Wholly Holy

1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. – Titus 2:1-10 ESV

They say the best defense is a good offense. So, in order to assist Titus in his battle against the false teachers and their heretical teaching, Paul told the young pastor to surround himself with qualified men who could help him lead the church. But Paul didn’t stop there. He also told Titus to be willing to rebuke his flock for their laziness and gluttony, so that they might be “sound in their faith” (Titus 1:14 ESV).

Now Paul gets specific. He gives Titus detailed and practical descriptions of how various groups within the body of Christ were to conduct their lives. First of all, Titus was to teach what “accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1 ESV). Sound doctrine was essential to Paul because it was the glue that held the body of Christ together. That is why he spent so much time writing letters to the churches he had helped to establish. He knew that the most difficult days for any believing congregation were those that followed their initial salvation experience. Salvation was to be followed by sanctification, and that was going to require sound doctrine and teaching that was in accord with the words of Jesus and the Old Testament Scriptures.

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul reminded him that the law “is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:9-10 ESV).

He went on to tell Timothy, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing” (1 Timothy 6:3-4 ESV). In his second letter to Timothy, he warned him that people would prove to be fickle and drawn to falsehood, desiring to hear teaching that condoned their behavior and excused their love of the world.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

But not only is Paul telling Titus to teach solid, reliable doctrine. He is encouraging him to get specific and show how that doctrine should apply to everyday life. The New Living Translation puts verse one this way: “promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching” (Titus 2:1 NLT).

Good doctrine should produce good behavior. The teachings of Jesus, expounded and expanded upon by the apostles, were to have a dramatic impact on the lives of those who placed their faith in Jesus as their Savior. Christ’s followers were to be Christ-like.

So, Paul begins by emphasizing the older men in the church. He tells Titus that they are to be characterized by sober-mindedness, an ability to think clearly, unhampered by alcohol, or anything else that would confuse their capacity to judge wisely. They are to be dignified, worthy of respect, and not act in childish or immature ways. Their lives are to be marked by self-control, the ability to manage their natural desires and passions. They are to have a healthy faith that shows up in how they live their lives. And they are to be characterized by a love for others and a willingness to patiently endure with those who are difficult to love.

Paul next moves his attention to older women in the church. Their lives were to be marked by behavior that reflected their holiness. In other words, their godliness should show up in tangible and visible ways. They were not to be addicted to gossip and slander or, for that matter, wine. And they were to teach the younger women by modeling for them what godliness looked like in the life of a believing woman. And while Paul provides a list of good behaviors that the older women were to teach to the younger women in the church, I don’t think he had a class in mind. This was to be teaching by example, not a lecture. Their lives were to be the primary lesson the younger women studied and from which they learned God’s expectations for holiness.

The younger women were to love their husbands and children well. While this sounds like a no-brainer, we know how difficult this can be in a normal relationship between a husband and wife. Marriage is not always a walk in the park. Raising children can be extremely challenging. And older women were to model what loving your husband and children looks like over the long haul. Their lives were to be a tangible example of living self-controlled and selfless lives.

Purity or wholesomeness was to be a powerful motivation for these young wives and mothers. They were to be diligent workers who ordered their homes well. This does not suggest that wives are not to work outside of the home. But in Paul’s day, that was a rare option for women. He was simply calling for an attitude of diligence and order in their responsibilities, that would apply in every area of their lives – either at home or at work.

And again, these older women were to have modeled what submission to their husbands looked like. It was not an issue of worth or value, power or weakness. It had to do with exhibiting a willing submission to God’s intended order of things. Paul was not saying that the husbands were better, smarter, or more deserving of the leadership role in the home. He was simply saying that God had a prescribed order of responsibility. He had placed the man as the head of the home and expected him to lead well. Many men don’t. That is an all-too-proven fact. But God intended for the wife to be an asset to her husband, encouraging and assisting him in his God-given role. There were to see themselves as partners in this thing called marriage. In fact, Jesus would say that a husband and wife are not really partners, but a single unit joined together by God through the marriage covenant. The two of them are to act as one, in loving unison, as they raise their family and conduct their lives on this earth.

And younger men, which includes younger fathers and husbands, as well as single men, were to be self-controlled as well. They were not to be driven by their passions or controlled by their lusts. And Titus, as a young man himself, was to be a model of godly behavior, using his own life as a teaching tool that revealed integrity, dignity, and godly speech. Young men were not to use their youth as an excuse to act like fools or shirk their responsibilities as Christ-followers. They were to take their faith seriously and live their lives in such a way that the outside world could not point a finger at them and call them hypocrites.

Paul closes his list of individuals within the church by addressing bond servants or slaves. In that day and age, there were many who found themselves operating as household slaves or servants because of unpaid debts. There were others that were outright slaves, taken captive as a result of war, and sold into slavery as servants. But many of these individuals had come to faith in Christ while living on Crete and they had become members of the local churches. So, Paul didn’t want to leave them out.

It’s interesting to note that Paul doesn’t address the institution of slavery. He neither condemns nor condones it. He was not out to change the unjust institutions set up by men that took advantage of the weak or helpless. He was out to change hearts. This is why he tells Titus that these individuals were to remain submissive to their masters in everything. He didn’t tell them to rebel or run away. In fact, he told them to use their enslavement as a platform from which to exhibit their faith in Christ. They were to obey and not argue. They were to refrain from stealing and show themselves to be trustworthy and reliable. And their overall behavior, even as slaves, was to bring glory and honor to God.

Good doctrine should result in good conduct. Belief that doesn’t impact behavior is to be questioned. An individual who claims to know Christ and declares themselves to be a follower of Christ, but whose life exhibits no qualifying characteristics, is to have his faith doubted. Paul would even say they are to be rebuked. The way we live our lives is one of the greatest testimonies to the life-transforming power of the gospel. It is to be practical proof of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power within us. All of these characteristics and behaviors that Paul has listed are Spirit-produced, not man-made. They come about as a result of reliance upon the Spirit and an adherence to good, solid teaching of sound doctrine.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Shepherds Wanted

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— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 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. – Titus 1:5-9 ESV

One of the first things Titus was to concentrate on was the appointment of elders for the local churches in Crete. As Paul’s letter will shortly disclose, there was a problem with disorder and doctrinal disruption among the believers on the island. Paul will describe these individuals as “rebellious people who engage in useless talk and deceive others” (Titus 1:10 NLT).  He will accuse them of “turning whole families away from the truth by their false teaching” (Titus 1:11 NLT). And to make matters worse, they were doing so for financial gain. That’s why Paul reminds Titus that he has been left in Crete to “complete our work there and appoint elders in each town as I instructed you” (Titus 1:5 NLT).

