Monthly Archives: September 2012

1 John 2: True Enlightenment

Knowledge is a bit intoxicating.  It is a powerful elixir that quickly convinces us we have it together much more than we really do.  Those drunk of the power of the mind are every bit as dangerous as those drunk on booze.

Knowledge was especially important to the early Gnostics that had been influencing the churches John was addressing.  As was pointed out yesterday, the name “Gnostic” comes from the Greek word for “knowledge.”  This would appear to be your typical head-knowledge, the kind that satisfies if one simply knows the facts.  A good Gnostic “knew” the truth about reality: physical flesh is evil, and true enlightenment comes by developing a spirit that is impervious to the effects of physical sin.  The most “knowledgeable” one can wallow around in sin and come out unscathed.

However, John has a very different view:

This is how we are sure that we have known him, if we keep his commandments.  Anyone who says, “I know him,” but doesn’t keep his commandments, is a liar.  People like that have no truth in them. . . . Anyone who says, “I am in the light,” while hating another family member, is still in darkness up to this very moment. (2:3-4, 9)

The kind of truth that John thinks is important is not simply head-knowledge.  It is not enough to know facts and believe things to be true or not true.  For John, truth is a lived reality.  Knowledge is first and foremost lived out in the nitty-gritty of life.  One shows their enlightenment by how they live, not how they think.  One can claim to have spiritual enlightenment, but if actions do not exist that support that claim, one is still living in immense spiritual darkness.  In particular, the selfless love of Christian community is the greatest testament to true enlightenment.  Honoring God with a life that keeps his righteous decrees for life shows true knowledge.  Knowledge teaches one to stay in the light with Jesus, not roll around in the darkness in sin.

When have you seen Christians today confused on what knowledge truly is?         

Advertisements
Categories: 1 John | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

1 John 1: Just the Right Words

1 John is the The New England Primer for all first-year Greek students.  I knew I was hitting the big time when I graduated from my 50 flashcards of basic Greek vocabulary to the actual text of 1 John in my Greek New Testament.  As one can tell from today’s reading, this is possible because John uses a very limited vocabulary in his letters.  There may be a lot of reasons for this.  Maybe Greek was a second language to John who had been raised in the Galilee region of Palestine and likely spoke Aramaic natively.  Maybe John was not well-educated, however he shows great ability to think deeply about theology.  Or maybe John just wants to drive his point home with a beautiful simplicity.  Keep it simple and people will never mistake you.

Many of the words that John hangs his message on are emphasized in this very first chapter:

life, light, darkness, fellowship, truth, lie, sin, joy

 

Add “love” from chapter two and “spirit” and “world” and you have a wide door into John’s thought.  Let’s pay attention to how John uses these words and what meaning they have for the aged disciple as we read John’s letters.  I’ll bet we see them next month in John’s gospel too.

This passage has a nice confluence of most of these words:

This is the message which we have heard from him, and announce to you: God is light, and there is no darkness at all in him.  If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the dark, we are telling lies, and not doing what is true.  But if we walk in the light, just as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his son makes us pure and clean from all sin.  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar, and his word is not in us. (1:5-10)

What caught your eye in this short chapter?

Categories: 1 John | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

BONUS: An Introduction to John’s Letters

Though never identified in the letters, the author of the Johannine letters is almost certainly the apostle John, the son of Zebedee, and author of the Gospel of John.  Based on writing style, there is good reason to think the writer of Revelation is a different John.  The John who wrote 1, 2, and 3 John was one of the inner circle of apostles and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23).  Though he started his adult life a fisherman, he ends it as one of the pillars of the new, growing Christian church, a highly respected leader in the Ephesus area in particular.

“The Apostle John” by Rembrandt

The Johannine letters are likely some of the latest parts of the New Testament.  Some date John’s letters to the late 80s.  If this is correct, the first generation of those who had actually seen Jesus were dying and John was pure royalty.  Given that no specific recipients are mentioned in 1 John, the first epistle was likely a circular letter distributed among a diverse group of Christians, especially in Asia Minor around Ephesus.  Given the general nature of the teachings of the letter, that makes perfect sense.  Second and Third John are equally as general and universal.

