Who Defines Your Spirituality?

Spirituality is a buzzword that has settled comfortably within the cultural ether.  Many (most?) are comfortable using it, because the word has become highly customizable.  Once tethered to some formal religious tradition or ideology, “spirituality” (and what it means to be “spiritual”) has  morphed into an incredibly broad, and thoroughly personal concept.

Who defines your spirituality?  That is, whom do you empower to frame your understanding of one of the most important ideas within your life?  Our highest values and priorities are often connected to our ideas around what it means to live an authentic and vibrant spiritual life, and therefore it’s important to consider who we’ve given the keys to that kingdom over to.

A celebrity?  A spiritual guru?  Ourselves?

I believe that Jesus—because of who he is—should be the one defining what an authentic and healthy spirituality looks like.  And he does, but in a refreshing and challenging way.  One of the things that I’ve come to value about Jesus’ definition of spirituality is how much sharper it is when compared to contemporary definitions.  For Jesus, genuine spirituality is framed by the concept of discipleship; the process of learning how to align one’s life to what God values and prioritizes.

Jesus defined discipleship in its most basic form when he responded to a question posed by a religious scholar of the day:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

Jesus framed spirituality around two foundational principles: loving God thoroughly and intensely, and loving our neighbours as ourselves.  There are a few things I appreciate about this definition:

1. We are not the centre.  Most modern definitions of spirituality place us at the centre.  The self is understood to be the supreme source of truth, hope, and power.  There is a kernel of truth here.  Yes, human beings hold tremendous capacities due to the fact that they are image-bearers of God.  However, to localize the source of truth and hope within ourselves is, for Jesus, a magnificent error.   God and his kingdom are central to Jesus’ definition of spirituality.

2. One’spirituality has to find its place within a larger story.  By invoking the Shema (“Hear, O Israel…”), Jesus is implicitly teaching that spirituality that is healthy and hopeful must be grounded in a larger story.  The Bible reveals the larger story of Creation, Fall, Redemption to be the one that provides us with the cosmic narrative within which our individual expressions of spirituality can be located and established in meaning beyond, “this seems right/helpful to me.”

3. Scripture is our Foundation and Guide.  When asked, Jesus doesn’t turn the question around and ask the religious leader to search his own heart.  Instead, Jesus drives him back into Scripture.  It’s incredibly tempting to listen to spiritual gurus who would encourage us to look within and trust ourselves in the formation of a fulfilling and meaningful spirituality.  Jesus does the exact opposite.  He places our focus on the revealed Word of God, and challenges us to draw out its implications within our lives as individuals and communities.

4. There is/not a “one size fits all” spirituality that leads to life and wholeness.  To modern ears the idea that there could be one–and only one–valid expression of spirituality seems beyond ridiculous.  Could anything be more myopic and even irrational?

But Jesus consistently answers these questions the same way in the gospels, turning people’s attention back to this Great Commandment.  Why?  If it’s just one choice among many, why not switch it up once in a while and highlight some alternatives? But Jesus never does.  Whenever he’s asked what the priorities of one’s spirituality should be, his answer is always the same: Love God and love people.

Which seems incredibly restrictive and exclusive.  Until you realize just how vague that centre is.  Love God and people.  Ok, but how?  That is for us to experiment with and discover.  There are clearly boundaries to that exploration in the Bible (i.e. no need to experiment with whether loving your neighbour might include adultery), but Jesus’ definition of spirituality is (almost) alarmingly vague.  There is a dynamic and inexhaustible breadth and depth to one’s ability to express these two priorities.  These aren’t rules that you can easily check-off and complete.  They are principles and priorities that require continued practice, imagination, right intention, and humility before God and others.

The older I get the more I see the genius behind Jesus’ definition of–dare I say it–true spirituality.  It is accessible to everyone, and yet it rescues us from the self-centred (and therefore self-serving) definitions of spirituality that call out to us.

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Can a Five-Year-Old Become a Christian?

Last week I led my  five-year-old through a prayer to become a Christian.

The prayer was simple.  I explained to him that it was an “ABC” prayer.

  • Admit that he is a sinner who needs God’s forgiveness and grace.
  • Believe (trust) that Jesus died for his sins, and was raised from the dead to overcome sin’s power.
  • Commit to live for Jesus, serve his kingdom, and grow as a Christian every day.