Paul gave Titus a two-part commission. His first priority was to put in order or to complete what was lacking or left undone. There were some issues within the church there that needed to be taken care of, and Paul spends a good portion of his letter explaining exactly what the issues were. But the second part of Titus’ commission was the appointment of elders. Paul knew that Titus was going to need help. A big reason for the lack of order was the void of qualified leaders. If any organization finds itself lacking reputable and responsible leadership, someone will rise up to fill the void. There will always be those who step into the leadership vacuum and attempt to use their power and influence to take charge. And evidently, that was exactly what was happening on Crete.

So, Paul told Titus to take care of the problem by appointing men to help him lead the local body of believers. The responsibilities were too great for one man to handle on his own. But Paul insisted that Titus was not to settle for second best. Those whom Titus appointed to lead the church were going to have to meet certain qualifications in order to even be considered.

But it’s important to note that Paul’s description of the qualifications has everything to do with character and has little to say about biblical knowledge, academic aptitude, business savvy, or even leadership skills. Instead, Paul mentions qualities and characteristics that would have been visible to all those who knew these men. Titus was to look for the outward evidence of an inward transformation that had taken place in the lives of these men due to their relationship with Christ and their knowledge of the Word of God.

Each of them was to have “a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught,” so that he might “be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong.” (Titus 1:9 NLT). In other words, they had to have a knowledge of the truth of the gospel and the realities regarding God and His redemptive plan for man. That was the only way they would be able to refute falsehood and defend the good news from attack. Worldly leadership qualities would not be enough because they would be engaged in spiritual warfare.

Paul appears to be contrasting the character of these future church leaders and those who were doing harm to the church. Those leading who would lead the body of Christ had to be men who were above reproach or blameless. This doesn’t suggest that they were somehow perfect or sinless. The Greek word Paul used is anegklētos and it conveys the idea that these men were to have no glaring character flaws. They were not to be guilty of living their lives in a way that would cause people to point their fingers in accusation, resulting in harm to the reputation of the church.

They were to be loving husbands with reputations for faithfulness. They were to be fathers who had proven themselves to be capable leaders at home, having children who had come to faith in Christ, and who modeled lives of moral integrity and obedience. This would seem to suggest that Paul was recommending that Titus look for older men with children who had been in Christ long enough to have demonstrated their godly character.

Paul went on to say that an elder candidate “must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money” (Titus 1:7 NLT). Instead, he was to “enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life” (Titus 1:8 NLT).

It’s interesting to note that Paul had to be so specific in his list of qualifying character traits, and h went out of his way to list disqualifying characteristics as well. Arrogance, anger, greed, violence, and alcohol abuse would all be huge detriments to godly leadership. They were outward signs of someone who was under the control of the flesh and not the Spirit. In fact, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul provides an even more detailed list of those characteristics that mark someone who is living according to their sinful nature.

…sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,  envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these… – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

A man who is controlled by his own flesh is going to make a lousy leader. He will be disruptive and, potentially, destructive. And it’s obvious that the church on Crete already had enough negative influences impacting it. Titus was going to need godly men whose lives reflected their reliance upon the Spirit’s control.

Titus was going to need help in dealing with the disorder and negative moral influences within the churches on Crete. He couldn’t handle it on his own. So, Paul emphasized the need for him to find the right kind of men to lovingly lead the flock of God, providing much-needed discipline, and modeling the character of Christ to all those around them.

One of the main qualifications these men were to have was a love for the gospel. Paul tells Titus that each of them “must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught” (Titus 1:9 NLT). They were to remain committed to the gospel message by which they had come to faith in Christ.

One of the problems going on in Crete was the influence of those teaching what Paul refers to as a false gospel. There were those who were preaching something other than salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. They were adding to the gospel. Paul will remind Titus that people were “listening to Jewish myths and the commands of people who have turned away from the truth” (Titus 1:14 NLT). So, the men Titus chose to help him lead the church were going to have to be men who were committed to the truth of the gospel message. They were not to accept or even tolerate alternative versions of the truth. As shepherds of God’s flock, they were to refute all false gospels and destructive heresies.

These men were not to function as a board of directors. They were not to see themselves as figureheads or some kind of ad hoc advisory board for Titus. No, they were called to be overseers, shepherds, and pastors of the flock of Jesus Christ. They were to be godly in character and bold in their witness.

It’s easy to see that Paul had a strong view of eldership. He knew these men were indispensable to the spiritual well-being of the church. This is why he told the elders in Ephesus: “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders” (Acts 20:28 NLT).

We live in the midst of an ungodly world and there is an ongoing need for godly men who will step forward and provide leadership and protection for the flock of God. The church needs men of character who are led by the Spirit of God and committed to the Word of God. Disorder and disruption are all around us. That’s why qualified men are in great need, even today.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Good Leadership Doesn’t Just Happen

17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. – 1 Timothy 5:17-25 ESV

Paul has already addressed the qualifications for elders earlier in his letter, but now he deals with the more practical realities of how Timothy is to interact with these essential church leaders. It’s interesting that he chooses to address elders immediately after giving Timothy advice on how to care for widows in the church. It would seem that, to Paul, both groups are important to the life of the church, and neither is to be overlooked or taken for granted.

It would be easy to forget about widows in the church because they tend to be out of sight and out of mind, even in society. Paul didn’t want that to happen in the church as well. And the same thing can be said of elders. Once a man is chosen to serve as an elder, it would be easy to overlook him and just assume that all is well and that his spiritual life is just fine. Paul didn’t want Timothy to take these men for granted and end up neglecting their needs or failing to show gratitude for the significant role they play in the health and well-being of the local church.

So, Paul tells Timothy to care for those men who voluntarily commit their time, talent, and energies to the oversight of the local church.

Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. – 1 Timothy 5:17 NLT

It would appear that these men were financially compensated for their work. As teachers and preachers, they could expect to receive a “double honor.” This may refer to the respect that came with their position as leaders and some form of financial remuneration to compensate them for their hard work on behalf of the church.

They were to be honored, respected, and cared for, especially those who carried the extra responsibility of preaching and teaching. It would make sense that, in the early days of the church, these men would have received financial compensation for the time they spent ministering to the spiritual needs of the body of Christ. It would appear that they may have been bi-vocational, holding down secular jobs and sacrificing part of their work hours to serve the needs of the church.

Serving as an elder, which would have included teaching, preaching, leading, and praying for the local congregation, would have been a time-consuming job. So, Paul encourages Timothy to ensure that these men are taken care of adequately. Quoting Deuteronomy 25:4, Paul compares the efforts of an elder to those of an ox used to tread grain. “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.”

An ox, as it pulled a stone wheel over the stalks of wheat to separate out the grain, was allowed to eat as it worked, providing it with an incentive to continue to do its job. In a similar manner, elders who worked hard on behalf of the body of Christ should be compensated and cared for, in order to reward and encourage them for their efforts. But the apostle Peter warned elders against doing their job for profit.

Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly. And do not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock. Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away. – 1 Peter 5:2-4 NLT

Elders were never to do their job for what they could get out of it. Ultimately, they were servants of God, and any compensation they received was up to the local congregation. They were not to demand payment for services rendered. To do so would have altered the nature of their role as selfless shepherds of the flock of Jesus Christ.

Paul also knew that, because elders served in a leadership capacity, they were going to be open to criticism and accusations. There would be those who disagreed with their teaching and disliked their leadership at times. That’s why Paul told Timothy to “not listen to an accusation against an elder unless it is confirmed by two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19 NLT).

He was to give these men the benefit of the doubt, refusing to take at face value the word of one individual who might bring an accusation against an elder. If Timothy ever discovered that an elder had sinned, he was to confront them in private, and if that man proved unrepentant, he was to be reprimanded before the entire congregation, serving as a strong warning to the other elders and reinforcing the seriousness of their role as the spiritual leaders of the church. In all of this, Timothy was to act as an objective party, not showing favoritism or taking sides. While treating elders with respect and honor, he was not to side with them unfairly side or show them any form of favoritism.

Paul also warned Timothy not to be too hasty when appointing elders. To lay hands on a man, ordaining him for this highly important spiritual role, was a serious matter and was to be done soberly and carefully. To appoint a man to this high office, only to find out that he was unqualified, would be to share in his sin and shame. The one who placed an unqualified man in this important leadership position would be culpable for having put the congregation at risk.

So, Timothy was to be extremely careful when selecting men for the role of elder. But Paul knew that not all sins are obvious at first glance. There would inevitably be those cases where a man was appointed to the position of elder, only to find out later that he had some hidden sin in his life that disqualified him. It was going to happen and, when it did, Timothy would have to deal with it.

But there would also be cases in which a man’s good character might lie hidden and unseen. There would be those men in the church who were less obvious and whose good deeds were done behind the scenes, out of sight, and unrecognized by those in the congregation. That’s why it was so important for Timothy to choose carefully. The “obvious” candidates are not always the right candidate. He must look into the hidden character of each man being considered for the role of elder. As God told the prophet, Samuel, when he was looking for the next king of Israel, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT).

Finally, Paul gives Timothy some personal health advice. He was well aware that all of this could prove to be stressful and he knew that Timothy already suffered from some kind of chronic health issue. So, Paul recommended that Timothy “drink a little wine for the sake of your stomach because you are sick so often” (1 Timothy 5:23 NLT). Leading a church can be difficult and stressful. It is a huge responsibility and must be taken seriously. That’s why Paul pleaded with Timothy to take care of himself. He must be in good health if he is going to care for the body of Christ well.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Right Stuff

1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. – 1 Timothy 3:1-13 ESV

Timothy was going to need assistance. Attempting to shepherd even a relatively small congregation of new believers was not going to be easy, especially in an environment like Ephesus. So, Paul encouraged Timothy to find qualified men to assist him in his oversight of the church. It would be impossible for one man to minister to all the needs within the body of Christ and, with the Judaizers promoting their legalistic adherence to the Mosaic Law, Timothy was going to need allies in the fight of faith.

That’s why Paul recommended that Timothy develop a recruitment strategy for possible “overseers.” The Greek word Paul uses is episkopē and he seems to use it almost synonymously with another Greek word, presbuteros, which typically gets translated “elder.”

Both words convey the idea of someone with authority for and responsibility over the spiritual well-being of the flock of God. Paul tells Timothy that it is a good thing if a man aspires to his position. He states, “If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position” (1 Timothy 3:1 NLT).

The Greek word he uses is oregō, which means “to stretch one’s self out in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or desire something.” But, like most Greek words, oregō had another and somewhat darker meaning as well: “to give one’s self up to the love of money.” In fact, Paul uses this secondary meaning in chapter 6 when talking about an inordinate and unhealthy attraction to money.

For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. – 1 Timothy 6:10 NLT

Paul declared that it was proper and appropriate for a man to aspire to be a leader in the church, but not for what he can get out of it. And the apostle Peter echoed that sentiment.

I urge the elders among you: Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly. – 1 Peter 5:1-2 NLT

Leadership within the local body of Christ was never meant to be a means for getting rich or acquiring power. That’s why Peter and Paul compared the role of an overseer to that of a shepherd. It was to be a selfless and sacrificial role modeled after the life of Jesus. And it seems that Paul’s emphasis was less on the role or job description than on the qualities of the kind of man who would be recognized to fill it.

Paul does not go into great detail on the job description of an elder. Instead. he points out the required character qualities to be considered for the position. And I would argue that these qualities should be the aspiration of every God-fearing, Christ-following man in the church today.

We all aspire to something. We each have goals and ambitions to which we dedicate our time, talents, and energies. For some of us, having a successful career is our greatest ambition and it ends up impacting our entire lives, as we spend every waking moment attempting to bring it about. A few men have legitimate and realistic aspirations for making a name for themselves in the competitive world of sports. Then there are those who simply aspire to be good employees, fathers, husbands, friends, and members of the community. But Paul would encourage us to have a different aspiration; to aspire to something of a slightly higher nature. But it is a job with few perks, a lot of responsibilities, high expectations, no income, a certain degree of anonymity, and some pretty lofty hiring guidelines.

In the book of Acts, we have recorded a meeting between Paul and the elders from the church in Ephesus. He provided these men with a rather stern warning.

So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock–his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders. – Acts 20:28 NLT

Elders had a high calling and a lofty responsibility to guard both themselves and the people of God. Therefore, they had to be godly men of strong character and impeccable morals. They didn’t have to be perfect, but they did have to strive to be blameless and above reproach in every area of their lives.

It’s interesting that the characteristics that Paul lists cover just about every area of a man’s life. An elder had to be a man free from compartmentalization in his life. He could not afford to have any areas of his life that he tried to keep hidden from the flock. His home life was just as important as his church life. Every one of the things that Paul lists would have been easy to assess and ascertain by anyone in the church. The qualities Paul lays out are visible and external, open for anyone and everyone to see and evaluate. But they reflect an inner character that flows out into every area of life. The kind of men who were to be considered for leadership were those whose hearts were continually being transformed by God. They were men who were living under the control of and in the power provided by the Holy Spirit.

But shouldn’t the qualities and characteristics Paul outlines be the aspiration of every man? Why wouldn’t every man of God aspire to live the kind of life Paul describes, whether he ever gets appointed as an elder or not? The church needs men who are above reproach, faithful to their wives, self-controlled, wise, with good reputations, hospitable, moderate in all things, gentle in spirit, spiritual leaders in their homes, and respected in their communities. The local church should be filled to the brim with men who are viable candidates for eldership. Remember, Paul told Timothy that if a man aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position. To aspire is “to stretch one’s self out in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or desire something.” What we should desire as men is not the role or responsibility, but the character of an elder. The position is honorable because the men who occupy it are honorable. Their character is Christ-like and holy. They are not perfect, but they are men who are willingly and regularly being perfected by God. The church needs more men like that today.

