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 Tag: false teaching

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

 

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

Do you see what I see?

The three rules of real estate are Location, Location, and Location.

Similarly, the three rules of Bible Interpretation are Context, Context, and Context

Whenever we’re trying to understand God, His plan, or the world He created, we must keep in mind the Context of His initial, intended design for the world. 

As Paul warned Timothy about the coming false teachers and the believers who would follow them, their lens of context would protect them – or be their downfall:

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.

While the false teachings come from forces outside of the church – from deceitful spirits and demons – the actual teaching of their false doctrine comes from within church – through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.  Later on, Paul will address how these believers became deceived, but for now, his focus is on what they are teaching.

These teachers would take their incorrect understanding of God and then instruct others to apply their teachings in ways that God never intended us to live.  From Paul’s two examples here, we see that these false teachers are advocating rules that fully separate the believer from the world around them.  It is likely that their seared consciences has allowed them to think that the only way to avoid the sinful lifestyle around them was to completely remove themselves from participating in any corrupted part of creation.

On the surface, the application sounds noble.  But that kind of thinking does not produce the kind of life God designed us to live.

1 Timothy 4:4-5
For everything created by God is good, and nothing should be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, since it is sanctified by the word of God and by prayer.

Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden.  At the end of each day, God saw that what He created was good.  It wasn’t until after sin corrupted everything that God’s intended design for creation was perverted.  Marriage – as created by God – is a good thing.  Food – as created by God – is a good thing.  However, the false teachers aren’t looking at God’s creation within that context.  Instead, they are only seeing the current corrupted state of the world.  Rather than understanding God’s initial design and use for marriage and food, they are advocating the outright rejection of them in order to prove their status with God.

However, those who believe and know the truth understand that we are not made holy because of the rules we follow or the things we do.  We are holy because through Jesus, God has made us holy and our relationship with Him has been restored to the good that it was before Adam and Eve sinned.

Despite the sin-corruption of the world, our food can still be received with gratitude since the believer can understand in the proper context as a gift from God.  Marriage, in all its difficulties and struggles, can still be lived out under God’s design.  In fact, a proper use of both will do a better job of pointing others toward God than an outright rejection of marriage or abstaining from particular food.

It all depends on the Context we use to live our lives.  Will our focus be on trying to manage the sin-corruption we see, or will we look at the world around us through the lens of God’s intended design?

The first one puts us in charge, while the second one reminds us that God is really in charge.

It’s all a matter of Context.

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
 

Women and church leadership (part 1)

When dealing with difficult passages, we need to remember three rules:
1.   Context is key.
2.   We interpret a passage we are unsure of in light of passages we are certain of.
3.   We let the author speak for himself

Much of Paul’s letter to Timothy talks about rebutting and correcting false teachers that were influencing the church in Ephesus.  He addresses topics and groups within the church that were being swayed by these teachers, including marriage, food, wealth, men, women, and church leadership.  In this next passage, Paul takes a moment to address the question of women in church leadership.

1 Timothy 2:9-12
Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense; not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.

A woman should learn in silence with full submission.  I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.

It’s statements like these, especially when taken out of context, that cause a lot of strife within the modern church.  However, before we dismiss Paul’s instructions as being old-fashioned or oppressive, let’s consider some context.

Paul’s direction here is for women who affirm that they worship God, and as such, this passage falls under the theme of the previous context.  Paul began this section with instructions for all believers.  He stressed the importance of living a quiet and tranquil life, one displaying godliness and dignity in such a way that our lives become a “walking witness” for the God we have a direct relationship with. 

Paul moves from how women who worship God present themselves publicly and then immediately moves to how she can be learning.  That may seem like an unusual transition, given the culture of the time.  There were not a lot of education options for women in the ancient world, as all of the formal teachings and instructions went to men.  When he says that a woman should learn, we can observe that Paul is counter-culturally giving the women of the church an equal opportunity with the men of the church to be learners of God’s Word.

Now let’s look at the ‘how’ a woman should learn.  The Greek word for silence doesn’t mean “not talking”; instead, it refers to someone with a stable quietness who doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others or act in an unruly manner.  Additionally, the Greek word translated as submission means to “rank under”.  Just like in military settings, rank has to do with order and authority, not personal superiority or inferiority.  In fact, the teaching style of the day held an expectation that a pupil would do all their learning with both of these two characteristics – silence and submission.  As such, Paul isn’t suppressing women here – instead, he is holding them to the same expectations as the male learners.