This moment of prayer/decision hadn’t arisen from out of the blue.  For several months Brayden had been asking questions about Jesus/God/faith/Bible, and what it means to be a Christian.  Our talks usually occurred in his bed at night while we reflected on our day.

A few Fridays ago, among talk about Star Wars and Christmas, Brayden asked me if he was a Christian.

I told him that he was not.

“But you and mommy are Christians,” he replied, puzzled.

I explained that no one is automatically a Christian, because a Christian is someone who has personally decided to devote their life to Jesus.

He seemed confused.

“But I go to church” he said.

“Yes, you do, but you can go to church and not be devoted to Jesus.  Becoming a Christian only happens when we make Jesus our King and decide to live for him instead of ourselves.”

“I want to become a Christian.  When can I become a Christian?”

That was/is a good question!  Personally and pastorally, I hold the conviction that becoming a Christian is a serious, life-altering decision.  Like marriage, it should not be entered into “lightly or hastily.”  That’s why, regardless of what age one is considering embracing Christ as King and Saviour, I think it’s appropriate to provide some resistance so that we prevent people from making a rash or impulsive decision.  Jesus said “follow me” (Matthew 4:19), but we should do what we can to help people think through what that commitment will mean for them, both now and into the future.  As Brayden’s father, I felt it was important for him to wrestle for a while with the potential consequences of becoming a Christian before saying the prayer that could change his life forever.  That’s why, for several months I’d consistently pushed the decision (but not the conversation!) off to an undetermined point in the future.

It wasn’t just for Brayden’s sake that I was providing some push-back to his request: had a lot of questions that I felt needed to be answered before I could be confident that his decision to embrace Christ was legitimate:

  • Why did Brayden want to become a Christian?
  • Did Brayden know “enough” about what his commitment to Christ would cost him?
  • Did his age invariably mean that the decision was born out of complete naiveté?  He’s watched his older sisters talk about their Christian faith and grow in it; is it just “monkey see; monkey do” mimicry?
  • Is there any depth to his motivation?  Does he show a desire for discipleship?  When his definition of discipleship is “making good decisions,” does that show a sufficient or insufficient understanding of the foundation of a Christian worldview?
  • How much theology does he need to know before he’s ready to make a commitment of this nature?  If he can (barely) articulate the Gospel (Manger, Cross, Crown), can he legitimately embrace it?

These were some of the questions I was mulling over during the months I was pushing Brayden to think about becoming a Christian until a later time, when I could better determine if he was ready.

But a few weeks ago, Brayden wouldn’t let it go.  I went into my usual, “that’s great, let’s keep talking about it…” mode, but he kept pressing me.

“Why can’t I become a Christian now?”

A Scripture that God had used to rebuke me in the past came to mind once again:

“Who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” Acts 11:17

Indeed.

Brayden had shown a persistent desire to become a Christian for almost half a year.  We had talked about Jesus, God, the Bible, salvation, love, grace, and sin, all while snuggling in the warm blue glow of the nightlight beside his bed.  For months I had put a (necessary) speed bump in front of him, wanting to make sure any conversion would be from the heart, and not mere mimicry.

And here he was, resolute in the conviction that he was ready to give his life to Jesus.

Was I going to stand in God’s way?

Nope.  In that exchange what became very clear was that my little boy genuinely desired to give his life to Jesus.

Did he know “enough”?  Well, he knew the gospel.  That’s enough, isn’t it?

Did he understand what he was getting into?  Did I when I said my own unpolished and imperfect prayer at age 14?

Were his motivations and intentions pure?  Can I point to even one decision I’ve made that has been made with pure and right motives—even my decision to embrace Christ?

When God’s grace-filled invitation to new life intersects with a person’s humble and heartfelt response, we may find ourselves harboring lots of questions regarding what is “actually” happening.  That’s ok.  We’re entitled to our questions.  Those questions and hesitations are important and often valid and should be identified and addressed.

But, we must be careful to never allow our questions and hesitations to stand in God’s way.  None of us (however well intended) have the right to delay another’s response to the gospel until we’ve figured things out and are sure they “get it.”

Besides, you can never really “get” grace anyways.  That’s kind of why it’s grace.  It can’t be grasped.  It can only be received.

That night, Brayden didn’t fully understand God’s grace, but he “got” it.  Or more precisely, God’s grace “got” him.  He may not have grasped it in its totality, but it grasped him.

Can a five year old become a Christian?  Yes, a five year old can.