Most scholars situate the Johannine letters in the context of Gnosticism.  This false version of Christianity really blossomed in the second century AD but it was likely an early version John was addressing.  Gnosticism taught that the physical was evil and the spiritual was good.  The fleshly body was wasting away and either an impediment to holiness or a temporary object of no consequence to be used and abused because only the soul really mattered.  Gnosticism derives its name from the Greek word “gnosis” which means “knowledge,” because the truly spiritually enlightened ones have a special knowledge that sets them apart from their more earthbound peers.  With these beliefs, a good Gnostic could not believe Jesus was fully human and flesh.  One version of Gnosticism called “doceticism” taught that Jesus only seemed to be flesh and another version called “Cerinthianism” taught that the man named Jesus gained his spiritual nature at baptism and lost it before he died.  We will hear John attacking this sort of thinking in his letters, 1 John especially.  As the flesh was evil, one was supposed to either deny his fleshly desires through asceticism (seen earlier in Colossians) or indulge the flesh in licentiousness.  This latter version seems to be the one John addresses.

John wrote 1 John to expose false teaching and counter any wrong thinking about Jesus that had cropped up.  As one of the last eyewitnesses of Jesus, John could testify that Jesus was indeed flesh.  John also believed that the libertine worldliness of pre-Gnostic Christianity was eroding the true Christian witness.  In 2 and 3 John, John encourages faithful Christians to extend hospitality to evangelists he would have sent out even if powerful, possibly-Gnostic leaders in his church opposed him.

Categories: 1 John, 2 John, 3 John | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Titus 3: Remember From Where You Came

There is a very real threat in this whole discussion of how to stay strong in the midst of a sinful world.  People who diligently fight sin, who view their world as immoral, who do not want to become like those around them can very easily become  arrogant, judgmental escapists with superiority complexes.

Titus was living in decadent Crete, charged with strengthening young churches to the point where they could stand strong against sin, both internal and external.  Right alongside Paul’s admonition to create strong leaders, maintain a strong aversion to sin, and to foster strong character is also the reminder that we too were once a whole lot like those we are now not trying to be like at all.  Strong, moral people remember their sinful roots.  This brings a strong sense of compassion while also standing strong against cultural accommodation.

We ourselves, you see, used at one time to be foolish, disobedient, deceived, and enslaved to various kinds of passions and leasers.  We spent our time in wickedness and jealousy.  We were despicable in ourselves, and we hated each other.  But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, he saved us, not by works that we did in righteousness, but in accordance with his own mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewal of the holy spirit, which was poured out richly upon us through Jesus, our king and savor, so that we might be justified by his grace and be made his heirs, in accordance with the hope of the life of the age to come. (3:3-7)

A desire for holiness without a humble remembrance of our sinful past only breeds haughtiness.  Grateful hearts changed by the gospel of grace reach out to a broken world with compassion and a hope for something better.

What did you learn about spiritual strength in today’s reading?   

Categories: Titus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Titus 2: Be the Pattern

Preach the gospel always; use words if necessary.

These are the famous words of St. Francis of Assisi, and good ones at that.  Though not a Christian, Mahatma Gandhi said this:

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Long before both of these men, Paul said something similar to Titus:

Make sure you present yourself as a pattern of good works.  Your teaching must be consistent and serious, in healthy speech that is beyond reproach.  That way, our opponents will be ashamed, since they won’t have anything bad to say about us. (2:7-8)

The world needs fewer sermons and more people who live the sermons they have already heard.  If Titus was ever going to be successful in fulfilling Paul’s charge to create strong churches on the sinful island of Crete, the revolution had to start in his own heart.  He could ask for nothing from those Christians and offer nothing to Crete he wasn’t able to be a pattern of.  He was to be the walking sermon.

So too with us.  We can rage on about the moral decay of our world, but until we are the change we are advocating, things will never get better.  Strong churches are composed of Christians with strong character who offer to the world by their very lifestyle an attractive alternative to sin.  

What did you see in this chapter about being a strong leader?

Categories: Titus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Titus 1: Strong Leaders with a Strong Aversion

How should a church operate in a very sinful culture?  What most needs to be said to a group of Christians living in a place where the natives even say of themselves, “Cretans are always liars, evil animals, idle guzzlers” (1:12)?  As we read through the three short chapters of Titus this week, let’s concentrate on this question.  You can go back to this post to read a little bit about Titus, Paul’s letter to him, and the island of Crete where Titus was stationed.

Paul’s first point in this chapter is that a church in such a decadent place must have strong leadership.  This was Titus’ main charge:

This is why I left you in Crete: you are to set straight all the remaining matters, and appoint elders for every town, as I charged you to do. (1:5)

If a church is ever going to be true to Jesus in a world that woes away the Beloved with desire and wantonness, they must have strong leaders leading the way.  These leaders must be trying to seeking after godliness not selfish gain or they will never stand against the easy slide towards cultural accommodation.  They must be able to oversee a group and their ability for this is best seen in how they have led their own children.  Above all they must be people of character.

