Living Proof

19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.

25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. – Philippians 2:19-30 ESV

Suddenly and somewhat surprisingly, Paul goes from talking directly to the congregation in Philippi to mentioning two individuals who, at first glance, seem to have no relationship whatsoever with the church there. On closer examination it becomes clear that both Timothy and Epaphroditus were well-known to the believers in Philippi. Epaphroditus was actually a resident of the city and member of the local congregation. He had been sent by the church to Rome, where he ended up ministering to Paul during his time under house arrest. Paul refers to him as “your messenger and minister to my need” (Philippians 2:25 ESV). Later on, in chapter 4, Paul refers to the gifts that Epaphroditus had brought with him on behalf of the church in Philippi. And, evidently, Epaphroditus had been the one to deliver Paul’s letter, having been sent back to Philippi after his recovery from a life-threatening illness.

And as far as Timothy is concerned, he had been with Paul and Silas when they first arrived in Philippi on their missionary journey. The book of Acts reveals that Paul had met Timothy when visiting the cities of Lystra and Derby.

Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. – Acts 16:1-3 ESV

Paul wanted the church in Philippi to know that he intended to send Timothy to them as his personal representative and so that Timothy might deliver back to Paul a report concerning the conditions within their local fellowship.

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. Philippians 2:19 ESV

But why does Paul bring up these two young men at this point in his letter? What was his reasoning for switching from a very personal call to the body of Christ in Philippi to live in unity and humility in a city filled with intense darkness and twisted moral standards?

I believe there are two things at work here. First, Paul wants his brothers and sisters to know that he is thinking about them and that, even in his absence, he is sending others to assist them in their faith journey. He is not abandoning them.

But there is another and somewhat more subtle point being made here. Paul is using these two young men as examples to the flock in Philippi. Paul has been talking about the task of the church working out its salvation with fear and trembling. He has been calling them to live lives marked by blamelessness and innocence. And now he brings up these two men he has come to know and love.

In these verses, Paul gives a glimpse into the lives of two men who meant a great deal to him. They were his brothers in Christ and his fellow workers in the mission to which God had called him. Timothy and Epaphroditus, while not household names to most of us, were icons of spiritual virtue in Paul’s mind. He couldn’t have done what he did without them. And he commends both of them to the believers in Philippi as men whom they could not only trust but emulate. Both were likely younger men than Paul, but that didn’t stop him from praising their value and virtues as men of God.

Paul described Timothy as a one-of-a-kind individual who showed genuine care for the people in Philippi. He didn’t view his efforts on their behalf as work but legitimately cared for their spiritual, emotional and physical well-being. Paul then describes what appears to be a consistent problem among leadership within the early church at that time. “All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:21 NLT). I don’t think Paul was intimating that there was no one else who cared in Philippi, but that there was a prevailing presence of self-centeredness among many within the church, especially among the leadership. Sadly, It was a rare thing to find a believer who put the interests of Christ before his own. Timothy was such a man. Timothy had served Paul well and had become like a son to him. Paul even referred to Timothy as “my true son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2 NLT). He was a faithful, loving, reliable, and godly young man who modeled Christ-likeness and ministered faithfully alongside Paul even in his darkest moments. He was a real man.

Paul describes Epaphroditus as “a true brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier” (Philippians 2:25 NLT). And by sending Epaphroditus back to them, Paul was making a personal sacrifice, because he knew Epaphroditus was anxious to see his friends and fellow believers back home. This kind and generous young man wanted to put to rest any concerns over his physical well-being, by making a personal appearance and proving to his fellow church members that he had fully recovered. Upon Paul encourages the believers in Philippi to “welcome him with Christian love and with great joy, and give him the honor that people like him deserve” (Philippians 2:29 NLT). Obviously, Paul thought highly of Epaphroditus. He had risked his life for the cause of Christ, having been close to death, all to serve Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome.

Paul appreciated and valued men like Timothy and Epaphroditus. He knew that he could not accomplish the ministry without them. He was under house arrest, unable to travel, and restricted from ministering to the various churches he had helped plant around the world. He had to depend on faithful men like Timothy and Epaphroditus to be his hands, feet, eyes, and voice; delivering his messages and expressing his love for the body of Christ.

The church today needs men and women of character like Timothy and Epaphroditus. There is a shortage of reliable, faithful, loving and selfless individuals who put the needs of the body of Christ ahead of their own. Paul knew that men like Timothy were going to be constantly tempted to compromise their character, and the same thing is true in our day. So Paul warned this young man, “But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:11-12 NLT).

The church still needs men and women who have that same attitude and focus. The body of Christ needs to raise up and recognize those kinds of leaders, both men, and women, who are willing to risk their reputations, careers, comfort, and even their lives, for the cause of Christ. While men like Paul were vital to the church in those early days, the spread of the Gospel was dependent upon individuals like Timothy and Epaphroditus for its long-term survival and success. They were the faithful foot soldiers in the battle for the gospel, and we need more like them today.

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

Advertisements

The Seven Sons of Saul.

After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. These went on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas, but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days. Acts 20:1-6 ESV

pauls-third-missionary-journey

After the highly tense episode at the theater in Ephesus, when things had finally cooled down, Paul left the city and made his way north to Troas. We know that he stopped there from a comment he made in one of his letters to the believers in Corinth. He told them, “When I came to the city of Troas to preach the Good News of Christ, the Lord opened a door of opportunity for me. But I had no peace of mind because my dear brother Titus hadn’t yet arrived with a report from you. So I said good-bye and went on to Macedonia to find him” (2 Corinthians 2:12-13 NLT).

Paul crossed the Aegean Sea and arrived back in Macedonia where he revisited many of the cities he had been to on his second missionary journey. We know from that same Letter to the Corinthians, that Paul was reunited with Timothy while in Macedonia.

When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside. But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus.  – 2 Corinthians 7:5-6 NLT

Luke indicates that Paul eventually made his way from Macedonia into Greece, which refers to the area then known as Achaia. During his three months of ministry there, Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, informing them of his desire to some day visit them on his way to Spain.

