Blue Collar Workers for God (2 Timothy 2:14-19)

On the day that I write this, I was briefly a visitor in a Bible study where I was neither known nor looked toward for who I am and what I do as a pastor and teacher. A discussion arose about Bible versions and translations. A lady made a point about a particular translation of a passage, saying that any Bible version that does not explicitly use the term to exactly describe a certain biblical character’s status, well, that is a translation to throw out!  Having a background in Hebrew and Greek, while appreciating the lady’s enthusiasm for the biblical character to be precisely what that person accurately needs to be theologically, I do know that the translation of the actual words from the original languages cannot in every case be forced to specify what the lady wanted to see.

So, would the long discussion to explain original texts / translations / Bible versions / word roots and definitions, etc. be a meaningless arguing over words, or is it a helpful and worthy explanation and parsing of biblical truth? Some might see it either way.

In our passage today, Paul tells Timothy to not get bogged down in arguments over words, yet he also tells him to be very precise and accurate in teaching. Here’s the passage …

2 Timothy 2:14 – Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 16 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

Apparently the false teachers of the time were known to take certain words and run with them toward the end that the product was nothing like what was originally intended. It might be something like taking the idea that God has a desire for you to prosper, and then using that word and concept to promote the accumulation of material goods, along with a teaching to work toward such goals while essentially ignoring faith in God. In this illustration, a general idea was worked and re-worked to contain specifics not intended.

However, there is value in understanding the Scriptures in an accurate way, down to the individual words. It was in yesterday’s passage that the theological concept of verbal plenary inspiration is best stated. Verbal = the words, plenary = all, and inspiration = sourced in the Spirit of God. So all the words of the Bible – down to each word itself – have been the inspiration of God who breathed out those words through the pens of the original authors. So, to understand words exactly and accurately is a valuable exercise and not a waste of time.

And there are some great words in this passage!

For example, where it says that the false teachers’ wrongful arguments about words “ruins” those who get involved, that term in Greek is what we get the English word “catastrophe” from. Now there’s a picture!

And the idea of “correctly handling” Scripture is from a term that literally means “to cut straight.”  The word in Greek was used in a number of contexts and industries, all related to the work of a skilled laborer (the illustration Paul is using). It might be a road surveyor laying out a straight path, or even more commonly of a farmer plowing a straight furrow across a field. So being accurate with words is helpful, not argumentative.

But false teachings would inevitably spread rapidly by such as by two known characters to both Paul and Timothy, men who were using words wrongly to teach a variant gospel that the resurrection of the dead had already taken place.

So how are you at understanding the meanings of Scripture more and more? There is no shortcut for studying; and you may recall that old King James Version says of this passage to “study to show yourself approved of God.”  Again, back to words, the idea of studying is not precisely in the meaning of the word; rather it is the idea of presenting oneself as a good worker through diligent labor. But in any event, it involves work, effort, diligence and an interest in precision and accuracy. That takes time and valuing the Scriptures. Doing things like reading devotionals of the sort we provide!! Now aren’t you glad you read this?

Shooting the Messenger Never Works (2 Timothy 2:8-13)

The old saying by the herald of a message that is unpopular is, “Don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger.” But shooting the messenger seldom stops the message from getting through, and persecuting the preacher of the gospel has never has stopped the Good News from advancing. In fact, it often has had the opposite effect, as seen by the explosion of the church in the most oppressive places like China and Iran.

Paul, writing from prison, had seen in his own experiences under the forced “hospitality” of the Roman government that the gospel message could go forward in spite of his chains. In Philippians, Paul wrote joyfully of his confinement by saying …

1:12 – Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

This first imprisonment finds Paul with a rather positive expectation of pending release, which does happen. But in writing to Timothy, the situation is much more serious, and in fact Paul would not be released. As a prisoner due to preaching an illegal religion, he was in chains in a time (under the Emperor Nero) when Christians were being blamed for most anything that went wrong … you know, like the city of Rome burning down.

But while encouraging Timothy to be bold in standing for the gospel, Paul is able to say that the message of the cross is not chained and is not limited by what man might do to wipe it out.

2 Tim. 2:8Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

What follows is another early hymn, or perhaps a baptismal creed that was a statement of the obligation of followers of Christ to be identified with him here and now, knowing that such leads to life with him eternally then and there …

11 Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him;

12 if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us;

13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

This persecution stuff … it’s really rare now, right?  That happened in the past primarily and isn’t so common in our modern world, correct?  Not at all!  The current era has seen as much or more persecution of Christians than any other time in the past 2,000 years. Yet at the same time the gospel is spreading worldwide in unprecedented ways as well.

But right now, as you read this, remember that there are our brothers and sisters in Christ in varied corners of the world who are imprisoned and suffering in innumerable ways because they believe in Jesus and preach the gospel message. You can read some stories about these saints in the publication of a ministry called Voice of the Martyrs. HERE is a link.

A story there talks about a pastor from Uzbekistan. I was much touched by this account, having been there and attended church in that country in 1999. We were in a service that had about 75-100 people. The host missionary “whispered down the line” to us American pastors sitting there that we should simply observe and make no public statements, etc.  Pointing to a group of men standing against the back wall, he commented that they were government officials who were there to observe and report about everything that happened and who were in attendance. Yes, that was creepy; but that is life in many such contexts. On the same trip, in Istanbul, we attended a meeting of Christian leaders in the basement of a business, the attendees arriving one at a time so as not to draw any attention to look like such a meeting was taking place. Among topics was what to do if the police break into a service and begin to arrest people.

We should pray for the persecuted church around the world, while thankful that the gospel continues to expand and draw so many to be followers of Jesus Christ and thereby heirs of life eternal.

Passing On THE STUFF (2 Timothy 2:1-7)

Like most families, I have some valuable keepsake sorts of items that I would like to see safely passed down through successive generations. People and families desire to pass on to their progeny those items that they value, be they items of wealth, real estate or whatever.

There is nothing more valuable than the gospel. And it needs to be passed down generationally both with organic and church families. It is the obligation particularly of church leaders (like Timothy) to be particularly cognizant of this responsibility, though everyone who truly knows and understands the Good News needs to play a part in disseminating it to successive generations.

In the Protestant/Evangelical tradition, this Scriptural truth and gospel message is what we inherit from the Apostles and pass on to those trusting in Christ who come behind us. The idea of “apostolic succession” is a part of the Roman Catholic tradition, being defined as, “the uninterrupted transmission of spiritual authority from the Apostles through successive popes and bishops.”

Here today in 2 Timothy 2, we see that Paul identifies THE STUFF – the apostolic succession – that is to be passed on as the teaching that came from him in both formal and informal discipleship that transpired in association with Timothy …

2:1 – You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.

What does it mean to “entrust” this message with others? This is a word that would be used for making a deposit or entrusting something of value with another person … not to be kept and enjoyed, but to be the custodian of for the benefit of another. The word was also used to picture setting food on a table, or of setting forth an explanation or teaching. So it involves taking something of value and presenting if for the benefit of others.

Paul continues with three illustrations as to how Timothy should discharge this responsibility …

3 Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. 5 Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. 6 The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. 7 Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.

Paul illustrates the way Timothy (and mature believers) should handle the obligation to be faithful in communicating the gospel. Being a soldier, or an athlete, or a farmer has multiple similar qualities. Each role involves disciplined commitment and hardships but leads to rewards when faithfully executed.

A soldier has to be focused and cannot be thinking about the folks at home when in combat. I understand that military training has a goal to break down the self-preservation sort of natural response in a crisis, so as to be only thinking about immediate obedience to an order. Jesus said to “Preach the gospel…”

An athlete cannot just go out and be a champion on Day 1. It takes a long time and great effort and discipline.

A farmer gets to be the first to benefit from what he grows, but the process is long and grueling. Most of my family ancestors were farmers, and the hours they kept were crazy.