And that night, my five year old did. By God’s grace and for His glory.

 

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Bible Overview Series: 1 Peter

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1 Peter by Joseph Novak

1 Peter:  In the midst of a strange land all the strangers assembled in one place, and called it Home.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary) 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of 1 Peter

Christians just don’t fit in, and that’s not easy for the first-century church. Christians are suffering all over the world (1 Pe 5:1), and the Christians in modern-day Turkey need to know why. They need to know how to deal with it. They need to know how to live.

And they need to know it’s not it vain.

The apostle Peter writes these Christians a letter to address these issues in two ways:

  • Testify the truth. The more they know about Jesus, themselves, and the world, the better they’ll understand their difficult situation.
  • Exhort them to live accordingly.

The book reflects this focus. Peter explores a piece of doctrine, and then encourages the Christians to apply it to their lives. He makes four of these back-and-forth cycles:

  1. Peter begins his letter by calling Christians “aliens,” or residential foreigners to the Roman Empire (1 Pe 1:1, 17). He then goes on to explain the relationship between suffering and salvation: suffering lasts now, but it proves our faith so that joy and glory can come later.
    Therefore, Christians should be holy, or set apart (1 Pe 1:14). They should love one another and long for the word of God.
  2. After explaining why Christians are different, Peter goes into what the Christian family is: a spiritual house, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession (1 Pe 2:5, 9).
    Therefore, Christians ought to keep their behavior excellent, so that even their oppressors will glorify God. They should submit to authorities, submit to one another, honor their spouses, and demonstrate kindness—even when they’re suffering as Christians.
  3. And who set the finest example of suffering to glorify God? Jesus Christ.
    Therefore, the Christians should live for the will of God and use their spiritual gifts to serve one another and glorify God.
  4. And as if these folks had any more questions about suffering, Peter goes into it one more time. Suffering tests us. It’s a way that we identify with Christ. And it never gives us an excuse to sin—the suffering Christian will still do what is right (1 Pe 4:19).
    Therefore, church leaders should set a good example, and all Christians should humble themselves under God, standing firm as they  look forward to Jesus’ return.

To Peter, suffering is something the Christian should always see coming. We’re foreigners here, and we shouldn’t expect to be treated differently until our King claims dominion forever and ever (1 Pe 5:10–11).

Theme verse of 1 Peter

If anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. (1 Pe 4:16)

1 Peter’s role in the Bible

No other book of the Bible focuses on suffering and glory as much as First Peter. This epistle was written to give Christians a fuller understanding of what’s going on: the present sufferings and the glories to come.

First Peter is the second of the General Epistles (or Catholic Letters), the writings of apostles to the church at large. While Paul wrote to specific congregations and individuals, Peter, James, John, and Jude wrote to broader audiences across the Roman Empire.

This letter from Peter focuses on the sufferings and glory of Christ and His church. While Paul briefly explores Christian suffering with the Thessalonian church, Peter writes a whole letter on the issue. To Peter, Christian suffering isn’t just something to put up with—it’s something to expect.

Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you (1 Pe 4:12).

No suffering is enjoyable, but Peter actually calls it a blessing. Here’s a list of reasons why he sees it this way:

  • When we suffer as Christians, we identify with Jesus (1 Pe 4:1, 13).
  • After we share in His hardship, we will share in our King’s glory (1 Pe 5:10).
  • Suffering is an opportunity to prove our faith (1 Pe 1:6–7).
  • It’s an opportunity to do what is right—even when we are wronged (1 Pe 2:20).
  • Christ set an example of suffering for us to follow (1 Pe 2:21).
  • The way we deal with persecution will bring our persecutors to glorify God (1 Pe 2:12).
  • When we do what is right no matter what the circumstances, God is pleased (1 Pe 2:20)

And if anyone’s an expert on this, it’s Peter. He saw Christ suffer with his own eyes (1 Pe 5:1). He knew from early on that he would be martyred for Christ’s sake (Jn 21:18–19). And he’d caught a glimpse of the glory to follow (2 Pe 1:16–18; Mk 9:2–3).

This book was likely written in the early 60s, and the second book attributed to Peter was probably written a few years later.

