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: Revelation

Our desire for peace, fulfilled

There is so much strife and turmoil in our world.  The nightly news is full of what went wrong during the day.  The internet is always ready to show you the ugliness that us human beings can manufacture.  We feel divided by every available category.  We want to see peace, but we just don’t see a way for it to happen.  And yet…our longing for peace suggests that somehow, it’s possible…

Now is the time to use our sanctified imagination.  Try to imagine what John is seeing:

Revelation 21:9-11
Then one of the seven angels, who had held the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues, came and spoke with me: “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
He then carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, arrayed with God’s glory.  Her radiance was like a precious jewel, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.

John was doing his best to describe to his readers what he was witnessing.  Jasper was a precious stone in Bible times.  As it is known today, jasper’s appearance is more opaque than clear.  Using today’s terms, we would probably refer the New Jerusalem as a brilliant diamond (a stone which was not known as a jewel in Bible times). 

John continues:

Revelation 21:12-14
The city had a massive high wall, with twelve gates.  Twelve angels were at the gates; the names of the twelve tribes of Israel’s sons were inscribed on the gates.  There were three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.  The city wall had twelve foundations, and the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb were on the foundations.

Interestingly enough, we see reference to both the Old and New Testament people of God…living in the same place, but yet they are still distinctly identified.  The Holy City will be a beautiful place of peace for those who love God, no matter what age they lived in. 

This is the ultimate fulfillment of what Paul explained to the believers in Ephesus:

Ephesians 2:11-3:6
So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh…at that time you were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 
For He is our peace, who made both groups one…so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace.  He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross…the Gentiles are
(now, together with believers from Israel) coheirs, members of the same body, and partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

The distance from each other the and divide between us and God has been bridged because He is our peace.  The peace we want can only be found in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  That peace we can have right now, when we accept Jesus’ offer of eternal life.  Although we long to live in a peaceful society, we can take comfort knowing that our desire for a peaceful world will ultimately be fulfilled in the New Jerusalem.

For that, I am a very thankful Gentile…and I can’t wait to see Christ’s work of reconciliation and peace displayed in Eternity Future and the New Jerusalem.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

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

Owning a slice of Heaven

Throughout the Bible, God continually talks about the general and then gets to specifics.  An example of this is seen in the broad, sweeping creation account in Genesis 1 being further explained with more specific details during creation starting in Genesis 2:4.  Another example can be seen during the Sermon on the Mount, where several times Jesus taught principles and then gave focused examples of how these principles were to be fleshed out in our daily lives.

We see a similar narrowing of focus in this section of Revelation 21 also.  As we saw last time, God begins verse 6 proclaiming that he is both the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  Then He states that a relationship with Him begins with the acceptance of His free gift, and that this gift is available to anyone.  In verse 7, God gets even more specific:

Revelation 21:6-7
Then He said to me, “It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  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.”

In order to fully understand what God is saying in verse 7, we need to remember the context of both the situation at hand, the book of Revelation as a whole, and the historical context of the original recipients.

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

Exactly what God is referring to by saying these things can be understood from the immediate context.  John has just witnessed the arrival of the New Jerusalem – the Holy City, the city Abraham was looking forward to.  This is this place that will be inherited by the one who conquers.

Let’s consider that statement for a minute. 

God is telling us that it will be possible to obtain actual “ownership” within the New Jerusalem.  With inheritance comes possession, and there is certainly a difference between living in a city and possessing property in a city. 

So what does “inheriting” consist of?
And who is it that “conquers”?

Those are excellent questions.

For the moment, though, it’s pretty exciting to think about inheriting/owning part of this magnificent future God has planned.  God says that He will look at certain believers and say, “This belongs to you.  You own it.

The New Jerusalem – Heaven on Earth – will obviously be more than just showing up and being happy to be there.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Free "Life water"

After the proclamation goes out for the arrival of New Jerusalem city, God himself adds to the announcement:

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

The apostle John has just witnessed this magnificent city’s inauguration event.  Imagine how overwhelmed John must have felt in that moment.  So much to see and take in. For me, I’m sure it would have been a sensory overload. And then…God turns and speaks directly to John…while that alone would have me quaking, look at what God says:

Revelation 21:5-6
He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.”  Then He said to me, “It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

The culmination of human history is at hand.  John is witnessing all of it, and God rightfully declaring Himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the A-to-Z.  From Eternity Past, His plan…which began with the Genesis creation has now come to an end…and His path forward will now lead into Eternity Future. 

It’s what God states in the next sentence that is really quite striking:

Revelation 21:6
I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.