There is no shortcut to communicating and teaching the gospel and the depths of Scripture. It is work to learn it and to pass it along to others who will pass it along to others … yep … who will pass it along to others. We’re all in the process somewhere, sometimes maybe both learning more and communicating more. There is no place for the passive.

Becoming Onesiphorusish (2 Timothy 1:15-18)

Have you ever been falsely accused of something, with the majority of people around you thinking you are guilty? We have probably all had some small measure of that in our lives in some circumstance. But imagine that your alleged wrong-doing was seen as a capital crime and that you were in prison awaiting a trial from which there was little hope of justice. Who would come to see you, help you, or be identified with you?  You would probably find out in a hurry who were true friends.

This is essentially what happened to the Apostle Paul – the missionary spokesman of an illegal religion in the Roman Empire. And sadly, few acquaintances and co-workers were bold enough to be associated with him. A couple of guys apparently just “went home.”  But there was one friend who sought him out, almost surely at his own risk of a similar fate…

1:15 – You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.

16 May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. 17 On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. 18 May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.

We’re not sure how to read that last verse. Does it not sound like a statement about a recently-deceased person? Is that what we are to take from it? Was this because of identification with Paul?

We don’t finally know, though we do know of Paul’s affection for Onesiphorus due to the kindness and hospitality shown to Paul when he (prior to Timothy) ministered in that city.

All of us need an Onesiphorus in our life … or two … or three.

Thinking back to my earliest years in ministry, I now warmly remember an Onesiphorus in my formative days – a Dallas doctor named Trevor Mabrey. He was a prominent surgeon, far beyond Dallas renown, though I never knew or understood the extent of it until later. I knew him as a nice guy who was a doctor and on the elder board of the church. (At the time, I thought of him as a rather old man, though doing the math I realize that he was then actually 15 years younger than I am now!)

As minister of music on the church staff, I did not preach often. But on the several times I did, I have this very clear memory of Trevor coming up to me afterward and encouraging me. He would talk about a point or two and how something I said gave him a new perspective, etc. He was always very kind and encouraging about my music ministry leadership. Along the way, Diana became rather ill on one occasion over the 4th of July weekend, and he made a special effort to see us and get a necessary medication. His large home was near the church, and we had church baptisms there … Trevor inviting everyone to be in and out of his home, just serving the church family.

Trevor was on the Board of Directors for Focus on the Family, and those of you who have listened much to James Dobson have surely heard him speak about four dear business friends who met with him in Colorado in 1987, including Trevor. In flying home to Texas on a private jet, the aircraft crashed and they were all killed. It had a profound effect upon James Dobson.

Now years later, I look back and recall what an encouragement it was to me at the time to have been on the receiving end of Trevor’s kindness. It was more significant than I realize, as I consider in now. He didn’t need to do that. I was just another of a long line of seminary students who worked and served in the church. At that same time there were three or four others on the staff. But he sought me out in kindness.

If you have walked with and served the Lord for long, you can recall the “Onesiphori” (seems the right was to pluralize Onesiphorus!) who were along the path of your life. And in any event, it is better yet if you covenant to be an Onesiphorus to others. And to coin another term, what I am saying is that you need to grow to be Onesiphorusish! Just do it!

Walk toward the Barking Dog (2 Timothy 1:1-14)

In the past two weeks I have had the occasion to reconnect with two guys I have not seen in nearly 40 years since we were college baseball teammates. One is a school administrator and the other a pastor turned missions agency representative. Neither were extraordinarily close friends, but in both cases we share a great deal of mutual acquaintances and ministry experiences.

I am always massively blessed and refreshed by these sorts of encounters. With such men I share an unspoken bond and common experience of serving in ministry for decades. The depth of that bond is fortified by our joint knowledge that most of those with whom we went to the “ministry academy” with are not actually continuing to the end on the battlefield. Beyond surviving one’s own potentially discrediting foolishness endemic to all sinners, there is much to discourage and cause the servant to bail out into an easier lifestyle.

