The Righteous Wrath of God

The word of the Lord came to me: “And you, O son of man, thus says the Lord God to the land of Israel: An end! The end has come upon the four corners of the land. Now the end is upon you, and I will send my anger upon you; I will judge you according to your ways, and I will punish you for all your abominations. And my eye will not spare you, nor will I have pity, but I will punish you for your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

“Thus says the Lord God: Disaster after disaster! Behold, it comes. An end has come; the end has come; it has awakened against you. Behold, it comes. Your doom has come to you, O inhabitant of the land. The time has come; the day is near, a day of tumult, and not of joyful shouting on the mountains. Now I will soon pour out my wrath upon you, and spend my anger against you, and judge you according to your ways, and I will punish you for all your abominations. And my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. I will punish you according to your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the Lord, who strikes.

10 “Behold, the day! Behold, it comes! Your doom has come; the rod has blossomed; pride has budded. 11 Violence has grown up into a rod of wickedness. None of them shall remain, nor their abundance, nor their wealth; neither shall there be preeminence among them. 12 The time has come; the day has arrived. Let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn, for wrath is upon all their multitude. 13 For the seller shall not return to what he has sold, while they live. For the vision concerns all their multitude; it shall not turn back; and because of his iniquity, none can maintain his life.” Ezekiel 7:1-13 ESV

Despite all the judgments God had already brought upon them, the people of Judah remained stubbornly persistent in their spiritual infidelity. King Nebuchadnezzar and his army had left a wake of destruction throughout the land but it had done little to convince the Israelites that reconsider their pattern of unfaithfulness. As God made clear in His last message, the land of Judah was still filled with altars, pagan shrines, and places of worship for their many false gods. Nothing had changed, including the condition of their hearts. Even after having seen their besieged capital city fall to Nebuchdezzar’s forces and tens of thousands of their fellow citizens transported as captives to Babylon, they continued to live as they did before.

But God gave Ezekiel a message intended to communicate that His patience had run out. He would no longer tolerate their impudence and their blatant displays of spiritual adultery.

“Son of man, this is what the Sovereign Lord says to Israel:

“The end is here!
    Wherever you look—
east, west, north, or south—
    your land is finished.
No hope remains,
    for I will unleash my anger against you.
I will call you to account
    for all your detestable sins.
I will turn my eyes away and show no pity.
    I will repay you for all your detestable sins.
Then you will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 7:2-4 NLT

Once again, God informs His rebellious people that they will come to know Him as Lord, one way or the other. For generations, they had enjoyed the benefit of His power and presence. Under King David, they had grown to be a mighty nation that was a force to be reckoned with in that part of the world. Under the reign of David’s son, Solomon, the kingdom of Israel enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity. God had even allowed Solomon to construct a magnificent temple in His honor and, at its dedication, God delivered a message to the king.

“I have heard your prayer and your petition. I have set this Temple apart to be holy—this place you have built where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.” – 1 Kings 9:3 NLT

God promised to inhabit the house Solomon had built for Him, but He demanded that Solomon remain faithful and obedient to His commands. As long as Solomon followed his father’s example, leading the people with integrity and godliness, then God promised to extend the Davidic dynasty for generations. But there was a caveat.

“But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled and will gasp in horror. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’ – 1 Kings 9:6-8 NLT

And history records that, while Solomon started out well, his reign ended poorly. He was a wise king who made many foolish decisions that ultimately led to the fall of his kingdom. He violated many of God’s commands, but one that led to his downfall was his many marriages to foreign women. He ended up with 700 wives and 300 concubines, and he adopted many of their gods as his own.

In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God, as his father, David, had been. Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. In this way, Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight; he refused to follow the Lord completely, as his father, David, had done. – 1 Kings 11:4-6 NLT

As a result, God determined to divide his kingdom, creating the northern kingdom of Israel and leaving Solomon’s successor to rule over the southern kingdom of Judah. From that point forward, the two rival kingdoms seemed to vie for the reputation of which was the most apostate. King after king came to the thrones of both nations, leading their people to forsake the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, by pursuing the false gods of the Canaanites.

Eventually, in 791 BC, God sent the Assyrians to conquer the northern kingdom of Israel. And while the southern kingdom witnessed the fall of their northern neighbor, they refused to alter their behavior. They believed that they were invincible because their capital city contained the temple of God. But they had not been faithful to the One for whose name and honor the temple had been dedicated.

Jeremiah, another prophet of God and a contemporary of Ezekiel, had the responsibility of ministering to the people living in Jerusalem. And God gave him a stern warning for all those who believed that they were immune from disaster because they were protected by the temple’s presence.

“Go to the entrance of the LORD’s Temple, and give this message to the people: ‘O Judah, listen to this message from the LORD! Listen to it, all of you who worship here! This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says:

“‘Even now, if you quit your evil ways, I will let you stay in your own land. But don’t be fooled by those who promise you safety simply because the LORD’s Temple is here. They chant, “The LORD’s Temple is here! The LORD’s Temple is here!” But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. Then I will let you stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors to keep forever.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again? Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the LORD, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 7:2-11 NLT

The temple would not save them. In fact, centuries earlier, God had warned Solomon the temple would be completely destroyed if the people of Israel failed to remain faithful to Him alone. Now, the time had come for God to fulfill His promise, so He gave Ezekiel a message to deliver to all those living in exile in Babylon.

“O people of Israel, the day of your destruction is dawning.
    The time has come; the day of trouble is near.” – Ezekiel 7:7 NLT

Those to whom Ezekiel spoke had long dreamed of returning to their homeland. As long as Jerusalem remained and the temple stood, they believed there was hope that their fortunes would be restored. But they failed to understand the gravity of their sin and God’s hatred for their persistent unfaithfulness.

They had placed all their hope in a place, having turned the temple into little more than an idol. All their dreams of future deliverance were housed within the walls of that man-made structure. It was there, in the Holy of Holies, that they believed the Shekinah glory of God dwelled. But God cannot be confined to a building. He does not reside in and cannot be restricted to a particular place. As He declared through the prophet, Isaiah: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you build me a temple as good as that? Could you build me such a resting place?” (Isaish 66:1 NLT).