Understanding Paul’s word choice also helps us interpret why he says I do not allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man.  The verbs teach and have authority are both in the present tense, which implies a continuing ministry rather than a single instance of ministry.  Additionally, the word for have authority over is unique in comparison to the typical Greek word chosen to describe someone in a higher ranking position.  Instead, Paul is describing a woman who acts without accountability, who domineers as an absolute master within the church family.  By recognizing that the context immediately after this passage gives specific qualifications for church overseers and deacons, we begin to see that Paul’s prohibition here specifically addresses only the official teaching and ruling ministry of the church.

While the current cultural and educational settings would have been familiar to the Ephesian church, Paul doesn’t appeal to those cultural norms to justify his instruction.  Instead, he looks back to God’s initial creation: 

1 Timothy 2:13
For Adam was created first, then Eve. 

We’ll get deeper into Paul’s reasoning for referencing back to God’s initial design for the family in the next post.  And in the text that follows, we’ll observe that Paul gives specific criteria for the men who want to be in the overseer or deacon roles.  We’ll see that God’s standard for those roles is quite lofty, and that they carry the risk of significant punishment for those who mishandle the position.

For now, though, because we took the time to examine the text, can see that Paul’s direction isn’t some off-the-cuff, all-women-are-slaves-to-all-men kind of idea.  Paul is addressing a specific leadership situation within the church family.  His directions are not a prohibition on women leading in business, government, or even other sub-groups within the church family. 

Instead, we’ve discovered how this passage fits into the theme of this section in Paul’s letter to Timothy.  Proper dress, a right attitude, and orderly church-family leadership are all ways that Paul directs women to flesh out their part of all believers’ responsibility to lead a tranquil and quiet life, with both godliness and dignity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

There are only three ways we learn

When comes to how we learn and develop in life, there are really only three ways to do it.  We can learn because we’re taught by instruction, we can learn by watching someone else’s example, or we can learn the hard way.  The problem with the hard way is that it’s hard.

Since this is true for all of us, we are each responsible for how we choose to learn.  The biggest difficulty we have with this process typically isn’t that we have to make tough choices for ourselves; we tend to accept that.  Instead, we struggle with the decisions that other people we love and care for have to deal with.

This tension most often reveals itself in the parent-child relationship.  As our child grows older, we parents must learn to let go, little by little, and allow our understudy to chance to flex his or her decisive muscle.

Paul knew this as well.  Take a look at how he instructs his adult child in the faith:

1 Timothy 1:18-20
Timothy, my child, I am giving you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies previously made about you, so that by them you may strongly engage in battle, having faith and a good conscience.  Some have rejected these and have suffered the shipwreck of their faith.  Hymenaeus and Alexander are among them, and I have delivered them to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme.

No matter which way we’ve chosen to learn the lessons of life, career, and faith…we cannot make the learning choice for anyone else, especially not for our children.  We can only lovingly give them instruction, trust them to make their own choices, and allow them to deal with the consequences – good or bad.

Paul wants Timothy to make the right choices and continue to walk with God, so he points out an example for Timothy where someone else has rejected instruction and suffered the consequences.  Due to their choice to reject instruction, properly grounded faith, and a good conscience before God, there are those in the church who have suffered greatly.  For a shipwreck to be salvaged, it requires a massive undertaking.  A shipwrecked faith isn’t one that is lost forever, but the damage done is severe and will require a lot of intentional work to be fully repaired.

Paul gets specific and names names here.  Timothy needs to know how high the stakes are for his choices.  If he persists in Paul’s instruction and what has been revealed to him by God, then he will be able to strongly engage in battle, having faith and a good conscience.  However, if Timothy takes the easy road, or follows false teachings, he will travel down the same path as Hymenaeus and Alexander.

Both Hymenaeus and Alexander have done significant damage to their relationship with God and also with those inside the church family.  Their heresy was so great that they actually blasphemed God, which means their teaching was so twisted it was, in fact, full of slanderous lies that insulted God’s character.  In his second letter to Timothy, Paul warns that Hymenaeus’ teaching was equivalent to gangrene, that he had deviated from the truth, and he was responsible for overturning the faith of some – see 2 Timothy 2:17-18.

As such, drastic steps had to be taken against someone who intentionally diverged away from the faith and was dragging others down with him.  Paul’s statement of “I have delivered them to Satan” most likely refers to some form of excommunication, either temporary or permanent.  Hymenaeus and Alexander were in need of a spiritual wake up call, and Paul was hopeful that exposure to the Satan-governed outside world would bring them to their senses – much like the prodigal son.

However, Timothy still had a choice to make…and as such, so does each of us.  I can’t choose for you.  Your pastor can’t choose for you.  And we can’t choose for our children.  We have to decide, and then act upon our decision.

Will we listen to instruction and what God has revealed to us?
Will we learn from the examples of others?
Or will we have to learn the hard way?

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

 

Do we have to follow the Law?

Every so often, the modern church wrestles with problematic question of what to do with the Mosaic Law.  Do we still have to obey the 10 Commandments?  What about the other parts, that nobody does…like animal sacrifice, dietary restrictions, and ceremonial washings?

The early church dealt with the same questions, and some people were trying to add the law’s requirements in addition to following Christ.

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.

A little cultural context will help here.  If you were a Jewish teacher of the law, then you were at the pinnacle of the Jewish social, religious, and political society.  For those who became Christians and had come out of Jewish culture, their understanding of who the top people are was formed by looking at the lives of the Pharisees and Sadducees. 

Paul had to spell out the relationship of the law to the believer for the church in Galatia also:

Galatians 3:23-26
Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed.  The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith.  But since that faith has come, we are no long under a guardian, for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Since Jesus came to fulfill the law’s requirements for all of us, those who trust Jesus for eternal life have been declared righteous (i.e. – not guilty) and will not be judged by the law.  As such, the Mosaic Law no longer governs the life of a believer.  Apparently, these wannabe teachers Timothy was encountering in Ephesus were so blinded by status-seeking that they did not grasp this foundational truth…and so they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.

Does this mean that the Mosaic Law is useless and should be set aside entirely?  Paul doesn’t think so:

1 Timothy 1:8-11
Now we know that the law is good, provided one uses it legitimately.  We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but
for the lawless and rebellious,
for the ungodly and sinful,
for the unholy and irreverent,
for those who kill their fathers and mothers,
for murderers,
for the sexually immoral and homosexuals,
for kidnappers, liars, perjurers
and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching based on the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me.

The law still serves a legitimate purpose in this world – it continues to show sin for what it is.  The law clearly points out the ways in which humanity has driven a wedge between us and God.  The law points out that we can’t bridge that relationship canyon with our own efforts.

Given the multicultural mix that was the city of Ephesus, the law was certainly applicable to those outside the church…and so was the law’s penalty – eternal separation from God.

When used legitimately, the law is good because it reminds us how much we needed to be rescued, and how much those outside the family still need that rescue.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The heart condition of our teachers

Have you ever listened to someone giving a presentation or a training and realize that they don’t know what they’re talking about?  How frustrating is it to recognize that they haven’t completely thought through the plan they are advocating…and, in fact, what they plan to implement will be detrimental or even harmful?

Unfortunately, this kind of thing can even happen in the church.  Paul warned Timothy about fellow believers acted in this manner:

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.

Why do they want to be teachers of the law?  Given Paul’s comments, they were likely after the things that come with leading and teaching, namely status, popularity, and authority – all of which are easily self-focused and not God-focused.  The goal of their instruction would be the promotion of themselves, which is the exact opposite of agape love.  Instead of leading for the benefit of others, these wannabe leaders are focused on themselves. 

If you replace the word ‘love with ‘self-focus’ you quickly realize that Paul’s statement becomes almost ridiculous:

Now the goal of our instruction is self-focus from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

Their self-focus betrays the true condition of their heart.  Jesus similarly cautioned His disciples about inter-family relationships:

Luke 6:43-45
“A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit.  For each tree is known by its own fruit.  Figs aren’t gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. 

A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart.  An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.”

Since these wannabe teachers in Ephesus have deviated from their pursuit of God via a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, what comes out of their mouths isn’t agape love – it’s just fruitless discussion.

Later on, Paul tells Timothy that it is a good thing to desire a leadership position and that those in charge reap extra rewards from God.  However, Paul will also caution against appointing someone before they are ready.

That’s the situation here – this group that want to be teachers has an incomplete knowledge base, an incorrect understanding, and as a result, they are focused on themselves.  Because of all this, the logical conclusions of what they are insisting on is either harmful to others or contradicts what God actually meant.