Secondly, a church surrounded by sin will only stand if they have a strong aversion to that sin.  By nature, sin is alluring.  Weak Christians will quickly cave into the temptation of sin and the work of the gospel will be frustrated if a distaste for sin is not fostered.  There is sin that tempts from within a church and without.  Paul wants these churches to be guard against both cultural decadence in a drunken, sexual immoral, unchaste society; but they must also be alert to the threat of doctrinal unorthodoxy.  For the Cretan churches Titus was ministering to, this meant be they had to be wary of the legalism of the “circumcision party” (1:10), likely a Judaizing version of Christianity.  For us today it could mean any number of teachings that pull us away from a core belief in grace (we don’t please God by our own merit) and good works (we can’t get lazy and believe there is nothing to do in a fallen world).

Only strong churches stand in the face of sin.  Strong leadership and a strong distaste for sin.

What did you notice about how a church can stay strong though surrounded by sin?

Categories: Titus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2 Timothy 4: Paul’s Last Words

If it is true that 2 Timothy is Paul’s last preserved letter, today we read Paul’s last recorded words.  This passage especially captures the moment:

For I am already being poured out as a drink-offering; my departure time as arrived.  I have fought the good fight; I have completed the course; I have kept the faith.  What do I still have to look for?  The crown of righteousness!  The Lord, the righteous judge, will give it to me as my reward on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing. (4:6-8)

What hit home with you as you read the letters to Timothy?

Categories: 2 Timothy | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

2 Timothy 3: Inspired for Godly Living

But you, on the other hand, must stand firm in the things you learned and believed.  You know who it was you received them from, and how from childhood you have known the holy writings which have the power to make you wise for salvation through faith in King Jesus. All scripture is breathed by God, and it is useful for teaching, for rebuke, for improvement, for training in righteousness, so that people who belong to God may be complete, fitted out and ready for every good work. (3:14-17)

As a teacher of the Bible, I love this passage.  This is exactly what I want my students to want for their own life.

It was actually a student who helped me see this passage in a new way.  Growing up this was the proof text one can run to “prove” that the Bible was inspired by God.  But this student saw these same words in a whole new light.  She was getting ready to graduate high school and her desire for herself was that she would remember and hang on to the lessons she had learned about God ever since kindergarten at our school so as to stay strong spiritually and live a life that glorifies God.  When I read her thoughts, I immediately realized she understood this passage so much better than I did.

Can a person extrapolate from this passage that the Bible was inspired by God?  Absolutely, though I will say that this passage is not nearly as clear as some think on how God inspired the Bible, how much is inspired, or whether God’s inspiration of the Bible also means it is truthful and literally factual about all it discusses.

But to make this passage all about inspiration misses the point.  Paul has a much bigger point, and one more immediately practical than an intellectual idea about truthfulness.  Timothy needs to hang on to the Scriptures because they are a significant way God equips us for godly living.  There is a life we need to live and the Scriptures lead us to that life.  The Scriptures are the vehicle not the point in this passage.  Sadly, it would be entirely possible to adopt a belief about inspiration from this passage and miss that God is actually looking for something else.

What do you think?

Categories: 2 Timothy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2 Timothy 2: There Is Work to Do

Soldier.  Athlete.  Farmer.  Workman.  Servant.

These are the five sorts of people Paul calls Timothy to become like (2:3, 5, 6, 15, 24).  Why?  What do these roles have in common? What is Paul trying to say?

Paul tells us some of his point.  Soldiers are called to suffer for a higher calling (2:3).  Athletes have a strict code of conduct by which they must compete (2:5).  At harvest time, farmers get paid back for their hard work (2:6).  Workmen “carve out” straight paths from the wilderness (2:15).  Servants do the will of their master and do not compromise his interests (2:23-24).  But even more basic than that is this: all of these five have work to do.  They are fundamentally laborers, and can’t get off track lest they shirk their responsibilities.

In particular there are a handful of things Paul tells his “worker” Timothy to avoid:

  • Stir away from “civilian activities,” that is purely frivolous pursuits that do not advance the kingdom (2:4)
  • Avoid quarrels and disputes that don’t accomplish anything (2:14, 23)
  • Flee from anything that would leave one ashamed and dishonored (2:15, 21)
  • Resist the urge to run one’s mouth in pointless gossip (2:16)
  • Run away from the wicked gratification of youthful passions (2:19, 22)

There is simply too much to do.  There is no time to get off track.  Get back to work.

What did you notice in this chapter?  