From their desolate and desperate vantage point as exiles in the land of Babylon, Ezekiel’s audience must have been shocked to hear the finality of the prophet’s words.

The end is here! Wherever you look—east, west, north, or south—your land is finished.” – Ezekiel 7:2 NLT

The end has come. It has finally arrived. Your final doom is waiting!” – Ezekiel 7:6 NLT

The day of judgment is here; your destruction awaits! – Ezekiel 7:10 NLT

“Yes, the time has come; the day is here!” – Ezekiel 7:12 NLT

The fall of Jerusalem was imminent. The destruction of the temple was impending. And the punishment of God’s people was inevitable and inescapable.

“For what God has said applies to everyone—
    it will not be changed!
Not one person whose life is twisted by sin
    will ever recover.” – Ezekiel 7:13 NLT

The people would pay dearly for their mistaken priorities and misplaced hope. They had turned their backs on God and now He was preparing to pour out His wrath on them. He had endured their rebellion long enough. They had been warned. He had pleaded with them to repent. But they had refused. So, now it was time to pay the piper.

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.

 

Trust and Obey

“And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and emmer, and put them into a single vessel and make your bread from them. During the number of days that you lie on your side, 390 days, you shall eat it. 10 And your food that you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; from day to day you shall eat it. 11 And water you shall drink by measure, the sixth part of a hin; from day to day you shall drink. 12 And you shall eat it as a barley cake, baking it in their sight on human dung.” 13 And the Lord said, “Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread unclean, among the nations where I will drive them.” 14 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I have never defiled myself. From my youth up till now I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts, nor has tainted meat come into my mouth.” 15 Then he said to me, “See, I assign to you cow’s dung instead of human dung, on which you may prepare your bread.” 16 Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, behold, I will break the supply of bread in Jerusalem. They shall eat bread by weight and with anxiety, and they shall drink water by measure and in dismay. 17 I will do this that they may lack bread and water, and look at one another in dismay, and rot away because of their punishment. – Ezekiel 4:9-17 ESV

During the first 390 days of Ezekiel’s one-man theater production, he was limited to a diet of water and bread made from a strange blend of wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and emmer. This unappealing and nutritionally insufficient food regimen was intended to illustrate the conditions the people would suffer in the actual siege of Jerusalem. It would be long in duration and result in the inhabitants of the city living off a subsistence diet made from whatever grains they could find. God restricted Ezekiel’s food intake to a meager eight ounces of bread and just over a liter of water per day. Subsisting for more than a year on this nutritionally deficient diet would have left Ezekiel emaciated and weak. And because he was commanded to act out this parabolic lesson in full display of the people, they would have witnessed the startling and discomfiting transformation in Ezekiel’s physical state.

All of this was intended to provide a vivid illustration of the horrific conditions within the walls of the city of Jerusalem when the Babylonians conducted their final siege of the city. And Moses had warned of this day centuries before.

“The siege and terrible distress of the enemy’s attack will be so severe that you will eat the flesh of your own sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you. The most tenderhearted man among you will have no compassion for his own brother, his beloved wife, and his surviving children. He will refuse to share with them the flesh he is devouring—the flesh of one of his own children—because he has nothing else to eat during the siege and terrible distress that your enemy will inflict on all your towns. The most tender and delicate woman among you—so delicate she would not so much as touch the ground with her foot—will be selfish toward the husband she loves and toward her own son or daughter. She will hide from them the afterbirth and the new baby she has borne, so that she herself can secretly eat them. She will have nothing else to eat during the siege and terrible distress that your enemy will inflict on all your towns.” – Deuteronomy 28:53-57 NLT

But for Ezekiel, the most startling part of God’s command was the requirement to bake his bread over a fire made with dried human dung. Of all the strange things God had asked him to do, this was the part that got Ezekiel’s attention. He was appalled at the thought of doing such a thing because he knew it would render him ceremonially impure. God had intended this unsavory action to remind the exiles of the spiritually impure state of their current conditions.

“This is how Israel will eat defiled bread in the Gentile lands to which I will banish them!” – Ezekiel 4:13 NLT

Without the sacrificial system, the people of God living in Babylon had no way of receiving atonement and cleansing for their sins. As a result, they remained in a perpetual state of spiritual impurity and separation from God. Their very presence in a foreign land living among pagans left them defiled and unworthy of coming into God’s presence.

But while Ezekiel was willing to do everything God had commanded him to do, this part was too much for him, so he appealed to God.

“O Sovereign Lord, must I be defiled by using human dung? For I have never been defiled before. From the time I was a child until now I have never eaten any animal that died of sickness or was killed by other animals. I have never eaten any meat forbidden by the law.” – Ezekiel 4:14 NLT

Even while in exile, Ezekiel had labored to remain faithful to the Mosaic Law. The thought of defiling himself in such a way was unacceptable to him. So, God graciously allowed him to use cow dung instead. Amazingly, this was the only part of God’s plan at which Ezekiel balked. He was willing to do everything God had commanded him to do – without question – even though it all appeared strange and senseless, and would probably result in his own humiliation in the eyes of the people.

The remarkable thing about this story is not the mysterious symbolism of the brick, the number of days involved, or the content of Ezekiel’s diet. It is the faithful obedience of Ezekiel in the face of a very strange request from God. None of this made sense. Ezekiel was being asked to do something patently absurd that would result in him making a fool of himself. And he knew that nothing he did or said was going to make an impact on the people. God had already told him that they would not listen or repent.

But Ezekiel obeyed anyway. He did what God asked him to do. And this will be the pattern portrayed throughout the pages of this book. Over and over again, Ezekiel will respond obediently to the commands of God. He will do what he is told to do, regardless of its difficulty or credibility. He will consistently and persistently obey – time and time again.

But what about us? How do we respond to the Word of God in our lives? Do we obey or do we rationalize, argue, debate, or simply disobey? Does it all have to make sense before we do what God is asking us to do? If it requires us to humble ourselves or get out of our comfort zone, do we balk and bail?

God is looking for men and women who will faithfully obey and do what He is calling them to do – no questions asked. It may not make sense, but it will make a difference because God is behind it all. He has a plan. He knows what is best. There is always a method to His seeming madness. We just need to trust and obey.

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.

A Glimpse of God

1 In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there. – Ezekiel 1:1-3 ESV

The book of Ezekiel was written by the man for whom it is named. He was a Jewish priest who found himself exiled to the land of Babylon along with many of his fellow countrymen. And with their capture and deportment to Babylon, they joined the ranks of the other exiled Israelites who had arrived years earlier.

But how did Ezekiel end up in this predicament? What events transpired that resulted in this 30-year-old priest from the southern kingdom of Judah becoming just another captive in the land of Babylon?

It’s a long story that extends back to 605 BC when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon ascended to the throne of his father. One of the first things Nebuchadnezzar did was defeat the Egyptians and Assyrians at the battle of Carchemish that same year. Having defeated these two superpowers, Nebuchadnezzar assumed control of their vassal states, including the southern kingdom of Judah. He began a siege of the city of Jerusalem in 605 BC that ended in its surrender and the capture of thousands of its leading citizens, who were promptly deported to Babylon. This would have included a young man named Daniel, who would become a prophet and a contemporary of Ezekiel.

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. – Daniel 1:1-6 ESV

Daniel ended up being a prophet in the land of Babylon, but it would not be long before Ezekiel joined him there. That initial deportation would not be the last because the people of Israel would remain unrepentant and unwilling to give up their idolatrous ways. As a result of their stubborn refusal to repent, God would send Nebuchadnezzar again, this time with orders to destroy the capital city of Jerusalem. In 598 BC, the Babylonians would lay siege to the city once again, eventually breaking through the walls the destroying everything in sight, including the temple of God.

This devastating event had been foretold by the prophets of God. They had repeatedly warned God’s people that, unless they repented and returned to Him, they would suffer defeat at the hands of a foreign power.

“Behold, I am bringing against you
    a nation from afar, O house of Israel,
declares the Lord.
It is an enduring nation;
    it is an ancient nation,
a nation whose language you do not know,
    nor can you understand what they say.
Their quiver is like an open tomb;
    they are all mighty warriors.
They shall eat up your harvest and your food;
    they shall eat up your sons and your daughters;
they shall eat up your flocks and your herds;
    they shall eat up your vines and your fig trees;
your fortified cities in which you trust
    they shall beat down with the sword.”  – Jeremiah 5:15-17 ESV

Over the years, God had patiently and persistently called His people to repentance but they had refused to heed the warnings of the prophets. Despite all that God had done for them, they had proven to be unfaithful and disloyal to Him, repeatedly worshiping false gods and regularly violating His commands. It was because of their spiritual infidelity and moral impurity that God determined to bring judgment upon them in the form of the Babylonians.

“Therefore a lion from the forest shall strike them down;
    a wolf from the desert shall devastate them.
A leopard is watching their cities;
    everyone who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces,
because their transgressions are many,
    their apostasies are great.

“How can I pardon you?
    Your children have forsaken me
    and have sworn by those who are no gods.
When I fed them to the full,
    they committed adultery
    and trooped to the houses of whores.
They were well-fed, lusty stallions,
    each neighing for his neighbor’s wife.
Shall I not punish them for these things?
declares the Lord;
    and shall I not avenge myself
    on a nation such as this? – Jeremiah 5:6-9 SV

Jeremiah was a prophet whose ministry took place in the capital city of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah. He began his prophetic ministry sometime around 627 BC, about four years before Ezekiel was born. It is likely that Ezekiel was familiar with Jeremiah’s ministry and had heard his messages concerning God’s pending judgment. Ezekiel would have been a young man when the Babylonians invaded Judah and destroyed the capital city of Jerusalem. He would have witnessed the second wave of deportations, as the brightest and the best of Judah were taken captive to Babylon.

Jerusalem fell in 597 BC, but the final deportation did not take place until the next year. It was at that time that Ezekiel became another victim of the Babylonian empire’s aggressive expansion efforts.  He soon found himself living in a refugee camp along with the other exiles from Judah on the banks of the Kebar River in Babylon.

But in that remote and far-from-idyllic setting, God came to meet with Ezekiel. While He had brought destruction on the people of Judah for their sin and rebellion, He had not abandoned them. He would not leave them completely isolated and alone. God would call on Ezekiel to be His spokesperson to the exiles in Babylon. There on the banks of the Kebar River, God appeared to Ezekiel. This young prophet received a remarkable vision of God in the midst of the doom and gloom of Babylonian captivity. When things seemed to be at their worst, God showed up. He displayed His glory to Ezekiel and gave him a message for the people of Judah. And that vision, while somewhat fantastical and difficult to understand, illustrated God’s power and majestic presence. It accentuated His holiness and stressed His otherness.

The vision that Ezekiel saw left no doubt about just how great and powerful God was. He got a glimpse of God in the midst of his darkest moments. And when Ezekiel saw Him, he fell down and worshiped.

Above this surface was something that looked like a throne made of blue lapis lazuli. And on this throne high above was a figure whose appearance resembled a man. From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. This is what the glory of the Lord looked like to me. When I saw it, I fell face down on the ground, and I heard someone’s voice speaking to me. – Ezekiel 1:26-28 NLT

Even in our darkest days, God is there. Regardless of what is going on around us, He never ceases to be God. He does not change. His status does not diminish. His power does not decrease or wain. He remains holy, powerful, distinct, and worthy of our worship. God wants to reveal Himself to us. He wants us to see Him for who He is. He wants us to get our focus off of our circumstances and back on Him. He is our help and hope. He is constantly reminding us of His presence and power.