But Paul doesn’t stop with overseers; he also describes the role of a deacon (diakonos). This was a different role within the local body of Christ that was more service-oriented. These men were intended to serve alongside the elders/overseers so that the spiritual and physical needs of the congregation were effectively met. While Paul does not provide a detailed description of the day-to-day functions of a deacon, he does make it clear that the requirements to be considered for the position were virtually the same as that of an overseer.

The roles may have been different but the character requirements were almost identical. While it might be tempting to view the role of deacon as less significant than that of an elder, Paul insists that Timothy not take it lightly.

Before they are appointed as deacons, let them be closely examined. If they pass the test, then let them serve as deacons. – 1 Timothy 3:10 NLT

The criterion for consideration was no less stringent or demanding. These men also had to be spiritually and morally qualified to serve. There was no dumbing down of the standards or lowering of the bar of expectations. Their character was to be above reproach and their marriages were to reflect the effectiveness of their servant leadership. If they couldn’t manage their own homes well, how could they be expected to minister to the body of Christ?

Paul wanted Timothy to surround himself with godly men who would help him lead and love the people of God. Paul knew there would be a time when Timothy had to leave Ephesus and go to the next city where he would minister to yet another congregation. So, Timothy needed to prepare for that moment by finding the right men to shepherd the flock of God in his absence. The church needed leaders. The body of Christ needed overseers and deacons who serve as “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3 NLT). The future of the church was dependent upon godly men whom God would raise up and place in the role of undershepherds to His flock.

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul described the unique nature of God’s divine strategy for the health and well-being of the church. God had devised an assortment of roles within the local body of Christ designed to promote spiritual maturity and effective ministry.

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. – Ephesians 4:11-14 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Shepherding Has Its Rewards

1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 1 Peter 5:1-4 ESV

At the end of the day, Peter was a highly practical man who knew that theology alone was not enough to help his readers navigate the uncertain cultural waters in which they found themselves. They were drowning in a sea of competing ideologies that stood diametrically opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And their status as followers of Christ made them a tempting target for all those who viewed them as a threat to the prevailing status quo. So, Peter went out of his way to apply the promises contained in the Scriptures with the theological lessons found in the life and ministry of Jesus. Peter was a faithful shepherd who cared deeply about the everyday needs of his flock and was determined to help them apply the hope of their future inheritance to their present circumstances.

At this point in his letter, Peter focused his attention on the elders whom God had appointed to shepherd the local fellowships to whom Peter had addressed his letter. All throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, there were individual gatherings of believers that were being shepherded by faithful men. These men played a vital role in guiding and protecting the men and women who were being “grieved by various trials” 1 Peter 1:6 ESV). Since many of these believers were still relative infants in Christ, they were not yet spiritually mature enough to understand and endure the difficulties they were encountering. And that’s why the elders were so vital to the health and overall well-being of each local church.

This rather brief parenthetical statement was aimed at those men who shared Peter’s role as a God-appointed elder in the church of Jesus Christ. He had even opened his letter with the salutation: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:1 ESV). He presented himself “as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 5:1 ESV.  Along with sharing their distinctive role as an elder, he brought the added weight of having been a personal eye-witness to the suffering and death of Jesus. In a sense, he was establishing his official status as an apostle of Jesus.

He had been there the day that Jesus had been crucified and killed. But, not only that, Peter had plenty of first-hand experience when it came to the topic of suffering. Ever since the Holy Spirit had come on the day of Pentecost, Peter had faithfully preached the gospel of the kingdom and been rewarded with arrest, imprisonment, interrogation, and even disciplinary beatings. He knew what it was like to suffer for the sake of righteousness. And he was calling the local elders to step up their game and lead by example. They too would one day be partakers “in the glory that is going to be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1 ESV). Any suffering they had to endure in this life would be well worth it once Jesus appeared in all His glory at the end of the age.

So, with that hope ringing in the ears, Peter challenges his fellow elders to shepherd well.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. – 1 Peter 5:2 NLT

Like any good shepherd, they were to do their job willingly and not out of some sense of heartless duty. Shepherding was to be viewed as a privilege and not a job. They were to care for the flock of Jesus Christ with compassion and love, not out of greed or for personal gain.

It was Jesus who used Himself as an example of the “good shepherd.” He was a caring and completely selfless shepherd who put the needs of the flock ahead of His own – even to the point of laying down His life for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. – John 10:11-13 NLT

And Peter wanted these local shepherds to remain at their posts, refusing to run at the first sign of trouble. Their ministry as shepherds was to be marked by a deep desire to serve God, and it was to manifest itself in a determination to stand beside the flock even in the face of life-threatening circumstances. They must be willing to lay down their lives just as Jesus had done for them. By following His example, they would become examples to their flock. And Peter reminded them that there would be a reward for their faithful service.

…when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. – 1 Peter 5:4 ESV

All of this discussion of sheep and shepherds was near and dear to Peter’s heart because he couldn’t help but view it through the lens of his own experience. Even as he wrote these words, he must have had a fateful scene from his past in mind. It was after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead when Peter had a face-to-face encounter with the one whom he had earlier denied even knowing.

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.” – John 21:15-17 NLT

Jesus had handed over to Peter the responsibility of caring for His sheep. And that was not something Peter took lightly or for granted. Peter had denied Jesus three separate times, but now Jesus had pressed him to confirm his love three times. And Jesus explained that the way for Peter to prove His love for Him would be by loving and caring for His sheep.  And that is exactly what Peter charged these elders to do.

Peter’s mention of the  “unfading crown of glory” seems to be for motivation. It is intended as an incentive to do their jobs well in this life because there is a reward to come in the next life. But it unlikely that Peter is referring to a literal crown. He is talking about the eschatological reward of eternal life in the Kingdom of God. It is the same reward he mentioned in the opening chapter of his letter.

an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. – 1 Peter 1:4 ESV

The greatest “crowning” achievement of these men will be their faithful carrying out of their role as God’s humble and obedient shepherds. And their reward will be the joy of living in the Kingdom of God – for eternity.

Even if their reward ends up being a literal crown, the book of Revelation reveals that, in the coming Kingdom, no one will stand before God glorying in their own achievements. Instead, they will recognize that all glory and honor goes to God alone.

Whenever the living beings give glory and honor and thanks to the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever), the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say,

“You are worthy, O Lord our God,
    to receive glory and honor and power.
For you created all things,
    and they exist because you created what you pleased.” – Revelation 4:9-11 NLT

The greatest reward any of us can receive is to live in the presence of God forever. Anything else will pale in comparison.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Building Up the Body

12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 ESV

After providing the Thessalonians with some much-needed clarification and new information regarding the end times, Paul brings the focus of his letter back to the present day. The news he shared regarding the Rapture of the church and the Second Coming of Christ was intended to quell their fears and cause them to encourage and build up one another. For Paul, the unity and mutual edification of fellow believers were essential to the health and vitality of the church. He told the church in Corinth:

I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. – 1 Corinthians 1:10 NLT

He encouraged the believers in Rome to “Live in harmony with each other” (Romans 12:16 NLT). And he wrote to the believers in Philippi, charging them to conduct themselves “in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ and to stand together “with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News” (Philippians 1:27 NLT).

And Paul knew that unity within the body of Christ began with the people showing respect and submitting themselves to those whom God had placed as leaders over the church. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul referred to apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers as gifts from God, tasked with equipping “God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12 NLT).

The author of the book of Hebrews adds his own admonition regarding respect for and submission to the God-appointed leaders in the church.

Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. – Hebrews 13:17 NLT

Paul told the members of the church in Corinth to treat those who ministered among them with respect and “to submit to them and others like them who serve with such devotion” (1 Corinthians 16:16 NLT). So, when Paul tells the Thessalonians to “to respect those who labor among you” and “to esteem them very highly in love because of their work,” he is simply restating his strongly held belief in God’s authority structure for the local church.

It is important to remember that at the point Paul wrote this letter, the church of Jesus Christ was still in its infancy. Through the evangelistic efforts of Paul, Silas, Barnabas, Timothy, Peter and the other apostles, the Gospel had spread like wildfire throughout the Roman empire. And its rapid expansion had created a pressing need for leaders. The book of Acts records that, on one of their many missionary journeys, Paul and Barnabas made many disciples and “they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:22 NLT). And Luke goes on to explain how “Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust” (Acts 14:23 NLT).

One of the primary responsibilities Paul gave to his young protégés, Titus and Timothy, was to appoint elders and leaders for the growing number of congregations springing up all over Macedonia, Asia Minor, Galatia, and Achaia. He told Titus, “I left you on the island of Crete so you could complete our work there and appoint elders in each town as I instructed you” (Titus 1:5 NLT). And Paul gave Timothy very specific characteristics to look for when seeking out men to lead the church.

…a church leader must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinkerc or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? – 1 Timothy 3:2-5 NLT

These men were not to be new converts to the faith. Their lives were to be characterized by a level of integrity that garnered the respect of those inside and outside of the church. As Paul told Titus, these individuals were God-appointed leaders who were to be held to a high standard.

A church leader is a manager of God’s household, so he must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money. – Titus 1:5 NLT

And when these men taught, led, fed, encouraged, or admonished the flock of God, they were to be treated with respect and love by those under their care.

But along with godly leadership, Paul knew there was a need for mutual accountability and compassionate care among the congregation. The church was the body of Christ. It was an organism, not an organization. And Paul wanted the Thessalonians to understand their mutual responsibility to care for and build up one another, which led him to write, “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14 NLT).

In his letters to the churches in Rome and Corinth, Paul compared the church to the human body.

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. – Romans 12:4-5 NLT

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 12:12 NLT

And, as in the human body, the diversity of parts was part of God’s plan for maintaining unity and vitality. Each member of the body of Christ had a personal responsibility to use his or her gifts for the good of the whole. There was no place for selfishness or self-centeredness. God designed the body of Christ to operate in a spirit of solidarity, not solitariness.

So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. – 1 Corinthians 12:6-9 NLT

And Paul lets the Thessalonians know that the love God expected them to express toward one another was to consist of equal parts love, admonishment, comfort, help, and patience. They were to pursue what was best for one another, putting the needs of others ahead of their own. There was no place for disunity, dissension, lack of discipline, laziness, self-centeredness, or selfishness in the body of Christ.

In fact, as far as Paul was concerned, Christ’s church was to be characterized by continuous rejoicing, constant prayer, and contagious gratitude to God for all that He has done. And Paul makes it plain that these characteristics were in keeping with the will of God for the church. When the body of Christ operates outside those parameters, it runs the risk of extinguishing the work of the Spirit in their midst. Ungodly behavior among God’s people is unacceptable and has the same effect on the Spirit’s power as water being poured on an open flame. When members of the body of Christ fail to live in unity and refuse to minister to one another with a focus on community, the Spirit of God is grieved.

Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. – Ephesians 4:29-30 NLT

And, as if to illustrate all that he has just said, Paul warns the Thessalonians to “not treat prophecies with contempt” (1 Thessalonians 5:20 NET). This statement ties in Paul’s teaching on the end times and his admonition that the Thessalonians respect those who labor among them. Paul had provided them new teaching about the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ. And, as difficult as these new revelations might be to understand, he expected them to receive them as coming from God. He invited them to “test everything” and to “hold fast what is good,” but they were not to treat the words of God contemptuously. The Greek word Paul uses means “to make of no account.” While they were free to examine and test these new teachings, they were not to throw them out just because they were difficult to understand or hard to accept.

So much of what they were hearing was new to them. The Bible as we know it did not yet exist. Like many of the other letters Paul wrote, this one would eventually become part of the Canon of Scripture. But at this point in the history of the church, the doctrines and theology with which we are intimately familiar were still in the process of being determined and disseminated. This meant that the members of the local churches were going to have to trust leaders like Paul, whom God had placed over them. And, as Paul concludes in this section, it also meant that they were going to have to avoid “every form of evil.”

Paul expands on this thought in his letter to the church in Rome.

Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. – Romans 12:9-13 NLT

The body of Christ is to be a wonderful demonstration of unity, community, love, and mutual care, empowered by the Spirit of God and for the building up of the people of God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Read It and Keep It

Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. 10 And Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, 13 and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” Deuteronomy 31:9-13 ESV

Moses is about to commission Joshua as his official replacement. But before he conducts that auspicious ceremony where he will turn over the leadership of the people of Israel to his successor, Moses called together two other groups of God-appointed leaders. One was the priests, who were all members of the tribe of Levi. God’s appointment them as priests is recorded in the book of Numbers.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle. And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the people of Israel. And you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall guard their priesthood. But if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death.” – Numbers 3:5-10 ESV

The tribe of Levi had been set apart by God as substitutes for the firstborn sons of Israel. As a result of His sparing of all the firstborn male Israelites during the final plague in Egypt, God had claimed them as His own. They were to be dedicated to Him. But He later appointed the Levites to serve in this role. They would be the tribe from which the priestly order would come – the men who would serve in the tabernacle and offer sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. So, these men played an important role in the lives of the Israelites.

The second group of leaders Moses called upon was comprised of the elders of Israel. Back during the days when Israel was making their way from Egypt to the land of Canaan, Moses had become overwhelmed by the weight of his leadership responsibilities. So, God had provided him with a solution.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone. – Numbers 11:16-17 ESV

The nation of Israel had grown too large for one man to lead them effectively. So, God provided Moses with a system for delegating authority among a group of well-qualified men. Their job was to come alongside Moses and to help him bear the burden of the people. And as Moses, prepared to turn over leadership to Joshua, he wanted the sons of Levi who served as priests and the elders of Israel to understand that they would play an important role in the future of the nation.

Moses provided them with a copy of the law and with instructions to guard and protect it. This document was going to be vital to the nation’s spiritual well-being. It would be the key to Israel experiencing the blessings of God. And Moses instructed these men to set aside a day every seventh (sabbatical) year on which they would call for a national assembly and read the law in the hearing of the people.

“At the end of every seventh year, the Year of Release, during the Festival of Shelters, you must read this Book of Instruction to all the people of Israel when they assemble before the Lord your God at the place he chooses. – Deuteronomy 31:10-11 ESV

It was essential that the people remain well-educated concerning the content of God’s law. Not long after Moses had received the law from God, he had told the people of Israel:

“…you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” – Deuteronomy 6:6-9 NLT

And God had given a command concerning the kings who would eventually reign over the nation.

“…when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.” – Deuteronomy 17:18-20 ESV

By commanding the audible recitation of the law every seventh year by the priests and elders of Israel, Moses was ensuring that the people would have a regular reminder of their commitment to the law. Not only that, he tied it to the annual Feast of Booths, which was a commemoration of Israel’s release from captivity. As part of the feast, they constructed temporary “booths” or “tabernacles” meant to remind them of the years their ancestor spent wandering in the wilderness of their way to the land of promise.

The feast was timed to occur immediately after the fall harvest, and it was accompanied by sacrifices, offered in thanksgiving to God for His gracious provision. It was at this joyous occasion that the law was to be read aloud to the entire population of Israel “at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths” (Deuteronomy 31:10 ESV).

And Moses commanded that this solemn convocation was to include “the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 31:12 ESV). No one was to be left out. And an important byproduct of this event was the instruction of their children regarding the law of God. 

“Do this so that your children who have not known these instructions will hear them and will learn to fear the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 31:13 NLT

And this reading of the law was to take place every seventh year for as long as the people of Israel lived in the land of Canaan. And since God had promised the land to them as a permanent possession, that means Moses expected the priests and elders to see their commitment to holding this solemn assembly as perpetual and never-ending in nature.

It’s interesting to note that, by spacing this reading of the law at seven-year intervals, there would have been thousands of 7-year-old children attending the festival who had born into the Jewish community during the gap years. These children would have been mature enough to hear the law and understand it. So, if they had not had parents who taught it to them, they would at least hear it for themselves on their 7th birthday and every seventh year after that.

To say that the law was important to God would be a vast understatement. He cared greatly about His law and was adamant that His people know it and obey it. He wanted them to live their lives by it. He demanded that they be committed to it. He wanted the leaders of His people to be the protectors and disseminators of it – for generations to come. And this law was not just a list of rules to keep. It was written documentation of the commitment the people of Israel had made. They had promised to keep all the commandments of God, and He was not going to allow them to forget the nature of that commitment.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Call to Older Men

1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. – Titus 2:1-2 ESV

Paul has spent a significant portion of his letter warning Titus about the dangers of those who were promoting their man-made doctrines among the churches on Crete. These individuals were blatantly adding to the simplicity of the gospel message and contradicting the teaching of Paul and the other apostles of Jesus Christ. And one of the reasons these false teachers were making an impact was because of the spiritual immaturity of the congregations. As Paul concluded a few verses earlier in his letter, the believers on Crete were not sound in the faith.

So, Paul turns his attention to Titus, tasking his with the job of teaching “what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1 ESV). Notice that Paul is not asking Titus to teach sound doctrine. He seems to know that Titus has been faithful to promote what is in keeping with the teachings of Jesus and His apostles. But what Paul wants Timothy to do is to teach what “accords with” sound teaching. The Greek word Paul used carries the idea of reflecting or demonstrating. In other words, Paul is asking Titus to teach the Cretan believers what Christ-like behavior looks like. He wants Titus to make it clear to these people what true doctrine looks like when it’s lived out on a daily basis. 

This is in direct response to the false teaching that had begun to infect and influence the church. They were promoting everything from license to legalism. Some were demanding that any and all behavior was acceptable because they believed the spiritual and the physical were two completely separate realms. These individuals taught that what we do in our flesh makes no difference. As you can only imagine, this false doctrine would lead to some abhorrent behavior that was in direct contradiction to the Word of God.

These people were often referred to as antinomians, which literally means “anti-law.” They took the teachings of Paul regarding our freedom from the Mosaic Law and turned them into permission to practice moral license. But Paul addressed this misconception in his first letter to the believers in Corinth.

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. You say, “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.” (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them.) But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. – 1 Corinthians 6:12-13 NLT

But right alongside the antinomians came the legalists, the party of the circumcision, who were teaching that strict adherence to the Mosaic Law was mandatory for any and all professing believers, whether they were Jews or Gentiles. These people taught a strict code based on abstinence and adherence. Paul addressed this false teaching to the Colossian church.

“Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires. – Colossians 2:21-23 NLT

So, with these two diametrically opposed brands of false teaching bombarding the local churches on Crete, Paul commanded Titus to provide the people with clear instructions on what proper Christian behavior should look like. And what should stand out to us is the simple, practical nature of Paul’s examples.

Paul begins with the mature males in the church, using the Greek word, presbytēs. It was a common word typically used to refer to someone who was more advanced in years. They were not necessarily elderly, but simply older. For Paul, these men were essential to the overall health of the church. And he states that they were to be “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (Titus 1:2 ESV). Each of these terms is packed with meaning, and they are not to be taken lightly.

The first descriptor Paul uses is nēphalios, which is translated as “sober-minded.” Some translations use the word “temperate” which is probably much closer to the original meaning. The original Greek word meant “abstaining from wine, either entirely or at least from its immoderate use.” And this meaning seems to fit the context. In the very next verse, Paul states that the older women were not to be “slaves to much wine.” It would seem that over-indulgence had become a problem in the churches on Crete. License had led some to drink wine to access. Any belief in moderation had been abandoned for the pursuit of personal pleasure. But in his letter to the believers in Galatia, Paul listed drunkenness among the works of the flesh and temperance among the fruit of the Spirit.

The second attribute or characteristic Paul requires of all older men in the body of Christ was semnos, which conveys the idea of being venerated for their character. They were to be looked up to for the way they lived their lives. These men were to be examples to the rest of the congregation, emulating the character of Christ and leading the younger men in the church to aspire to follow their example. It could have been that these older, more mature believers were setting the wrong example, having chosen to follow the teaching of the antinomians. Perhaps they were leading the way in licentious behavior and causing their younger brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble. But Paul demands that their behavior be Christ-like in every way.