Categories: 2 Timothy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

2 Timothy 1: Don’t Give Up!

Paul has come to the end.  Most scholars who believe that Paul wrote 2 Timothy think this is his last surviving letter.  Some date it within a year of his death, traditionally thought to have taken place around 68 AD in Rome by beheading.  Every line drips with the emotion of a man who sees the end coming and so wants his life’s work to continue on with strength after he is gone.

Sadly, most in Asia Minor — the province in which Ephesus was found — had turned on Paul (1:15).  It seems they looked to his imprisonment as evidence that he was not favored by God and they pushed on to other versions of Christianity.  Paul’s fear is that Timothy will join their ranks.  Timothy is already losing his spiritual steam (1:6), and being the spiritual son of a “prisoner” isn’t exactly a great thing to put on your resume (1:8).

A person can only make it through trying times like these by faith, and this passage drips with Paul’s faith.  He is confident of Timothy’s faith, maybe even when Timothy is not:

I have in my mind a clear picture of your sincere faith — the faith which first came to live in Lois your grandmother and Eunice your mother, and which I am confident, lives in you as well.  (1:5)

Paul has faith that the Spirit is one of power:

After all, the spirit given to us by God isn’t a fearful spirit; it’s a spirit of power, love and prudence. (1:7)

Paul trusts in God’s purpose and grace, not his or Timothy’s own power:

God saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace. (1:9)

Paul anchors his faith in the power of the resurrection:

[God] has now made it [grace] visible through the appearing of our savior King Jesus, who abolished death and, through the gospel, shone a bright light on life and immortality. (1:10)

And Paul knows God is trustworthy:

But I am not ashamed, because I know the one I have trusted, and I’m convinced that he has the power to keep safe until that day what I have entrusted to him. (1:12)

When you come to the end, when death is looming and your friends have turned against you, the only way forward is by faith.

There are several great lines in this chapter.  What was your favorite?

Categories: 2 Timothy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

1 Timothy 6: Wanting to Be Rich

Living in the materialistic world we live in, this HAS to be today’s passage.  The more calloused and familiar to passages like these that we get, the more we need to hear them, and new wording only helps.

We brought nothing into the world, after all, and we certainly can’t take anything out.  If we have food and clothing, we should be satisfied with it.  People who want to be rich, by contrast, fall into temptation and a trap, and into many foolish and dangerous lusts which drown people in devastation and destruction.  The love of money, you see, is the root of all evil.  Some people have been so eager to get rich that they have wandered away from the faith and have impaled themselves painfully in several ways. . . . What about people who are rich in this present world?  Tell them not to think of themselves too highly, and to set their hopes, not on something so uncertain as riches, but on the God who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and eager to share.  That way, they will treasure up for themselves a good foundation for the future, and thereby come to possess the life which really is life. (6:7-10, 17-19)

Categories: 1 Timothy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

1 Timothy 5: Be A Family

Life in a family works best if everyone plays his and her role, and the younger the family the more adjustment there is to those roles we must play.

In today’s chapter Paul gives Timothy instructions for the life of the church.  The interesting part is that he uses the analogy of a family to describe how Christians should relate to each other:

Don’t rebuke a senior man in the church, but exhort him as you might do with your father — or, in the case of younger ones, with your brothers.  Treat the older women as mothers, and the younger ones as sisters, with all purity. (5:1-2)

If this church is a family, they are a young family, still figuring out how to play their roles.  Here are some of the instructions Paul gives:

  • Give older men and women respect (5:1-2)
  • Brothers and sisters of similar age are to be treated with kindness and purity (5:1-2)
  • Take care of your biological family financially before seeking assistance from the church (5:4, 16)
  • Don’t take advantage of the church financially just to support self-indulgence or laziness (5:6)
  • Understand realistically the sexual and companionship needs of single family members and do not consign them to a life of sacrifice too soon (5:11)
  • Bridle one’s tongue and occupy one’s hands lest gossip and meddling take over (5:13)
  • Take care of financially those who lead and educate the church family (5:17-18)
  • Trust the leaders strongly, but deal with sin seriously if necessary (5:19-20)
  • Banish favoritism (5:21)
  • Be discriminating in how quickly you yoke yourself to others (5:22)
  • Know that people’s true character will come out in the end (5:24-25)

The church as family is a metaphor that takes on special meaning for those of us for whom it has become a literal reality, not just an image.  Some have had to walk away from a biological family in order to follow Jesus.  Some of us have moved far away from blood and are left without those natural bonds in close proximity.  Others do not have functional, loving families of their own.  When this is the case, the bonds of love found in God’s family are especially dear.

What hit you in a new way in this chapter?  