Quick outline of 1 Peter

  1. Suffering proves salvation (1 Pet 1:1-12)
    Therefore:

  2. We are a holy people (1 Pet 2:4–11)
    Therefore, pursue excellent behavior:

  3. Christ suffered for us (1 Pet 3:13–22)
    Therefore:

  4. Suffering tests us (1 Pet 4:12–19)
    Therefore:

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Bible Overview Series: James

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James by Joseph Novak

James:  Faith is a picture taken by the beggar at your door, not a selfie.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary) 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of James

Imagine you grew up learning the Law of Moses, doing good works and observing the commands that God had given to His people Israel. Now, all of a sudden, you’re told that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah, the seeking savior whose death on the cross covers your sin. And all you have to do is believe in Him.

Now imagine seeing non-Jews grafted into the people of God (the church). They don’t all keep your Sabbaths. They’re not circumcised. They don’t even know the Law—but they’re just as much a part of God’s people as you are, because they had faith.

If this were you, you might wonder if God even cared about good works anymore.

The apostle James meets this line of thought head-on: “faith without works is dead” (Jas 2:17, 26). He writes a letter to the Christian Jews scattered across the world, encouraging them to keep the faith and press onward to good works.

In only 108 verses, James (also a Jew) addresses the trials his brothers and sisters are facing in the world, and sets out very, very practical approaches to Christian living for the people of God.

Theme verse of James

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (Jas 1:22)

Quick outline of James

  1. Trials and temptation (1:1–20)
  2. True religion (1:21–27)
  3. Favoritism and judgment (2:1–13)
  4. Faith and works (2:14–26)
  5. Teachers and the tongue (3)
  6. Submission to God (4:1–5:6)
  7. Strength and anticipation (5:7–20)

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Bible Overview Series: Philemon

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Philemon by Joseph Novak

Philemon: Then one day, for the first time in history, a slave and his master cried out in stunned recognition: “Brother!”

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary) 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Philemon

Philemon (fi-LAY-moan) is a good guy. He loves Jesus and the other believers (Phm 5). He as refreshed the hearts of many saints (Phm 7). He’s a church leader in the Colossae area (Phlm 2, Col 4:17). Paul even considers him a beloved brother and a fellow worker (Phm 1).

But he’s about to find himself in a very awkward situation.

Philemon owned a slave, Onesimus (oh-NAY-see-muss). Onesimus had run away from Philemon, and somehow met Paul in his travels. Paul shared the gospel with him, and Onesimus had been saved. Onesimus then stayed with Paul and assisted him while he was in prison (Phm 13).

But Paul sends the runaway slave back to his old master.

Onesimus is going to show up on Philemon’s doorstep with a note from Paul. This message urges him to do something unheard-of: forgive Onesimus and accept him as a brother, not a slave.

Theme verses in Philemon

“For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever,  no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” (Phm 15–16)

Philemon’s role in the Bible

For the most part, Paul’s letters fall into two neat categories: letters to congregations and letters to pastors. In our Bibles, the letters to congregations come first and the pastoral epistles follow. Then we’re left with Philemon.

Philemon is a hybrid. The main thrust of the letter is to Philemon, an individual church leader, but the letter is also addressed to Apphia, Archippus, and the church in Philemon’s house. The epistle is clearly not a private note to Philemon: Paul is publicly addressing the matter.

There’s a good chance that Onesimus delivered both this letter and the letter to the Colossians in the same trip. In that letter, Paul says that in Christ, there is no distinction between “Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11). The book of Philemon gives the Colossians (and us!) a tangible example of what that means.

Speaking of tangible examples, you might read Philemon as a case study of how Paul’s teachings played out in real life1:

  • In Romans, we see the divine mechanics of salvation. In Philemon, we see the social mechanics of salvation.
  • In First and Second Corinthians, we learn how church members should deal with interpersonal and cultural conflicts. In Philemon, we see Christians forgiving one another and deferring to one another.
  • In Galatians, we see the Godhead enacting salvation. In Philemon, we learn to view fellow believers the way the Godhead does.
  • In Ephesians, we see a high-level model of unity in the local church. In Philemon, the local church is called to witness two brothers overcoming their differences.
  • In Philippians, we’re told to have the attitude of Christ and put others’ interests above our own. In Philemon, we see what that looks like in relationships with other Christians.
  • In Colossians, we learn how to see ourselves in Christ. In Philemon, we learn how to see others in Christ.
  • In First and Second Thessalonians, we learn about a church that set a great example in anticipation of the Lord’s return. In Philemon, we learn about the example Paul expects a fellow laborer to show.
  • In First and Second Timothy, we see the general qualifications and duties of church leadership. In Philemon, we see a church leader put to the test.
  • In Titus, we see what the counter-cultural church should work toward. In Philemon, we see a counter-cultural church in practice.