There on the banks of the Kebar River, living with the dejected and devastated exiles from Judah, Ezekiel needed a vision of God. He needed a reminder that His God was great and was still on His throne, reigning in power. He had not forgotten Ezekiel or the people of Judah. Could you use a vision of God today? Look for Him in His Word. You’ll find Him.

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 Universal Body of Christ

12 When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. 13 Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. 14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

15 All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith.

Grace be with you all. – Titus 3:12-15 ESV

The early community of Christ was a close-knit one. Despite the fact that Paul was traveling from one end of the known world to the other, and planting churches in ethnically and geologically diverse regions, they all shared a bond of unity. Wherever they were located, these fledgling communities of faith were in the minority and found themselves facing extreme opposition. To unbelieving Gentiles, Christians were nothing more than a sect of the Jewish religion. After all, the converts to Christianity followed the teachings of an itinerant Jewish rabbi. But to the Jews, Christians represented a dangerous heresy that rejected the Mosaic Law and dismissed the rite of circumcision. So, wherever Paul and his companions preached the gospel and saw its message of faith in Christ take root, they met with strong opposition fueled by extreme antagonism.

These new congregations of believers were often ostracized and isolated from their former communities, and lacked mature spiritual leadership, so Paul felt a strong sense of responsibility to provide them with instruction and encouragement. He wanted them to know that they were part of a much larger community of faith that was spreading around the world. His letters formed a kind of literary highway system linking together these distant and disparate congregations. His growing network of spiritual disciples included men like Timothy, Titus, Artemas, Tychicus, Zenas, and Apollos, who each played a vital role in ministering to the far-flung Christian community. These men provided much-needed spiritual training to the faithful, but they also served as the eyes and ears of Paul, giving him insight into what was happening within the body of Christ around the world.

Paul was constantly traveling from one place to another, fulfilling his commission to take the good news of Jesus Christ to the nations. But he tended to leave a part of his heart in every city, town, and village where the gospel found converts. In many cases, his first visit to a city was his last. His travels didn’t always allow him to circle back and check in on the churches he had helped to plant. And, in time, his lengthy imprisonment in Rome would completely curtail his efforts to minister to those whom he loved like his own children. But Paul never left them without adequate spiritual nourishment or oversight. He desperately wanted them to know that they were all in this together. They were part of a much larger family of faith that God was planting around the world and, for Paul, it was essential that each of these churches understand their role within the bigger picture. Rather than focus all their attention on their particular circumstances, they were to see themselves as members of the growing body of Christ.

Paul firmly believed that when an individual came to faith in Christ, they were to align themselves with a local faith community. They were not to act as a free agent, operating Lone Ranger style, independent and isolated from other Christians in their community. This corporate mentality was essential to the spiritual well-being of the individual and the community. And for Paul, it went well beyond geographic confines. He often used the metaphor of the human body as a way of illustrating the interconnected and interdependent nature of the body of Christ.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NLT

The concept of a global church made up of people from all walks of life, every conceivable economic background, and diverse ethnic makeups was revolutionary. And this new admixture of individuals into a mutually beneficial community of faith was making a radical impact on the world. The church was growing and people were noticing. And Paul was obsessed with getting his expanding family of faith to understand their need for one another. He encouraged an attitude of generosity and selflessness and praised the churches in Macedonia for their gracious giving toward the needs of the church in Jerusalem.

For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do. – 2 Corinthians 8:3-5 NLT

Paul went on to encourage the believers in Corinth to follow the example of the Macedonian churches.

Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal. – 2 Corinthians 8:11 NLT

And Paul wanted the believers on Crete to have the same attitude, telling Titus, “let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14 ESV).

The church is a living organism, not an organization. It is an interactive, interdependent collection of individuals who have been formed into a worldwide community that is to reflect the unity of the Godhead. And the letter that Paul wrote to Titus is as applicable today as it was in the 1st Century in which he penned it. His call to Christ-likeness, humility, submission, service, and an unwavering commitment to the truth is as vital today as it ever was. The words Paul used to open his letter still apply.

I have been sent to proclaim faith to those God has chosen and to teach them to know the truth that shows them how to live godly lives. – Titus 1:1 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.

 

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.

Busy But Blessed

11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” 21 for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.

Grace be with you. – 1 Timothy 6:11-21 ESV

Flee, pursue, fight, take hold, keep, guard, and avoid. Paul’s final words to Timothy contain a lengthy list of infinitive verbs that are meant to solicit action and encourage godly behavior. He wants his young associate to take his role seriously and to use his position to influence the faithfulness of the Ephesian believers.

He calls him to live a distinctively different life as distinctive, set apart from all those around him, including those who craved money or had wandered from the faith. Unlike the false teachers for whom godliness was merely a way to become wealthy, Timothy was to run from that kind of attitude and make true godliness his sole goal, along with ever-increasing faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.

Paul tells him to “pursue” godliness. The Greek word Paul used is diōkō (διώκω), which means “to run swiftly in order to catch.” It can also refer to one “who in a race runs swiftly to reach the goal.” Money, materialism, popularity, power, pleasure, significance, comfort – none of these things were to be the focus of Timothy’s life. And while Paul is addressing this last section of his letter to Timothy, it is really a call to all believers of every age. Paul had made it clear to Timothy that he was to “Teach these things … and encourage everyone to obey them. Some people may contradict our teaching, but these are the wholesome teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. These teachings promote a godly life” (1 Timothy 6:2-3 NLT).

Everything Paul had shared in his letter was intended to be practiced and promoted among the people of God. As a leader, Timothy was to be an example of godly living to all those under his care, despite his young age.

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. – 1 Timothy 4:12 NLT

As believers, our lives are always on display. Despite what we may think, others are watching. Our behavior and conduct are constantly being witnessed by God Himself, our fellow believers, and the countless lost who surround us. That’s Paul encouraged Timothy to live a life marked by consistency and outward purity. He portrayed the Christian life as a battle for good.

…fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you. – 1 Timothy 6:12 NLT

For Paul, perseverance and consistency of faith were essential. He wanted Timothy to finish well. He wanted him to keep his eyes on the goal, which was the return of Christ. The reality of that event was to never be far from Timothy’s heart and mind so that he would live his life in such a way that no one could find fault with his character or conduct. There would certainly be those who disliked and disparaged his life because he lived it for God, just as Paul had experienced. Suffering for the sake of Christ was always to be expected. But Paul didn’t want Timothy to do anything that would harm his reputation as a believer or bring dishonor to God.

Paul gives Timothy one last message concerning those who are rich in the things of this world.

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. – 1 Timothy 6:17 NLT

He doesn’t condemn them, but simply warns them not to put their trust in their money because it will prove to be unreliable and unable to save them. Money makes a lousy god. It promises the world but can’t save the soul. It can’t even bring true happiness or contentment.

But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. 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 6:9-10 NLT

Instead, the rich were to put their trust in God, who is the ultimate provider of their needs. Those who had been blessed with money were to see it as a divinely ordained resource to be used for the care of others and to further the cause of the Kingdom of God. They were to be “rich” in good works and generous to those in need. They had been wealthy when God had called them, so He must have had a purpose for placing them in the body of Christ in that condition. By focusing their attention on obedience to God and service to others, they would learn to view their wealth as a tool in the hands of God, not a treasure to be hoarded and held onto.

Some of Paul’s last words to Timothy were, “guard what God has entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20 NLT). He was to see his own salvation and the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone as invaluable and worthy of his constant protection.

Leadership in the body of Christ was a dangerous calling and it came with great responsibilities. Timothy had been entrusted with the message of the gospel and the care of the flock of Jesus Christ. He had an obligation to put the needs of the congregation ahead of his own. And yet, he was also to guard himself – constantly watching over his character and conduct. The same message applied to Timothy that Paul shared with 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 elders. – Acts 20:28 NLT

The goal for all spiritual leaders should be godliness – not only for themselves but for all those under their care. But godliness without God’s grace is impossible. The journey of faith to which we have been called is only possible through an ever-increasing dependence upon God. We need His Word to teach and guide us. We need His Spirit to empower us. We need His grace and mercy to miraculously meet us where we are along the way and constantly remind us that godliness is our one and only calling.

But the pursuit of godliness demands action, not apathy. It requires consistency, not complacency. It is a life filled with verbs like flee, pursue, fight, take hold, keep, guard, and avoid. But it also offers the promise of rest, contentment, hope, peace, unity, confidence, and joy. The life of godliness is busy but also blessed.

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 Foundation of the Truth

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
    vindicated by the Spirit,
        seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
        taken up in glory.

1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. – 1 Timothy 3:14-4:5ESV

The world in which Paul lived was mired in falsehood, much like it is today. This world is the domain of Satan, who is the father of lies (John 8:44). Everything in this world is deceptive and deceitful. As Satan has always done, he has taken what God has made and attempted to distort and twist it in such a way that it leads mankind away from God.

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul outlined the devastating consequences of Satan’s influence over this world and his impact on humanity.

And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:21-23 NLT

While he is deemed the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), Satan is not obsessed with having men worship him. He is content to have them worship anything other than God, including themselves. That is why Paul went on to warn the believers in Rome about the dangers of idolatry.

They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself. – Romans 1:25 NLT

The apostle John reminds us that Jesus “came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:10-11 NLT). Men preferred the darkness over the Light. They rejected the truth regarding Jesus Christ and gladly accepted the lies of the enemy.

So, it’s easy to see why Paul reminded Timothy that the church, the body of Christ, was the God-ordained instrument for spreading and supporting the truth of God in this world. His whole purpose in writing Timothy was to help him understand how people are to live within the household of God, the church, which was to be “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 ESV).

The truth to which Paul referred is the truth regarding godliness. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has provided a means by which sinful men and women might achieve godliness or a state of righteousness in His eyes.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

And Paul seems to quote a few lines from what must have been a hymn of the early church.

Christ was revealed in a human body
    and vindicated by the Spirit.
He was seen by angels
    and announced to the nations.
He was believed in throughout the world
    and taken to heaven in glory. – 1 Timothy 3:16 NLT

In a few short lines, Paul addresses the truth regarding godliness. First, he defends the truth regarding Jesus’ incarnation. He was God in human flesh. And, according to the apostle Peter, Jesus was “put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 BSB). That is what Paul means when he states that Jesus was vindicated by the Spirit. Jesus died on the cross for the sins of mankind but was raised back to life by the power of the Holy Spirit. And His resurrection was announced to the nations, resulting in the salvation of countless individuals. And while Jesus ascended back into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father, He will one day return for His followers. That is the truth of the gospel and the good news concerning godliness.

And Paul would have Timothy remember that the church is the keeper of that truth. It is the main distribution method for conveying the message of godliness to a lost and dying world. And I think Paul was specifically thinking about the local church context, which is the testing ground of our faith. It is where the truth must be applied with love and grace. If God’s life-transforming power, made possible through Jesus’ death on the cross, doesn’t work within a local body of believers, the gospel is ineffective. But Paul believed it could and should make a difference.

First and foremost, he viewed the church as a household, a family. It was not an institution or organization, but a collection of different individuals who have all shared in God’s undeserved, unmerited favor by placing their faith in Jesus Christ. They have been adopted into God’s family and been declared His heirs, all due to the sacrificial, sin-canceling death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Paul describes this as the great mystery of our faith.

This is the truth of God’s redemptive plan for mankind. It is this truth that the church is to support and uphold. There is no other version of the truth. It is this truth that leads to godliness. It is this truth that makes the church a living organism, not an organization. It is this truth that provides power through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. It is this truth that gives us hope for the present as well as the future.

The church, the body of Christ, is where the message of new life in Christ gets lived out, and where the Light of the world illuminates the darkness of sin. And Paul knew the necessity of these things because he had seen firsthand the impact of falsehood and heresy within the local church. The enemy was alive and well in his day, attacking the fledgling churches with half-truths, convincing lies, and distorted views of reality. Where there is truth, there will always be falsehood.

The good news regarding Jesus Christ would always be accompanied by counterfeits and knockoffs. One of the things Paul was constantly fighting was the tendency for people to buy into the formula of Jesus + something. Anything that added to Christ’s all-sufficient work on the cross was to be rejected as false – a lie from the enemy.

The real and ever-present danger to the church is to compromise. If the enemy can get us to compromise our convictions with ever-so-slight revisions to the truth of God, he can destroy our effectiveness. It is exactly what he did with Adam and Eve in the garden. He got them to question the word of God by cleverly twisting it – leading them to doubt its veracity and reliability.

But the church must be the pillar that supports the truth in the midst of all the falsehood and lies. And the lies Paul warns Timothy about are subtle and deceptive. Whether it was asceticism, the belief that abstinence from certain physical things leads to spiritual maturity, or legalism, the belief that adherence to certain rules and rituals was essential to salvation – these things were to be rejected as lies. They had no place in the household of God. They were dangerous and highly destructive.

The key to the church’s survival in the hostile environment in which it is called to exist is the truth. We are called to be “faithful people who know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3 NLT). It is the truth of God, found in the Word of God, that gives the people of God the capacity to see the lies of the enemy and reject them. Knowledge of the truth brings health and vitality to the body of Christ. Living according to the truth makes the people of God a powerful force for change in the world, causing us to shine brightly in the darkness that surrounds us. But compromise is like a blanket thrown over the church, diminishing its capacity to shine.

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.

Hold Fast to Faith

12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. – 1 Timothy 1:12-20 ESV

The law was never intended as a means of achieving righteousness. Paul made that point quite clear when he wrote to the believers in Galatia.

…no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. – Galatians 3:11 NLT

And Paul went on to tell them that the law was given “to show people their sins” (Galatians 3:19 NLT). God provided the Israelites with the law so that they might “see how terrible sin really is” (Romans 7:13 NLT). And Paul confessed that the law had proven to be effective at revealing sin in his own life.

…it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” – Romans 7:7 NLT

The command prohibiting coveteousness actually caused Paul to covet. His sinful nature rebelled against the law and aroused all kinds of covetous desires within him (Romans 7:8). If there had been no law against coveting, Paul’s battle with covetousness would not have existed. But that doesn’t mean he would have been free from sin. The presence of the law simply exposed the sinful nature within him.

But Paul never reached the conclusion that the law was somehow flawed or responsible for his sin. No, he confidently asserted “the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good” (Romans 7:12 NLT). And this was the point he was trying to make with Timothy. The self-professed teachers of the law who had infiltrated the church in Ephesus were promoting the law as a tool for measuring righteousness. They were demanding adherence to the law as a litmus test for determining saving faith, and Paul demanded that Timothy deal decisively with this error.

…the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners. – 1 Timothy 1:9 ESV

He was not suggesting that the just are exempt from living according to God’s holy standards. He was simply stating that the law was not a requirement for achieving righteousness. The law had played no part in the conversion of the Ephesian believers. What was true for the believers in Galatia was true for them.

Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? – Galatians 3:2-3 NLT

As Paul reminded Timothy, the law was intended “for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners” (1 Timothy 1:9 NLT). And he provided Timothy with a virtual rogue’s gallery of lawless behaviors, including murderers, the unholy and profane, the sexually immoral, homosexuals, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and even those who fail to honor their fathers and mothers. It is those kinds of people for whom the law was given, not the righteous. They live their lives in opposition to sound doctrine. And Paul was concerned that the teachers of the law were promoting false doctrine concerning the law that was confusing the Christians in Ephesus. They were turning the freedom found in Christ into just another form of legalism and religious rule-keeping. 

Paul was well aware of his dark past and referred to it regularly. He used to be among “the ungodly and sinners.” He even told Timothy, “I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man” (1 Timothy 1:13 NLT). But Paul rejoiced in the amazing grace shown to him by God.

I was treated with mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief, and our Lord’s grace was abundant, bringing faith and love in Christ Jesus. – 1 Timothy 1:13-14 NLT

Paul had not been saved by keeping the law. And now that he was in Christ, he would not remain saved by keeping the law. Paul was a free man. He had been released from his slavery to the law and he wanted every believer to experience that same feeling of joyous liberation.

…because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. – Romans 8:2-4 NLT

As Timothy’s mentor, Paul had been careful to share all of these truths with his young protégé. It is likely that Timothy had read every letter that Paul had written to the various congregations under his care. He was well-schooled in Paul’s views on the law and the gospel, so he was probably not surprised when he read Paul’s words: “‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ — and I am the worst of them!” (1 Timothy 1:15 NT). He was familiar with Paul’s backstory. He had heard about Paul’s miraculous encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. And even though Timothy looked up to Paul as an icon of the faith, he also knew that his mentor had a humble and self-effacing view of himself. So, when Paul described himself as the worst of all sinners, Timothy was not surprised. And Paul’s explanation of his divine calling was not a new revelation to Timothy.

…here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life. – 1 Timothy 1:16 NLT

Paul gave all the glory to God because his salvation had been the work of God from beginning to end. He had played no role in his own redemption story. That is why Paul inserts a short but powerful doxology into the middle of his letter.

Now to the eternal king, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen. – 1 Timothy 1:17 NLT

God deserves all the credit. No one can claim responsibility for their own salvation. That is exactly what Paul had written to the believers in Ephesus in an earlier letter.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

But now, in Paul’s absence, others were proclaiming a contradictory message. They were encouraging legalism and promoting self-effort. And Paul was placing the mantle of pastoral responsibility on Timothy, assigning him the vital task of affirming and defending the integrity of the gospel message. Paul wanted Timothy to remain committed to the simplicity of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But it was going to be a fight and would require diligence and determination.

To do this you must hold firmly to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck in regard to the faith. – 1 Timothy 1:19 NLT

Timothy would need to keep himself grounded in the faith of the gospel. Otherwise, he might succumb to the lies of the enemy and find himself adopting and promoting a modified version of the gospel that was not only false but destructive. And Paul reminded Timothy that there were two individuals who had already taken that path.

Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. – 1 Timothy 1:20 NLT

Paul provides little explanation concerning the actions of these two men. So it would seem that Timothy was very familiar with what they had done and why Paul “handed them over to Satan.” This phrase most likely means that Paul had removed them from leadership and from fellowship in the local congregation until they repented. In other words, he de-fellowshipped them, effectively placing them outside the local body of Christ and at the mercy of the enemy. Paul’s ultimate goal was their repentance and restoration, but he had cast them from the fellowship to prevent them from having any further impact on the rest of the community.

According to 2 Timothy 2:16-16, Hymenaeus had been guilty of promoting godless behavior through “worthless, foolish talk.” Paul compared his actions to an infectious disease that had spread throughout the local congregation. It seems that Alexander had decided to stand up to Paul and publically contradict his teachings. Paul declared that “ Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm” and “he fought against everything we said” (2 Timothy 4:14, 15 NLT).

These men had done great damage to the cause of Christ and Paul wanted Timothy to learn from their mistakes. Anyone was capable of veering from the path of truth and wandering into the high weeds of false doctrine. That is why Paul urged Timothy to “hold firmly to faith and a good conscience” (1 Timothy 1:19 NLT). The key to his survival and success would be an unwavering commitment to the gospel message and his own faith in it.

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.

Faithfulness: The Key to Preventing Spiritual Failure

12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. – 1 Timothy 1:12-20 ESV

Paul was a man who was comfortable in his own skin. He was well aware of his past and not afraid to confess it or to come face to face with it. He regularly revisited the life he lived before coming to faith in Christ and recognized that his past was a vital part of his present identity. He unabashedly admits to Timothy, “I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people” (1 Timothy 1:13 NLT). 

There was a dark side to Paul’s past that he was more than willing to admit. He didn’t attempt to hide or gloss over it. In fact, it was his honest recognition of his past that made his present state of grace in Christ that much more amazing. It wasn’t that Paul had lived a life of moral degeneracy and spiritual bankruptcy. No, he had been a faithful adherent to the Hebrew religion and a committed member of one of the most strict religious sects of his day.

I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault. – Philippians 3:5-6 NLT

It had been his zeal for his religious faith that had led him to attack the followers of Jesus. Like most Jews of his day, Paul had viewed the disciples of Jesus as members of a dangerous religious sect that were falsely proclaiming that the Jewish Messiah had come. And Paul saw this rapidly growing religious movement as a threat to his Jewish faith. That led him to wage a one-man crusade against the followers of “the way.”

I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. – Acts 22:3-4 NLT

Paul was brutally honest about his past, fully admitting the role he had played in trying to exterminate any and all Christians from the fact of the earth.

You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. – Galatians 1:13 NLT

But Paul’s sordid past had not proved to be a problem for God Almighty. In fact, God had redeemed Paul in spite of his former way of life.

He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him – 1 Timothy 1:12 NLT

It was not Paul’s zeal that earned him a right standing with God. His well-intentioned but misguided efforts to purge the world of all Christians had failed miserably, because God had other plans for this hard-driving, high-energy crusader.

Paul regularly shared the story of how God transformed his life from a persecutor of the church to a proclaimer of the good news of Jesus Christ (Acts 9). While on his way to Damascus to arrest and imprison Christ-followers, Paul had an unexpected encounter with the resurrected Jesus Christ that changed the entire trajectory of his life. Paul would later be discipled by a man named Ananias, who revealed to him his new God-ordained life’s mission.

“The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak. For you are to be his witness, telling everyone what you have seen and heard. What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord.’ – Acts 22:14-16 NLT

And Paul freely admitted to Timothy that his salvation had been the gracious work of God, who had sent His Son into the world to save sinners just like him.

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. – 1 Timothy 1:15 NLT

Paul was still blown away by God’s unmerited favor and immeasurable grace.

God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus. – 1 Timothy 1:13-14 NLT

As far as Paul was concerned, his life was meant to be an example to others of just how gracious and forgiven God could be.

God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. – 1 Timothy 1:16 NLT

Paul wanted Timothy to understand the magnitude of God’s power and undeserved goodness. It was essential that Timothy fully embrace the one-of-a-kind nature of God Almighty.

He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. – 1 Timothy 1:17 NLT

All of this was meant to be an introduction or preface to the primary point behind Paul’s letter to Timothy. Paul knew that Timothy was in a difficult spot. He was a young man attempting to minister to a small congregation of believers living in the hostile environment of Ephesus. They were surrounded by pagan unbelievers and a vocal and sometimes violent contingent of local Jews who had targeted them as enemies.

So, Paul was desperate to prepare and encourage Timothy for the battle ahead. This young pastor was facing strong opposition from a zealous and determined foe. And Paul fully understood what it was like to have a strong opinion about something. He also knew that passion and zeal did not make someone right. The individuals who were negatively influencing the believers in Ephesus and causing problems for Timothy were all convinced that they were right. Paul describes them as wanting “to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently” (1 Timothy 1:7 NLT).

At one time, Paul had been much like them. He had been an expert in the law and a Pharisee. He described himself as “a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today” (Acts 26:3 NLT).

During that period of his life. Paul had done everything in a misguided attempt to honor God. He did what he did with confidence and a clear conscience, including blaspheming the name of Christ and persecuting the people of God. But as Paul looked back on his life, he recognized that it all had been done “in ignorance and unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13 NLT).

Paul wanted Timothy to know that even those individuals who were causing confusion and conflict within the church in Ephesus were not hopeless cases. They were not lost causes. If God could extend mercy and grace to Paul, He could certainly do the same with those who “have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions” (1 Timothy 1:6 NLT). It seems that Paul was attempting to encourage Timothy to trust in the grace and mercy of God in the midst of all that he was facing. God had been able to take a man like Paul and miraculously change his heart and his life through an encounter with His Son, Jesus Christ.

God had mercy. God extended grace. Paul’s life had not been beyond the reach of God. His life had not been too far gone for Jesus to transform. He had not been irredeemable. Paul’s life had become “a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:16b NLT).

Paul reminded Timothy to never lose sight of the fact that, despite all the opposition, confusion, setbacks, false teachers, uncommitted congregants, limited converts, and trying circumstances. He gave Timothy one simple directive: “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear” (1 Timothy 1:19 NLT).

Faith in what? Faith in Christ. Jesus Christ was the one who made it possible for men to be made right with God. He was the one who provided redemption and restoration with the Father. It was through Him that all men gain access to God’s incredible mercy, grace, power, presence, and provision. Paul wanted Timothy to remain faithful to Christ and faithfully fulfill his work as God’s minister of the Gospel. Some had failed to do so, and Paul used them as an example and a warning.  

Hymenaeus and Alexander, evidently believers and members of the local fellowship there in Ephesus, had not remained faithful to Christ. They had violated their consciences, somehow disobeying what they knew to be true and right, and, as a result, they had shipwrecked their faith. Their lives were spiritually “on the rocks,” out of commission, and under God’s discipline.

Faithfulness is the key to preventing spiritual failure. God was going to use Timothy in a powerful way, but Timothy would need to remain faithful to Christ and focused on God’s power to extend grace and mercy to all, even the worst of sinners. Timothy’s God was still on His throne.

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.

Help Wanted

1 This letter is from Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, appointed by the command of God our Savior and Christ Jesus, who gives us hope.

I am writing to Timothy, my true son in the faith.

May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy, and peace. – 1 Timothy 1:1-2 ESV

Timothy was Paul’s disciple. He had evidently been led to the Lord by Paul during one of his missionary travels to Lystra. During Paul’s second missionary journey, Timothy accompanied him to the cities of Troas, Philippi, Berea, Thessalonica, Athens, and Corinth. Timothy was a part of Paul’s third missionary journey to the city of Ephesus and was sent by Paul to minister on his own in the region of Macedonia. This young man also made it to Rome while Paul was there under house arrest. He was well-traveled and well-respected by Paul, having earned the apostle’s trust.

Paul had sent him to the city of Ephesus, where Timothy was ministering when he received this first letter from Paul. Timothy had evidently written Paul, sharing his desire to return to his side and accompany him in his ministry. But Paul was going to break the news to Timothy that he was needed right where he was. In fact, verse three tells us that when Paul and Timothy went to Ephesus on that third missionary journey, Paul went on to Macedonia, leaving Timothy behind with a job to do.

When I left for Macedonia, I urged you to stay there in Ephesus and stop those whose teaching is contrary to the truth. – 1 Timothy 1:3 NLT

By this time in the story of the spread of the Gospel, there were churches all over that area of the world. The Good News was spreading fast and people were coming to faith in Christ at an incredible rate. The problem was that there were too few men equipped to minister to the large numbers of churches springing up. There were infant believers everywhere and no one to lead and feed them.

Despite his zeal and high capacity for work, Paul couldn’t do it all. Much of his time had been spent in prison or under house arrest. He couldn’t be everywhere at once, and there were no seminaries churning out pastors and teachers. There were no schools raising up and equipping elders for the local churches. Yet there seemed to be no shortage of false teachers and ill-informed individuals with potentially destructive viewpoints on a wide range of topics. So, Paul turned to Timothy. Yes, he was young and inexperienced, but he was needed. Knowing that this young man was probably feeling a bit overwhelmed by the task at hand, Paul reminded him what the true purpose of all biblical instruction should be.

The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. – 1 Timothy 1:5 NLT

Paul’s letters to Timothy have less to do with the teaching of doctrine than the defense of it. The content is practical, not theological. Paul wants Timothy to know how to encourage the believers in Ephesus toward true life change, marked by a love that manifests itself in daily life. Paul is looking for practical expressions of love. He knows that there are three things that will prevent that from happening in any believer’s life: An impure heart, a conscience that is burdened by shame, and a lack of trust in God.

This is basic stuff. It trumps a head full of theology and doctrine every time. But Paul warns Timothy, “some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions” (1 Timothy 1:6 NLT).

Somewhere along the way, they had become obsessed with things that were not resulting in increased faith and love. Debating had replaced serving. Controversy had become more popular than showing mercy and expressing love to one another. Paul had warned the elders in Ephesus, “some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following: (Acts 20:30 NLT). He went on to say that these “false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29 NLT).

The main problem seemed to have revolved around incorrect teaching regarding the law of Moses. There were those who were presenting their interpretations of the law and its application to the lives of believers, and their instructions were wreaking havoc on the health of the church. Their focus was not on increasing the love and faith of the people of God, but on being seen as experts on the topic at hand.

Paul told Timothy, “they want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently” (1 Timothy 1:7 NLT). These individuals were cocky and confident, assured that their view was the right one. And all this discussion and debate was causing confusion and conflict within the church. Paul reminded Timothy that love should be the primary motivation for any teacher of the Word of God. Teaching that does not edify and instruction that does not increase faith is misapplied and misses the point. Debating doctrine is useless if it fails to foster more love for God and others. If it doesn’t produce increased devotion to and dependence on God, it’s a waste of time.

That is why the church at Ephesus needed Timothy, and the church today needs men and women who understand that increasing the love and faith of the people of God is the primary responsibility of those who teach the Word of God. Knowledge alone is not enough. It produces pride. Doctrine by itself is insufficient. It can become sterile and little more than head knowledge. Theology, even that which is sound and biblically based, is incomplete if it does not result in more love and greater faith.

Paul was in need of assistance, so he turned to his young protégé, Timothy. This relatively inexperienced spiritual novice was a work in process, but he represented the next generation of spiritual leadership for the rapidly growing church. Paul knew that the future health of the body of Christ would require new leadership. One man could not keep up with the explosive growth of Christianity. There were too many fledgling congregations popping up all over the place and not enough qualified men to lead them. So, Paul took it upon himself to train and prepare the next wave of missionaries and pastors who would minister to the flock of Jesus Christ.

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.