Categories: 1 Timothy | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

1 Timothy 4: Overemphasizing the External

It is really easy to turn the way of Christ into a series of rules about external behavior.  That is not to say that the way of Christ is only internal — one does need to give attention to how one acts in this world — but there is something missing from a person’s Christianity if it entirely revolves around laws that dictate what a person does and does not do with their bodies.

We learn today that this was certainly happening in Ephesus:

They [the false teachers] will forbid marriage, and teach people to abstain from foods which God intended to be received with thanksgiving by people who believe and know the truth. (4:3)

Sometimes we do the same, especially when talking to younger Christians.  We make it seem like the task of following Jesus is all about not getting drunk, not smoking weed, and not sleeping around.  Then as people get older we talk about staying away from pornography, not speeding, and not missing church.  Of course, I am not suggesting that any of these are wholesome or appropriate; I simply beg us to remember there is more to the way of Christ than external rules, and limiting Christianity to external rules is action akin to the false teachers of Ephesus.

Like Paul was calling the Ephesian church to (1:5-7), like he was calling Timothy to (4:12), the way of Christ is all about “faith, love, and holiness” — all of which have external manifestations but all of which start as attitudes and desires of the heart first and foremost.  According to Paul today, to forget this is the beginning of false teaching.

What do you think?

Categories: 1 Timothy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

1 Timothy 3: Godly Everywhere They Go

I am struck today in this section on qualifications for church leaders like elders and deacons that how these men are viewed in and interact with the wider public of a community is as important to whether they can be leaders as their ability, their church personas, their management skills, their intelligence, and their financial success.

In addition, he [an elder] must have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he may not incur reproach and fall into the devil’s snare. (3:7)

Those who serve you well as deacons, you see, gain a good platform for themselves to speak out boldly in the faith which is in King Jesus. (3:13)

Church leaders exist for the church, but who they are to a wider public must be considered as well.

What struck you today?

Categories: 1 Timothy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

1 Timothy 2: The Topic Is Dispute, Not Women

I come from a conservative denomination.  By conservative I mean what is typically thought when that term is used.  “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” was a saying I often heard growing up.  Our denomination was founded by men who coined slogans like “We are just Christians” and “We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent.”  We didn’t dance, drink, smoke or chew, and certainly didn’t go with girls who do.  At summer camp the boys swam separate from the girls.  The college I attended, that is associated with the same denomination, has recently been called a “bastion of conservatism.”  When the long-time college president died during my time there as a student, George H. W. Bush sent a note of condolence.  Ann Coulter has spoken on campus.  You get the gist.

So you can imagine that we have also been pretty patriarchal when it comes to male and female roles in society and church.  There are certain things women are simply not free to do, and when an inquisitive child asks why, seeing that this is the 21st century and women and men are fast approaching equality in most arenas of life, he is taken to this chapter (and 1 Corinthians 14).

They [women] must study undisturbed,in full submission to God.  I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; rather, that they should be left undisturbed.  Adam was created first, you see, and then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the women was deceived, and fell into trespass. (2:11-14)

I have no interest in tackling female roles in ministry in this post.  I recently reviewed Scott McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet on my other blog and you can read a synopsis of his defense of the full participation of women in ministry there if you are interesting.  Suffice it to say, his is a view I did not grow up with.

I would like to make note of one point about the broader context of this chapter that comes out strongly when one comes to this chapter and is reading the New Testament through without any agendas, as we are doing this year, and that impacts the topic of women’s roles in ministry.  Look back to 1:4-5 from yesterday.  The false teachers stirred up dispute.  Those influenced by their teachings likely did as well.  Yet, Paul wanted Timothy to be a person of faith, love, and purity.  Earlier in this chapter, Paul instructs Timothy to encourage the people to pray for their political leaders so that they “may lead a tranquil and peaceful life, in all godliness and holiness” (2:2).  Men are instructed in this passage too, not just women.  They are told to lift up “holy hands” in prayer, which has less to do with worship style and much more to do with a spirit between brothers and sisters in which there is “no anger or disputing” (2:8).  Women are given instruction about their dress and appearance (instructions most people see as cultural, and no longer literally binding) and the most important point is that they are to be “modest and sensible,” “decent” women who are known for their good works not their fashions (2:9-10).  In 2:11-12 women (or at least some specific women in the Ephesian church) are told to conduct themselves in times of worship and learning with “silence” (most translations) or they should be left “undisturbed” so they can study in peace (Wright’s translation, one that seems rather flavored by his Anglican position on female roles in ministry).  Last, the chapter ends with the same phrases from chapter one:

. . . if she continues in faith, love, and holiness with prudence. (2:15)

Paying attention to the context does not crack the code on this passage as it pertains to women in ministry; I think you could make this passage support any position.  What we must do is honor the Bible enough to let the main point stay the main point and not lose it in the midst of our pet issues and positions.  Paul was addressing a church in the midst of dispute, a church quick to argue, who thought that argument was in fact a badge of honor.  Paul couldn’t have disagreed more and he encouraged Timothy to adopt the same approach.  Men were arguing.  Depending on which translation you use, women were either arguing as well or were so oppressed they were not able to study without harassment.  Paul’s main point is clear, though: stop arguing.