This book has been cited through the centuries as a biblical argument against slavery. Paul does not make any direct attacks on the notion of slavery, but he does hold Philemon to a standard higher than that of the surrounding culture. Punishment for runaways was severe, but Paul told Philemon not only to withhold punishment, but to embrace Onesimus as an equal. And on top of that, Paul is willing to absorb whatever this might cost Philemon (Phlm 18).

And here’s another important aspect of Philemon: we see the early church handling ambiguous situations with complete love and deference:

  • Paul could have kept Onesimus with him, but instead Paul lets Philemon do the right thing on his own.
  • Onesimus could have run away again to start fresh, but instead faithfully brings Paul’s letter to Philemon.
  • Philemon could have made Onesimus a slave again (or worse), but we can assume he does as Paul requests.

It’s a marvelous example of how church leaders and members can approach difficult issues.

Philemon isn’t the shortest book of the Bible (that’s Third John), but it is only one chapter long (335 words).

Quick overview of Philemon

  1. Paul greets and affirms Philemon (Phm 1–7)
  2. Paul requests that Onesimus be accepted as a brother (Phm 8–19)
  3. Paul anticipates Philemon’s obedience (Phm 20–25)
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Bible Overview Series: Titus

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Titus by Joseph Novak

Titus:  Don’t adapt the gospel to your life. Adapt your life to the pattern of the gospel.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary) 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Titus

The churches on the island of Crete need leadership, correction, and order. Establishing churches is Paul’s forte, but Paul doesn’t sail to Crete to organize things. He already has someone on the island he can trust.

That man is Titus.

Titus is Paul’s partner in ministry (2 Co 8:23), a Gentile (Gal 2:3). Like Timothy, Titus is Paul’s child in the faith—he was introduced to Christ through Paul’s ministry (Ti 1:4).

Paul had left Titus in Crete with a purpose: to set up order in local churches (Ti 1:5). This short epistle unpacks that concept in Paul’s list of things Titus should do:

  • Appoint elders (Ti 1:5–16). Paul lists the qualifications of overseers: they’re to be upright, responsible, not divisive . . . there’s a whole list of things Paul expects of church leaders.
  • Instruct people to be sensible (Ti 2). Men and women of all ages have their parts to play in the church. Whereas the Cretans are known for being “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Ti 1:12), the Christians are to live sensibly, which in turn glorifies God (Ti 2:4, 8, 10).
  • Encourage good deeds (Ti 3). The Christians are saved, and they should behave like it—but why? Paul concisely argues for godly living: we do what is right in response to God’s kindness to us in salvation (Ti 3:3–7).

The book of Titus is a short guide to setting up order in the local churches of first-century Crete, but today it still gives us a theology of counter-cultural Christian living.

Theme verse in Titus

“For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you [. . .].” (Ti 1:5)

Titus’ role in the Bible

Titus is the last of Paul’s pastoral epistles—letters written to church leaders he knew. In contrast, most of Paul’s epistles were written to entire congregations. Paul also wrote to Timothy—twice.

Titus is clearly a man that Paul has come to trust. Paul seems to have begun planting churches on the island of Crete, but Titus is specifically responsible for maintaining Paul’s standard of teaching in that area. Titus’s role is similar to Timothy’s (which you can learn about in Paul’s first and second letters to him), but he seems to be facing different cultural challenges—namely the Cretans’ undisciplined lifestyles.

Titus gives us a concise argument for good deeds: the people of the Church should behave differently from the people of the world because God has changed them. Though we don’t all attend church in Crete, we have undergone the same transformation:

For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,  whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. (Ti 3:3–8)

The church behaves differently because God has made her different.

Quick outline of Titus

  1. Appointing counter-cultural elders (Ti 1)
  2. How the counter-cultural church should behave (Ti 2:1–10)
  3. Why the counter-cultural church should behave (Ti 2:11–3:15)

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Bible Overview Series: 2 Timothy

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Timothy by Joseph Novak

2 Timothy:  The dying apostle writes his will: “To my dear son Timothy I leave all that I possess: my gospel and these chains.”

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)


Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of 2 Timothy

Paul is about to die.

He had devoted his life to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. He had fought for sound teaching in the churches. He had trained pastors. He had corrected individuals, churches, and even apostles. He had testified before kings. Now Paul’s work was almost done.

But even though Paul would soon leave the world behind, he wasn’t leaving the world without a representative for truth. Timothy, Paul’s protégé, his son in the Lord, needed to carry on Paul’s standard of sound teaching (2 Ti 1:13).

Paul’s second letter to Timothy focuses on solemn charges to the younger pastor:

  1. Guard and fight for the gospel. Paul was appointed a preacher, apostle, and teacher of the gospel, and Timothy is responsible for guarding it (2 Ti 1:12–13) and entrusting it to others (2 Ti 2:2). The road ahead will be fraught with suffering (2 Ti 1:8; 2:3), but Paul encourages Timothy to be strong, and fight the good fight (2 Ti 1:7; 2:1).
  2. Pursue righteousness. There are a lot of people out there who will try to disrupt Timothy’s work and lead people into ungodliness. Timothy and the other believers are to accurately handle the word, avoid empty chatter, flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace (2 Ti 2:22).
  3. Continue in sound teaching. Apostasy is coming in the future, and Timothy must remember the Scriptures.
  4. Preach the word. Paul’s last charge to Timothy is to preach the word. Timothy is not only responsible for keeping church doctrine in line; he’s also supposed to bring that teaching to the lost.

Second Timothy shows us what Paul needed another preacher to know before he was taken from the world. Today, it’s a fine letter of advice for church leaders, and gives instruction to those who want to live godly lives.

Theme verse of 2 Timothy

“Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Ti 1:13)

2 Timothy’s role in the Bible

Second Timothy is the second of Paul’s pastoral epistles—letters written to church leaders he knew. In contrast, most of Paul’s epistles were written to entire congregations. Titus also received a pastoral epistle from Paul, but Timothy got two.

Although Titus and Philemon come after this letter in our Bibles, Second Timothy is probably the latest of Paul’s letters. We assume this because Paul wrote the letter near the end of his life (2 Ti 4:6).

Quick outline of 2 Timothy

  1. Guard and maintain the gospel (2 Ti 1)
  2. Fight and suffer for the gospel (2 Ti 2:1–13)
  3. Pursue godliness (2 Ti 2:14–26)
  4. Continue in sound teaching (2 Ti 3)
  5. Preach the word (2 Ti 4)

If you found this blog post helpful, please consider donating to help offset the costs of running this site. I will never have ads or charge a fee. However, it takes a lot of work to keep this site up. Thanks!

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Bible Overview Series: 1 Timothy

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Timothy by Joseph Novak

1 Timothy:  Dear Paul, Thanks for your letter & for all the advice. The part about wine: ok! The part about women: huh? Yours, Tim.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)


Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of 1 Timothy

Timothy was Paul’s protege, his “child in the faith” (1 Ti 1:2). Paul had left Timothy in the city of Ephesus to steer certain men away from false doctrine and provide sound leadership. This is Paul’s follow-up letter.

1 Timothy is about sound doctrine and godliness. Paul deals with two main issues in this epistle:

  • What Christians should or should not teach. False teachers had already cropped up in the early church, and Timothy was sure to deal with more of them. Paul encourages Timothy to maintain sound teaching regarding the law and the gospel (1 Ti 1:8–17), gifts from God (1 Ti 4:1–5), and the Scriptures (1 Ti 4:13). Timothy is also charged with teaching his church to behave in a godly way, which means he spends even more time discussing . . .
  • What godliness looks like in the church. From family to finances, from prayer to church leadership—Paul walks through several facets of life and discusses how to go about them in godly ways. The Greek word most commonly translated “godliness” or “piety” in the New Testament appears eight times in First Timothy: it doesn’t show up this much in any other book of the Bible.

First Timothy is a letter to a young church leader with specific instructions on how to “fight the good fight” (1 Ti 1:.18; 6:12). This book gives us a look at Paul’s instructions regarding the challenges Timothy faced—challenges many pastors still face today.

Theme verse of 1 Timothy

“But in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” (1 Ti 3:15)

1 Timothy’s role in the Bible

First Timothy is the first of Paul’s pastoral epistles—letters written to church leaders he knew. In contrast, most of Paul’s epistles were written to entire congregations. Titus also received a pastoral epistle from Paul, but Timothy got two.