I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey. – Romans 15:24 NLT

But Paul’s immediate plans had been to sail from Greece to Syria, where he would make his way to Jerusalem. But he was informed of a plot by the local Jewish leadership to do him harm, so he altered his plans, deciding instead to return through Macedonia. But Paul did not make the journey alone. We know that Titus had rejoined him in Macedonia, but when he made his return trip back through that region, he had another six men as his traveling companions. Luke lists them as Sopater the Berean, Aristarchus and Secundus, who were Thessalonicans; Gaius of Derbe, Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus from the region of Asia. The only name in this list that is familiar to us is that of Timothy, the young man who had become a regular on many of Paul’s previous journeys. Along with Titus, they are the best known disciples or young proteges of Paul. He ended up writing two letters to Timothy and one to Titus, that each bear their names. But the other men on this list are relatively unknown to most of us. Together with Timothy, they make up a team of seven men, who accompanied Paul on his trip through Macedonia. It seems likely that these men represented the various congregations throughout Achaia and Macedonia who had contributed money for the needs of the saints back in Jerusalem. The various nationalities of these men reveal the cross-cultural nature of the gospel and how Paul’s ministry had mirrored his belief in its inclusiveness. In his letter to the church in Colossae, he wrote: “ In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us” (Colossians 3:11 NLT). There’s a Macedonian, two Thessalonians, two Asians, and two Galatians. Quite an eclectic group. But they all had one thing in common: Their indebtedness to Paul for his ministry in their lives which had resulted in their saving faith in Jesus Christ. He was a mentor to them, and his dedication and determination to take the gospel to the Gentiles had resulted in their lives being radically changed forever. He had been a difference-maker in their lives. And I can’t help but think about the seven sons of Sceva, whom Luke introduced us to in chapter 19. These itinerant Jewish exorcists, all sons of a high-ranking Jewish priest, had attempted to mimic the supernatural work of Paul by trying to cast out demons in the name of Jesus, but without having a relationship with Jesus. They failed. No doubt, these men had been mentored by their father. Perhaps they had learned to exorcise demons from him. But their attempt to use the name of Jesus for their own personal use and career advancement, left them beaten and stripped naked by the very demon they had tried to cast out.

What a stark difference between these seven sons and the seven spiritual sons of Saul, or Paul. He had poured truth into these men and it had taken root, manifesting itself in fruitful ministry. Paul had been confident enough in these men to send them on ahead to the city of Troas, without him. Paul was constantly expanding his ministry by exposing others to leadership opportunities. But not before he had trained and equipped them for the tasks they would face. Paul had taken Jesus’ command to make disciples quite seriously. And he wasn’t content to simply make converts. He wanted to raise up men who were mature in their faith and bold in their witness. We don’t know the ages of the seven men listed in this passage, but for Paul, age would not have mattered. The words he wrote to Timothy would have applied to them all, regardless of their age.

11 Teach these things and insist that everyone learn them. 12 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.

16 Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.– 1 Timothy 4:11-12, 16 NLT

Each generation should be about the spiritual training and preparation of the next generation. The psalmist wrote:

We will not hide these truths from our children;
    we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
    about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
    he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
    to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
    even the children not yet born—
    and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
    not forgetting his glorious miracles
    and obeying his commands. – Psalm 78:4-7 NLT

God warned the people of Israel:

18 “So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 19 Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 20 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors. – Deuteronomy 11:18-21 NLT

And yet, one of the saddest passages in all of Scripture is found in the book of Judges, where we read what happens when these commands of God to prepare the next generation are ignored.

After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the LORD or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel. – Judges 2:10 NLT

Disciple making is not just about increasing the number of believers and growing the size of the church. Seeing people come to faith in Christ is wonderful, but it is only part of the process. Spiritual maturity is to be an equal and non-negotiable aspect of making disciples. The seven men who accompanied Paul were not just believers, they were maturing, Spirit-empowered ministers of the gospel who were equipped to do the work of the Lord. In his letter to the church in Colossae, Paul wrote:

28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. 29 That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me. – Colossians 1:28-29 NLT

Paul wrote similar words to the believers in Ephesus, once again revealing his passion to see believers grow up in their salvation.

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. – Ephesians 4:11-15 NLT

Christ-likeness was the goal for Paul, not just coming to faith in Christ. Raising up workers to send into the harvest was his life’s mission, not just signing up future residents of heaven. For Paul, it all began with the perspective of a father to his children. He referred to Timothy as “my true son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2 NLT). He called the Galatians believers his dear children, informing them, “I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives” (Galatians 4:19 NLT). He was suffering because they were not growing as he knew they should. He opened his letter to them with the following words of disappointment and admonition:

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ. – Galatians 1:6-7 NLT

Paul wanted mature sons and daughters in the faith. He would not accept mediocrity or settle for anything less than visible and tangible signs of increasing maturity. Paul had poured his life into Titus and Timothy. Now he had added another list of names to his ever-growing list of sons in the faith. How many spiritual sons and daughters will you leave behind? Who are you raising up to take your place when you’re gone?

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

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

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

 

The Jailer Who Was Set Free.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed. Acts 16:25-40 ESV

pauls-second-missionary-journeyPaul, Silas and Timothy were in Philippi. While there, they had two divine encounters, one with a Gentile businesswoman named Lydia who came to faith in Christ. The other was with a young slave girl from whom Paul cast out a demon. The second, more visible and public encounter, ended up getting Paul and Silas in a lot of trouble. The slave girl had used her demon-possession to tell people’s fortunes, and her owners made a great deal of money from her unique abilities. So, with her demon gone, she was worthless to her owners and they were incensed. They falsely accused Paul and Silas of trying to convert Roman citizens to Judaism, which was a capital offense. The crowds turned on them, and the local magistrates had them severely beaten and thrown in jail. That would lead to yet another divine encounter.

In this case, Paul and Silas, finding themselves in jail, made the most of the situation. Luke records that, at midnight, the two of them were occupying their time by praying and singing hymns, with the rest of the prisoners as their (excuse the pun) captive audience. As per his usual style, Luke does not tell us what they were praying or the hymns they were singing. Were they praying for release? Perhaps. Or were they praying for the spiritual well-being of Lydia and those in her household who had come to faith? Possibly. Were they praising God for His power and for the privilege of suffering for the cause of Christ? I would say, yes. But whatever it was that they were praying and singing, right in the middle of it all, God showed up. Probably not in the way Paul and Silas were expecting. But He showed up in the form of a powerful earthquake that shook the building where they were being kept. It was so violent that it rocked the very foundations of the structure, forced open the locked doors of all the cells and, even more amazingly, broke the bonds that held every prisoner in the jail captive. It was a literal get-out-of-jail-free card – for everyone. And the poor jailer realized it. Luke says that, when this man was startled awake by the noise and saw what had happened, “he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped” (Acts 16:27 ESV). He most likely assumed that the prisoners were going to kill him. And even if they didn’t, the Roman magistrates would have him killed for letting all the prisoners escape. And this is where the truly amazing part of the story takes place. Paul called out to the man, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here” (Acts 16:28 ESV). Think about that. Paul and Silas had been praying, and in the midst of their prayer an earthquake had taken place. An earthquake so powerful that it opened cell doors and broke chains from the moorings in the walls. And yet, Paul and Silas were still there. They hadn’t taken off. And even more incredibly, neither had any of the other prisoners. Now, compare this event with one that had taken place earlier and is describe for us by Luke in Acts 12.

