A Forgotten Aspect of Godliness

Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive (Colossians 3:12-13 CSB).

In this letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul teaches us about the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ in all matters. His preeminent lordship means that he has the right to reorder or restructure the way of life of his people. In other words, by the Spirit he tells us how to live godly. Colossians 3:1-17 is a great text about this. Paul starts with the basic idea of being Christ-focused (3:1-4), next he presents ungodly ways that we must put off (3:5-11), and then he tells us the “new clothing” all followers of Jesus Christ are to wear (3:12-17).

Seven qualities of true godliness are presented in these two verses. More follow in the remainder of this section. Forgiveness is probably the most discussed of these seven. People have much difficulty forgiving others, though everyone wants to be forgiven when we have sinned. Most people sense their need for patience, though impatience is easily dismissed as a mere character flaw. Compassion and kindness are applauded, while humility and gentleness are looked down on, though neither is well-understood. That brings us to the one aspect of relational godliness that is forgotten or ignored: bearing with one another. I have taught the Bible for over forty years, and in my experience at least, people are rather “ho-hum” about bearing with or putting up with others. Certainly, we want others to put up with our sins, mistakes, failures, and general quirkiness. Yes, you and I might look at our own strangeness as originality, but others view our peculiarities as eccentricity, oddness, or simple weirdness. All such matters provide numerous occasions to put up with each other.

As members of the Christ’s body, the church, we need to bear with each other. We might be in the same local church (gathering of believers) or small group or Bible study. Since God our Father has put us together, he wants us to develop our relationship as brothers and sisters in his family. Let’s think of some actions and reactions that are not bearing with one another.

  • When we become annoyed and angry with others because of their sins, flaws, and quirkiness, we are not putting up with them. This should be obvious.
  • It does not mean that we ignore their sins and fail to confront them in love. If we do that, we are simply running from problems.
  • During a conversation with someone, when we desperately seek a way out of the conversation, we fail to put up with them.
  • Likewise, if we avoid connecting with someone, because we get irritated by them, we fail to bear with them. This never helps a relationship to develop, because we need to interact with each other.
  • When we act toward them in impatience, looking eagerly for the opportunity to set them straight. I call this the “grinding your gears” approach. You’re not clobbering the other person yet, but you wish you could! That is not bearing with another person.

When do we bear with one another?

  • When we commit to invest time in improving our relationship with the other person. Paul wanted the Colossian believers to develop a close relationship in their local gathering. This will involve emotional pain on our part, because we do not merely flip an internal switch that stops the irritation we feel. It also will require our own growth in grace and the knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18).
  • When we listen to their story and seek to understand it. This will take effort to concentrate, because we might want to bail out mentally while they tell their story.
  • We must be willing to wait for the other person to change. Some people are very broken by what has happened to them and their concurrent wrong reactions to those events. Picture yourself helping someone to walk again after an accident. The process takes time. That is easy to tell ourselves, but difficult to implement practically.
  • We need to model good patterns of communication to the other person and perhaps tell them how to communicate properly. Certainly, you cannot start here, because hurting people must know that you truly care and desire a better relationship before they show interest in what you think you need to tell them.
  • We ought to pray for the person that we seek to put up with. God works where we cannot: in our heart and in their heart. Pray.

Clearly, this is a complex matter, since relationships among two sinners, including saved sinners, are complicated and complex. But we are new people in Christ, we have the Bible, and the Holy Spirit lives within us to help us. So then, let’s start to put up with people, even when we find it very difficult and frustrating.

Grace and peace

Start the Year with Praise

1 Timothy 1:17

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen (CSB).

At the conclusion of every year, most people conduct at least a casual evaluation of what kind of a year it was for them. Answers range across the whole spectrum from “horribly terrible” to “most excellent”. I can understand the reasons many say, “I’m glad this year is over! I hope the new year will be much better!” My wife and I went through a series of years (2010-2015) that we were glad to see end. Looking back now, I think we can see the hand of God’s blessing on us at all times during those years, even though we suffered. Our Sovereign God was very merciful when it was hard to discern his hand of blessing. And we’re thankful!

Regardless of how you and I evaluated the past year, I know how we ought to begin 2020: with joyful praise to the Lord our God! If you had a difficult year, remember to keep the living God in your focus in the new year. If you think last year was great, don’t forget the Father in heaven who has loaded you with benefits.

Wherever you are on this spectrum, a godly response will require ongoing repentance and faith. By this I mean that we will need to have our thoughts of the true and living God transformed by his word, and then to trust him each step of the way. It is important to both have our minds renewed (Rm 12:1-2) and to commit ourselves to the Lord. It doesn’t do any good and even is spiritually harmful to say, “I will trust God better this year,” if we have wrong ideas and thoughts about God. For example, can you trust God if you have doubts about his wisdom or control over all things or his kindness or his love? The answer should be obvious. Can you trust God if you wrongly imagine that you have the right to decide what is best for you, or if God is required to make your life pleasant? Not at all!

So then, how can we have right ideas of God and attitudes about him, so that we desire to praise the true and living God? I think our text highlights some characteristics of God that will transform our minds and hearts.

  • God is King. He’s the Boss. He directs all things according to the counsel of his own will. While he joyfully includes us in his work, he doesn’t ask for our advice. This is rather difficult for people to accept who want to be directing life in this world. I hear too much about people asserting that “we have a free will”. I’ve never heard anyone ask, “Does God have a free will?”
  • God is immortal. He’s not affected by time, human events, and human opinions about him. He never changes in his glorious, holy essence. He is God, and there is no other. He will be the same holy and loving God for us throughout the year.
  • God is invisible. He is spirit, and we cannot perceive his presence with our physical senses. People long for various physical signs that God is present. That makes idolatry extremely popular. Too many contemporary churches try to make the spiritual physically apparent by the use of lights, fog machines, and the interior design of their buildings. This is not different from churches in the past that used paintings, sculpture, stained glass windows, and soaring architecture to try to achieve similar results. But God is invisible. You must trust his revelation of himself. The Spirit of Glory resides in every believer, but we do not have halos or a supernatural glow!
  • God is the only God. He has no equals or competitors. He is unique; he is holy. This truth demands that we set our minds and love on him above all. It also requires us to rejoice that he is God and not we ourselves.

May God give us the grace to think and live in conformity with his revelation of himself. Then we will be able to praise him during 2020.

Grace and peace, David

Reactions to the Birth of Christ

Matthew 2:1-12

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:1-2 NIV).

During this Christmas season, our granddaughter, who is almost three, learned the first stanza of the Christmas hymn “We Three Kings”. I think we all rejoice when young children can use their voices to sing the praises of the King of kings. It is always good to sing praises to the Lord, especially when we sing about one of the important events in the history of redemption.

When a child sings, it is interesting to listen carefully to their words, since they usually vary from the actual words of the song. When Elise sings this carol, she says, “We five kings….” We smile at her artistic license in departing from the traditional text. She makes no change to the Biblical texts in the number of kings (actually Magi), since Matthew only refers to them in the plural without counting them. Her devotion to singing to the Great King is an example to us all.

So now let us turn our minds to worship and consider four reactions to Christ’s birth. One of the key words in our text is the word “worship”. Let’s look at the people mentioned in the text and see how many of them desired to worship Jesus Christ the Lord.

Many people were disturbed (2:1-3). The source of much of this disruption came from King Herod. When an oppressive ruler is stirred up about something, others have reason for concern. King Herod had murdered his wife, three sons, a mother-in-law, a brother-in-law, an uncle, and many others. He would tolerate no opposition from anyone under his authority. Nor would he allow any potential rival to his throne to live.

The people of Jerusalem were caught up in the unrest. With a man like Herod in power, the people would be very concerned about what might happen from the appearance of these visitors with their scary question. What might Herod do? Who might get caught by his suspicious inquisition? Yes, the people had sufficient reason to be troubled. Did they pray for God’s protection from the king’s cruelty? Did hope arise in their hearts because of this news of a newborn? We do not know. None of them appear to have had any public interest in the birth of a Messiah. Fear ruled over worship. We need to show hope to a troubled world, because we know that God’s King has been born.

Religious scholars were disinterested (2:4-6). They knew the facts about the promised Messiah. They knew what God had said through the prophet Micah some seven hundred years before. They certainly knew the other prophecies about the Messiah that were written by David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel, too. To men well taught in the Law and the Prophets, this was an easy question.

Yet they lacked a zeal for discovery. All Jerusalem was buzzing over the inquiry of the Magi. They should have wondered what was happening when the Gentile king ruling over them asked about their Messiah. But they were not stirred to pursue these matters. They knew a lot, but they lacked any deep, life-changing interest. So it is with many religious people. Perhaps they will have heard or will hear later the story of Christmas. But will they seek to know its meaning? Will they strive to know more about the newborn King? We ought to model the right kind of interest, rather than being content with correct information that the Savior was born over two thousand years ago.

King Herod was deceitful (2:7-8). He played the religious game carefully. He did not want to arouse speculation about the coming of the Messiah among the people. So he had to act quietly. He did not want to make the Magi suspicious before he gained some more information about how to identify the newborn King. Clearly, he was unaware of the nature of the star, inferring that it was simply some mumbo jumbo of astrologers. For this reason, he pretended to be a devout worshiper of the Lord.

His intent was far from worship of the Messiah. The sequel to this account shows what Herod intended. It was murder. Let us stay far away from his spirit. Let us love God’s peace.

The Magi were delighted (2:9-12).

  • They acted on the information they had received. It was meager compared to the riches of God’s word that we now have. But they made a long journey that cost them money, hardship, and time in order to find the baby King.
  • They rejoiced when they saw the star. They experienced God leading them when no one else could or would. It is not certain what this star was, but it was clearly special, since it led them to the house where Jesus was.
  • They worshiped and honored the baby king. Filled with joy, they gave him rich gifts. In response to God’s great gift of his Son, have you given him yourself? He wants you most of all. He welcomes you to know his surpassing greatness and love.

We should not be surprised when we encounter different reactions to Christ and Christmas. Besides the above mentioned, people may react in other ways. Most people are mired in the responses of unbelief, regardless of their form. They have been part of the human situation since the first Christmas.

In this account we learn anew how God can supply for his people in surprising ways. In this text we see a few of them: a star for the Magi, gifts for the young family, which will help them during their escape to Egypt, and dreams to provide a special warning for the Magi and to give Joseph direction to protect his family. God is active in our lives, whether or not we recognize him.

God’s love is seen in his willingness to send his Son to be the Savior of sinners. God sent his Son to save oppressors and the oppressed, the disinterested and those ready to listen, the deceivers and the deceived, those far off and those who are near. It matters not who we are and what we’ve done, Christ was born to save people like us. How deeply are you interested in the birth of Jesus? Yes, you are reading this post when you could be wasting your life on frivolity. Obviously, you have some kind of interest. But that isn’t the question. Are you interested enough to dig deeper, to learn more? Or have you grown too accustomed to these words to be stirred by them?

Grace and peace, David

Be Thankful

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful (Colossians 3:15 NIV)

Thanksgiving. Most think of it as the holiday that kicks of the Holiday season. It features food, family, food, friends, food, football, food… Well, you get the idea. If you wanted to add a “spiritual sounding” word, you could have added “fellowship”, but often that sounds like “food” to many Christians. (The “Fellowship Hall” in the church building is where you eat, right?) Sadly, to many people, Thanksgiving is the time when you gather for feasting and hopefully fun, and there is NOTHING wrong with feasting and fun. But feasting and fun is all that is thought about, except for a quick prayer before the meal.

However, those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ have a higher and wider perspective. We know the One to whom we surely must give thanks. So, on the special day set apart for giving thanks in our culture, we will be thankful! Let’s think about some matters for which to give thanks. Feel free to use these suggestions, and develop your own.

  • We thank God for God himself. Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name (Psalm 103:1 NIV) Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his faithful love endures forever
    (Psalm 107:1 CSB). Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion; Declare among the peoples His deeds (Psalm 9:11 NASB). For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen (Romans 11:36 NLT).
  • We thank God for saving grace. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord (Psalm 40:2-3 ESV). Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight (Ephesians 1:3-4 NIV). Giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light (Colossians 1:12 CSB).
  • We thank God for our family. House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord (Proverbs 19:14 ESV). Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him (Psalm 127:3 NIV)
  • We thank God for other believers. But we ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13 CSB). I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints (Philemon 1:4-5 ESV).
  • We thank God in all circumstances. Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:18 NIV). Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening (Acts 16:25 NLT).

So then, we have much for which to give thanks, and the above mentioned is only a starting place. As you read God’s Word, look for what the Spirit mentions that God has given to us, and then make those items on your praise list. Happy Thanksgiving!

Grace and peace, David

Love in Practice (Part One)

1 John 3:16-18

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth (NIV).

Our mission is to turn people from the pursuit of sinful desires to be fully committed followers of Jesus Christ. As we seek to fulfill this mission, we will necessarily be involved in closing the gap between correct teaching and correct living. We must not say, “We know the truth,” unless we are diligent in the practice of truth. For example, there is something drastically wrong with the person that says, “We stand for God’s law!” and yet fails to love his or her professed brother in Christ, because isn’t love for one another Christ’s new commandment? And if a person will not obey the Son of God when he commands his people to love one another, isn’t he or she “a wicked antinomian” (as some pompous legalists like to accuse others)?

In order for us to function in a Biblical manner, we must join correct teaching and correct living. We must never allow an option (“Choose truth or love!”) In addition, we should not expect that correct teaching automatically produces a changed way of life. The Spirit of God must make the truth alive with power in the heart.

The Holy Spirit begins with practical definition of love (3:16a). A Christian knows that true knowledge begins with the reality of God, the counsel of his word, and the surpassing glory of his works in creation and salvation. So we say, a proper understanding of love requires knowledge of Christ’s atoning work.

The Bible always starts with the holiness of God. Apart from that truth we lack any reference point to understand why the death of Jesus Christ could ever be any kind of a demonstration of God’s love. However, once we now that God’s own holy character requires him to oppose what is sinful and evil, then we can begin to comprehend the reason that the cross of Christ is the most amazing proof of love the universe has ever seen. If you do not start with God’s holiness, was Christ’s death…

  • The act of a martyr?
  • A zealous but overdone example?
  • A senseless display of cruelty?

If you start with God’s holiness, then Christ’s death was…

The only way for sinners to be right with God!

We must remember this as we think about our friends and neighbors who are strangers to God’s saving love. It is too easy for them to bring up something like a devastating earthquake in some part of the world and then ask, “How can you say that God is love? If God is love, why does he permit such suffering?” Instead, the Bible begins with the facts of God’s holiness and human rebelliousness and then says, “You can see the love of God in the death of Jesus, the Son of God, for rebellious people.” This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:9-11 NIV). Now obviously, you cannot be blunt and tactless when you raise this point, because that would not be love. But the point must be gently and kindly made.

You can quickly get yourself in deep spiritual difficulty if you do not begin with the cross. Suppose you measure God’s love by nice, pleasant things you have. But what if you lose those things? Has God stopped loving you? The only way out is to repent of your error and turn back to the truth. There’s only one way out of a dead end street, which we have a lot of in my area. You must turn around!

Christ’s love for us is the revealed standard of love. Since Christ’s death on the cross, we have a completed revelation of what it means to love. Now, we are to love as he loved us. I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35 CSB). Because of all that we have in and through the Lord Christ, we are to imitate his love. In this way redemptive grace both sets the parameters of and energizes love.

We must lay hold of the truth that we are to love one another at all times with the same kind of love that Christ loves us.

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 63 (Part Eight)

I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you (63:4-5 NIV).

Our focus is on being satisfied in our relationship with the holy and majestic God, the overflowing source of love, joy, and peace. This happens as we worship (declare and display the worthiness) in the fullness of life. God did not “invent worship” to make us feel miserable or to give us an emotional high. Instead, the Lord wants us to be satisfied or filled. In his book Desiring God, John Piper mentions three stages of worship that saints go through.

  • The lowest stage is that of barrenness of soul, where a person scarcely feels any desire for God, yet is repentant for having so little love for God (Psalm 73:21-22). In this stage, we have our souls focused on ourselves and the events of life. We do not think of God properly (according to how he has revealed himself in the scriptures), and we may feel frustration or perhaps even bitterness. Yet we continue to know that God is involved in life.
  • The second stage is that of tasting something of God and longing to know more of him (Psalms 42:1-2; 84:2; 143:6). The soul begins to hunger and thirst for personal fellowship with our sovereign God. We begin to experience hope and preach that to our souls. Why, my soul, are you so dejected? Why are you in such turmoil? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him, my Savior and my God (Psalm 42:5 CSB).
  • The third stage is that mentioned in our text. We begin to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4 CSB). We are satisfied in what he is. We drink of his living water and are glad (Psalms 4:6-7; 5:11; 9:2) We taste of him with our spirits and find in our experience that he is good. Taste and see that the Lord is good. How happy is the person who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8) Our hearts become stirred by a noble theme as we lay hold of the ascended Christ by faith (Psalm 45:1).

However, the experience of many evangelicals in the previous 150 years to the present has been reduced to a barren intellectualism or decisionism. They have acted like or taught that the experience of the early church (cf. Acts 2:46-47; 4:23-31; etc.) is not for today. They have become strangers to truth written in passages like (Ephesians 3:14-19; 5:18-20; Philippians 4:7; 1 Peter 1:8; 2 Peter 1:8; etc.) Since most teaching in churches concerns how to be happy personally and to solve one’s problems, God has become the missing person in most churches.

“Where is the knowledge of God? Where is the sense of awe? Where is this great thing found in the Bible, when men and women have known that they have been in the presence of the living God? Surely this is the great difference between modern evangelicalism and that older evangelicalism that obtained until the middle of the last [nineteenth] century…? Where has this sense of godliness gone, this sense of wonder and amazement and the ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory’?” (Lloyd-Jones, Enjoying the Presence of God, p. 115)

“The end God designs is, to draw our hearts and affections unto himself, and unto this end he gives unto us a glorious internal light, whereby we may be enabled to discern the true nature of the things that we are to cleave unto with love and delight. Without this we have nothing but false images of spiritual things in our minds; not always as unto the truth or doctrine of concerning them, but as unto their reality, power, and efficacy… He that believes in Christ in a due manner, who thereon discovers the excellency of his person and the glory of his mediation, will both love him, and, on his believing, ‘rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory’” (Owen, Works, Vol. 7, p. 447).

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy (1 Peter 1:8 NLT). Amen.

Grace and peace, David

Church Life – Respect (Part 2)


1 Timothy 5:1-2

Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would to your own father. Talk to younger men as you would to your own brothers. Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters (NLT).

Our subject is the respect that we ought to demonstrate to others in Christ. We are all children in the family of God the Father, and he wants us to esteem one another highly. The Holy Spirit does not give us a lofty ideal, but he directs us in specific relationships. The apostle Paul gave his close associate Timothy direction about how to deliver proper rebuke to other members of a local church. Consider 2 Timothy 4:2: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction (NIV). The fact that Timothy was a minister does not hinder the application of the text to all in the church in their mutual relations, because Timothy was to function as an example to others (4:12). Paul uses a tension-filled time, the need to correct others, as a paradigm for our interactions with each other. Every follower of Christ will have occasion to confront others in our local spiritual family, and the Lord expects us to do it. I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another (Romans 15:14 NIV).

In the church, we should correct, rebuke, and encourage (don’t ignore the need to encourage!) four groups: older men, younger men, older women, and younger women. We must speak in a proper way as we do any of the three actions, but there is special need for caution when the action is rebuke. It is too easy to adopt a harsh tone that harms the person and our relationship with him or her. We ought not to rebuke because we feel frustrated with the person. Neither should we rebuke because we assume we are spiritually or personally superior to the person. We must remember that we are one in Jesus Christ and that each one is deeply loved by the Lord.

In our culture, older people are demeaned, devalued, and disrespected. The Holy Spirit tells us to honor older people. Older men and women are precious to the Lord. We must regard them as our fathers and mothers. This requires us to speak with them lovingly, kindly, patiently, and gently. In other words, we must speak according to the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). This is true spirituality. Older people are valued by God, and we must also value them by respect in our thoughts, attitudes, actions and words toward them. God requires us to honor our parents. Older people in our churches should receive the same kind of honor.

Younger men and women are to be treated as brothers and sisters. Spiritual experience provides many benefits, but among them is not a know-it-all attitude that can’t keep its mouth shut. Neither is stubbornness spiritual. Neither antiquity or being on the cutting edge give value to ideas and ways of doing things. Wisdom and truth provide value. We must understand the times in which we live, and younger people can have a better grasp on what’s happening now and where the future is headed. This does not mean that they are automatically right, but it strongly suggests that we ought to listen. A rebuke of younger people demands that we hear them and attempt to understand their situation. It involves patient explanation of godliness and true holiness.

The Holy Spirit values a family attitude. He wants us to do everything, including the hard things like correction and rebuke as brothers and sisters in the Lord. He wants us to prize the family relationship of the people of God. A church is not a business, a club, or an institution, and so it should not be run like a business, a club, or an institution. This Sunday when you are in church, take time to look around at others. They are your family. Take steps to reach out to others as brothers and sisters. Do you know them, their needs and struggles, and what causes them sorrow and joy? Invite them over to share in a family manner. Open your hearts to each other. Listen and feel and sympathize. Laugh and cry. Love.

Grace and peace, David

Church Life – Respect

1 Timothy 5:1-2

Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would to your own father. Talk to younger men as you would to your own brothers. Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters (NLT).

Years ago when I was a pastor in upstate New York, one of the men of the church gave me a study Bible. He frankly confessed that he had used it for a while and didn’t like it. That’s why he gave it to me. (I appreciated his candor, but it made me wonder why you would give your pastor something you yourself didn’t like. I suppose every pastor can provide stories of similar gifts.)

I must admit that I was underwhelmed by the gift, and I put it aside. A few years passed and I moved to Pennsylvania. The binding of the Bible I had used for notes broke, and so I picked up the long unused study Bible to use it for note taking. (I usually use an unmarked Bible for preaching, since it’s easier to read. I think a preacher should have an open Bible with him during the message.) Now the binding on that study Bible is broken, and I mainly use it for reference.

I tell that story to tell this. A question came up in our Sunday morning meeting about the section headings in Bibles. They were added by the translators to help us easily find places in the text, and were not intended to be guides of interpretation. For that, I am glad. A few years ago, we focused on 1 Timothy at a men’s retreat. In preparation for that, I had read and reread 1 Timothy, and I had marked it up somewhat with colored pencils and short notes. The section heading above our text was “Advice About Widows, Elders and Slaves”. Below it I had written, “The church as a family.” In another study Bible during another study, I wrote “Family attitude toward others in the church”.  I think that presents the idea of the section more comprehensively. Yes, it does talk about widows, elders, and slaves, but in our religious culture’s individualistic and institutional views of the church, we miss the idea of the church as a family. The local church in the New Testament is much more than sitting in a building with some people that might also worship there.

Too often Christian people fail to think of others in the church as our family. Perhaps they might be thought of as friends, but not family. Church members know that they ought to be outwardly nice and even pitch in to provide meals and presents at bridal and baby showers. But being nice is not the same as being family. To be a family requires gut-level acceptance, sympathy, and care… and respect.

We have lost a sense of the importance of respect in our spiritual and physical families. In the latter, spouses do not respect each other, children do not respect their parents, and parents do not respect their children either, for that matter. People have traded off respect in relationships for items of far less value, such as “personal space”. Instead of welcoming aunts and uncles, cousins and all the rest, people distance themselves from each other. But physical families are not today’s topic.

Our text in 1 Timothy requires respect to every person on every level of the spiritual family. This respect starts by vital recognition of each person as in Christ, as members of his body, and so of members of each other. A vital, spiritual union binds us together. Since we are in Christ, we are in the Father’s family as adult sons and daughters of God. Together we form a royal priesthood and are citizens in the Kingdom of God’s Son. So then, we must have gospel-formed opinions of each other. When we see the dignity of our shared position in Christ, we will look at each other with eyes filled with respect and embrace each other as fellow members of God’s family. This foundational bond will enable us to overcome all worldly distinctions, like ethnicity, educational attainments, economic levels, personality differences, and so forth. We will walk a new path together as family members in Christ, and we thus respect each other. When we respect one another, we will begin to reach out to each other in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT).

Do not hold yourself back from your brothers and sisters in Christ. They need your love, and you need theirs!

Grace and peace, David

Our Conduct in Church

1 Timothy 3:14-15

I am writing these things to you now, even though I hope to be with you soon, so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth (NLT).

The Bible is God’s word; it is God’s voice to us, to people. It speaks about God and mankind. God delivered it to us in human language and in human circumstances. These circumstances provided opportunities to talk to his people through all generations. In this letter, the Spirit spoke concerning our conduct in the church. As always, church in the New Testament does not mean “in a building” but “in our relationships with God and his people”, since “church” means “assembly” or “gathering” or “congregation”.

The great purpose, then, is to present proper conduct with God and his people. First Timothy is not about church government or rules for church order. It concerns how you and I are to share life together and with God. What makes this letter so volatile in the contemporary church is the obsession of many with themselves and their opinions rather than believing submission to what the Spirit plainly said through the apostle. The same self-obsession leads many to ignore the family values of life together in the church. (Read especially chapter five.) This letter deserves fresh, multiple readings of its text, putting aside study Bibles, commentaries, and church manuals, until we have listened together to the text, and have attained a submissive attitude toward its teaching.