Next, Paul emphasizes their need to be self-controlled. That particular translation of the Greek word sōphrōn is somewhat misleading. It seems to convey the idea that this character quality is completely up to the individual to pull off. But we know that Paul firmly believed in the role of the Holy Spirit in assisting us in our pursuit of Christ-like behavior. In fact, he told the believers in Galatia: “the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). Paul clearly taught that self-control was only possible when one was under the Spirit’s control. 

…let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. – Galatians 5:16 NLT

The Greek word has to do with curbing one’s desires and impulses. It is the mark of someone who is not controlled by his emotions, physical appetites, or sinful desires. And it listed in the qualities required of an elder found in chapter 1.

These are all characteristics that should accompany physical maturity. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He adds a few more qualities that should reflect spiritual maturity or godliness. He states that these older men should be “sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (Titus 2:2 ESV). The Greek word that is translated as “sound” has to do with wholeness or completeness. It was often used to refer to a person being sound of body or in good health. Paul is insisting that older Christian men should be whole or healthy when it comes to their faith in God and His gospel message, their love for God and His children, and their patient endurance as they wait for His Son’s return.

Paul held these older men to a higher standard and, more than likely, he included himself as one of them. He worked hard to ensure that his life was an example to the younger men in his life, including Titus and Timothy. Paul was able to say to the believers in Corinth, “you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NLT). He told the Philippian believers, “pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example” (Philippians 3:17 NLT). He went on to tell them, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things” (Philippians 4:9 ESV).

Paul was demanding of these men what he demanded of himself. But this was not some form of legalism or license. He was not promoting another form of rule-keeping or behavior modification. For Paul, this was all about living out his faith in everyday life. It was to permeate every area of his life. His belief was to result in changed behavior. And he knew that this was true of each and every person who professed to be a follower of Christ.

The reason older men are singled out first is that they were the pool from which the elders of the church were to come. The Greek word used for older men is presbytēs and the word for elder is presbyteros. Paul had charged Titus with the task of finding and appointing elders in all the churches on Crete. But where was he going to find such individuals if there were no older men who met the standards? The truth is, the church should never be in short supply of elders, because it is filled with older men whose lives reflect the characteristics of an elder. Godly leadership should be readily available and easily accessible because the older men of the church are sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.s

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Not Up For Debate

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. – Titus 1:10-16 ESV

Verses 5-9 give Titus the what behind his job description. He is supposed to complete any unfinished business regarding the churches on Crete, and he was to select and appoint elders to help oversee each congregation. Now, in verses 10-16, Paul provides him with the why. The gospel was spreading on Crete, and the churches were increasing in number and size. The expansion of the ministry had brought in more people, but also a range of problems. Success has a way of attracting attention, and because the number of converts to Christianity was increasing, this new religion was gaining interest among those who had less-than-godly motives.

One of the reasons behind Paul’s instructions that Titus appoint qualified men to serve as elders over the churches was the presence of some bad influences within the local congregations. Paul gives the impression that this was not a case of a few bad apples, but a whole barrel-full. And his description of these people is far from flattering. He describes them as insubordinate, empty talkers, and deceivers. Their lives were characterized by a refusal to submit to authority. The Greek word Paul used is anypotaktos, and it can literally be translated as “not subject to.” These people answered to no one but themselves. So, Titus was going to need a group of elders who could assist him in stemming the negative influence of these individuals, because they were empty talkers. Here Paul uses a Greek word that is actually a contraction of two other words: mataiologos. The first half refers to vanity or something that lacks truth or purpose. Therefore, it has no beneficial value. The second half of the word refers to speech and, when you combine the two you get the idea of useless words that have no basis in truth and no lasting benefit. In fact, Paul describes their words as deceptive. He uses the Greek word phrenapatēs, which is a contraction of two other words and literally means “mind-misleader.” 

These people were what Paul would describe as false teachers. They were men and women who had brought their own agendas into the church and were propagating ideas that were not in line with the teaching of the apostles. Their “empty talk” was likely a toxic cocktail that attempted to blend pagan ideas and their own personal perspectives with the gospel message. And Paul specifically points out “those of the circumcision party” – the Jewish converts to Christianity who were demanding that all Gentile converts submit to the rite of circumcision and agree to keep the Mosaic Law in order to be considered truly saved. 

These people were guilty of the very same thing Jesus accused the Jewish religious leaders of in His day.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT

Paul had been forced to confront the same problem among the Colossian believers, and he warned them:

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. – Colossians 2:8 NLT

Paul had gone on to tell the believers in Colossae that these man-made rules and requirements had no lasting value. They were simply a listing of dos and don’ts that were based on mere whim and not the word of God.

…why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. – Colossians 2:20-22 NLT

And Paul tells Titus that these kinds of people need to be silenced. Their false ideas were not to be tolerated and, most certainly, were not to be amalgamated into the doctrine of the church. That is why Paul insisted that any elder candidate must “have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong” (Titus 1:9 NLT). It is difficult to confront falsehood if you don’t know the truth. You will find it hard to correct others if you have no clue as to what they are saying or doing wrong. 

But pointing out the error behind false teaching is one of the key roles of an elder. Which is why it essential that an elder be one who is steeped in the Word of God and “who correctly explains the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NLT). Otherwise, falsehood will spread throughout the church unrecognized and unabated. So, Paul warns Timothy: “They must be silenced, because they are turning whole families away from the truth by their false teaching” (Titus 1:11 NLT). False teaching has real consequences. It is dangerous and deadly because it leads people away from the truth of the gospel. In the case of the party of the circumcision, they were adding to the gospel, demanding that rule-keeping was a necessary part of salvation. In their minds, salvation was no longer a free gift from available through the grace of God. It was based on a set of rules determined by men. And Paul would have nothing to do with it.

And the worst part of the whole affair is that the individuals spreading these lies were not doing it for the good of the church, but for their own selfish gain. They were in it for what they could get out of it, and that most likely included power, prestige, influence, and, possibly, financial gain. These people saw themselves as on an equal plain with that of Paul and the other apostles. They deemed themselves to be spokesmen for God, but they had not been sent by God. And there were not teaching the truth of God.

Quoting a well-known Cretan poet, who described his own people as “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12 ESV), Paul seems to be saying that the people of Crete were prone to being deceived. They were buying what these false teachers were selling, which is why Paul tells Titus to “rebuke them sharply.” This was serious business, and there was no room for diplomacy or political correctness. And Titus was to concern himself with the strengthening of the faith of any who had been misled by the teaching of these individuals. He was to call them back to the truth of the gospel message as expressed by Jesus and His disciples. And by promoting the truth, Titus would help the believers in Crete to stop “devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:14 ESV).

One of the primary errors Paul and Titus were having to expose was asceticism. This was teaching that promoted the abstaining from certain foods or activities. It was a works-based mentality that equated spirituality with self-denial. But Paul wanted Titus to remember that to the pure all things are pure. In other words, a Christian’s righteousness is not based on his or her activities or abstentions from certain actions, but on the finished work of Jesus Christ. While our behavior is important, it is not what makes us right with God. As Isaiah so clearly stated, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV).

Paul was echoing the words of Jesus, who taught His disciples, “Don’t you understand yet? Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you” (Matthew 15:16-20 NLT).

This is what Titus was to reaffirm to the believers on Crete, because the false teachers were confusing the matter. They were teaching that was made impure from outside influences. Therefore, abstinence was the key to spirituality. But Paul wanted Titus to drive home the gospel message that true spirituality begins on the inside, in the heart, as the Spirit of God takes up residence in the believer and transforms him from the inside out.

And just in case Titus has missed his point in all of this, Paul makes it painfully clear, declaring that the false teachers on Crete “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:15 ESV). He leaves no doubt as to his opinion of these people. And he gives Titus no room for negotiation with them. They are unfit for any good work. And Titus, with the help of the elders he would eventually appoint, was expected to deal with these people quickly and effectively, for the sake of the body of Christ on Crete.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.s

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Destruction From Within.

1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’  Revelation 3:1-6 ESV

revelation_Turkey_mapIn opening His address to the church in Sardis, Jesus once again uses imagery provided in chapter one to describe Himself. This time, He mentions the seven spirits of God and the seven stars as being His possessions. If you recall, in Revelation 1:4, John described seeing the seven spirits before the throne of God. And in verse 16 of that same chapter, John described seeing Jesus holding seven stars in his right hand. The seven spirits of God is thought to be a reference to the Spirit of God. Throughout the Scriptures, the number seven is symbolic of perfection or completeness. By referring to the Spirit as being seven in number, it is a way of describing His perfection. He is lacking in nothing. And Jesus addresses the church in Sardis, assuring them that He comes to them with the Spirit of God. And this is important, because the indictment that Jesus levels against the congregation there has to do with their spiritual apathy. They are dead. But it is the Spirit who brings life. The Spirit regenerates non-believers, providing them with new life. Paul told his young protegé, Titus: “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, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7 EASV). The Holy Spirit brings new life. And yet, as Jesus will accuse the church in Sardis, “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1 ESV). It would seem that Jesus is saying that some within the fellowship there had never really been renewed or regenerated. They remained in their former dead spiritual state. During His earthly ministry, Jesus had clearly equated new life with belief, telling those who followed Him:

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” – John 6:63-64 ESV

By bringing the Holy Spirit with Him, it is as if Jesus is offering the unbelieving, spiritually dead members of the church in Sardis with an opportunity to experience new life through the power of the Spirit. It is important to note that Jesus describes the congregation as a whole as being dead. They were ineffective and incapable of doing what they were supposed to be doing. Their works were incomplete. They had a reputation for being alive, but were really lifeless. Nothing can rob the life out of a local congregation than the presence of unbelievers masquerading as believers. That is why Jesus demands that the church wake up and strengthen what remains. They were to recall the message they had received in the beginning, the gospel message of new life made possible through faith in Christ. They had walked away from the basic truths of the gospel message and allowed spiritual compromise and moral complacency to infiltrate their fellowship. And by describing Himself as having the seven stars in His hands, Jesus is reminding the spiritual leaders of the church at Sardis that they belong to Him. They answer to Him. He is their authority and they are responsible to the flock He has placed under their care. Peter has a similar warning to elders in his first letter:

shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. – 1 Peter 5:2-4 ESV

Poor leadership in a local church can result in spiritual apathy and provide an atmosphere in which falsehood can thrive. Unbelievers can easily find access into the fellowship, bringing their false understandings of what it means to be saved. They can practice the outward signs of religion, creating a church that appears spiritual, all the while missing the very thing they need to be truly alive and empowered by the Spirit of God. The apostle Paul warned the elders from the church at Ephesus:

28 “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders. 29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. 30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you. – Acts 20:28-31 NLT

Paul told them to remember. He wanted them to recall the time, energy and effort he had poured into making them a healthy and vibrant fellowship. And Jesus tells the leadership at Sardis to remember as well, and He warns them to repent. They need to wake up and recognize the problem in their fellowship. If they don’t, Jesus warns, He will come like a thief in the night. When they least expected it, He would bring judgment against them. Jesus takes seriously the spiritual well-being of His bride, the church. He will hold the leadership of His church responsible for how they care for and protect those for whom He died. Sadly, Jesus indicates that there are only a few in Sardis who had not “soiled their garments” (Revelation 3:4 ESV). That means that the majority of those who claimed to be members of the local fellowship in Sardis had soiled their garments – they were stained by immorality and sin. In comparison, a faithful few had remained pure, and Jesus promises that they will one day walk with Him in His Kingdom wearing the white robes of sinless perfection. John will later describe seeing these very people standing before the throne of God in heaven.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. – Revelation 7:9 ESV

And Jesus promises those who overcome, who maintain their spiritual integrity and faithful commitment to their calling, that He will reward them.

The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. – Revelation 3:5 ESV

Jesus is not demanding sinless perfection in this life. He is not saying that only those who remain sin-free on earth will enjoy the reward of eternal life. The one who conquers is a reference to the those who truly belong to Christ. They are conquerors because He has already conquered. Jesus defeated sin and death on the cross. And those who place their faith in Him are already victorious. Their salvation is secure and their eternal state, already prepared for them. As followers of Christ, they pursue holiness in this life, in the power of the Holy Spirit. They seek to live righteously, refusing to pursue the old sinful habits of the past. The apostle Paul put it this way, “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT).

The church in Sardis had a reputation for being alive, but Jesus knew the truth. He could see the spiritual apathy and the debilitating influence of those who claimed to be followers of Christ, but who were really non-believers. Their presence was destroying the church from within. The church’s leadership had been asleep at the wheel and had allowed the enemy to infiltrate their ranks and begin to destroy the church from within. It is interesting to note that the city of Sardis, which sat on a high hill, had been thought to be impregnable to attack. But there was a hidden pathway that led to a secret entrance into the walls of the city. And about 548 B.C., Cyrus the Persian captured Sardis by using this hidden pathway to breech the city’s walls. The same thing happened again in 218 B.C., when the city was taken by Antiochus. One of the greatest dangers to any church is a spirit of complacency and over-confidence. When the leadership of a church no longer recognizes the reality of spiritual warfare and the need to protect the flock of God at all costs, the enemy takes advantage of their apathy and brings destruction from within.

So, as He has done before, Jesus warns every one who has ears to hear what He is saying to the churches. His wake-up call to Sardis applies to each and every church in every age. As Paul said, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37 ESV), but if we fail to remain faithful and committed to His cause, we can find ourselves becoming the conquered. While Jesus promised that all the powers of hell would not prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18), Satan is still going to do everything in his power to destroy the church. The victory has been won, but the battle is real. And we must remain awake and alert.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson