Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to find out who God is, what is He like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Category: 1 Timothy

For my son - Swim strokes and the effect of a quiet life

My oldest son has officially finished high school and is getting ready to embark on the next phase of his life.  As I am nostalgically thinking of that time in my own life, I am also thinking of the things God has taught me since then.

This is the first post in a three-part series where I am remembering lessons I have learned later in life that I would love for my son know now...

I chose this post because it reminds us that our biggest and best way of introducing others to Jesus will likely come from what we consider the normal, small portions of life.  The closer we walk with God, the more "His normal" becomes "our normal"...the more His life will stand out to others, even if we don't necessarily notice.

Swim strokes and the effect of a quiet life
originally posted on July 15, 2016

I’ve raced in a handful of triathlons.  No crazy, Ironman distances; but I have completed several of the short, “sprint” distances.  When I started, I figured that biking I can do, running I can do, but it was the first event that scared me the most – the swim.  I had taken swimming lessons as a kid, but as an unpracticed adult, my activity in the water fell more into the “not drowning” category rather than in the “swimming” category.

After a friend lent me a DVD on swimming for triathletes, I began practicing several times a week.  Sometime later, on one particular night, I was at a local gym and was using their lap pool.  A friend of mine was in the first lane, getting his laps in.  I was in the middle lane, just doing my thing.  Shortly after we started, an older lady started using the other outside lane for water aerobics and walking.

During one of my breaks, the lady turned to me and said, “I’ve just got to tell you.  You have a very quiet stroke.”  I chuckled a little bit, and then thanked her.  She had apparently been comparing my smooth stoke to the thrashing around my friend was doing in the next lane over.  My wife had previously told me that at races, my swim sticks out in comparison to the others; she says it looks like I’m moving with the water instead of fighting my way through it, like everyone else.

By the time the older lady gave me the compliment, I had practiced this style of swimming so much that it had become second nature.  I didn’t even notice I was doing it – to me, I was just swimming.  After thanking the lady for her compliment, I informed her that my swim stroke was something I had been taught, it didn’t come naturally.  I also told her that it was a skill that she could learn as well.  She immediately shook her head ‘no’ and said, “I really don’t think so.”

Similarly, Paul gave Timothy instructions for the church in Ephesus that if followed, would stand out to culture around them.

1 Timothy 2:1-4
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

How we live is an indicator of our relationship with God our Savior.  Paul tells Timothy that the best kind of life, one that shows we are walking close to God, is a tranquil and quiet life where our godliness and dignity are on full display.

When we focus on knowing God well and practice ways to imitate Him, our godliness will become second nature.  While our “God-like-ness” will feel normal to us, the tranquil and quiet life we lead will stand out to those around us.

God and His love for us is so big that He wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth – the amazing thing is that we are his main ambassadors for doing so.  Paul says we fulfill our role as God’s representative in two ways: through praying for our leaders and living a godly life.

These two things will give us the platform to reach out to everyone with the same love that has been extended to us.  Some will desire the life they see in us; others won’t believe that it’s possible.  As ambassadors, we’re just responsible to represent God.  It’s not up to us to convert anyone, that’s God’s arena.

We have to keep in mind that the gospel will be communicated through our lives before anyone will likely read the Bible on their own.  Honestly, the people in my life will read the ‘gospel of Ken’ long before they read the Gospel of John.  Living a tranquil and quiet life will not come naturally for us, either.  But with practice, we will begin to inherently reflect God and all His attractive qualities.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Guard well

Paul’s letters would typically end with a goodbye and a few greetings for specific people.  Take for example, how he closed his letter to the church in Philippi:

Philippians 4:21-23
Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.  Those brothers who are with me greet you.  All the saints greet you, but especially those from Caesar’s household.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Sometimes the greeting was brief, but other times it was quite lengthy.  Out of all the letters Paul wrote in the New Testament, only two have no ending greetings – Galatians and 1 Timothy.  It’s almost as if Paul was “all business” when writing these two letters. 

In fact, he ends 1 Timothy with the same emphasis that he started the letter with, warning Timothy to protect the truth of the gospel and to watch out for false teaching from deceived believers:

1 Timothy 1:3-4,6-7
…command certain people not to teach other doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies.  These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith…some have deviated…and turned aside to fruitless discussion.  They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.

Now compare that to Paul’s final words in the letter:

1 Timothy 6:20-21
Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding irreverent, empty speech and contradictions from the “knowledge” that falsely bears that name.  By professing it, some people have deviated from the faith. 

Grace be with all of you.

From start to finish, Paul’s focus has been urging Timothy to be watchful – of his own teaching and of what gets taught on his watch as leader of the church in Ephesus.

In a very real sense, the church at Ephesus has been entrusted to his care.  Timothy needed to guard both the gospel message and those who had believed the gospel.  It was an important task, and Paul believed Timothy could handle the responsibility.

Closing out this letter from a mentor to his protégé has left me thinking about the people God has entrusted into my care…and how much the written encouraging words from my mentor has helped sustain me when challenges arise.  I still have most of the emails Joe sent when he was writing THE WORD, and I go back through them from time to time.  I’m sure Timothy did the same with Paul’s letter.

The gospel message has been entrusted to each of us, as well as certain people we are responsible for.  Make sure you guard them, and are also mentoring them to carry the message of salvation to future generations.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Laying the foundation

I’ve been fascinated by harmonicas for a while now.  Listening to people who can pull a harmonica out of their pocket and just jam away on some jazzy, country, or bluesy music has made me want to do so as well.  I never acted on that desire, until recently.  And I learned something rather important – playing the harmonica isn’t super easy.  In fact, some parts of it are rather difficult.

The first skill to learn is to blow and draw single-hole notes clearly.  Makes sense to start there, but that’s easier said than done.  And my lips got sore/tired after about 10 minutes of squeaking around, so I had to wait until the next day to try again.  Day two wasn’t any better.  Neither was day three.  It took me months of work before I could play a scale without messing it up (and mess ups still happen, occasionally). 

The next skill to learn is to move around the harmonica, playing notes out of order so that I play a recognizable tune.  More work, and still not easy.  I’m much better at it now, after another couple of months, and I can now get about 80-90% of “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain” on a consistent basis.

On the horizon is a skill called ‘bending’.  It’s being able to change notes using the same hole by changing the position of your tongue and throat.  The video instructor I’m following called the practice time of learning this skill the ‘dark hours’ of learning to play.  He warned that it will take some time, and that it takes some people longer than others to figure out how to consistently bend notes.  His tone and cautiously chosen words were a little unsettling…but he did reassure that this skill is the gateway to learning all the jazzy, country, and bluesy jam session stuff that I really want to play.  If I don’t spend this time grinding through the ‘dark hours’, then I will be unable to play the harmonica to its full potential.  I’ll miss out on what I’m capable of because I won’t have the foundation I need to play like that.  But who knows how long it’s going to take for me to get this part figured out…

We’ve been looking at a passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy, who is overseeing the church in the melting-pot metropolis of Ephesus.  While being poor has its own challenges (and Paul addressed some of them earlier in this letter), Timothy also needed to instruct the wealthy members of the church how to handle their finances in a way that is productive and honors God. 

If we modern-day, American believers widen our lens to include the rest of the world, we quickly see that we too fit Paul’s definition of those who are rich.  With our smart phones, cable TV, and cars, in addition to our air conditioning, clean water, and indoor plumbing…It’s hard to argue that we’re “not that rich”.  Here are the things Paul says we need to learn:

1 Timothy 6:17-19
Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 

Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.

Being others-focused like this does not come naturally, though.  We’re ok saying polite things and throwing a little money in the offering plate at church.  But we know that if we’re going to really do what God is asking of us here – do goodbe rich in good worksbe generousbe willing to share – that is asking for a change in us at a deeper level.  We’re going to have to take on our deep-seeded attitudes about ‘my time’ and ‘my money’.

And that wrestling match is hard.  When we finally step out and try to follow God’s instructions here, we find that we’re not very good at it.  It’s more uncomfortable that we want it to be.  We struggle with questions like ‘How will I know when I should help someone financially vs when it would be unwise to offer money?’ and ‘What does be generous really mean for my level of income?’ and ‘If I give and share when I really don’t want to, does that “count”?  Does God still consider my actions to be “good”, or should I skip giving until don’t feel any resentment about it?’.

Wrestling though these kinds of questions will be some dark hours.  We might be ok with being generous today, but lose the fight tomorrow.  We will want to throw in the towel and go back to just being nice (and comfortable).  We’ll get to the point where we can handle our wealth 80-90% of the time, and then lapse back into a selfish attitude. 

But it will be worth it in the end, He says.  Our work now, when it’s hard, is laying a good foundation for the age to come.  Learning how to be wealthy AND others-focused is the gateway to being able to partner with God in Eternity Future.  Without this practice time, we won’t be able to fully do the things we were made to do. 

I can’t answer your ‘dark hour’ wrestling questions, but God can.  My advice (for you and me) is to keep practicing.  Let’s trust God in this and take hold of life that is real.  Eternity future awaits.  Let’s make sure we’re prepared to partner with God and fully enjoy it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How to be rich and live richly

We discovered last time that we’re rich.  Richly rich.  That if we make over $32,400 per year ($15.59/hour)…we’re in the top 1% of the world.  But we also found out that no matter what our income amounts to, we shouldn’t feel guilty that we have wealth, because God richly provides us with all things to enjoy

God gives good gifts, and gifts are given for the enjoyment of the one receiving it.  Maybe someone got a better gift than you, and it doesn’t seem fair…however, our jealousy tends to evaporate once we expand our comparison circle to include the rest of the world.

So now that we know we’re rich, what do we do?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught:

Matthew 6:19-21
Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

A few observations:
·        Jesus gave no indication that being wealthy in this life (or the next) is wrong.
·        What is considered valuable now is not going to be what is considered valuable in the next life.
·        How we obtain wealth in this life is not how we store up treasures for the next life.

During his ministry, Jesus met many rich folks who didn’t handle their wealth very well in light of eternity.  A few examples include the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22), also the Pharisees and their scribes (Luke 5:29-31).  The rich were also featured in Jesus’ parables as bad examples of how to live life in the present age (Luke 12:13-21, Luke 16:19-31, and Luke 18:9-14).

So, what should us rich 1%ers do?  What does God consider the right way to handle the wealth He’s given us?

Paul addressed that topic in his instructions to Timothy:

1 Timothy 6:17-19
Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 

Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.

Being rich in the age to come means being other-focused in the present age.  Whether we make $15,000 a year or $1,500,000 a year – what we do with what God has given us will determine the foundation of our lives in the next life.

That thought just blows me away, so dwell on it for just a moment with me.  Everything in this life is building *only* the foundation for our lives in eternity.  What we build, the work we do, the experiences we will have in the next life…are going to be based upon the choices we make in the present age.

My mentor, Joe, would tell me often “This life is just boot camp for the next.”  C.S. Lewis wrote that our present lives are simply the cover and the title page…when we enter Eternity future, we will begin Chapter 1 of the Great Story that never ends, where each chapter is better than the one before.

Partnering with God now affects how we can partner with God in Eternity.  We should absolutely enjoy the gifts God has given us, but don’t enjoy them selfishly.  Do goodBe rich in good worksBe generousBe willing to share.

Lay a good foundation for the age to come.  Find and take hold of life that is real.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Is it wrong to be rich?

Over the last several years, we’ve heard a lot about “the greedy rich” and “the 1%ers” who have the biggest salaries and have seemingly “unfair” amounts of wealth.  These phrases are thrown around in the business world, in political speeches, and on news broadcasts…with the inference that it is wrong for someone to be at that income level.

In America, if you’re going to be part of the top 1% in annual salary, then you’d have to bring in over $434,000 every year.  To be in the top 10% of American wage earners, your salary would be over $133,000 every year.  Maybe you don’t fit into either category, and you don’t think of yourself as “rich”.  That’s for someone else, right?  Someone who can spend as much as they want whenever they want and not worry about it. 

But the issue we’re subconsciously wrestling with whenever a “1%er” statement comes up is…Is it ‘wrong’ to be rich? 

Ever wonder what God says about being rich?  Is it a sin to make a lot of money?  Is it sinful to have large amounts of money in the bank?  

Before we get to Paul’s instructions to Timothy about Christians who have a lot of wealth, we need to clear something up.  If we stop comparing our income to others in our town and instead look at the rest of the world, if we make more than $32,400 in a year (or $15.59/hour)…we’re in the top 1% globally.  Also, “rich” in the ancient world meant that you had a house to call your own and extra disposable income to spend on lavish, unnecessary fun items.  With our smart phones, cable TV, and cars, in addition to our air conditioning, clean water, and indoor plumbing…I think we do qualify as “rich”.

So, what does God think about us having so much? 

1 Timothy 6:17-19
Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy.  Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.

So, it’s not a sin to have money.  It’s not a sin to have things or take pleasure in them.  After all, God richly provides us with all things to enjoy.  So, we shouldn’t feel guilty about going to the movies, or having an iPhone, or being able to afford a vacation.  

From this text, we see that God’s more concerned with our attitude about our riches.  If our wealth was suddenly gone, would we still sing about how good God is?  If our future is uncertain, do we console ourselves with the amount in our bank account, or with the knowledge that God provided that money in our bank account to protect against emergencies?

Is our hope and security based on money or the One who gave us the money?  That can be easy for us rich 1%ers to forget.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Trusting enough

Turn on a news broadcast or read through the headlines on any webpage, and it’s easy to get discouraged about the direction the world is heading in.  Despite humanity’s best efforts and good intentions, we continue to slide down the slope toward self-destruction. 

I am reminded of Jesus’ last words in the Bible, where He says

Revelation 22:20
“Yes, I am coming quickly.”

And I think how quickly is quickly?  How bad does it have to get?  How many more atrocities will God allow us to inflict on one another before He steps in and says “ENOUGH”?  How much more opposition will we have to deal with until God finally rescues us?

Despite warning Timothy about the difficulties, and instructing him on how to deal with them, Paul didn’t want Timothy to totally focus on how hard his task was or how long it would last.

1 Timothy 6:13-14
In the presence of God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good confession before Pontius Pilate, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in His own time. 

Timothy’s “mission completed” point isn’t when he thinks Christ should be coming back, instead it is when God the Father decides…which [He] will bring about in His own time

And why could Timothy trust God’s timing?  Ephesus wasn’t an easy place, it was a melting pot of sinful cultures.  There were popular views about God that were completely false.  There were people in charge that didn’t even acknowledge God.  And there was plenty of opposition to Timothy defending the true gospel message.  I’m sure there were times when he would have thought “Ok, God…You can send Jesus back anytime time now…”

In the next sentence, Paul reminds Timothy of who God is.  Do you think this resume supports God sending Jesus back in His own time?

1 Timothy 6:15-16
He is
the blessed and only Sovereign,
the King of kings,
and the Lord of lords,
the only One who has immortality,
dwelling in unapproachable light,
whom none of mankind has seen or can see,
to whom be honor and eternal might.
Amen.

In addition to remembering our good confession, the way Timothy would keep going with his mission was to remember who gave him his marching orders. 

Since God gives life to all, do I trust Him with what He says I should do with my life?  When I read through the God’s resume in verses 15-16, do those attributes convince me that God also knows what He’s doing when it comes to the timing of Christ’s return?

Instead of wondering “How much longer?”, our question should be “How can I trust Him today?”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Remembering in order to persevere

We all have special moments of truth in life.  These drive-a-stake-in-the-ground moments happen when we discover or decide something to be true, and we choose to change the direction of our lives because of them.  These moments include times like taking vows when getting married, signing to purchase a home or vehicle, and when we accept Christ as our Savior. 

Based upon these declarations, we confirm to ourselves and others that, going forward, we will take action that is dependent upon this truth.  In our three examples above, we are confessing that we choose this person as our spouse above all others, that we’re going to pay off the loan, and that we’re trusting Christ for eternal life.

When times get tough – marital problems, financial issues, spiritual doubts – we can look back to those special moments of truth, remember what we said we would do, and then draw the strength from our initial resolve.

Timothy had moments like that, too.  Given the struggles he was going to face as he dealt with the melting pot culture of Ephesus and the abundance of false teachings, he would need some encouragement.  Paul instructed him to find encouragement in what he already knew to be true.

1 Timothy 6:12
Fight the good fight for the faith;
take hold of eternal life,
to which you were called
and have made a good confession
before many witnesses.

However, this is more than a “you said you would” moment…Paul didn’t want Timothy to think he was the only one.  So, he also gives Timothy an example to remember and lean upon:

1 Timothy 6:13-15
In the presence of God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good confession before Pontius Pilate, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in His own time.

Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, point blank, if He was the King of the Jews (John 18:33).  And when asked, Jesus didn’t shy away from stating his mission.  Earlier, when He was struggling with the impending pain and suffering and death, Jesus’ high priestly prayer was about relying on God the Father.  When He would struggle later as He hung on the cross, Jesus quoted scripture to help Him stay on mission.

Paul’s point is that Timothy, too, can stay on mission…he can keep the commandment to fight the good fight and take hold of eternal life in the here and now.  No matter what life throws at him, and no matter the opposition this young leader would face in Ephesus, Timothy can look back to his own good confession of who Christ is in his life…and find the strength to complete his own mission and calling.  Just like Jesus did.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Worth reading and worth fighting for

Sometimes I have to stop and ask myself a rather embarrassing question:

When was the last time you actually read something?

It’s not that I don’t read at all.  Like most everyone, there are many things every day that I need to look at and read.  Work policies, news stories, sports articles, emails, text messages, magazines, internet searches…we read lots of stuff, right?  Well, sort of.

Truth be told, I don’t read much of what’s put in front of me.  I skim.  And not just a little…I skim everything

Whether it’s the lunch menu or an official document, my tendency is to scan for key words and trust my assessment based upon what I find.  With the amount of information we’re bombarded with on a daily basis, it feels like we’d never make it through a day if we stopped to really, truly read and understood everything.  I’ve managed along through life alright with this method…it only occasionally causes me issues…but I find this habit creeping into my time with God, as well.

When reading the Bible, it’s very easy to fall into the habit of skimming so we can just “get it done” and move on the next task for the day.  And while Jesus did promise that one of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to remind us of everything He taught (John 15:4), it’s really tough to be reminded of something we skimmed and didn’t fully understand in the first place.

So, let’s slow down, for just a moment.  Let’s read the oh-so-easy-to-skim list of characteristics Paul told Timothy to pursue.  Paul said these things were worth fighting for.  We’ll make sure we understand them…and then we’ll make sure we know how to pursue them ourselves.  You with me?

1 Timothy 6:11-12
Now you, man of God run from these things,
but pursue righteousness, godliness, faith,
love, endurance and gentleness.

Fight the good fight for the faith;
take hold of eternal life,
to which you were called
and have made a good confession
before many witnesses.

Now, let’s look at what these terms mean.

righteousness – being in a right relationship with God; living a life according to God’s standards of integrity and purity, with correct thinking, feeling, and action

godliness – reverence and respect towards God, with the desire to imitate God’s qualities

faith – the belief that God is truthful and trustworthy

love – this is agape love, a love that is specific in affection, intention, and benevolence; it is given without condition or requirement of reciprocity

endurance – steadfastness, consistency, and patient continuance; the characteristic of a person who is not swerved from their deliberate purpose and their loyalty to God, by even the greatest trials and sufferings

gentleness – mildness, humility, meekness; strength under control when interacting with others

Now that we’ve read and understood Paul’s words, where do we go from here?  Paul said they’re worth fighting for, so how do we go about doing that?

For you, maybe one characteristic stood out from the rest.  Take the next week, and ask God each day to show you ways to pursue that specific trait in your life.

Alternatively, take one characteristic each day and focus in on that.  Today, tell God you want to increase your righteousness with Him.  Ask Him to point out the areas of your life that are rightly aligned with Him.  And then ask Him to show you what parts need to be cleaned up.  Tomorrow, purse godliness and pray specifically about a characteristic of His that you want to imitate – His kindness, His generosity, His strength.  The next day, talk to God about faith and increasing your trust in Him.  And so on, for each of the six characteristics.

Follow either plan…and in a week’s time, you’ll be amazed at what God has taught you.

Thanks for reading.  Now, take hold of eternal life, to which you were called.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

To run or to fight?

Some battles are worth fighting, and other times we’re better off just walking away.  It would be easy to talk in these terms about conflict with other people…but let’s ask the harder question instead:

How do we know the difference – when to run and when to fight – when it comes to our internal struggles and desires?

Because here’s our dilemma:

If we run when we should fight, it is a clear loss.
If we fight when we should run, then we waste time in a losing battle and risk injury or ruin.

Last time, we looked at Paul’s warning to Timothy regarding the seductively destructive desire for money and wealth.  Paul’s advice for dealing with money-love? RUN AWAY

1 Timothy 6:9-11
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

Now you, man of God, run from these things;

Loving money and what money can do for us will inevitably pull us away from God.  That pull can be as subtle as a distraction or as painful as a trap.  As such, Paul says having money as our primary driver is something to get away from.  And rather than dreaming of riches, Timothy needs something better to chase after:

1 Timothy 6:11-12
Now you, man of God, run from these things;
but pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.

Fight the good fight for the faith;
take hold of eternal life,
to which you were called
and have made a good confession
before many witnesses.

Paul has presented a practical contrast for Timothy:

He is to run from the trapping desire to get rich and get away from loving/craving money.
Instead
He is to fight to acquire the eternal life qualities of God and what God has called Timothy to do.

Beyond the direct application of Paul’s instruction (which would be extremely helpful), we can also draw out these principles:

We are to run from – the attitudes and actions that pull us away from God, from those things that try and take His top place in our lives.

We are to fight for – the attitudes and actions that draw us closer to God, for those things that keep Him in the top place in our lives.

When (not if) we find ourselves presented with an internal conflict, we need to check which direction we’re being pulled in…and then choose to either run or fight accordingly.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Running away

We all had moments like this as kids.  We saw the danger coming, and it was coming in fast.  Maybe for you it was a schoolyard bully, or the neighbor’s large dog, or the owner of a property that you were not supposed to be on.  Whatever it was, the adrenalin kicked in and you instinctively knew what you had to do next…

RUN!

Adrenaline is not called the “fight or flight” hormone for nothing.  When it starts pumping through our body, we are suddenly stronger, more focused, and significantly faster than we have ever been.  But we must decide, and decide quickly, how we are going to use our enhanced capabilities.  Some things aren’t worth fighting over, it’s best just to get away…and get away as quickly as possible.

As he was wrapping up his letter of direction and encouragement to his protégé Timothy, the Apostle Paul warns:

1 Timothy 6:9-11
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

Now you, man of God, run from these things;

For Timothy to try balancing the pursuit of riches and being a man of God would have been completely futile.  Not only would he waste his time, but he would risk becoming trapped or falling into ruin and destruction.  A chasing after money leads to all kinds of compromises he would have never thought possible…it would lead him away from the faith and his reward would be many pains.

Jesus gave a similar warning:

Matthew 6:24
Not one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot be slaves of God and of money.

No wonder Paul’s advice to Timothy was to RUN.

But Paul doesn’t leave Timothy hanging either.  God isn’t just handing out a set of rules “Don’t do this.  Don’t do that.”  Whenever you find a “don’t” in Scripture, it’s almost always accompanied by an alternative “do”.

1 Timothy 6:11
Now you, man of God, run from these things;
but pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.

Earlier, Paul told Timothy that godlinessholds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). 

So, we see the contrast here: Paul says to run from what the world sees as lifegiving now and to pursue what God says is lifegiving both now and in eternity.

Timothy had to choose what he was going to run from and what he would pursue

We must make the same choice.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Fighting the temptations of money

We joke about it, but there’s certainly some truth to it – There are no luggage racks on a hearse.

We’ve also heard the more serious advice – You can’t take it with you when you die.  Travel light.

However, our consumerism-driven American lifestyle isn’t the first time Christians have had to wrestle with the desire to acquire things.  There really is nothing new under the sun.  Every generation is faced with the same issues, they just might come at us in slightly different ways.  When warning Timothy about the dangers of greed-driven false teachers, Paul made this observation:

1 Timothy 6:7-8
For we brought nothing into the world,
and we can take nothing out.
But if we have food and clothing
we will be content with these.

Paul is telling Timothy that we can choose our perspective on acquiring money and the things money can buy.  But…we will be content.  That is a choice.  When we stop and consciously think about it, it makes all the sense in the world.  Having lots of money in this life provides no guarantees on how life in eternity will go for us.  We can’t buy our way into Heaven, and anything we accumulate will get left behind with our physical bodies when we die.

And yet it is so, so easy to get caught up in the pursuit of money and the things money can buy.  Our selfish desire to be comfortable, to “live the good life”, actively creeps into our thoughts and attitudes.  From my experience, the desire to take it easy has gotten stronger the older I get.  As my career and experience progresses, so does the value of my work.  With more money comes the opportunity to selfishly spend it on myself.

Which is why Paul then warns:

1 Timothy 6:9-10
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

Whether we’re wise with our money (and have no debt) or we’re unwise with our money (and buy everything with credit), the world repeatedly tells us that we deserve to take it easy.  But believing that lie is only the first step down path to a trap leading to ruin and destruction.

Don’t think for one moment that this kind of temptation only ensnares “false believers” and that “true believers” wouldn’t fall into the money trap.  With his very next sentence, Paul tells Timothy:

1 Timothy 6:11
Now you, man of God, run from these things…

We must choose to run…and we must choose to be content.  Paul isn’t advocating that we live with just the minimum food, clothing, and shelter needed to stay alive.  In just a few verses, Paul will tell Timothy that God gives us all things to enjoy (see 1 Timothy 6:17).  Paul’s warning is for Timothy (and us) to guard against the human tendency to take something meant to be enjoyed and allow it to become something that we focus on and love.  The best way to protect ourselves is to remember Paul’s words and choose contentment:

1 Timothy 6:7-8
For we brought nothing into the world,
and we can take nothing out.
But if we have food and clothing
we will be content with these.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

The damage caused by false teaching

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote:

God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

Any attempt to fuel ourselves on anything other than a relationship with God will not work.  This is why the teaching we listen to matters so much.  Even if what the teacher proposes begins with a Scripture, we must be attentive to the content of their message.  When we listen to “Bible teachers” whose teaching does not align with what Jesus taught, we are attempting to use a fuel that we were never made to run on.  We may start out alright, their teaching may seem to work…but the eventual consequences are rather severe, like an engine that was given water instead of gasoline.

Paul warned Timothy about the eventual damage that comes from the application of bad teaching:

1 Timothy 6:4-8
From these come envy, quarreling, slanders, evil suspicions, and constant disagreement among men whose minds are depraved and deprived of the truth, who imagine that godliness is a way to material gain.  But godliness with contentment is a great gain.

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out.
But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.

What fuels the false teachers isn’t God; therefore, their teachings are not able to point others toward God.  The result of this incorrect fueling is rather nasty and harmful – envy, quarreling, slanders, evil suspicions, and constant disagreement.  These qualities are opposite of what Paul stated at the beginning of his letter:

1 Timothy 1:5-7
Now the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.  Some have deviated from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion.  They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.

When we get right down to their core motivation, many of the false teachers are really doing it for the money and comfort.  They imagine that godliness is a way to material gain, and this greed is what drives them.  They are focused on themselves in the here and now.  Their focus isn’t on God and Who He Is.

However, being in relationship with God has its rewards, just not the way the false teachers are aiming.  Paul is very clear here – there is something to be gained by imitating God.  When we fuel ourselves with God, and so much so that we take on god-like-ness in the way we think, speak, and act….we do end up receiving other rewards and benefits.  However, instead of temporary material gain, we are promised something far greater.  Just as Christ told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36), the great gain that comes from having godliness with contentment right now will not be found in this world, either.

But if we’re not fueling ourselves on the right teaching – the kind of instruction that points us toward God – then we will miss out on both Him and His greater rewards.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The Teacher Test

Lots of people claim to teach and preach for God.  But how do you know if what they’re saying is actually from God?

One test could be to measure how much Scripture is quoted during a sermon.  The more the better, right?  That would make it easy…if they only quote one verse, we should be suspicious…but if they quote many verses, then their teaching must be “good”.  But that doesn’t seem quite right, does it?

Another test could be to gauge how we feel after listening to a sermon.  We know that the Word of God should inspire us, right?  So, if we leave feeling inspired and motivated, then the message and the messenger must be “good”.  But then doesn’t seem quite right, either.

When he wrote to encourage and direct Timothy in his mission to the Ephesian church, Paul repeatedly addressed the topic of false teachers.  Closing off the previous section’s teaching on the church’s support for widows, honoring elders, disciplining elders, and the slave-master relationship, Paul says:

1 Timothy 6:2-3
Teach and encourage these things.  If anyone teaches other doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, he is conceited, understanding nothing, but having a sick interest in disputes and arguments over words.

Did you catch Paul’s “Teacher Test”? 

If what that person teaches does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching the promotes godliness, then we should not be listening to them.  We need to keep this in mind:

Since the aim of a Christian’s life is to be like Christ, any teaching that doesn’t match up with what Jesus taught will not make us more like Him. 

That statement is so simple, we don’t even bother to think in those terms.  However, when we forget why we need a constant relationship with Jesus, we tend to let the Christian life make us comfortable.  God richly blesses us in many ways, but our selfishness still drifts us toward a life of ease. 

There are many consequences to focusing on getting to the “good life” instead of aiming for the “Christ-like life”.  Paul will deal with several of them as he closes out his letter.  The one he points out here is that false teachers will come sounding “good”, but they will end up pulling us away from our aim of being like Jesus.

Our Teacher Test isn’t to count the number of verses or rely on our constantly changing feelings.  Taking what is taught and comparing it to sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ will show us if our teacher is pointing us in the right direction.  Every time we’re presented with a new Bible teaching, we need to be asking “Does this teaching promote god-like-ness?”.

We must be alert in this.  Don’t go on auto-pilot just because someone claims to have a message from God.  Our relationship with Jesus depends on it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

A double warning for those who work

We see the same stereotypes in most of our TV shows.  Take a group of five adults in a workplace setting, and you’ll almost always have an overbearing boss, the perky one, someone who can’t keep their personal life together, the nerd, and the old guy/gal.  We’ve seen them so much that we tend to anticipate that people in life will act out these roles.  In a real sense, our entertainment has become our expectation.  And while TV shows are society’s current choice of distraction and amusement, the need to be mindful of a stereotype’s influence is actually an old issue.

There was a running gag in ancient comedies of the arrogant, back-talking slave who mocked the master behind his back and sassed his master to his face.  Either of which would lead to the slave taking a beating for comedic effect.  This motif was regularly present in Greek and Latin plays.  These shows also type-casted the role of the slave to be wicked and selfish.

When Paul wrote to Timothy, as much as one-third of the Roman world was made up of slaves.  Roman slavery was not like what we think of in terms of slavery – it wasn’t race-based (there were slaves of all races) and while some did the harsh, menial work other slaves had significant skills and responsibilities (such as medical work, teaching, and business).  The average age of a slave was 17, and most could reasonably expect to be freed by the time they reached 30 (with typical life expectancy of 36 for women and 43 for men). 

So if 1/3 of society was slave population, you can imagine that there would be a fair number of slaves in the church.  And if the general expectation of “slave behavior” was rudeness, disrespect, and conduct that deserved an occasional beating – would God expect something different because of their society status?

1 Timothy 6:1-2
All who are under the yoke as slaves must regard their own masters to be worthy of all respect, so that God’s name and His teaching will not be blasphemed. 

And those who have believing masters should not be disrespectful to them because they are brothers, but should serve them better, since those who benefit from their service are believers and dearly loved.

Whatever circumstance a slave found themselves in, they were to demonstrate their relationship with Jesus in the way they treated their master.  Paul doesn’t say that the master must deserve respect or should earn respect…instead, the slave must [choose to] regard their own masters to be worthy of all respect.  They were to ignore the low-bar expectations of society and realize that their actions mattered to God’s reputation.  A slave that acted counter-culturally would stand out as a positive witness for God.

Paul is such a realist.  He recognizes peoples’ general, selfish tendency to use a situation to their own benefit – and warns slaves not to take advantage of their believing masters.  Choosing to act like society’s stereo-typical slave because you assume that grace and mercy will be available is not only hypocritical, but shows a lack of understanding of the love Christ showed all of us.

Paul’s directions are applicable for us, even though we don’t live in an indentured-servant society.  We come across all sorts of stereotyped behaviors in our own jobs, and we need to make the choice to live out of our relationship with Jesus, rather than meet society’s low-bar expectations.

Every time we go to work, God’s reputation is on the line.  Others will definitely notice how you go about your business – even if the boss is an overbearing jerk.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Stomaching the misconduct of leaders

I think Dr. Thomas Constable was right when he wrote in his notes on 1 Timothy, “Criticism of leaders is a favorite spectator sport.” 

Let’s face it – not everyone is going to agree with or “like” every pastor they come across.  But how should an accusation of misconduct be handled?

As Paul continued his instructions for Timothy regarding the appointment of church leadership, he takes a realistic, yet extremely serious, approach to dealing with leaders who may not be living up the standards their position would require.

1 Timothy 5:19-21
Don’t accept an accusation against an elder unless it is supported by two or three witnesses.  Publicly rebuke those who sin, so that the rest will also be afraid.  I solemnly charge you, before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing out of favoritism.

Paul’s directions fit in perfectly with what Jesus taught his disciples about church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17).  Timothy must thoroughly evaluate an accusation against an elder.  One person’s word isn’t sufficient.  However, if the charge proves true – if the elder isn’t living up to the qualifications set forth a few verses back in 1 Timothy 3, then a public rebuke and/or removal from office may be in order.  These steps would correct the issue with the elder in question…but also keep the other elders from falling into the same trap. 

Paul could not have been more serious regarding the importance of going through this process without any prejudice or favoritism.  When Jesus referred to his return with the Father and the elect angels, it was in regard to judgment (Matt 25:31; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Rev 14:10).  While we might be tempted to think that a public rebuke is too harsh, it is better for an elder to be confronted now than for them to go on unchecked and then be confronted later by Jesus at the Bema judgement.

In order to avoid these kinds of situations, Paul gives Timothy some additional guidance:

1 Timothy 5:22-25
Don’t be too quick to lay hands on anyone, and don’t share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.

Don’t continue drinking only water, but use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.

Some people’s sins are evident, going before them to judgement, but the sins of others follow them.

Likewise, good works are obvious, and those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden.

Paul’s water vs. wine comment might seem a little strange to us, but keep in mind that wine was used for medicinal purposes in the ancient world.  Purified water from a faucet wasn’t readily available like it is for us.  Even though their water may look fine, there was a decent chance that it was contaminated.  Using a small amount of alcoholic wine would have been beneficial in keeping his digestive tract in working order.

It seems to me that Paul is taking a practical step from Timothy’s life and using it as an example of how to manage the appointment of leaders.  Timothy needs be cautious about appointing someone to represent God and lead others in their relationship with Jesus.  Just because someone seems like a “nice Christian guy” and he can quote a few Scriptures doesn’t mean he should be leading the congregation.  The importance of Timothy taking preventative measures to keep pure would also ensure that the church family would also avoid having to stomach elder-judgement issues in the future.

Bottom line for us?  We need to recognize that our leader’s lives matter.  We can’t expect them to be perfect, but their position mandates a level of blamelessness in order for them to handle this kind of influence on God’s family.  Just like Timothy needed to take appropriate steps in evaluating a leader, we need to do the same when we are considering who we get our Bible teaching from.  Just because they’re on the radio doesn’t mean they are “good” and their teaching is accurate.  Just because they are “really nice” doesn’t mean that we should be submitting to their leadership.  We need to do some work on the front end to avoid being misled.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Hard questions about church leadership

Good leaders are hard to find these days.  Whenever we are under a person who is in a leadership position, but he or she isn’t leading – the results are often disastrous.  Without guidance from those who should be responsible, the people in the workforce are directionless and unproductive.  Left unchecked long enough, non-leading “leadership” makes the workplace chaotic.  

However, don’t think that leadership problems are only business and career problems.  Even in a charity setting, leadership matters.  Without an engaged leader, the volunteer work being donated to the cause ends up being ineffective.  And as hard as it is to admit…the same thing can happen in the church.

But rather than focus on the damage that a poor leader can cause, we have a more difficult question to answer…

What do we do for the good leaders?

I think we, as a church, tend to take advantage of good, Godly leadership.  Oh, we say nice things to them, like “I really enjoyed your talk”.  Then we move on with life.  But the moment we need guidance, answers, or support, we expect them to be available.  Especially on the weekends and holidays…because that’s when we have church services, right?

Our church leaders need more than a “thank you”.  Paul thought so as well:

1 Timothy 5:17-18
The elders who are good leaders should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says:

You must not muzzle an ox that is threshing grain, and
The laborer is worthy of his wages.

The metaphor is an obvious one - as big and strong as the ox is, it still gets tired and needs to eat, even during the work.

This isn’t the first-time Paul has referred to the oxen direction in the Old Testament law.  He also pointed it out to the believers in Corinth.  Timothy was heavily involved with the Corinthian church, and he would have been aware of Paul’s previous directions based upon the Old Testament oxen scripture.  As such, Paul doesn’t need to reiterate his full teaching in Timothy’s letter – a reminder reference is sufficient to get his point across.

However, for our benefit and understanding, let’s take a look at what Paul said to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 9:9-11, 12-14
For it is written in the law of Moses,

Do not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.

Is God really concerned with oxen?  Or isn’t He really saying it for us?  Yes, this is written for us, because he who plows ought to plow in hope, and he who threshes should do so in hope of sharing the crop.  If we have sown spiritual things for you is it too much if we reap material things from you?

…Do you not know that those who perform the temple services eat the food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the offerings of the altar?  In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should earn their living by the gospel.

How many people attend your church?  If you were responsible for supporting that many people at your job, what kind of salary would you expect?  Is that somewhere in the neighborhood of how much your pastor is being paid?

I know, I know.  Those are hard questions.  Our society struggles with the idea of non-profit and church workers making “too much”.  We think it “looks bad” or “detracts from the cause”.  We tell ourselves that our church leaders are “storing treasure in Heaven” (which they are) and shouldn’t have “too much” down here.  But whose measurement of “too much” should we trust…ours or God’s?

Do some preachers give in to greed and abuse their position?  Absolutely, it happens.  A few verses downstream from these, Paul will address those kinds of issues in leadership.  But that shouldn’t stop us from allowing the good leaders to be appropriately compensated for their hard work now.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Legitimate help for legitimate needs

Whenever we see someone with a financial need, there’s always an underlying tension to deal with. 

What’s the best way to help them, without making them dependent or having my “help” end up being detrimental?

We want to help where we can…but only for legitimate needs.  We silently wish for criteria or even a flow chart to make the “Do I help or not?” decision for us.  But then we’re afraid that evaluating a person’s situation via a formula is too cold, not very loving, and when we consider each person’s financial need has different factors and influences…we quickly feel overwhelmed, even paralyzed.

The church family in Ephesus must have had similar struggles, because Paul spends a large section of his letter to Timothy discussing how to handle the support of widows within the church.  As mentioned before, widowhood was a serious situation for women in the ancient world.  They were not typically the direct heir of their husband’s will, and income generating options were limited, at best.  Additionally, if the husband was poor, he may not have left much for his wife to live on.

Before we read Paul’s criteria to Timothy for helping widows within the church, we need to understand a little bit about life expectancy in the ancient world.  Although the age of 60 was when a person was considered an “old man” or “old woman”, in the time between the Old Testament and the New Testament, the average life expectancy for a woman was 36 years.  This was mainly due to the significant risk of dying during childbirth; however, the men were not fairing much better, as they were only living on average up to 45 years.

Ladies, imagine condensing your life down to just 36 years.  Guys, yours to only 45 years.  Needs, wants, plans, opportunities all look different on a shortened timeline.  Keep that in mind as you read through Paul’s criteria:

1 Timothy 5:9-10
No widow should be placed on the official support list unless she is at least 60 years old, has been the wife of one husband, and is well known for good works – that is, if she has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the saints’ feet, helped the afflicted, and devoted herself to every good work.

There’s a fair bit of structure to this widow-helping program.  With an official support list, we see that this program is to provide elderly widows with long-term support (nor does this prevent the church from assisting in one-time, immediate needs).  The requirement for her to be the wife of one husband doesn’t mean she’s disqualified if her husband previously died, she re-married, and then her second husband died.  Rather, this is a prohibition on support those who have been in polygamous relationships.  This matches up well with the rest of Paul’s conduct expectations – he is instructing Timothy about the importance of asking “Does her life represent Jesus to others?

However, he also gives Timothy this warning:

1 Timothy 5:11-13
But refuse to enroll younger widows; for when they are drawn away from Christ by desire, they want to marry, and will therefore receive condemnation because they have renounced their original pledge.  At the same time, they also learn to be idle, going from house to house; they are not only idle, but are also gossips and busybodies, saying things they shouldn’t say.

This widow-helping program wasn’t going to be a monthly stipend check and then she does whatever she wants.  The church family expected that those who received support would work on behalf of the church within the community.  The widows would pledge their lives to this work, forsaking any additional marriage relationship…in a sense, they were “married to Christ”.  However, the normal desires of family life would likely be too much for the younger widows to fully abstain from once they made their pledge.  Additionally, the younger widows would not have developed the discipline that the older women had learned.  As widow-representatives, the reputation of Jesus and the entire church would be severely damaged by them saying things they shouldn’t say.

1 Timothy 5:14-16
Therefore, I want younger women to marry, have children, manage their households, and give the adversary no opportunity to accuse us.  For some have already turned away to follow Satan.  If any believing woman has widows, she should help them, and the church should not be burdened, so that it can help those who are genuinely widows.

The purpose of this criteria is to ensure that the church can help those who are genuinely widows.  We want to meet legitimate needs; therefore, we must have a way of evaluating the requests that come to the church.

God likes order.  We see it in creation.  We see it the structure of relationships.  We shouldn’t be all that surprised when we find that He also expects our giving to be thoughtful and purposeful.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Knowing when to give assistance

There is no shortage of people who need help.  No matter what lies the health-and-wealth teachers may tell, there are poor people in our churches who need help.  Whether due to circumstances beyond their control, circumstances which they created, or some combination of the two…there are needs all around us.

But how do we decide, who gets help…or who possibly “deserves” it more than someone else?  I have a tough time figuring that out as an individual, but have we considered how our church should be responding to assistance requests?  Logistically speaking, our churches have bills to pay, too.  So, it’s unrealistic to expect that every single request for support can or will be met at 100%.

Resources vs Needs isn’t a new problem for the church, either.  Paul addressed it with Timothy regarding the needs of widows in the Ephesian church.  Widowhood was a serious situation for women in the ancient world, since they were not typically the direct heir of husband’s will, and income generating options were limited, at best.  Additionally, if the husband was poor, he may not have left much for his wife to live on.

Her needs would be more significant than a one-time pantry-stocking trip to the local grocery store.  So how was Timothy to handle this significant of a request for continual support?

1 Timothy 5:3-4
Support widows who are genuinely widows.  But if any widow has children or grandchildren, they should learn to practice their religion toward their own family first and to repay their parents, for this pleases God.

Timothy’s first step is to thoroughly check for family.  I almost find it humorous that Paul says “Support widows who are genuinely widows”.  First step is to verify that her husband is truly dead.  The second step is check for extended family, especially if they are believers.  If they’ve been adopted into God’s family, then they have no excuse to skip out on taking care of members of their earthly family.  There were no assisted living homes and no hospice care in the ancient world.  The family’s care for the widow is an act of worship and respect toward God, which He finds pleasing because their actions are a reflection of his own.

1 Timothy 5:5-7
The real widow, left all alone, has put her hope in God and continues night and day in her petitions and prayers; however, she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives.  Command this so that they won’t be blamed. 

The real widow, the one the church should consider helping is destitute and has no other family options.  In fact, she considers the church her last resort…notice that she goes to God directly and repeatedly before she approaches the church body with her need.

Paul also affirms that the widow’s lifestyle should be considered prior to giving assistance.  If she is living a self-indulgent lifestyle, then she probably won’t be wise with the funds the church may give her.  In this case, there are other issues to address that are greater than her immediate need.

Lastly, Paul gives an ominous warning:

1 Timothy 5:8
Now if anyone does not provide for his own relatives, and especially for his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Paul pulls no punches here, so let’s be as practical as possible:

If I have the resources to take care of my widowed mother, and I refuse to do so…which forces her to rely on support from the local church, using funds that should go to those who are genuinely in need…how is that not stealing from God? 

Clearly, this verse is addressed to believers, since the comparison is with an unbeliever.  So, denying the faith doesn’t mean that I would not be part of God’s family.  What it means is that I would be grossly hypocritical of the love and resources that God has extended to me.  God did not withhold His resources when I could not save myself.  How can I claim to be a part of His family and then have my actions deny the faith and relationship with God?  At least an unbeliever’s words and actions match up.  What damage am I doing to God’s reputation if I have no good reason to refuse to help?

Our application of this passage is two-fold:

If we have family members who are destitute, it is our responsibility to care for them – not the church’s.  This doesn’t mean we pay for all their bills each month, either.  “Destitute” means just that.  We should not be passing off our family’s financial burdens to our church family.

If the church is approached by an individual in great need, it is both acceptable and wise to evaluate the depth of that need.  It is also wise to evaluate the person’s lifestyle.  Financing someone’s irresponsibility is less loving than telling a person “No, we will not help you in this way”, especially if there are deeper needs to address.  If there are other avenues of help available, either through their family or other modern-day options, that is acceptable as well.

The problem of societal needs is not new.  However, we must be wise with how/when we support others.  Everything we do, whether we give assistance or refuse assistance, must be done within the context of reflecting God to others.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How to deal with conflict

Ever get the urge to just “knock some sense” into someone?

Or at the very least, give them a verbal beat down that will “set them right” – and maybe let us blow off a little steam?

Take Paul’s protégé Timothy as an example.

He’s in a major metropolitan city he didn’t grow up in, he’s (at most) 30 years old, he’s in charge of the entire Christian church family in the city, and Paul has charged him with combating false doctrine and incorrect teachings of others.

How much conflict is going to come his way?  How many folks will be coming at him to argue with him?  Think he’ll have days where he feels the need to put someone in their place?

The Greek word for rebuke means just that – to strike or beat upon, to chastise with words.  I’m sure there were more than a few people (even some of them believers) who would have needed a strong dose of correction.

But look at how Paul says the young leader Timothy should handle those people:

1 Timothy 5:1-2
Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and with all propriety, the younger women as sisters.

While a rebuke would be a sharp, cutting word of correction, Timothy’s choice to exhort the person sits at the opposite end of the spectrum.  The Greek word translated exhort means to call to one’s side, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, comfort, or instruction.

Paul knew his Old Testament well.  As he directed Timothy, he likely had this proverb in mind:

Proverbs 15:1
A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.

In a separate letter, Paul reminded the believers in Rome:

Romans 2:4
Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Going toe-to-toe with an angry patron would make it difficult for Timothy to reach them with lasting correction and change.  Nor would harsh words model how God treats us.

One last observation to make.  Did you see the extra note Paul included for Timothy’s interaction with younger women?  With all propriety, [exhort] younger women as sisters.  We’ve all seen it too many times.  A high-ranking church leader losing his reputation, his job, and his influence for Christ due to an inappropriate relationship with another woman. 

Men, hear me clearly – if we do not keep ourselves intentionally pure and sinless in this area, especially with younger women, then we are inviting destruction into our lives.  Carelessness in this area will bring shame to ourselves and significant damage to God’s reputation in this life…and then we’ll have to answer to Jesus at the Bema Seat judgment.  You don’t want that.  I don’t want that.  We must take any steps necessary to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

So, here’s Paul direction to Timothy, all fleshed out:

Do not rebuke and older man, but exhort him as a father
Do not rebuke a younger man, but exhort him as a brother
Do not rebuke an older woman, but exhort her as a mother
Do not rebuke a younger woman, but – with all integrity – exhort her as a sister.

Put these into practice, and you will reflect God to others.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Practicing to be like Jesus

“When am I ever going to use this stuff?”

That phrase is the rally cry of every student who has had their fill of theory and talk.  I wondered it when I was a kid, and now my kids have asked it of me.

Earlier in his letter to Timothy, we observed that Paul made the connection between godliness and being like Jesus.  There were three Jesus-like-ness observations we noted:

·        Jesus knew the Scriptures – He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Often during His teaching, Jesus would reference the Scriptures by saying “It is written” or asking the question “Have you not read?
·        Jesus was totally focused on His part in God’s plan and kingdom – He was on mission and would not be deterred.  In John 6:38, He said “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
·        Jesus knew both the Scriptures and His mission well enough that He could impact the lives of others – He cared for others, met them where they were, and pointed them toward God the Father.

Just a handful of verses after Paul made the connection between godliness and being like Jesus, he encouraged Timothy with these words:

1 Timothy 4:12-16
No one should despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.  Do not neglect the gift that is in you; it was given to you through prophecy, with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all.  Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Paul’s instructions for Timothy match the three attributes of Jesus-like-ness we noted earlier.  First, Paul told Timothy to know the Scriptures. Through his devotion to public reading, exhortation, and teaching, Timothy would be immersing himself in God’s Word. 

Next, Paul urged Timothy to focus on his part in God’s plan and kingdom.  While he was a unique combination of skills and experience, when you add in the gift given to him by God, Timothy was especially prepared for this work in Ephesus. 

Lastly, Paul encouraged Timothy to practice these things; be committed to them…persevere in these things and his end result would be like Jesus’ – Timothy would know both the Scriptures and his mission well enough to impact the lives of others, or, as Paul put it, Timothy would save both himself and his hearers.  Now Timothy could not add to Jesus’ finished work on the cross, so we know that Paul isn’t referring to an eternal salvation here.  But then what would Timothy be saving them all from?

A few verses back, right after equating godliness with being like Jesus, Paul warned:

1 Timothy 4:1
Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons

As Timothy applies what he’s learned from Paul, as he endeavors to be like Jesus – then he, too, will have the opportunity to save both himself and his hearers from the pitfalls of false teachings.  What a great rescue mission!

What could we do if we also imitate Jesus by knowing the Scriptures and using our God-given gifts?  What kind of rescuing could we do?  Will we trust God and find out?

Keep Pressing,
Ken