It is kind of ironic to me that we argue about this passage so much.

What do you think?

Categories: 1 Timothy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

1 Timothy 1: Beware of False Teachers!

Lurking in the background of most Pauline letters is some person, group, or philosophy that threatens the orthodox beliefs and practices of the Christianity that Paul was spreading.  This is very much true in the letters to Timothy.

As we start our two weeks with these letters, let’s look at a profile of these “false teachers.”

  • They teach “false doctrines” (1:3; 6:3)
  • They want to be “teachers of the law” (1:7)
  • They base their teachings on myths not facts and genealogies not stories (1:4; 4:7)
  • They come off as conceited (1:7; 6:4)
  • They are argumentative, produce controversy, and disrupt the peace in the church (1:4; 6:4; 2 Tim 2:23)
  • They were full of meaningless and foolish talk, showing that they don’t really know what he are talking about (1:6-7; 6:4; 2 Tim 2:23)
  • They encouraged asceticism (4:3)
  • They used their authority for financial gain (6:5)

When you put this all together, this sketch does not produce a definitive identity.  Clearly, like many of Paul’s opponents, they were tying the Jewish law to the way of Christ.  The asceticism and emphasis on myth and genealogy could come from Judaism or from an early version of Gnosticism that was becoming popular in Asia Minor especially.

Maybe the most important point about these false teachers is what Paul says today:

That sort of thing breeds disputes rather than the instruction in faith that comes from God.  The goal of such instruction is love — the love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. (1:4-5)

This was a false teaching that emphasized the obscure and ineffectual while neglecting the most important elements of the way of Christ: faith, love, and purity.

What does a Christian leader look like today who is similar to these false teachers?

Categories: 1 Timothy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

BONUS: An Introduction to the Pastoral Epistles

We come now to three books that are typically called the Pastoral Epistles — 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus — because they are addressed to two men who were leading churches Paul had started and because of the attention given in these letters to ministry issues.

Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles toward the end of his life.  As we read through the letters we will likely get the sense that these are the letters of a man who is about to hand his life’s work over to his protégés.  He is reflective and slightly anxious.  He pours every ounce of cautionary wisdom into his words.  Paul wants to push westward past Rome and on to Spain, however Paul seems to know with prescience that he may not even get that far.  Either way, it is time to entrust his work in Ephesus to Timothy and his work on the island of Crete to Titus.  By the time 2 Timothy, Paul’s last preserved letter, is being written Paul is, in fact, imprisonment in Rome in a cold dungeon (2 Tim. 4:13) unable to be visited by friends.  Tradition says Paul is killed by the Romans within a year.

The Pastoral Epistles are highly instructive.  So much of these letters rotation around instructions about what makes a good leader, the threat of false teaching, the corruption that can easily come to church leaders when money is involved, and how to live as Christians in a decadent and immoral culture (idolatry in Ephesus, and sexual immorality and raucousness in Crete).

This Timothy was the same young Jewish man mentioned in Acts 16 who became Paul’s traveling companion and “son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2).  Six of Paul’s letters were co-authored by Timothy (2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon).  Titus is never mentioned in Acts, yet he does show up in various other places in the Letters as a loyal companion to Paul.  He evidently was an uncircumcised Gentile who Paul proudly took with him to the council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) to support his stand against attaching law observance to faith in Jesus (Gal. 2:1-3).  Titus was especially important to Paul in Crete and he is left there to ensure the churches stayed strong.

Categories: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 13: True Strength

There has been a whole lot of talk about strength in the Corinthian correspondence this past month.  Strong leaders, strong reasoning and speaking skills, a strong tolerance for sin (though too strong for Paul’s liking), a strong sense of grace (again, too strong), strong pocketbooks, strong charisma and gifting, strong leaders, strong egos, and strong boasts.  Corinth was a culture of strength, and so was this church.

