Where to Get Wisdom: Part 3 (James 3:13–18)

man reading bibleIn Part 1, we learned there is a “heavenly wisdom” that comes from God and a “man-made wisdom” that comes from the world. In Part 2, we saw the contrast between the operation of God’s wisdom and the operation of the world’s wisdom. Today, we will look at the result of God’s wisdom versus the result of the world’s wisdom.

Contrast in Outcomes (James 3:16, 18)

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find confusion and every evil practice… Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Origin determines outcome. Worldly wisdom will produce worldly results; spiritual wisdom will give spiritual results.

Worldly wisdom produces trouble (v. 16). “Envy, selfish ambition [strife], confusion, and evil works.” It does not appear God was at work in that assembly (in chapter 4, James would deal with the “wars and fighting” among the believers). Wrong thinking produces wrong living. One reason the world is in such a mess is because men have refused to accept the wisdom of God.

The word translated “confusion” means “disorder that comes from instability.” It is related to “unstable” in James 1:8 and “unruly” in James 3:8. Read 2 Corinthians 12:20 and you will get a description of a church that is confused. Jesus used this word to describe the convulsions of the world in the last days (Luke 21:9).

Jealousy, competition, selfish ambition—all of these contribute to confusion. The Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 is a good illustration of this fact. From man’s point of view the building of the tower was a wise thing, but from God’s viewpoint the project was stupid and sinful. The result? Confusion. Even today, we use the word “babel” to mean “confusion.”

Confusion sets the stage for “every evil work” (3:16). Evil here means “worthless, of no account.” It reminds us of the “wood, hay, and stubble” of 1 Corinthians 3:12. A ministry operating in the wisdom of this world may appear to be great and successful, but in the Day of Judgment it will burn up. The church at Smyrna thought it was poor, but the Lord said it was rich; while the “rich church” at Laodicea was declared to be poor (Rev. 2:9; 3:14–22).

The most important thing we can do in our local churches is measure our ministries by the Word of God, not by the wisdom of men. The many battles among Christians, the church splits, the absence of purity and peace, all suggest that something is wrong. Perhaps that “something” is the absence of the wisdom of God.

God’s wisdom produces blessing (v. 18). There is a vast difference between man-made results and God-given fruit. Fruit is the product of life and fruit has in it the seeds for more fruit. We usually speak of the seed that is sown, but here it is the fruit that is sown. As we share the fruit of God with others, they are fed and satisfied, and they in turn bear fruit.

The Christian life is a life of sowing and reaping. For that matter, every life is a life of sowing and reaping, and we reap just what we sow. The Christian who obeys God’s wisdom sows righteousness, not sin; he sows peace, not war. The life we live enables the Lord to bring righteousness and peace into the lives of others.

What we are is what we live and what we live is what we sow. What we sow determines what we reap. If we live in God’s wisdom, we sow righteousness and peace, and we reap God’s blessing. If we live in man’s worldly wisdom, we sow sin and war, and we reap “confusion and every evil work.”

It is a serious thing to be a troublemaker in God’s family. One of the sins God hates is that of sowing “discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:16–19). Lot followed the world’s wisdom and brought trouble to the camp of Abraham, but Abraham followed God’s wisdom and brought peace. Lot’s decision led to “good-for-nothing works,” and everything he lived for went up in smoke at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham’s decision, in the wisdom of God, led to blessings for his own household and ultimately for the whole world (Gen. 13). “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding” (Prov. 3:13).

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Where to Get Wisdom: Part 2 (James 3:13–18)

understandingIn Part 1, we saw there is a “heavenly wisdom” that comes from God and a “man-made wisdom” that comes from the world. Today, we will look at the contrast between the operation of God’s wisdom and the world’s wisdom.

Contrast in Operations (James 3:13–14, 17)

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.

The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

The wisdom from above, God’s wisdom, operates in a different way from the world’s wisdom. Since they originate from radically different sources, they must operate in opposite ways. What are the evidences of false wisdom?

Envy (v. 14a). This word carries the meaning of selfish ambition and zeal. It ties in with James 3:1, where James warned them not to be ambitious for spiritual offices. The wisdom of the world says, “Promote yourself. You’re just as good as the other candidates, maybe better! The wheel that squeaks the loudest gets the grease.” Sad to say, there is a great deal of selfish, carnal promotion among God’s people. Even the Apostles argued over who was the greatest in the kingdom.

It is easy to go on an ego trip under the guise of spiritual zeal. The Pharisees used their religious activities to promote the praise of men (Matt. 6:1–18). We ought to be zealous in the things of the Lord, but we must be sure our motives are right. The wisdom of this world exalts man and robs God of glory. In 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul discussed the wisdom of God and the wisdom of this world, and he explained why God works as He does: “so that no one may boast before Him” (1 Cor. 1:29). He concluded the section with the admonition, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31).

Is our zeal for the Lord spiritual or carnal? Do we rejoice when others succeed, or do we have secret envy and criticism? Do we feel burdened when others fail or are we glad? When the wisdom of the world gets into the church, there is a great deal of fleshly promotion and human glorification. Beware!

Selfish ambition (v. 14b). This word means “party spirit.” It was used by the Greeks to describe a politician out canvassing for votes. The world’s wisdom says, “Get all the support you can! Ask the people in the church if they are for you or against you!” Of course, this spirit of self-seeking only creates rivalry and division in the church. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).

Boasting (v. 14c). Pride loves to boast and nothing is prouder than the wisdom of men. There is a way to report blessings so that God gets the glory, but there is also an approach that gives men the praise. It is tragic to see mutual admiration societies among God’s people. When God’s wisdom is at work, there is a sense of humility and submission, and you want God to get all the glory. You have no desire to compare yourself with any other Christian because you see only Christ—and compared with Him, all of us still have a long way to go!

Deceit (v. 14d). “Do not lie against the truth.” The sequence is not difficult to understand. First, there is selfish ambition that leads to strife and boasting. In order to “win the election,” we must resort to boasting; and boasting usually involves lies! A man’s life is not read in his press releases; it is read by the Lord in his heart. “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God” (1 Cor. 4:5). What a relief it is to turn to the evidences of true spiritual wisdom!

What are the evidences of God’s wisdom?

Humility or Meekness (v. 13). Meekness is not weakness; it is power under control. The meek person does not selfishly assert himself. The Greek word was used for a horse that had been broken so that his power was under control. The meek person seeks only the glory of God and does not cater to the praises of men. Meekness is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23); it cannot be manufactured by man. There is a false humility that some people mistake for meekness, but it is only counterfeit. Meekness is the right use of power and wisdom is the right use of knowledge. They go together. The truly wise person will show in his “daily life” (behavior) that he is a child of God. Attitude and action go together.

Purity (v. 17a). “First pure” indicates the importance of holiness. God is holy; therefore the wisdom from above is pure. The idea behind this word is “chaste, free from defilement.” James used it again in James 4:8—“purify your hearts” or “make chaste your hearts.” God’s wisdom leads to purity of life. Man’s wisdom may lead to sin. There is a spiritual purity that results in a chaste relationship with the Lord (2 Cor. 11:3); and there is a worldliness that makes the person a spiritual adulterer (James 4:4).

Peace (v. 17b). Man’s wisdom leads to competition, rivalry, and war (James 4:1–2); but God’s wisdom leads to peace. It is a peace based on holiness, not on compromise. God never has “peace at any price.” The peace of the church is not more important than the purity of the church. If the church is pure, devoted to God, then there will be peace. “The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isa. 32:17). The church can never have peace by sweeping sins under the rug and pretending they are not there. Man’s wisdom says, “Cover up sin! Keep things together!” God’s wisdom says, “Confess sin and My peace will keep things together!”

Gentleness (v. 17c). A pastor translated this “sweet reasonableness.” This carries the meaning of moderation without compromise, gentleness without weakness. The gentle person does not deliberately cause fights, but neither does he compromise the truth in order to keep peace. Abraham Lincoln has been described as a man of “velvet steel.” That is a good description of gentleness.

Submissive or Compliant (v. 17d). God’s wisdom makes the believer agreeable, and easy to live with and work with. Man’s wisdom makes a person hard and stubborn. The compliant person is willing to hear all sides of a question, but he does not compromise his own convictions. He can disagree without being disagreeable. He is “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Many people think that stubbornness is conviction and they must have their own way. When God’s wisdom is at work, there is a willingness to listen, think, pray, and obey whatever God reveals. “Yielding to persuasion” is another translation of this word.

Full of Mercy (v. 17e). To be “full” of something means to be “controlled by.” The person who follows God’s wisdom is controlled by mercy. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). God in His grace gives us what we do not deserve and in His mercy, He does not give us what we do deserve. Our Lord’s Parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates the meaning of mercy (Luke 10:25–37). For a Samaritan to care for a Jewish stranger was an act of mercy. He could gain nothing from it, except the blessing that comes from doing the will of God; and the victim could not pay him back. That is mercy.

Good fruits (v. 17f). People who are faithful are fruitful. God’s wisdom does not make a life empty; it makes it full. The Spirit produces fruit to the glory of God (John 15:1–16). The lawyer in Luke 10:25–37 was willing to discuss the subject of neighborliness, but he was unwilling to be a neighbor and help someone else. God’s wisdom is practical; it changes the life and produces good works to the glory of God.

Decisive (v. 17g). The word suggests singleness of mind and is the opposite of “wavering” (James 1:6). When you lean on the world’s wisdom, you are pressured from one side and then another to change your mind or take a new viewpoint. When you have God’s wisdom, you need not waver; you can be decisive and not be afraid. Wisdom from above brings strength from above.

Sincerity (v. 17h). The Greek word translated hypocrite in our New Testament means “one who wears a mask, an actor.” When man’s wisdom is at work, there may be insincerity and pretense. When God’s wisdom is at work, there is openness and honesty, “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Wherever you find God’s people pretending and hiding, you can be sure the wisdom of this world is governing their ministry. “Religious politics” is an abomination to God. “Faith is living without scheming.”

There is quite a contrast between the operation of God’s wisdom and the operation of the world’s wisdom. It would be profitable for church officers and leaders to evaluate their own lives and their ministries in light of what James has written. While the local church is an organization, it cannot depend on the “Madison Avenue” methods that make secular businesses succeed. God’s ways and God’s thoughts are far above us! “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us” (1 Cor. 2:12).

In Part 3, we will look at the contrast in outcomes between God’s wisdom and the wisdom of the world.

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Where to Get Wisdom: Part 1 (James 3:13–18)

road_to_wisdomWisdom was an important thing to Jewish people. They realized it was not enough to have knowledge; you had to have wisdom to be able to use that knowledge correctly. All of us know people who are very intelligent, perhaps almost geniuses, and yet who seemingly are unable to carry out the simplest tasks of life. They can run computers, but they cannot manage their own lives! “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore, get wisdom” (Prov. 4:7).

James continued to exhort the people in the assembly who wanted to be teachers of the Word (James 3:1). It is not enough simply to stand before the people and say words; you must have something to say. This is where spiritual wisdom comes in. Knowledge enables us to take things apart, but wisdom enables us to put things together and relate God’s truth to daily life. All of us have heard preachers and teachers who say many good things, but who somehow miss the heart of God’s message and fail to relate truth to everyday life. It is this kind of “knowledge without wisdom” that James is writing about. He is contrasting true wisdom and false wisdom in three different aspects.

Contrast in Origins (James 3:15, 17a)

Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, sensual, and demonic.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is…

The true wisdom comes from above, but the false wisdom comes from below. In other words, there is a “heavenly wisdom” that comes from God, and there is a “man-made wisdom” that does not come from God. Whatever does not come from God is destined to fail, no matter how successful it may seem at the time.

The Bible contains many examples of the folly of man’s wisdom. The building of the Tower of Babel seemed like a wise enterprise, but it ended in failure and confusion (Gen. 11:1–9). It seemed wise for Abraham to go to Egypt when famine came to Canaan, but the results proved otherwise (Gen. 12:10–20). King Saul thought it was wise to put his own armor on young David for the boy’s battle with Goliath, but God’s plan was otherwise (1 Sam. 17:38). The disciples thought it was wise to dismiss the great crowd and let them find their own food; but Jesus took a few loaves and fish and fed the multitude. The Roman “experts” in Acts 27 thought it was wise to leave port and set sail for Rome, even though Paul disagreed; and the storm that followed proved Paul’s wisdom was better than their expert counsel. They lived to regret it, but they lived!

There is a “wisdom of this world” (1 Cor. 1:20–21). Do not confuse the world’s knowledge and the world’s wisdom. Certainly, there is a great deal of knowledge in this world, and we all benefit from it; but there is not much wisdom. Man unlocks the secrets of the universe, but he does not know what to do with them. Almost everything he discovers or devises turns against him. Over a century ago, Henry David Thoreau warned that we had “improved means to unimproved ends.”

The world by its wisdom knew not God, and in its wisdom rejects the very Gospel of God. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). Any person enamored with the wisdom of this world ought to read the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians and notice how much Paul has to say about God’s wisdom and man’s wisdom. Man’s wisdom is foolishness to God (1 Cor. 1:20) and God’s wisdom is foolishness to man (1 Cor. 2:14). Man’s wisdom comes from reason, while God’s wisdom comes from revelation. Man’s worldly wisdom will come to nothing (1 Cor. 1:19), while God’s wisdom will endure forever.

This false wisdom has another source: it is “sensual,” that is, “natural.” The Greek word is psukikos, which comes from the Greek word psuke meaning “life” or “soul.” Our English word “psychology” is derived from it. In 1 Corinthians 2:14; 15:44, 46, psukikos is translated “natural,” referring to the opposite of “spiritual.” In Jude 19 it is translated “sensual.” The main idea is that man’s fallen nature is opposed to the new nature given by God.

This “wisdom that is from beneath” is also “demonic.” Beginning with Genesis 3, where Satan successfully deceived Eve and continuing through the entire Bible, there is a “wisdom of Satan” at work, fighting against the wisdom of God. Satan convinced Eve that she would be like God. He told her the tree would make her wise. Ever since that event people have continued to believe Satan’s lies and have tried to become their own gods (Rom. 1:18–25). Satan is cunning; he is the old serpent! He has wisdom that will confound and confuse you if you do not know the wisdom of God.

In contrast to the wisdom that is earthly, sensual, and demonic, James describes a “wisdom that is from above” (3:17). “Every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). The Christian looks up to heaven for all he needs. His citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), just as his Father is in heaven (Matt. 6:9). His treasures are in heaven, not on earth (Matt. 6:19). He was born from above (John 3:1–7) when he trusted Jesus Christ. The believer’s home is in heaven (John 14:1–6) and his hope is in heaven. He sets his affection and attention on things above, not on earthly things (Col. 3:1–4).

What is the Christian’s wisdom? Does he look to the philosophies of this world? No! To begin with, Jesus Christ is our wisdom (1 Cor. 1:24, 30). In Jesus Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). The first step toward true wisdom is the receiving of Jesus Christ as Savior.

The Word of God is also our wisdom. “I have taught you decrees and laws … Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations” (Deut. 4:5–6). The Scriptures are able to make us “wise for salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15).

James 1:5 indicates we find wisdom through believing prayer: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” The Holy Spirit of God is “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Eph. 1:17) and He directs us in the wisest paths as we trust His Word and pray.

The origin of true spiritual wisdom is God. To get your wisdom from any other source is to ask for trouble. There is no need to get the counterfeit wisdom of the world, the wisdom that caters to the flesh and accomplishes the work of the devil. Get your wisdom from God!

In Part 2, we will look at the contrast between the operation of God’s wisdom and the operation of the world’s wisdom.

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The World’s Smallest But Largest Troublemaker: Part 2 (James 3:1–12)

tame-the-tongueIn Part 1, we learned the tongue has the power to direct. Today, we will look at two more powers of the tongue.

Power to Destroy: the Fire and Animal (James 3:5–8)

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James compares the damage a tongue can do to a raging fire. Like a fire the tongue can “heat things up.” David wrote: “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin… my heart grew hot within me, while I meditated the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue” (Ps. 39:1, 3). Have you ever had that experience? A hot head and a hot heart can lead to burning words that later we will regret. David had a temper and he needed God’s help in controlling it. No wonder Solomon wrote, “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint and whoever has understanding is even-tempered” (Prov. 17:27). “Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly” (Prov. 14:29).

Fire burns and hurts, and our words can burn and hurt. One of the sorrows our Lord had to bear when He was here on earth was the way His enemies talked about Him. They called Him a “glutton and a drunkard” (Matt. 11:19) because He graciously accepted invitations to dine with people the Pharisees did not like. When He performed miracles, they said He was in league with Satan. Even when He was dying on the cross, His enemies could not let Him alone, but threw vicious taunts into His face.

Fire spreads, and the more fuel you give it the faster and farther it will spread. The tongue “sets the whole course of one’s life on fire” (3:6). All of life is connected like a wheel and therefore, we cannot keep things from spreading. A person’s entire life can be injured or destroyed by the tongue. Time does not correct the sins of the tongue. We may confess our sins of speech, but the fire keeps on spreading.

The uncontrolled tongue can do terrible damage. Satan uses the tongue to divide people and pit them against one another. Idle and hateful words are damaging because they spread destruction quickly, and no one can stop the results once they are spoken. We dare not be careless with what we say, thinking we can apologize later because even if we do the scars remain. A few words spoken in anger can destroy a relationship that took years to build.

As it spreads, fire destroys; and the words we speak have the power to destroy. Our own words may not have caused wars or wrecked cities, but they can break hearts and ruin reputations. They can also destroy souls by sending them into eternity without Christ. How important it is for us to let our speech “be always full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6). Fiery words can defile a home, a Sunday School class, a church. The only thing that can wash away that defilement is the blood of Jesus Christ.

Not only is the tongue like a fire, but it is also like a dangerous animal. It is restless and cannot be ruled (unruly), and it seeks its prey and then pounces and kills. My wife and I once drove through a safari park, admiring the animals as they moved about in their natural habitat. But there were warning signs posted all over the park: DO NOT LEAVE YOUR CAR! DO NOT OPEN YOUR WINDOWS! Those “peaceful animals” were capable of doing great damage and even killing.

Some animals are poisonous and some tongues spread poison. The deceptive thing about poison is that it works secretly and slowly, and then kills. How many times has some malicious person injected a bit of poison into the conversation, hoping it would spread and finally get to the person he or she wanted to hurt? As a pastor, I have seen poisonous tongues do great damage to individuals, families, classes, and entire churches. Would you turn hungry lions or angry snakes loose in your Sunday morning service? Of course not! But unruly tongues accomplish the same results.

The tongue cannot be tamed by man, but it can be tamed by God. Your tongue need not be “set on fire by hell” (3:6). Like the Apostles at Pentecost, it can be set on fire from heaven! If God lights the fire and controls it, then the tongue can be a mighty tool for the winning of the lost and the building up of the church. The important thing, of course, is the heart; for it is “out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). If the heart is filled with hatred, Satan will light the fire, but if the heart is filled with love, God will light the fire.

Power to Delight: the Fountain and Tree (James 3:9–12)

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same fountain? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

The fountain or spring provides the cool water that man needs to stay alive. In Oriental countries, the presence of a freshwater fountain is a great blessing to a village. Man needs water not only for drinking, but also for washing, cooking, farming, and a host of other activities so necessary to life.

We could not be healthy without water. Paul’s prayer was that he might “refresh” the saints in Rome when he came to them (Rom. 15:32). He often named Christians who had refreshed him (1 Cor. 16:18; Phile. 7, 20). Water is life-giving and our words can give life. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21).

Our words can help to shelter and encourage a weary traveler, and can help to feed a hungry soul. “The lips of the righteous nourish many” (Prov. 10:21). Jesus said, “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63). As we share His Word with others, we feed them and encourage them along the way.

Water also cleanses. There was a laver in the Old Testament tabernacle and temple, provided for the cleansing of the priests’ hands and feet. God’s Word is the spiritual water that cleanses us (John 15:3; Eph. 5:26–27). Our words to others can also help to cleanse and sanctify them. Our words ought to be like that river described in Ezekiel 47 that brought life to everything it touched.

The tongue is also delightful because it is like a tree. The most important thing about a tree is the root system. If the roots do not go down deep the tree will not grow in a healthy manner. If we are rooted in the things of the Lord, then our words will be the fruit of our fellowship with Him. We will be like that “blessed man” in Psalm 1 and produce fruit in due season.

One reason our Lord was able to say the right words at the right times was because He communed with His Father and heard from heaven each day. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed” (Mark 1:35). If you and I are going to have tongues that delight, then we must meet with the Lord each day and learn from Him. We must get our “spiritual roots” deep into His Word. We must pray and meditate and permit the Spirit of God to fill our hearts with God’s love and truth.

If the tongue is inconsistent, there is something radically wrong with the heart. I heard about a professing Christian who got angry on the job and let loose with some swear words. Embarrassed, he turned to his coworker and said, “I don’t know why I said that. It really isn’t in me.” His coworker wisely replied, “It had to be in you or it couldn’t have come out of you.” When Peter was out of fellowship with Christ, he uttered some distasteful words; but he went out and wept bitterly and confessed his sins.

The tongue that blesses the Father, and then turns around and curses men made in God’s image is in desperate need of spiritual medicine! How easy it is to sing songs during the worship service, and then after the service get into the family car and argue and fight all the way home!

The problem, of course, is not the tongue; it is the heart. It is easy to have “bitter envy and selfish ambition” in our hearts (James 3:14). “The things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart and these defile them” (Matt. 15:18). “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Prov. 4:23). As we fill our hearts with God’s Word and yield to the Holy Spirit, He can use us to bring delight to others, and we will be refreshing fountains and trees.

Yes, the smallest but largest troublemaker in all the world is the tongue. But it does not have to be a troublemaker! God can use our tongues to direct others into the way of life and to delight them in the trials of life. The tongue is a little member, but it has great power. Give God your tongue and your heart each day, and ask Him to use you to be a blessing to others.

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The World’s Smallest But Largest Troublemaker: Part 1 (James 3:1–12)

big_tongueJames has explained to us two characteristics of the mature Christian: he is patient in trouble (James 1) and he practices the truth (James 2). In this section, he shares the third characteristic of the mature believer: he has power over his tongue.

A pastor friend told me about a member of his church who was a notorious gossip. She would “hang on the phone” most of the day, sharing tidbits with any and all who would listen.

She came to the pastor one day and said, “Pastor, the Lord has convicted me of my sin of gossip. My tongue is getting me and others into trouble.”

My friend knew she was not sincere because she had gone through that routine before. Guardedly he asked, “Well, what do you plan to do?”

“I want to put my tongue on the altar,” she replied with pious fervor.

Calmly my friend replied, “There isn’t an altar big enough” and he left her to think it over.

The Christians James wrote to were apparently having serious problems with their tongues. James had warned them to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). The believer who does not control his tongue is not truly religious (James 1:26). We must speak and act as though we were already facing Christ in judgment (James 2:12). When you read passages like James 4:1, 11–12, you get the impression that this assembly must have had some interesting meetings!

The power of speech is one of the greatest powers God has given us. With the tongue, man can praise God, pray, preach the Word, and lead the lost to Christ. What a privilege! But with that same tongue, he can tell lies that could ruin a man’s reputation or break a person’s heart. The ability to speak words is the ability to influence others and accomplish tremendous tasks; and yet we take this ability for granted.

In order to impress on us the importance of controlled speech and the great consequences of our words, James gave us six pictures of the tongue: the bit, the rudder, fire, a poisonous animal, a fountain, and a fig tree. We can put these six pictures into three meaningful classifications that reveal the three powers of the tongue.

Power to Direct: the Bit and Rudder (James 3:1–4)

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.

Apparently, everybody in the assembly wanted to teach and be a spiritual leader for James had to warn them: “Not many of you should become teachers” (3:1). Perhaps they were impressed with the authority and prestige of the office, and forgot about the tremendous responsibility and accountability! Those who teach the Word face the stricter judgment. Teachers must use their tongue to share God’s truth and it is easy to commit sins of the tongue. Furthermore, teachers must practice what they teach; otherwise, their teaching is hypocrisy. Think of the damage that can be done by a teacher who is unprepared or whose spiritual life is not up to par.

But teachers are not the only ones who are tempted and sin; every Christian must admit that “we all stumble in many ways” (3:2). And sins of the tongue seem to head the list. The person who is able to discipline his tongue gives evidence he can control his whole body. He proves that he is a mature (perfect) man.

Is James making a mistake by connecting sins of the tongue with sins committed by “the whole body”? No, because words usually lead to deeds. During World War II, people were accustomed to seeing posters that read LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS! But loose lips also wreck lives. A person makes an unguarded statement and suddenly finds himself involved in a fight. His tongue has forced the rest of his body to defend itself.

In selecting the bit and the rudder, James presented two items that are small of themselves, yet exercise great power, just like the tongue. A small bit enables the rider to control the great horse and a small rudder enables the captain to steer the huge ship. The tongue is a small member in the body and yet it has the power to accomplish great things.

Both the bit and the rudder must overcome contrary forces. The bit must overcome the wild nature of the horse, and the rudder must fight the winds and currents that would drive the ship off its course. The human tongue also must overcome contrary forces. We have an old nature that wants to control us and make us sin. There are circumstances around us that would make us say things we ought not to say. Sin on the inside and pressures on the outside are seeking to get control of the tongue.

This means both the bit and the rudder must be under the control of a strong hand. The expert horseman keeps the mighty power of his steed under control and the experienced pilot courageously steers the ship through the storm. When Jesus Christ controls the tongue, then we need not fear saying the wrong things—or even saying the right things in a wrong way! “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” warned Solomon (Prov. 18:21). No wonder David prayed, “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil” (Ps. 141:3–4). David knew that the heart is the key to right speech. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). When Jesus is the Lord of the heart, then He is Lord of the lips too.