The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me,” the angel ordered.

So Peter left the cell, following the angel. – Acts 12:6-9 NLT

Peter was in jail and he doing nothing but sleeping. No prayers. No hymns. Yet, God sent an angel who miraculously released Peter from his chains and led him out of the prison and into the streets – a free man.

But Paul and Silas, their chains off and the doors of the prison wide open, stood there. And somehow, the other prisoners were standing there with them. Just consider how preposterous that sounds. Every single prisoner, when given the chance to have their freedom and escape whatever sentence hung over them, had chosen to stay. That, in and of itself, is a miracle, an act of God. But what happens next is the real point of the story. This was not about Paul and Silas becoming free men. In fact, the next morning, when the magistrates attempted to let them go, Paul and Silas refused to leave. They were both Roman citizens and had been wrongly beaten and imprisoned, and they were going to demand justice.

But back to the jailer. He was in shock “and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas” (Acts 16:29 ESV). Somehow he knew that these two men were responsible for all that had happened. They were the ones in charge. And it’s interesting to note that the very first question he asked them was “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” He didn’t ask them to explain what had happened. He didn’t want to know the source of the power behind what had happened. No, he simply asked what he had to do to be saved. As 21st-Century Christians, who are on this side of the resurrection and who have available to us the rest of the story, we tend to read into these words something that is probably not there. We hear this man asking how he can be saved or born again. We interpret his words as a request to have the plan of salvation explained to him. But keep in mind, this man was an employee of the Romans. It is most likely that he was a Roman himself, possibly a former Roman soldier. Philippi, as a Roman colony, was heavily populated by Romans. But even if this man was a Macedonian who was employed by the Romans, he would have been a pagan. There is no indication that he had heard the gospel before. And when Paul and Silas had been praying and singing, he had been fast asleep. So, it is most likely that he was asking Paul and Silas what he needed to do to keep them from killing him. To him, they were two powerful Jewish magicians or sorcerers who had cast a demon out of a slave girl. Now, they had somehow caused a massive earthquake and opened up the doors of the prison and set themselves free. He was petrified.

But Paul takes advantage of the man’s question and gives him an answer he would have never expected. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31 ESV). It is doubtful that this man understood what any of this meant. And Luke tells us that Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house” (Acts 16:32 ESV). They explained what it meant to believe in the Lord Jesus. They described the nature of God’s saving grace, made possible through faith in His Son’s death and resurrection. And the man believed, along with those in his household, and they were all baptized – right there in the prison compound where the man most likely lived. After providing Paul and Silas with food and treatment for their wounds, the man “rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God” (Acts 16:34 ESV).

Paul and Silas had not been the ones to find freedom. It was this man and the members of his household were set free by God. Jesus had once said, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free” (Luke 4:18 NLT). This story is a fulfillment of that statement by Jesus. Those who had been held captive by sin and death found freedom in Christ. They had been set free from the penalty of sin: death, and been given new life in Christ. Their spiritual chains had been broken. Paul would later write to Timothy, one of his companions on this journey.

25 Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. 26 Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. – 2 Timothy 2:25-26 NLT

The Philippian jailer, whose job it had been to hold men captive in prison, had been provided with release from the prison cell of sin and the death sentence that hung over his head as a result of his rebellion against God. The imprisonment of Paul and Silas had been yet another divine encounter, orchestrated by God and intended for the spread of the gospel. These two men could have walked out that night, but they hadn’t. They were not obsessed with their own freedom. They were captive to the will of God and their commission from Jesus, to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth – even in the less-than-pleasant confines of a prison.

The ending of this story is what really makes it special. With all that happened the night before, God confirms that none of it had happened to set Paul and Silas free. That wasn’t going to be necessary. The entire event had been in order for the jailer and his household to come to faith in Jesus. Because the very next morning the magistrates attempted to set Paul and Silas free. We are not told why. But somewhere along the way, the magisrates had made the determination to release them. And when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were terrified. As Roman citizens, Paul and Silas were guaranteed a just trial and protection from any kind of degrading punishment, such as beatings. The magistrates could do nothing but beg for forgiveness and ask that Paul and Silas leave town. They knew that the locals were still up in arms and that harm might come to Paul and Silas if they stayed. So, after visiting with Lydia and encouraging the local believers, Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke departed. But they left behind the first-fruits of what would become a growing congregation of believers.

 

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

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

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

 

The Deity Is In the Detail.

11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. Acts 16:11-24 ESV

pauls-second-missionary-journeyHaving revisited the cities in which Paul and Barnabas had ministered in their first missionary journey, Paul takes Silas and Timothy had heads across the Aegean Sea for Neopolis, the port of Philippi in Macedonia, a journey of 125 miles. Luke makes note of the fact that Philippi was a Roman colony. In an attempt to bring the strongly nationalistic and somewhat unruly Macedonians under control, The Romans had divided Macedonia into four distinct districts, with Philippi becoming an important operations hub of military and commercial importance. There was a large Roman population in the city, because Rome had a policy of filling its colonies with Roman citizens who would be faithful to the state, many of them former Roman soldiers and their families. So, not only was Paul going to encounter a Gentile population made up of pagan Macedonians with a strong sense of nationalistic pride, he was going to encounter a larger-than-usual contingent of Roman citizens, faithful to Rome and its pantheon of gods.