We have already seen Paul say there are other strengths to have that are far more important.  They need a strong sense of unity that bridges the many divides they have allowed to form in their church.  They need a strong love towards each other shown through character, not spiritual gifts.  They need a strong spirit of generosity so as to help those who have real need in the world.  Today, Paul ends these two volumes with one more kind of true strength the Corinthians should be sure to have in a culture that seems hyper-focused on strength.  They would do well to be strong in doing the right thing.

Test yourselves to see if you really are in the faith!  Put yourselves through the examination.  Or don’t you realize that Jesus the Messiah is in you? — unless, that is, you’ve failed the test.  I hope you will discover that we didn’t fail the test.  But we pray to God that you will never, ever do anything wrong; not so that we can be shown up as having passed the test, but so that you will do what is right. (13:7)

What big idea really stood out to you during this year’s reading of the Corinthian correspondence?

Categories: 2 Corinthians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2 Corinthians 12: Strength Shown through Weakness

Today’s passage is as good a verse as any to declare a theme statement for 2 Corinthians.  It is also foundational to my own worldview and one I remind myself of a lot, especially when I feel unequal to the task or particularly oppressed.

A thorn was given to me in my flesh, a messenger from the satan, to keep stabbing away at me.  I prayed to the Lord three times about this, asking that it would be taken away from me, and this is what he said to me: “My grace is enough for you; my power comes to perfection in weakness.”  So I will be all the more pleased to boast of my weaknesses, so that the Messiah’s power may rest on me.  So I’m delighted when I’m weak, insulted, in difficulties, persecuted, and facing disasters, for the Messiah’s sake.  When I’m weak, you see, then I am strong. (12:7b-10)

The point is not for us to appear strong.  The point is for people to see in us a power beyond us, the power of God.  That means we have to face, admit, and acknowledge to others our weakness.  That point when we feel like we can’t go on anymore, but then there is always a little more strength for the next day — that point may be the most blessed one of all, if we are willing to face it with faith.  I pray that we will.

What verse did you see in a new way today?

Categories: 2 Corinthians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

2 Corinthians 11: Not So Very “Super-Apostles”

Paul snidely labels those who are opposing him in the Corinthian church as the “super-apostles” (11:5).  Images of Clark Kent with a Bible come to mind.  He tells us a good deal about these people in today’s reading.

  • They have been able to sway some of the church away from true doctrine (11:3)
  • They may have been teaching significantly different things about Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the gospel (11:4)
  • They clearly were well-educated, much more than Paul, especially in the area of rhetoric (11:6)
  • Given that much of this book is about the collection Paul is taking up for the Christians in Judea and that Paul repeatedly has to defend his financial decisions, the super-apostles were likely accusing Paul of using the Corinthians for money (11:7-9)
  • They are so flawed as to actually be “false” prophets (11:13a)
  • They transform themselves, chameleon-like, to look pious and orthodox (11:13b)
  • Paul calls them servants of Satan, implying they are a threat to spiritual purity, not simply other Christians with views different from Paul’s (11:15)
  • They are destined for Hell (11:15)
  • They regularly boasted about themselves (11:18)
  • They are enslaving, insulting, and exploiting the Corinthians (11:20)
  • They may be Jewish (11:22)
  • They have not sacrificed as much as Paul for the sake of the gospel (11:23-29)

So who are these people? When you put it all together it makes a lot of sense that these super-apostles were the same Judaizers who followed Paul throughout the eastern Mediterranean undoing his grace-oriented Christianity with a re-binding of law on Christians.  Their air of superiority had much to do with their ethnicity and training in the law.

For Paul these differences are more than surface differences of preference and style.  The super-apostles had eviscerated the very gospel and in so doing they were not to be tolerated at all.

What caught your eye today?

Categories: 2 Corinthians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2 Corinthians 10: Boasting Without the Ego

Some days it seems like we are swimming in a sea of ego.

Here in America, the presidential campaigns are heating up and there is enough ego to choke on coming from both parties.  I guess that is part of the game.  Football seasons are cranking up and a great number of athletes are more than willing to tell us how good they are.  In the world of Howard Stern, Usain Bolt, LeBron James, and Lady Gaga self-promotion is a must.  Then our kids learn this and life imitates art in the hallways of schools across America and on Facebook and Instagram pages.

How do we walk like Christ through the world of ego?  

We are headed now into the last big part of 2 Corinthians where the idea of “boasting” is key.  In this chapter alone the word “boast” is used seven times in eighteen verses.  As we will see more clearly in the next chapter but as has been seen several times already in the Corinthians correspondence, pride was certainly encouraged in the self-important culture of Achaia.  A person needed to make a name for themselves, develop the skills and personality traits that were admired, and then they didn’t need to feel bad about making these known.  Furthermore, pride always brings about competition, and it seems it was also okay to point out your opponents failures in comparison to your strengths.  We can tell that in the Corinthian church there were people present not lacking in ego and quite willing to point out Paul’s inferiority.

Paul states in this chapter that he felt justified in joining in the boasting, but he would boast in what God had done through him, not his own accomplishments.

But when we boast, we don’t go off into flights of fancy; we boast according to the measure of the rule God has given us to measure ourselves by, and that rule includes our work with you! (10:13)

For Paul, the most important things he has ever done, the greatest bragging point is simply the success he has had evangelizing.  Yet, Paul also knows that success does not come from his great rhetoric, because he is sometimes lost for words.  It is not his charisma and personality; he is too meek and weak for that.  It is not some ministry proudly named after himself, because the power of his ministry came from God and the ability to change hearts always comes from God.  The Corinthians need not look for Paul’s credentials to be impressed.  They only need to look at their own history to realize, they would not be in Christ had Paul not come to town.

In a world of ego, we would do well to boast like Paul did:

Anyone who boasts should boast in the Lord! (10:17b)

What stood out to you in this chapter?  

Categories: 2 Corinthians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2 Corinthians 9: A Vision of Abundance

“There is only so much” or “There is enough to go around” — which do you tend to believe?

“The early bird gets the worm” or “There is enough to share” — which one tends to describe how you see material resources?

“Get your’s while you can” or “It is a blessing to share” — which is it?

The American worldview certainly holds that there is a limited number of resources and we are in competition with each other to get those.  Of course, that belief shapes our perceptions and then we accept it to be unquestionably true.  And if we count our needs in millions and billions of dollars, maybe this view is true.  But when we think realistically, isn’t there more than enough to go around?

Walter Brueggemann, a favorite author of mine, calls this belief the “myth of scarcity.”  Americans seem to believe it, but so did many in Israel in the Old Testament.  That is why the rich got richer and the poor poorer and the prophets railed against social injustice.  The prophetic imagination of seers like Micah dared Israel (and us still today) to believe that we lived in abundance.

He will judge between many peoples
    and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.
Every man will sit under his own vine
    and under his own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
    for the Lord Almighty has spoken. (Micah 4:3-4)

Hoarding is not necessary, because each can have his own.  Brother does not need to compete with brother because we both can have more than enough.  Jesus feed five thousand and there was still twelve baskets of bread to spare.

It is this same vision that guides Paul in today’s passage.

Someone who sows sparingly will reap sparingly as well.  Someone who sows generously will reap generously.  Everyone should do [give] as they have determined in their heart, not in a gloomy spirit or simply because they have to, since “God loves a cheerful giver.” And God is well able to lavish all his grace [gifts, including material resources] upon you, so that in every matter and in every way you will have enough of everything, and may be lavish in all your own good works, Just as the Bible says: “They spread their favors wide, they gave to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” The one who supplies “seed to be sown and bread to eat” will supply and increase your seed and multiply the yield of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way in all single-hearted goodness, which is working through us to produce thanksgiving to God.  The service of this ministry will not only supply what God’s people so badly need, but it will also overflow with many thanksgivings to God. (9:6-12)

As the Corinthians get ready to receive Paul who will be looking for the contribution they had previously promised to give to the famine relief efforts in Jerusalem (9:1-5), Paul exhorts them to view this with a vision of abundance, not the myth of scarcity.  So too for us.  Anytime we are called upon to give to provide for those who are under-resourced at the time (notice that this passage is not talking about giving to meet the budget of the church) we will need the same perspective.  We can be “cheerful givers” because the anxiety of competing for the same dollar does not need to rule our hearts.  God is able to pour down blessings on us in such a lavish way that we will have everything we need (of course, “need” and “want” are two different words).  We can also be cheerful givers when we acknowledge the result of unselfish living: “thanksgiving to God.” The myth of scarcity makes us turn others into competition and weigh the perceived right others have to our money.  A vision of abundance makes it easier to melt our selfish hearts and uncurl our greedy fingers, and that is when praise and thanksgiving are born.  

Today is Labor Day in America, a day we celebrate the worker, the most important cog in the machine of capitalism.  Ironically, we celebrate the day by not working (and I am super cool with that!)  We work to provide for ourselves and for others.  Instead of turning this procurement of resources into a competition, can we dare to trust that God will provide all that is needed and that he might be using us to provide for others for a time?

When have you been surprised by how abundant God’s material blessings truly are?

Categories: 2 Corinthians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.