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.

The Lowly Life of a Leader

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” Mark 9:38-41 ESV

Jesus has just finished addressing the disciples’ predilection for power and prominence, yet they seem to have missed the point. Their internal squabble over who was the greatest among them led Jesus to declare, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35 ESV). In His Kingdom, greatness was not measured by the significance of one’s role but the humility of the heart. Jesus, as the Son of God, was the second member of the trinity, yet “though he was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7 ESV). And, as Jesus later told His disciples, “even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 28:20 ESV).

But as Jesus wrapped up his object lesson on leadership in the Kingdom, the disciples once again displayed their inability to grasp the vital lesson He was trying to teach them. This time, it was John who spoke up and not the ever-impulsive and quick-tongued Peter. And the topic John chose to raise at this particular moment in time reveals that he and his companions had failed to understand what Jesus was telling them.

“Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” – Mark 9:38 ESV

There’s an air of exclusivity and arrogance in John’s words. He was irritated that someone outside of their circle was performing miracles in the name of Jesus. In fact, this imposter was casting out demons. And from John’s point of view, this was unacceptable because Jesus had only given that kind of power and authority to His 12 disciples (Mark 3:15).

And it is important to recall that all this talk about greatness in the Kingdom had begun immediately after the disciples had failed to cast a demon out of a young boy. The boy’s father had come seeking the help of Jesus, but when He discovered that Jesus was not there, he had turned to the B-Team.

“Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” – Mark 9:17-18 ESV

The disciples had failed. Despite the power and authority that was given to them by Jesus, they had not been able to cast out the demon. But that little setback hadn’t stopped them from arguing over who was greatest among them.

And John shares with Jesus their concern about outside competition. Whoever this individual was, he was operating without a license. From John’s perspective, this exorcist was infringing on their trademark rights. He had no business performing signs that were meant to be the purview of the disciples alone.

Mark does not give us the name of the individual who was casting out demons on an “unofficial” basis. And, in leaving out the man’s identity, it is almost as if Mark places him in the same category as the young child whom Jesus held in His arms. The unknown man was one of the least. In casting out demons in Jesus’ name, he was doing the will of the Father and yet, not for personal gain or glory.

And Jesus gently rebuked John and the others for their prideful attempt to stop the man from casting out demons.

“Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.” – Mark 9:39-40 ESV

In a sense, Jesus was telling the disciples that they were all on the same team. This man was doing good and he was doing it in the name of Jesus. He was not in it for fame or personal gain. And by casting out demons, he was demonstrating the power inherent in the name of Jesus. He was displaying the superiority of the Son of God.

This entire scene is reminiscent of another encounter that is recorded in the book of Acts. Philip had traveled to the city of Samaria in order to preach the Good News concerning Jesus. While there, Philip also performed many signs and wonders.

Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. – Acts 8:7-8 NLT

But in the city, there was a well-known and revered magician who saw the actions of Philip as unwanted competition.

A man named Simon had been a sorcerer there for many years, amazing the people of Samaria and claiming to be someone great. Everyone, from the least to the greatest, often spoke of him as “the Great One—the Power of God.” They listened closely to him because for a long time he had astounded them with his magic. – Acts 8:9-11 NLT

Simon began to follow Philip, watching his every move, most likely in an attempt to learn and steal the secrets of his power. But in time, Simon came to faith in Jesus.

Simon himself believed and was baptized. He began following Philip wherever he went, and he was amazed by the signs and great miracles Philip performed. – Acts 8:13 NLT

And when Simon observed Philip and the other apostles laying their hands on people so that they might receive the Holy Spirit, he wanted in on the action.

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid their hands on people, he offered them money to buy this power. “Let me have this power, too,” he exclaimed, “so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!” – Acts 8:18-19 NLT

But Philip, aware of the motivation behind Simon’s offer, rebuked him.

“May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! 21 You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right with God. Repent of your wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive your evil thoughts, for I can see that you are full of bitter jealousy and are held captive by sin.” – Acts 8:20-23 NLT

Simon, who at one time had been called “the Great One – the Power of God,” was anxious to regain some of his lost prestige and he was willing to pay for it. He was jealous of the apostles’ power and longed to be restored to the position of prominence he had once enjoyed.

This does not seem to be the case with the man who was casting out demons. He remains anonymous and unknown throughout Mark’s account. And Jesus holds up his actions as being positive, not negative. The ones who were displaying jealousy and an unhealthy dose of envy were the 12 disciples.

They viewed this man as their competition. But Jesus insists that he is on their side. He was actually doing what they had failed to do, and he was doing it for the glory of Jesus. And Jesus points out that this man’s actions were actually a form of kindness aimed at the disciples themselves.

“If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.” – Mark 9:41 NLT

Jesus compares the casting out of a demon to the sharing of a cup of water. One act was spectacular and supernatural, while the other was simple and seemingly unimportant. But each was an act of service. When done in humility and with a servant’s heart, the action brings glory to God and a reward to the servant. But when pride and prominence become the motivation behind what we do, we exhibit the heart of Simon the magician. And Jesus provides a stern warning to all those who would do great works in the name  of Jesus but for self-glorification.

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’” – Matthew 7:21-23 NLT

The disciples were struggling with a need to be recognized as great. They were obsessed with the desire for significance. And they resented anyone robbing them of potential glory. But Jesus was trying to get them to understand that their true calling was to mirror His own. They were servants who would be called to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the Kingdom. And Jesus would later tell the disciples a parable to illustrate the life of service and sacrifice that is to mark the life of a Christ-follower.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:34-40 NLT

Slowly, but steadily, the disciples were learning the invaluable lesson of true greatness. As Paul described it to the believers in Philippi, true greatness is best seen in the life of Jesus, and we are to follow His example.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. –Philippians 2:3-5 NLT

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

Think Like Christ

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:5-11 ESV

So, how are the Philippians believers to live in unity, “being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind”? How will they prevent self-ambition and conceit from destroying their relationships and their corporate witness? Where will they find the motivation to live humbly, considering others as more important than themselves?

Paul doesn’t leave them on their own to figure out the answers to these pressing questions. He provides them with a succinct and simple answer:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… – Philippians 2:5 ESV

He points them to Christ and, in doing so, he is reminding them that Christ was the key to their salvation and He will be the key to their ongoing sanctification – as individuals and as a congregation. They are to have the mind of Christ. The Greek word Paul used is phroneō and it is actually in its verb form, making it an action. The original word can be translated as “to think.” In a sense, Paul is telling them that they are to think as Christ did.  They are to be of the same mind as Christ, considering their circumstances and responding to them as He would. And notice the environment in which the mind of Christ is to be put to use: Among yourselves. The task of thinking and reacting like Christ is to be applied within the body of Christ.

Christ-likeness that is only concerned about self is not Christ-likeness at all. To claim to have the mind of Christ, but to think only of one’s own self-interest, would be a lie. And to prove that point, Paul makes sure that the Philippian believers understand what he means by sharing the mindset and behavior of Christ. And don’t miss the very important point that Paul makes: This mindset is already available to them because of their relationship with Christ Jesus. It is not something they have to seek or produce on their own. It became theirs at the point of their salvation. But we don’t always live with the mind of Christ. Too often, we see things from our sinful and self-centered perspective, making even our relationship with Christ all about us. And in doing so, we forget that Christ redeemed us from a life of selfishness and self-centeredness. We have been placed within the body of Christ in order that we might express the character of Christ among our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Paul expressed to the Ephesian believers his strong desire that they fully comprehend the amazing love of Christ. And that love will be best experienced within the context of the body of Christ. As we selflessly love one another, as an expression of our grateful love for God, we will experience Christ’s remarkable love for us.