Luke records that, on the Sabbath, their party ended up searching for a place where any Jews might have gathered for the prescribed hour of prayer. The fact that they did not head for the local synagogue indicates that there must not have been one. For any city to have a synagogue, there had to be a required number of Jewish males living there. Before a synagogue could be built, the local community was required to have at least ten adult Jewish men of bar mitzvah age. So, it seems likely that Philippi had a very small contingent of Jews, far too small to justify the construction of a synagogue. In the absence of a synagogue, Jews were known to gather by the sea shore or a river for prayer. Luke reports, “we went outside the city gate to the side of the river, where we thought there would be a place of prayer” (Acts 16:13 NLT). There, they found a group of women who had gathered to pray. Notice that only women were mentioned. This corroborates the assumption that there were not enough Jewish males to justify a synagogue. There were no men present at the river at the time of prayer. But one of the women, who was names Lydia, struck up a conversation with Paul, Silas and Timothy. Luke would have been in Paul’s entourage as well. Lydia is described as a worshiper of God, which means she was a Gentile proselyte to Judaism. She was also a businesswoman, a seller of purple good, and it is likely that she was in Philippi on business, because Luke indicates that she was from nearby Thyatira. What we have here is yet another example of one of those seemingly chance encounters that the apostles had. They end up in Philippi and, on the Sabbath, they find themselves down by the river where they run into a woman who just happens to be in town on business and, because she is a Gentile God-fearer, she was at the river at the prescribed hour for prayer. There, her path crossed that of Paul, Silas and Timothy, and her life would be changed forever as a result. Lydia, upon hearing the gospel as declared by Paul, became a Christ-follower and was baptized. And Luke indicates that her salvation ended up impacting her entire household. because she implored the apostles to come to her home, and her family members and household servants ended up placing their faith in Christ as well and were baptized.

Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke had yet another “chance” encounter that day. They ran into a young slave girl “who had a spirit that enabled her to foretell the future by supernatural means” (Acts 16:16 NLT). As we will see, the source of her supernatural ability was demonic in nature. But that didn’t matter to her owners, because their only concern was that she made them a lot of money telling people their fortunes. This young woman began following Paul and his companions around, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17 NLT). And Luke indicates that she was very persistent in her efforts, carrying on for a number of days. Now, at first blush, it would seem that this would have been a positive thing for the apostles, like a form of free advertising. After all, what she was saying was true, and her words would have been like having a free ad campaign played over the local radio station. But Luke records that Paul became annoyed, and finally spoke to the demon who possessed her, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her” (Acts 16:18 ESV). Paul cast the demon out and the publicity campaign came to an end. But we have to ask the question: Why did Paul become so annoyed? Why had the words the girl had been speaking ended up rubbing him the wrong way? It is important to keep in mind that this young girl’s ability came from a demon. The words she spoke concerning Paul and his companions were not hers, but were from the demon who possessed her. And it likely that this demon was causing the words to come out of her mouth in a sarcastic and demeaning manner. While what she was saying was true, it probably came out with more than a hint of disrespect and intended to ridicule not respect the apostles.

This demon had no intention of truly heralding and honoring the apostles. It was turning their ministry into a three-ring circus. No doubt, her efforts were attracting crowds, but it was making life difficult for Paul and his friends. But Paul set the girl free. Not only had she been a slave girl, she had been enslaved to the demon who had possessed her. But she had been spiritual emancipated. While this would have been a happy occasion for the young girl, it would prove to be a blow to the men who owned her. Without the demon, she was worthless. She had lost her ability to tell fortunes. And these men were so upset, that they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. They wanted justice and, most likely, financial compensation for their loss. But it’s interesting that their accusations against Paul and the others says nothing about what had happened. Instead, they say, “These men are throwing our city into confusion. They are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us to accept or practice, since we are Romans” (Acts 16:21 NLT). Basically, they accuse Paul and his companions of proselytizing. They claim that these Jews were trying to convert Roman citizens to Judaism, a crime under Roman law. The crowd, which would have been made up of primarily Roman citizens, joins forces with the two disgruntled slave owners, and the magistrates are forced to beat Paul, Silas and Timothy with rods, then throw them into prison.

Once again, it would be easy to see all of these occurrences as nothing more than chance, the unforeseen, unplanned outcome of life. They just happened. No rhyme or reason behind them. But we have already seen too much take place in the lives of the disciples of Jesus Christ to accept that conclusion. The lives of Paul, Silas and Timothy were being controlled and directed by God Almighty. Their destinations and even their interactions with others were under the divine direction of God. They didn’t just happen to end up in Philippi. Their encounter with Lydia wasn’t just some form of kismet. The presence of the demon-possessed slave girl wasn’t some strange kind of unlucky coincidence. It was the hand of God. And Paul, Silas and Timothy ending up in jail was not some unfortunate turn of events that had caught God off guard and left Him scrambling to intervene. It had all been part of His sovereign will and well-orchestrated plan for these men and their message. Only time would expose God’s purposes behind all of these things. We see only the immediate circumstances, while God knows their outcomes. We are restricted in our ability to recognize the handiwork of God, even in the dark days of our lives or the pedestrian circumstances that fill our lives. God doesn’t slumber or sleep. He never takes the day off. He is intimately involved in the details of life. Nothing escapes His notice and nothing is outside the purview of His sovereign will.

 

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

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

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

Led By the Spirit.

1 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Acts 16:1-10 ESV

At the end of chapter 15, we saw Paul and Barnabas parting ways over a disagreement concerning John Mark. Luke does not elaborate on the nature of their conflict, but it was enough to lead Paul to select Silas as his new traveling partner, leaving Barnabas free to take John Mark with him. And while it would be easy to conclude that this whole affair has a negative shadow cast over it, we’re going to see that God was working behind the scenes, orchestrating matters in such a way, that Paul and Barnabas became even more effective in terms of ministry and more men were given the opportunity to participate in the work being done. This disagreement had actually resulted in two ministry teams being formed, effectively doubling the evangelistic capacity of Paul and Barnabas.

Paul, with his new partner Silas in tow, ended up returning to some of the cities he and Barnabas had visited before, including Derby and Lystra. It was in Lystra that Paul came into contact with a young man named Timothy. While you most likely recognize this name and know that Timothy would later be mentored by Paul and become one of his most trusted companions, Theophilus, the man to whom the Book of Acts was written, would not have known anything about him. So, Luke’s description of Paul’s first encounter with this young man would have come across as nothing more than a fortunate coincidence. Paul just happened to meet Timothy in Lystra and Timothy had just happened to be a Greek who had become a follower of Christ. We are not told how Timothy came to faith, but it might have been the result of Paul and Barnabas’ first visit to the city. Paul would later write a letter to Timothy, inferring that this young man had been taught the Hebrew Scriptures since he was child. It is most likely that he had been raised in a Gentile home that feared God. In other words, they were worshipers of Yahweh, the God of the Jews, and had become proselytes to the Jewish faith.

14 But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. 15 You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. – 2 Timothy 3:14-15 NLT

Paul indicates that it was Timothy’s indoctrination into the Hebrew Scriptures, at a very early age, that had informed him about the Messiah, and better prepared him to accept the message of Jesus as the Messiah when he heard it. Evidently, Timothy’s mother and grandmother had come to faith first. Paul refers to this in the first of two letters he eventually wrote to Timothy.

I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. – 2 Timothy 1:5 NLT

Luke’s description of Paul running into this young man may sound serendipitous, but it was not. In fact, there is little that takes place in the Book of Acts that can be explained away as fate, chance, or luck. The Holy Spirit had come and, as a result, you can sense a divinely inspired influence over each and every event that takes place. Paul’s encounter with Timothy was not a chance occurrence that just happened to work out well. It had been preordained by God. We know that Timothy’s salvation was the work of God. He had been chosen and saved by God. Paul reminded Timothy of that very fact when he wrote to him, referring to the God “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9 ESV). Timothy had been set apart by God, not only for salvation, but for the work of spreading the gospel. And God had intended all along that Timothy would accompany Paul on His missionary journeys and play a significant role in the ongoing edification and strengthening of the churches that were being formed.

Timothy already had a good reputation among the believers in Lystra and Iconium. So, Paul, recognizing the potential in this young man and, most likely, influenced by the Spirit of God, decides to take Timothy with him. But before he could do that, Paul had to deal with what could end up being a potential problem. Timothy was a Greek or non-Jew, and while he was a God-fearing Gentile, he had never been circumcised. Paul had already had enough interactions with the Judaizers to know that their stance on uncircumcised Gentiles was going to be an issue. While the council in Jerusalem had determined that Gentile Christians should not be required to become Jewish proselytes, undergoing circumcision and adhering to the Mosaic law, Timothy’s case presented a different scenario. This was not about some isolated Gentile becoming a believer. This was about Paul, a Jew, taking Timothy, a Gentile, and placing him in a position of leadership within the church. This would have been a first. And Paul knew that if Timothy were to remain uncircumcised, it would invalidate his ministry credibility among those Jewish believers who were already sensitive about Gentile converts in the first place. So, in an attempt to circumvent potential conflict, Paul had Timothy circumcised. Paul did not want anything to interfere with Timothy’s ministry effectiveness. Circumcision, while painful, was a small price to pay to ensure that Timothy would be accepted by Gentiles and Jews alike. 

We must assume that it was after Timothy’s recovery that they they made their way back through the cities Paul and Barnabas had visited in their earlier missionary journey. And Luke makes it clear that one of the things Paul, Silas and Timothy did was to deliver the content of the letter written by the church in Jerusalem suggesting that the Gentile believers “abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20 ESV). And Luke tells us that “the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily” (Acts 16:5 ESV). The church continued to grow and prosper. More and more Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ. Paul and Barnabas had planted the seeds on their first visits to these cities, not they were reaping the harvest of new converts to Christianity.

And Paul provides us with a somewhat subtle insight into how the Spirit was leading and guiding these first missionaries. He simply states that the Holy Spirit had forbidden them to speak the Word in Asia. He doesn’t tell us how. He provides no details as to what the Holy Spirit said or how He communicated it. He only tells us that Paul, Silas and Barnabas were forbidden by the Spirit from going to Asia and were not allowed to go to Bithynia. The very next verses seems to provide a clue as to how the Spirit may have been communicating to them at this time. “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9 ESV). Like Peter and his vision of the sheet descending from heaven, Paul had his very own vision from God. And it became clear to him that they were to proceed to Macedonia. It would appear that Macedonia had not originally been on their agenda. They had obviously planned to go to Asia and Bithynia, but God had somehow made those non-options. Perhaps the only way Paul knew they weren’t supposed to go there is because God had so clearly provided an alternative destination: Macedonia. Whatever the case, Paul obeyed. And this would not be the last time Paul found himself changing course and adjusting his plans according to the leadership of the Spirit of God. He later wrote to the church in Rome:

I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. – Romans 1:13 ESV

Paul would elaborate further, indicating that part of the reason for his delay in coming to see them was that he felt an unmistakable call by God to take the gospel to those places where it had never been heard before.

20 My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. 21 I have been following the plan spoken of in the Scriptures, where it says,

“Those who have never been told about him will see,
    and those who have never heard of him will understand.”

22 In fact, my visit to you has been delayed so long because I have been preaching in these places. – Romans 15:20-22 NLT

Paul was being led by the Spirit of God. This leading was, at times, obvious and irrefutable. Other times, it was subtle and even invisible. But he knew that his life was in the hands of God and under the divine direction of the Spirit of God. Paul was learning to live his life with a sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading, looking for Him and listening to Him. When he had the vision, he took it as having come from God, “concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:10 ESV). He was living his life with a desire to focus all his efforts on the Kingdom of God, the cause of Christ, the ministry of sharing the gospel and the joy of seeing Gentiles come to faith in Christ. So, it was easy for him to see each and every event in his life as somehow tied to his calling and commission. Oh, that we would live with that same attitude of urgency and sensitivity to the Spirit’s movement in and around our lives.

 

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

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

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

Grace For Godliness.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. – Titus 2:11-15 ESV

Paul has just given Titus detailed descriptions of the kind of conduct he is to expect from those who have been exposed to sound doctrine. But now, Paul makes it clear that it is not the teaching of sound doctrine that produces life change. An understanding of theology doesn’t save anyone. A good grasp on doctrine will never earn anyone a right standing with God. And it can’t truly transform anyone’s behavior. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day knew doctrine and theology, but Jesus regularly referred to them as hypocrites. They knew the Hebrew Scriptures, that prophesied about the coming of the Messiah, but failed to recognize Him when He stood right in front of them. The reason Paul emphasized the teaching of sound doctrine was because he knew that God had equipped each and every believer with the capacity to apply that doctrine to their lives and experience true life change. And it was all because “the grace of God has appeared” (Titus 2:11 ESV). This is a clear reference to the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. Paul made a similar reference when he wrote his second letter to Timothy.

For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. – 2 Timothy 1:9-10 NLT

God showed us His grace by sending His son to provide us with a means of salvation. And notice what Paul says: God saved us and called us to live a holy life. That is exactly what Paul has just finished describing to Titus: what a holy life looks like for each and every believer in his local congregation. From the oldest to the youngest, male and female, and even bondservants, there was an expectation of godly behavior made possible by the grace of God. Jesus came, not only to bring salvation, but sanctification, and Paul describes it this way: “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12 ESV).

In other words, the salvation provided for us by the grace of God and made possible through the death of His Son, is not to be viewed as some kind of entry ticket to heaven. It isn’t a future pass into His Kingdom that has no present significance. No, Paul makes it clear that the grace of God includes our present and ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ. We are to grow in godliness – in the present age. Paul even seems to indicate that heaven is not to be our hope, but the return of Jesus Christ is. We are to “look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed” (Titus 2:13 NLT). It is the hope of that promise that should motivate us to live godly lives here and now. But it is the grace of God that provides us with the power we need to pull it off. The apostle Peter reminds us: “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

Jesus Christ died for us, not just to get us into heaven, but to redeem us from the power of sin. And that process begins in this lifetime, not the next. Paul clearly states: “He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds” (Titus 2:14 NLT). Committed to doing good deeds when? In heaven? No, right here, right now. Jesus Himself stated: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). That abundant life begins at the point of salvation, not when we arrive in heaven. It is an ongoing process of transformation that takes place from the moment we place our faith in Jesus as Savior, and it will continue until He returns or the Father takes us home at the point of death. And Paul was so confident in God’s promise to transform each and every one of His children into the likeness of Christ, that he told the believers in Philippi: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT).

Titus was to teach these truths to his people. He was to demand that they live lives of godliness, not in their own strength, but in the power and grace of God. Life change is possible. Character transformation is expected of each and every believer. And as far as Paul was concerned, a lack of change within the life of a professing believer was to be met with rebuke, not indifference. The author of Hebrews told his audience, “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food” (Hebrews 5:12 NLT). Paul had to tell the believers in Corinth, “when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT). Spiritual growth in the life of a believer is not optional. Life transformation is an undeniable expectation and unavoidable outcome of the grace of God. Jesus did not die to leave us like we are. He set us free from slavery to sin. Paul provides the believers in Rome with these powerful words of reminder:

Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. – Romans 6:12-14 NLT

The grace of God has set us free from the power of sin. We live under the freedom of God’s grace as provided by the death and resurrection of His Son. And Paul goes on to say, “Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living” (Romans 6:17-18 NLT). We have been given the grace to live godly lives. So, let’s do it.

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

God-Reliant.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. – 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 ESV

Paul has just finished talking about the affliction he has suffered as a result of his ministry and the comfort he has received from God. He willingly accepted the first and gladly praised God for the second. And he wants the Corinthians to know that his knowledge regarding suffering and affliction is firsthand and not academic. He knows what he is talking about. So he refers to a real-life incident of which they seemed to have some knowledge. “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia” (2 Corinthians 1:8 ESV). We do not know exactly what occasion Paul is referring to, but we know that his life and ministry were marked by regular persecution and difficulty. Later on in this same letter, Paul gives an autobiographical glimpse into the kinds of trials and tribulations he had suffered on behalf of Christ.

Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches. – 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 NLT

Whatever happened in Asia, it was bad enough to make Paul and his companions question whether they would make it out alive. “We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it” (2 Corinthians 1:8b NLT). This had been an occasion when Paul felt like he had received a death sentence and was going to end up martyred for the cause of Christ. This provides us with an insight into how Paul viewed his life and ministry. While he knew that his affliction was to be expected and viewed as nothing more than partaking of the sufferings of Christ, he was human and felt the same apprehension any normal man would when facing death. He never knew the outcome of his work on behalf of Christ. It could end well or it could turn out poorly. He had experienced both outcomes. But he had also experienced the comfort of God, which made it possible for him to continue his ministry with boldness and confidence.

Paul had even learned to accept the possibility of death with a certain degree of confident assurance, because it caused him to rely even more greatly on God. The possibility of death was a real possibility in Asia, but it had a positive impact on his life. The “sentence of death” hanging over their heads caused them to put all their trust in God – “we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9 NLT). The promise of the resurrection comes into much clearer focus when facing death. There comes a time in every person’s life when they have to come face to face with death, and there is little they can do to stop it. And there is nothing they can do to impact what happens after death. Yet Paul had a confidence that, because he believed in the resurrected Christ, he would experience life after death, and one day enjoy receiving his resurrected body. As he wrote to the Corinthians in his first letter, “For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NLT).

But Paul’s reliance upon and confidence in God didn’t stop with his assurance of life after death. It was the promise of the resurrection that gave Paul his courage to face the trials and difficulties of life with boldness. He knew his future was in good hands. He didn’t need to fear death, so he could live his life with a sense of abandonment. He even told the believers in Philippi:

But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy. – Philippians 2:17 NLT

He told his young protege, Timothy:

Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you. As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing. – 2 Timothy 4:5-8 NLT

Paul could suffer through all the afflictions and difficulties that came with his job because he trusted in God. He had not only experienced the comfort of God, he had been an eye-witness to the salvation of God. God’s intervention and protection gave him confidence. “And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us” (2 Corinthians 1:10 NLT). And Paul also realized that it was the prayers of the saints that played a big part in the success of his ongoing ministry and God’s miraculous provision for and protection of him. So he encouraged the Corinthians to keep up their prayers on his behalf. They were partners in his ministry because they lifted him up before God. They were his helpers because they prayed for him. There was little they could do to assist Paul physically because of the distance between them. But they could pray, asking God to do what they could do. Prayer is a form of dependence upon God. In prayer, we are asking Him to do what only He can do. We are placing ourselves at His mercy and submitting ourselves to His care. Paul was a firm believer in God-reliance. He was learning to trust God for anything and everything, including his very life. Difficulties are designed to make us dependent upon God. Trials have a way of forcing us to trust Him. Afflictions can be perfect opportunities to experience His affection. It is in the daily affairs of life that God intends for us to see the faithful expression of his love.

Spirit of Power.

Because of this I remind you to rekindle God’s gift that you possess through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control … Protect that good thing entrusted to you, through the Holy Spirit who lives within us. – 2 Timothy 1:6-7, 14 NET

Paul had a special affection for Timothy. He looked on him as his son in the faith. But he knew that others had played a role in Timothy’s spiritual development. It is clear that Timothy had been positively influenced by his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois. They had raised him to fear and love God and had instructed him in the Scriptures. At one point in this same letter, Paul reminds Timothy, “You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15 NET). These two matriarchs had played a major role in Timothy’s life, preparing him for his inevitable encounter with the gospel and his acceptance of it.

But Paul held a special place in his heart for Timothy, having been there when Timothy received his commission for the ministry of the gospel. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul reminded him, “Do not neglect the spiritual gift you have, given to you and confirmed by prophetic words when the elders laid hands on you” (1 Timothy 4:14 NET). The elders had not given Timothy his spiritual gift. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. But they confirmed him for his use of his gift with the laying on of hands and a special word from the Lord. In that same letter, Paul wrote, “I put this charge before you, Timothy my child, in keeping with the prophecies once spoken about you, in order that with such encouragement you may fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 1:18 NET).