The bit and rudder have the power to direct, which means they affect the lives of others. A runaway horse or a shipwreck could mean injury or death to pedestrians or passengers. The words we speak affect the lives of others. A judge says “Guilty!” or “Not Guilty!” and those words affect the destiny of the prisoner, his family, and his friends. The President of the United States speaks a few words and signs some papers, and the nation is at war. Even a simple yes or no from the lips of a parent can greatly affect the direction of a child’s life.

Never underestimate the guidance you give by the words you speak or do not speak. Jesus spoke to a woman at a well, and her life and the lives of her neighbors experienced a miraculous change (John 4). Peter preached at Pentecost and 3,000 souls came to salvation through faith in Christ (Acts 2).

On April 21, 1855, Edward Kimball went into a Boston shoe store and led young Dwight L. Moody to Christ. The result: one of history’s greatest evangelists, a man whose ministry still continues. The tongue has the power to direct others to the right choices.

It would do us all good to read frequently the Book of Proverbs and to note especially the many references to speech. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 12:22). “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues” (Prov. 10:19). Yes, the tongue is like a bit and a rudder: it has the power to direct. How important it is that our tongues direct people in the right way!

In Part 2, we will look at two more powers of the tongue.

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Dynamic Faith (James 2:20–26)

Faith that WorksIn our previous study, we learned there are three kinds of faith, only one of which is true saving faith. Today, we will take a closer look at this saving faith.

Dynamic Faith (James 2:20–26)

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Dynamic faith is faith that is real, faith that has power, and faith that results in a changed life. James described this true saving faith. To begin with, it is based on the Word of God. We receive our spiritual rebirth through God’s Word (James 1:18). We receive the Word and this saves us (James 1:21). “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). James used Abraham and Rahab as illustrations of dynamic saving faith, since both of them heard and received the message of God through His Word.

Faith is only as good as its object. The man in the jungle bows before an idol of stone and trusts it to help him, but he receives no help. No matter how much faith a person may generate, if it is not directed at the right object, it will accomplish nothing. “I believe” may be the testimony of many sincere people, but the big question is, “In whom do you believe? What do you believe?” We are not saved by faith in faith; we are saved by faith in Christ as revealed in His Word.

Dynamic faith is based on God’s Word and it involves the whole man. Dead faith touches only the intellect; demonic faith involves both the mind and the emotions; but dynamic faith involves the will. The whole person plays a part in true saving faith. The mind understands the truth; the heart desires the truth; and the will acts upon the truth. The men and women of faith named in Hebrews 11 were people of action: God spoke and they obeyed. “Faith is not believing in spite of evidence; faith is obeying in spite of consequence.”

True saving faith leads to action. Dynamic faith is not intellectual contemplation or emotional consternation; it leads to obedience on the part of the will. This obedience is not an isolated event: it continues throughout the whole life. It leads to works.

Many different kinds of works are named in the New Testament. “The works of the Law” (Gal. 2:16) relate to the sinner’s attempt to please God by obeying the Law of Moses. Of course, it is impossible for a sinner to be saved through the works of the Law. “The works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19) are done by unsaved people who live for the things of the old nature. There are also “wicked works” (Col. 1:21) and “dead works” (Heb. 9:14). Where there is dynamic faith—saving faith—we will always find good works.

James then illustrated his doctrine in the lives of two well-known Bible persons: Abraham and Rahab. You could not find two more different persons! Abraham was a Jew; Rahab was a Gentile. Abraham was a godly man, but Rahab was a sinful woman, a harlot. Abraham was the friend of God, while Rahab belonged to the enemies of God. What did they have in common? Both exercised saving faith in God.

God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees to lead him into Canaan and to make out of him the great nation of Israel. It was through Israel that God would bring the Savior into the world. Abraham’s salvation experience is recorded in Genesis 15. At night, God showed His servant the stars and gave him a promise, “So shall your offspring be!” How did Abraham respond? “He believed in the Lord and He [the Lord] counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:5–6).

The word counted is a legal or financial term; it means “to put to one’s account.” As a sinner, Abraham’s spiritual bankbook was empty. He was bankrupt! But he trusted God and God put righteous on Abraham’s account. Abraham did not work for this righteousness; he received it as a gift from God. He was declared righteous by faith and was justified by faith (Rom. 4).

Justification is an important doctrine in the Bible. Justification is the act of God whereby He declares the believing sinner righteous on the basis of Christ’s finished work on the cross. It is not a process; it is an act. It is not something the sinner does; it is something God does for the sinner when he trusts Christ. It is a once-for-all event. It never changes.

How can we tell if a person is justified by faith if this transaction takes place between the sinner and God privately? Abraham’s example answers that important question: the justified person has a changed life and obeys God’s will. His faith is demonstrated by his works.

James used another event in Abraham’s life, an event that took place many years after Abraham’s conversion. This event is the offering up of Isaac on the altar (Gen. 22). Abraham was not saved by obeying God’s difficult command. His obedience proved he already was saved: “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did” (2:22). There is a perfect relationship between faith and works. As someone has expressed it, “Abraham was not saved by faith plus works, but by a faith that works.”

How was Abraham “justified by works” (2:21) when he had already been “justified by faith”? (Rom. 4) By faith, he was justified before God and his righteousness declared; by works he was justified before men and his righteousness demonstrated. It is true that no humans actually saw Abraham put his son on the altar, but the inspired record in Genesis 22 enables us to see the event and witness Abraham’s faith demonstrated by his works.

D.L. Moody often said, “Every Bible should be bound in shoe leather.” He did not say that because he had been a successful shoe salesman; he said it because he was a dedicated Christian. Dynamic faith obeys God and proves itself in daily life and works. Unfortunately, we still have church members today who fit the description given in Titus: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him” (Titus 1:16).

James’ second illustration is Rahab (her background is found in Joshua 2 and 6). Israel was about to invade their Promised Land and take the city of Jericho. Joshua sent spies into the city to get the lay of the land. There they met Rahab, a harlot, who protected them and affirmed she believed in what God said and what God was going to do. When the men departed, they promised to save her and her family when the city was taken; and this they did.

It is an exciting story and in it is one of the Bible’s great examples of saving faith (see Heb. 11:31). Rahab heard the Word and knew her city was condemned. This truth affected her and her fellow citizens, so that their hearts melted within them (Josh. 2:11). Rahab responded with her mind and her emotions; but she also responded with her will: she did something about it! She risked her own life to protect the Jewish spies and she further risked her life by sharing the good news of deliverance with the members of her family. Rahab is one of the first soul winners in the Bible, and we cannot help but compare her with the “bad Samaritan” in John 4.

Rahab could have had dead faith, a mere intellectual experience. Or she could have had demonic faith, her mind enlightened and her emotions stirred. But she exercised dynamic faith: her mind knew the truth, her heart was stirred by the truth, and her will acted on the truth. She proved her faith by her works.

When you realize the small amount of information Rahab had, you can see how truly marvelous her faith really was. Today, we have the full revelation of God through His Word and His Son. We live on the other side of Calvary, and we have the Holy Spirit to convict and to teach us the Word. Her faith is an indictment against the unbelief of sinners today. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48).

James 2 emphasized the mature Christian practices the truth. He does not merely hold to ancient doctrines; he practices those doctrines in his everyday life. His faith is not the dead faith of the intellectuals or the demonic faith of the fallen spirits. It is the dynamic faith of men like Abraham and women like Rahab, faith that changes a life and goes to work for God.

It is important that each professing Christian examine his own heart and life, and make sure that he possesses true saving faith, dynamic faith: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5). Satan is the great deceiver; one of his devices is imitation. If he can convince a person that counterfeit faith is true faith, he has that person in his power.

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves as we examine our hearts:

  1. Was there a time when I honestly realized I was a sinner and admitted this to myself and to God?
  2. Was there a time when my heart stirred me to flee from the wrath to come?
  3. Do I truly understand the Gospel, that Christ died for my sins and arose again? Do I understand and confess that I cannot save myself?
  4. Did I sincerely repent of my sins and turn from them? Or do I secretly love sin and want to enjoy it?
  5. Have I trusted Christ and Christ alone for my salvation? Do I enjoy a living relationship with Him through the Word and in the Spirit?
  6. Has there been a change in my life? Do I maintain good works, or are my works occasional and weak? Do I seek to grow in the things of the Lord? Can others tell that I have been with Jesus?
  7. Do I have a desire to share Christ with others or am I ashamed of Him?
  8. Do I enjoy the fellowship of God’s people? Is worship a delight to me?
  9. Am I ready for the Lord’s return or will I be ashamed when He comes for me?

To be sure, not every Christian has the same personal experience; and there are degrees of sanctification. But for the most part, the preceding spiritual inventory can assist a person in determining his true standing before God. What question(s) would you add to this list?

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24).

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False Faith (James 2:14–19)

Faith mountainFaith is a key doctrine in the Christian life. The sinner is saved by faith (Eph. 2:8–9) and the believer must walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7). Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6) and whatever we do apart from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23).

Someone has said that faith is not “believing in spite of evidence, but obeying in spite of consequence.” When you read Hebrews 11, you meet men and women who acted on God’s Word, no matter what price they had to pay. Faith is not some kind of nebulous feeling we work up; faith is confidence that God’s Word is true and conviction that acting on that Word will bring His blessing.

In this paragraph, James discussed the relationship between faith and works. This is an important discussion, for if we are wrong in this matter, we jeopardize our eternal salvation. What kind of faith really saves a person? Is it necessary to perform good works in order to be saved? How can a person tell whether or not he is exercising true saving faith? James answers these questions by explaining to us there are three kinds of faith, only one of which is true saving faith.

Dead Faith (James 2:14–17)

deadfaithWhat good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Even in the early church there were those who claimed they had saving faith, yet did not possess salvation. Wherever there is the true, you will find the counterfeit. Jesus warned, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).

People with dead faith substitute words for deeds. They know the correct vocabulary for prayer and testimony, and can even quote the right verses from the Bible; but their walk does not measure up to their talk. They think their words are as good as works, and they are wrong.

James gave a simple illustration. A poor believer came into a fellowship, without proper clothing and in need of food. The person with dead faith noticed the visitor and saw his needs, but he did not do anything to meet the needs. All he did was say a few pious words! “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed” (2:16). But the visitor went away just as hungry and naked as he came in!

Food and clothing are basic needs of every human being, whether he is saved or unsaved. “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Tim. 6:8). “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows you need them” (Matt. 6:31–32). Jacob included these basic needs in his prayer to God: “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking, and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear” (Gen. 28:20).

As believers, we have an obligation to help meet the needs of people, no matter who they may be. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10). “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me” (Matt. 25:40).

To help a person in need is an expression of love and faith works by love (Gal. 5:6). The Apostle John emphasized this aspect of good works. “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and truth” (1 John 3:17–18). The priest and Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan each had religious training, but neither of them paused to assist the dying man at the side of the road (Luke 10:25–37). Each of them would defend his faith, yet neither demonstrated that faith in loving works.

The question in 2:14 should read, “Can that kind of faith save him?” What kind? The kind of faith that is never seen in practical works. The answer is no! Any declaration of faith that does not result in a changed life and good works is a false declaration. That kind of faith is dead faith. “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (2:17). The great theologian, John Calvin, wrote, “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone.” The word alone in 2:17 simply means “by itself.” True saving faith can never be by itself: it always brings life and life produces good works.

The person with dead faith has only an intellectual experience. In his mind, he knows the doctrines of salvation, but he has never submitted himself to God and trusted Christ for salvation. He knows the right words, but he does not back up his words with his works. Faith in Christ brings life (John 3:16), and where there is life there must be growth and fruit. Three times in this paragraph, James warns us that “faith without works is dead” (2:17, 20, 26).

Beware of a mere intellectual faith. No man can come to Christ by faith and remain the same any more than he can come into contact with a 220-volt wire and remain the same. “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). Dead faith is not saving faith. Dead faith is counterfeit faith and lulls the person into a false confidence of eternal life.

Demonic Faith (James 2:18–19)

even-the-demons-believeBut someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

James wanted to shock his complacent readers, so he used demons as his illustration. In recent years the church has rediscovered the reality and activity of demons. When our Lord was ministering on earth, He often cast out demons; and He gave that power to His disciples. Paul often confronted demonic forces in his ministry; and in Ephesians 6:10–20, he admonished the early Christians to claim God’s protection and defeat the spiritual forces of wickedness.

It comes as a shock to people that demons have faith! What do they believe? For one thing, they believe in the existence of God; they are neither atheists nor agnostics. They also believe in the deity of Christ. Whenever they met Christ when He was on earth, they bore witness to His sonship (Mark 3:11–12). They believe in the existence of a place of punishment (Luke 8:31); and they also recognize Jesus Christ as the Judge (Mark 5:1–13). They submit to the power of His Word.

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord!” (Deut. 6:4) This was the daily affirmation of faith of the godly Jew. “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (2:19). The man with dead faith was touched only in his intellect; but the demons are touched also in their emotions. They believe and tremble.

But it is not a saving experience to believe and tremble. A person can be enlightened in his mind and even stirred in his heart and be lost forever. True saving faith involves something more, something that can be seen and recognized: a changed life. “Show me your faith without deeds,” challenged James, “and I will show you my faith by my deeds” (2:18).

How could a person show his faith without works? Can a dead sinner perform good works? Impossible! When you trust Christ, you are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). Being a Christian involves trusting Christ and living for Christ; you receive the life, then you reveal the life. Faith that is barren is not saving faith. The Greek word translated “dead” in 2:20 carries the meaning of “barren or idle,” like money drawing no interest.

James has introduced us to two kinds of faith that can never save the sinner: dead faith (the intellect alone) and demonic faith (the intellect and the emotions). He closes this section by describing the only kind of faith that can save the sinner—dynamic faith.

In Part 2, we will take a closer look at this true saving faith.

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Favoritism Forbidden, Walking the Talk: Part 2 (James 2:1–13)

walk the talkIn Part 1, we learned James examines four basic Christian doctrines in the light of the way we treat other people. Today, we will look at the last two.

The Word of God (James 2:8–11)

In recent years, believers have waged battles over the inspiration and authority of the Word of God. Certainly, it is a good thing to defend the truth of God’s Word, but we must never forget that our lives and ministries are the best defense. D.L. Moody often said, “Every Bible should be bound in shoe leather!”

James reached back into the Old Testament for one of God’s laws, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). In His Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus told us that our neighbor is anyone who needs our help (Luke 10:25–37). It is not a matter of geography, but opportunity. The important question is not, “Who is my neighbor?” but “To whom can I be a neighbor?”

Why is “love your neighbor” called “the royal law”? For one thing, it was given by the King. God the Father gave it in the Law, and God the Son reaffirmed it to His disciples (John 13:34). God the Spirit fills our hearts with God’s love and expects us to share it with others (Rom. 5:5). True believers are “taught by God to love one another” (1 Thes. 4:9).

“Love your neighbor” is the royal law for a second reason: it rules all the other laws. “Love is the fulfillment of the Law” (Rom. 13:10). There would be no need for the thousands of complex laws if each citizen truly loved his neighbors.

But the main reason why this is the royal law is that obeying it makes you a king. Hatred makes a person a slave, but love sets us free from selfishness and enables us to reign like kings. Love enables us to obey the Word of God and treat people as God commands us to do. We obey His Law, not out of fear, but out of love.

Showing respect of persons can lead a person into disobeying all of God’s Law. Take any of the Ten Commandments and you will find ways of breaking it if you respect a person’s social or financial status. Respect of persons could make you lie, for example. It could lead to idolatry (getting money out of the rich) or even mistreatment of one’s parents. Once we start acting on the basis of respecting persons and rejecting God’s Word, we are heading for trouble. And we need not break all of God’s Law to be guilty. There is only one Lawgiver, and all of His Laws are from His mind and heart. If I disobey one law, I am capable of disobeying all of them; and by rebelling, I have already done so.

Christian love does not mean that I must like a person and agree with him on everything. I may not like his vocabulary or his habits, and I may not want him for an intimate friend. Christian love means treating others the way God has treated me. It is an act of the will, not an emotion that I try to manufacture. The motive is to glorify God. The means is the power of the Spirit within (“for the fruit of the Spirit is love”). As I act in love toward another, I may find myself drawn more and more to him, and I may see in him (through Christ) qualities that before were hidden to me.

Also, Christian love does not leave the person where it finds him. Love should help the poor man do better; love should help the rich man make better use of his God-given resources. Love always builds up (1 Cor. 8:1); hatred always tears down.

We only believe as much of the Bible as we practice. If we fail to obey the most important word—“love your neighbor as yourself”—then we will not do any good with the lesser matters of the Word. It was a glaring fault in the Pharisees that they were careful about the minor matters and careless about the fundamentals (Matt. 23:23). They broke the very Law they thought they were defending!

The Judgment of God (James 2:12–13)

Every orthodox statement of faith ends with a statement about the return of Jesus Christ and the final judgment. Not all Christians agree as to the details of these future events, but the certainty of them none denies. Nor would any deny the importance of a final judgment. Both Jesus (John 5:24) and Paul (Rom. 8:1) assured us that Christian believers will never be judged for their sins; but our works will be judged and rewarded (Rom. 14:10–13; 2 Cor. 5:9–10).

Our words will be judged. Note the words spoken to the two visitors in James 2:3. What we say to people and how we say it will come up before God. Even our careless words will be judged (Matt. 12:36). Of course the words we speak come from the heart; so when God judges the words, He is examining the heart (Matt. 12:34–37). Jesus emphasized caution when speaking in some of His warnings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21–26, 33–37; 7:1–5, 21–23).

Our deeds will be judged. Read Colossians 3:22–25 for additional insight. It is true that God remembers our sins against us no more (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 10:17); but our sins affect our character and works. We cannot sin lightly and serve faithfully. God forgives our sins when we confess them to Him, but He cannot change their consequences.

Our attitudes will be judged (v. 13). James contrasted two attitudes: showing mercy to others and refusing to show mercy. If we have been merciful toward others, God can be merciful toward us. However, we must not twist this truth into a lie. It does not mean that we earn mercy by showing mercy because it is impossible to earn mercy. If it is earned, it is not mercy! Nor does it mean that we should “be soft on sin” and never judge it in the lives of others. “I don’t condemn anybody,” a man once told me, “and God won’t condemn me.” How wrong he was!

Mercy and justice both come from God, so they are not competitors. Where God finds repentance and faith, He is able to show mercy; where He finds rebellion and unbelief, He must administer justice. It is the heart of the sinner that determines the treatment he gets. Our Lord’s parable in Matthew 18:21–35 illustrates the truth. The parable is not illustrating salvation, but forgiveness between fellow servants. If we forgive our brothers, then we have the kind of heart that is open toward the forgiveness of God.

We will be judged “by the Law of liberty.” Why does James use this title for God’s Law? For one thing, when we obey God’s Law, it frees us from sin and enables us to walk in liberty (Ps. 119:45). Also, law prepares us for liberty. A child must be under rules and regulations because he is not mature enough to handle the decisions and demands of life. He is given outward discipline so that he might develop inward discipline and one day be free of rules.

Liberty does not mean license. License (doing whatever I want to do) is the worst kind of bondage. Liberty means the freedom to be all that I can be in Jesus Christ. License is confinement; liberty is fulfillment.

Finally, the Word is called “the Law of liberty” because God sees our hearts and knows what we would have done had we been free to do so. The Christian student who obeys only because the school has rules is not really maturing. What will he do when he leaves the school? God’s Word can change our hearts and give us the desire to do God’s will, so that we obey from inward compulsion and not outward constraint.

There is one obvious message to this section: our beliefs should control our behavior. If we really believe that Jesus is the Son of God, God is gracious, His Word is true, and one day He will judge us, then our conduct will reveal our convictions. Before we attack those who do not have orthodox doctrine, we must be sure we practice the doctrines we defend. Jonah had wonderful theology, but he hated people and was angry with God (Jonah 4).

One of the tests of the reality of our faith is how we treat other people. Can we pass the test?

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Favoritism Forbidden, Walking the Talk: Part 1 (James 2:1–13)

favoritism james 2Welcome back to our series in the Book of James! Not only is the mature Christian patient in testing (James 1), but he also practices the truth. This is the theme of James 2. Immature people talk about their beliefs, but the mature person lives his faith. Hearing God’s Word and talking about God’s Word can never substitute for doing God’s Word.

Every believer has some statement of faith or personal expression of what he believes. Most churches have such statements and members are asked to subscribe to the statement and practice it. Most churches also have a “covenant” that they read publicly, often when they observe the Lord’s Supper. Statements of faith and church covenants are good and useful, but they are not substitutes for doing God’s will. As a pastor, I have heard believers read the church covenant, and then come to a business meeting and act in ways completely contrary to the covenant.

James wants to help us practice God’s Word, so he gave us a simple test. He sent two visitors to a church service, a rich man and a poor man; and he watched to see how they were treated. The way we behave toward people indicates what we really believe about God! We cannot—and dare not—separate human relationships from divine fellowship. “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen (1 John 4:20).

In this section, James examines four basic Christian doctrines in the light of the way we treat other people.

The Deity of Christ (James 2:1-4)

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Jewish people in that day coveted recognition and honor, and vied with one another for praise. We have this same problem with us today. “Pyramid climbers” are among us, not only in politics, industry, and society, but also in the church. Almost every church has its cliques, and often, new Christians find it difficult to get in. Some church members use their offices to enhance their own images of importance. Many of the believers James wrote to were trying to seize spiritual offices and James had to warn them (James 3:1).

Jesus did not respect persons. Even His enemies admitted, “You aren’t swayed by men because You pay no attention to who they are” (Matt. 22:16). Our Lord did not look at the outward appearance; He looked at the heart. He was not impressed with riches or social status. The poor widow who gave her mite was greater in His eyes than the rich Pharisee who boastfully gave his large donation.

Furthermore, Christ saw the potential in the lives of sinners. In Simon, He saw a rock. In Matthew, the publican, He saw a faithful disciple who would one day write one of the four Gospels. The disciples were amazed to see Jesus talking with the sinful woman at the well of Sychar, but Jesus saw in her an instrument for reaping a great harvest.

We are prone to judge people by their past, not their future. When Saul of Tarsus was converted, the church in Jerusalem was afraid to receive him! It took Barnabas, who believed in Saul’s conversion, to break down the walls (Acts 9:26–28). We are also prone to judge by outward appearance rather than by the inner attitude of the heart. We do not enjoy sitting with certain people in church because they “are not our kind of people.”

Jesus was the Friend of sinners, though He disapproved of their sins. It was not compromise, but compassion, that caused Him to welcome them, and when they trusted Him, forgive them.

Jesus was despised and rejected. This fact was prophesied in Isaiah 53:1–3. He was “the poor man” who was rejected by the self-righteous nation. Unlike the foxes and the birds, He had no home. He grew up in the despised city of Nazareth in a home that knew the feeling of poverty. Had you and I met Him while He was ministering on earth, we would have seen nothing physically or materially that would attract us.

Yet, He is the very glory of God! In the Old Testament, God’s glory dwelled first in the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34–38), and then in the temple (1 Kings 8:10–11). When Jesus came to earth, God’s glory resided in Him (John 1:14). Today, the glory of God dwells in the believer individually (1 Cor. 6:19–20), and the church collectively (Eph. 2:21–22).

The religious experts in Christ’s day judged Him by their human standards and they rejected Him. He came from the wrong city, Nazareth of Galilee. He was not a graduate of their accepted schools. He did not have the official approval of the people in power. He had no wealth. His followers were a nondescript mob, and included publicans and sinners. Yet He was the very glory of God! No wonder Jesus warned the religious leaders, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (John 7:24).

Sad to say, we often make the same mistakes. When visitors come into our churches, we tend to judge them on what we see outwardly rather than what they are inwardly. Dress, color of skin, fashion, and other superficial things carry more weight than the fruit of the Spirit that may be manifest in their lives. We cater to the rich because we hope to get something out of them and we avoid the poor because they embarrass us. Jesus did not do this and He cannot approve of it.

How do we practice the deity of Christ in our human relationships? It is really quite simple: look at everyone through the eyes of Christ. If the visitor is a Christian, we can accept him because Christ lives in him. If he is not a Christian, we can receive him because Christ died for him. It is Christ who is the link between us and others, and He is a link of love. The basis for relationship with others is the person and work of Jesus Christ. Any other basis is not going to work. Furthermore, God can use even the most unlikely person to bring glory to His name. He used Peter, Zaccheus, John Mark and countless others, and He can even use that poor man whom we might reject.

The Grace of God (James 2:5–7)

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of Him to whom you belong?

The emphasis here is on God’s choosing and this involves the grace of God. If salvation were on the basis of merit, it would not be by grace. Grace implies God’s sovereign choice of those who cannot earn and do not deserve His salvation (Eph. 1:4–7; 2:8–10). God saves us completely on the basis of the work of Christ on the cross, not because of anything we are or have.

God ignores national differences (Acts 10:34). The Jewish believers were shocked when Peter went to the Gentile household of Cornelius, preached to the Gentiles, and even ate with them. The topic of the first church council was, “Must a Gentile become a Jew to become a Christian?” (Acts 15) The answer the Holy Spirit gave them was, “No!” In the sight of God, there is no difference between Jew and Gentile when it comes to condemnation (Rom. 2:6–16) or salvation (Rom. 10:1–13).

God also ignores social differences. Masters and slaves (Eph. 6:9), and rich and poor are alike to Him. James teaches us the grace of God makes the rich man poor because he cannot depend on his wealth; and it makes the poor man rich because he inherits the riches of grace in Christ (James 1:9–11). “The Lord sends poverty and wealth; He humbles and He exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; He seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor” (1 Sam. 2:7–8).

From the human point of view, God chooses the poor instead of the rich. “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:26–27). The poor of this world become rich in faith; as sons of God, they inherit the wealth of the kingdom.

It is possible to be poor in this world and rich in the next, or rich in this world and poor in the next (1 Tim. 6:17–18). Or, you could be poor both in this world and the next, or rich in this world and the next. It all depends on what you do with Christ and the material wealth He has given you. God promises the kingdom to “those that love Him” (James 2:5), not to those who love this world and its riches.

James gave a stern rebuke in James 2:6–7. “When you despise the poor man, you are behaving like the unsaved rich people.” In that day, it was easy for rich persons to exploit the poor, influence decisions at court, and make themselves richer. Unfortunately, we have the same sins being committed today; and these sins blaspheme the very name of Christ. Our Lord was poor and He too was the victim of injustice perpetrated by the wealthy leaders of His day.

The doctrine of God’s grace, if we really believe it, forces us to relate to people on the basis of God’s plan and not on the basis of human merit or social status. A “class church” is not a church that magnifies the grace of God. When He died, Jesus broke down the wall that separated Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:11–22). But in His birth and life, Jesus broke down the walls between rich and poor, young and old, educated and uneducated. It is wrong for us to build those walls again; we cannot rebuild them if we believe in the grace of God.

In Part 2, we will examine two more basic Christian doctrines in the light of the way we treat other people.

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Quit Kidding Yourself: Part 2 (James 1:22–27)

look-yourself-in-the-mirrorThere are true believers who are fooling themselves concerning their Christian walk. If a Christian sins because Satan deceives him, that is one thing; but if he deceives himself, that is a far more serious matter. In these verses, James says we have three responsibilities toward God’s Word; and if we fulfill these responsibilities, we will have an honest walk with God and men. In Part 1, we saw the first responsibility: receive the Word. Today, we will look at the next two responsibilities.

Practice the Word (James 1:22–25)

Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the Word, but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

It is not enough to hear the Word; we must do it. Many people have the mistaken idea that hearing a good sermon or Bible study is what makes them grow and receive God’s blessing. It is not the hearing, but the doing that brings the blessing. Too many Christians mark their Bibles, but their Bibles never mark them! If you think you are spiritual because you hear the Word, then you are only kidding yourself.

In the previous paragraph, James compares the Word of God to seed; but in this paragraph, he compares it to a mirror. There are three ministries of the Word as a mirror:

Examination (vv. 23–25). This is the main purpose for owning a mirror, to be able to see yourself and make yourself look as clean and neat as possible. As we look into the mirror of God’s Word, we see ourselves as we really are. James mentions several mistakes people make as they look into God’s mirror.

They merely glance at themselves. They do not carefully study themselves as they read the Word. Many sincere believers read a chapter of the Bible each day, but it is only a religious exercise and they fail to profit from it personally. Their conscience would bother them if they did not have their daily reading, when actually their conscience should bother them because they read the Word carelessly. A cursory reading of the Bible will never reveal our deepest needs. It is the difference between a candid photo and an X-ray.

They forget what they see. If they were looking deeply enough into their hearts, what they would see would be unforgettable! We tend to smile at the “extremes” of people back in the days of the great revivals. Before we consign these people to some psychological limbo, remember how saints in the Bible responded to the true knowledge of their own hearts. Isaiah cried, “Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips!” (Isa. 6:5) Peter cried, “Depart from me, Lord; for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8) Job was the most righteous man on earth in his day, yet he confessed, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).

They fail to obey what the Word tells them to do. They think hearing is the same as doing, and it is not. We Christians enjoy substituting reading for doing or even talking for doing. We hold endless committee meetings and conferences about topics like evangelism and church growth, and think we have made progress. While there is certainly nothing wrong with conferences and committee meetings, they are sinful if they are a substitute for service.

If we are to use God’s mirror profitably, then we must gaze into it carefully and with serious intent. No quick glances will do. We must examine our own hearts and lives in the light of God’s Word. This requires time, attention, and sincere devotion. Five minutes with God each day will never accomplish a deep spiritual examination. Perhaps one reason we glance into the Word instead of gaze into the Word is that we are afraid of what we might see.

After seeing ourselves, we must remember what we are and what God says, and we must do what the Word tell us. The blessing comes in the doing, not in the reading of the Word. “This man will be blessed in his doing.” The emphasis in James is on the practice of the Word. We are to continue after reading the Word (see Acts 1:14; 2:42, 46; 13:43; 14:22; 26:22 for examples of this in the early church). We can measure the effectiveness of our Bible study by the effect it has on our behavior and attitudes.

Why does James call the Word of God “the perfect law of liberty”? Because when we obey it, God sets us free. “I will walk in liberty, for I have sought out Your precepts” (Ps. 119:45). “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). “If you continue in My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32).

Restoration (Ex. 38:8). When Moses built the tabernacle, God commanded him to make the laver. The laver was a huge basin that stood between the altar of sacrifice and the holy place. The basin was filled with water, and the priests washed their hands and feet at the laver before they entered the holy place to minister (Ex. 30:17–21).

Water for washing is a picture of the Word of God in its cleansing power. “You are clean because of the Word I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). The church is sanctified and cleansed “by the washing with water through the Word” (Eph. 5:26). When the sinner trusts Christ, he is once and for all washed clean (1 Cor. 6:9–11; Titus 3:4–6). But as the believer walks in this world, his hands and feet are defiled and he needs cleansing (John 13:1–11).

The mirror of the Word not only examines us and reveals our sins, but it helps to cleanse us as well. It gives us the promise of cleansing (1 John 1:9) and, as we meditate on it, it cleanses the heart and the mind from spiritual defilement. It is the blood of Christ that cleanses the guilt, but the water of the Word helps to wash away the defilement.

Nathan’s experience with David in 2 Samuel 12 illustrates this truth. Nathan told David the story about the “stolen ewe lamb” and David became angry at the sin described. “You are the man,” said the prophet and he held up the mirror of the Word for David to see himself. The result was confession and repentance: “I have sinned against the Lord!” The mirror of the Word did its work of examination.

But Nathan did not stop there. He also used the Word for restoration. “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die” (2 Sam. 12:13). David visited the laver outside the Tabernacle, and washed his hands and feet. Here was the assurance of forgiveness and cleansing, and it came from the Word.

Transformation (2 Cor. 3:18). “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” After the Lord restores us, He wants to change us so that we will grow in grace and not commit that sin again. Too many Christians confess their sins and claim forgiveness, but never grow spiritually to conquer self and sin.

2 Corinthians 3 is a discussion of the contrasts between the Old Covenant ministry of Law and the New Covenant ministry of grace. The Law is external, written on tables of stone; but salvation means God’s Word is written on the heart. The Old Covenant ministry condemned and killed; but the New Covenant ministry brings forgiveness and life. The glory of the Law gradually disappeared, but the glory of God’s grace becomes brighter and brighter. The Law was temporary, but the New Covenant of grace is eternal.

Paul’s illustration of this truth is Moses and his veil. When Moses came down from the mount, where he met God, his face was shining (Ex. 34:29–35). He did not want the Jews to see this glory fading away, so he put on a veil to hide it. When he returned to the mount, he took off the veil. When Jesus died, He tore the veil in the temple and removed the veil between men and God. The Old Testament prophet wore a veil to hide the fading of the glory. The New Testament believer has an unveiled face, and the glory gets greater and greater!

You may explain 2 Corinthians 3:18 in this way: “When the child of God looks into the Word of God [the mirror], he sees the Son of God and is transformed by the Spirit of God to share in the glory of God!” The word changed in the Greek gives us our English word “metamorphosis”—a change on the outside which comes from the inside. When an ugly worm turns into a beautiful butterfly, this is metamorphosis. When a believer spends time looking into the Word and seeing Christ, he is transformed: the glory on the inside is revealed on the outside.

It is this word that is translated “transfigured” in Matthew 17:2. The glory of Christ on the mount was not reflected; it was radiated from within. You will find the same word in Romans 12:2, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” As we meditate on the Word, the Spirit renews the mind and reveals the glory of God. We do not become spiritual Christians overnight. It is a process, the work of the Spirit of God through the mirror of the Word of God.

The important thing is that we hide nothing. Take off the veil! “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24). “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

Our first responsibility is to receive the Word. Then, we must practice the Word; otherwise we are deceiving ourselves. This leads to a third responsibility.

kids james 1_27Share the Word (James 1:26–27)

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

The word translated “religion” means “the outward practice, the service of a god.” It is used only five times in the entire New Testament (James 1:26–27; Acts 25:19; 26:5; 1 Tim. 5:4; and Col. 2:18, where it is translated “worship”). Pure religion has nothing to do with ceremonies, temples, or special days. Pure religion means practicing God’s Word and sharing it with others, through speech, service, and separation from the world.

Speech (v. 26). There are many references to speech in this letter, giving the impression that the tongue was a serious problem in the assembly (James 1:19; 2:12; 3:1–3, 14–18; 4:11–12). It is the tongue that reveals the heart (Matt. 12:34–35); if the heart is right, the speech will be right. A controlled tongue means a controlled body (James 3:1).

Service (v. 27a). After we have seen ourselves and Christ in the mirror of the Word, we must see others and their needs. Isaiah first saw the Lord, then himself, and then the people to whom he would minister (Isa. 6:1–8). Words are no substitute for deeds of love (James 2:14–18; 1 John 3:11–18). God does not want us to pay for others to minister as a substitute for our own personal service!

In the first century, orphans and widows had very little means of economic support. Unless a family member was willing to care for them, they were reduced to begging, selling themselves as slaves, or starving. By caring for these powerless people the church put God’s Word into practice. When we give with no hope of receiving in return, we show what it means to serve others.

Separation from the world (v. 27b). By “the world,” James means “society without God.” Satan is the prince of this world (John 14:30) and the lost are the children of this world (Luke 16:8). As children of God, we are in the world physically, but not of the world spiritually (John 17:11–16). We are sent into the world to win others to Christ (John 17:18). It is only as we maintain our separation from the world that we can serve others.

The world wants to “spot” the Christian and start to defile him. First, there is “friendship with the world” (James 4:4), which can lead to a love for the world (1 John 2:15–17). If we are not careful, we will become conformed to this world (Rom. 12:1–2) and the result is being condemned with the world (1 Cor. 11:32). This does not suggest we lose our salvation, but that we lose all we have lived for. Lot is an illustration of this principle. First, he pitched his tent toward Sodom. Then, he moved into Sodom. Before long, Sodom moved into him and he lost his testimony even with his own family. When judgment fell on Sodom, Lot lost everything. It was Abraham, the separated believer, the friend of God, who had a greater ministry to the people than did Lot, the friend of the world. It is not necessary for the Christian to get involved with the world to have a ministry to the world. Jesus was “unspotted” (1 Peter 1:19), and yet He was the friend of publicans and sinners. The best way to minister to the needs of the world is to be pure from the defilement of the world.

We have three responsibilities toward God’s Word: receive it, practice it, and share it. If we fulfill these responsibilities, we will have an honest walk with God and men.

JamesTo Think About and Discuss:

1. How would you respond to a person who says the Bible is too restrictive?

2. James likens the Word of God to a mirror. In what ways have you found the Bible to be a mirror?

3. How can we share the Word more effectively with others?

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Quit Kidding Yourself: Part 1 (James 1:19–21)

Growing up in ChristThe emphasis in this section is on the dangers of self-deception: “deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22); “deceives his own heart” (James 1:26). If a Christian sins because Satan deceives him, that is one thing; but if he deceives himself, that is a far more serious matter.

Many people are deceiving themselves into thinking they are saved when they are not. Jesus said, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name drive out demons and in Your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matt. 7:22–23).

But there are true believers who are fooling themselves concerning their Christian walk. They think they are spiritual when they are not. It is a mark of maturity when a person faces himself honestly, knows himself, and admits his needs. It is the immature person who pretends: “I have need of nothing” (Rev. 3:17).

Spiritual reality results from the proper relationship to God through His Word. God’s Word is truth (John 17:17) and if we are rightly related to God’s truth, we cannot be dishonest or hypocritical. In these verses, James says we have three responsibilities toward God’s Word; and if we fulfill these responsibilities, we will have an honest walk with God and men.

Receive the Word (James 1:19–21)

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the Word planted in you, which can save you.

James says God’s Word is “planted.” Borrowing from our Lord’s Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1–9, 18–23), he compares God’s Word to seed and the human heart to soil. In His parable, Jesus describes four kinds of hearts: the hard heart, which does not understand or receive the Word and therefore bears no fruit; the shallow heart, which is very emotional but has no depth, and bears no fruit; the crowded heart, which lacks repentance and permits sin to crowd out the Word; and the fruitful heart, which receives the Word, allows it to take root, and produces a harvest of fruit.

The final test of salvation is fruit. This means a changed life, Christian character and conduct, and ministry to others in the glory of God. This fruit might be winning souls to Christ (Rom. 1:16), growing in holy living (Rom. 6:22), sharing our material possessions (Rom. 15:28), spiritual character (Gal. 5:22–23), good works (Col. 1:10), and even praising the Lord (Heb. 13:15). Religious works may be manufactured, but they do not have life in them, nor do they bring glory to God. Real fruit has in it the seed for more fruit, so the harvest continues to grow (John 15:1–5).

But the Word of God cannot work in our lives unless we receive it in the right way. Jesus not only said, “Consider carefully what you hear” (Mark 4:24), but He also said, “Consider carefully how you hear” (Luke 8:18). Too many people are in that tragic condition in which “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand” (Matt. 13:13). They attend Bible classes and church services, but never seem to grow. Is it the fault of the teacher or preacher? Perhaps, but it may also be the fault of the hearer. It is possible to be “dull of hearing” (Heb. 5:11) because of decay of the spiritual life.

If the seed of God’s Word is to be planted in our hearts, then we must obey the instructions James gives us.

Swift to hear (v. 19a). “Whoever has ears, let them hear!” (Matt. 13:9) “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Just as the servant is quick to hear his master’s voice and the mother to hear her baby’s smallest cry, so the believer should be quick to hear what God has to say.

There is a beautiful illustration of this truth in the life of King David (2 Sam. 23:14–17). David was hiding from the Philistines who were in possession of Bethlehem. He yearned for a drink of cool water from the well in Bethlehem, a well he had often visited in his boyhood and youth. He did not issue an order to his men; he simply said to himself, “Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!” Three of his mighty men heard their king sigh for water, and they risked their lives to secure the water and bring it to him. They were “swift to hear.”

tame3Slow to speak (v. 19b). We have two ears and one mouth, which ought to remind us to listen more than we speak. Too many times we argue with God’s Word, if not audibly, at least in our hearts and minds. “The wise man holds his tongue” (Prov. 10:19). “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint” (Prov. 17:27). Instead of being slow to speak, the lawyer in Luke 10:29 argued with Jesus by asking, “And who is my neighbor?” In the early church the services were informal and often the listeners would debate with the speaker. There were even fights and wars among the brethren James was writing to (James 4:1).

Slow to wrath (v. 19c). Do not get angry at God or His Word. “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly” (Prov. 14:29). When the Prophet Nathan told King David the story about “the stolen ewe lamb” the king became angry, but at the wrong person. “You are the man!” said Nathan. David then confessed, “I have sinned” (2 Sam. 12). In the Garden, Peter was slow to hear, swift to speak, and swift to anger—and he almost killed a man with the sword. Many church fights are the result of short tempers and hasty words. There is a godly anger against sin (Eph. 4:26); and if we love the Lord, we must hate sin (Ps. 97:10). But man’s anger does not produce God’s righteousness (James 1:20). In fact, anger is just the opposite of the patience God wants to produce in our lives as we mature in Christ (James 1:3–4).

I once saw a poster that read, “Temper is such a valuable thing; it’s a shame to lose it!” The person who cannot get angry at sin does not have much strength to fight it. James warns us against getting angry at God’s Word because it reveals our sins to us. Like the man who broke the mirror because he disliked the image in it, people rebel against God’s Word because it tells the truth about them and their sinfulness.

A prepared heart (v. 21). James saw the human heart as a garden; if left to itself, the soil would produce only weeds. He urges us to “pull out the weeds” and prepare the soil for the “planted Word of God.” Some gardens are overgrown with weeds that cannot be controlled. It is foolish to try to receive God’s Word into an unprepared heart.

How do we prepare the soil of our hearts for God’s Word? First, by confessing our sins and asking the Father to forgive us (1 John 1:9). Then, by meditating on God’s love and grace, and asking Him to “plow up” any hardness in our hearts: “Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns” (Jer. 4:3). Finally, we must have an attitude of “meekness” (James 1:21). Meekness is the opposite of “anger” in James 1:19–20. When you receive the Word with meekness, you accept it, do not argue with it, and honor it as the Word of God. You do not try to twist it to conform it to your thinking.

If we do not receive the planted Word, then we are deceiving ourselves. Christians who like to argue various “points of view” may be only fooling themselves. They think their “discussions” are promoting spiritual growth, when in reality they may only be cultivating the weeds. James advises us to get rid of all that is wrong in our lives and “humbly accept” the salvation message we have received (“the Word planted in you”) because it alone can save us.

In Part 2, we will look at two more responsibilities we have toward God’s Word.

James_practical wisdomTo Think About and Discuss:

1. In what ways does the Bible strengthen you?

2. What can we do to show that we value the Word of God?

3. What advice can you give to a fellow-believer who expresses the desire to prize the Word of God more?

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How To Handle Temptation: Part 2 (James 1:17–18)

overcoming-temptation2When our circumstances are difficult, we may find ourselves complaining against God, questioning His love, and resisting His will. At this point, Satan provides us with an opportunity to escape the difficulty. This opportunity is a temptation. There are three facts we must consider if we are to overcome temptation. In Part 1, we saw the first fact: God’s Judgment. Today, we will consider the next two facts.

God’s Goodness (James 1:17)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly Lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

One of the enemy’s tricks is to convince us that our Father is holding out on us, that He does not really love us and care for us. When Satan approached Eve, he suggested if God really loved her, He would permit her to eat from the forbidden tree. When Satan tempted Jesus, he raised the question of hunger: “If your father loves you, why are you hungry?”

The goodness of God is a great barrier against yielding to temptation. Since God is good, we do not need any other person (including Satan) to meet our needs. It is better to be hungry in the will of God than full outside the will of God. Once we start to doubt God’s goodness, we will be attracted to Satan’s offers; and the natural desires within will reach out for his bait. Moses warned Israel not to forget God’s goodness when they began to enjoy the blessings of the Promised Land (Deut. 6:10–15). We need this warning today.

James presents four facts about the goodness of God.

God gives only good gifts. Everything good in this world comes from God. If it did not come from God, it is not good. If it comes from God, it must be good, even if we do not see the goodness in it immediately. Paul’s thorn in the flesh was given to him by God and it seemed to be a strange gift; yet it became a tremendous blessing to him (2 Cor. 12:1–10).

The way God gives is good. It is possible for someone to give us a gift in a manner that is less than loving. The value of a gift can be diminished by the way it is given to us. But when God gives us a blessing, He does it in a loving, gracious manner. What He gives and how He gives are both good.

God gives constantly. “Coming down” is a present participle: “it keeps on coming down.” God does not give occasionally; He gives constantly. Even when we do not see His gifts, He is sending them. How do we know this? Because He tells us so and we believe His Word.

God does not change. There are no shadows with the Father of Lights. It is impossible for God to change. He cannot change for the worse because He is holy; He cannot change for the better because He is already perfect. The light of the sun varies as the earth changes, but the sun itself is still shining. If shadows come between us and the Father, He did not cause them. He is the unchanging God. This means we should never question His love or doubt His goodness when difficulties come or temptations appear.

If King David had remembered the goodness of the Lord, he would not have taken Bathsheba and committed those terrible sins with her. God had been good to David (2 Sam. 12:7–8), yet he forgot God’s goodness and took the bait.

The first barrier against temptation is a negative one: the judgment of God. This second barrier is positive: the goodness of God. A fear of God is a healthy attitude, but the love of God must balance it. We can obey Him because He may chasten us; or we can obey Him because He has already been so generous to us and because we love Him for it.

It was this positive attitude that helped to keep Joseph from sinning when he was tempted by his master’s wife (Gen. 39:7-9). Joseph knew all his blessings had come from God. It was the goodness of God that restrained him in the hour of temptation.

God’s gifts are always better than Satan’s bargains. Satan never gives any gifts because you end up paying for them dearly. Achan forgot the warning of God and the goodness of God, saw the forbidden wealth, coveted it, and took it. He became rich, but the sorrow that followed turned his riches into poverty (Josh. 7).

The next time you are tempted, meditate on the goodness of God in your life. If you think you need something, wait on the Lord to provide it. Never toy with the devil’s bait. One purpose for temptation is to teach us patience. David was tempted twice to kill King Saul and hasten his own crowning, but he resisted the temptation and waited for God’s time.

Born AgainGod’s Divine Nature Within (James 1:18)

In the exercise of His will, He brought us forth by the Word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.

In the first barrier against temptation, God says, “Look ahead and beware of judgment.” In the second barrier, He says, “Look around and see how good I have been to you.” But with this third barrier, God says, “Look within and realize you have been born from above, and possess the divine nature.”

James uses birth as a picture to explain how we can enjoy victory over temptation and sin. The Apostle John uses a similar approach in 1 John 3:9, where “God’s seed” refers to the divine life and nature within the believer: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning because they have been born of God.” Note the characteristics of this new birth:

It is divine. Nicodemus thought he had to reenter his mother’s womb to be born again, but he was wrong. This birth is not of the flesh: it is from above (John 3:1–7). It is the work of God. Just as we do not generate our human birth, we cannot generate our spiritual birth. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, it is God who performs the miracle of the new birth in us.

This birth is gracious. We do not earn it or deserve it; God gives us spiritual birth because of His own grace and will. We are “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:13). No one can be born again because of his relatives, his resolutions, or his religion. The new birth is the work of God.

This birth is through God’s Word. Just as human birth requires two parents, so divine birth has two parents: the Word of God and the Spirit of God. “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6). “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to bring about the miracle of the new birth (Heb. 4:12).

This birth is the finest birth possible. We are “firstfruits of His creatures.” James wrote to Jewish believers and the word firstfruits would be meaningful to them. The Old Testament Jews brought the firstfruits to the Lord as the expression of their devotion and obedience. “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (Prov. 3:9). Of all the creatures God has in this universe, Christians are the very highest and the finest! We share God’s nature. For this reason, it is beneath our dignity to accept Satan’s bait or to desire sinful things. A higher birth must mean a higher life.

By granting us a new birth, God declares He cannot accept the old birth. Throughout the Bible, God rejects the firstborn and accepts the secondborn. He accepted Abel, not Cain; Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau. He rejects your first birth (no matter how noble it might be in the eyes of men) and He announces you need a second birth.

It is this experience of the new birth that helps us overcome temptation. If we let the old nature (from the first birth) take over, we will fail. We received our old nature (the flesh) from Adam and he was a failure. But if we yield to the new nature, we will succeed; for that new nature comes from Christ and He is the Victor.

A child in Sunday School explained the matter in simple terms. “Two men live in my heart: the old Adam and Jesus. When temptation knocks at the door, somebody has to answer. If I let Adam answer, I will sin; so I send Jesus to answer. He always wins!”

Of course, this new nature must be fed the Word of God daily, so it might be strong to fight the battle. Just as the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to give us spiritual birth, He uses the Word to give us spiritual strength. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).

No matter what excuses we make, we have no one to blame for sin but ourselves. Our own desires lead us into temptation and sin. God is not to blame. He has erected these three barriers to keep us from sin. If we heed the barriers, we will win a crown (James 1:12). If we ignore them, we will find a coffin (James 1:15). Which will it be?

James seriesTo Think About and Discuss

1. Read Psalm 107. How many times does the Bible use the word “good” or “goodness” in reference to God? What manifestations of God’s goodness do you find in this psalm?

2. What are some of the ways God has expressed His goodness to you?

  1. How do you explain difficult circumstances as expressions of God’s goodness?
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How To Handle Temptation: Part 1 (James 1:13–16)

Serpent-and-AppleThe mature person is patient in trials. Sometimes the trials may be tests sent by God or they may be temptations sent by Satan, and encouraged by our own fallen nature. If we are not careful the testings on the outside may become temptations on the inside. It is this second aspect of trials—temptations on the inside—that James deals with in this section.

When our circumstances are difficult, we may find ourselves complaining against God, questioning His love, and resisting His will. At this point, Satan provides us with an opportunity to escape the difficulty. This opportunity is a temptation.

There are many illustrations of this truth found in the Bible. Abraham arrived in Canaan and discovered a famine there. He was not able to care for his flocks and herds. This trial was an opportunity to prove his devotion to God; but Abraham turned it into a temptation and went down to Egypt. God had to chasten Abraham to bring him back to the place of obedience and blessing.

While Israel was wandering in the wilderness the nation often turned testings into temptations. As soon as they had been delivered from Egyptian oppression, their water supply vanished and they had to march for three days without water. When they did find water, it was so bitter they could not drink it. Immediately, they began to murmur and blame God. They turned their testing into a temptation and they failed.

Temptations come from evil desires within us, not from God. It begins with an evil thought and becomes sin when we dwell on the thought and allow it to become an action. Like a snowball rolling downhill, sin grows more destructive the more we let it have its way. The best time to stop a temptation is before it is too strong or moving too fast to control.

Certainly, God does not want us yielding to temptation, yet neither can He spare us the experience of temptation. We are not God’s sheltered people; we are God’s scattered people. If we are to mature, we must face testings and temptations.

There are three facts we must consider if we are to overcome temptation.

God’s Judgment (James 1:13–16)

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.

This is a negative approach, but it is an important one. James said, “Look ahead and see where sin ends—death!” Do not blame God for temptation. He is too holy to be tempted and He is too loving to tempt others. God does test us, as He did Abraham (Gen. 22); but He does not and cannot tempt us. It is we who turn occasions of testing into temptations.

People who live for God often wonder why they still have temptations. Does God tempt them? God tests people, but He does not tempt them by trying to seduce them to sin. God allows Satan to tempt people in order to refine their faith and to help them grow in their dependence on Christ.

A temptation is an opportunity to accomplish a good thing in a bad way, out of the will of God. It is not wrong to want to pass an examination; but if I cheat to pass, then I have sinned. The temptation to cheat is an opportunity to accomplish a good thing (passing the exam) in a bad way. It is not wrong to eat; but if you consider stealing the food, you are tempting yourself.

We think of sin as a single act, but God sees it as a process. Adam committed one act of sin, yet that one act brought sin, death, and judgment on the whole human race. James describes this process of sin in four stages:

Desire (v. 14). The word lust means any kind of desire and not necessarily sexual passions. The normal desires of life are given to us by God and, of themselves, are not sinful. Without these desires, we could not function. Unless we felt hunger and thirst, we would never eat and drink, and we would die. Without fatigue the body would never rest and would eventually wear out. Sex is a normal desire; without it the human race could not continue.

It is when we want to satisfy these desires in ways outside God’s will that we get into trouble. Eating is normal; gluttony is sin. Sleep is normal; laziness is sin. Some people try to become “spiritual” by denying these normal desires or by seeking to suppress them; but this only makes them less than human. These fundamental desires of life are the steam in the boiler that makes the machinery go. Turn off the steam and you have no power. Let the steam go its own way and you have destruction. The secret is in constant control. These desires must be our servants and not our masters; and this we can do through Jesus Christ.

mouse-trap1Deception (v. 14). No temptation appears as temptation; it always seems more alluring than it really is. James used two illustrations from the world of sports to prove his point. Dragged away carries with it the idea of baiting a trap; enticed in the original Greek means “to bait a hook.” The hunter and the fisherman have to use bait to attract and catch their prey. No animal is deliberately going to step into a trap and no fish will knowingly bite at a naked hook. The idea is to hide the trap and the hook.

Temptation always carries with it some bait that appeals to our natural desires. The bait not only attracts us, but it also hides the fact that yielding to the desire will eventually bring sorrow and punishment. It is the bait that is the exciting thing. Lot would never have moved toward Sodom had he not seen the “well-watered plains of Jordan” (Gen. 13:10). When David looked on his neighbor’s wife, he would never have committed adultery had he seen the tragic consequences: the death of a baby (Bathsheba’s son), the murder of a brave soldier (Uriah), the violation of a daughter (Tamar). The bait keeps us from seeing the consequences of sin.

When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert (Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13), He always dealt with the temptation on the basis of the Word of God. Three times He said, “It is written.” From the human point of view, turning stones into bread to satisfy hunger is a sensible thing to do; but not from God’s point of view. When you know the Bible, you can detect the bait and deal with it decisively. This is what it means to walk by faith and not by sight.

Disobedience (v. 15). We are moving from the emotions (desire) and the intellect (deception) to the will. James changes the picture from hunting and fishing to the birth of a baby. Desire conceives a method for taking the bait. The will approves and acts; and the result is sin. Whether we feel it or not, we are hooked and trapped. The baby is born and just wait until it matures!

Christian living is a matter of the will, not the feelings. I often hear believers say, “I don’t feel like reading the Bible.” Or, “I don’t feel like attending prayer meeting.” Children operate on the basis of feeling, but mature adults operate on the basis of will. They act because it is right, no matter how they feel (see Perseverance Produces Character). This explains why immature Christians easily fall into temptation: they let their feelings make the decisions. The more you exercise your will in saying a decisive “no” to temptation the more God will take control of your life: “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).

Death (v. 15). Disobedience gives birth to death, not life. It may take years for the sin to mature, but when it does the result will be death. If we will only believe God’s Word and see this final tragedy, it will encourage us not to yield to temptation. God has erected this barrier because He loves us. “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” declares the Sovereign Lord. “Am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek. 18:23).

These four stages in temptation and sin are perfectly depicted in the first sin recorded in the Bible (Genesis 3). The serpent used desire to interest Eve: “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 5). Eve saw “the tree was good” (v. 6) and her desire was aroused. This desire led to sin.

Paul described the deception of Eve in 2 Corinthians 11:3. “I am afraid just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” Satan is the deceiver and he seeks to deceive the mind. The bait he used with Eve was the fact the forbidden tree was good and pleasant, and eating of it would make her wise. She saw the bait, but forgot the Lord’s warning: “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil… or you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17).

Eve disobeyed God by taking fruit from the tree and eating it. Then, she shared it with her husband and he disobeyed God as well. Adam was not deceived, but sinned with his eyes wide open. For this reason, it is his sin that plunged the human race into tragedy (Rom. 5:12–21; 1 Tim. 2:12–15).

Both Adam and Eve experienced immediate spiritual death (separation from God) and ultimate physical death. All men die because of Adam (1 Cor. 15:21–22). The person who dies without Jesus Christ will experience eternal death in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11–15).

Whenever you are faced with temptation get your eyes off the bait and look ahead to see the consequences of sin: the judgment of God. “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

The first fact we must consider if we are to overcome temptation is God’s judgment.

In Part 2, we will look at two more facts we must consider if we are to overcome temptation.

James series2To Think About and Discuss

1. What is the difference between tests sent by God and temptations sent by Satan?

2. What temptations are you facing at the moment? Name some steps you can take to ward off temptation.

3. What can we as Christians do to increase our awareness of the depravity of sin?

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Turning Trials into Triumphs: Part 2 (James 1:4–12)

Nothings too hardIn the Christian life, God tells us to expect trials. If we are going to turn trials into triumphs, we must obey four imperatives. In Part 1, we discussed the first two: a joyful attitude and an understanding mind. Today, we will be looking at the last two imperatives.

Let—a Surrendered Will (James 1:4, 9–12)

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

God cannot build our character without our cooperation. If we resist Him, then He chastens us into submission. But if we submit to Him, then He can accomplish His work. He is not satisfied with a halfway job. God wants a perfect work; He wants a finished product that is mature and complete.

God’s goal for our lives is maturity. It would be a tragedy if our children remained little babies. We enjoy watching them mature, even though maturity brings dangers as well as delights. Many Christians shelter themselves from the trials of life and as a result never grow up. God wants the “little children” to become “young men” and the “young men” to become “fathers” (1 John 2:12–14).

Paul outlined three works that are involved in a complete Christian life (Eph. 2:8–10). First, there is the work God does for us, which is salvation. Jesus Christ completed this work on the cross. If we trust Him, He will save us. Second, there is the work God does in us, “For we are His workmanship.” This work is known as sanctification. God builds our character and we become more like Jesus Christ, “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). The third work is what God does through us—service. We are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works.”

God builds our character before He calls us to service. He must work in us before He can work through us. God spent twenty-five years working in Abraham before He could give him his promised son. God worked thirteen years in Joseph’s life, putting him into “various testings” before He could put him on the throne of Egypt. He spent eighty years preparing Moses for forty years of service. Our Lord took three years training His disciples, building their character.

But God cannot work in us without our consent. There must be a surrendered will. The mature person does not argue with God’s will; instead, he accepts it willingly and obeys it joyfully. “Doing the will of God from the heart” (Eph. 6:6). If we try to go through trials without surrendered wills, we will end up more like immature children than mature adults.

Jonah is an illustration of this. God commanded Jonah to preach to the Gentiles at Nineveh and he refused. God chastened the prophet before he accepted his commission. But Jonah did not obey God from the heart. He did not grow in this experience. How do we know? Because in the last chapter of Jonah the prophet is acting like a spoiled child! He is sitting outside the city pouting, hoping God will send judgment. He is impatient with the sun, the wind, the plant, the worm, and with God.

One difficult stage of maturing is weaning. A child being weaned is sure his mother no longer loves him and everything is against him. Actually, weaning is a step toward maturity and liberty. It is good for the child! Sometimes God has to wean His children away from their childish toys and immature attitudes. David pictured this in Psalm 131:2, “But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.” God uses trials to wean us away from childish things; but if we do not surrender to Him, we will become even more immature.

James applies this principle to two different kinds of Christians: the poor and the rich. Apparently, money and social status were real problems among these people (see James 2:1–7, 15–16; 4:1–3, 13–17; 5:1–8). God’s testings have a way of leveling us. It is not your material resources that take you through the testings of life; it is your spiritual resources.

James 1.5Ask—a Believing Heart (James 1:5–8)

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

The people to whom James wrote had problems with their praying (James 4:1–3; 5:13–18). When we are going through God-ordained difficulties, what should we pray about? James gives the answer: ask God for wisdom.

James has a great deal to say about wisdom (James 1:5; 3:13–18). The Jewish people were lovers of wisdom, as the Book of Proverbs gives evidence. Someone has said knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put them together. Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. All of us know people who are educated fools: they have brilliant academic records, but they cannot make the simplest decisions in life.

Why do we need wisdom when we are going through trials? Why not ask for strength or grace, or even deliverance? For this reason: we need wisdom, so we will not waste the opportunities God is giving us to mature. Wisdom helps us understand how to use these circumstances for our good and God’s glory.

James not only explained what to ask for (wisdom), but he also described how to ask. We are to ask in faith. To “believe and not doubt” means not only believing in the existence of God, but also believing in His loving care. It includes relying on God and expecting that He will hear and answer when we pray.

James compares the doubting believer to the waves of the sea, up one minute and down the next. This is the experience of the “double-minded man.” Faith says, “Yes!” but unbelief says, “No!” Then doubt comes along and says “Yes!” one minute and “No!” the next. It was doubt that made Peter sink in the waves as he was walking to Jesus (Matt. 14:22–33). Jesus reached out His hand: “You of little faith,” He said, “why did you doubt?” When Peter started his walk of faith, he kept his eyes on Christ. But when he was distracted by the wind and waves, he ceased to walk by faith; and he began to sink. He was double-minded and he almost drowned.

Many Christians live like corks on the waves: up one minute, down the next; tossed back and forth. This kind of experience is evidence of immaturity. A mind that waivers is not completely convinced God’s way is best. It treats God’s Word like any human advice. It vacillates between allegiance to God, subjective feelings, and the world’s ideas. The double-minded person is like an unfaithful husband or wife: he wants to love both God and the world. James admonished, “Purify your hearts, you double-minded!” (James 4:8) Instability and immaturity go together.

To stabilize a wavering or doubtful mind, we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to God. “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). If your faith is new, weak, or struggling, remember that you can trust God. Then be loyal to Him.

James closes this section of his letter with a beatitude: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12). Paul often used athletic illustrations in his letters and James does so here. He is not saying the sinner is saved by enduring trials. He is saying the believer is rewarded by enduring trials. The “crown of life” is like the victory wreath given to winning athletes. God’s crown of life is not glory and honor here on earth, but the reward of eternal life – living with God forever. The way to be in God’s winners’ circle is by loving Him and staying faithful even under pressure.

Let’s go back to the weaning illustration for a moment. The child who loves his mother, and who is sure his mother loves him will be able to get through the weaning and start to grow up. The Christian who loves God and who knows God loves him will not fall apart when God permits trials to come. He is secure in God’s love. He is not double-minded, trying to love both God and the world. Lot was double-minded; when trials came, he failed miserably. Abraham was the friend of God; he loved God and trusted Him. When trials came, Abraham triumphed and matured in his faith.

God’s purpose in trials is maturity: “Let perseverance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4).

Faith Test_tTo Think About and Discuss:

1. What can you do to improve your prayer life?

2. What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge?

3. Why do we need God’s wisdom when we are going through trials?

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Turning Trials into Triumphs: Part 1 (James 1:2–3)

Count-It-All-JoyPerhaps you have seen the bumper sticker that reads: “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade!” It is easier to smile at that statement than to practice it, but the basic philosophy is sound. In fact, it is biblical. Throughout the Bible are people who turned defeat into victory and trial into triumph. Instead of being victims, they became victors.

James tells us that we can have this same experience today. No matter what the trials may be on the outside (James 1:1–12) or the temptations on the inside (James 1:13–27), through faith in Christ we can experience victory. The result of this victory is spiritual maturity.

If we are going to turn trials into triumphs, we must obey four imperatives:

Count—a Joyful Attitude (James 1:2)

Count [consider] it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.

James does not say if you face trials, but whenever you face them. He assumes we will have trials and that it is possible to profit from them. It is not “if you fall into various testings” but “when you fall into various testings.” The believer who expects his Christian life to be easy is in for a shock. Jesus warned His disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Paul said, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). God tells us to expect trials.

Outlook determines outcome and attitude determines action. Because we are God’s “scattered people” and not His “sheltered people,” we must experience trials. We cannot always expect everything to go our way. Some trials come simply because we are human—sickness, accidents, disappointments, even seeming tragedies. Other trials come because we are Christians. Peter emphasizes this in his first letter: “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). Satan fights us, the world opposes us, and this makes for a life of battle.

The trials of life are not all alike; they are like various colors of yarn the weaver uses to make a beautiful rug. God arranges and mixes the colors and experiences of life together. The final product is a beautiful thing for His glory. God’s work in us is not finished yet!

The key word is count. It means “to evaluate.” Paul used it several times in Philippians 3 (see Learning How to Count). When Paul became a Christian, he evaluated his life and set new goals and priorities. Things that were once important to him became “garbage” in the light of his experience with Christ. When we face the trials of life, we must evaluate them in the light of what God is doing for us.

This explains why the dedicated Christian can have joy in the midst of trials: he lives for the things that matter most. Even our Lord was able to endure the cross because of “the joy that was set before Him” (Heb. 12:2), the joy of returning to heaven and one day sharing His glory with His church.

Our values determine our evaluations. If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us. If we value the material and physical more than the spiritual, we will not be able to “count it all joy.” If we live only for the present and forget the future, then trials will make us bitter, not better. Job had the right outlook when he said, “But He knows the way I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

So, when trials come, immediately give thanks to the Lord and adopt a joyful attitude. Do not pretend; do not try self-hypnosis; simply look at trials through the eyes of faith. Outlook determines outcome. To end with joy, begin with joy.

“But how,” we may ask, “is it possible to rejoice in the midst of trials?”

encouragementKnow—an Understanding Mind (James 1:3)

Because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

James tells us to turn our hardships into times of learning. Tough times can teach us perseverance. We cannot really know the depth of our character until we see how we react under pressure. It is easy to be kind to others when everything is going well, but can we still be kind when others are treating us unfairly? God wants to make us mature and complete, not keep us from all pain. Instead of complaining about our struggles, we should see them as opportunities for growth.

What does the mature Christian know that makes it easier to face trials and benefit from them?

Our faith is always tested. When God called Abraham to live by faith, He tested him in order to increase his faith. God always tests us to bring out the best; Satan tempts us to bring out the worst. The testing of our faith proves we are truly born again.

Testing works for us, not against us. God’s approval of our faith is precious because it assures us our faith is genuine. Trials work for the believer, not against him. Paul said, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Rom. 8:28). “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Trials, rightly used, help us to mature. What does God want to produce in our lives? Patience, endurance, and the ability to keep going when things are tough. “We glory in our sufferings because we know suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). In the Bible, patience is not a passive acceptance of circumstances. It is a courageous perseverance in the face of suffering and difficulty.

Immature people are always impatient; mature people are patient and persistent. Impatience and unbelief usually go together, just as faith and patience do. “Be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:12). “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised” (Heb. 10:36).

God wants to make us patient because that is the key to every other blessing. The little child who does not learn patience will not learn much of anything else. When the believer learns to wait on the Lord, then God can do great things for him. Abraham ran ahead of the Lord, married Hagar, and brought great sorrow into his home (Gen. 16). Moses ran ahead of God, murdered a man, and had to spend forty years with the sheep to learn patience (Ex. 2:11-12). Peter almost killed a man in his impatience (John 18:10-11).

The only way the Lord can develop patience and character in our lives is through trials. Endurance cannot be attained by reading an article (even this one), listening to a sermon, or praying a prayer. We must go through the difficulties of life, trust God, and obey Him. The result will be patience and character. Knowing this, we can face trials joyfully. We know what trials will do in us and for us, and we know the end result will bring glory to God.

This fact explains why studying the Bible helps us grow in patience (Rom. 15:4). As we read about Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, and even our Lord, we realize God has a purpose in trials. God fulfills His purposes as we trust Him. There is no substitute for an understanding mind. Satan can defeat the ignorant believer, but he cannot overcome the Christian who knows his Bible and understands the purposes of God.

In Part 2, we will discover two more imperatives to turn trials into triumphs!

Faith is TestedTo Think About and Discuss

1. What times of suffering have you experienced? What are some of the things you have learned from these times?

2. What is the value of perseverance?

3. Why do Christians not need to lose heart in their suffering?

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Time to Grow Up

growWe are starting a new series in the Book of James. Beginning a study of a book of the Bible is something like preparing for a trip: you like to know where you are going and what you can expect to see. Perhaps the best way to launch into this study is to answer two important questions:

Why Did James Write?

To teach the marks of maturity in the Christian life. As we read the Epistle of James, we will discover these Jewish Christians were having some problems in their personal lives and in their church fellowship. They were going through difficult testings and were facing temptations to sin. Some of the believers were catering to the rich, while others were being robbed by the rich. Church members were competing for offices in the church, particularly teaching offices.

One of the major problems in the church was a failure on the part of many to live what they professed to believe. The tongue was a serious problem, even to the point of creating wars and divisions in the assembly. Worldliness was another problem. Some of the members were disobeying God’s Word and were sick physically because of it; some were straying away from the Lord and the church.

As we review this list of problems, it does not appear to be much different from the problems that beset the average local church today. Do we not have in our churches people who are suffering for one reason or another? Do we not have members who talk one way, but walk another way? Is not worldliness a serious problem? Are there not Christians who cannot control their tongues? It seems James is dealing with very up-to-date matters!

But James was not discussing an array of miscellaneous problems. All of these problems have a common cause: spiritual immaturity. These Christians simply were not growing up. This gives us a hint as to the basic theme of this letter: the marks of maturity in the Christian life. James uses the word perfect several times, a word that means “mature, complete” (James 1:4, 17, 25; 2:22; 3:2). By “perfect man”, James does not mean a sinless man, but rather one who is mature, balanced, and grown-up.

Spiritual maturity is one of the greatest needs in churches today. Too many churches are playpens for babies instead of workshops for adults. The members are not mature enough to eat the solid spiritual food they need, so they have to be fed on milk (Heb. 5:11–14). Just look at the problems James dealt with and you can see each of them is characteristic of little children:

  • Impatience in difficulties (1:1–4)
  • Talking, but not living the truth (2:14)
  • No control of the tongue (3:1)
  • Fighting and coveting (4:1)
  • Collecting material “toys” (5:1)

After 15 years of ministry, I am convinced that spiritual immaturity is the number one problem in our churches. God is looking for mature men and women to carry on His work, and sometimes all He can find are little children who cannot even get along with each other!

The five chapters of this letter suggest the five marks of the mature Christian: (1) he is patient in testing; (2) he practices the truth; (3) he has power of his tongue; (4) he is a peacemaker, not a troublemaker; (5) he is prayerful in troubles.

As the chapters are examined, spiritual maturity and how it may be attained will be emphasized.

James exhorts his readers to build on the perfect salvation to be had in Christ and grow into maturity; for without the perfect work of Christ there can be no perfecting of the believers.

TimeToGrowHow Can We Get the Most Out of This Study?

First of all, it is essential we have been born again. Since the theme of James is spiritual maturity, we must begin by examining our own hearts to see where we are in the Christian life. Apart from spiritual birth there can be no spiritual maturity.

If we have been born again, there is a second essential: we must honestly examine our lives in the light of God’s Word. James compares the Bible to a mirror (James 1:22). As we study the Word, we are looking into the divine mirror and seeing ourselves as we really are. James warns us that we must be honest about what we see and not merely glance at the image and walk away.

Perhaps you heard about the primitive savage who looked into a mirror for the first time. He was so shocked at what he saw that he broke the mirror! Many Christians make the same mistake: they criticize the preacher or the lesson, when they ought to be judging themselves. (At the end of this article are 12 questions based on James that may help in a personal evaluation. Refer to them often. Regular examinations are good for spiritual health.)

Third, we must obey what God teaches us, no matter what the cost. We must be “doers of the Word and not hearers only” (James 1:22). It is easy to attend a Bible study, share the lesson, and discuss it; but it is much more difficult to go out into life in the world and practice what we have learned. The blessing does not come in studying the Word, but in doing the Word. Unless we are willing to obey the Lord is not obligated to teach us (John 7:17).

Fourth, we must be prepared for some extra trials and testings. Whenever we are serious about spiritual growth the enemy gets serious about opposing us. Perhaps you feel a need for more patience. Then be prepared for more trials because tribulation produces patience (Rom. 5:3). The real examinations of Bible study come in the school of life, not in the classroom.

I recently read about a man who was burdened to grow in his patience. He knew he was immature in that area of his life and he wanted to grow up. He sincerely prayed, “Lord, help me to grow in patience. I want to have more self-control in this area of my life.” That morning, he missed his train to work and spent the next fifty minutes pacing the platform and complaining of his plight. As the next train to the city arrived the man realized how stupid he had been. “The Lord gave me nearly an hour to grow in my patience and all I did was practice my impatience!” he said to himself.

There may come a time in this study when you decide continuing is too dangerous. Satan may turn on the heat and make things so difficult for you that you will want to retreat. Don’t do it! When that time arrives, you will be on the verge of a new and wonderful blessing in your own life, a thrilling new step of maturity. Even if Satan does turn on the heat, your Father in heaven keeps His almighty hand on the thermostat!

Even physical maturity is not always an easy, pleasant experience. The teenager walking on that difficult bridge from childhood to adulthood has his frustrations and failures; but if he keeps on going (and growing), he eventually enters a wonderful life of maturity. Christian growth is not automatic, as is physical growth. Christian maturity is something we must work at constantly. So don’t give up! There is travail in birth and there is also travail in maturity (Gal. 4:19).

The fifth essential for getting the most out of this study is we must measure our spiritual growth by the Word of God. Regular examinations are good for spiritual health. But we should not measure ourselves by other Christians, rather by the Word of God and the Son of God (Eph. 4:13).

Not everyone who grows old grows up. There is a difference between age and maturity. Just because a Christian has been saved for ten or twenty years does not guarantee he is mature in the Lord. Mature Christians are happy Christians, useful Christians, Christians who help to encourage others and to build their local church. As we study James together, with God’s help, we will learn and mature together.

book-of-james1Self-Assessment

1. Am I becoming more and more patient in the testings of life?

2. Do I play with temptation or resist it from the start?

3. Do I find joy in obeying the Word of God, or do I merely study it and learn it?

4. Are there any prejudices that shackle me?

5. Am I able to control my tongue?

6. Am I a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker? Do people come to me for spiritual wisdom?

7. Am I a friend of God or a friend of the world?

8. Do I make plans without considering the will of God?

9. Am I selfish when it comes to money? Am I unfaithful in the paying of my bills?

10. Do I naturally depend on prayer when I find myself in some kind of trouble?

11. Am I the kind of person others seek for prayer support?

12. What is my attitude toward the wandering brother? Do I criticize and gossip, or do I seek to restore him in love?

Don’t just grow old—grow up!

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Paul’s Charge to Timothy: Part 2 (1 Timothy 6:11-19)

fightthegoodfightToday, we will be looking at the final section of chapter 6, where the Apostle Paul continues his instructions to Timothy on ministering to the various kinds of believers in the church (if you missed Part 1, I encourage you to read it now).

The Pastor Himself (1 Tim. 6:11–16, 20–21)

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To Him be honor and might forever. Amen.

Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith.

While caring for the needs of his people, Timothy needed to care for himself as well. “But you” indicates a contrast between Timothy and the false teachers. They were men of the world, but he was a “man of God.” This special designation was also given to Moses (Deut. 33:1), Samuel (1 Sam. 9:6), Elijah (1 Kings 17:18), and David (Neh. 12:24); so Timothy was in good company.

Paul gave four admonitions to Timothy that, if obeyed, would assure him success in his ministry and a continued testimony as “a man of God.”

Flee (v. 11a). There are times when running away is a mark of cowardice. “Should such a man as I flee?” asked Nehemiah (Neh. 6:11). But there are other times when fleeing is a mark of wisdom and a means of victory. Joseph fled when he was tempted by his master’s wife (Gen. 39:12) and David fled when King Saul tried to kill him (1 Sam. 19:10). The word “flee” that Paul uses here does not refer to literal running, but to Timothy’s separating himself from the sins of the false teachers.

Not all unity is good and not all division is bad. There are times when a servant of God should take a stand against false doctrine and godless practices, and separate himself from them. He must be sure, however, that he acts on the basis of biblical conviction and not because of a personal prejudice or carnal agenda.

Pursue (v. 11b). Separation without positive growth becomes isolation. We must cultivate these graces of the Spirit (“righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness”) in our lives or else we will be known only for what we oppose rather than for what we propose.

Fight (vv. 12–16). The verb means “keep on fighting!” It is a word from which we get our English word agonize, and it applies both to athletes and to soldiers. It describes a person straining and giving his best to win the prize or win the battle. Near the end of his own life, Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight” (2 Tim. 4:7).

This “fight,” however, is not between believers; it is between a person of God and the enemy around him. He is fighting to defend the faith, that body of truth deposited with the church (1 Tim. 6:20). Like Nehemiah, Christians today need to have a trowel in one hand for building and a sword in the other hand for battling (Neh. 4:17). It is sad when some Christians spend so much time fighting the enemy that they have no time to do their work and build the church. On the other hand, if we do not stand guard and oppose the enemy, what we have built could be taken from us.

What is it that encourages us in the battle? We have “eternal life” and need to take hold of it and let it work in our experience. We have been called by God and this assures us of victory. We have made our public profession of faith in Christ and others in the church stand with us.

Another encouragement in our battle is the witness of Jesus Christ our Savior. He “witnessed a good confession” before Pontius Pilate and did not relent before the enemy. He knew God the Father was with Him and watching over Him, and He would be raised from the dead. It is “God who makes all things alive,” who is caring for us, so we need not fear. Timothy’s natural timidity might want to make him shrink from the battle. But all he had to do was remember Jesus Christ and His bold confession, and this would encourage him.

Paul gave Timothy military orders: “I charge you” (also 1:3). He was to guard the commandment and obey it. Why? Because one day the Commander would appear and he would have to report on his assignment! The only way he could be ready would be to obey the orders “without spot or blame.”

It is impossible for a sinful human to approach the holy God. It is only through Jesus Christ that we can be accepted into His glorious presence. Why did Paul write so much about the person and glory of God? Probably as a warning against the “emperor cult” that existed in the Roman Empire. It was customary to acknowledge regularly, “Caesar is Lord!” Of course, Christians would say, “Jesus Christ is Lord!” Only God has “honor and power everlasting.” If Timothy was going to fight the good fight of faith, he had to decide that Jesus Christ alone was worthy of worship and complete devotion.

Take Hold (vv. 20–21). God had committed the truth to Paul (1 Tim. 1:11) and Paul had committed it to Timothy. It was Timothy’s responsibility to guard the deposit and then pass it along to others who would, in turn, continue to pass it on (2 Tim. 2:2). This is God’s way of protecting the truth and spreading it around the world. We are stewards of the doctrines of the faith and God expects us to be faithful in sharing His Good News.

Why should Timothy avoid the teachings of those who claimed to have special knowledge from God (the Gnostics)? Because some who got involved with them “wandered from the faith.” Not only will wrong motives (a desire for money) cause a person to wander from the faith (1 Tim. 6:10), but so will wrong teachings. These lies work their way into a person’s mind and heart gradually, and before he realizes it, he is wandering off the path of truth.

The Rich (1 Tim. 6:17–19)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way, they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Paul had already written about the danger of the love of money, but he added a special “charge” for Timothy to give to the rich. We may not think this charge applies to us, but it does. After all, our standard of living today would certainly make us “rich” in the eyes of Timothy’s congregation!

Be humble (v. 17a). If wealth makes a person proud, then he understands neither himself nor his wealth. “But remember the Lord your God for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deut. 8:18). We are not owners; we are stewards. If we have wealth, it is by the goodness of God and not because of any special merits on our part. The possessing of material wealth ought to humble a person and cause him to glorify God, not himself.

It is possible to be “rich in the world” and be poor in the next. It is also possible to be poor in this world and rich in the next. Jesus talked about both (Luke 16:19–31). But a believer can be rich in this world and also rich in the next if he uses what he has to honor God (Matt. 6:19–34). In fact, a person who is poor in this world can use even his limited means to glorify God and discover great reward in the next world.

Trust God, not wealth (v. 17b). The rich farmer in our Lord’s parable (Luke 12:13–21) thought his wealth meant security, when really it was an evidence of insecurity. He was not really trusting God. Riches are uncertain, not only in their value (which changes constantly), but also in their durability. Thieves can steal wealth, investments can drop in value, and the ravages of time can ruin cars and houses. If God gives us wealth, we should trust Him, the Giver, and not the gifts.

Enjoy what God gives you (v. 17c). Yes, the word enjoy is in the Bible! In fact, one of the recurring themes in the book of Ecclesiastes is, “Enjoy the blessings of life now because life will end one day” (Ecc. 2:24; 3:12–15, 22; 5:18–20; 9:7–10; 11:9–10). This is not sinful “hedonism,” living for the pleasures of life. It is simply enjoying all God gives us for His glory.

Employ what God gives you (vv. 18–19). We should use our wealth to do good to others; we should share; we should put our money to work. When we do, we enrich ourselves spiritually and make investments for the future (Luke 16:1–13). Riches can lure a person into a make-believe world of shallow pleasure, but riches plus God’s will can introduce a person to life that is real and ministry that is lasting.

Paul’s final sentence was not for Timothy alone because the pronoun is plural: “Grace be with all of you.” Paul had the entire church in mind when he wrote this letter, not just Timothy. As the pastor and leader of the church, Timothy needed to heed the word of the apostle; but all of his church members had a responsibility to hear and obey as well.

And so do we today.

Stand FirmTo Think About and Discuss

1. In what practical ways do we “take hold of … eternal life”? How will it affect our attitude and order our priorities?

2. We live in a culture in which many false ideas about God and the Lord Jesus Christ exist. How do we “guard the gospel” in this context?

3. Read Ephesians 6:10–18 and identify the weapons God gives us to “fight the good fight of the faith.”

* This concludes our 6-week series in the book of 1 Timothy. I hope and pray you have enjoyed and benefitted from this study as much as I have.

Our next series will begin on Monday in the Book of James.

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Paul’s Charge to Timothy: Part 1 (1 Timothy 6:1-10)

defending-the-faith 2Welcome back to our series in 1 Timothy! This chapter continues Paul’s instructions to Timothy on ministering to the various kinds of believers in the church and also how to keep his own life in the will of God.

Christian Slaves (1 Tim. 6:1–2)

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves.

Historians have estimated that half of the population of the Roman Empire was composed of slaves. Many of these people were educated and cultured, but legally they were not considered persons at all. The Gospel message of salvation and freedom in Christ appealed to the slaves, and many of them became believers. When slaves were able to get away from their household duties, they would fellowship in local assemblies where being a slave was not a handicap (Gal. 3:28).

But there was a problem: Some slaves used their newfound freedom in Christ as an excuse to disobey, if not defy, their masters. They needed to learn that their spiritual freedom in Christ did not alter their social position, even though they were accepted graciously into the fellowship of the church.

What were they to do now that they were free in Christ? They were to act in a way that would bring glory to Christ “so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.” They would do this by showing respect to their masters and working hard.

I recall counseling a young lady who resigned from a secular job to go to work in a Christian organization. She had been there about a month and was completely disillusioned.

“I thought it was going to be heaven on earth,” she complained. “Instead, there are nothing but problems.”

“Are you working just as hard for your Christian boss as you did for your other boss?” I asked. The look on her face gave me the answer. “Try working harder,” I advised, “and show him real respect. Just because all of you in the office are saved doesn’t mean you can do less than your best.” She took my advice and her problems cleared up.

False Teachers2False Teachers (1 Tim. 6:3–10)

These are the things you are to teach and insist on. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions, and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Paul had opened this letter with warnings about false teachers (1 Tim. 1:3) and had even refuted some of their dangerous teachings (1 Tim. 4:1). The spiritual leaders in the local church must constantly oversee what is being taught, for it is easy for false doctrines to slip in (Acts 20:28–32). I know I have discovered teachers who were sharing their “visions” instead of teaching God’s Word!

The marks of these false teachers (vv. 3–5a). The first mark is they refused to adhere to “the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching.” Their teaching did not promote godliness. The prophet Isaiah said, “If anyone does not speak according to this Word, they have no light in them” (Isa. 8:20). It is important a church maintain sound [healthy] teaching (2 Tim. 1:13).

A second mark is the teacher’s own attitude. Instead of being humble, a false teacher is proud; yet he has nothing to be proud about because he does not know anything.

A believer who understands the Word will have a burning heart, not a big head (Luke 24:32; Dan. 9:1–20). This “conceited attitude” causes a teacher to argue about minor matters concerning “words.” The result of such unspiritual teaching is “envy, quarreling, malicious talk, evil suspicions, and constant friction.” The tragedy of all this is people are “robbed of the truth” while they think they are discovering truth!

The motive for their teaching (vv. 5b–10). These false teachers supposed “that godliness is a way of financial gain.” Here, the word “godliness” means “the profession of Christian faith,” and not true holy living in the power of the Spirit. They used their religious profession as a means to make money. What they did was not a true ministry; it was just a religious business.

Paul was always careful not to use his calling or ministry as a means of making money. In fact, he even refused support from the Corinthian church, so that no one could accuse him of greed (1 Cor. 9:15–19). He never used his preaching for “flattery or greed” (1 Thes. 2:5). What a tragedy it is today to see the religious racketeers who prey on gullible people, promising them help while taking away their money.

To warn Timothy—and us—about the dangers of covetousness, Paul shared four facts:

Wealth does not bring contentment (v. 6). As we have seen, Paul used this same word in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (see The Secret of Contentment). True contentment comes from godliness in the heart, not wealth in the hand. A person who depends on material things for peace and assurance will never be satisfied because material things have a way of losing their appeal. It is the wealthy people, not the poor people, who go to psychiatrists and who are more apt to try to commit suicide.

Wealth is not lasting (v. 7). “We brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of it” (see Job 1:21). Whatever wealth we amass goes to the government, our heirs, and perhaps charity and the church. When someone’s spirit leaves his body at death, it can take nothing with it. We always know the answer to the question, “How much did he leave?” Everything!

Our basic needs are easily met (v. 8). Food and “covering” (clothing and shelter) are basic needs; if we lose them, we lose the ability to secure other things. A miser without food would starve to death counting his money. I am reminded of the simple-living Quaker who was watching his new neighbor move in with all of the furnishings and expensive “toys” that “successful people” collect. The Quaker finally went over to his new neighbor and said, “Neighbor, if ever thou dost need anything, come to see me and I will tell thee how to get along without it.”

The economic and energy crises the world faces will probably be used by God to encourage people to simplify their lives. Too many of us know the “price of everything and the value of nothing.” We are so glutted with luxuries that we have forgotten how to enjoy our necessities.

The desire for wealth leads to sin (vv. 9–10). These verses describe a person who has to have more and more material things in order to be happy and feel successful. But riches are a trap; they lead to bondage, not freedom. Instead of giving satisfaction, riches create additional lusts (desires) and these must be satisfied. Instead of providing help and health, an excess of material things hurts and wounds. The result Paul described very vividly: “Harmful desires … plunge men into ruin and destruction.” It is the picture of a man drowning! He trusted his wealth and “sailed along,” but the storm came and he sank.

It is a dangerous thing to use religion as a cover-up for acquiring wealth. God’s laborer is certainly worthy of his hire (1 Tim. 5:17-18), but his motive for laboring must not be money. That would make him a “hireling” and not a true shepherd (John 10:11-14). We should not ask, “How much will I get?” but rather “How much can I give?”

In Part 2, we will take a closer look at what Paul has to say about the pastor himself and the rich.

faith steps_t_nvTo Think About and Discuss

1. What should you do when there is a conflict between what God’s Word says and what your boss tells you to do? Who are we really working for and how will this affect our performance on the job?

2. What should church members do if their leaders start teaching ideas that contradict Scripture?

3. How can we “learn to be content” with what we have and not allow our culture to influence us?

4. Can a Christian be wealthy? If so, what are the unique spiritual dangers that he or she faces and what should he be doing to counteract them?

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How to Treat Officers in the Church (1 Timothy 5:17-25)

1timothy_smallWelcome back to our series in 1 Timothy! Today, we will be looking at the final portion of chapter 5, where the Apostle Paul gives instructions about how to treat officers in the church.

Church Officers (1 Tim. 5:17–25)

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning, you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.

Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.

The instructions in this section deal primarily with the elders, but the principles apply to a pastor’s relationship with any officer in his church. It is a wonderful thing when the elders and deacons (and other officers) work together in harmony and love. It is tragic when a pastor tries to become a spiritual dictator (1 Peter 5:3) or when an officer tries to be a preeminent “big shot” (3 John 9–10).

Apparently Timothy was having some problems with the elders of the church at Ephesus. He was a young man and still had much to learn. Ephesus was not an easy place to minister. Furthermore, Timothy had followed Paul as overseer of the church and Paul would not be an easy man to follow! Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20) shows how hard he had worked, how faithful he had been, and how much the elders loved him (vv. 36–38). In spite of the fact Paul had personally sent Timothy to Ephesus the young man was having a hard time.

This situation may be the reason for Paul’s instruction about wine. Did Timothy have stomach trouble? Was he ill because of his many responsibilities and problems? Or had he tried to follow the ideas of some ascetics (1 Tim. 4:1–5), only to discover his diet was making him worse instead of better? We do not know the answers to all these questions; we can only read between the lines. It is worth noting that Paul’s mention of wine here is not an endorsement of the entire alcohol industry. Using wine for medicinal reasons is not an encouragement for social drinking. As we have seen, while the Bible does not demand total abstinence, it does denounce drunkenness.

Paul counseled Timothy in his relationship to the elders by discussing three topics:

EldersPaying the elders (vv. 17–18). In the early church, instead of one pastor, several elders ministered to the people. These men would devote themselves full-time to the work of the Lord and deserved some kind of remuneration. In most congregations today the elders are laymen who have other vocations, but who assist in the work of the church. Usually the pastoral staff are the only full-time workers in the church (of course, there are also secretaries, custodians, etc., but Paul was not writing about them). There were two kinds of elders in the church: ruling elders who supervised the work of the congregation; and teaching elders who taught the Word of God.

The local church needs both ruling and teaching. The Spirit gives the gifts of “helps” and “administration” to the church (1 Cor. 12:28). If a church is not organized, there will be wasted effort, money, and opportunities. If spiritually minded leaders do not supervise the various ministries of the local church, there will be chaos instead of order. However, this supervision must not be dictatorial. You do not manage the work of a local church in the same manner as you do a grocery store or a manufacturing plant. While a church should follow good business principles, it is not a business. The ruthless way some church leaders have pushed people around is a disgrace to the Gospel.

But ruling without teaching would accomplish very little. The local church grows through the ministry of the Word of God (Eph. 4:11). You cannot rule over babies! Unless the believers are fed, cleansed, and strengthened by the Word, they will be weak and useless and will only create problems.

Paul told Timothy to be sure the leaders were paid adequately, on the basis of their ministries. He quoted an Old Testament law to prove his point (Deut. 25:4). (The best commentary on this is 1 Cor. 9:7–14.) Then Paul added a statement from our Lord Jesus Christ: “The laborer deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7). This was a common saying in that day, but Paul equated the words of Christ with Old Testament Scripture!

If pastors are faithful in feeding and leading the people, then the church ought to be faithful and pay them adequately. “Double honor” can be translated “generous pay.” (The word honor is used as in “honorarium.”) It is God’s plan that the needs of His servants be met by their local churches; and He will bless churches that are faithful to His servants. If a church is not faithful, and its pastor’s needs are not met, it is a poor testimony; and God has ways of dealing with the situation. He can provide through other means, but then the church misses the blessing; or He may move His servant elsewhere.

The other side of the coin is this: a pastor must never minister simply to earn money (1 Tim. 3:3). To “negotiate” with churches or to canvass around looking for a place with a bigger salary is not in the will of God. Nor is it right for a pastor to bring into his sermons his own financial needs, hoping to arouse some support from the finance committee!

Disciplining the elders (vv. 19–21). Church discipline usually goes to one of two extremes. Either there is no discipline at all, and the church languishes because of disobedience and sin. Or the church officers become evangelical policemen who hold court and violate many of the Bible’s spiritual principles.

The disciplining of church members is explained in Matthew 18:15–18; Romans 16:17–18; 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 2:6–11; Galatians 6:1–3; 2 Thessalonians 3:6–16; 2 Timothy 2:23–26; Titus 3:10; and 2 John 9–11.

In our current passage, Paul discussed the disciplining of church leaders. It is sad when a church member must be disciplined, but it is even sadder when a spiritual leader fails and must be disciplined; for leaders, when they fall, have a way of affecting others.

The purpose of discipline is restoration, not revenge. Our purpose must be to save the offender, not to drive him away. Our attitude must be one of love and tenderness (Gal. 6:1–3). In fact the verb restore Paul used in Galatians 6:1 means “to set a broken bone.” Think of the patience and tenderness involved in that procedure!

Paul’s first caution to Timothy is to be sure of his facts and the way to do that is to have witnesses. This principle is also stated in Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16; and 2 Corinthians 13:1. I think a dual application of the principle is suggested here. First, those who make any accusation against a pastor must be able to support it with witnesses. Rumor and suspicion are not adequate grounds for discipline. Second, when an accusation is made, witnesses ought to be present. In other words, the accused has the right to face his accuser in the presence of witnesses.

A church member approached me at a church dinner one evening and began to accuse me of ruining the church. She had all sorts of miscellaneous bits of gossip, none of which were true. As soon as she started her tirade, I asked two of the officers standing nearby to witness what she was saying. Of course, she immediately stopped talking and marched defiantly away.

It is sad when churches disobey the Word and listen to rumors, lies, and gossip. Many a godly pastor has been defeated in his life and ministry in this way, and some have even resigned from the ministry. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” may be a good slogan for a volunteer fire department, but it does not apply to local churches. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” could possibly mean that somebody’s tongue has been “set on fire by hell!” (James 3:6)

Paul’s second caution to Timothy is to do everything openly and truthfully. The under-the-counter politics of city hall have no place in a church. “I have spoken openly to the world… I have said nothing in secret,” Jesus said (John 18:20). If an officer is guilty, then he should be rebuked before all the other leaders (1 Tim. 5:20). He should be given opportunity to repent, and if he does he should be forgiven (2 Cor. 2:6–11). Once he is forgiven the matter is settled and should never be brought up again.

Paul’s third caution to Timothy is to obey the Word no matter what his personal feelings might be. He should act without prejudice against or partiality for the accused officer. There are no seniority rights in a local church; each member has the same standing before God and His Word. To show either prejudice or partiality is to make the situation even worse.

Selecting and ordaining the elders (vv. 22–25). Only God knows the hearts of everyone (Acts 1:24). The church needs spiritual wisdom and guidance in selecting its officers. It is dangerous to impulsively put a new Christian or a new church member in a place of spiritual responsibility. Some people’s sins are clearly seen; others are able to cover their sins, though their sins pursue them. The good works of dedicated believers ought to be evident, even though they do not serve to be seen by people.

In other words, the church must carefully investigate the lives of potential leaders to make sure there is nothing seriously wrong. To ordain elders with sin in their lives is to partake of those sins! If welcoming a heretic in our home makes us partakers of his evil deeds (2 John 10–11), then how much guiltier are we if we ordain people whose lives are not right with God?

No pastor or church member is perfect, but that should not hinder us from striving for perfection. The ministry of a local church rises and falls with its leadership. Godly leadership means God’s blessing, and that is what we want and need.

1-Timothy 5.21-22To Think About and Discuss

1. Too often church leaders are targets of criticism because the congregation has unrealistic expectations. How do you treat your church leaders? Do you find fault or do you show appreciation?

2. Do your church leaders receive enough financial support to allow them to live without worry and to provide for the needs of their families? If not, what should the church do?

3. What should you do if you suspect an elder of sinning?

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Caring for Widows in the Church (1 Timothy 5:1-16)

Aging87713759Welcome back to our series in 1 Timothy! Today, we will be looking at chapter 5, where the Apostle Paul gives instructions about how to treat various groups of people within the church.

The first problem the early church faced was also a modern one: a group of church members were neglected by the ministering staff (Acts 6). I once heard a church member describe a certain pastor as “a man who is invisible during the week and incomprehensible on Sunday.” Again, somebody in his congregation was feeling neglected.

In 1 Timothy 5, Paul instructed Timothy how to minister to specific groups in the church.

The Older Members (1 Tim. 5:1–2)

Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as your father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.

Paul admonished Timothy to minister to the various kinds of people in the church and not to show partiality (1 Tim. 5:21). Since Timothy was a younger man, he might be tempted to ignore the older members; so Paul urged him to love and serve all of the people, regardless of their ages. The church is a family: Treat the older members like your mother and father, and the younger members like your brothers and sisters.

The Old Widows (1 Tim. 5:3–10)

Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

From the beginning of its ministry the church had a concern for believing widows (Acts 6:1; 9:39). Of course, the nation of Israel had sought to care for widows and God had given special legislation to protect them (Deut. 10:18; 24:17; Isa. 1:17). God’s special care for the widows is a recurring theme in Scripture (Deut. 14:29; Ps. 94:6; Mal. 3:5). It was only right that the local church show compassion to these women who were in need.

However, the church must be careful not to waste its resources on people who really are not in need. Whether we like to admit it or not, there are individuals and entire families that “milk” local churches, while they themselves refuse to work or to use their own resources wisely. As long as they can get handouts from the church, why bother to go to work? Paul listed the qualifications a widow must meet if she is to be supported by the church.

Without human support (vv. 5a, 8, “desolate”). If a widow had relatives, they should care for her so the church might use its money to care for others who have no help. If her own children were dead, then her grandchildren should accept the responsibility. When you recall the society in that day did not have the kind of institutions we have today—pensions, Social Security, retirement homes, etc.—you can see how important family care really was. Of course, the presence of such institutions today does not relieve any family of its loving obligations. “Honor your father and your mother” is still in the Bible (Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:1–3).

Suppose a relative is unwilling to help support his loved one? “He … is worse than an unbeliever!” was Paul’s judgment (also see v. 16). A missionary friend of mine came home from the field to care for her sick and elderly parents. She was severely criticized by some of her associates (“We should love God more than father and mother!”), but she remained faithful to the end. Then, she returned to the field for years of fruitful service, knowing she had obeyed God. After all, we love God by loving His people; and He has a special concern for the elderly, the widows, and the orphans.

A believer with a faithful testimony (vv. 5b–7). The church could not care for all the widows in the city, but it should care for believers who are a part of the fellowship. We should “do good to all people, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). A widow the church helps should not be a self-indulgent person, seeking pleasure, but a godly woman who hopes in God and has a ministry of intercession and prayer (see Luke 2:36–37 for an example of a godly widow).

It has been my experience as a pastor that godly widows are “spiritual powerhouses” in the church. They are the backbone of the prayer meetings. They give themselves to visitation and they swell the ranks of teachers in the Sunday School. It has also been my experience that if a widow is not godly, she can be a great problem to the church. She will demand attention, complain about what the younger people do, and often “hang on the telephone” and gossip. (Of course, it is not really “gossip.” She only wants her friends to be able to “pray more intelligently” about these matters!) Paul made it clear that church-helped widows must be “blameless”—irreproachable.

At least sixty years old (v. 9a). A woman of this age was not likely to get remarried in that day, though sixty is not considered that “old” today. The early church had an official list of the names of qualified widows and we get the impression that these “enlisted” women ministered to the congregation in various ways. (Remember Dorcas and her widow friends, Acts 9:36–43?)

A good marriage record (v. 9b). We have met this same requirement before for elders (1 Tim. 3:2) and for deacons (1 Tim. 3:12). The implication is the widow was not a divorced woman. Since younger widows were advised to remarry (1 Tim. 5:14), this stipulation cannot refer to a woman who had a temporary second marriage after the death of her husband. Faithfulness to one’s marriage vows is very important in the eyes of God.

A witness of good works (v. 10). If a person is faithfully serving God, the light will shine and others will see it and glorify God (Matt. 5:16). “Brought up children” can refer either to a widow’s own children or the reference may be to orphans who needed a home. If it refers to her own children, then they would need to have died; otherwise the church would not support her. It is likely the reference here is to the practice of rescuing abandoned children and raising them to know the Lord.

Hospitality is another factor, for this was an important ministry in those days when travel was dangerous and safe places to sleep were scarce. The washing of feet does not refer to a special ritual, but to the common practice of washing a guest’s feet when he arrived in the home (Luke 7:44). It was not beneath this woman’s dignity to take the place of a humble servant.

“Helping those in trouble” could cover many kinds of ministry to the needy: feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, encouraging the sorrowing, etc. Every pastor gives thanks for godly women who minister to the material and physical needs in the church. These widows were cared for by the church, but they, in turn, helped to care for the church.

The Younger Widows (1 Tim. 5:11–16)

As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.

If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.

The younger widows would technically be women under sixty years of age, but no doubt Paul had much younger women in mind. It was not likely that a fifty-nine-year-old woman would “bear children” if she remarried! The dangers of travel, the ravages of disease, war, and a host of other things could rob a young wife of her husband. But Paul forbade Timothy to enroll the younger widows and put them under the care of the church.

The reasons for refusing them (vv. 11–14a). Because of their age, younger widows are naturally attracted to men and want to marry again. What is so bad about that? Paul seems to imply that each of the widows enrolled pledged herself to remain a widow and serve the Lord in the church. This pledge must not be interpreted as a “vow of celibacy,” nor should we look on this group of ministering widows as a “special monastic order.” There seemed to be an agreement between the widows and the church that they would remain widows and serve the Lord.

There is another possible interpretation: These younger widows, if supported by the church, would have opportunities to “live it up” and find other husbands, most likely unbelievers. By marrying unbelievers, they would be casting off their first faith.

Paul does make it clear that younger widows, if cared for by the church, would have time on their hands and get involved in sinful activities. They would get in the habit of being idle instead of being useful. They would go about from house to house and indulge in gossip and be busybodies. There is a definite connection between idleness and sin.

Paul warned Timothy against using the “charity” ministry of the church to encourage people to be idle. The church certainly ought to assist those who really need help, but it must not subsidize sin.

Requirements for younger widows (vv. 14b–16). Moving from the negative, Paul listed the positive things he wanted the younger widows to do to be accepted and approved in the church. He wanted the younger widows to marry and have families. While not every person is supposed to get married, marriage is natural for most people who have been married before. Why remain in lonely widowhood if there was yet opportunity for a husband and a family? Of course, all of this would have to be “in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39).

“Be fruitful and multiply” was God’s mandate to our first parents (Gen. 1:28), so the normal result of marriage is a family. Those today who refuse to have children because of the “awfulness of the times” should check out how difficult the times were in Paul’s day! If Christians do not have children and raise them to live for God, who will?

“Guide the house” literally means “rule the house.” The wife should manage the affairs of the household and her husband should trust her to do so (Prov. 31:10–31). Of course, marriage is a partnership; but each partner has a special sphere of responsibility. Few men can do in a home what a woman can do. Whenever my wife is ill and I have to manage some of the affairs of the home, I discover quickly that I am out of my sphere of ministry!

The result of all this is a good testimony that silences the accusers. Satan (the adversary) is always alert to an opportunity to invade and destroy a Christian home. A Christian wife who is not doing her job at home gives Satan a platform for his operations and the results are tragic. While there are times when a Christian wife and mother may have to work outside the home, it must not destroy her ministry in the home. The wife who works simply to get luxuries may discover too late she has lost some necessities. It may be all right to have what money can buy if you do not lose what money cannot buy.

How Christian wives and mothers manage their homes is a testimony to those outside the church. Just as a pastor is to have a good reputation with outsiders (1 Tim. 3:7) and the servants are not to bring reproach on God’s Word (1 Tim. 6:1), so the wives are to have a good witness. Women may not be elders of the church, but they can minister for the Lord right in their own homes (see Titus 2:4–5 for an additional emphasis on this vital ministry).

Paul then summarized the principle of each family caring for the needs of its own members. Paul did not tell them how these widows should be helped—giving them a regular income, taking them into a home, giving them employment, etc. Each local assembly would have to decide this for themselves according to the needs of individual cases.

How does this principle apply to Christians today? Certainly, we must honor our parents and grandparents and seek to provide for them if they have needs. Not every Christian family is able to take in another member and not every widow wants to live with her children. Where there is sickness or handicap, professional care is necessary, and perhaps this cannot be given in a home. Each family must decide what God’s will is in the matter and no decision is easy. The important thing is that believers show love and concern, and do all they can to help each other.

seniorsaintsTo Think About and Discuss

1. What would you do if an older man were clearly behaving in an unacceptable way and he quoted the verse “Do not rebuke an older man” whenever anyone attempted to correct him?

2. Should Christians see it as their responsibility to care for their ageing parents? If so, to what extent are they to do so and what support should they expect from the state?

3. How would you respond to someone who arrived at your church, at the end of the service, asking for money?

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How To Be a Man of God: Part 3 (1 Timothy 4)

god-make-me-an-instrumentWelcome back to our series in 1 Timothy! Today, we will be looking at the final section of chapter 4, where the Apostle Paul gives instructions for church leaders (if you missed Part 1 and Part 2, I encourage you to read them now).

A Growing Minister Progresses in the Word (1 Tim. 4:13–16)

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

The key thought in this section is “that your progress will be evident to all” (v. 15). The word progress is a Greek military term; it means “pioneer advance.” It describes the soldiers who go ahead of the troops, clear away the obstacles, and make it possible for others to follow. As a godly pastor, Timothy was to grow spiritually, so the whole church could see his spiritual progress and imitate it.

No pastor can lead his people where he has not been himself. The pastor (or church member) who is not growing is actually going backward, for it is impossible to stand still in the Christian life. In his living, teaching, preaching, and leading the minister must give evidence of spiritual growth. But what factors make spiritual progress possible?

Emphasize God’s Word (v. 13). “Devote yourself” means “be absorbed in.” Ministering the Word was not something Timothy was to do in his spare time, after he had done other things; it was to be the most important thing he did. Reading means the public reading of Scripture in the local assembly. The Jewish people always had the reading of the Law and the Prophets in their synagogues, and this practice carried over into Christian churches. Jesus read the Scriptures in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16) and Paul often read the lessons when he visited a synagogue (Acts 13:15).

In my travelling ministry, I have noticed many churches have dispensed with the public reading of God’s Word and I am disappointed. They have time for “special music” and endless announcements, but there is no time for the reading of the Bible (the pastor may read a text before he preaches, but that is a different thing). Every local church ought to have a schedule of Bible readings for the public services. It is commanded by God in Scripture that we read His Word in the public assemblies. (I might add those who read the Word publicly ought to prepare themselves privately. Nobody should be asked “at the last minute” to read the Scriptures publicly. The Bible deserves the best we can give.)

Exhortation (v. 13). This literally means “encouragement” and suggests the applying of the Word to the lives of the people. The pastor was to read the Word, explain it, and apply it.

Doctrine (v. 13). This means “teaching” and is a major emphasis in the pastoral letters. There are at least twenty-two references to “teaching” or “doctrine” in these thirteen chapters. “Apt to teach” is one of the qualifications of a minister (1 Tim. 3:2); and it has been correctly said, “Apt to teach implies apt to learn.” A growing minister (or church member) must be a student of the Word. Before he teaches others, he must teach himself (Rom. 2:21). His spiritual progress is an example to his flock and an encouragement to others.

Use your spiritual gifts (v. 14). So much has been written in recent years about spiritual gifts that we have almost forgotten the graces (“fruits”) of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). The word gift is the Greek word charisma. It simply means “a gracious gift from God.” (The world uses the word charisma to describe a person with magnetic personality and commanding appearance.) Every Christian has the gift of the Spirit (Rom. 8:9) and at least one gift from the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:1–11). The gift of the Spirit and the gifts from the Spirit are bestowed by God at the moment of conversion.

However, when God calls a believer into a special place of ministry, He can (and often does) impart a spiritual gift for that task. When Timothy was ordained by the elders, he received an enabling gift from God. But for some reason, Timothy had neglected to cultivate this gift which was so necessary to his spiritual progress and ministry. In fact, Paul had to admonish him in his second letter: “Kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:6).

It is encouraging to know the God who calls us also equips us to do His work. We have nothing in ourselves that enables us to serve Him; the ministry must all come from God (1 Cor. 15:9–10; Phil. 4:13; 1 Tim. 1:12). However, we must not be passive; we must cultivate God’s gifts, use them, and develop them wherever God puts us.

Devote yourself fully to Christ (v. 15). Timothy’s spiritual life and ministry were to be the absorbing, controlling things in his life, not merely sidelines that he occasionally practiced. There can be no real pioneer advance in one’s ministry without total dedication to the task. “No man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24).

While I do not want to sound critical, I must confess I am disturbed by the fact that too many pastors and Christian workers divide their time and interest between the church and some sideline activity. It may be real estate, trips to the Holy Land, politics, civic duties, even denominational service. Their own spiritual lives suffer and their churches suffer because these men are not devoting themselves wholly to their ministry. “This one thing I do” was Paul’s controlling motive and it ought to be ours too (Phil. 3:13). “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8).

Take spiritual inventory (v. 16). Examine your own heart in the light of the Word of God. A servant of God can be so busy helping others that he neglects himself and his own spiritual walk. The building up of the saved and the winning of the lost are the purposes for our ministry, to the glory of God. But God must work in us before He can effectively work through us (Phil. 2:12–13). As good ministers, we preach the Word; as godly ministers, we practice the Word; as growing ministers, we progress in the Word.

banner_Know_and_Grow_in_Christ-copy-598x311To Think About and Discuss

1. Paul commanded Timothy to “devote [himself] to the public reading of Scripture.” What does God expect from those of us who are being taught from His Word?

2. How is the reality of personal salvation demonstrated in our lives?

3. It has been said, “The great purpose of life is the shaping of character by truth.” How does this apply to you?

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Perseverance Produces Character

suffering-with-hopeWe rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4).

It’s an old story. We would much rather complain about the way things are than make the sacrifice to change it, but character requires sacrifice. Those of us who know the Lord are called to make that sacrifice; we are called to live on a higher plane. Christians, above any other group, should be known as persons of character.

The references to character in the Bible indicate it’s something to be sought after. The Apostle Paul points out the unique relationship between suffering, perseverance, and character. The suffering he’s referring to are the trials and difficulties experienced by believers. He’s assuming, of course, that those who are persecuted would faithfully and courageously endure their persecutions; that they would not break under pressure and deny their faith in Christ.

It is important to recognize the difference between perseverance and character. Perseverance is something we do, but character is something we have… or don’t have. Character is all about who we are and what we’re made of. Paul’s conclusion is that those who persevere through trials are men and women of character. Their character is made evident by their response to what is happening to them. This definition of character presupposes two things.

First, there is an Absolute Standard by which to define right and wrong. People of character don’t make up the rules as they go along. They have already agreed upon the rules beforehand. When faced with any situation, they don’t ask, “What’s right for me?” Instead, they ask, “What’s right?” People of character believe in an Absolute Standard of right and wrong that overshadows the entire human race, one to which all people are held accountable. According to the Bible, God is that Standard. He determines what is right and wrong. He has already set limits on human behavior. His code of conduct never changes or shifts with a particular culture or time period.

The second thing character presupposes is the ability and willingness to obey. Agreeing with the rules of the game is one thing, but playing by the rules is something else entirely. How many of us break the law every day? Men and women of character have not only agreed to God’s code of conduct, but they also live for it.

Whereas achievement and fulfillment are the chief pursuits for many in this world, it’s different for men and women of character. They’re not necessarily opposed to achieving certain goals, but the difference is in their priorities. They are not against personal fulfillment, but for them, obedience takes priority over achievement. Self-control takes precedent over self-fulfillment. It is all a matter of priorities.

Are you willing to make character a priority? I have never met anyone who is against character, yet few people make it their priority. Men and woman are often quick to compromise their character if that is what it takes to reach the next step in whatever ladder they choose to climb. For many people, what they can do on the outside is not nearly as important as who they are on the inside.

To be persons of character, we must submit ourselves to God’s code of conduct. We must agree with Him that His ways are right – whether we understand or not. We must have the attitude that says, “Lord, before You even tell me what the right thing to do in my particular situation is, I already believe You are right.” Then, we must follow through and actually do what God says. People of character do what is right simply because it is right. It is right because God says it is right.

I’d like you to try an experiment with me: think about all the places you could go to improve your outer appearance. Most stores are geared toward making us look or feel better. We’re bombarded from every direction by products designed to improve our looks and health. Just pick up any magazine and flip through the advertisements, or watch any commercial on TV.

Now, think for a moment about how many places are geared toward developing character. This list is significantly shorter than the first. Other than church, we don’t have much to choose from. There was a time when we could have put school on that list, but that’s not necessarily true anymore.

Clearly, we live in a world that is totally committed to the outer person and neglects the inner person. Yet, the social problems in this nation, the ones commentators and politicians are constantly complaining about, are not rooted in our appearance. Most of our problems stem from a lack of character among our leaders and citizens. Our biggest deficit in this nation is not a budget deficit or unemployment, but a lack of character.

If we don’t have a plan for developing our character, we simply will not. We will fall in line with everyone else. The only difference is believers will go to heaven when they die and unbelievers will not. My point is this: none of us drift into character. It takes effort; it takes a plan. Even as Christians, we’re prone to allow the cares of this world to choke out any time for working on the part of us that is most crucial to our genuine happiness and success – our character.

Character is to relationships what oil is to an engine. If we took apart the engine of a new car, we would find that each part is made to work perfectly with all the other parts of the engine. They were made for each other. Yet, if you run that engine without oil, it will eventually destroy all the other parts around it. The fact the parts are perfectly suited for each other is not enough. When there is a deficit in character, we pay for it in our relationships. It does not matter how perfectly suited we are for each other. If we don’t have character, there is going to be friction.

A Plan for Developing Character:

Part of my plan for developing my character involves a list of several traits I want to be known for. I rehearse my list mentally throughout the day. I meditate on Scripture that deals with these things. I pray every day that God would work on my character to the point where these characteristics will shape my public reputation. I want to be known as a man of godly character.

Praying to God for help developing my character is one thing, but when I get specific, that’s when I really begin to see a change. I think through the kind of person I want to be (not what I want to accomplish, but what God and others perceive me as being in my heart). Then, I work the list. I look for practical ways to work the qualities into my life.

You will be amazed at how your personal plan unfolds. You may change your list from time to time. That’s fine. But keep it going. That way, you will see your progress and you will stay involved in the process. 

COVER 2Did you like this article? Read more in my book:Back to the Basics: A Guide for Christian Living.”

God bless!

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How To Be a Man of God: Part 2 (1 Timothy 4)

Basic Training2In 1 Timothy 4, Paul emphasized the character and the work of the minister himself; and he listed three qualities he must possess if he is to be successful in serving God. In Part 1, we saw the first quality of a good minister: he preaches the Word. Today, we will look at the next quality.

A Godly Minister Practices the Word (1 Tim. 4:7–12)

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.

Paul shifted to an athletic illustration at this point in his letter. Just as a Greek or Roman athlete had to refuse certain things, eat the right food, and do the right exercises, so a Christian should practice “spiritual exercise.” If a Christian puts as much energy and discipline into his spiritual life as an athlete does into his game, the Christian grows faster and accomplishes much more for God. Paul discussed in this section three levels of life.

The bad—“godless myths and old wives’ tales” (v. 7a). These are, of course, the false teachings and traditions of the apostates. These doctrines have no basis in Scripture; in fact, they contradict the Word of God. They are the kind of teachings silly people would discuss, not dedicated men and women of the Word! No doubt these teachings involved the false doctrines just named (vv. 2-3). Paul also warned Titus about “Jewish myths” (Titus 1:14). Paul warned Timothy about these same “myths” in his second letter (2 Tim. 4:4).

A believer cannot rediscover new doctrines. Paul admonished Timothy to remain true to “the good doctrine which you have closely followed up to now” (1 Tim. 4:6). He warned him not to “give heed to myths and endless genealogies” (1 Tim. 1:4). While a pastor must know what the enemy is teaching, he must not be influenced by it. A chemist may handle and study poisons, but he does not permit them to get into his system.

The temporary—“bodily exercise” (vv. 7–8). Again, this is an athletic image. Certainly, we ought to care for our bodies and exercise is a part of that care. Our bodies are God’s temples, to be used for His glory (1 Cor. 6:19–20) and tools for His service (Rom. 12:1–2). But bodily exercise benefits us only during this life; godly exercise is profitable now and for eternity. Paul did not ask Timothy to choose between the two; the Lord expects us to practice both. A healthy body can be used of God, but we must major on holiness.

Are you in shape both physically and spiritually? In our society, much emphasis is placed on physical fitness, but spiritual health (godliness) is even more important. Our physical health is susceptible to disease and injury, but faith can sustain us through these tragedies. To train ourselves to be godly, we must develop our faith and use our God-given abilities for His service. Are you developing your spiritual muscles?

The eternal—“godliness” (vv. 9–12). Godly character and conduct are far more important than golf trophies or home-run records, though it is possible for a person to have both. Paul challenged Timothy to be as devoted to godliness as an athlete is to his sport. We are living and laboring for eternity.

Paul used two similar athletic images in writing to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 9:24–27), emphasizing the disciplines necessary for godly living. As an athlete must control his body and obey the rules, so a Christian must make his body his servant and not his master. When I see high school football squads and baseball teams going through their calisthenics under the hot summer sun, I am reminded there are spiritual exercises I ought to be doing (Heb. 5:14). Prayer, meditation, self-examination, fellowship, service, sacrifice, submission to the will of others, witness—all of these can assist me, through the Spirit, to become a more godly person.

Spiritual exercise is not easy; we must “labor and strive.” The word translated “strive” is an athletic word from which we get our English word agonize. It is the picture of an athlete straining and giving his best to win. A Christian who wants to excel must really work at it, by the grace of God and to the glory of God.

1-Timothy-412Timothy was a young pastor. It would have been easy for older Christians to look down on him because of his youth. He had to earn the respect of his elders by setting an example in the way he lived. Exercising ourselves in godly living is not only profitable for us; it is also profitable for others. It enables us to be good examples, so they can see Christ in us and we can encourage them. Paul named several areas of life in which you and I should be examples.

1. In speech implies our words should always be honest and loving, “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).

2. In conduct suggests our lives are to be controlled by the Word of God. We must not be like the hypocrites Paul described to Titus: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny Him” (Titus 1:16).

3. In love points to the motivation of our lives. We do not obey God to be applauded by men (Matt. 6:1), but because we love God and love God’s people.

4. In faith implies we trust God and are faithful to Him. Faith and love often go together (1 Tim. 1:14; 2:15; 6:11; 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:22). Faith always leads to faithfulness.

5. In purity is important as we live in this present evil world. Ephesus was a center for sexual impurity and the young man Timothy was faced with temptations. He must have a chaste relationship to the women in the church (1 Tim. 5:2) and keep himself pure in mind, heart, and body.

Godly living not only helps us and other believers; it also has its influence on the lost. Paul reminded Pastor Timothy that Jesus Christ is the Savior and it is the believer’s task to share this Good News with the lost. In effect, he wrote, “We Christians have fixed our hope in the living God, but the lost have no hope and do not know the living God. All they know are the dead idols, which can never save them.”

The title “Savior of all men” does not imply everybody will be saved (universalism) or that God saves people in spite of themselves; for Paul added “especially of those who believe.” It is faith that saves one’s soul (Eph. 2:8–10). Since God “wants all people to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4) and since Christ “gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6), then any lost sinner can trust Christ and be saved. Christ is “the Savior of all people,” so nobody need despair.

Timothy should not fear to practice the Word of God and apply it to the life of the church, for this Word “is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance” (1 Tim. 4:9). These faithful sayings made up a summary of truth for the early church (1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 2 Tim. 2:11; Titus 3:8). The fact Timothy was a young man (the word then applied to a person from youth to forty) should not deter him from practicing the Word. In fact, he was to “command” these things and this is our military word “charge” (1 Tim. 1:3). The local church is a unit in God’s spiritual army and its leaders are to pass God’s orders along to the people with authority and conviction.

In Part 3, we will see the godly minister not only practices the Word, but progresses in the Word.

1-timothy-4-8To Think About and Discuss

1. What part does self-discipline play in true spirituality? How important is self-discipline in your life?

2. Why is it important that leaders set a good example? Is this something confined only to those in leadership or should all Christians be setting an example to other people?

3. Imagine your friend is living in a way that is inconsistent with God’s Word. Should you speak to him about the way his witness is being undermined by his conduct. If so, what would you say?

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How To Be a Man of God: Part 1 (1 Timothy 4)

Men-of-God1Welcome back to our series in 1 Timothy. Today, we will be looking at chapter 4, where the Apostle Paul gives instructions for church leaders.

If you were to write a job description for your pastor, what would it contain? How would it compare with the description he might write? A pastor preaches regularly, performs weddings and other Christian services, visits the sick, and counsels the distressed. But what is his ministry, and what kind of person must he be to fulfill his God-given ministry? In this section of his letter to Timothy, Paul emphasized the character and the work of the minister himself; and he listed three qualities he must possess if he is to be successful in serving God.

A Good Minister Preaches the Word (1 Tim. 4:1–6)

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching you have followed.

Paul had warned the Ephesian elders that false teachers would invade the church (Acts 20:28–31); and now they had arrived. The Holy Spirit had spoken in specific terms about these teachers and the prophecy was starting to be fulfilled in Paul’s time. Certainly, it is fulfilled in our own time!

False teachers were and still are a threat to the church. It is not enough that a teacher appears to know what he is talking about, is disciplined and moral, or says he is speaking for God. If his words contradict the Bible, his teaching is false. We must guard against any teaching that causes believers to dilute or reject any aspect of their faith. Such false teaching can be very direct or extremely subtle. We can recognize false teachers by the description Paul gave in this paragraph.

They are energized by Satan (v. 1a). This is the only place where demons are mentioned in the Pastoral Epistles. Just as there is a “mystery of godliness” concerning Christ (1 Tim. 3:16), there is a “mystery of iniquity” surrounding Satan and his work (2 Thes. 2:7). Satan is an imitator (2 Cor. 11:13–15); he has his own ministers and doctrines, and seeks to deceive God’s people and lead them astray (2 Cor. 11:3). The first test of any religious doctrine is what it says about Jesus Christ (1 John 4:1–6).

It comes as a shock to some people that Satan uses professed Christians in the church to accomplish his work. Satan once used Peter to try to lead Jesus on a wrong path (Matt. 16:21–23), and he used Ananias and Sapphira to try to deceive the church at Jerusalem (Acts 5). Paul warned false teachers would arise from within the church (Acts 20:30).

They lead people astray (v. 1b). Their goal is to seduce people and get them to depart from the faith. This is the word apostasy and it is defined as “a willful turning away from the truth of the Christian faith.” These false teachers do not try to build up the church or relate people to the Lord Jesus Christ in a deeper way. Instead, they want to get disciples to follow them, join their groups, and promote their programs. This is one difference between a true church and a religious cult: a true church seeks to win converts to Jesus Christ and to build them spiritually; conversely, a cult proselytizes, steals converts from others, and makes them servants (even slaves!) of the leaders of the cult. However, not all apostates are in cults; some of them are in churches and pulpits, teaching false doctrine and leading people astray.

They are hypocrites (v. 2). “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:15–20). These false teachers preach one thing, but practice another. They tell their disciples what to do, but they do not do it themselves. Satan works “through hypocritical liars.” One of the marks of a true servant of God is his honesty and integrity: he practices what he preaches. This does not mean he is sinlessly perfect, but he sincerely seeks to obey the Word of God. He genuinely tries to maintain a good conscience (1 Tim. 1:5, 19; 3:9).

The word seared means “cauterized.” Just as a person’s flesh can be “branded” so that it becomes hard and without feeling, so a person’s conscience can be deadened. Whenever we affirm with our lips something we deny with our lives (whether people know it or not), we deaden our consciences just a little more. Jesus made it clear it is not religious talk or even performing miracles, which qualifies a person for heaven, but doing God’s will in everyday life (Matt. 7:21–29).

An apostate is not just wrong doctrinally; he is wrong morally. His personal life became wrong before his doctrines were changed. In fact, it is likely he changed his teachings so that he could continue his sinful living and pacify his conscience. Believing and behaving always go together. Right belief and right behavior are critical for anyone who desires to lead or serve effectively in the church.

They deny God’s Word (vv. 3–5). The false teachers in Ephesus combined Jewish legalism with Eastern asceticism. We find Paul dealing with this same false doctrine in his letter to the Colossians (Col. 2:8–23 especially). For one thing, the false teachers taught an unmarried life was more spiritual than a married life, which is contrary to Scripture. “It is not good for the man to be alone” are God’s own words (Gen. 2:18). Jesus put His seal of approval on marriage (Matt. 19:1–9), though He pointed out not everybody is supposed to marry (Matt. 19:10–12). Paul also affirmed the biblical basis for marriage (1 Cor. 7:1–24), teaching each person should follow the will of God in the matter.

Beware of any religious teaching, which tampers with God’s institution of marriage. And beware of any teaching, which tampers with God’s creation. The false teachers who were infecting the Ephesian church taught certain foods were taboo; if you ate them, you were not spiritual. The fact God called His own Creation “good” (Gen. 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25) did not interest these teachers. Their authority to dictate diets gave them power over their converts.

Those who “believe and know the truth” are not impressed with the do’s and don’ts of the legalists. Jesus stated all foods are clean (Mark 7:14–23). He taught this lesson again to Peter (Acts 10) and reaffirmed it through Paul (1 Cor. 10:23–33). A person may not be able to eat certain foods for physical reasons (an allergy, for example); but no food is to be rejected for spiritual reasons. We should not, however, use our freedom to eat and drink to destroy weaker Christians (Rom. 14:13–23). The food we eat is sanctified (set apart, devoted to God) when we pray and give thanks; so the Word of God and prayer turn even an ordinary meal into a spiritual service for God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31).

The emphasis in a minister’s life should be on “the Word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:5). It is tragic when a church keeps its pastors so busy with menial tasks that they have hardly any time for God’s Word and prayer (Acts 6:1–7). Paul reminded young Timothy of his great responsibility to study, teach, and preach the Scriptures, and to spend time in prayer. As a “good minister,” he must be “nourished on the truths of the faith” (1 Tim. 4:6). Timothy had certain responsibilities in the light of this growing apostasy:

Teach the church the truth (v. 6a). God’s people need to be warned about false doctrine and religious apostasy. A minister must not major on these subjects because he is obligated to teach “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27); but neither should he ignore them. As we travel the streets and highways, we see two kinds of signs: those that tell us where we are going (“Boston 45 miles”) and those that warn us of possible dangers (“Bridge Out!”). A pastor must teach positive doctrine, so people will know what they believe and where they are going. But he must also expose false doctrine, so people will not be seduced and led astray.

He must nourish himself in the Word (v. 6b). Of course, every Christian ought to feed daily on the Word (Jer. 15:16; Matt. 4:4; 1 Peter 2:2); but it is especially important a pastor grow in the Word. It is by daily studying the “good doctrine” and meditating on the Word that he grows in the Lord and is able to lead the church.

The “good minister” preaches the Word he himself feeds on day by day. But it is not enough to preach the Word; he must also practice it.

In Part 2, we will see the good minister not only preaches the Word, but practices what he preaches.

Preach the Word 2To Think About and Discuss

1. Jesus warned us that “false teachers” would come and lead many people astray (Mt. 24:23-27; Mark 13:5-6; 2 Pet. 3:3; Jude 17-18). How can we be discerning as we face the issues of our day, so we are not deceived?

2. What are the ideas and teachings that are leading people astray today? How can we counteract them?

3. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 tells us to “test everything.” How should we put this into practice?

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Qualifications of Church Leaders: Part 2 (1 Timothy 3)

Deacons-appointed-leaders-of-the-church-PAGEIn 1 Timothy 3, Paul described the qualifications of the pastor, deacon, and local church itself. In Part 1, we saw the qualifications of a pastor. Today, we will look at a deacon and local church.

The Deacon (1 Tim. 3:8–13)

In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

The English word deacon is a translation of the Greek word diakonos, which simply means “servant.” The origin of the deacons is recorded in Acts 6. The first deacons were appointed to be assistants to the Apostles. In a local church today, deacons relieve the pastors/elders of other tasks, so they may concentrate on the ministry of the Word, prayer, and spiritual oversight. Even though deacons are not given the authority of elders, they still must meet certain qualifications. Many faithful deacons have been made elders after they proved themselves.

Worthy of respect (v. 8a). A deacon should be a man of Christian character worth imitating. A deacon should take his responsibilities seriously and use the office, not just fill it.

Not double-tongued (v. 8b). He does not tell tales from house to house; he is not a gossip. He does not say one thing to one member and something entirely opposite to another member. You can depend on what he says.

Not given to much wine (v. 8c). We have discussed this in our comments on 3:3.

Not greedy (v. 8d). Deacons handle offerings and distribute money to needy people in the church. It may be tempting to steal or use funds in selfish ways. Finance committees in churches need to have a spiritual attitude toward money.

Doctrinally sound (v. 9). The great doctrines of the faith are hidden to those outside the faith, but can be understood by those who trust the Lord. Deacons must understand Christian doctrine and obey it with a good conscience. It is not enough to sit in meetings and decide how to “run the church.” They must base their decisions on the Word of God and must back up their decisions with godly lives.

I have noticed some church officers know their church constitutions better than they know the Bible. While it is good to have bylaws and regulations that help maintain order, it is important to manage the affairs of a church on the basis of the Word of God. The Scriptures were the “constitution” of the early church! A deacon who does not know the Bible is an obstacle to progress in a local assembly.

A pastor friend of mine took a church that was a split from another church and constantly at war with itself. From what he told me, their business meetings were something to behold! The church constitution was revered almost as much as the Bible. The people called it “the green book.” My friend began to teach the people the Word of God and the Spirit began to make changes in lives.

But the enemy went to work and stirred up some officers to defy their pastor in a meeting. “You aren’t following the green book!” they said.

My friend lifted his Bible high and asked, “Are we going to obey the Word of God or a green book written by men?” This was a turning point in the church, and then God blessed with wonderful growth and power.

A deacon who does not know the Word of God cannot manage the affairs of the church of God. A deacon who does not live the Word of God, but has a “defiled conscience” cannot manage the church of God. Simply because a member is popular, successful in business, or generous in his giving does not mean he is qualified to serve as a deacon.

Tested and proved (v. 10). This implies watching their lives and seeing how they conduct themselves. In most churches, a new member or a new Christian may begin serving God in visitation, ushering, helping in Sunday School, and numerous other ways. This is the principle in Matthew 25:21: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.”

It is worth noting quite a few leaders mentioned in the Bible were first tested as servants. Joseph was a servant in Egypt for thirteen years before he became a second ruler in the land. Moses cared for sheep for forty years before God called him. Joshua was Moses’ servant before he became Moses’ successor. David was tending his father’s sheep when Samuel anointed him king of Israel. Even our Lord Jesus came as a servant and labored as a carpenter; and the Apostle Paul was a tentmaker. First a servant, then a ruler.

It always weakens the testimony of a local church when a member who has not been proved is made an officer of the church. “Maybe Jim will attend church more if we make him a deacon,” is a statement that shows ignorance of both Jim and the Word of God. An untested Christian is an unprepared Christian. He will probably do more harm than good if you give him an office in the church.

Godly homes (vv. 11–12). The deacon’s wife is a part of his ministry for godliness must begin at home. The deacons must be men who have not been divorced and remarried. Their wives must be Christian women who are serious about the ministry, not given to slanderous talk (literally “not devils” for the word devil means “slanderer, false accuser”), and faithful in all that they do. It is sad to see the damage that is done to a local church when the wives of elders or deacons gossip and slander others.

Some students think verse 11 refers, not to the wives of deacons, but to another order of ministers—the deaconesses. Many churches do have deaconesses who assist with the women’s work, in baptisms, in fellowship times, etc. Phoebe was a servant from the church at Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1, where the word is diakonon). Perhaps in some of the churches, the wives of the deacons did serve as deaconesses. We thank God for the ministry of godly women in the local church, whether they hold offices or not! It is not necessary to hold an office to have a ministry or exercise a gift.

A willingness to work (v. 13). He is to use the office, not just fill it. God will promote the faithful deacon, and give him more and more respect among the saints, which means greater opportunity for ministry. A faithful deacon has a good standing before God and men, and can be used of God to build the church. He has a spiritual boldness that makes for effective ministry. What an encouragement!

It is a serious matter to serve the church. Each of us must search our own heart to be certain we are qualified by the grace of God.

Black and White HandsThe Believers (1 Tim. 3:14–16)

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.

Elders, deacons, and church members need to be reminded of what a local church is. In this brief paragraph, Paul gave three pictures of the church.

The household of God (v. 15a). God’s church is a family. One of Paul’s favorite words is “brethren” (1 Tim. 4:6). When a sinner believes in Jesus Christ as Savior, he immediately is born again into God’s family (John 1:11–13; 1 Peter 1:22–25). Paul advised young Timothy to treat the members of the local church as he would treat the members of his own family (1 Tim. 5:1–2).

Since the local church is a family, it must be fed; and the only diet that will nourish the people is the Word of God. It is our bread (Matt. 4:4), milk and meat (1 Cor. 3:1–2; Heb. 5:12–14), and honey (Ps. 119:103). A pastor must take time to nourish himself, so he might nourish others (1 Tim. 4:6). A church does not grow by addition, but by nutrition (Eph. 4:11–16). It is tragic to see the way some pastors waste their time (and their church’s time) all week long and then have nothing nourishing to give the people on the Lord’s Day.

Like a family, a church needs discipline in love. Children who are not disciplined become rebels and tyrants. The spiritual leaders of the assembly should exercise discipline (1 Cor. 4:18–5:13; 2 Cor. 2:6–11). Sometimes the children need rebuke; other times the discipline must be more severe.

Children also need encouragement and example (1 Thes. 2:7–12). Spiritual leaders must have the gentleness of a nursing mother and the strength of a loving father.

The assembly (v. 15b). The word church is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia, which means “assembly.” (It is used in Acts 7:38 to describe the nation of Israel, called out of Egypt; but Israel was not a “church” in the New Testament sense.)

Paul wanted young Timothy to know how to “conduct himself” as a leader of a local assembly. The Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) are guidebooks for conduct of a local church. Scores of books have been published in recent years, professing to tell us how to start, build, and increase a local church; and some of them contain good counsel. However, the best counsel for managing a local church is found in these three inspired letters. The young pastor in his first church, as well as the seasoned veteran in the ministry, should saturate himself with the teachings Paul shared with Timothy and Titus.

There are many different kinds of “assemblies,” but the church is the assembly of the living God. Because it is God’s assembly, He has the right to tell us how it ought to be governed. The church has been purchased with the blood of God’s Son (Acts 20:28); therefore, we must be careful how we conduct ourselves. Church officers must not become religious dictators who abuse the people in order to achieve their own selfish ends (1 Peter 5:3–5; 3 John 9–12).

The pillar and foundation of the truth (vv. 15c–16). This is an architectural image which would mean much to Timothy at Ephesus, for the great temple of Diana had 127 pillars. The local church is built on Jesus Christ the Truth (John 14:6; 1 Cor. 3:9–15); but the local church is also itself a pillar and foundation of the truth.

The pillar aspect of the church’s ministry relates primarily to displaying the truth of the Word, much as a statue is put on a pedestal so all can see it. We must hold “forth the Word of life,” so the world can see it (Phil. 2:16). The local church puts Jesus Christ on display in the lives of faithful members.

As a foundation or bulwark, the church protects the truth and makes sure it does not fall (for elsewhere “truth has stumbled in the streets”—Isa. 59:14). When local churches turn away from the truth (1 Tim. 4:1) and compromise in their ministry, then the enemy makes progress. Sometimes, church leaders must take a militant stand against sin and apostasy. This does not make them popular, but it does please the Lord.

The main truth to which a church should bear witness is the person and work of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 3:16). He was God manifest in the flesh, not only at His birth, but during His entire earthly ministry (John 14:1–9). Though His own people as a nation rejected Him, Jesus was vindicated in the Spirit; for the Spirit empowered Him to do miracles and even to raise Himself from the dead (Rom. 1:4). What an exciting challenge it is for the local church to witness of Jesus Christ to lost sinners at home and around the world!

Regeneration-Meeting-JesusTO THINK ABOUT AND DISCUSS

1. How does the image of the local church as “God’s household” help us understand the way in which we should relate to one another and resolve differences? (See Gal. 6:10; Eph. 2:16–19.

2. List the essential doctrines every Christian should be familiar with. What should be done in order to help people understand them?

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Qualifications of Church Leaders: Part 1 (1 Timothy 3)

1 Timothy 3_Leadership-QualificationsEverything rises or falls with leadership, whether it be a family or a local church. The Holy Spirit imparts gifts to believers for ministry in the church, and among those gifts are “pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11). As we noted before, even though the church is an organism, it must be organized or it will die. Leadership is a part of spiritual organization. In this section, Paul described the pastor, the deacon, and the church itself. By understanding these three descriptions, we will be able to give better leadership to the ministry of the church.

The Pastor (1 Tim. 3:1–7)

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

According to the New Testament, the terms “bishop,” “elder,” and “pastor” are synonymous. Elders and bishops (two names for the same office, Titus 1:5, 7) were mature people with spiritual wisdom and experience. Bishop means “overseer,” and the elders had the responsibility of overseeing the work of the church (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1–3). Finally, “pastor” means “shepherd,” one who leads and cares for the flock of God.

When we compare the qualifications given here for bishops with those given for elders in Titus 1:5–9, we quickly see the same office is in view. Church organization was quite simple in apostolic days: There were pastors (elders, bishops) and deacons (Phil. 1:1). It seems there was a plurality of elders overseeing the work of each church, some involved in “ruling” (organization and government), others in teaching (1 Tim. 5:17).

But these men had to be qualified. To be a church leader was a heavy responsibility and not everyone was up for the task. It was good for a growing believer to aspire to the office of elder, but the best way to achieve it was to develop Christian character and meet the following requirements. To become an elder was a serious decision, not one treated lightly in the early church. Paul gave sixteen qualifications for a man to meet if he expected to serve as an elder/bishop/pastor.

above-reproachAbove reproach (v. 2a). There must be nothing in his life that Satan or the unsaved can take hold of to criticize or attack the church. No man living is sinless, but we must strive to be blameless and above reproach.

The husband of one wife (v. 2b). All of the qualifying adjectives in this passage are masculine. While there is ample scope for feminine ministry in a local assembly the office of elder is not given to women.

However, a pastor’s home-life is very important and especially his marital status. (This same requirement applies to deacons, according to 3:12.) It means a pastor must not be divorced and remarried. Paul was certainly not referring to polygamy, since no church member, let alone pastor, would be accepted if he had more than one wife. Nor is he referring to remarriage after the death of the wife; for why would a pastor be prohibited from marrying again, in light of Genesis 2:18 and 1 Timothy 4:3? Certainly the members of the church who had lost mates could marry again, so why penalize the pastor?

It is clear a man’s ability to manage his own marriage and home indicate ability to oversee a local church (3:4–5). A pastor who has been divorced opens himself and the church to criticism from outsiders, and it is not likely that people with marital difficulties would consult a man who could not keep his own marriage together. I see no reason why dedicated Christians who have been divorced and remarried cannot serve in other offices in the church, but they are disqualified from being elders or deacons.

Vigilant (v. 2c). This means “temperate” or “sober.” “Temperate in all things” (“keep your head in all situations,” 2 Tim. 4:5). A pastor needs to exercise sober, sensible judgment in all things.

Sober (v. 2d). He must have a serious attitude and be in earnest about his work. This does not mean he has no sense of humor, or that he is always solemn and somber. Rather, it suggests he knows the value of things and does not cheapen the ministry or the Gospel message by foolish behavior.

Of good behavior (v. 2e). “Orderly” would be a good translation. The pastor should be organized in his thinking and his living, as well as in his teaching and preaching. It is the same Greek word, which is translated “modest” in 1 Timothy 2:9, referring to women’s clothing.

Given to hospitality (v. 2f). Literally, “loving the stranger.” This was an important ministry in the early church when traveling believers would need places to stay (Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:2; 3 John 5–8). But even today, a pastor and wife who are hospitable are a great help to the fellowship of a local church.

Apt to teach (v. 2g). Teaching the Word of God is one of an elder’s main ministries. In fact, many scholars believe “pastors and teachers” in Ephesians 4:11 refer to one person, but to two functions. A pastor is automatically a teacher (2 Tim. 2:2, 24). Apt to teach is not something to which one comes by accident or by any sudden burst of fiery zeal. A pastor must be a careful student of the Word of God, and of all that assists him in knowing and teaching the Word. The pastor who is lazy in his study is a disgrace in the pulpit.

Not given to wine (v. 3a). The word describes a person who sits long with the cup and thus drinks to excess. The fact Paul advised Timothy to use wine for medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23) indicates total abstinence was not demanded of believers. Sad to say, some of the members of the Corinthian church got drunk, even at the love feast, which accompanied the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:21). The Jewish people diluted their wine with water to make sure it was not too strong. It was a well-known fact water was not pure in those days, so weak wine taken in moderation would have been healthier to drink.

However, there is a vast difference between the cultural use of wine in Bible days and supporting the alcohol industry of today. Paul’s admonition and example in Romans 14 (especially v. 21) would apply today in a special way. A godly pastor would certainly want to give the best example and not be an excuse for sin in the life of some weaker brother.

Not violent (v. 3b). “Not contentious, not looking for a fight.” Charles Spurgeon told pastoral students, “Don’t go about the world with your fist doubled up for fighting, carrying a theological revolver in the leg of your trousers.”

Not greedy (v. 3c). It is possible to use the ministry as an easy way to make money, if a man has no conscience or integrity. Covetous pastors always have “deals” going on outside their churches, and these activities erode their character and hinder their ministry. Pastors should “not pursue dishonest gain” or work for filthy lucre (1 Peter 5:2).

Patient (v. 3d). “Gentle” is a better translation. The pastor must listen to people and be able to take criticism without reacting. He should permit others to serve God in the church without dictating to them.

Not a brawler (v. 3e). Pastors must be peacemakers, not troublemakers. This does not mean they must compromise their convictions, but they must “disagree” without being “disagreeable.” Short tempers do not make for long ministries.

Not covetous (v. 3f). You can covet many things besides money: popularity, a large ministry that makes you famous, denominational advancement, etc. This word centers mainly on money.

A godly family (vv. 4–5). If a man’s own children cannot obey and respect him, then his church is not likely to respect and obey his leadership. For Christians, the church and the home are one. We should oversee both of them with love, truth, and discipline. The pastor cannot be one thing at home and something else in church. If he is, his children will detect it and there will be problems. The word “manage” (or “rule”) means “to preside over, to govern,” and suggest a pastor is the one who directs the business of the church. (Not as a dictator, of course, but as a loving shepherd—1 Peter 5:3.) The word translated “take care of” in v. 5 suggests a personal ministry to the needs of the church. It is used in the Parable of the Good Samaritan to describe the care given to the injured man (Luke 10:34–35).

Not a novice [recent convert] (v. 6). “Novice” literally means “one newly planted,” referring to a young Christian. Age is no guarantee of maturity, but it is good for a man to give himself time for study and growth before he accepts a church. Some men mature faster than others, of course. Satan enjoys seeing a youthful pastor succeed and get proud; then Satan can tear down all that has been built up.

A good testimony outside the church (v. 7). Does he pay his bills? Does he have a good reputation among unsaved people with whom he does business? (Col. 4:5; 1 Thes. 4:12)

No pastor ever feels he is all he ought to be and his people need to pray for him constantly. It is not easy to serve as a pastor, but it is much easier if your character is all God wants it to be.

In Part 2, we will look at the qualifications of a deacon and local church itself.

Biblical LeadershipTo think about and discuss

1. In what ways is a Christian leader different from a secular leader or manager? Often strong, natural leaders are perceived to be future church leaders. How should the existing leaders discern whether or not these men have the spiritual qualities for the role?

2. What can members of a local church do to make their leaders’ task easier? (See Heb. 13:17.) What is the extent of the authority an elder is given? What safeguards are given in the Bible so it is not abused?

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Spiritual Responsibilities of Men and Women: Part 2 (1 Timothy 2)

Godly SubmissionIn 1 Timothy 2, Paul exhorts the men and women in the church and reminds them of their spiritual responsibilities. In Part 1, we saw a spiritual responsibility of men in the church: praying. Today, we will look at a spiritual responsibility of women.

The Women—Submitting (2:9–15)

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

In these days of women’s rights and other feminist movements the word “submission” makes some people angry. Some well-meaning writers have even accused Paul of being a “crusty old bachelor” who was anti-women. Those of us who hold to the inspiration and authority of the Word of God know Paul’s teachings came from God and not from himself. If we have a problem with what the Bible says about women in the church the issue is not with Paul (or Peter—see 1 Peter 3:1–7), but with the Lord who gave the Word (2 Tim. 3:16–17).

The word translated “submission” in 2:11 (also Eph. 5:21–22; Col. 3:18) literally means “to rank under.” Anyone who has served in the armed forces knows “rank” has to do with order and authority, not with value or ability. A lieutenant is higher in rank than a private, but that does not necessarily mean he is a better man than the private. It only means the lieutenant has a higher rank and, therefore, more authority.

“Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Cor. 14:40) is a principle God follows in His creation. Just as an army would be in confusion if there were no levels of authority, so society would be in chaos without submission. Children should submit to their parents because God has given parents the authority to train their children and discipline them in love. Employees should submit to employers and obey them (Eph. 6:5–8). Citizens should submit to government authorities, even if the authorities are not Christians (Rom. 13; 1 Peter 2:13–20).

Submission is not subjugation or enslavement. Submission is recognizing God’s order in the home and the church, and joyfully obeying it. When a Christian wife joyfully submits to the Lord and to her own husband, it should bring out the best in her. (For this to happen the husband must love his wife and use God’s order as a tool to build with, not a weapon to fight with—Eph. 5:21-33.) Submission is the key to spiritual growth and ministry: husbands should be submitted to the Lord, Christians should submit to each other (Eph. 5:21), and wives should be submitted to the Lord and to their husbands.

The emphasis in this section is on the place of women in the local church. Paul admonishes these believing women to give evidence of their submission in several ways.

Modest dress (v. 9). The contrast here is between the artificial glamour of the world and the true beauty of a godly life. Paul does not forbid the use of jewelry or lovely clothes, but rather the excessive use of them as substitutes for the true beauty of “a meek and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:1–6). The word translated “modest” simply means “decent and orderly.” Woman’s clothing should be decent, orderly, and in good taste. A woman who possesses this quality is ashamed to go beyond the bounds of what is decent and proper, but a woman who depends only on externals will soon run out of ammunition! She may attract attention, but she will not win lasting affection.

Ephesus was a wealthy commercial city, and some women there competed against each other for attention and popularity. In that day, expensive hairdos arrayed with costly jewelry were an accepted way to get to the top socially.

Paul admonished the Christian women to major on the “inner person,” the true beauty that only Christ can give. He does not forbid the use of nice clothing or ornaments. He urged balance and propriety, with the emphasis on modesty and holy character.

“It’s getting harder and harder for a Christian woman to find the right kind of clothes!” a church member complained to me one summer. “I refuse to wear the kind of swimsuits they’re selling! I simply won’t go swimming. Whatever happened to modesty?”

Godly works (v. 10). Paul did not suggest good works are a substitute for clothing! Rather, he was contrasting the “cheapness” of expensive clothes and jewelry with the true values of godly character and Christian service. “Godliness” is another key word in Paul’s pastoral letters (1 Tim. 2:2, 10; 3:16; 4:7-8; 6:3, 5-6, 11; 2 Tim. 3:5; Titus 1:1). Glamour can be partially applied on the outside, but godliness must come from within.

We must never underestimate the important place godly women played in the ministry of the church. The Gospel message had a tremendous impact on them because it affirmed their value before God and their equality in the body of Christ (Gal. 3:28). Women had a low place in the Roman world, but the Gospel changed that.

There were devoted women who ministered to Jesus in the days of His earthly ministry (Luke 8:1-3). They were present at His crucifixion and burial, and it was a woman who first announced the glorious news of His resurrection. In the Book of Acts, we meet Dorcas (9:36), Lydia (16:14), Priscilla (18:1–3), and godly women in the Berean and Thessalonian churches (17:4, 12). Paul greeted at least eight women in Romans 16; and Phebe, who carried the Roman epistle to its destination, was a deaconess in a local church (v. 1). Many believing women won their husbands to the Lord and then opened their homes for Christian ministry.

Quiet learning (v. 11). “Silence” is an unfortunate translation because it gives the impression that believing women were never to open their mouths in the assembly. This is the same word that is translated “peaceable” in 1 Timothy 2:2. Some of the women abused their newfound freedom in Christ and created disturbances in the services by interrupting. It is this problem that Paul addressed in his admonition. It appears women were in danger of upsetting the church by trying to “enjoy” their freedom. Paul wrote a similar admonition to the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 14:34), though this admonition may apply primarily to speaking in tongues.

1-Timothy-2.12 commentaryRespecting authority (vv. 12–15). Women are permitted to teach, depending on the setting. Older women should teach the younger women (Titus 2:3–4). Timothy was taught at home by his mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). But in their teaching ministry, they must not “lord it over” men. There is nothing wrong with a godly woman instructing a man in private (Acts 18:24-28), but she must not assume authority in the church and try to take the place of a man. She should exercise “quietness” and help keep order in the church.

Paul gave several arguments to back up this admonition that the Christian men in the church should be the spiritual leaders. The first is an argument from Creation: Adam was formed first, and then Eve. (Paul used this same argument in 1 Cor. 11:1–10.) We must keep in mind that priority does not mean superiority. Man and woman were both created by God and in God’s image. The issue is only authority: man was created first.

The second argument has to do with man’s fall into sin. Satan deceived the woman into sinning (Gen. 3:1; 2 Cor. 11:3); the man sinned with his eyes wide open. Because Adam rejected the God-given order, he listened to his wife, disobeyed God, and brought sin and death into the world. The submission of wives to their own husbands is a part of the original Creation. The disorder we have in society today results from a violation of that God-given order.

I do not think Paul is suggesting women are more gullible than men and thus more easily deceived; for experience proves both men and women are deceived by Satan. On one occasion, Abraham listened to his wife and got into trouble (Gen. 16). Later on, she gave him counsel and God told him to obey it (Gen. 21). In my own pastoral ministry, I have benefited greatly from the encouragement and counsel of godly women, including my wife; but I have tried not to let them usurp authority in the church. In fact, the godly women I know have no desire to “run” things in the church.

The creation of humans and their fall into sin both seem to put the woman in an inferior position, but she does have a ministry from God. There was probably a close relationship in Paul’s mind between what he wrote here and what Moses wrote in Genesis 3:16—the promise of the Savior who would be “made of a woman” (Gal 4:4). It was through a woman that the Savior came into the world. (Keep in mind Jesus had an earthly mother, but not an earthly father—Matt. 1:18; Luke 1:34–35.)

Paul teaches a practical lesson. He promised the woman would “be kept safe through childbirth” if “they” (both husband and wife) continued in sincere dedication to the Lord (v. 15). Does this mean Christian mothers will never die in childbirth? History and experience both tell us they do. God has His purposes and His ways are far above our thoughts (Isa. 55:8–9).

Paul laid down a general principle that encouraged the believing women of that day. Their ministry was not to “run” the church, but to care for the home and bear children to the glory of God (1 Tim. 5:14). Their “home congregation” would give them abundant opportunities for teaching the Word and ministering to the saints (Rom. 16:1–6).

Godly women do have an important ministry in the local assembly, even though they are not called to be teachers of the Word in a pastoral sense. If all is done “decently and in order,” then God will bless.

To think about and discuss

1. Why does Paul focus on women’s fashions? How should Christian women apply the dress code given in 1 Timothy 2:9–10 today?

2. Identify which ministries are open to women in the local church by applying the teaching of 1 Timothy 2:11–13. Think about areas of leadership in which they may or may not be involved, according to the principles set out in these verses.

3. Many churches have gone to extremes in the area of women’s involvement. Some open up every area of ministry to them, including preaching and the eldership, while others have consigned them solely to the tasks of catering and cleaning. Discuss how a biblical approach to this issue can be reached.

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Spiritual Responsibilities of Men and Women: Part 1 (1 Timothy 2)

1 Tim current seriesWelcome back to our study of 1 Timothy. Today, we will be looking at chapter 2, where Paul gives instructions for public worship, emphasizing the importance of prayer and order in church meetings.

“Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Cor. 14:40) is a basic principle for the conduct of the ministry of the church. Apparently, young Timothy was having some problems applying this principle to the assemblies in Ephesus. The public worship services were losing their order and effectiveness because both the men and the women members of the church were disobeying God’s Word.

“The church is an organism,” a pastor told me, “so we shouldn’t put too much emphasis on organization. We should allow the Spirit to have freedom.”

“But if an organism is disorganized,” I quickly reminded him, “it will die. Yes, I agree we must permit the Spirit to have freedom, but even the Holy Spirit is not free to disobey the Word of God.”

Often, what we think is the “freedom of the Spirit” are the carnal ideas of some Christian who is not walking in the Spirit. Eventually, this “freedom” becomes anarchy and the Spirit grieves as a church gradually moves away from the standards of God’s Word. To counteract this tendency, Paul exhorts the men and women in the church and reminds them of their spiritual responsibilities.

men_praying2The Men—Praying (2:1–8)

I urge, then, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose, I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles. Therefore, I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.

The priority of prayer (v. 1a). “First of all” indicates prayer is most important in the public worship of the church. It is sad to see how prayer has lost importance in many churches. “If I announce a banquet,” a pastor said, “people will come out of the woodwork to attend. But if I announce a prayer meeting, I’m lucky if the ushers show up!” Not only have the special meetings for prayer lost stature in most local churches, but even prayer in the public services is greatly minimized. Many pastors spend more time on the announcements than they do in prayer!

Much prayer, much power! No prayer, no power! Prayer was as much a part of the apostolic ministry as preaching the Word (Acts 6:4). Yet, some pastors spend hours preparing their sermons, but rarely pray. Consequently, their prayers are routine, humdrum, and repetitious. I am not suggesting a pastor write out every word and read it, but that he think through what he will pray about. This will keep “the pastoral prayer” from becoming dull and a mere repetition of what was “prayed” the previous week.

Church members also need to be prepared to pray. Our hearts must be right with God and with each other. We must really want to pray and not pray simply to please people (as did the Pharisees, Matt. 6:5) or to fulfill a religious duty. When a local church ceases to depend on prayer, God ceases to bless its ministry.

The variety of prayer (v. 1b). There are at least seven different Greek nouns for “prayer” and four of them are used here. Prayer is the most common term for this sacred activity. We are praying to God; prayer is an act of worship, not just an expression of our wants and needs. There should be reverence in our hearts as we pray to God.

Intercession is the same word translated “prayer” in 1 Timothy 4:5, where it refers to blessing the food we eat. (It is rather obvious we do not intercede for our food in the usual sense of that word.) The basic meaning is “to draw near to a person and converse confidently with him.” It suggests we enjoy fellowship with God, so we may have confidence in Him as we pray.

Thanksgiving is definitely a part of worship and prayer. We not only give thanks for answers to prayer, but for who God is and what He does for us in His grace. We should not simply add our thanksgiving to the end of a selfish prayer! Thanksgiving should be an important ingredient in all of our prayers. In fact, sometimes we need to imitate David and present to God only thanksgiving with no petitions at all! (see Ps. 103)

“Prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” are a part of Paul’s formula for God’s peace in our hearts (Phil. 4:6). It is worth noting Daniel, the great prayer-warrior, practiced this kind of praying (Dan. 6:10–11).

The objects of prayer (vv. 1c–2). “All people” makes it clear that no person on earth is outside the influence of believing prayer. This means we should pray for the unsaved and the saved, for people near us and people far away, for enemies as well as friends. While we cannot pray for everybody in the world by name, we certainly ought to pray for those we know and know about. Unfortunately, the Pharisees did not have this universal outlook in their prayers, for they centered their attention primarily on Israel.

Paul urged the church to especially pray for those in authority. Godless Emperor Nero was on the throne at that time and yet the believers were supposed to pray for him! Even when we cannot respect men or women in authority, we must respect their offices and pray for them. In fact, it is for our own good we do so: “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (2:2b). The early church was always subject to opposition and persecution, so it was wise to pray for those in authority. “Quiet” refers to circumstances around us, while “peaceful” refers to a calm attitude within us. The results should be lives that are godly and honorable.

The reasons for prayer (vv. 3–4). The word “good” is a key word in Paul’s pastoral epistles. The Greek word emphasizes the idea of something being intrinsically good, not just good in its effects. “Fair” and “beautiful” are synonyms. Certainly, prayer of itself is a good practice and brings with it many good benefits.

Prayer is also pleasing to the Lord. It pleases the Father when His children pray as He has commanded them to. The Pharisees prayed in order to be praised by men (Matt. 6:5) or to impress other worshipers (Luke 18:9–14). True Christians pray in order to please God. This suggests we must pray in the will of God because it certainly does not please the Father when we pray selfishly (James 4:1–10; 1 John 5:14–15). It is often said the purpose of prayer is not to get man’s will done in heaven, but to get God’s will done on earth.

What is God’s will? The salvation of lost souls, for one thing. We can pray for “all people” because it is God’s will that “all people” come to the knowledge of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. God loved the world (John 3:16) and Christ died for the whole world (1 John 2:2; 4:14). Jesus died on the cross, so He might draw “all people” to salvation (John 12:32). This does not mean all people without exception, for certainly the whole world is not going to be saved. It means all people without distinction—Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, religious and pagan.

If God does not want anyone to perish, then why are so many lost? God is long-suffering with lost sinners, even delaying His judgment, so they might come to Christ (2 Peter 3:9). Salvation depends on “knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). Not everyone has heard the truth of the Gospel and many who have heard have rejected it. We cannot explain the mystery of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility (John 6:37), but realize both are taught in the Bible and are harmonized in God’s great plan of salvation. We do know prayer is an important part of God’s program for reaching a lost world. We have the responsibility of praying for lost souls (Rom. 10:1) and making ourselves available to share the Gospel with others.

The basis for prayer (vv. 5–7). Many believers do not realize prayer is based on the work of Jesus Christ as Savior and Mediator. As the God-Man, Jesus Christ is the perfect Mediator between the holy God and His failing children. One of Job’s complaints had to do with the absence of a mediator who could take his message to the throne of God: “If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together” (Job 9:33).

Since there is only one God, there is only need for one Mediator; and that Mediator is Jesus Christ. No other person can qualify. Jesus Christ is both God and man, and He is the Mediator between God and man. In His perfect life and substitutionary death, He met the just demands of God’s holy law. He was the “ransom for all.” The word ransom means “a price paid to free a slave.” His death was “on behalf of all.” Though the death of Christ is efficient only for those who trust Him, it is sufficient for the sins of the whole world. Jesus said He came “to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).

Christ died for “all men” and God is willing for “all men to be saved.” How does this Good News get out to a sinful world? God calls and ordains messengers who take the Gospel to lost sinners. Paul was such a messenger: he was a preacher (the herald of the King), an apostle (one sent with a special commission), and a teacher. The same God who ordains the end (the salvation of the lost) also ordains the means to the end: prayer and preaching of the Word. This Good News is not only for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles.

If the basis for prayer is the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ on the cross, then prayer is a most important activity in a church. Not to pray is to slight the cross! To pray only for ourselves is to deny the worldwide outreach of the cross. To ignore lost souls is to ignore the cross. “All people” is the key to this paragraph: We pray for “all” because Christ died for “all” and it is God’s will that “all” be saved. We must give ourselves to God to be a part of His worldwide program to reach people before it is too late.

The attitude in prayer (v. 8). Paul stated definitely that “men” should pray in the local assembly. Both men and women prayed in the early church (1 Cor. 11:4–5), but the emphasis here is on the men. It is common to find women’s prayer meetings, but not often do we find men’s prayer meetings. If the men do not pray the local church will not have dedicated leaders to oversee its ministry.

It was customary for Jewish men to pray with their arms extended and their hands open to heaven. Our traditional posture of bowing the head, folding the hands, and closing the eyes is nowhere found or commanded in Scripture. Actually, there are many prayer postures found in the Bible: standing with outstretched hands (1 Kings 8:22); kneeling (Dan. 6:10); standing (Luke 18:11); sitting (2 Sam. 7:18); bowing the head (Gen. 24:26); lifting the eyes (John 17:1); falling on the ground (Gen. 17:3). The important thing is not the posture of the body, but the posture of the heart.

Paul states three essentials for effective prayer. The first is “holy hands.” Obviously this means a holy life. “Clean hands” was symbolic of a blameless life (2 Sam. 22:21; Ps. 24:4). If we have sin in our lives, we cannot pray and expect God to answer (Ps. 66:18).

“Without anger” is the second essential and requires we be on good terms with one another. A person who is constantly having trouble with other believers, who is a troublemaker rather than a peacemaker, cannot pray and get answers from God.

“Without disputing” (doubting) is the third essential and suggests we must pray in faith. When we have anger in the heart, we often have open disagreements with others. Christians should learn to disagree without being disagreeable. We should “do all things without grumbling or arguing” (Phil. 2:14).

Effective praying, then, demands that I be in a right relationship with God (“holy hands”) and with my fellow believers (“without grumbling or arguing”). Jesus taught the same truth (Mark 11:24–26). If we spent more time preparing to pray and getting our hearts right before God, our prayers would be more effective.

Praying is one of the spiritual responsibilities of men in church. What other responsibilities would you say men have?

In Part 2, we will look at a spiritual responsibility of women.

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Essential Responsibilities of Pastor and Church: Part 2 (1 Timothy 1)

0e1121773_1timothyhomerotatorimageIn 1 Timothy 1, Paul explained the three responsibilities of the pastor and people in a local church. In Part 1, we saw the first responsibility: teach sound doctrine. Today, we will look at the next two responsibilities.

Proclaim the Gospel (1 Tim. 1:12–17)

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that He considered me trustworthy, appointing me to His service. Even though I was once a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason, I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His immense patience as an example for those who would believe in Him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

The mention of “the Gospel” in the previous verse (1:11) moved Paul to share his own personal testimony. He was “Exhibit A” to prove the Gospel of the grace of God really works. When we read Paul’s testimony (see also Acts 9:1–22; 22:1–21; 26:9–18), we begin to grasp the wonder of God’s grace and His saving power.

What Paul used to be (v. 13a). He was a blasphemer because he denied the deity of Jesus Christ and forced others to deny it. He was a persecutor who used physical power to try to destroy the church. “Murderous threats” were the very breath of his life (Acts 9:1). He persecuted the Christian church (1 Cor. 15:9) and then discovered he was actually laying hands on Jesus Christ, the Messiah! (Acts 9:4) During this period of his life, Paul consented to the stoning of Stephen and made havoc of the church (Acts 8:1–4).

Paul was injurious, a word that means “proud and insolent.” A modern equivalent might be “bully.” It conveys the idea of a haughty man “throwing his weight around” in violence. But the basic causes of his godless behavior were “ignorance” and “unbelief.” Even though Saul of Tarsus (now Paul) was a brilliant man and well educated (Acts 22:3; Gal. 1:13–14), his mind was blinded from the truth (1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:3–4). He was a religious man, yet he was not headed for heaven! It was not until he put faith in Jesus Christ that he was saved (Phil. 3:1–11).

How Paul was saved (vv. 13b–15). How could the holy God ever save and forgive such a self-righteous sinner? The key words are “mercy” and “grace.” God in His mercy did not give Paul what he did deserve; instead God in His grace gave Paul what he did not deserve. Grace and mercy are God’s love in action, God’s love paying a price to save lost sinners. It is not God’s love alone that saves us, for God loves the whole world (John 3:16). It is by grace we are saved (Eph. 2:8–9). God is rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4) and grace (Eph. 2:7).

What did Paul’s “ignorance” have to do with his salvation? Is ignorance an excuse before God? Of course not! The fact of his ignorance is related to a special Jewish law (Lev. 5:15–19; Num. 15:22–31). If a person sinned knowingly and intentionally in Israel, he was cut off from the people; but if he sinned in ignorance, he was permitted to bring the proper sacrifices to atone for his sins. Jesus recognized this principle when He prayed on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Their ignorance did not save them, nor did Christ’s prayer save them; but the combination of the two postponed God’s judgment, giving them an opportunity to be saved.

Paul said it took “abundant” grace to save him! Paul liked to use the Greek prefix huper (meaning “an exceeding abundant amount”) and he often attached it to words in his letters. You might translate some of these as “super-increase of faith” (2 Thes. 1:3); “super-abounding power” (Eph. 1:19); “super-conqueror” (Rom. 8:37). This same prefix has come into the English language as hyper. We speak of “hyperactive” children and “hypersensitive” people.

Paul makes it clear this salvation is not for him only, but for all who receive Jesus Christ (1:15). If Jesus could save Saul of Tarsus, the chief of sinners, then He can save anybody! We admire Paul’s humility, and we note he considered himself to be the “least of the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9) and the “least of all saints” (Eph. 3:8). Notice, Paul did not write “of whom I was chief” but “of whom I am chief.”

Day I Met JesusWhat Paul became (vv. 12, 16). The grace of God turned the persecutor into a preacher and the murderer into a minister! So dramatic was the change in Paul’s life that the Jerusalem church suspected it was a trick and they had a hard time accepting him (Acts 9:26–31). God gave Paul his ministry; he did not get it from Peter or the other Apostles (Gal. 1:11–24). He was called and commissioned by the risen Christ in heaven.

God saw Paul was faithful, so He entrusted the Gospel to him. Even as an unbelieving and Gospel-ignorant Jewish leader, Paul maintained a good conscience and lived up to the light he had. So often those who are intensely wrong as lost sinners become intensely right as Christians and are greatly used of God to win souls. God not only entrusted the Gospel to Paul, but He enabled Paul to minister the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:10; Phil. 4:13). When someone obeys God’s call to serve, God always equips and enables that person.

Paul not only became a minister; he also became an example (1 Tim. 1:16). In what sense is Paul an example to lost sinners who believe on Christ? None of us has had the same experience Paul had on the Damascus road (Acts 9). We did not see a light, fall to the ground, and hear Jesus speak from heaven. Paul is a pattern (“type”) to all lost sinners, for he was the chief of sinners! He is proof the grace of God can change any sinner!

There is a special application of this to today’s people of Israel, Paul’s countrymen, for whom he had a special burden (Rom. 9:1–5; 10:1–3). The people of Israel, like unconverted Saul of Tarsus, are religious, self-righteous, blind to their own Law and its message of the Messiah, and unwilling to believe. One day, Israel will see Jesus Christ even as Paul saw Him; and the nation will be saved: “They will look on Me whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10). This may be one reason why Paul said he was “born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8), for his experience of seeing the risen Christ came at the beginning of this Church Age and not at its end (Matt. 24:29).

Paul gave a third responsibility for the local church to fulfill besides teaching sound doctrine and proclaiming the Gospel.

Defend the Faith (1 Tim. 1:18–20)

 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this charge in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

Again, Paul used military language to enforce his statement. The word “charge” (1:18) means “an urgent command handed down from a superior officer” (1 Tim. 1:3). It was not easy to serve God in pagan Ephesus, but Timothy was a man under orders and he had to obey. The soldier’s task is to “please his commanding officer” (2 Tim. 2:4) and not to please himself.

Furthermore, Timothy was there by divine appointment: God had chosen him and sent him. It was this fact that could give him assurance in difficult days. If you are God’s servant, called by the Spirit, obeying His will, then you can “stay with it” and finish the work. These assurances enabled Timothy to “fight the battle well” (1:18).

Paul warned Timothy the only way to succeed was to hold fast to “faith and a good conscience.” It is not enough to proclaim the faith with our lips; we must practice the faith in our daily lives. One man said of his hypocritical pastor, “He is such a good preacher, he should never get out of the pulpit; but he is such a poor Christian, he should never get into the pulpit!”

A good conscience is important to a good warfare and a good ministry. Some people define conscience as “the inner voice which warns us that somebody may be looking.” But a man with a good conscience will do the will of God in spite of who is watching or what people may say. Like Martin Luther, he will say, “Here I stand; I can do no other, so help me God!”

Professed Christians who “suffer shipwreck with regard to the faith” (1:19) do so by sinning against their consciences. Bad doctrine usually starts with bad conduct and usually with secret sin. Hymenaeus and Alexander (1:20) deliberately rejected their good consciences in order to defend their ungodly lives. Paul did not tell us exactly what they did, except their sin involved “blaspheming” in some way (2 Tim. 2:16–18; 4:14).

“Handed over to Satan” (1:20) implies discipline (1 Cor. 5:5) and disassociation from the local church. “To be taught” means “to learn by discipline.” When a Christian refuses to repent, the local fellowship should exercise discipline, excluding him from the protective fellowship of the saints, making him vulnerable to the attacks of Satan. The fellowship of the local church, in obedience to the will of God, gives a believer spiritual protection. Satan has to ask God for permission to attack a believer (Job 1–2; Luke 22:31–34).

Each local church is in a constant battle against the forces of evil. There are false prophets and false teachers, as well as false christs. Satan is the originator of false doctrines, for he is a liar from the beginning (John 8:44). It is not enough for a local church to teach sound doctrine and to proclaim the Gospel. The church must also defend the faith by exposing lies and opposing the doctrines of demons (1 Tim. 4:1).

It is important our ministry be balanced. Some churches only preach the Gospel and seldom teach their converts the truths of the Christian life. Other churches are only opposing false doctrine; they have no positive ministry. We must be teachers of healthy doctrine (“sound doctrine,” 1:10) or the believers will not grow. We must preach the Gospel, keep winning the lost to Christ, and defend the faith against those who would corrupt the church with false doctrine and godless living. It is a constant battle, but it must be carried on.

Timothy must have been greatly helped and encouraged when he read this first section of Paul’s letter. God had called Timothy, equipped him, and put him into his place of ministry. Timothy’s job was not to run all over Ephesus, being involved in a multitude of tasks. His job was to care for the church by winning the lost, teaching the saved, and defending the faith. Any task that did not relate to these ministries would have to be abandoned. One reason some local churches today are having problems is because the pastors and spiritual leaders are involved in too many extracurricular activities and are not doing the tasks God has called them to do. It would be a good idea for our churches to take a spiritual inventory!

To think about and discuss

1. What encouragement does Paul’s description of his old life before he was a Christian give us for the work of evangelism?

2. Dramatic testimonies are often widely published and can be very effective, but sometimes there can be such an emphasis on them that God’s work in the lives of ordinary people gets neglected. What do you think Christian leaders and publishers should do to address this?

3. Think of instances where church discipline would be appropriate and inappropriate. How seriously is the subject of church discipline treated today?

4. How can the local church equip and encourage Christians to keep on the right path and finish well? (See Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 4:7–8; Phil. 3:12–16.)

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Essential Responsibilities of Pastor and Church: Part 1 (1 Timothy 1)

Guard the truth_Leadership“Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.”

That advertisement appeared in a London newspaper and thousands of men responded! It was signed by the noted Arctic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, and that was what made the difference.

If Jesus Christ had advertised for workers, the announcement might have read something like this: “Men and women wanted for difficult task of helping to build My church. You will often be misunderstood, even by those working with you. You will face constant attack from an invisible enemy. You may not see the results of your labor and your full reward will not come until after all your work is completed. It may cost you your home, your ambitions, even your life.”

In spite of the demands He makes, Jesus Christ receives the “applications” of many who gladly give their all for Him. He is certainly the greatest Master for whom anyone could work and the task of building His church is certainly the greatest challenge to which a believer could give his life.

Timothy was one young man who responded to Christ’s call to help build His church. He was one of the Apostle Paul’s special assistants. He was so devoted to Christ that his local church leaders recommended him to Paul and Paul added him to his “missionary staff” (Acts 16:1–5). Along with Titus, Timothy tackled some of the tough assignments in the churches Paul had founded.

Timothy was brought up in a religious home (2 Tim. 1:5) and had been led to faith in Christ by Paul himself. This explains why Paul called Timothy “my own son in the faith” (1:2). Timothy was born of mixed parentage: his mother was a Jew, his father a Greek.

Paul often reminded Timothy he was chosen for this ministry (1 Tim. 1:18; 4:14). Timothy was faithful to the Lord (1 Cor. 4:17) and had a deep concern for God’s people (Phil. 2:20–22). But in spite of his calling, his close association with Paul, and his spiritual gifts, Timothy was easily discouraged. The last time Paul had been with Timothy, he had encouraged him to stay on at Ephesus and finish his work (1:3). Apparently, Timothy had physical problems (1 Tim. 5:23) as well as periods of discouragement; and we get the impression some of the church members were not giving their pastor the proper respect as God’s servant (1 Tim. 4:12; 2 Tim. 2:6–8).

Ephesus would not be the easiest place to pastor a church. (Are there any “easy places”? I doubt it.) The city was devoted to the worship of Diana, the patroness of the sexual instinct. Her lascivious images helped promote sexual immorality of all kinds (Acts 19). Paul had done a great work in Ephesus during his three-year ministry, “so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the Word of the Lord” (v. 10). It was not easy for Timothy to follow a man like Paul! Of course, Satan had his workers in the city for wherever there are spiritual opportunities there are also satanic obstacles (1 Cor. 16:8–9).

Paul wrote the letter we call 1 Timothy to encourage Timothy, to explain how a local church should be managed, and to enforce his own authority as a servant of God. In 1 Timothy 1, Paul explained the three responsibilities of the pastor and people in a local church.

Teach Sound Doctrine (1 Tim. 1:1–11)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous, but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which He entrusted to me.

From the very greeting of the letter, Paul affirmed his authority as a servant of Jesus Christ. Those who were giving Timothy trouble needed to remember their pastor was there because God had put him there, for Paul’s authority was given by God. Paul was an “apostle,” one whom God sent with a special commission. His apostleship came by “commandment” from Jesus Christ. This word means “a royal commission.” Both Paul and Timothy were sent by the King of kings!

Jesus Christ is not only Lord, but He is our “Savior,” a title used ten times in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 1:1; 2:3; 4:10; 2 Tim. 1:10; Titus 1:3–4; 2:10, 13; 3:4, 6). To discouraged Timothy, the reminder that Jesus is “our hope” (1:1) was a real boost. Paul wrote the same encouragement to Titus (Titus 1:2; 2:13; 3:7). Knowing that Jesus Christ is coming for us encourages us to serve Him faithfully.

One reason Christian workers must stay on the job is because false teachers are busy trying to capture Christians. There were teachers of false doctrines in Paul’s day just as there are today and we must take them seriously. These false teachers have no good news for lost sinners. They seek instead to lead Christians astray and capture them for their causes.

Paul used military language to help Timothy and his people see the seriousness of the problem (1:3). Charge means “to give strict orders from a superior officer.” Paul used this word (sometimes translated “commandment” and “command”) eight times in his two letters to Timothy (1:3, 5, 18; 4:11; 5:7; 6:13, 17; 2 Tim. 4:1). He was conveying this idea: “Timothy, you are not only a pastor of the church in a difficult city. You are also a Christian soldier under orders from the King. Now pass these orders along to the soldiers in your church!”

What was the order? “Do not teach different doctrines from those taught by Paul!” In the original text there are thirty-two references to “doctrine,” “teach,” “teacher,” “teaches,” and “teaching” in the three Pastoral Epistles. In the early church, the believers were taught the Word of God and the meanings of basic Christian doctrines. In many churches today, the pulpit is a place for entertainment, not enlightenment and enrichment.

God had committed the truth of the Word to Paul (1:11) and Paul had committed it to Timothy (1 Tim. 6:20). It was Timothy’s responsibility to guard the faith (2 Tim. 1:14) and to pass it along to faithful people (2 Tim. 2:2).

Paul identified the false teaching as “fables and endless genealogies” (1:4). Titus faced the same kind of false teaching in Crete (Titus 1:14; 3:9). The false teachers were using the Old Testament Law, and especially the genealogies, to manufacture all kinds of novelties; and these new doctrines were leading people astray. The false teachers were raising questions, not answering them. They were not promoting “God’s saving plan” (“advancing God’s work,” 1:4), but were leading people away from the truth. Instead of producing love, purity, a good conscience, and sincere faith, these novel doctrines were causing division, hypocrisy, and all sorts of problems.

Paul used the word “conscience” twenty-one times in his letters and six of these references are in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 1:5, 19; 3:9; 4:2; 2 Tim. 1:3; Titus 1:15). The word “conscience” means “to know with.” Conscience is the inner judge that accuses us when we have done wrong and approves when we have done right (Rom. 2:14–15). It is possible to sin against the conscience, so it becomes “defiled” (“corrupted,” Titus 1:15). Repeated sinning hardens the conscience and it becomes “seared” like scar tissue (1 Tim. 4:2).

It is tragic when professed Christians get off course because they refuse “healthy doctrine” (1:10). Paul calls it “godly teaching” (1 Tim. 6:3), “sound teaching” (2 Tim. 1:13), “sound doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1), “faith” (Titus 1:13; 2:2), and “sound speech” (Titus 2:8). But many prefer the “meaningless talk” (1 Tim. 1:6) of those who teach novelties rather than the pure Word of God, which produces holiness in lives. It is unfortunate today we not only have “meaningless talk” in teaching and preaching, but also in music. Far too many songs not only teach no doctrine, but many even teach false doctrines. A singer has no more right to sing a lie than a teacher has to teach a lie.

The reason for this false doctrine was a misuse of the Old Testament Law. These false teachers did not understand the content or the purpose of God’s Law. They were leading believers out of the liberty of grace (Gal. 5:1) into the bondage of legalism, a tragedy that still occurs today. The flesh (our old nature) loves religious legalism because rules and regulations enable a person to appear holy without really having to change his heart.

Paul listed fourteen kinds of people who were condemned by the Law (1 Tim. 1:9–10). This is one of several such lists in the New Testament (Mark 7:20–23; Rom. 1:18–32; Gal. 5:19–21). The lawful use of the Law is to expose, restrain, and convict the lawless. The Law cannot save lost sinners; it can only reveal their need for a Savior: “For if righteousness could be gained through the Law, Christ died for nothing!” (Gal. 2:21; 3:21–29). When a sinner believes on Jesus Christ, he is freed from the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:10–14) and the righteous demands of the Law are met by the indwelling Holy Spirit as the believer yields to God (Rom. 8:1–4).

It is the “glorious Gospel,” which saves lost sinners. Paul had experienced the power of the Gospel (Rom. 1:16) and he had been entrusted with the ministry of the Gospel (1 Thes. 2:4). The Law and Gospel go together, for Law without Gospel is diagnosis without remedy. But the Gospel without Law is only the Good News of salvation for people who do not believe they need it because they have never heard the bad news of judgment. The Law is not Gospel, but the Gospel is not lawless (Rom. 3:20–31).

Teaching sound doctrine is the first responsibility of the church. What other responsibilities of the church would you add to this list?

In Part 2, we will look at two more essential responsibilities of pastor and people in the church.

To think about and discuss

1. Which is more loving, to keep quiet or to say something when a Christian friend is living in a way that is inconsistent with God’s Word?

2. Identify some of the “meaningless talk” in today’s church. What steps should be taken to avoid it?

3. Do you think there is enough emphasis on God’s commands when the good news is presented? How can the law of God and the grace of God be kept in balance?

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