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. – Ephesians 3:16-19 NLT

And just how much did Christ love us? Enough to die for us. But before Christ went to the cross, He had to come to earth. And Paul makes sure his audience understands that, as horrific as the cross was, Christ’s incarnation was even more humiliating.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being. – Philippians 2:6-7 NLT

Christ left the glory of heaven and His place of honor at the right hand of God and willingly came to earth. But He didn’t come in His glorious, heavenly form. He became a human being. He was born as a baby. He became Immanuel, God with us. But no one would have recognized Him as God. He no longer exhibited the trappings of deity. Rather than a royal robe, He was wrapped in a swaddling cloth. Instead of angels and cherubim surrounding His throne exclaiming His glory, sheep and cattle stood around His manger in disinterest. Rather than appearing as the all-powerful Son of God, Jesus Christ came in the form of a helpless baby.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the very image of God, became in appearance as a man, even a slave. He humbled Himself. But why? So, that He might give His life as a ransom for the sins of mankind. What He did, He did for the good of others. And Jesus Himself made that point very clear.

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45 NLT

And the truly amazing thing is that Jesus gave up all His heavenly prerogatives so that He might live on this earth as a human being. This does not mean that Jesus became any less God during His time on earth. He remained fully God during the entirety of His incarnation. But He willingly relinquished the independent use of His divine attributes. He became fully dependent upon God the Father during His earthly ministry. He still retained His divine power and all of the characteristics of His deity. But He submitted them fully to the will of God, only using them under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Stop and think about that. The entire time Jesus walked this earth, He had the power of God residing in Him and the full ability to access that power at any moment. But He refused to do so. Which is Paul’s point. He emphasizes that Jesus “humbled himself in obedience to God” (Philippians 2:8 NLT). He did what the Father wanted. And His obedience to the Father’s will was so perfect that it took Him all the way to the cross, where he “died a criminal’s death.” 

This is the attitude that Paul is encouraging the Philippian believers to have. They were to share the same way of thinking as Jesus Christ. He didn’t consider Himself too good to do the will of God. He didn’t think of Himself as too important to sacrifice His life for the good of others. The prospect of humiliation was not off limits to Jesus. The thought of dying on behalf of those who actually deserved to die was not off-putting to Jesus. He did it willingly and in love. All that Jesus did was an expression of His love.

And we are to share that same way of thinking. We are to exhibit that same mindset when it comes to those around us – especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. But we are all prone to seek our own self-exaltation. We are driven by pride and ego. Our sin natures tend to make everything all about us. And, even as believers, we can begin to think that we are somehow better than others because we are in Christ. We are redeemed. We are children of God. We are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV). And before we know it, we begin to drown in our own perceived self-importance. But as Paul told the believers in Rome, “Don’t think you are better than you really are” (Romans 12:3 NLT).

Paul would have us consider Christ. If anyone deserved to be exalted, it was Him. After all, He was God. But Jesus humbled Himself. He even allowed Himself to be humiliated by the very ones He created. He suffered death at the hands of sinful men. But Paul reminds us that God exalted Him.

God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names… – Philippians 2:9 NLT

But the exaltation of Jesus came after His humiliation. His resurrection followed His crucifixion. His ascension could not have happened without His death and burial in a borrowed grave.

We can waste all our time seeking to be exalted in this life, or we can share the thinking of Christ and pursue a life of selflessness and service. We can humble ourselves as He did, enduring potential humiliation and the seeming loss of our status as God’s children, or we can make ourselves the center of attention. We can pursue self-exaltation or humbly serve and love one another, allowing God to exalt us according to His timing. The words of Peter are appropriate here.

…all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for

“God opposes the proud
    but gives grace to the humble.”