This happens not only to professional Christian workers. While much encouraged by lifelong church acquaintances who have proven themselves faithful to Christ over multiple decades, even unto death, there are sadly so many who have taken divergent paths into presumed fields of ease and pleasure. It is not always that these MIAs deny the faith or turn into skeptics, they just choose rather to quietly put their faith on a back burner or hide it in the attic of life as a memory to look at every once in a great while – kinda like in the box next to the high school sports trophies and yearbooks.bulldog_angry

There is an old phrase that is used occasionally to speak of a strategic choice in life – “Walk TOWARD the barking dog.” Picture a fierce-sounding canine stretched out on his chain to its full extension, teeth showing, snarling and barking aggressively as you walk toward it. Maybe it backs down and rolls over for a belly rub. Or maybe it tackles you and gives you a toothy kiss on the neck.

Paul tells Timothy in these opening words of the second letter to his younger apprentice to walk toward the barking dog of ministry and faithful endurance. There is much to discourage and cause one to walk the other way and just let the dog bark itself silly. There is your own fear; there is the all-too-frequent opposition of God’s people who misunderstand; there are those who frankly work for the other Kingdom and sow seeds of error and contention; and there is the hostility of an unbelieving world who hates you and the gospel you represent. Who needs all of that in their life?

But Paul’s theme to Timothy, both in these opening words and throughout the letter, is one of encouraging endurance

1:1 – Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

The affection, the history these men shared in ministry, both are evident here. When were Timothy’s tears seen by Paul? Perhaps on the occasion of Paul leaving Timothy in Ephesus while he travelled on toward almost certain hostilities that would end him in something like the Roman jail from which he was now penning this very letter?

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.

Having spent most of my adult life heating our homes with fire in stoves, I can tell you that the nature of fire is to burn out. For fire to be continuously successful you need fuel, heat and oxygen. The gospel message is the fuel and heat, the need is for Timothy (and us) to continuously allow the wind of the Spirit to blow in and through in order to rekindle and fan into flame the gift (the word for grace) in service for the Lord.

 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

As Paul often did in his writings when talking about grace and God’s work of salvation in his life and the lives of others, he goes off into a brief tangent about the very nature of the gospel – giving the big picture of it, rooting it into eternity past (meaning it was not a “plan B” God had to come up with when mankind screwed up), accomplished in time by the work of Christ, and finding final fruition in an immortal kingdom.

Paul was always amazed that God called HIM, of all people, to be a herald of this truth. The world – Satan’s temporary sphere of influence – hates this truth. Those who proclaim it may often find themselves suffering in this alien place because of it. But such a divine calling is nothing about which to be ashamed. Rather, as in verse 8 above, Paul calls on Timothy to embrace this suffering … to walk toward the barking dog.

13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

We wrote in Tuesday’s devotional about this word for “deposit” … how it speaks of the gospel as a valuable commodity to be entrusted in the way a sum of money is placed in the care of a banking institution for protection and wise use. Timothy should follow the pattern Paul had given him to remain steadfast and faithful, as the Spirit living within would assist and enable.

So all of you who name Christ and read these words – Paul’s and mine – determine to remain faithful to the end, whatever it may be. Along the way will be some nasty dogs who bark and snarl. Fear them not. Endure. Keep walking.

Flee the Junk, Aim Higher (1 Timothy 6:11-16)

Early here on the Monday morning that I write this, it is dark and rainy. A first glance online at the headlines is troubling. There have been bombs exploding in several cities over the weekend. And among bold print titles are these: “Asteroid with power of 3 billion nukes may be headed near Earth” … “Putin once casually said he could destroy America in a half-hour (or less)” … “US, Japan, South Korea condemn nuke test by North Korea.”

How do we survive?

I’m trying to not be like the grumpy old people I remember when an even younger man than I am right now, but I do think the accumulation of the crud of this world has a multiplier factor emotionally as years go by. However, just being objective, there really is a lot out there right now that causes concern and discouragement and a lessening of affections for this world. And frankly, there is some health in that.

Notice that the passage we look at today in 1 Timothy 6:11-16 is between paragraphs and thoughts about the allure of worldly gain and riches. In his final charge to Timothy, Paul is telling his younger protégé to lift his head up beyond all of this and simply run from it!

6:11 — But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

It is a fact. This world is never going to satisfy, even at its best. But while here, we need to pursue the things that Paul encourages: what is right and true, being like Christ, faith and trust, love for God and others, enduring whatever comes our way, and gentle life of serving others. In doing this, we let loose of this world and are even now grabbing onto what is eternal life.

Understood – consistently doing this is difficult. It is counter-cultural. You are that proverbial fish swimming upstream against the schools of others going with the currents. But this is being like Christ, who stood alone (though with God) before Pontius Pilate and held onto the only truth that is eternal.  “My kingdom is not of this world,” he said. Neither is ours.

So use this day for eternal gain and for a kingdom that can never fade or perish.

Destructive Roots or Eternal Foundations (1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19)

I have often talked and written about my several years of life while serving in an extraordinarily wealthy church environment in Texas during my grad school education. There were two types of wealthy people I encountered. In the words of the title today, there were those who allowed wealth to be a destructive roots system in their life that actually grew out of control and choked them, and there were those who rightly saw their wealth as God’s gift to invest to build foundations in heaven that could never fade away.

Paul addresses the issue of money, wealth, and the use of resources biblically …

A – The good desire – that is true gain (6:6-8)

6:6 – But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

What “stuff” do we look for in life … really … that satisfies?  Often it is thought of as great accumulation, but in fact, the thing that satisfies is contentment. That is a state of being free of worry or fear, yet also not having any sense of needing to get more of something. Add to this a godly attitude – one that is tuned to the bigger picture that is more than just this world – but sees it all in a kingdom view – and you’ve really got something that is the ultimate gain.

The word for “contentment” means being self-contained, picturing something that is free of circumstances.

Over the years I have often been struck by the contentment and peace in the lives of Christians going through the worst circumstances, usually physically – threatening life itself. It is a gift from God to those who trust with a big-world picture of things.

It is good to learn as early in life as possible that contentment is our true need both mentally and emotionally, and we get that by having a spiritual viewpoint that this world is the brief reality in a larger kingdom plan of God.

B – The bad desire – that is a trap for destruction (6:9-10)

6:9 – Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

The “want to” here is a word with more than just simple desire, but of a conscious decision to go after something – in this case, the accumulation of riches. It is not a bad thing to have riches as the result of hard work and regular responsibility; but making it as a burning desire and goal leads to six distinct dangers that Paul gives in these verses … treasure_chest_gold

  1. It leads to temptation. The “fall into” is actually the idea of continuously falling in a direction. There will inevitably be very questionable (if not outright wrong) ways of accumulating wealth that will come across the path of the one who has this as a primary goal of life.
  2. It is a trap … a snare. The picture is clear. Have you seen those outdoor shows of snares that can be put on a pathway that the unsuspecting animal, or person, can step into and trigger, lifting them right off the ground?  Or that of a covered hole a person can fall into. It is said in Scripture that Satan is active in this way, and the appetite for wealth sets up an easier way of baiting you into a bad place.
  3. It creates foolish and harmful desires. The energy to gain wealth puts a person into a position of opportunity and possibility of doing stupid things that could never be logically defended. It makes you into the ultimate ADD person with no ability to consider consequences of actions beyond the first presumed result of gain.
  4. It sinks your life into ruin. The word for plunge is only used one other time in the NT—in Luke 5:7 to describe a boat overloaded with fish. And that is what the all-out intent to be wealthy can do—create a weight that sinks you and everything else.
  5. It causes a wandering from the faith – it is A root, not THE root … and not of ALL evil, but of A WIDE VARIETY of evils. And it is the LOVE OF… not the mere possession of money. But wrongly held, money-love results in a person gradually walking away from God and truth.
  6. It causes many sorrows and grief. This is a self-inflicted wound, like stabbing oneself with a sword.