Timothy has a special relationship with Paul, and it shows. In this letter (and Second Timothy), we see Paul’s expectations of Timothy. This young church leader is specifically responsible for maintaining Paul’s standard of teaching in the church of Ephesus.

Paul probably wrote First Timothy a few years after he wrote Ephesians, the book that was read to the congregation Timothy now lead.

But First Timothy’s tone is notably different from Ephesians’. For example, whereas Paul’s instructions in Ephesians deal more with the high-level “Why?” and What?”, his charges to Timothy are in great detail and focus more on the “How.”

So while Ephesians lists general ways a Christian can walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, First Timothy lays out specific ways to honor elders and widows,

Why the stark difference in Paul’s approach? The text gives us a few reasons:

  • Paul was writing to a fellow church leader. His letters to churches had to be general: if they were too specific, they wouldn’t be applicable to the common listener. However, First Timothy was written from one preacher to another preacher, from one church leader to another church leader, from one Jewish Christian to another Jewish Christian.
  • Paul was writing to a friend. Paul and Timothy had many shared experiences, and he was very familiar with the challenges Timothy faced, whether in ministry or in health (1 Ti 5:23).

This book gives us a good look at the challenges pastors face, but more importantly, how Paul instructs Timothy to deal with them.

Quick outline of 1 Timothy

  1. Sound teaching: the law and mercy (1 Ti 1)
  2. Living in godliness and dignity (1 Ti 2–3)
  3. Paul’s reason to write (1 Ti 3:14–16)
  4. Sound teaching: discipline and godliness (1 Ti 4)
  5. Overseeing the church (1 Ti 5:1–6:10)
  6. Charge to godliness (1 Ti 6:11–21)

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Bible Overview Series: 2 Thessalonians

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2 Thessalonians by Joseph Novak

2 Thessalonians:  When I told you, brothers, that he’s coming back soon, what I really meant was soonish.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)


Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of 2 Thessalonians

The world just won’t let up. The Christians in Thessalonica was under fire from all directions.

The unbelievers outside were still persecuting them. The unbelievers of the city had come after Paul when he first founded the church in this city (Acts 17:4–5), and they continued to afflict the church. Paul had already written them a letter to encourage them about this: the church had to continue growing in faith and love with the hope that Jesus would return.

But now false teachers were saying that Jesus had already come. The Thessalonians were being told that the day they had hoped for had already passed. They’d been working in faith and laboring in love (1 Thes 1:3) as they prepared for the day of the Lord—was all their preparation and suffering in vain?

And some of their own had just given in. They were undisciplined, doing no work, and yet trying to be involved in everyone else’s affairs (2 Thes 3:11).

This church was very dear to Paul’s heart—they were his children in the Lord (1 Thes 2:7,11). So he reaches out to them again with a letter that addresses these three issues.

Theme verse of 2 Thessalonians

“But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” (2 Th 3:3)

2 Thessalonians’ role in the Bible

Second Thessalonians is the ninth of Paul’s letters. Of the 27 New Testament books, Paul wrote 13. Nine of these book are letters to local churches (like the one in Thessalonica).

Paul needed to address the three troubles the church in Thessalonica faced:

  • Persecution from outside. Paul puts the church’s situation in context. The’re being identified with Jesus, and therefore the world hates them now. But what happens later, when Jesus returns? God will give them relief and judge their persecutors (2 Thes 1:6–7). Jesus will be glorified, and so will His saints (2 Thes 1:10–12). What happens when Jesus returns? Justice.
  • Despair from false doctrine. Someone has told the church that Jesus had already returned and gathered His own to Him—possibly even by forging a letter from Paul (2 Thes 2:2). Paul reminds the church of his teachings regarding the return of Jesus, and the things that must happen beforehand—including the appearance of the mysterious “man of lawlessness” (2 Thes 2:3).
  • Busybodies in the church. A few Thessalonians had fallen off into undisciplined lives: they weren’t working, and they weren’t holding to Paul’s traditions. Some had become “busybodies,” people getting involved in other’s work without contributing themselves (2 Thes 3:11). Paul reminds them of the example he set: how he worked among them with his own hands (2 Thes 3:7–8). He also leaves instructions for dealing with those who would reject his teachings in this letter (2 Thes 3:14–15).

Paul cared about the church he’d established, and the message he sends them still informs the way we should think about Jesus’ coming and the work we should do in the meantime.

