Matt. 2009. 2 Timothy: Finish-Line Faith. 3:16 Bible Commentary Series. Joplin, MO: CP Publishing.

1 Timothy 1:8-11

The Law Is For Sinners

 After spending significant emphasis on the need to preach the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, Paul needs to clarify the purpose of the law. Jesus said he did not come to “destroy the law” but fulfill it. The law is perfectly holy and righteous, and it took a perfectly holy and righteous person to fulfill it all. Jesus fulfilled it for the sake of sinners who had no hope of fulfilling it alone. That Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf does not destroy the law. It points out the explicit purpose of the law. Paul addresses the purpose of the law in 1 Timothy 1:8-11, Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”

The law is for sinners, not for the righteous. On the walls of an inner-city bus station is a sign that says, “Do not spit on the floor.” This law is proclaimed prominent for all to see because people spit on the floor. If you look around, you will see spit on the floor. At a large metropolitan airport, there are no signs on the wall against spitting on the floor. Yet, there is no spit on the floor. There’s no need for a law against spitting on the floor when no one spits on the floor. Just because there is no sign on the walls against spitting on the floor is never used as an excuse to spit on the floor. Everyone understands that it’s wrong to spit on the floor. “No spitting on the floor” is a good law, but some people still spit on the floor. The law is for spitters. It is designed to restrain sin. Ryken says, “God uses his law to restrain sin in human society. The commandments of the law, with their accusation of guilt and threat of punishment, discourage people from sinning against God. The law does not keep people from sinning entirely, of course, because it cannot change our sinful nature. But to a certain extent, the law does serve to restrain our sin.”[1]

When you study the law as the Old Testament prescribes, you will see that violations contain prescribed penalties. Without consequences for sin, society will break down. We are seeing this happen in our country today. The American Cornerstone Group reported, “Crime has become the new pandemic. Sweeping across America, seemingly unstoppable, random, and unprovoked attacks with no rhyme or reason are stoking fear among the masses.”[2] Most recent studies show that lack of consequences and even lack of prosecution always result in more criminal behavior. The Cornerstone Group says, “The problem is the lack of penalty or enforcement against criminals. Under the false guise of sentencing reform and equity, District Attorneys are refusing to properly charge arrested criminals. Dumping them back on the streets, often less than 24 hours after they committed a violent crime.” The police are fed up with this problem and are discouraged from making arrests knowing that the criminal will be back on the streets by dinner time. Further, “The criminals know that there is no penalty for their actions, there is no disincentive to committing crimes, so they only go bigger and bolder. Unfortunately, there is no law and order in America anymore.” As Paul tells us, one of the major purposes of the Law is to restrain criminals and protect innocent victims. The Cornerstone Group sees only one obvious solution to our problem: “The solution is to elect District Attorneys who are willing to prosecute criminals under the fullest extent of the law as well as provide police with the resources, funding, and faith so they can fully execute their mission.”

[1] Ryken, Philip Graham, and R. Kent Hughes. 2005. Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] https://americancornerstone.org/why-is-there-a-surge-in-violent-crime-across-america

2 Thessalonians 1:6

God Will Deal With Bullies

The Thessalonians experienced great persecution from their Jewish neighbors and Roman rulers. Much like in Jesus’ case, the political authorities were aroused to abuse Christians at the behest of the leaders of the Jewish community. The Jewish residents wielded influence with the government authorities. They used this against the new Christians. The government authorities were stronger and more numerous than the meager collection of new Christians in the Roman cities. They used their positions and their power to abuse the weaker group. In 2 Thessalonians 1:5-6, we read about God’s justice in dealing with the persecutors. It says, “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you.”

We usually associate bullying with childhood. But it occurs at any age. Webster defines bullying as “Abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger, more powerful, etc.”  We often see bullying in the world around us at every stage of life. God speaks a lot about those who do violence to others without cause just because they are stronger or bigger or have the authority to do so. According to Proverbs 6:16, there are six things that God hates. One of them is “the one who sheds innocent blood.” That’s the bully! Psalm 11:5 also teaches that God hates those “who love violence.” Psalm 5:5 says, “the boastful” will not stand before God. He hates all evildoers. It’s important to have someone who will speak up for us when we’re being bullied. We need an even stronger person to take up our cause. One writer says, “I will never forget having a bottom locker in my fifth-grade year. An older boy in seventh grade chose to open his locker and hit my head. It was cruel, but my older sister stood up to him nearby. Even though it was an unfortunate scenario, having a sister who would stand up for me meant the world. We get to be those advocates for others, but we can only be those helpers if we intentionally open our eyes to the injustices going on around us.”[1]

God hates the bully. He promises to stand up for the innocent parties that are bullied in life. I think this is the promise Paul is making to the Thessalonians experiencing persecution at the hands of the powerful government and the Jewish authorities who are instigating the persecution. The Message Bible Translation, by Eugene Peterson, puts Psalm 35 in very clear terms. It’s all about God’s dealing with bullies. The Psalmist exclaims that my enemies – discouragement, fear, depression, insecurity – rail against me, Lord.  “…God, punch these bullies in the nose. Grab a weapon, anything at hand; stand up for me!” They don’t give me much peace! But I’m certain you won’t let me down. No one loves me like you do! You put your arms around me, and you see me through! As these scourges in my life strive to destroy me, you fight for me. You break their chains and “…let me run loose and free…every bone in my body laughing, singing, ‘God,  there’s no one like you. You put the down-and-out on their feet and protect the unprotected from bullies!” The Psalmist continues speaking about after God delivers him from his bullies. He tells God, “When you do, I will shout, ‘God is great—everything works together for good for his servant. I’ll tell the world how great and good you are. I’ll shout Hallelujah all day, every day.’”

[1] What Does the Bible Say about Bullying  Topical Studies (biblestudytools.com)

1 Thessalonians 1:8

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

We’ve all heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” There are many such sayings in our history. The great preacher of the 4th Century said, “Men will not attend to what we say, but examine into what we do; and will say, ‘First obey your own words, and then exhort others.’ This is a great battle. This is the unanswerable demonstration, which is made by our acts.” Ben Franklin said, “Well done is better than well-said.” An old Spanish proverb says, “Deeds, and not fine speeches, are proof of love.”[1] Jesus gave us this idea also. He said in Matthew 7:16, “By their fruit, you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?” In 1 Thessalonians 1:8, Paul encourages the suffering Thessalonians by telling them that their example speaks for itself. They have good fruit, and everyone sees it. He says, “For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere so that we need not say anything.” The Thessalonians were very vocal about their faith and did not hesitate to share it with those in and around their area. The message spread far and wide, but their actions spoke louder than words.

Words are cheap, by the way. We get to know people through their actions, not just their words. Communication is very important, especially in our age of computers and the Internet. However, it is increasingly easy to conceal one’s true intent online. Many predators have deceived people into investing in non-existing funds. Young girls have become prey to older men masquerading as younger men online to take advantage of them. It’s easy to pretend to be something you are not. During the early persecution of the church by the government, many professing believers would offer incense to Caesar to save their lives or the lives of loved ones. Some would buy certificates saying that they had offered sacrifices even though they hadn’t. But many others went to the stake, refusing to disown Christ. They were eaten by wild beasts, burned alive, and beheaded, as well as other violent tortures to recant their profession of faith. Tertullian, a second-century believer, told the authorities, “The more you destroy us, the more we become. The blood of the saints is the seed of the church.”

When Paul and his disciples arrived at Thessalonica, he was received with great enthusiasm by some Jews and some Gentiles. When Paul proclaimed the good news at the Synagogue, many would come to hear it, and many responded. But the Jews who rejected the message raised up a riot and ran Paul out of town. The believers at Thessalonica rescued Paul from the mob and helped him escape to Berea. The believers at Thessalonica were left to face the persecution on their own. They lived up to the challenge. They professed their faith in Jesus during Paul’s ministry and never gave way to the pressure of both Jews and Gentiles to recant their faith. Thankfully, we don’t face violence against us in America for faith in Jesus except for isolated incidents. Yet there are places around the world where persecution of believers is still very severe. Even though we’re not physically threatened with execution, we still see the disapproval on people’s faces when we profess faith in Jesus. Some are passed over for promotion, denied a pay raise, or excluded from neighborhood gatherings because of their faith. There are numerous other ways the professing believers feel the disapproval of a humanistic society. The Thessalonians received praise from Paul and the other believers for not shrinking back from their faith in the face of their persecution. The Thessalonians were willing to put their money where their mouth is. We should be willing also.

[1] Water, Mark. 2000. The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations. Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd.

Colossians 1:6-8, Various

The Grace Of God’s Truth

After introducing himself and Timothy in the letter, Paul then sends “grace and peace” to them from God the Father and then offers a significant prayer of thanksgiving to God for them and their faith, love, and commitment to the truth of the Gospel message. Paul then reminds them of the source of that message. It appears that Paul felt it necessary to remind his readers that they had first heard the message from Epaphras, who was a fellow servant with Timothy and Paul in their work at Colossae. Just as the Gospel is being spread throughout the whole known world, the residents of Colossae were not neglected. They, too, had the good news preached to them and have hung on to it ever “since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit” (Colossians 1:6-8).

 They understood the grace of God in truth. The major characteristic of the message proclaimed by Paul, Epaphras, and the others in Colossae was the good news of God’s grace to sinners. Some, as we’ve seen in Galatia, were preaching the false gospel of works. Paul was always doing battle with those who distorted the Gospel. He told the Galatians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” The proclamation of the good news of God’s grace is just what it’s called: Good News! It’s not good advice. Richison observes, “The heretics of Paul’s day were preaching the gospel of legalism. The grace of God in truth is the grace of God without adulteration. It is the grace of God in its simplicity. The message was one of undiluted grace. The gospel came as an act of grace on God’s part. It was a message from God, not men. God took the initiative.” It’s all of Grace. Paul also made that clear to the Romans when he said, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise, grace would no longer be grace.” We can do nothing to earn or deserve God’s favor. Richison goes on to say, “Jesus won God’s favor by his merit. True Christianity rests in the provision of Christ’s death upon the cross. Jesus’ death satisfies the just demands of an absolutely holy God. This is true both for becoming a Christian and living the Christian life.”[1]

Paul was constantly at war with the legalists of his day. Of those that heard the message of God’s grace, not everyone understood it or accepted it. The Jews especially had a difficult time with the message and always insisted on works being a part of the proclamation. But not Epaphras. He got the message Paul preached.  He understood that it was the proclamation of God’s grace to sinners that was the good news. It was this message and is still this message, that raises believers all over the world. When Paul referred to Epaphras as a “beloved fellow servant,” he was affirming the message that was proclaimed by Epaphras. By calling him a “faithful minister of Christ,” Paul was adding his own endorsement to Epaphras’ teaching. It is the preaching of the gospel of God’s grace that arouses “love in the Spirit.” The gospel is a message to sinners. God demonstrated his love for sinners by sending Jesus to die in their place for their sins. As John says, believers now love because God loved first. That’s the gospel for the whole world!

[1] Richison, Grant. 2006. Verse by Verse through the Book of Colossians. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems.

Philippians 1:2

Grace and Peace To You

If you are familiar with the Epistles in the Bible you have probably begun to take Paul’s greeting to the Philippians for granted. They are simply the standard greeting he uses in all of his letters. The standard letter in Paul’s day included a “from” line. It identified the writers of the letter. In this case, it was Paul and Timothy. It then proceeded to note the recipients of the letter; in this case, it was the assembly of believers in Philippi, along with their elders and deacons. The usual opening then contained a greeting. Sometimes the greeting was “greetings.” That’s what many of the emperors used when they wrote letters to various cities around their empire. Paul’s greeting is found in verse 2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The word “grace” translates the Greek word “Cherein.” It comes from the same root word that Paul’s word for “grace” comes from. But, as Boice observes, “At the same time, however, it is important to note that the words are transformed in Paul’s hands so that they carry Christian meanings. The normal gentile greeting in Greek was a verb, but Paul uses the noun form of the same root, Charis. The difference is slight, but there is a great change in meaning.”

Paul is referring to God’s unmerited favor. He’s reminding his readers that the greeting, although coming from Paul and Timothy, is from God the Father through Jesus Christ. It’s more than just saying, “I greet you.” It’s pronouncing a divine blessing upon the recipients of his letter. God’s grace is the source of our forgiveness. It’s the source of our joy. God’s grace is the basis of our salvation and the assurance of our present happiness and future deliverance from the struggles in this sinful world. It’s the solid basis of God’s love for us. He does not love us because we are such loveable people. He loves us because of His grace. We do not deserve it. We cannot earn it. It is a gift from God through Jesus Christ. Paul has taken the root of the standard Gentile greeting and added to it the depth of God’s unmerited favor to all who come to God through faith in Jesus.

The next part of the greeting in the letter to the Philippians is “peace to you.” The standard Hebrew greeting then and now is the same: shalom. This is the word for peace. Throughout the New Testament, we see the war that takes place between Gentile and Jewish believers. Much of the persecution that Christ experienced and that followed Paul from city to city had its roots in the Jewish religious community. As Paul wrote this letter, he was imprisoned in Rome because of the accusations brought against him by the Jewish community. Paul is bringing the two greetings together. Because of God’s wonderful grace, all men, Jew and Gentile, can experience the peace of God that comes to us through Jesus Christ. As we read further in chapter 1 of the book of Philippians, we’ll see that real joy is found in the “peace” that Christ established on the cross for all mankind based on his grace. He wrote to the Galatians that based on the grace that brings peace with God, we also have the joy of peace with each other. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28)

Ephesians 1:4-5

In Love

The verse numbers and chapters in the Bible are not inspired. In-depth studies often show that they start or stop at the wrong places. The transition between Ephesians 1:4-5 is one of the most contested transitions in the Bible. Verse four ends with two words, “in love.” It says, He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him in love….” Putting it here suggests that the ones who assigned the verse numbers thought it went with what came before the phrase and is associated with love being connected in some way with believers being “holy and blameless before Him.”  However, If the “in love” phrase goes with the following verse, we have In love, he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” It is strongly argued by various proponents of both options. I think it belongs to both! I think the important thing to notice is that “He” is the subject in both sentences. He did the choosing, and He did the predestining!

He chose me before the foundation of the world. He chose you too. But why did he choose us? Was it because we were so good? No! Was it because of some special quality we might have over and above others? No! The Bible makes it clear that the only reason He chose us is because He loves us. This was the basis of his choice of Israel as well. Courson writes, “I love this Scripture. Moses says I want you to know the Lord didn’t select you to be His, holy, or different because you were mightier than others. No, He chose you simply because He loved you. God loves you and me, not because we are mighty, together, or have something awesome to offer. Quite the opposite, He loves us just because He loves us. Period. His love is not based upon how good I’m doing or how much you’re doing, how poorly I’m faring, or how much you’re erring. God’s love for us is honestly, truly, absolutely unconditional. And once we grasp this, we can go through our day expecting the Lord to bless us, to shower grace upon us—not because of who we are or what we’ve done but simply and solely of who He is.”[1] The only explanation we can find for God’s choosing us is that He loves us. Furthermore, He loves us because He loves us. He does not choose us, and He does not love us because we are loveable. It’s a mystery, and we must be content with that answer.

The “Predestination” Paul refers to in the last part of the verse is also based on His simple love for us. I may not understand it, but I have to accept it. God’s predestination involves our adoption as God’s children. We were not born into God’s family as the children of Abraham, but we were grafted into the family through our faith in Jesus. It might be argued that the adopted child is less loved than the natural child. But that is not the way it is with God. God is like the mother who went to be with her daughter as she delivered their first grandchild. After giving birth, the daughter said, “I don’t understand how his hair can be so dark; both my husband and I have light blond hair.” “Well, honey,” the mother began, “your daddy has black hair.” “Mom, the girl replied, “You know that doesn’t matter; I was adopted.” “Oh yes, Mom replied, “I always forget that.”

 [1] Courson, Jon. 2005. Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: Volume One: Genesis–Job. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

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