Whether or not Paul’s reference to “God’s gift” and the laying on of hands in these verses is speaking of the same commissioning service is not clear. But it would seem that Paul is speaking of something else. In the verses above, Paul makes reference to him laying hands on Timothy. This may very well be speaking of the moment at which Timothy received the Holy Spirit. And it would appear that this may very well be the “gift” from God that Timothy is to rekindle or fan into flame. Like every other believer, Timothy had received the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit at his conversion. But, like every other believer, we can quench the Spirit’s activity in our lives through our unwillingness to submit to His control. Paul knew that Timothy was going to need the power of the Holy Spirit to effectively accomplish his role as a minister of the gospel. That is why he told him, “rekindle God’s gift that you possess”. Paul knew that Timothy was young and was struggling with fear and timidity. The news of Paul’s imprisonment had obviously upset him. Paul had obviously sensed that Timothy was wavering in his faith and struggling with doubt about his calling. So Paul reminded him, “God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7 NET). The gift that Timothy possessed was the Spirit of God – the Spirit of power, love and self-control. Timothy had all that he required to face the struggles of life as God’s spokesman and a minister of the gospel. He had the very Spirit of God living within him. So Paul told him, “do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me, a prisoner for his sake, but by God’s power accept your share of suffering for the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:8 NET). Paul didn’t sugar coat it for Timothy. He let him know that suffering was going to be a part of his life as a minister of the gospel. But he also reminded him that the Spirit of God was within him, providing the power he needed to face any and all circumstances. Paul wanted Timothy to have the same confidence that he had. “I am not ashamed, because I know the one in whom my faith is set and I am convinced that he is able to protect what has been entrusted to me until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12 NET). And he charged Timothy, “Protect that good thing entrusted to you, through the Holy Spirit who lives within us” (2 Timothy 1:14 NET).

Each and every one of us who are followers of Jesus Christ have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. At our conversion He took up residence within us. He is our guide, comforter, advocate, source of strength and prayer partner. He provides us with a divine power supply that is inexhaustible and inconceivable. It is the same power that helped create the universe and that raised Jesus from the dead. That power lives within us and is constantly available to us. It is that power that makes it possible for us to face the struggles and trials of life with boldness and confidence. God has  “called us to a holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:9 NET). We, like Timothy, have been commissioned by God to act as His ambassadors on earth. We are to take the message of the gospel to any and all we meet. We are to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, not our own strength. We are to remind ourselves daily that our future is secure and the very fact that the Spirit lives within us is a proof of our status as a child of God. We have the Spirit of power, love and self-control. We are lacking nothing. We have all we need to live the life we have been called to live, so let us do it with boldness, confidence, joy, and hope.

2 Chronicles 27-28, 2 Timothy 4

The Consequences of Compromise.

2 Chronicles 27-28, 2 Timothy 4

…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 2 Timothy 4:2-4 ESV

When Jotham took over the throne from his father, Uzziah, he was only 25-years old, but he would prove to be a king who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 27:1 ESV). He would become a powerful king, “because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 27:6 ESV). But sadly, he would refuse to enter the Temple of God, perhaps because his father, Uzziah, had been banned from entering it due to his leprosy. And while Jotham appears to have been a good and somewhat godly king, “the people still followed corrupt practices” (2 Chronicles 27:2 ESV). As king, he failed to lead the people well or influence them toward faithfulness to God. He compromised his God-given authority and allowed the sins of the people to go unchecked.

His son, Ahaz, would prove to be an even worse example as king. “He did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord…but walked in the ways of the kings of Israel” (2 Chronicles 27:1-2 ESV). Ahaz took the sin of compromise to a whole new level, making altars to Baal and even burning his own sons as sacrifices to false gods. And even when God brought punishment on Him for his sins, allowing the Syrians, Israelites, Edomites and Philistines to attack and defeat Judah, Ahaz “became yet more faithless to the Lord” (2 Chronicles 28:22 ESV). Rather than turn back to God, he worshiped the gods of the nations who had defeated him, and locked the doors of the Temple of God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The kings of Judah found themselves constantly surrounded by enemies. There were always threats to the security of their kingdom. Edomites, Philistines, Moabites, Syrians, Assyrians, and other nations were a constant presence and provided a real-life opportunity for the kings of Judah to either trust God and allow Him to provide protection, or to compromise their convictions and turn to someone or something else for deliverance. God had promised to be there for the people of Judah – if they would remain faithful and worship Him alone. But if they chose to worship other gods, He had vowed to punish them. He had warned the people of Israel that when they entered the Promised Land, they would need to completely eradicate the pagan nations that occupied the land. Otherwise, the people of God would be tempted to compromise their faith by worshiping the gods of their enemies. And that is exactly what happened. When faced with a difficulty, rather than trust God, Ahaz would turn to the Assyrians for help. When defeated by the Syrians, he would worship their gods rather than the one true God, justifying his actions by thinking, “because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me” (2 Chronicles 28:23 ESV). But his actions would prove futile, doing nothing more than provoking God to anger and bringing further judgment on himself. God would not tolerate his compromise. 

What does this passage reveal about man?

Compromise is always a danger for the people of God. We will always find ourselves surrounded and threatened by the enemies of God. That reality should never surprise us. But we need to recognize that our God is greater than our enemies and more powerful than any perceived threat on our existence. Ahaz could have placed his faith in God and allowed Him to provide deliverance in his time of need. He could have trusted God and watched as He miraculously stepped into his circumstances. But it was easier for Ahaz to compromise his convictions and place his faith elsewhere. Paul would warn Timothy that a time was coming when even Christians would compromise their convictions, rejecting sound teaching based on the Word of God, and seeking out teachers who would tell them what they want to hear. These people would go out of their way to find teachers and preachers willing to sell out the Word of God in order to peddle half-truths and outright lies that appealed to the personal passions and sinful desires of the masses. But Paul warned Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete and patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2 ESV). Paul wanted Timothy to stand firm and to fight the good fight, standing strong even while all those around him caved in and compromised their faith out of convenience and self-gratification. Paul wanted Timothy to keep the faith, always remembering that his reward was laid up for him in heaven – a crown of righteousness that would be awarded to him by Christ Himself. But many will fail to remain faithful. Many will give in to the temptation to compromise their faith. But even if we find ourselves standing alone and completely deserted by those who have claimed to be followers of Christ, we must take to heart the words of Paul. “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18 ESV).