All in all, if money brought contentment, we would not regularly see the discontent and unhappiness – often to the point of suicide – of the wealthiest people in the country and world.

C – The uncertain hope – that can be easily lost (6:17)

6:17 –  Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

Here we see how the personal letter to Timothy was meant for a wider audience than just the younger disciple. And there are some natural tendencies that come along with wealth:

  1. That it has some measure of representation as the blessing of God – when in fact the Scriptures often speak of the most unrighteous people possessing the greatest wealth in this life.
  2. That wealth becomes the object of trust and security rather than God. This is foolish, because riches are entirely uncertain and can be lost easily in a whole variety of ways.

And the appropriate perspective to have is just the opposite of this, as the verse goes on to say….

D – The certain hope – that can never be lost (6:17-19)

… but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Three perspectives are listed here for those Christians with assets to have as guiding principles …

  1. Put hope in God – the one who RICHLY provides from His true riches – providing the stuff money can never buy, including contentment. Remember that “today’s gains are tomorrow’s losses.”
  2. See material blessing as a stewardship – There is no shame in having wealth that is more abundant than others have. But there is a responsibility that comes with it to use it for good and for God and his people. We all have blessings from God to share. Some without wealth have other gifts and resources to be used for Kingdom work – gifts of service, or teaching … often abilities the rich may not have. And herein is a stewardship as well.
  3. Invest in eternity – It is like the ultimate layaway plan. What you give and use for kingdom work can never be lost.

You can be poor in this life and rich in the next. You can be rich in this life and poor in the next by using it upon yourself. OR, you can be rich in this life and rich in the next … but that can be difficult to do because of all the challenges listed above.

Let’s summarize this whole thing with a single statement: Money can control you in this world as you allow it to grow destructive roots, or you can control it and build foundations of eternal value.

A proper view of wealth and resources is one of those “nuts and bolts” things that helps a church be great.  Just as there are varied attitudes and lifestyles of Christian individuals with wealth, the same is true of churches.

Let us see our corporate efforts as indeed investing for eternity and building foundations there, rather than being choked by the roots here!

The Big Idea is Really Big (1 Timothy 6:1-5, 20-21)

It is not the usual and natural occurrence for people of opposite and varying perspectives, worldviews and circumstances to come together around an idea or event that is larger than their differences. Sometimes it happens in the midst of tragic circumstances where a larger common enemy is revealed – as in a Pearl Harbor or 9/11 event that draws disparate people together in a cause larger than their dissimilarities.

But imagine something so big and so good that it draws diverse people together. That is more difficult to find many examples. Everyone could agree that a perfect 79-degree sunny day at the beach is awesome, right? Probably not. Some would complain about the dirty sand, others would wish for winter and snow and a steep mountainside.

In search of a positive example, we might recall the Christmas Truce along the Western Front in World War 1 in 1914, where the two sides sang carols together, exchanged pleasantries and even engaged in some friendly sporting events. That stands out in history because it is so rare and unusual.

The one big idea that should be the biggest idea of all that brings differing people together is an accurate understanding of the gospel message – that we have all sinned and are condemned to separation eternally from God, but that by Christ’s work and grace alone we have been, through faith, brought back into eternal relationship with the Father.

This idea is so big that, as Paul begins in 1 Timothy 6, it should bring together even fellow Christians who are masters and slaves into a new relationship with each other …

6:1 – All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves.

Paul did not upset the societal order of things, though he might have personally wished to do so. But the gospel message was bigger than that, and this truth is what he had been called into apostleship to proclaim. The relationship that masters and slaves had with each other as brothers in Christ was bigger than the social relationship that existed in that time. The masters needed to be truly and deeply devoted to the wellbeing of their slaves, while the servants needed to view their masters in a warm and kindly way. That’s a pretty big main idea!lock_and_key

And this big idea needed to be guarded carefully and taught accurately, so that wrongful responses did not eventuate from people who would use partial truths and twist meanings to their own personal gain …

These are the things you are to teach and insist on. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge,21 which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith.  Grace be with you all.

Over all of the centuries of the Christian church, there have been those who have taught error, often for their own gain financially or for glory in the eyes of others. A mark of these sorts of teachings is that they do not unite people whatsoever; they result rather in all sorts of strife and friction. These teachers always traffic is some sort of specialized and unique truth that only they have and understand.

If you are online at all, you surely have seen the common advertisements that hint about some heretofore unknown item that is actually being suppressed from general knowledge. It may say something like, “This one weird trick will cure your cancer” … or … “New miracle food reverses the effects of heart disease.”

That is how teachers of doctrinal error maneuver. They profess a unique teaching or twist upon the understanding of biblical truth that sets them apart in a rare and advanced group to be followed (bring your credit card).

In Paul’s day, one of these errant teachings involved what was called Gnosticism. Their favorite word was gnosis (knowledge – verse 20), and their teaching professed an educated understanding of words, mixed into a combination of Jewish, Greek, and Christian teachings that, in the end, was heretical and opposed to the true gospel.

This actual gospel truth was to be guarded by Timothy as a deposit – a word that could be used of a banking deposit of a valuable sum of money. The lexical definition is “a deposit, a trust or thing consigned to one’s faithful keeping.”  What a great, pictorial word to speak of the Scripture and the role of the minister (or any faithful and educated follow of Christ) to follow!

Yes, the gospel truth is THE BIG IDEA that can bring people together in a new and unified relationship with one another that is bigger than race, social status, gender, age, background or heritage. I think we could really use a big idea like that in American right now!

Qualifications and Disqualifications (1 Timothy 5:17-25)

At the risk of inciting comment and controversy by what I offer as a mere analogy in the contemporary framework, there is much daily comment in the press about what qualifies or disqualifies a person for the presidency of the USA. Beyond viewpoints and political philosophies, there are questions being raised in multiple directions about personality traits and moral disciplines that disqualify a person to be the leader of the free world. The issue of physical health and well-being has become extraordinarily public.

Our passage today, in a lesser sense, deals with some of the same kinds of issues of character and maturity qualifications for positions of leadership in the church. But honestly, the issues are greater, because we are talking about something immensely more important than being president!  (Did Randy just say being a pastor or elder is more important than POTUS?  Yes, he did say that. Which one has eternal implications? Hmm?)

But here and now we are short of the eternal kingdom, yet functioning together as imperfect people led by imperfect people in an imperfect world. At the same time, it is reasonable to have standards by which leaders are empowered and entrusted with authority, though also protections for them that they be reasonably supported and sheltered from baseless accusations of jealous or unscrupulous people. So here are some advisory words from Paul to Timothy…

1 Timothy 5:17 – The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”

A certain respect and support, even monetarily, should be granted those in leadership. As any church of any size has found over the years, at some point, the work of the faith community is more than can be maintained well by people who are working full-time in regular life occupations. Some person or persons need to primarily give their life energies to the function of the church family. They will need to be compensated for such commitments of time, especially those who give extensively toward the very hard work of preaching and teaching.

The principle that Paul draw from is found in Deuteronomy, where the ox that was doing the hard work of walking in a circle and pushing the stone for the grinding of the grain should not be muzzled and prohibited from the nourishment that its labors produced. The beast would need to eat some of it in order to continue to have the wherewithal to remain strong and productive for the greater good.

19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.

The pastoral ministry / elder leadership ministry is a bit fragile. You don’t have to actually be guilty of something heinous, you merely need to be accused to have the same harmful effects. It is a little bit like the old conundrum question “Have you stopped beating your wife yet? Yes or no?”  Timothy should not even receive accusations unless two or more witnesses could come with the accusation as factually substantial.

But in an event where it was substantiated and thereby disqualifying, it was not to be a matter of secrecy; but rather, the sad public knowledge would have a sobering effect upon all. The idea was not so much to shame the person at fault, but to serve all as a warning about human frailty and vulnerability. The Devil knows that there is great gain in taking down a spiritual leader. Hence such people are in more vulnerable positions on the battlefield and in need of prayer of the whole community.

21 I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.

22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.

These verses are an exhortation to Timothy to be truly objective in a “step back and see the facts” sort of way.

My view of Timothy is that he was a really nice, genuine, gentle, likeable fellow – the sort of guy you want to see your daughter bring home. At the same time, that gentleness and timidity may have made him reticent toward following through with hard decisions, particularly if it would involve confrontation or relational discord with someone he liked and worked with.

His more delicate side may have extended as well to his health situation …

23 Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.

Even today when travelling to the Third World, you just don’t go drinking water from public accommodations. You only consume what is bottled. The wine would serve as a health enablement in his situation. Notice it says “a little wine” … I’ll not get started on this issue in this forum (insert smiley face with a halo). Let’s finish …

24 The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. 25 In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.

The true quality of every person’s life is not always immediately obvious. Some folks live in such a maleficent way that their poor character is hidden to no one. Yet others hide bad character, at least for a while. And the inverse is also true about good deeds that are obvious, yet others that are not widely known. But time tends to reveal true character, good and bad.

The application of our passage today, I believe, is to be a good and humble and godly leader when that opportunity and position comes your way. Likewise, the rest of the time, be a good and humble and godly follower. Support one another, regardless of your current role and position. What can go wrong if we all do that?

Living Below with Saints We Know (1 Timothy 5:1-16)

One of those rhymes that long ago lost the original author is one I’ve heard occasionally over the entirety of my six decades of church life on this planet:

To live above with saints we love; oh that will be glory. But to live below with saints we know; well that’s a different story.

Life in the organic family is difficult enough, so it should not be surprising that living relationally well in the family of God on earth is a likewise difficult venture.family_icon_yellow

Our text today talks about the “nuts and bolts” of church family life. And I will say that I love the analogy of the church as a family and speak of it in those terms regularly. It is an excellent illustration and picture of both the bad and the good.

When I think of my own family, it is a mixed bag of stuff. Being adopted within the family system was at once both a merciful act of grace and benevolence, while also creating a lifelong set of strange and awkward relationships.

The passage today may seem strange to modern ears. But remember that this is in the context of a world and culture that did not have life insurance programs and social security systems, etc.  An older woman who became a widow, particularly without family who would care for her, was in a very vulnerable life position. How should a church handle this sort of situation?

Paul writes to address some of these matters and to establish some policy for the function of this new institution called the church of Jesus Christ. It would involve grace, love and benevolence beyond anything that was to be found in the regular world of people. Yet at the same time, the church was not to be responsible for taking upon itself the expense and energy of caring for someone who should rightly have their organic family be responsible by priority to support their own.

Even the opening two verses of this section—directed to Timothy about his manner of interacting with categories of folks within the church—speaks of doing so in the form of a healthy family. This would involve respectful love and gentleness.

Yes, the church is a family. So it always confuses me and pains me when people do not lovingly care for and respect one another deeply in the family of faith. Under your own roof you would not ignore a person with a serious need, even if they did something to assist in bringing it upon themselves. So why would you walk a circle around a needy person in the church?

And I’ve always found it strange that people can so easily change church families without it creating relational havoc and deficits. A time may come when a new housing and living arrangement is simply necessary in the organic family, but you wouldn’t just up and leave the relatives behind without it being a big deal for everyone involved. So why would hopping from church family to church family be easy or healthy to do?

As well, in the organic family you would not just disappear unannounced for weeks at a time and only show up for holidays or when you had nothing better to do some other place. So why should anything less than regular church family interaction be seen as anything other than relationally unhealthy?

All the people sitting around you on a Sunday morning that are a regular part of the local church community are your spiritual relatives. There should be a deep level of affection and mutual care that seeks to meet genuine needs. It may not always be easy, but families are messy … yet necessary for success.

5:1 – Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, 10 and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

11 As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry.12 Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. 13 Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. 14 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. 15 Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.

16 If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.