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. – 1 Peter 5:5-6 NLT

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

Serve Like It.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:7-11 ESV

Once again, Peter gives his readers, and us, some advice about our behavior as believers in Jesus Christ. He tells us to be “self-controlled and sober-minded.” But the odd thing about this statement is the two reasons he gives for living this way: Because the end of all things is at hand and for the sake of our prayers. What is he talking about? What is he referring to by “the end of all things”? Peter, like all the other apostles, lived with a constant sense that the coming of the Lord was eminent. They lived with a short-term, temporary mindset when it came to their time on this earth. Jesus had said He would come again for them, and they lived as if that promise would be fulfilled sooner, rather than later. Here are just a few of their statements regarding the end of the age:

You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. – James 5:8 ESV

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. – Romans 13:11 ESV

…so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. – Hebrews 9:28 ESV

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. – 1 John 2:18 ESV

By living with the end in mind, these men were able to keep their focus, even while surrounded by the cares and concerns of this life. They gained a different perspective about suffering and persecution keeping their eyes focused on the goal. That’s why Paul could say, “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:13-14 NLT).  The author of the letter to the Hebrews provides us with these powerful words that encourage us to keep our attention focused on the temporary nature of our existence here:

You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. – Hebrews 3:13-14 NLT

So, Peter warns us. He reminds us to be self-controlled and sober-minded, because the days are short. Was he lying? Was he misinformed? Obviously, he was wrong. Here we are, nearly 2,000 years later, and the end has not yet come. Jesus has not returned. Was Peter overly optimistic or just driven by wishful thinking? No, he lived with a sense of eager anticipation. He longed for the return of His Savior. He had no idea when it would happen, but he lived as if it could be any day, and it could be. Concerning His own second coming Jesus said, “no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows” (Matthew 24:36 NLT). Jesus went on to tell His disciples, Peter being one of them, “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42 NLT). And He qualified this statement by adding, “You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected” (Matthew 24:44 NLT). So, you can see why Peter lived with this optimistic, it-could-happen-any-day-now attitude, and he wanted us to live the same way. 

But what about his statement regarding prayer? What does he mean when he says that we are to be “self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers”? If prayer is the means by which we communicate with the Father, then it is important that we do so on a regular basis It’s likely that Peter had a special heart for prayer because of the words spoken to him by Jesus that night in the garden, just hours before Jesus was betrayed by Judas. Jesus had gone off to pray and had asked the disciples to keep watch.

Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” – Matthew 26:40-41 NLT

Peter, like the other disciples, had fallen asleep. He lacked diligence. He had allowed himself to fall asleep on the job. And just a few hours later, Peter would be the one to deny Jesus three times. That night would have stuck with him for years. And it radically changed his view regarding prayer. He knew that communication with God, the ability to share with the Father his innermost thoughts, and hear words of comfort and encouragement in return, were critical to living his life on this planet. And he wants us to know the very same truth. Prayer is not optional, it is vitally necessary.

Next, Peter highlights the necessity of love. It is another non-negotiable in the life of a believer. We are to love as we have been loved by Christ. And that love is to be ektenēs, a Greek word that means “stretched out” and conveys the idea of earnestness or ceaselessness. It is the kind of love by which the Father loves us. Over in Psalm 136, the phrase, “for his steadfast love endures forever” appears 26 times. God loves us tirelessly and unwaveringly. And we are to do the same. When we do, our love “covers a multitude of sins.” When we love it diminishes our capacity to hate. It keeps us from seeking revenge. It prevents us from suffering from jealousy and envy. Love keeps us from sinning against one another and allows us to react to those who persecute us in ways that “cover over” their sins against us. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us these sobering words that reflect life in His Kingdom:

44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. – Matthew 4:44-48 NLT

Peter adds hospitality to the list, encouraging us to open our hearts and our homes to others. And, we are to do it without complaining. Not only that, we are to use our God-given, Spirit-empowered gifts to serve one another. As children of God, chosen by Him and placed within His family, we are to live selflessly and sacrificially, treating others as more important than ourselves. Jesus came to serve, not be served, and we are to have that same mindset.

The use of our spiritual gifts is to build up the body of Christ, not our own reputation. We use our gifts to serve, not to impress others or to gain recognition for our superior spirituality. When we use our gifts properly, they bring glory to God. In fact, Peter tells us our gifts are given by God for good of the body of Christ, and they must be used properly so that “God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11 ESV). Paul told the believers in Corinth:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 NLT

Our goal in life is to bring glory to God. That’s why Peter wraps up this short section with the words: “To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.” He is the one who called us. He is the one who provided His own Son as the payment for our sins. He is the one who raised Jesus back to life. He is the one who provided the Spirit for us and placed Him within us. He is the one who instructed the Spirit to give us gifts so that we might build up one another. And He is the one who has loved us unceasingly and undeservedly. So, why would we not do the same for those around us? We are to serve like Christ. He served us by sacrificing His life. And He is the one who said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NLT).


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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Genesis 39-40, Matthew 20

A Ransom For Many.

Genesis 39-40, Matthew 20

 For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit. – Genesis 40:15 ESV

Joseph had plenty to complain about. His life had not exactly been easy lately. He went from being thrown into a pit by his brothers and listening to them plot to kill him to being sold into slavery. Then just about when things were taking a turn for the better, he gets falsely accused of attempted rape and is thrown in prison. He had gone from favorite son, wearing fancy robes and enjoying the special favor of his father, to a prisoner in the land of Egypt. But God had a purpose behind it all. There is a divine plan being worked out in ways that even Joseph is not able to comprehend. .

What does this passage reveal about God?

It was not a coincidence that Joseph was sold to Potiphar and that his wife had a near-fatal attraction to him. Moses makes it clear that “The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master” (Genesis 39:2 ESV). Even Potiphar saw the hand of God on Joseph’s life and he made Joseph overseer of all that he had. Potiphar benefited from Joseph’s presence in his home. “…the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had in house and field” (Genesis 39:5 ESV). Joseph was a good-looking, successful young man, and Potiphar’s wife took notice. She also tried to take advantage of him, continually pressing him to commit adultery with her. But Joseph repeatedly refused her advances, saying, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9 ESV). God was blessing and protecting Joseph. God equipped this young man with a realistic understanding of sin and a healthy fear of Himself.

The next thing Joseph knows, he is in prison, falsely accused and suffering an undeserved punishment again. But God was there. Once again, Joseph prospers, even in less-than-ideal circumstances. God was with him. “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Genesis 39:21 ESV). It wasn’t happenstance that Joseph ended up a slave to Potiphar, who just happened to work for Pharaoh. When Joseph was thrown in prison, he didn’t end up in just any Egyptian prison; he was placed “where the king’s prisoners were confined” (Genesis 39:20 ESV). That point was important to Moses because it was important to the story. It was in the king’s prison that Joseph would meet two men who worked directly for Pharaoh. God would give Joseph the ability to interpret their dreams, something he had apparently never been able to do before. And one of those men would prove vital to the next step in Joseph’s personal journey of faith and fate at the hands of God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Potiphar was a powerful man. His wife was a passionate woman. The prison warden literally held the keys to men’s lives. The baker and the cupbearer were two men guilty of crimes against the state. And they were all instruments in the hands of God. Each was acting under their own influence, making decisions and creating circumstances by the choices they had made. But God was behind each moment, divinely orchestrating the outcome of even their most sinful choices. Potiphar’s wife would give in to her seemingly uncontrolled passions and pursue an immoral relationship with Joseph. When her pride was hurt by Joseph’s refusal, she would lash out in anger and revenge, having an innocent man thrown in prison. Her vanity would make her vengeful. Potiphar would exercise his power and have Joseph thrown in prison. He would sacrifice the obvious blessings of God in order to prove his power over man. The prison warden would take advantage of Joseph’s presence in order to make his own life easier, putting Joseph in charge of all the inmates in the prison. His apparent laziness would put Joseph right where God wanted him. The cupbearer, grateful for Joseph’s positive interpretation of his dream, promptly forgets about Joseph when he gains his freedom and his old job back. Each of these people exhibits the characteristics so common among men. They are self-centered and selfish. They are motivated by their own self-interest and self-preservation. Their lives constantly revolve around themselves and they tend to view the world in terms of what they can get out of it. But God would take these self-possessed people and use them to accomplish His divine will for the greater good of mankind. And Joseph would be a central figure in that plan.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Over in Matthew 20, we have the famous words of Jesus: “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-27 ESV). It’s interesting that in the story of Joseph, we see a young man who went from favorite son to slave. He went from enjoying the favor of his father to household servant and then a common prisoner. It is not clear that Joseph fully understood all that was happening to him, but he did honor and fear God. He trusted God to help him interpret the dreams of the two men in prison. He knew that God was with him and could sense His hands on his life. But he probably had no idea just how all the events in his life were going to be used by God to accomplish a much greater story that would impact the lives of men for generations to come. Like the disciples, I can spend far too much time worrying about my own significance. I want to play a major part in the story of life. I have no desire to be a bit player. The disciples wanted power, position and prestige. They wanted to sit in the seats of prominence in Christ’s kingdom. They wanted to be important. But Jesus told them that first they would have to serve, that the key to being first was being willing to be last. Jesus Himself would tell them, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 ESV). In the story of Joseph, everyone was looking out for themselves. But Joseph had no capacity to look over himself. He had no control. So he simply served, and he served well. He did what he had to do wherever he found himself. He took whatever role he was given and did it with excellence. He was an excellent household slave. He was an ideal prisoner. He served and God prospered him. He blessed others and God blessed him. The closest thing we get to a complaint from the lips of Joseph was his statement to the cupbearer: “For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit” (Genesis 40:15 ESV). Joseph didn’t deny the unjust nature of his situation. He was fully aware of his innocence. But he didn’t waste time dwelling on it all. He simply served. He did what he had to do and he did it well. God was going to use Joseph in a powerful way in the days to come. But Joseph was content to be used right where he found himself, whether it was in the household of Potiphar or the prison of Pharaoh. I must learn to be content with where I am and serve where God has placed me. He has a plan. I have a job to do. I must serve where I am sovereignly placed.

Father, I don’t always like where I find myself. I don’t always find my circumstances enjoyable or the way I would prefer them. But give me the attitude of Joseph. Give me the mind of Christ. I want to learn to serve where I am and not worry so much about where I think I would like to be. My preferred future has no value compared to Your divine present for my life. Help me see each moment as providential and part of Your plan for my life. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Psalm 61 – Day 1

Overwhelmed, But Never Overlooked.

“From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering rock of safety.” – Psalm 61:2 NLT

David is under tremendous pressure. He is feeling completely overwhelmed by his circumstances. The Hebrew word he uses to describe the condition of his heart means, “to be wrapped in darkness, to languish, to faint.” He is in a dark moment of the soul, a time when all looks hopeless and he is feeling helpless. But what does he do at that moment? Does he give up? No, he looks up. He calls out. He cries out to God. “O God, listen to my cry! Hear my prayer!” (Psalm 60:1 NLT). He takes the darkness of his situation to the one true source that can shed some light on his condition. He longs for safety and security – a place where his enemies can’t reach him and he can enjoy peace from all the turmoil. David knew that his only hope was to be found in God. Keep in mind, this man was a highly successful warrior, a powerful king, and a man who was not afraid to strap on the sword and fight his way out of difficult circumstances. But in this case, he knew that God was his only hope. As he has done so many times before in other Psalms, David appeals to God’s unfailing love and faithfulness. He asks God to extend his life and prolong his kingdom, so that he can continue to praise and serve Him. David doesn’t just want long life in order to enjoy all the things that life has to offer. He wants to be able to continue his life of service to God, keeping his vows and praising Him for all that He has done.

But the truth is, we often beg God to save us in order that we might continue a life that is focused on US, not Him. We long for God to rescue us from our difficult circumstances, not so that we might serve Him more, but just so that we might enjoy life on our own terms. Whatever the circumstances were in David’s life, he more than likely was not able to worship in the Tabernacle. He was not able to offer sacrifices to God. He was isolated from the presence of God’s glory that dwelt in the inner recesses of the Tabernacle. He longed to return home and worship God. He wanted to see his life preserved, so that He might praise God more. What is your motivation for calling on God? Why do you want Him to save you? Is it in order that You might see His power on display and so that you might worship Him? Or is it simply so that you might get back to enjoying life and escaping the inconvenient circumstances in which you find yourself? David’s focus was on God. Yes, he wanted God to rescue and preserve him, but only so that he might spend his life serving and praising God.

Father, how often I beg You to save me when my only motivation is to get back to life as usual. My focus is not on You, but me. I simply want to enjoy life, not Your presence. Give me a new perspective. Give me a heart like David’s that desires long life so that I might have more time to serve and praise You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

2 Chronicles 12

You’ve Got To Serve Somebody

“But they will become his subjects, so that they can learn how much better it is to serve me than to serve earthly rulers.” ­– 2 Chronicles 12:8 NLT

The first verse of this chapter could be the description of the lives of many of us as God’s children. “But when Rehoboam was firmly established and strong, he abandoned the law of the LORD, and all Israel followed him in this sin.” Just when things began to stabilize in his kingdom after the nasty split with the northern tribes, Rehoboam finds himself getting fat and happy. Things had settles down. His kingdom began to stabilize and his confidence began to grow. He had lost a big part of his kingdom, but he still had the tribe of Judah and the city of Jerusalem with the temple of the Lord. So just as things were looking up, Rehoboam stopped looking up – at the Lord. He took His eyes off the very one who gave his life stability. It says he abandoned the law of the Lord. In other words, he decided to abandon God and His ways. The Hebrew word used for “abandoned” is azab and it means “to leave, abandon, forsake.” It is the picture of a servant walking out on his master, abandoning his responsibilities, and deserting his post. Rehoboam had decided he did not want to serve God anymore. He wanted to serve himself. Isn’t that what sin is all about? Self-serving. It is making everything about us. We become the focus of our world. We make ourselves the gods of our own lives. Our wills become more important than God’s. But Rehoboam was going to find out the hard way that every man ends up serving somebody or something – and it is NEVER ourselves. For Rehoboam it would be King Shishak of Egypt. When he came against Jerusalem with his 1,200 chariots and 60,000 horsemen, capturing with ease all the cities that Rehoboam had spent money and time fortifying, it got the peoples’ attention. And they humbled themselves before the Lord. But God knew they had a lot to learn, so He was going to allow them to become slaves to King Shishak, all so that they could “learn the difference between serving me and serving human kings” (2 Chronicles 12:8 NLT).

Ultimately, God wants His people to serve Him. We exist for Him, not Him for us. We have been created by Him and for Him. Yet we so often buy into the lie that God exists for our benefit and to bring us glory. And when He doesn’t serve us in the way we would like, we turn our backs on Him and decide to serve ourselves. We resort to “self-help” or better yet “self-service.” We become the focus of our world. We become the star of our play. We become central and God becomes secondary. But Rehoboam was going to learn that when all is said and done, we all have to serve somebody. We are going to serve God or we are going to serve somebody or something else. We never really do get to serve ourselves. It reminds me of a song written by Bob Dylan during the period of his life when he supposedly “got saved.” The lyrics are simple, yet profound.

Gotta Serve Somebody

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

You might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage
You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You’re gonna have to serve somebody. The reality of life in this world is that even the things you think are there to serve you end up becoming your master. Your money ends up controlling you. Your possessions end up possessing you. We become slaves of the very things we thought would serve us. We end up not being able to live without them. It’s all like taking a drug for pleasure only to have it become an addiction, controlling your life and destroying your future. We all have to serve somebody. Who are you going to serve? That was the question Joshua asked the people of Israel right before he died. And it’s still the question that each of us needs to consider each day of our lives. “But if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15 NLT).

Father, I have believed the lie so many times that I can be the center of my world. I convince myself so often that everything and everyone is here to serve me. But You have called me to serve You. You have called me to be a servant of others. Never let me lose sight of my role as Your servant. I exist for you and not vice versa. I don’t want to spend my life serving anything or anyone else but You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men