As we listen humbly, we will hear teaching about what the church is. As has often been said in various forms, we must know what we are in Christ before we can practice life in Christ. In our text, we discover three ideas about the church.

  • We are the household of God. We are God’s family. He is the Father, we his children. He is the leader and sets the values, ideas, aims, mission, attitudes, and kindred spirit of his family. He tells us how we are to treat each other (5:1-2). Matters like faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness have a high priority in God’s household (6:11; cf. 1:4-5). The Father wants all to sense that such gospel-formed attitudes and actions are to be felt and experienced by all.
  • We are the assembly of the living God. He is life itself, and we are alive in Christ with him. The church is a gathering of life, of spiritually alive people with the living God. The church is organic by nature, not institutional. It is people sharing life, not trying to lead a successful religious business. Life is valued more than profit or loss. Since we live in this fallen world and still sin, God and we know that this life will be messy and challenging, but it remains life shared with the living God.
  • We guard the word; we are the pillar and foundation of the truth. We firmly hold to its teachings, passing them from person to person, and from generation to generation. Truth matters because we know it is the way of salvation to all the people groups of the earth (2:4). We also proclaim the truth to others. We use it to evangelize or “fish for people” (Mark 1:15). To put it this way, we know our mission and how to accomplish it with the help of the Holy Spirit.

This weekend as you meet with God’s people, seek to imbibe and to spread these values. Listen to your Father’s voice, follow the Father’s Son, and worship by the Father’s Spirit. Enjoy the reality that you are in the assembly of the living God! Share his love with others in his family.

Grace and peace, David

Plans and Contingency Plans

1 Timothy 3:14-15a

I am writing these things to you now, even though I hope to be with you soon, so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God (NLT).

God our Father wants us to live as adult sons and daughters of God. He has put us into union with Christ, has given us the Spirit and the word of God, has joined us to others in Christ, has given us freedom in Christ to serve him for his glory, and he has told us our mission in this world. Our Father expects us to make proper use of all these gifts in our journey through this world. While we cannot make absolute plans (only God can do that), he does expect us to make wise plans and to carry out them out wisely. We cannot accomplish goals unless we plan how to achieve them. As has been said, “If you aim at nothing, you will probably hit it.”

The apostle Paul made plans for his ministry. He was commissioned by the Lord to serve him (Acts 26:16-18), and to do everything he had to plan; for example, he planned for the Gentile churches to give a sizable financial gift to their Jewish brothers and sisters. It took years to carry out that plan, but it did happen. At other times, he planned to visit people, but he was unable to do what he planned (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:12-2:4).

In our text, Paul wrote to Timothy about a visit he wanted to make to Ephesus (cf. 1:3). In these few words, we can hear Paul speak about his plans.

  • When he wrote Timothy, he spoke in terms of what he hoped to do. He wanted to be with his friend and coworker. If Paul was with him, there were many things that they could discuss in detail about the current situation in the Ephesian church and the best way to minister in those circumstances. A personal visit would also provide face-to-face encouragement. It is good to talk with our friends in difficult situations. Paul hoped for an ideal outcome.
  • Yet Paul knew he might be delayed. Here is one of the mysteries of the giving of the word of God to us. The Spirit would give direct information and instruction about many things, but he did not give knowledge about everything. Paul wanted to visit, but he didn’t know whether or not his visit would be delayed. The inspiration of the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit guaranteed that the finished written product would be God’s word, but it did not convey extraneous information to the human writer. Paul could give teaching about elders and ministers earlier in the chapter, but he couldn’t tell Timothy for sure when he could come. James wrote that we must have a humble before God attitude about our plans (James 4:13-15).
  • What Paul wrote was his contingency plan, if he was delayed. Timothy needed help immediately, but Paul wasn’t sure he could provide it personally. So, he did the next best thing with the technology available to him. (Paul and Timothy did not have cellphones or the internet.) But his letter was in God’s plan part of the word of God that we need. God used a human weakness for his glory and our good.

So then, let us make wise plans, plans to help and encourage others. But let us not be discouraged if we are hindered in our plans. This requires faith in God. But let us also make contingency plans, in case roadblocks get in the way. Don’t get downhearted; God might be doing something bigger and better through our second choice.

Grace and peace, David