Pressing On

with THE WORD

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

Filtering by Category: 1 Corinthians

God wants you to be a conqueror

Let’s be honest.  The Christian life is hard, and sometimes we wonder if following God is really worth it.  How much does it matter that we abide by God’s principles as we navigate our days, months, and years?  There’s got to be a larger reason for choosing to follow God, something more than just being “a good little Christian girl” or “a good little Christian boy”, right?

As we take a look at the last chapters of God’s final book of the Bible, we’re finding out that God DOES INDEED have more – much more – in store for those who follow Him.

Revelation 21:6-7
…I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.  The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be my son.

Inheritance is conditional – it is based upon the choices a person makes in the life they live after they have accepted Christ’s free gift of eternal life.  Knowing this, the next question we need to answer is this:

Since a conqueror is the one who inherits, who are the Christians that God refers to as “the one who conquers”?

The Greek word for conquer is nikao.  In ancient Greece, it was a verb that meant to overcome or overpower; to conquer or triumph.  In legal terms, it meant “to win one’s case”.  The verb was used to describe winners of athletic contests.  It was also used in reference to the victorious ruling Caesars.  When used in its noun-form, the word nike means victory.  It was also the name of a Greek goddess, who was often represented in art as a symbol of personal superiority.  In our modern days, not only is “Nike” a clothing and shoe brand, but the company’s marketed identity purposely conveys an overcoming, victorious attitude.

So, to be a conqueror is to be victorious over any task, obstacle, or arena you are in…and thus have the right to claim the victor’s spoils.  This definition fits in perfectly with what we have learned about a believer’s potential inheritance in the New Jerusalem.  Since inheritance is conditional, those that obtain it are those who have lived a victorious life in Christ.

Paul used similar language as he encouraged the believers at Corinth.

1 Corinthians 9:24-25
Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way to win the prize.  Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything.  They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we
[do it to receive] an imperishable crown.

Paul says we should be striving for a crown that lasts forever…and in Revelation 21:7, we are told what the prize is for the one who conquers – it is the right to inherit in the New Jerusalem.

Making wise choices now, living victoriously for Christ through whatever circumstances we face, overcoming the obstacles that are trying to pry us away from our relationship with God…these are the actions that will make us – by God’s definition – one who conquers.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

A believer's biggest choice, this side of Heaven

A key to understanding Revelation is to keep in mind that John assumes his readers know their Old Testament.  Oftentimes when a new concept or symbol is presented, an interpretation is immediately provided (like the explanation of the seven stars and seven lampstands in Revelation 1:20).  However, when describing the throne room of God in Revelation 4:3, John states that a rainbow…surrounded the throne.  He doesn’t interpret the rainbow’s significance; he expects that you already understand it from knowing Genesis 9:8-17.

Last time we started to look at this verse:

Revelation 21:7
The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be my son.

Since this is the only time the word inherit is used in Revelation, to understand what is going on here, we’ll take a look back to the Old Testament.

Throughout the Old Testament there were two kinds of inheritance – an inheritance of God himself (e.g. – Psalm 16:5) or an inheritance was the right to a possession.  However, with this possession-inheritance, the ownership wasn’t automatic, there were conditions involved.  The land of Canaan was the nation of Israel’s promised inheritance.  However, the ability of a particular Israelite generation to actually inherit, or physically own, the land was dependent upon their obedience to God’s commands.

After God rescued the Israelites from slavery and bondage to Egypt, they rebelled and grumbled when they got their first look at the work to be done in order to possess the promised land of Canaan.  They even claimed that the Lord hated them and that they were better off back in Egypt.  Moses recounted this event:

Deuteronomy 1:34-38
“When the Lord heard your words, He grew angry and swore an oath: ‘None of these men in this evil generation will see the good land I swore to give your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh.  He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land on which he has set foot, because he remained loyal to the Lord.’

“The Lord was angry with me also because of you and said: ‘You [Moses] will not enter there either.  Joshua son of Nun, who attends you, will enter it.  Encourage him, for he will enable Israel to inherit it.’

The easy response to this passage would be to say that the generation of Israelites that died in the desert must not have been “saved”, or they weren’t “true believers”.  But…that can’t be the case, because these were the same people that trusted God and performed the first Passover.  They took the blood of a perfect lamb and spread it on the doorposts of their homes – doing so demonstrated their trust in God’s promise that they would be passed over when the destroying angel came by to take the life of the firstborn son.  The Passover prophetically foretold of Christ’s perfect blood sacrifice for mankind on the Cross.  This was also the same generation Paul later used as an example for other believers:

1 Corinthians 10:1-5
Now I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  They all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.  Nevertheless God was not pleased with most of them, since they were struck down in the wilderness.

According to Paul, the people of the Exodus generation of Israelites were right (positionally) with God, on the basis of their faith in the foreshadowed Christ.  However, their disobedience later in life marred their relationship with God and prevented them from physically inheriting the Promised Land. 

Now that we have the Old Testament context for the word inherit, we can see that God takes possession-inheritance very seriously.  Fortunately, a believer’s potential inheritance is also discussed in the New Testament.  While there are many passages we can look at (and perhaps that’s a future study), the following selections help us understand what God is talking about in Revelation.

1 Peter 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Because of His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.

Notice that Peter says God the Father has given us new birth into two things – a living hope and an inheritance.  Some have argued that heaven will be a Christian’s inheritance; however, Peter is indicating that this inheritance is something found in heaven.  So this means that the inheritance can’t be heaven itself…either it is a part of heaven or something else, in addition to heaven.

Jesus also gave similar instructions during the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 6:19-20
“Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal.”

Jesus states that the treasures are in heaven, and not heaven itself.  Also important is the contrast Jesus presents here (store up treasures on earth OR store up treasures in heaven).  He wouldn’t give us these directions if they weren’t necessary.  So from this we can conclude that it is possible for a believer to not store up treasures in heaven, and whether or not we have treasures in heaven is dependent upon our choices here and now.

So what is this inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade and these treasures in heaven that cannot waste away or be stolen?

Revelation 21:6-7
I will give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.  The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

Having a relationship with God can be had without cost to us because Jesus already took the punishment for our sins.  Remember that to inherit these things refers back to the New Jerusalem.  And from looking at other scriptures, we understand that inheriting New Jerusalem is dependent upon the choices we make here and now.

Choose wisely.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Announcing our new home

The right announcer for an event makes all the difference, doesn’t it?  Memorable moments in the Olympics, the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup Finals, and all the other great sporting events are accentuated by memorable calls by a great announcer.  Even our level of engagement in a sporting event changes drastically depending upon the announcer’s passion and delivery as they describe the events as they unfold.

While John is watching the new Jerusalem, the Holy City, come down to the new earth, a proclamation accompanies its arrival:

Revelation 21:3
Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them.  They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and will be their God.

I’m willing to bet that this wasn’t a monotone, stuffy delivery either. 

In what’s commonly referred to as the “love chapter”, Paul told the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 13:12
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; but then face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.

Do you see what is being proclaimed about the new Jerusalem?  That the dwelling of God is with humanity, and He will live with them.

The Presence which you have only felt up until now…will be the Person in front of you.  Living in the same city as you.  Even walking down the same streets…but it won’t be like God is a distant celebrity that you can only occasionally get a glimpse of, either.  No, you’ll have personal access and interactions: 

Revelation 21:4
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.

Try to imagine this life without the fear of death hanging over humanity, people having no reason to mourn or cry, no situations of anguish.  A removal of those things now would bring about what we would be happy to refer to as “heaven”…but God has more in mind:

Revelation 21:5
Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.”

Everything. New.

Just let that sink in…everything…every thing…all that we know…made new…

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Either it matters, or it doesn't

Every year, millions of people change their weekly routine to accommodate all the events that happen around Easter.  Eggs must be dyed, baskets need filling, ham dinners are expected, and – if you go at all during the year – you gotta go to church for Easter.

But what are we celebrating?  Pull away the eggs and the games, the chocolates and the bunnies…even take away the extra-special songs and skits that happen during a church’s Easter service – what, exactly, are we doing?

When you get right down to it, we are carving out one weekend of the year, every year, to commemorate one of the most bizarre claims in human history.  And yet, this absurdity is claimed to be part of history.  Not myth, not fairy tale, but a-human-being-really-did-this story.

Christians actually believe that a man (who claimed to be God in the flesh) died in a manner that has eternal, cosmic consequences.  Christians believe that this man’s gruesome death on a wooden cross paid for every single sin the world has ever committed – past, present, and future.  And if that wasn’t fantastical enough, the man who made all these claims is then said to have come back to life.

In his book “God in the Dock”, C.S. Lewis summed up the whole situation like this:

‘What are we to make of Christ?’  There is no question of what we can make of Him, it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us.  You must accept or reject the story.

The things He says are very different from what any other teacher has said.  Others say, ‘This is the truth about the Universe.  This is the way you ought to go,’ but He says, ‘I am the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.’  He says, ‘If you are ashamed of Me, if, when you hear this call, you turn the other way, I also will look the other way when I come again as God without disguise.  If anything is keeping you from God and from Me, whatever it is, throw it away.  If it is your eye, pull it out.  If it is your hand, cut it off.  If you put yourself first you will be last.  Come to Me everyone who is carrying a heavy load, I will set that right.  Your sins, all of them are wiped out, I can do that.  I am Re-birth, I am Life.  Eat Me, drink Me, I am your Food.  And finally, do not be afraid, I have overcome the whole Universe.’  That is the issue.

Lewis was right.  Based upon Jesus’ own words, there is no middle ground here.  Writing to the believers in Corinth, the Apostle Paul put it this way:

1 Corinthians 15:13-19
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain, and so is your faith.  Moreover, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified wrongly about God that He raised up Christ…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  Those, then who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished.

If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.

Either Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection means nothing, or it is the most important moment in all of human history.  There is no in-between.  The big question for each of us is the same one Jesus asked Martha:

John 11:25-26
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.  Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

Either it matters, or it doesn’t.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Hurricane on the doorstep

Hurricane Florence is barreling its way toward the East Coast.  We’re in central North Carolina, so we’re inline for some weather.  No one really knows how bad it’s going to be or where the worst will end up happening, but we’ve been preparing all week as best as we can.

I’d like to share with you some of the things (among the many thoughts) I’ve been thinking these last few days:

·       On a daily basis, we are rather careless with our words, aren’t we?  This was the best dinner ever made.  That was the worst meeting in the history of meetings.  She’s clueless.  He’s stupid.  This Netflix show is the greatest thing ever invented.  However, for the aftermath of Hurricane Florence…the word “devastation” will not be an exaggeration.  That’s a tough word to say.  It’s tougher to witness.  It’s a word we’re afraid to live through.


·       For some people…eternity will begin this weekend.  No matter how many precautions we take, the unpredictableness and utter ferocity of the storm will certainly lead to people losing their earthly lives.  We’ve been preparing for this massive storm…seeking out information and supplies, and then making our best decision based upon what we’ve found.  But are we prepared for the most important event of our lives?  How have we responded to Jesus’ claims of being the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Me [John 14:6]?  Our acceptance or rejection of Jesus is the most important preparation decision we can make.

·       I keep coming back to the most famous line in Moses’ psalm:

Psalm 90:12
Teach us to number our days carefully
so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.


·       We may lose possessions when, or even after, Hurricane Florence makes landfall.  However, everything we own is ultimately destined for a garage sale, the garbage dump, or the recycle bin.  Our things won’t last, hurricane or no hurricane.  Even if we lose everything we own…there is a higher, more impactful, purpose for this life.  Sometimes, it takes a tragedy for us to see from that vantage point.  I wish it didn’t.

If you are not in this storm’s path, please petition God on our behalf.  Pray that He will be seen in the way His children handle this event.

If you are in any way affected by this storm – be wise.  Paul wasn’t directly discussing natural disasters, but his direction still applies:

1 Corinthians 10:31, 33
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God…not seeking [your] own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved.


How can we ride out, survive, shine, and rebuild from Hurricane Florence for the glory of God?  After all…everything means everything…even the hard circumstances.  So be wise and number your days carefully.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Wedding preparations (part 2)

Let’s see if we can clear up some confusion…

Jesus’ parable of the 10 virgins has caused some interpretive angst throughout the years, especially when figuring out whom the foolish virgins are representing when the master of the banquet won’t let them into the feast, telling them “I assure you: I do not know you!”.  Since Jesus is represented by the master in this parable – would He really say I do not know you to a believer?

Many commentators and pastors advocate that the foolish virgins represent those who aren’t “true believers”…either they had only acted like Christians and never put their faith in Jesus or they didn’t persevere to the end of their lives doing good works to prove their Christianity.  They tend to take Jesus’ warning of “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour” of His return to be instructions that you need to make sure you “really believe” and that you keep doing good things until Jesus comes back…otherwise, you’ll be left out of heaven.

Since we weren’t there for Jesus’ original telling of this story, we need to keep two things in mind when we read a parable – first, who is the audience that heard the original story?  The parable’s point was for them.  Second, parables are told for one main point.  There may be additional side points or interesting ideas presented through the story, but we must make sure that any secondary lesson fully supports the one main point.  We should not to press the details of a parable too far, after all, every analogy breaks down at some point, which is why Jesus starts the parable with “The kingdom of heaven will be like…”.  Meaning that it is similar to what He’s about to say, but not identical in every detail.

With that intro (and if you’re still with me) let’s read the parable, remembering that when Jesus was telling this story, He was speaking privately to His disciples:

Matthew 25:1-13
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom.  Five of them were foolish and five were sensible.  When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them.  But the sensible ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps.  Since the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom!  Come out to meet him.’

Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.  But the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’

The sensible ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you.  Go instead to those who sell, and buy oil for yourselves.’

When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived.  Then those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut.

Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’

But he replied, ‘I assure you: I do not know you!’

Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.

So…the setting for this parable is Jesus talking privately to His disciples about when He would return, and His main point is that they need to be ready at all times, because they don’t know the exact moment of His return.

But what about those who aren’t prepared for Christ’s return?  Will Jesus really tell them I do not know you, and reject their entrance into the kingdom of heaven?

The Greek word Jesus used for know {oida} generally means to understand something or have knowledge of, which is pretty much how we use the term also…“Do you know him?  Yes, we’ve met.”  However, there is a secondary usage of the word we need to consider.  Paul used it when speaking about how elders in the church need to be treated:

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition {oida} to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.

Paul’s direction is that the believers would recognize, respect, and commend those leaders who work hard.  And our leaders need that encouragement!

And that’s what Jesus is referring to in His parable.  When the master refuses to let them in, saying “I do not know you.”  He is telling them that “I do not esteem you, I do not give you the respect and recognition of being part of the wedding feast.”  Why? Because they did not respect the groom enough to be fully prepared for his arrival.

These foolish virgins were only excluded from the wedding feast, not the entirety of the week-long Jewish wedding festivities.  This rebuke/rejection would be similar to a negative judgement at Christ’s bema seat (see 1 Corinthians 3:15), but we’ll get to that topic in a later post. 

Remember, Jesus’ main point of this parable was to tell His disciples to be ready at all times for His return.  So, what does it mean to “be ready”?  That is the topic of Jesus’ next parable.  His point in this parable is that if we’re not watching and ready for His return, there are great things that we will miss out on.

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

The best reason for training

Who is the fastest man on the planet?

Depending on which Olympic sport you preferred to watch this past summer, you probably answered Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps.  Both men are incredible athletes and physical specimens that have pushed the limit of what the human body is capable of accomplishing.

Hours upon hours of training went into shaping and sculpting their bodies to bring them into top physical form so they could compete at the highest level.  They gave up many things so they would be physically and mentally prepared to win.

Now some Christian preachers and teachers might be tempted to knock these men for putting all their effort into “the here and now” as opposed to “eternal things”.  But have they really wasted their lives?  Paul gave us the answer in his letter to Timothy when he was warning his protégé about the dangers of false teaching:

1 Timothy 4:7-9
But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths.  Rather train yourself in godliness, for,

the training of the body has a limited benefit,
but godliness is beneficial in every way,
since it holds promise for the present life
and also for the life to come.

This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance.

We’ve come to the third trustworthy saying Paul had for his protégé.  Each one of the pithy statements made a specific point that Timothy needed to remember and accept.

In this saying, Paul wants Timothy to keep in mind the ultimate end of where he spends his efforts during this lifetime.  I find it interesting that Paul doesn’t say that training of the body has “no benefit”; instead, he says it has a limited benefit.  There is a short-term profit to taking care of ourselves; we can make our 80ish years on earth a lot harder –  or a lot easier – depending on the amount of effort we’re willing to spend on training of the body.

I fully expect that how well we took care of our physical bodies to be a stewardship issue with God.  In fact, there are many verses that point out that God made our bodies and that we are responsible for what we do with them (see Psalm 100:3 and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). 

However, physical training isn’t the only training we need – and it’s not the most important training we can have, either.  The most beneficial training we can put ourselves through has benefits that go beyond our current circumstances.  Even if I take my physical training to the max and become the next fastest man on the planet…age and/or injury will catch up with me, and I will only hold that title for a short time. 

Our spiritual growth here in the present life on earth carries over into the life to come.  That’s not just a “double benefit”, either.  Paul comparing our 80ish years to an eternity of years.  Realistically, there is no comparison when we’re talking about our return on investment for how we invest in training.

So, has Bolt and Phelps wasted their lives on physical training?  That’s hard to answer from my vantage point.  The answer to that question would boil down to two things – What is their motivation for all their hard work?, and What are they going to do with the platform their hard work created?

I can’t answer those questions for our current living versions of the fastest man on the planet.  However, do I need to be able to answer those questions for my own life.  When God asks me about stewardship of everything He gave me in this life, will I be able to say that I trained for the life to come?

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Hello, my name is Timothy

Given the numerous mentoring examples in the Bible, it’s easy to see that God values the mentor-protégé relationship.  It is a special bond at an intimate level between two people.  Most of the Biblical examples give us just a snapshot – a mentoring moment or lesson taught – and then we must look at what happened next to the mentor and the protégé to find out how well the lesson was applied.  However, there is one mentoring relationship in the Scriptures where we get to see much more than a glimpse.  Paul and Timothy spent many years together, and much of their efforts and relationship is on display throughout the New Testament.

But who was Timothy?  How did they meet?  Why did they pair up?

We are first introduced to Timothy at the start of Paul’s second missionary journey:

Acts 15:40-16:2
Then Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers he traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. 

Then he went on to Derbe and Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman, but his father was a Greek.  The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him.

Timothy was a young man stuck between two worlds.  He believed in Jesus as the Messiah who would come from the Jewish half of his parents, but Timothy was also half Greek and grew up in a Greek city, surrounded by Grecian culture.  Since no additional information is given about his father, we can’t be sure of how much influence that heritage had – but the fact that he had not been circumcised suggests that Timothy wasn’t raised in a strictly observant Jewish household.  However, both worlds were still a part of him and people were aware of his mixed-race background. 

Although such mixed marriages were illegal in Jewish law, rabbinic texts reckoned a person’s decent through the mother’s line; and as such, Timothy would have been considered to be a Jew by the Jewish community.

Acts 16:3-5
Paul wanted Timothy to go with him, so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, since they all knew that his father was a Greek.  As they traveled through the towns, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem for them to observe.  So the churches were strengthened in the faith and were increased in number daily.

Was it necessary for Timothy’s salvation that he be circumcised? 

No, not at all.  Salvation from eternal separation away from God is only through believing (i.e. – trusting) Jesus for eternal life.

Then was Paul being inconsistent by circumcising Timothy?  Was this an example of Paul “giving in” to local peer pressure?

No, not at all.  Timothy was already a believer before he met Paul.  However, given Timothy’s well known heritage, for him to come with Paul and have access to be a missionary in Jewish synagogues, he would need to be circumcised.  Otherwise, the Jewish communities would consider Timothy an apostate, and they would not be willing to listen to what he had to say about Jesus.

Timothy was willing to endure significant physical pain in order to share the gospel message with those who would have looked down on him as a “half-breed”, the same way that Jews had historically looked down on Samaritans.  In fact, by agreeing to be circumcised, Timothy boldly demonstrated an evangelistic principle which Paul would later pass on to the believers in Corinth:

1 Corinthians 9:19-22
For although I am free from all people, I have made myself a slave to all, in order to win more people.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law – though I myself am not under the law – to win those under the law.  To those who are outside the law, like one outside the law – not being outside God’s law, but under the law of Christ – to win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. 

I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some.

That is an incredible lesson for Timothy to grab a hold of so early in his mentoring relationship under Paul.  And it’s certainly not the last time Timothy is a reflection of his mentor.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Much ado about mentoring

Many years ago, I was given a rather simple – and yet deep – illustration for the kinds of relationships each of us needs within the body of Christ. 

Everyone needs a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy.

This straightforward description has always stuck with me.  Whenever I share it with someone else, I usually don’t have to give it much explanation – they immediately understand the details of these relationships:

Paul – someone who leads me toward God, provides a more mature example
Barnabas – someone who comes along side me as an equal, to both encourage and challenge
Timothy – someone who I am pouring my life into and providing a Godly example for

These relationships, especially those between a “Paul” and a “Timothy”, are commonly referred to as either discipleship or mentoring relationships.  While the term mentor is not specifically stated in the Bible, the word disciple is – and it generally refers to someone who is a learner, a follower, and an imitator of their instructor.  Howard Hendricks best described these special kinds of relationships:

Discipleship, as we know it today, tends to narrow its focus to the spiritual dimension. Ideally, it should touch on every area of life – our personal life and lifestyle, our work, our relationships. But discipleship always looks at these areas by asking the question, how do they relate to Christ? How does following Christ affect my personal life, my work, my relationships, and so on?

Mentoring, at least when practiced by Christians, certainly ought to center everything on Christ. But mentoring is less about instruction than it is about initiation – about bringing young men into maturity. Whereas the word for disciple means learner, the word ‘protégé’ comes from a Latin word meaning “to protect.” The mentor aims to protect his young charge as he crosses the frontier into manhood.

For my own part, I do not make a hard and fast distinction between discipleship and mentoring. There is a great deal of overlap. But I like the concept of mentoring because it focuses on relationships.

The point is we need the mature and experienced to kneel down with those of us in the family who are immature and have limited experience.  I feel that is one of the greatest areas where our modern church family has faltered – especially among the men, but women need these kinds of relationships, too.  We all need someone to challenge, guide, and protect us as we mature.  However, it is also vital that we turn to those around us and become the mentor they so desperately need.

To understand how to do this, we’re going to take a look at various mentor relationship examples that God has provided for us throughout the pages of Scripture.  We’ll watch how the mentors interact with their protégés.  We’ll observe their successes and their failures.  Most of all, we’ll be looking for how God was able to work with both of them because of their relationship.

A good starting point is a statement the apostle Paul gave to the believers in Corinth.  Right in the middle of his instruction about the many ways they needed to mature, Paul makes this bold statement:

1 Corinthians 11:1
Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.

Whether you are the mentor or the protégé, for this special relationship to work we must both desire the same thing – we must desire to imitate Christ.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Playing favorites

Titus 3:13 Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need. 

Last time, we were introduced to Apollos and caught a glimpse of his impact on the churches in the known world.  However, there is another important lesson to learn with a continued look at his ministry.

Apollos later went to Corinth (Acts 19:1), where he again successfully ministered to the believers.  His teaching was so well respected, that the believers in Corinth actually placed Apollos at the same teaching level as Peter, Paul, and even Jesus.  The debate of which-teacher-to-follow became such a problem in the Corinthian church that a good portion of one letter Paul wrote was to correct them in how they should be viewing himself and Apollos.

1 Corinthians 1:11-13 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas (Peter)”; still another, “I follow Christ”.  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized into the name of Paul?

Nowadays, if a situation like this arose and one of the popular teachers wrote a letter concerning how the congregation should view the other teachers, I would expect the letter to be very territorial.  Given today’s denominational climate in America, it’s easy to envision a letter being written that sounds theologically pretty, but the author’s core message is that the believers should listen to him only.  His arguments would sound something like – “I am best suited to help you develop your relationship with Christ”, or that “Since I ministered to you first, you should stick with me”, or he could suggest that the other preacher’s teaching style or approach to spreading the gospel was inadequate.  Unfortunately, concern for a congregation is also a potential mask for a preacher’s ego and pride.

However, Paul is not one to play these kinds of games.  Direct and to the point, Paul’s main concern was that the believers were properly focusing on Christ…and not on who the message of Christ was coming from or what teaching style the person used.

1 Corinthians 3:5-9 What, after all, is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

All teachers, preachers, and church leaders are susceptible to the trap of thinking that it is “my church, or “my” class, or “my” ministry.  The cure for this selfish pitfall is the same for the teacher as it is for those who follow the teacher…our focus must be on God, for he is the one who makes things grow

A congregation does not grow because the preacher is preaching and an individual does not grow because of the particular teacher they are listening to.  The work of preachers, teachers, and church leaders is to provide the best conditions for people to grow.  Ultimately, it was God that built us with the capacity for growth in relationship to him, and the responsibility for the development of that relationship is between the individual and God. 

1 Corinthians 3:21-23 So then, no more boasting about men!  All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

Our favorite teacher is simply a servant of the God we love.  Don’t look for them to make you grow.  Don’t put God’s responsibility on your teacher.

Since Paul was the one who started the church in Corinth, he could have been territorial about which teacher they should be follow; however, he chose not to be.  The debate about which teacher to follow was already dividing the congregation, and could have easily led to a church split.  Imagine the damage to the church’s reputation!  A division of ‘Paul vs. Apollos’ could have also spread to the young churches in other regions if Paul had either ignored or participated in their debate.

Instead, Paul kept his pride in check and didn’t fuel the fire of their arguments.  Instead, he promoted harmony within the church by turning their attention appropriately towards Christ.

Keep Pressing,
Ken