Monday, July 30, 2012

Encouragement for Pastors

Dear Pastor,
Grace and Peace to you.

2 Corinthians 4 (ESVUK)
 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practise cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness”, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10  always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke”, we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Romans 8:31-39 (ESVUK)
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

 Isaiah 54:14-17 (ESVUK)
 14 In righteousness you shall be established;
    you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear;
    and from terror, for it shall not come near you.
15  If anyone stirs up strife,
    it is not from me;
whoever stirs up strife with you
    shall fall because of you.
16 Behold, I have created the smith
    who blows the fire of coals
    and produces a weapon for its purpose.
I have also created the ravager to destroy;
17     no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed,
    and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgement.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
     and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.”

Numbers 6:24-26 (ESVUK)
24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Psalm 55:22 (ESVUK)
  Cast your burden on the Lord,
    and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
    the righteous to be moved.

Matthew 11:27-30 (ESVUK)
  27  All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28  Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Philippians 4:4-7 (ESVUK)
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practise these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

2 Timothy 2:15 (ESVUK)
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Isaiah 40:28-31 (ESVUK)
 28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
     his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Radical Christian - Titus 3

Read Titus 3

Titus 3:14 (ESV)
And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

No matter how controversial the early Christians were, no matter how many enemies they made because of their abstinence from temple worship, they still had a job to do, and it was urgent. The early Christian communities lived their just life outwardly. They gave generously to the shared purse, and used their resources to feed the poor. Acts says there were no poor among them. The radical generosity of the early communities was unheard of at the time. They grew quickly as many of the poor and marginalized came to them for aide. This was their testimony of the coming Kingdom. They preached a Saviour and Lord other than Caesar (who called himself by both titles), and showed the people that they could be provided for outside of the "Pax Romana".

The warning and command in this passage is to avoid controversies and arguments within the community. They had a purpose, to actively demonstrate the generous and just Kingdom. Arguments over minor points of doctrine would only serve to distract the community from its very important task, for which many were urgently needing them.

The radical generosity of the early church was to be distributed as universally as the gospel itself. Paul reminds Titus that they themselves were completely unworthy of the grace given by Jesus. God has been generous to them, though they were entirely corrupt. Therefore, our actions and generosity toward people are not bases on their worthiness or righteousness. We are agents of his divine unconditional love. We cannot judge. Freely we have received. Freely we give.

Titus 3:4-8 (ESV)
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

This generosity extends to the previous verses at the beginning of this chapter and the end of Titus 2. The Romans were persecuting the early Christians, often to the death. Many of them were enslaved by Rome. Paul himself was a political prisoner. They subverted the practices of Rome by refusing to worship the Caesar or sacrifice in the local temples. If anyone should deserve the hatred and rebellion of the early Christians, it was the government of Rome and the systems it represented. But Paul says that the generosity offered to us in forgiveness and redemption is to be offered by us freely to all.

Titus 3:1-2 (ESV)
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2  to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy towards all people.

Instead of open rebellion in the face of a contrary empire, they were to look for opportunities to do good works. They were to generously bless the authorities that sought to kill them. This instruction echoes Jesus words in Luke about loving our enemies.
Luke 6:27-31 (ESV)
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28  bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

Many of the early Christians went to their grave at the hands of the agents of the empire they had refused to hate. This demonstrates the truly radical inclusion of the gospel. We who were enemies of God have been accepted. Therefore we will now live justly in an unjust world. We will live in unity in a world defined by self-interest. We will give generously to all without condition or reservation. We will love our enemies even to the death.

At the centre of it all is the gospel of Jesus, who sets us free and enables us to live the new world from the inside out.

Read Titus 3

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Christian Example - Titus 2 notes

Read Titus 2

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, 14  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Followers of Jesus live in a now-but-not-yet reality. We live in the hope of the Kingdom consummated, the return of Jesus (v13), when all will be put right in justice and love. The redemption he offers is for the benefit of the entire world (v11). It is a hope that includes subversion of the present authorities (v13). Titus 2:13 calls Jesus "God and Saviour", a title used to describe Caesar, who claimed to have "saved" the colonies by assimilating them into the Roman empire. Jesus followers have a new King, a new Lord, a new Saviour. The Kingdom of God is coming, and the empire and its authorities will crumble.