Quick outline of 2 Thessalonians

  1. How persecution of the church ends (2 Thes 1)
  2. What must happen before Jesus returns (2 Thes 2)
  3. How to live and work together (2 Thes 3)

If you found this blog post helpful, please consider donating to help offset the costs of running this site. I will never have ads or charge a fee. However, it takes a lot of work to keep this site up. Thanks!

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Our Posture Towards Death

The following was a sermon given on Sunday, November 20th, 2016 at Nelson Covenant Church.

Today many within our community are still in shock at the news of the tragic death of Devon Dunkley this week.  Devon’s family is part of our sister church at the Junction, and he was a part of our youth group for many years.   This past Wednesday Blair invited me to share from the Scriptures at our youth group, and I thought it would be important to pass along those thoughts to our entire community this morning.

We have record of an early Christian community in the ancient city of Thessalonica.  These were new believers in Jesus, and after experiencing a series of deaths within their community, they were seeking to understand how they were supposed to process death as believers in Jesus.  Paul addressed their questions in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

What is our posture towards death?  How are we called to live as Christians in the face of death?

The first thing that must be said, is that We MOURN. We MOURN the loss that comes through death. 

“13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

Notice Paul doesn’t say, “You’re Christians—so you shouldn’t mourn!”  He says, “I don’t want you to grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”  Paul wants these early Christians to know that they will grieve and mourn, but their grief and mourning will take on a different shape.

I’ll expand on that in a second, but let’s stay on this first crucial point:  Christians MOURN the loss that comes from death.  Death is a monster, because it takes someone from us who was an image-bearer of God; someone who was valuable and loved, beautiful and good.  That’s why it’s important—critical—to mourn.

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Jesus taught, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4.  In the kingdom of God it’s not a virtue to remain stoic and unfeeling in the presence of significant loss.  We are not more spiritual if we can keep sorrow at bay, nor are we stronger if we manage to keep our grief contained and controlled.

Jesus wept in the face of tragedy.  When his cousin John was beheaded, Jesus mourned.  When Jesus was informed that his close friend Lazarus had died, he wept.

That we can allow the searing pain that comes from losing a loved one find expression through our tears and our crying out to God…reveals we are becoming more like Jesus, not less.

Christians mourn in the face of death.

But there is a second thing that must be said.  In the face of death, We MOCK. We MOCK the powerlessness of death.  Paul continues:

14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

And in 1 Corinthians 15:22–26 Paul declares:

22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

 

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I’ve been reading through St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation (written in the 4th century).  In a chapter on the resurrection Athanasius shares how he has witnessed the truth of Jesus’ resurrection transform how the Christians of his day responded in the face of death.  Specifically, he highlights how the resurrection has led to Christians “despising” death (and by “despising” he means mocking/belittling).  Listen to his words:

A very strong proof of this destruction of death and its conquest by the cross is supplied by a present fact, namely this. All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Savior, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Savior has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection.

“There is proof of this too; for men who, before they believe in Christ, think death horrible and are afraid of it, once they are converted despise it so completely that they go eagerly to meet it, and themselves become witnesses of the Savior’s resurrection from it. Even children hasten thus to die, and not men only, but women train themselves by bodily discipline to meet it. So weak has death become that even women, who used to be taken in by it, mock at it now as a dead thing robbed of all its strength. Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot the passers-by sneer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Savior on the cross. It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, “O Death, where is thy victory? O Grave, where is thy sting?

If you are a Christian, you serve a King who has broken death and trampled it underfoot.  When Jesus was resurrected, he overcame death’s power and signaled the beginning of the end of death’s rule and reign over God’s good creation.

Therefore, those in Christ are no longer held hostage by death’s power.  Death is a defeated foe, so that we now live without fear, knowing that “We are confident…and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:8.  Even more astonishing than the hope of life after death, is the hope of life after, life after death.  The Christian’s ultimate hope is that one day Jesus will return and bring full Restoration and Redemption to this broken world.  Then his kingdom will be fully established within the context of a new heavens and new earth, and “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

In light of this great hope, Christians mock death, seeing it for the temporary inconvenience that it is.

And so death causes us to mourn, but it ought never cause us to despair.  Christians must never be frozen by the fear of death, nor overwhelmed by a misunderstanding of its grasp.

Because of what Jesus has accomplished–for you, for me, for Devon–death does not have the final word.  It has been swallowed up in the life and victory of King Jesus; a life and victory that Devon now knows fully, even as he is fully known (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12).

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