After we believe in Jesus for eternal life, the early steps of Christian living are more focused on us “being” rather than us “doing”.  God cares more about our character as a reflection of Him than He is about us doing “big things” for Him.  After we have the foundation of a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, the agape love pouring from that character will give us opportunities to lead – at church, at work, or in the home – and then we will produce good fruit

However, without that character foundation, we are prone to self-centeredness, fruitless discussion, and teachings that misrepresent God.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Avoiding spiritual distractions

We are spiritual beings.  That’s how God made us.  So naturally, we gravitate toward the spiritual aspect of life.  We look at design in nature and recognize that there must be a designer.  We observe the happenings around us and acknowledge that there is more going on than only what we can see with our eyes.  We read history from God’s perspective and marvel at His-story.

However, since we are also fallen and sinful, our understanding of spiritual topics is easily knocked off course. 

Human history is littered with wrong ideas about God, what He is like, and how we can know Him.  Before we came to know Jesus, our internal desire for “spiritual things” led us down all sorts of paths.  The difficulty, then, becomes what we will do with our old understandings in light of our relationship with Jesus?

The believers in Paul’s day had the same issues.  Ephesus was a magnificent, melting-pot metropolis.  In that town there were numerous Greek gods and goddesses – the people not only worshiped them, but also told stories, explained their history, and held festivals in their honor.  The Jewish community had many fantasy stories of angels and how to manipulate them, as well as various speculative “biographies” of Biblical characters.

These are the kinds of topics Paul wants Timothy to tackle head-on.

1 Timothy 1:3-4
As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may 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.

The Greek word for pay attention was used to convey the word picture of bringing a ship to land.  It was also used to describe how a person is attached to someone or something, with a level of devotion or even addiction.

One of Timothy’s goals was to weed out these false ideas about God and correct the people’s fascination with myths and endless genealogies.  It wouldn’t be easy.  Some of these myths were quite popular in the culture.  Some Jews would trace their tribal heritage as proof of personal importance or value to God.

However, Paul nails down the problem with focusing on these things – they promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan.  Paul knew they couldn’t walk with God while deceiving themselves with feel-good stories or puffing themselves up with information about their lineage.  The mythical stories detracted or even contradicted God’s story.  The genealogies put the focus on them, rather than on God.  Instead, the Ephesian believers were in danger of missing the point – our relationship with God and our ability to live rightly before Him only comes through a faith that is focused on God.

However, on rare occasion, Paul would reference that a philosopher correctly identified a spiritual truth (Acts 17:28), yet this acknowledgment was stepping stone to point others toward Jesus.  He didn’t dwell there.  To continue the word picture – Paul didn’t dock his ship on the philosopher’s point.  Instead, as he continued on in his message, Paul then dropped anchor on the truth of the resurrection (Acts 17:31).

We see this same tendency toward distraction in the modern church as well.  There’s a fascination with stories of people who have gone to Heaven and come back.  There’s wide-spread speculation about angels and an abundance of feel-good stories.  We look for “Bible codes” and try to match up prophecy with the newspaper.

Whenever the next “big thing” comes through Christian-living literature, we must ask ourselves: Does the author promote empty speculations or God’s plan?  Where will we choose to drop our anchor?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Correcting bad teaching

When Paul sent his letter of instruction and encouragement to Timothy, the very first area he discussed had to do with Timothy’s authority in the church family.

1 Timothy 1:3-4
As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may 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.

Right away, we see that Timothy is in charge.  The Greek word Paul uses for command means to instruct, charge, or declare a message to others.  This word was often used by the gospel writers to describe Jesus’ teaching to both the crowds and to his disciples.  Paul wants Timothy to exercise his authority in the church at Ephesus, as evidenced by him using that particular Greek verb five different times in this letter.

Given the multicultural makeup of the city, its inhabitants, and their multitude of religious practices, the church would have been inundated with many competing ideas about who God is, what He is like, and how a relationship with Him is supposed to happen. 

Whenever Timothy would encounter these incorrect ideas about God, and the time came for him to command people not to teach these false ideas, it is easy to understand how tense of a situation that could be.  No one likes being wrong, and no one likes being called out for being incorrect – especially on something they are passionate about.

Oftentimes, when a person’s doctrine beliefs are discussed, there is a tendency for pride to creep in.  We fight in order to show that our understanding is right…rather than taking the humble route of wanting to make sure we are rightly aligned with God. 

That balance between humility and authority will be challenging for a leader, so Paul makes sure that Timothy understands where his motivation comes from:

1 Timothy 1:5
Now the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

Timothy is to give commands because he genuinely loves the people he will be shepherding in Ephesus.  While Timothy’s instructions will be authoritative, they will be given for the people’s benefit. 

We need to correctly understand who God is and what He is like if we’re going to have a strong, life-giving relationship with Him.  As such, correcting false doctrine and false teaching is of paramount importance within the church family.  However, to be effective, the goal of our instruction must be love.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Dangerous rules

We like rules.  We like them a lot.  Rules seem to make things easier, right?  Everything boils down to either black or white.  “Do this.  Don’t do that.”  No in between, no grey, no guesswork, and no mess. 

While there are clear-cut areas in life, the unfortunate truth is that most of our lives aren’t lived in black and white – not only are there grey areas, but life comes at us in a full spectrum of colors.  How do we deal with such a variety of circumstances and people?  How would God want us to deal with them?  When faced with difficult questions and situations in our relationship with God and with others, we often start looking for rules to clarify our course of action.

The believers in Colossae were dealing with a “new” teaching that was likely taught as a guideline for interacting with God and others, but it seems that the teachers were also insisting on rules to prove one’s spirituality.  From Paul’s letter we see that the rogue teachers were advocating rules for food, drink, festivals, sabbath days, worship of angels, and visions.  Paul took issue with these performance-based, surface-level-focused teachings primarily because they took the believer’s focus off of Jesus and put the attention on themselves. Paul summed it up this way:

Colossians 2:20-23
If you died with Christ to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?  Why do you submit to regulations: “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”?

All these regulations refer to what is destroyed by being used up; they are human commands and doctrines.  Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value against fleshly indulgence.

In the centuries since Paul wrote these words, the church has struggled with human commands and doctrines.  Attempting to earn God’s love, people have given in to legalistic, rules-focused teachings.  Teachings such as earning one’s salvation by doing enough good works, or maintaining one’s salvation by doing enough good works, or trying to live under the Mosaic Law are all examples of false teachings based on human ideas and desires.

Others have tried fasting with the intention to force God to decide in their favor.  Some have lived in isolation with the intention to avoid the temptations that could arise when around other people.  People have even gone as far as self-mutilation to try to keep their sinful urges in check.

On the surface, these ideas seem to have merit…but the truth is they’ve all failed to do what God desires to do in our lives.  God desires to make us Christ-like.  Paul was right when he said that the man-made rules have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, [but] they are not of any value against fleshly indulgence.

These practices don’t get to the heart of the problem – because our ultimate problem isn’t our behavior, it’s our sinful nature.  These practices distract us from the real solution.  So we have to be just as careful as Paul wanted the Colossians to be – watching out for false teachings and ascetic practices.

Warren Wiersbe accurately described the dangers that modern believers must be wary of:

“When we make Jesus Christ and the Christian revelation only part of a total religious system or philosophy, we cease to give Him the preeminence.  When we strive for ‘spiritual perfection’ or ‘spiritual fullness’ by means of formulas, disciplines, or rituals, we go backward instead of forward.  Christian believers must beware of mixing their Christian faith with such alluring things as yoga, transcendental meditation, Oriental mysticism, and the like.  We must also beware of ‘deeper life’ teachers who offer a system for victory and fullness that bypasses devotion to Jesus Christ.  In all things, He must have preeminence!”

If the purpose of the rules, principles, or guidelines we follow are doing anything other than pointing us toward Christ or making us more Christ-like…then they are a waste of time and they will eventually lead us astray.  Our first clue that a particular practice is potentially dangerous is to ask the question “Where is the focus placed, on Jesus or on me?

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Identity and fear

The believers in Colossae were dealing with a barrage of spiritual ideas and false teachings.  After giving them a general warning about these dangerous influences, Paul begins to discuss several of the false teachings directly.  From Paul’s comments in the following section, it seems as if the false teachers were “ok” with Jesus, but they also had their own additions or subtle changes about who Jesus was.

Colossians 2:8-10
Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.  For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

The primary question each of us must answer is “Who is Jesus?”.  In comparison to all other religions and belief systems, Jesus uniquely claims to be both God and man. 

Throughout the centuries, however, people have tried in many different ways to diminish this characteristic of Jesus.  Some have taught that Jesus was just a spirit and only appeared to be human.  There have been claims that Jesus was a man who had some God-like ability.  Others have stated that he was only partially divine – similar to the Greek’s demi-god legends. 

Alternative theories about Jesus’ true nature are still around today.  We hear things like “Jesus was a great teacher” or “Jesus was a man who had God’s spirit on him for a short time, but it left him as he died on the cross”.   

However, Paul stresses to the Colossians that these other explanations about Jesus’ nature are completely inadequate.  Jesus was both fully God and fully man.  He wasn’t just a great human teacher.  He wasn’t just another human philosopher.  He wasn’t just a religious leader.  He wasn’t even partially God, or like a Greek demi-God…Jesus was the entire fullness of God’s nature in bodily form.

Understanding this concept – that Jesus is fully God and fully man – is critical as we understand our new identity within the family of God.  The fullness of our Creator, what makes Him who He is…that identity has been passed on to every believer. 

Stop and think about that…we are directly identified with the King of the Universe.

Since Jesus is fully God and fully man, He was the only one qualified to offer His life as a ransom for ours.  Because of His death and resurrection, He is head over every ruler and authority.

Since we are identified with the One in charge of everything, we do not need to fear any other ruler or authority.  What a freeing thought!

When we find that freedom and the strength that comes with it, no other philosophy or teaching will take us captive – because we know Jesus as He truly is.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

False "spiritual" paths

The path to maturity is riddled with detours.  Since our lives don’t travel a perfectly straight course, the detours sometimes look like the correct path.  Paul encouraged the Colossian believers to rely on Christ for both their salvation and maturity:

Colossians 2:6-7
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

After showing them the path to maturity, Paul gives the Colossians a specific warning about the kinds of ideas that will try to sway them away from the truth.  These ideas, and their sources, need to be carefully considered.

Colossians 2:8
Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.

Philosophy is a love of wisdom.  Notice that Paul isn’t saying that all philosophy is bad.  Instead, he is warning the Colossians that they need to be fully aware of a philosophy’s foundation.  If the wisdom we love is not based upon Christ, then we are loving an empty idol. 

However, this false-philosophy idol isn’t necessarily powerless.  In fact, Paul says that those whose teachings are not based on Christ will try to take you captive.  The Greek word for captive is a strong term that means to carry away, just like thief steals loot.  The thief takes what is valuable away from its proper place and carries it off to where it doesn’t belong.  Similarly, a philosophy based on human tradition will also do to us…it will carry us off to beliefs that are not Christ-like.

There are many false teachings around today that claim to show us how to become more “spiritual”; however, the best remedy has always been to rely on God’s Word alone to know what is pleasing to God.  Throughout the pages of Scripture, God has revealed that a “spiritual” person is someone who is like Christ.  Do we trust God enough to let Him make us Christ-like?  Or do we feel like we need to add other influences?

When we feel the need to add other influences besides God, what we’re really saying comes down to one of three options:

We think God might miss something that will make us into the person we were made to be. 
We believe that some other philosophy will be an acceptable short-cut to where God would eventually take us.
We just really like this other idea, and we’ll convince ourselves that God agrees with it.

As we navigate the path we’re on, we need to be certain that our philosophy, traditions, and driving forces in our lives are based on Christ.  To have any other foundation shows that either we’re not carefully considering the path we’re on, or that we’d don’t fully trust God with our lives in the here and now.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Just as you were taught

Contrary to what advertisers want you to believe, “newer” does not automatically mean “better”.  This applies to many areas of our life, including our spiritual maturity.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it seems like the American church is always on the lookout for the Next Big Thing.  Every couple of years, we jump at a slick package of formula-prayers, diets, or new techniques which claim to develop spiritual maturity.  Unfortunately, it seems like most people’s idea of spiritual maturity is nothing more than being good at convincing God to give us whatever we want at the moment.

As we continue through Paul’s letter to the believers in Colossae, we find that they were also being presented with a barrage of “new” ideas and techniques that would supposedly make them spiritually mature.  We’ll take a close look at each one as we come to them in this letter, but before Paul specifically addresses these other teachings, he gives the Colossians a broad statement about the true path to spiritual maturity:

Colossians 2:6-7
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Notice how Paul lays out the path before the Colossian believers – they are to root themselves and build up themselves in Jesus – just as you were taught.  No new techniques, no additional rituals, no special sacrifice or vow.  They don’t need a “new way” because they’ve already been shown the way, and it was up to them to walk the path laid out before them.

Many years prior, God gave a similar warning to the nation of Israel:

Jeremiah 6:16
This is what the Lord says:
Stand by the roadways and look.  Ask about the ancient paths:
Which is the way to what is good?
Then take it and find rest for yourselves.

But they protested: We won’t!

The Israelites refused to listen to God’s timeless advice and directions for how they were to live as His people.  They still belonged to God, for they were God’s chosen people.  However, their refusal to acknowledge God’s rightful place as King made them rebellious children.  God had shown their forefathers the path for relationship with Him and for peace in the land, but instead

Jeremiah 6:19
…they have paid no attention to My word.  They have rejected My law.

The Israelites shunned God’s revelation and His previously revealed path.  For their choices, they were susceptible to attack, both spiritually and physically.  Keep in mind that this prophecy was given to the generation that was eventually led into captivity in Babylon.

Paul’s letter doesn’t give any direct evidence that the Colossians were rejecting God or a relationship with Him.  However, the temptation was certainly there as other philosophies and human traditions were pressing in to the Colossian church.  Paul gives these believers a good self-check reminder here – they need to actively consider the path they’re on.  Will their actions truly lead to spiritual maturity, or are they trying to manipulate God?  Are they walking in the paths just as you were taught, or are they trying something different just because it’s “new”?

Keep in mind that “new” doesn’t automatically mean wrong, either…but we must make sure it follows with what Paul said to the Colossians:

Colossians 2:6-7
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Recognizing counterfeits

We’d all love to live life to the fullest, as God intends for us – complete, mature, and ready for good use under Christ’s leadership.  But often times it is a tough road to become mature and develop Christ-like character.  If only spiritual maturity were as simple as going a straight line from Point A to Point B, right? 

After describing his desire to have all believers reach maturity, Paul speaks about Jesus, and says

Colossians 2:3
In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.

And then Paul gives the Colossians a direct application of this foundational truth:

Colossians 2:4-5
I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with persuasive arguments.  For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the strength of your faith in Christ.

Paul is just one man, and therefore his ministry is limited to one place at a time.  At the time of this writing, he cannot be with the Colossians to personally protect them from the variety of nice-sounding, but very dangerous, false ideas about God that would come their way.  So Paul gives them encouragement for the ways they are currently guarding their faith.  However, he also gives them direction for how to continue to mature, despite the reckless ideas about God they will also encounter.

Colossians 2:6-7
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

The path to maturity and the path for protection against false teachings is actually the continuation in the direction they started with, to be in Christ.  Their relationship with God started with their faith in Christ, when they received Him as their Savior from sin’s penalty.  Remember, Jesus said to His disciples:

John 14:6
I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Jesus is the way to the Father.
Jesus is the truth of the Father.
Jesus is the life we are given from the Father.

That is why Paul tells the believers in Colossae to walk in Him.  Walk in His ways.  Walk in His truths.  Walk in His life.  This is the way we protect ourselves from false teaching about God.  We know the real God so well that we aren’t swayed away when the counterfeit philosophies come our way.

We don’t have to know all the variations and deceptions out there – we only need to know the truth, and continue to walk in Him.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Nice-sounding ideas about God

We don’t like the feeling of “not knowing”.  We try to figure out a story’s plot and guess who the villain is long before it is revealed.  Riddles bother us if we don’t get them right away.  Not satisfied with the information we’re given, we often look deeper, expecting to find people’s hidden agenda or motivations.

We are bothered the most when we don’t understand our current circumstances – when bad things happen to (seemingly) good people, when natural disasters ravage the land, or when nothing in life goes as we expect.  The desire to find meaning and understanding within the difficulties of life can make a person desperate enough that they listen to almost anyone who claims to have an answer or explanation.

This uneasiness is often preyed upon by other philosophies and religions.  They will claim that someone must go through their secret ritual initiation before they are accepted.  They claim that God is mysteriously distant or uninterested, unless we make ourselves good enough and devoted enough to get his attention.  Preying upon people’s feelings of inadequacy, they claim that only a select few – only those with secret knowledge – could understand the mysteries of God.

While their words may sound like help…they will actually take you hostage.

Paul had the same concern for the believers in Colossae.  He did not want their relationship with Christ to be usurped by manipulative teachers.  As you read Paul’s warning against these false teachers, look for how the Colossian believers are to protect themselves:

Colossians 2:2-4
I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding, and have the knowledge of God’s mystery – Christ.  In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.  I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with persuasive arguments.

A little later, Paul warns them again:

Colossians 2:8-10
Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.  For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

There are tons of nice-sounding ideas about God that are floating around the world.  Since most people understand that there is a spiritual aspect to life, many of these nice-sounding ideas pop up in our day-to-day conversations. 

How do we combat them all?  We can’t realistically study each one and find “the perfect rebuttal” to every philosophy and theory that comes along.  Instead, Paul directs believers to focus all of their attention back to one person – Christ.  In Jesus, we will find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge

Not in the next Christian-living best-selling novel.
Not in the next formula for how to make God answer your prayers.
Not in the next preacher who claims to heal everyone who has “enough faith”.

Remember that Satan quoted Scripture when he tempted Jesus.  Therefore, just being able to quote Scripture isn’t enough to protect us from false teachers.  Instead, we need to heed Paul’s advice and ensure that our wisdom, our knowledge, and our philosophy of life are based on Christ.

That is the check we need to use.  When presented with a nice-sounding concept about God, take an objective look at it, and ask:

Does this idea match up with who Jesus truly is…or is this idea based on a person’s tradition or maybe even their own wishful thinking?

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Healthy teaching

Titus 1:9 [An overseer or elder] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

The trustworthy message was that only Christ’s death on the cross could rescue us from the eternal penalty of our sins.  Paul refers to this as sound doctrine.  While the term “doctrine” might feel stuffy or foreign to us, a direct translation of the words would be healthy teaching.  If Titus chooses leaders with unhealthy teachings, the message would become muddied up with other ideas, philosophies, and sinful human influences.  When the message is muddied and is no longer sound, it is open to corruption.

Paul then explores the contrast between those who hold to sound doctrine and those who have muddied the gospel message:

Titus 1:15-16 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure.  In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.  They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.  They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

Although these other teachers claim authority and claim to represent God, their actions betray them:

How do they treat their family, conduct themselves, and interact with others?
Is their teaching healthy, do they speak of faith alone in Jesus…or do they add in other conditions?

Paul calls those that proclaim to be teachers but are actually corrupted and do not believe to be detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.  While those terms might seem harsh to us, it is their muddied message, the unhealthy teaching which does not rely on Christ that makes them this way.

If their teaching disqualifies them from doing anything good, obviously those that listen to them won’t fare any better.  Which is why Paul says to Titus in the next verse:

Titus 2:1 You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.

It matters who we listen to.  Don’t believe what they say, just because they claim to know God.  Check them out, make sure their teaching is sound and healthy.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

A leader's rebuke

When we study the Bible, one way that we know the importance of a subject is how many verses the author uses to talk about it.  If he talks about it more, then the subject matter is being emphasized in relation to the other topics within the book.

Paul’s letter to Titus is no different.  While spending the entire first chapter describing the expectations for those who lead in a church, Paul spends about 5 verses discussing how a leader should treat his family, conduct himself, and interact with others…and then spends the next eight verses discussing one topic: How a leader handles God’s message and the reasons why it is such an important topic.

We saw that Paul warned for Titus and the church leaders to be on the lookout for those who would come and distort the good news that Jesus came and paid the penalty for our sins, thus restoring our relationship with God.  However, Paul wasn’t only concerned with direct opposition to the leaders, he also showed concern for the Cretan believers. 

Titus 1:12-13 Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”  This testimony is true. 

This quote is attributed to Epimenides, from about the 6th century BC.  And Paul agrees with the philosopher’s assessment!  In the ancient world, to “Cretonize” someone meant to both “double-deal” and “to lie”, all rolled into one.  Paul recognizes that the Cretan reputation had not improved for hundreds of years, and that Titus would have to watch out for this kind of behavior as he appointed leaders for the churches.  If Cretans acted like that on their own, imagine what would happen to the church if its leaders adopted the teachings of those who were

Titus 1:11 …ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach – and that for the sake of dishonest gain.

This kind of situation would damage both the local believers’ relationship with God, but also God’s reputation to those outside of the church.  Paul’s solution to the Cretans’ default behavior was clear and direct:

Titus 1:13 Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.

In this “sharp rebuke”, Paul was not giving Titus the license to simply blast another believer and then walk away.  The word used for rebuke also carries the idea of exposing, showing fault, and convincing.  Paul is directing Titus to deal with false teaching directly and swiftly, however, he is not giving permission to “hit-and-run” someone who is incorrectly presenting the gospel.  Exposing, showing fault, rebuking, and convincing someone will likely take some time and patience.  It will be hard, but the health of the church depends on it.

The Cretan church leaders must be rooted in their relationship with God through the Scriptures.  Only then would they be able to handle these upcoming situations with those who reject the truth or with those who were more interested in Jewish myths than teaching the gospel.  Clearly this is why Paul spends so much time on this subject; the emphasis he gives it is absolutely necessary.

Are our leaders rooted in Scripture?  How do they handle false teachings and cultural pressures?  These are important topics to consider, as they affect both our individual relationships with God, but also God’s reputation to those outside of the church.

Keep Pressing,
Ken