Still, we live in the reality of the order as it is now, what Titus 2:12 calls the present age. We are called to be a people "zealous for good works" (v14). In the original language and context, "good works" were the practices of radical generosity and community shared in the early Jesus community. Acts says there was no poor among them. We have a passion for justice. We live contrary to the corrupt patterns of the world as they are. However, the patterns of the world are still as they are, and in this present age, we must find how we can practically live as Kingdom citizens in the midst of the reality of empire.

The early Christians were watched closely by their Roman neighbours. The Christians were significantly separated from the Roman world politically and socially by their abstinence from the temple and the party scene. Temple sacrifice was an assumed practice in Ancient Rome. Keeping the regional gods happy was a civic duty, showing that you cared for the well-being of the community. To not sacrifice was a political act, and also highly suspicious. Drunken orgies were also a common practice, and the early Christians also stopped participating in these. For these to acts alone, they had gained a bad reputation amongst some of the mainstream Romans. Suspicions led to accusations of atheism (for not worshipping the gods), incest (because they called each other "brother" and "sister", and greeted each other with kisses), and cannibalism (because of misunderstandings surrounding communion, the Eucharist). For these reasons, the early communities were watched very closely by curious neighbours and enemies alike. They wanted to know what these people were about.

Titus 2:7-8 (ESV)
Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.

Christians are ambassadors of the living Kingdom. The things we do and say reflect the nature of the Kingdom as it is and the Kingdom to come. By the Holy Spirit, we are "self-controlled" (v12), meaning we have within us the ability to govern our own passions, desires, and actions. We are not lawless (v14), but the law we follow is written on our hearts, not imposed by an outside authority. The Roman Empire's system was the true lawlessness, based on power and control held by the violent and corrupt few. The spirit of the empire filtered down to every citizen, each acting in the same self-interest and hedonism that led the powers to oppress them. Our lives seen by others should demonstrate the passion for justice this chapter describes, in the present age of empire as it is.

At the time this letter was written, fully one third of the population were slaves. The entire economy rested in the foundation of slavery. Romans lived in multi-generational family units, and they represented the building blocks of the empire's system. To live contrary to that system would be tantamount to a community in North America today trying to live entirely outside the country's system of capital, using no money for anything, ever. It was corrupt and unjust, but it was the reality in which the early Christians lived.

With such an understanding, the chapter gives practical advice for how to live in that present age, according to the empire's system, without compromise. Paul instructs the oldest matriarchs and patriarchs of the households to remain sober. The reputation of the oldest in the family units of ancient Rome was drunkenness that would lead to violence and control of the family. Not so for Christians. For every member of the family unit, Paul urges self-control. They were to be models of restraint and discipline, not because it was imposed upon them, but for honour to God. Slaves that would have been taught for the first time in the early Christian communities were not to use their faith as an excuse to rebel. Elsewhere in scripture are examples of slaves that are treated as free equals in the Christian community (particularly Philemon), but the principle in their relationship is to love and respect for the possibility of gaining an ally, rather than creating another enemy of the movement.

Christians and resisters today find themselves in a similar situation. We may believe that the overuse and abuse of fossil fuels is an injustice to the creation we were called to steward. Still, we live in a world that runs on oil and coal, and we must live within it even as we organize and act toward a world not dependent on oil. We may believe that the inequity of the wage system is unjust, and that an fully organized workforce is the only way workers will truly be paid what they are worth. Still, we must live and work within the world as it is. We do not have the choice to quit working, but we can organize toward a more just system even as we work in the system as it is.

Our hope is for a world that is just, loving, and good. Our lives lived now in the power of the Holy Spirit are a hint to those that watch us of how the world can be. Our lives lived in freedom and self-control witness to those that see us that the world can be different, is indeed different, and that the ideal and just world we speak of truly is coming.

Read Titus 2

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Radical Pastor - Titus 1

Titus 1:5,9 (ESV)
5  This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

The third pastoral letter begins with the same message the first two repeated. The role of a pastor is to teach teachers to teach teachers to teach. The message to teach is simple and clear and constant. Pastors are to teach the gospel centrally, the Good News of free and gracious invitation to participate in the living Kingdom of God here and now, by the power of the freely given Holy Spirit dwelling in us, received by faith in Jesus Christ. This invitation is for all people, everywhere, without restriction or payment, regardless of class, gender, ethnicity, or background. None are preferred. All are enabled to live free and freely participate in Kingdom Communities that radically share together and resist the spirit of the empire from which they are free.

The teachers (called elders, or overseers) are chosen based on integrity and character. Everything else is developed in mentoring relationships. As Paul teaches Titus and Timothy, these elders will also be taught to teach the radical and free gospel of Jesus centrally.

Titus is also warned, as Timothy was, to guard against infiltrators that would try to bind people to rules and legislation as essential elements of their citizenry in the new Kingdom. Paul finds such religious oppression abhorrent, and entirely contrary to the free message he preaches of Jesus. Citizens of the Kingdom have been set free from law, and he will not abide such legalistic ritual applied to the free demonstration of faith through people as they pursue Jesus' justice and love.

Most of the mechanics of this foundational message of the three pastoral letters are explored in the notes on the letters to Timothy.

(see notes on preaching the Gospel from 1 Timothy 1 and Qualifications of Elders in 1 Timothy 2)

Preach the gospel.
Teach others to do the same.
Teach them to teach others to teach others to do the same.
The gospel is free, an for everyone.

The description of a pastor's role is so incredibly simple in these three short letters. What is surprising is how often pastors and churches today can have far-reaching and multi faceted ministries that do a great deal of good, and still sometimes manage to not fulfill these simple instructions. It is possible to go to church for months, and hear a lot of really great, even really helpful preaching, but never hear the gospel clearly presented. It's possible today to go to church for years without forming a significant mentoring, enabling relationship. Some churches go a generation with very little change in the leadership, the same few people on the stage or behind the pulpit without anyone else equipped to replace them.

This criticism isn't meant to suggest these churches don't love God, believe the gospel, or do good things. Sermons about money management, relationships, or success aren't bad. But what is missing when we don't keep it as simple or central as Paul suggests in the pastoral letters? And for what reason would we ever fail to practice church as they describe?

The truth is that community is very hard. Diverse community is especially hard. The early church didn't exist long before their radical inclusion did begin to cause them problems. People came to the communities with all kinds of baggage, old habits and worldviews they'd learned as prisoners of the empire. The ideal of Kingdom life was practiced in faith by the early Jesus followers, but there wasn't always agreement in how a just and loving community is organized and demonstrated. Worse, even if there was agreement, many frequently failed to meet the ideal. Conflicts and consequences needed to be dealt with in mutuality and love, also in the Spirit. Every member of community was on a journey, and had to also be gracious to the unique processes of their fellow travelers.

The same is true today. Community is still hard. Community lived counter-culturally, in resistance to the world's patterns, is really hard. Sharing an *inclusive* community, always welcoming new members just starting their journeys, is even harder.

The message of grace in the gospel is so scandalously free. It can take more than a lifetime to really grasp and practice the incredible freedom offered in the Kingdom. This freedom is much greater than a lack of oppression. This is a participatory and active freedom. We rest in the grace of God. We actively participate in the justice of God.

The problem is, we're not necessarily always all that good at it. And that's scary.

The message we pastors have been commissioned to share is an invitation to *participate*, right now, by faith, in God's work on earth. In an inclusive and active community, that can be scary.

Furthermore, people enter free community with a lifetime of experience in the old order, the controlling, corrupted, oppressive empire. We have habits of selfishness, some learned, some embraced from our own dark nature of the empire within. Many come with trauma and abuse, institutionalized by the world as it is. To simply remove chains and call a former prisoner free is a sober idea. But this is why we have community. We are not left to our devices. We each and all humbly submit our journeys to one another, failing forward toward a Victory purchased and promised for us.

What a beautiful mess.

But we pastors are as fallible as anyone else in the comnunity. Many of us would prefer things neat and tidy sometimes. It's also an easy trap to fall into. People come to church expecting what they've always had, someone telling them what to do, how to live. For some, freedom to do as they will is as frightening to them as it is to the pastor. So there is a certain comfort in fulfilling that role, giving three keys each week to relationship or financial success, but failing to share the tools to discover the keys themselves.

If we fall into this pattern, we may quickly find ourselves mirroring the old order from which our communities came. The people become consumers, and the pastor becomes a distributor of religious goods and services. The church itself becomes a commodity to be marketed. At worst, people are kept infants, dependent on the pastor for their faith and worship.

Paul demonstrates something different with Timothy. He never claims to have something that Timothy himself does not already possess.

2 Timothy 1:6-7 (ESV)
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Timothy was a young, inexperienced, and timid pastor who suffered from tummyaches. Paul does not give him step by step instructions for ministry. He does not even tell him exactly how he is supposed to choose and train elders and deacons (Elected? Selected? The text does not say). What he does tell him is to preach the gospel, which he repeatedly reminds him is something he already knows. He reminds him to stir up the gift already within him by the same Holy Spirit in Paul. And then he just lets him have a go at it.

What a mess that could be.

Or what freedom.

We pastors are not on some pedestal above people, getting special access to God on their behalf. There is only one mediator, and it is not you. There are no priests necessary. The same Holy Spirit that dwells in the pastor dwells equally in every single member of God's family. We don't need to tell people what to do, or how to live, not ultimately. Our central purpose is to walk beside or behind people, lifting them up and helping them find their unique gifts and callings. We nurture people as they heal from the trauma of life lived in the empire, and demonstrate how they may each personally participate in the free life of the Kingdom.

Ephesians 4:11-14 (ESV)
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

It's the church, every member, that does the work of the ministry, not the pastor. We're the equippers. We’re not way ahead of anyone. We’re all growing up together. And they might screw it up. In fact, they will, just like you did. Just like you still do. And then we'll humbly and graciously forgive and try again, together, in love and freedom.

We teach people to know and find the truth themselves, to wrestle with faith and scripture, so that they may grow up, and freely participate with life and creativity. A diverse body growing together is stronger than a community of people all following the good advice of one man.

The warning and danger of keeping freedom and community from our congregation is at the end of Titus chapter 1. No matter how good our advice may be, even if it has good result, if it isn't planted in the soil of the gospel, it is infertile. It is dead. Without the radical freedom of the gospel, and the messy business of enabling enablers, we risk becoming like the legalists that Paul warns about. Paul mentions Jewish religious ritual, but not because of an argument with an ethnic or religious group. His warning is about the legalism of religious ritual apart from the freedom of the gospel of the Kingdom. If we preach practical keys to success every week, without preaching the truth that victory has already been won for each of us, we risk creating a new bondage for out congregations. If we talk about how to be happy, without teaching and demonstrating the fruit of true joy that can come from a life lived free, we risk building a cage of empty smiles and hallelujahs as oppressive as the empire's empty hedonism.

We are fulfilled in Jesus.
We are satisfied in Jesus.
We are made free, radically, scandalously free in Jesus.
Even free to fail.

So let's preach the gospel, and give space for people to live as free as the gospel actually allows. Let's be willing to get messy together, and let Jesus be the one with the power, not us. It's better that way.

Read Titus 1

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Preach the word, and bring me my coat back - 2 Timothy 4

Read 2 Timothy 4

2 Timothy 4:6-8 (ESV)
6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Paul is coming to the end of his life and ministry, and is writing to a man he taught and mentored. He’s passing the baton to the next generation of evangelist and pastor. His words here can be read as final encouragements, the last and most important words of a great preacher to the preachers to come.

2 Timothy 4:1-2 (ESV)
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.


Paul makes no bones about it. This is probably the most commonly repeated refrain in the pastoral letters. This is our primary job as pastors. We are to know, study, live, and teach the word. The power to live as God intends is found in faith in Jesus and the empowering Holy Spirit. There are many things we can teach, none of them have any value outside of the grace and truth of Jesus. Without it, all else in the end is bondage.

That the gospel is so radical and potentially offensive is yet more reason to preach it clearly and frequently. Many people will prefer to hear that we can work for our own salvation. Never before in history have people had as many voices, so many choices as to what and to whom they will listen. Six days a week people can Youtube preachers, teachers, and documentaries that say what they want to hear. Many of us have only one day a week, maybe only an hour of that day, when we can boldly point to Jesus, the king and hope of our salvation. Don't worry about competing with all the superpreachers on TV. Preach the truth.

For those of us in the pulpit, we must not be as verses three and four describe, turning our ears to whatever teaching suits us. In a world of Television church and podcast preaching, we have so much choice in our teaching that we can pick our favourites like from a smorgasbord. We must be cautious. We need the whole counsel of scripture. We must be submitted to teaching, not pick our own teachings according to our whims. We are bombarded with a continuous stream of information, and it is easy to become passive listeners. Do not be lulled to sleep by slick and pretty packaging. We should instead use the opportunities have in this generation to get a full and thorough knowledge of truth. We should be media literate, able to discern and reason between truth and deception.

2 Timothy 4:5 (ESV)
As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.


The book of 2 Timothy ends as many New Testament letters do, with greetings and messages for individuals dear to the writer. This sign off includes one of my favourite "post-script" style messages.

2 Timothy 4:13 (ESV)
When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.

Hey, I left my cloak there. Could you grab that?
I think this is funny in the context of a letter that includes 2 Timothy 3:16. I'd love to hear a pastor preach a sermon about Paul forgetting his coat in Ephesus.

Read 2 Timothy 4

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Scripture equips us to live differently - 2 Timothy 3

2 Timothy 3:12-13 (ESV)
12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Those who desire not only to live the goodness and justice of the Kingdom but also teach others to do the same are to take warning that it will not be easy to do so. The patterns of injustice, corruption, violence, hedonism, and self-centredness are habits ingrained by the world's system. Not all who are bound by such things want to be set free. There privileged enjoy temporary benefits by remaining married to the world's doctrines of power and pleasure. It is a deception.

Pastors and righteous resistors are encouraged at the beginning of the chapter to avoid such people. The context of Paul's ministry and writings demonstrate that this does not mean we self-righteously refuse to share our lives with people who are still bound by the spirit of empire. However, we should not pair our lives with the patterns and habits of those that support the machine. The sad truth is that resistance to the world's corruption makes it difficult to have true, close, mutually yoked relationships with people who continue in support of the empire's corrupt patterns. At best, we allow ourselves to become as desensitized and anesthetized as they, rendering us ineffective. At worst, we can become agents of the machine, fully deceived and bound again in sin.

Galatians 5:1 (ESV)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

It is right and good for us to live and fight in love for justice for and even with those who are still personally bound. It is not right that we should become so comfortable with their bondage that we become bound ourselves.

2 Timothy 3:14-17 (ESV)
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

The answer is the same as both letters to Timothy have repeated from the beginning. Our influence is the Word, not the world. We are to be wise in the way of salvation from corruption. Scripture equips us to live for the eternal Kingdom and contrary to the empire's patterns. It is alive, not just rhetoric or philosophy but power itself to live as it teaches.

No fear.

Read 2 Timothy 3

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Enduring, Faithful, Qualified Pastor - 2 Timothy 2

Paul, an older church planter, encourages Timothy, a young pastor in the church's first generation, to remain grounded in the grace of God, having faith that God will accomplish his purposes through him.

The chapter shows us the nature of a faithful and qualified pastor who will endure.

2 Timothy 2:1 (ESV)
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus,

It’s all about Jesus.

It’s all in Jesus and through Jesus. The heavy lifting has been done. Walk in him.

Eph. 6:10 (ESV)
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

2 Timothy 2:2 (ESV)
and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

(see Exodus 18:18-23)

Preach the word.

Teach others to preach the word (see Titus 1:5).

and mobilize.

Some may be uncomfortable with the use of military language like “mobilize”. I am convinced that the gospel does teach Jesus followers non-violent resistance. However, it does not teach non-resistance. We do resist, and we do it together. We wrestle not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12), but we still wrestle. We do contend both in the spirit against forces of darkness, and in the natural against conformity to the violent and corrupt patterns of the world. We resist powers and governments and cultural patterns that are contrary to the justice and love and freedom that Jesus’ preaches and gives. And together, we are an army. Jesus is our commanding officer. Citizens of the Kingdom are ambassadors that go out into the world carrying the message of the Kingdom. Kingdom ambassadors go into the world prepared to resist the powers that believe they are in control. We are mobilized. We teach teachers who teach teachers.

Teach faithful and qualified people. We promote character and giftedness both, not either/or. People can become qualified through development and training. For those of us in ministry, we are reminded to remain faithful and qualified. We should use and challenge our gifts.

2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)
  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Paul goes on about developing others by telling Timothy later in the chapter to remind these people often of the gospel and the cost of Following Jesus (vv8-10). He also encourages them not to be idle arguers over words, but to remain firm in the basic truths of the gospel (vv11-14).

Remaining faithful and qualified in the word and in the spirit, and teaching others to do the same is very hard work.

2 Timothy 2:3 (ESV)
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

Endure Hardship

2 Timothy 4:5 (ESV)
As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.

Hardship and trials are a normal Christian experience.

James 1:2-4 (ESV)
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Romans 8:35, 37 (ESV)
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Hardship is certain. Our victory in Jesus, and his love for us are even more certain.

Faith in his love and his victory won for us will give us the perseverance to endure.

2 Timothy 2:4-7 (ESV)
4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 5  An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. 7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

3 Habits of Faithful, Qualified Church Leaders with Endurance
1 - A Soldier - Civilian Affairs
 A faithful and qualified pastor’s first priority is to please Jesus. (v4).

Matthew 5:13-16 (ESV)
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.

14  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

God intends his disciples to live changed lives that change lives.

This world is our home. We are not just passing through.

Matthew 6:1 (ESV)
Beware of practising your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

We are salt and light in this world, but it is not us that is seen, but our good works for God’s glory.

We only live for the approval of God, not the approval of people.

Romans 12:2 (ESV)
Do not be conformed to this world,[a] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The things of this world choke out God’s word in our lives (Matthew 13:22 – the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word).

When our eyes and heart are singly focused on Jesus, we know the will of our commanding officer, and are able to please him.

Philippians 3:4-11 (ESV)
…though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6  as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law,[a] blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Matthew 6:33 (ESV)
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Jesus is our priority. We have little time or energy for anything else.

My priorities (match my roles)

Once I place these in my weekly schedule, I don't have much time left for frivolous things. I know how to rest, but I am no longer concerned with Youtube memes, gossip, or many of the other things that used to rent space in my time before prioritizing my life according to the Kingdom.

Paul warns Timothy numerous times in this chapter of how easily he could become distracted by irreverent it useless babbling (vv17-18, 23-26). Arguments among Christians over silly details derail us from our purpose - to live by faith according to God's just Kingdom, proclaiming his freedom, love, and grace to a lost and hurting world. Don't get distracted.
2. An Athlete – Competes by the Rules
 A faithful and qualified pastor is disciplined (v5).

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV)
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control,[a] lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Our private life should be viciously disciplined to be free from besetting sins and entanglements.

We should not be distracted by the world (v4), and we should not be bound by besetting sin (v5).

Philippians 3:12-14 (ESV)
(continues from last point)
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Our daily prayer is that God will forgive our sins (Matthew 6:12). We aren’t perfect yet. But we must not use this as an excuse for laziness. On the contrary, we need to be an example of purity and righteousness to our congregations. And when we fail, we must be an example of repentance and humility, as Paul is here. There should be no hidden and habitual sin in a pastor’s life.

Have regular accountability in your life, a person who you regularly check in with about your time with Jesus, and your private world.

3. A Farmer – Feeds Himself First
 A faithful and qualified pastor is filled with the word before teaching others (v6).

Denying yourself to follow Jesus does not mean ministering at the expense of your time with Jesus or your family’s time with you. You should be filled first, and then give. Pour out your life for your congregation, but from a full vessel.

Have a Sabbath. Take a whole day off. Don’t prepare your message for next week. Don’t meet with your congregation. Don’t check your email.

Give to your family before giving to your church. Don’t give your kids your leftovers. To make sure I do this, I take time daily for my family, and a whole day on Saturday, before I preach so I’m fresh for them.

1 Corinthians 9:7 (ESV)
(speaking of payment of those who preach)
Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?

1 Corinthians 9:23 (ESV)
I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

Hebrews 10:36 (ESV)
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

The chapter ends with a strong encouragement to proclaim the word with gentleness, sensitivity, and integrity (v25). Paul had a lot of experience with opponents, even those who tried to kill him. Still, he remained a gentlemen. Through all his trials before Rome, he did not attack his opponents, nor pander to his captors. Freedom in the Kingdom gives us the freedom to take the high road. We don't need to fight people who disagree with us. In gentleness and grace, we give the Holy Spirit room to speak through us, and maybe turn our enemies into family.

2 Timothy 2:20-21 (ESV)
20 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honourable use, some for dishonourable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonourable, he will be a vessel for honourable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.


To minister the gospel is a blessing! (1 Cor 9:23)

We live for a heavenly kingdom! (Matt 6:33)

We have the approval of our commanding officer! (2 Tim 2:4)

We have treasure in heaven! (Matt 6:1)

We’re going to win this race, and get a victor’s crown! (2 Tim 2:5)

We receive the blessings of the gospel first! (2 Tim 2:6)

Enjoy your ministry. Thank God for the blessing of your calling and gifts. Love your congregation.

Read 2 Timothy 2