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

Compromise is always a real possibility in my life. It is so much easier to give in than it is to stand firm. And my compromises can sometimes be very subtle and self-deceiving. I can find myself listening to the messages of this world and allowing them to make sense when, in reality, they stand diametrically opposed to the Word of God. When faced with difficulties, it is so easy to turn to someone or something else other than God. I can find myself placing my hope, faith, trust and confidence in the things of this world. Like Ahaz, I can convince myself that world’s ways really do work. But when I start trusting the ways of this world, I am no longer trusting God. I am compromising my convictions and placing my hope in the wrong things. I want to fight the good fight. I want to finish the race. And while there will always be the temptation to sell out and blend in to the world around me, I pray that God will give me the strength to stand firm, keeping my eye on the prize: “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 ESV).

Father, help me remain true to You regardless of whatever trials and troubles may come into my life. Don’t allow me to compromise my convictions or place my hope and trust in anything or anyone other than You. I can’t remain faithful without Your help. I need Your Holy Spirit’s strength to stay the course and to remain faithful to the end. Help me keep my eye on the prize and focused on the reward to come. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

2 Chronicles 25-26, 2 Timothy 3

The Power of Pride.

2 Chronicles 25-26, 2 Timothy 3

You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

Joash is replaced on the throne of Judah by his 25-year old son, Amaziah. We are told that this young man “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, yet not with a whole heart” (2 Chronicles 25:2 ESV). He was not entirely devoted to God. Early on in his reign, he hired 100,000 mercenaries from Israel, paying them each 100 talents of silver. But he was warned by a man of God not to follow through with his plan, but to trust God instead. “Why should you supposed that God will cast you down before the enemy? For God has power to help or to cast down” (2 Chronicles 25:8 ESV). Amaziah would listen to the warning and send the 100,000 Israelites away, and he would enjoy a great victory in battle. But God would also allow him to suffer the consequences of his ungodly alliance with Israel, when the mercenaries raided the unprotected cities of Judah while Amaziah was busy fighting the Edomites.

It doesn’t take long to see what the chronicler meant when he wrote that Amaziah did not display whole-hearted devotion to God. “After Amaziah came from striking down the Edomites, he brought the gods of the men of Seir and set them up as his gods and worshiped them” (2 Chronicles 25:14 ESV). This young man turned his back on God, and when warned by the man of God, he refused to listen. In his pride and inflated self-worth, he would challenge the Israelites to battle, and ultimately lose, because God stood against him. Sadly, his son, Uzziah, would follow in his footsteps. He would start out well, doing “what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” but he would end poorly, marked by pride, arrogance, and a facade of religious fervor.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Both Amaziah and Uziah were to have been God’s royal representatives. The king was to rule on God’s behalf, mediating the sovereignty and power of God. He was answerable to God. He was to protect and lead the people on behalf of God and according to His will, not his own. But Amaziah and Uziah both became full of themselves. Their God-given power and authority went to their heads. They overstepped their bounds and determined that they knew better than God. As kings, they had been told by God to obey His law. “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel” ( Deuteronomy 17:18-20 ESV). Keeping God’s law would prevent the king’s heart from becoming “lifted up above his brothers.” In other words, the Word of God, coupled with a healthy fear of God, would keep the king’s ego in check. But virtually every one of the kings of both Judah and Israel would struggle keeping this command of God. Their reigns would be marked by pride, disobedience, unfaithfulness, and the rejection of God. 

What does this passage reveal about man?

Uzziah was blessed by God. He benefited from having a spiritual mentor in the form of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. And we’re told  that “as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper” (2 Chronicles 26:5 ESV). He become strong and powerful. He enjoyed God’s help in battle. He amassed a powerful army and his fame spread throughout the land. But then we read these sobering words: “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Chronicles 26:16 ESV). His success went to his head. He began to see himself as the sole source of his own power and prestige. Soon it was not enough for him to be king. Now he wanted to be priest. So he entered the temple of the Lord and attempted to take on the role of the priest by burning incense to God. But like Saul, the first king of Israel, he would learn that this was not God’s will. God had established a divine order when it came to his kingdom. The king was to rule on behalf of God, the prophet was to speak on behalf of God, and the priest was to minister on behalf of God. And each was to act as a mediator between God and the covenant people. These three roles provided a kind of checks and balances in God’s kingdom. We see repeatedly that when the king would stray, God would send His prophet to warn them and call them back. When the king sinned, he had to offer sacrifices for his sin through the priest of God. He could not do it on his own. But Uzziah decided that he was fully capable of performing both roles. Even when he was confronted by the priests with his open rebellion against God, rather than repent, he became angry. And God struck him with leprosy. His condition would end up separating him from the people of Judah, as he was forced to live in isolation for the rest of his life. But worse than that, he could no longer enter into the Temple of the Lord, separating Him from God and preventing him from being able to have his sins atoned for.

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

Paul warned Timothy that “in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Timothy 3:1 ESV). He told him that, as time progressed, things were going to get progressively worse. These “last days” would be marked by a litany of ungodly characteristics. People will love themselves, money, materialism, and pleasure – all more than they love God. Through their lifestyle, they will actually scoff at God; but will also put on a facade that they are actually religious. They will have the appearance of godliness, but deny the One who could provide the power to make it real in their lives. Paul describes a people who claim to be religious, but who are self-centered and narcissistic. Their world will revolve around themselves and their own desires. They will have all the appearances of godliness, but lack any of the power that should come with it. Uzziah attempted to burn incense in the Temple. Burning incense was a God-ordained activity, but Uzziah was doing it in an ungodly manner. And doing godly things in an ungodly manner will never bring honor from God. He is never pleased with outward attempts at godliness that are not based on obedience to His will and in keeping with His Word. Going through the religious motions means nothing to God. He wants our hearts – our whole hearts. Uzziah’s main problem was that he was not whole-hearted in his devotion to God. He loved himself. He loved his power. He loved his influence. He became prideful and his pride would lead to his own destruction. The king was to keep a copy of the Law of God with him at all times, reading it daily and obeying it faithfully. I am to keep God’s Word with me at all times. Paul reminds me, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV). God’s Word is the greatest antidote to pride. It reminds us of His power, holiness, and righteousness, but also of His love, mercy, and amazing grace.

Father, self-love is an ever-present reality in my life. I can so easily become infatuated with my own self-worth and take credit for my own successes. But I have to constantly be reminded that You are the source of not only my existence, but of my salvation. I am nothing without You. I can do nothing without You. Please protect me from becoming like those whom Paul describes. I don’t want to repeat the mistakes of Amaziah and Uzziah. May I learn to love and serve You whole-heartedly and willingly all the days of my life. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org