Free?  No cost?  If I’m thirsty for life…real life, as we were created to be…then the God of the universe will simply give it to me?

Most certainly, YES!  To start a new relationship with God, to become a new creation, all that is “required” is the acceptance of God’s gift…to accept Jesus’ offer of Eternal Life, which He alone can give because He made the substitute payment for our sins.

No need fix ourselves, no need to prove ourselves worthy (either before OR after accepting the gift), no striving required, no strings attached…this gift is freely given.

Jesus had previously spoken about the water of life, and He also spoke of it in terms of a gift:

John 4:14
But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again.  In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.

Lest we think that this water is only for a select group of people, one of the last proclamations in the book of Revelation declares:

Revelation 22:17
…Let the one who is thirsty come.  Let the one who desires take the water of life freely.

No strings attached.  No restrictions.  All who are thirsty are welcome, and they will be satisfied.

Have you accepted God’s invitation?

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

Rewind / Fast-Forward

We’re going to rewind human history – not quite to the beginning – but back to someone who was given a fantastic promise: 

Hebrews 11:8-10
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and set out for a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance.  He went out, even though he did not know where he was going.  By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents as did Isaac and Jacob, coheirs of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God

And then the author describes the mindset of Abraham and his family:

Hebrews 11:13-14, 16
These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised.  But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. 

Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland…But they now desire a better place – a heavenly one.  Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

That desire for a homeland isn’t unique to Abraham’s family.  All Christians have felt it.  Deep down, we recognize that there is more to this life…that God has something planned, a future place for us to live.

A little later, the author of Hebrews confirms our inklings:

Hebrews 13:14
For we do not have an enduring city here
[presently on Earth]; instead, we seek the one to come.

What is this city?  What is it like?

In order to view the city Abraham was looking forward to, the city whose architect and builder is God, we must now hit fast-forward on human history.

Past the Rapture of believers, past the Tribulation, past Christ’s second coming, past Christ’s 1000 year reign, and after the Great White Throne Judgment…

God gave the apostle John a preview of our home in eternity future.  John discussed what he saw and heard in the last two chapters of the final book of the Bible, Revelation.

Today’s Christians are typically hesitant to read Revelation.  We’re hampered by our own thoughts of “It probably won’t make any sense” or “The discussion of judgments and punishments on people makes me uncomfortable” or “Only mentally unstable people and crazy preachers discuss what’s in that book”…and yet, God saw fit to include this prophecy.  His always fulfills his prophecies…even if the people he gave them to didn’t fully understand what they were hearing or if it takes a couple thousand years for the prophecy to be fulfilled.

In previous posts, we’ve seen that numerous Old Testament and New Testament writers – and even Jesus himself – discussed eternity future.  We’ve looked at a small selection of passages which confirm our longings for that time, and there are plenty more that we could have looked at.

God desires for us to see what eternity future will be like, so let’s not be afraid to look at it, even if we don’t fully grasp every detail.  We can read Revelation and walk away knowing one thing, with absolute certainty:

God wins.

He is not overtaken by the evil in our world.  His command of the universe is not diminished.  And the believers from all ages are magnificently included in His eternal plans…

Revelation 21:1-2
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  I also saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

Finally…the place that every believer in history has desired, it has arrived.  Everything new, everything different.  The Creator has re-created…and if He called the first creation “good”, I don’t know if we have an adequate word on this planet to describe the beauty of the new heaven and the new earth.

Pause for just a moment and think about the Holy City...prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  Guys, was there ever a time when your wife was more stunningly beautiful than the day of your wedding?  Ladies, remember how much attention to every detail and how much assistance was given, in order that you would be the most prepared, most lovely bride ever to walk down the aisle…and how much your mere reflection radiated beauty?  Combine those observations, and we get a sliver of a sample of how spectacular the Holy City will be.

And that place is our home.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Making the effort, but struggling in weakness

Christ, the Greater Messenger, has invited us to partner with Him now.  The reward for doing so is entering God’s rest, which is the administration of His future kingdom.  The author of Hebrews is using the example of the Israelites leaving Egypt and their opportunity to participate in the administration of the future county of Israel as a parallel to our own lives:

Hebrews 4:9-11
A Sabbath rest remains, therefore, for God’s people.  For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His.  Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience.

Notice that the author is stressing our need to make every effort to enter that rest; as such, he is clearly not taking about Jesus’ offer of eternal salvation from the penalty of our sins.  If the rest discussed here were simply heaven, we wouldn’t have to work for it, because eternal life is an unearned gift (John 3:16; John 10:25; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 22:17).  Effort, however, is needed if we are going to be partners with Jesus and His administration of the universe.  Our efforts now do not affect “where” we will spend eternity, but our efforts now will effect “what” we will be doing in eternity future.

Since the Israelites’ example and Jesus’ superior message are available in Scripture, this is the place we should be looking to see what we must do NOW in order to enter into the future kingdom participation LATER.  However, when we look through Scripture, we discover:

Hebrews 4:12-13
For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart.  No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.

Since an account for my life will be given, all my times of having a sinful, unbelieving heart will be known…and I remember how God dealt with the Israelites for the unbelief (they missed out on participating in the establishment of the kingdom of Israel!)  What am I going to do, then?  Given my mistakes, sins, and all the times I act selfishly…How can I ever be considered qualified to partner with God in the future?

Hebrews 4:14-15
Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens – Jesus the Son of God – let us hold fast to the confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.

This tells me that Christ is on my side, as my brother in the family and the bridge for my relationship between me and God the Father.  I am not alone in my struggles!  Even greater still, we are told:

Hebrews 4:16
Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.

In all honesty, my human mind would not expect this.  We are so weak…so very, very weak.  We do not deserve the first, second, or any chance to partner with God.  And once again, our God blows away our expectations with His mercy and grace.

Jesus is here to sympathize with our weaknesses and to help us in our time of need, so that we can make every effort to enter that rest.

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

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

The importance of focusing on Jesus

After discussing how the church body should act and what expectations there should be for church leadership, Paul moves on to tell the Ephesian believers what will happen when their focus on God is shifted.

1 Timothy 4:1-3
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, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.  They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods that God created to be received with gratitude by those who believe and know the truth.

An infiltration of deceitful, demon-influenced teaching being peddled by hypocrites from within the church itself?  I’m not sure about you, but that sounds like some pretty scary stuff.

The first observation we can make from Paul’s statement is that this is actually going to happen: the Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith.  As human history continues on its downward spiral to the inevitable moment when only Jesus can correct the sinful disaster we’ve made, the Spirit says that some will depart from the faith.

The second observation is that God isn’t surprised by this.  He already sees it coming.  He knows how and when his church will be inundated with false teachings.  We can take comfort in the fact that He isn’t caught off-guard, and He’s preparing us by giving warning ahead of time.

But who are those that depart from the faith?  Some commentators think that these people were never “true believers” in Jesus.  I don’t think that’s the case, though.  Why give believers a warning about a group of people leaving who weren’t really part of them anyway?

Instead, Paul is giving Timothy a warning to pass along to the church in Ephesus – that it is possible for believers to be deceived, and those who will be deceived got there because they paid attention to teachings other than what lined up with God’s revelation.

But that leave us to wonder…what happens to those believers who depart from the faith?  Does their “departing” mean they lose their salvation?

The Greek word Paul uses here for depart is different from the word translated as depart in other areas of Scripture when Paul refers to his departing Earth to go to Heaven.  Here, the word aphistemi means to withdraw, to remove, or desert.  It’s the same word Jesus used to describe the seed that fell in the rocky soil:

Luke 8:6, 13
Other seed fell on the rock; when it sprang up, it withered, since it lacked moisture…And the seed on the rock are those who, when they hear, welcome the word with joy.  Having no root, these believe for a while and depart in a time of testing.

They trust God for eternal salvation, but when times get tough, they don’t trust God with their circumstances.  Their choice leaves them withered; however, there’s no indication that God abandons them.  These believers do not lose their salvation, but they lack the life-giving relationship Christ offers because they have no roots.  They have departed from their connection to Him.

Luke uses the word aphistemi (translated to English as deserted) to describe John Mark’s abandoning of Paul and Barnabas:

Acts 15:38
But Paul did not think it appropriate to take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not done on with them to the work.

John Mark had left the mission at that point, but his departing didn’t permanently banish him from fellowship with Paul, Barnabas, or the rest of the church.  Instead, he was considered not worthy of a later opportunity to serve.

So did Timothy convey Paul’s serious warning to the Ephesians?  Did they take heed?

Years later, while dictating a letter to the Apostle John to send to the church of Ephesus, Jesus said

Revelation 2:2
I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil.  You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars.

They took the right steps to avoid listening to the liars who were peddling the ideas and teachings of those who oppose God.  Paul sent them a warning, Timothy delivered it, and the believers kept their focus on Jesus. 

In doing so, they did not depart from the faith in a time of trial.  And for their faithfulness, they received praise and approval from the Creator of the Universe and became an example for us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken