I, the Lord…I Am He

1 Listen to me in silence, O coastlands;
    let the peoples renew their strength;
let them approach, then let them speak;
    let us together draw near for judgment.

Who stirred up one from the east
    whom victory meets at every step?
He gives up nations before him,
    so that he tramples kings underfoot;
he makes them like dust with his sword,
    like driven stubble with his bow.
He pursues them and passes on safely,
    by paths his feet have not trod.
Who has performed and done this,
    calling the generations from the beginning?
I, the Lord, the first,
    and with the last; I am he.

The coastlands have seen and are afraid;
    the ends of the earth tremble;
    they have drawn near and come.
Everyone helps his neighbor
    and says to his brother, “Be strong!”
The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith,
    and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil,
saying of the soldering, “It is good”;
    and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved.

But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
    and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
    I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
10 fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

11 Behold, all who are incensed against you
    shall be put to shame and confounded;
those who strive against you
    shall be as nothing and shall perish.
12 You shall seek those who contend with you,
    but you shall not find them;
those who war against you
    shall be as nothing at all.
13 For I, the Lord your God,
    hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
    I am the one who helps you.”

14 Fear not, you worm Jacob,
    you men of Israel!
I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord;
    your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
15 Behold, I make of you a threshing sledge,
    new, sharp, and having teeth;
you shall thresh the mountains and crush them,
    and you shall make the hills like chaff;
16 you shall winnow them, and the wind shall carry them away,
    and the tempest shall scatter them.
And you shall rejoice in the Lord;
    in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.

17 When the poor and needy seek water,
    and there is none,
    and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them;
    I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers on the bare heights,
    and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
    and the dry land springs of water.
19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
    the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
    the plane and the pine together,
20 that they may see and know,
    may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel has created it. – Isaiah 41:1-20 ESV

Judah was in an unenviable position, in both a physical and spiritual sense. It seems that they were located in the very epicenter of a region that attracted conquering nations like honey draws bees.

Assyrian domain.jpgIf you look at any maps that reveal the extent of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, you find Judah positioned precariously in the middle of all the action. The threat of defeat at the hands of more powerful nations was a constant reality. If it weren’t the Assyrians, it would be the Babylonians.

Babylon's domain.jpgAnd God has already warned Hezekiah that Jerusalem would eventually fall to the Babylonians, who weren’t even a major player on the scene at the time.

But even more unenviable than Judah’s geographic location was its position in respect to Yahweh. They had been unfaithful to the Faithful One. They had repeatedly disobeyed Him and dishonored His name by worshiping false gods. And God, by virtue of His holiness and righteousness, was obligated to punish His people for their serial spiritual adultery.

And yet, God has provided His rebellious people with a somewhat surprising message of assurance, saying, “Comfort, comfort my people” (Isaiah 40:1 ESV). In spite of all that the people of Judah had done to offend a holy God, they would find Him to be compassionate and gracious. He promised to one day restore them.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31 NLT

It would have been easy for the people of Judah to look at their circumstances and lose heart. They were a seemingly insignificant nation surrounded by more powerful enemies who were intent on their destruction. What was Judah when compared to the world-dominating power of Assyria? What hope did they have when the ten tribes of Israel to the north had fallen to Sennacherib and his forces? But in chapter 41, God assures His people that they have nothing to fear from these other nations. They were mere pawns in His hands, and their power was insignificant when compared with His.

God summons as witnesses all the Gentile nations of the world. Like a prosecuting attorney in a court of law, He addresses them, delivering in no uncertain terms a defense of His sovereignty.

“Who has stirred up this king from the east,
    rightly calling him to God’s service?
Who gives this man victory over many nations
    and permits him to trample their kings underfoot?
With his sword, he reduces armies to dust.
    With his bow, he scatters them like chaff before the wind.
He chases them away and goes on safely,
    though he is walking over unfamiliar ground.”– Isaiah 41:2-3 NLT

In response to these questions from God, the Gentile nations would have most likely stated that the pagan gods of the Assyrians and Babylonians were responsible for their victories. But God’s questions are intended to be rhetorical, and He provides the only correct answer: “I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he” (Isaiah 41:4 ESV).

And yet, the pagan nations continue to place all their hopes in their false gods. They attempt to manufacture some semblance of security just as they manufacture the idols they worship.

The idol makers encourage one another,
    saying to each other, “Be strong!”
The carver encourages the goldsmith,
    and the molder helps at the anvil.
    “Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
    then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. – Isaiah 41:6-7 NLT

But these man-made totems will prove no match for the Lord of Hosts. They have no power. And any power that the kings of these pagan nations wield has been given to them by God. As God revealed to Daniel in a dream:

“Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.” – Daniel 2:20-21 NLT

So, God turns His attention to the people of Judah, reminding them of their unique position as His chosen people. Of all people on the earth, they were to be envied, despite all that was happening around them. The nations beyond the seas had no god to save them. Their idols would prove powerless in the face of the Assyrian and Babylonian armies. But Judah had no reason to fear because they belonged to God.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10 NLT

If they looked at their circumstances, they were bound to experience fear and discouragement. But, as God’s people, they were to look to Him. They were to trust in Him. Because He had promised to do what no other god could do: To strengthen them, help them and hold them up. They had nothing to fear, even though they were surrounded by more powerful enemies because God was in control and was on their side.

Those who attack you
    will come to nothing.
For I hold you by your right hand—
    I, the Lord your God.
And I say to you,
    ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.” – Isaiah 41:12-13 NLT

Notice what God tells them. They would be attacked. Their enemies were real, and the prospect of warfare was as well. God didn’t promise them freedom from warfare, but the assurance of His help. And the apostle Paul reminds us that we can expect warfare in our lives as well.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. – Ephesians 6:10-13 NLT

God promises the people of Judah that a day is coming when the tables will be turned. They will become the victor rather than the victim. The lowly “worm” will become the aggressor, wreaking havoc on its enemies and gladly glorying in the greatness of God.

Then you will rejoice in the Lord.
    You will glory in the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 41:16 NLT

God tells them that, just when things are looking like they couldn’t get any worse, He will show up.

“When the poor and needy search for water and there is none,
    and their tongues are parched from thirst,
then I, the Lord, will answer them.
    I, the God of Israel, will never abandon them.” – Isaiah 41:17 NLT

At their greatest moment of need, their great God will show up. And He will provide for them in ways that are beyond their imaginations. He will work a miracle that leaves no doubt that their salvation was divinely ordained and orchestrated. And God tells them why He is going to act on their behalf.

“I am doing this so all who see this miracle
    will understand what it means—
that it is the Lord who has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel who created it.” – Isiah 41:20 NLT

God’s greatest works always appear at our greatest moments of need. It is in our periods of most intense crisis that God reveals His power and proves His faithfulness to us. It is when we need Him most that God tends to show up best. It is in those times that He intervenes and says, “I, the Lord…I am He.”

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

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Branches, Pots, Pillars and Walls.

And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.”

The word of the Lord came to me a second time, saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.” Then the Lord said to me, “Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the Lord, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah. And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.” – Jeremiah 1:11-19 ESV

Jeremiah must have looked like he needed a bit of convincing. Of course, God knew Jeremiah’s heart and was fully aware that just because Jeremiah was called didn’t mean he was convinced of and committed to that calling. So, God gave His reluctant prophet a few signs to confirm that what He was saying was true. These two signs are similar to what God did when Moses expressed reluctance at God’s call to be the deliver of Israel.  Moses had his doubts. He was unconvinced that the people of Israel would listen to what God had given him to say.

But Moses protested again, “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The Lord never appeared to you’?” – Exodus 4:1 NLT

So, God gave Moses a sign. He asked Moses what he was holding in his hand and Moses, responded, “A shepherd’s staff” (Exodus 4:2 NLT).

“Throw it down on the ground,” the Lord told him. So Moses threw down the staff, and it turned into a snake! Moses jumped back. – Exodus 4:3 NLT

Moses couldn’t believe his eyes. He jumped back in fright and astonishment. He hadn’t seen this one coming. But God was not done yet.

Then the Lord told him, “Reach out and grab its tail.” So Moses reached out and grabbed it, and it turned back into a shepherd’s staff in his hand. – Exodus 4:4 NLT

In a similar way, God asked Jeremiah what he saw, and he responded, “I see an almond branch.” Whether this was a vision or an actual almond tree, we are not told. I tend to believe that God simply pointed out a nearby tree and almond trees were plentiful in that area of the world at that time. So Jeremiah saw the almond tree, which is one of the first trees to bloom in the spring. God was going to use this common sight and turn it into a constant reminder of His faithfulness to do what He has said He will do. The Hebrew word for almond is shaqed and it is very similar to a key word God uses in the very next line: shaqad. This Hebrew word mean “watch”. God told Jeremiah, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12 ESV). Every time Jeremiah saw an almond (shaqed) tree, he would be reminded that God is watchful (shaqad) and will do what He has promised to do. Jeremiah could trust God.

But God was not done. Once again, He asked Jeremiah, ““What do you see?” And Jeremiah responded, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north” (Jeremiah 1:13 ESV). This time, Jeremiah was shown a pot of boiling water that was tipped precariously, as if its scalding contents were about to spill out. And when Jeremiah told God what he saw, God provide its meaning: “Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land” (Jeremiah 1:14 ESV). What followed was God’s description of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Judah. Remember, God had given Jeremiah a visual prompt in the form of the almond tree, that whatever He says will happen, will happen. And now, He was telling Jeremiah exactly what was going to happen. 

It is interesting to note that God simply tells Jeremiah, “ I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north … and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 1:15 ESV). We know that it was the Babylonians who would eventually come against Judah. But when God gave Jeremiah this prophetic word, they were not a threat. It was the Assyrians who were the bully on the block at the time Jeremiah received his call and commission. But they would eventually be replaced by the Babylonians. The Neo-Babylonians would actually be a confederation of northern tribes that join forces in a massive army under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar. They would come against the cities of Judah and eventually establish a siege against the capital, Jerusalem.

God provided Jeremiah a glimpse into Judah’s not-so-pretty future. And He tells Jeremiah exactly why this was going to be their fate.

And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. – Jeremiah 1:16 ESV

Unfaithfulness. That would be the ultimate cause of Judah’s fall, just as it had been for Israel, the northern kingdom. And it is important to note that this word of warning came to Jeremiah when Josiah was king of Judah. He was the reformer-king. Unlike most of the other kings of Judah, he was described in positive terms: “He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David. He did not turn away from doing what was right” (2 Kings 22:2 NLT). He ordered repairs to the temple and in the process of doing the work, a copy of the book of the law was found. When Josiah heard what was written in the law, he was devastated. He realized that the people of Judah had been living in disobedience to God’s commands for years. So, he set out to change all that. He instituted a series of important reforms, calling the people back to the worship of Yahweh. He had the law read to the people and then he “renewed the covenant in the Lord’s presence. He pledged to obey the Lord by keeping all his commands, laws, and decrees with all his heart and soul. In this way, he confirmed all the terms of the covenant that were written in the scroll, and all the people pledged themselves to the covenant” (2 Kings 23:3 NLT).

So, when God gave Jeremiah the vision of the boiling pot, and warned him of the destruction to come, it was at a time in Judah when things were a spiritual upswing. Josiah was making some real progress in bringing about change. But God knew better. He knew the hearts of the people and was fully aware that much of what was happening was external in nature. The hearts of the people had not and would not change. Their unfaithfulness was inevitable and God’s judgment was unavoidable.

And God gives Jeremiah his marching orders: “Get up and prepare for action. Go out and tell them everything I tell you to say. Do not be afraid of them, or I will make you look foolish in front of them” (Jeremiah 1:17 NLT). Not exactly what you might call a pep talk. God let Jeremiah know that this was not going to be a walk in the park. He was going to face opposition. The people were not going to like what he had to say. Jeremiah was not going to win any popularity contests or be invited to a lot of dinner parties. But God let’s Jeremiah know that he will not be alone or left on his own.

“I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.” – Jeremiah 1:18-19 ESV

God was going to equip Jeremiah to handle the task ahead of him. God uses three images to assure Jeremiah that he will have what it takes to do what he has been called to do. God tells this reluctant and, probably shell-shocked young man that He will make him like a fortified city, able to resist the onslaught of the enemy. He will be like an iron pillar, strong and able to remain upright under the greatest of pressures. He will also be like a bronze wall, impervious to the arrows of those who would seek to do him harm. Jeremiah’s job was not going to be easy, but God was going to be with him.

It is not easy to speak the truth of God. It never has been. What Jeremiah was going to have to tell the people of Judah was not going to be easy to say and it would be even harder to receive. The idea that God would destroy them would be repugnant to the people of Judah. Any calls to reform or repentance would be met with deaf ears. The prophet of God is rarely ever met with open arms by the people of God. And that is true today as it was back in Jeremiah’s day. In fact, Vance Havener sarcastically describes the modern church as a “non-prophet organization” (Vance Havner, cited by Dennis J. Hester, compiler, in The Vance Havner Quotebook, p. 179.). We don’t like to hear the truth. We don’t want to be told that what we’re doing is wrong or out of step with God’s will. We don’t like to be called on the carpet or have our sins exposed. In fact, Paul told Timothy that a day was coming “when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3 NLT). And that day is here.

Jeremiah had his work cut out for him. But God was going to be with him. He just needed to be obedient and faithful to his calling, and God would do the rest. Jeremiah was not to seek the favor of men, but to pursue faithfulness to God.

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

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

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

God In Heaven.

O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying,If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.” And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy—behold, they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit. O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. – 2 Chronicles 20:6-12 ESV

Where do you turn when everything looks bleak and desperate? What is your natural reaction when difficulty shows up in your life? For Jehoshaphat, at least on this occasion, it was to turn to God. Jehoshaphat was the king of Judah and he was a reformer king. In other words, he had gone out of his way to bring the people of Israel back to God. He had personally traveled throughout the land of Judah, carrying a message of repentance and reform to the common people. He had commissioned the judges telling them, “ judge not for man but for the Lord. He is with you in giving judgment” (2 Chronicles 19:6 ESV). He had appointed Levites, priests and the heads of families to act as judges for the people as well, telling them, “Thus you shall do in the fear of the Lord, in faithfulness, and with your whole heart” (2 Chronicles 19:9 ESV). And yet, despite all of Jehoshaphat’s reforms, we read that “the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle” (2 Chronicles 20:1 ESV). He had been faithful and done what was right and now he found himself surrounded by his enemies. This is the kind of circumstance that would cause most of us to ask, “Why?” We would want to know why God was doing this to us. We would demand to know what we had done to deserve this fate after all we had done for Him. We would see the circumstances before us as unfair and undeserved. But instead of complaining, questioning, or second-guessing God, Jehoshaphat turned to Him for help. “Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord” (2 Chronicles 20:3-4 ESV).

Jehoshaphat’s name means “The Lord will rule (judge)” and it seems that he actually believed that statement. He took His problem to the God in heaven. He appealed to the Lord God, the ruler and judge over all creation. As far as Jehoshaphat was concerned, God was not just the Lord over Judah, He was the king of the entire universe. “You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you” (2 Chronicles 20:6 ESV). God had given them the land in which they lived. He had done so in keeping with His promise to Abraham. It was their land by God-given right. And now that they found themselves surrounded by their enemies, they were going to need God’s help. Jehoshaphat appealed to God, reminding Him of the prayer Solomon had prayed when he had dedicated the temple in Jerusalem – “If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save” (2 Chronicles 20:9 ESV). That time had come. Disaster was at the door. The enemy was at the gate. So the people were crying out to God, counting on the fact that He would hear and save.

Verse 12 records two important admissions made by Jehoshaphat. He said, “we are powerless” and “we do not know what to do”. He admitted their weakness and confessed that they were clueless as to what to do. Too often, these two things are the hardest for us to admit as believers. We tend to try to solve all our problems in our own strength and according to our own wisdom. We come up with our own solutions and attempt to power our way through our problems in our own strength. But Jehoshaphat and the people owned up to their inadequacies. Far too often we find it difficult to say, “I can’t” and “I don’t know”. We see weakness and not knowing what to do as faults. Yet the apostle Paul said, “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT). And Paul was able to say this because God had told him, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT).

Not knowing what to do and lacking the strength to do anything are assets, not liabilities, for the believer in Christ. When we are weak, God is strong. When we don’t know what to do, God offers His infinite wisdom. He is never at a loss as to what to do and never lacks the power to see that it is done. But we must turn to Him. We must lean on Him. We must desire to see His power work through us and for us. We must learn to see difficulties as opportunities to see God’s power displayed and to learn His direction for our lives. When we can’t, He can. When we don’t know what to do, He always does. He is the God in heaven.

1 Timothy 1:12-20

I Was Wrong, But God Made Me Right.

1 Timothy 1:12-20

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

Paul understood what it was like to have a strong opinion about something. He also knew that passion and zeal did not make someone right. The individuals who were negatively influencing the believers in Ephesus and causing problems for Timothy were all convinced that they were right. Paul describes them as wanting “to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently” (1 Timothy 1:7 NLT). At one time, Paul had been much like them. He had been an expert in the law and a Pharisee. He described himself as “a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today” (Acts 26:3 NLT). In his mind, all that he had done during that time in his life was done so to honor God. He did what he did with confidence and a clear conscience, including blaspheming the name of Christ and persecuting the people of God. But as Paul looked back on his life, he recognized that it all had been done “in ignorance and unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13 NLT).

So what’s Paul’s point? He wants Timothy to know that even those individuals who are causing confusion and conflict within the church in Ephesus are not hopeless cases. They are not lost causes. If God could extend mercy and grace to Paul, He can certainly do the same with those who “have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions” (1 Timothy 1:6 NLT). It seems that Paul is attempting to encourage Timothy to trust in the grace and mercy of God in the midst of all that he was facing. God had been able to take a man like Paul, known as Saul in those days, and miraculously change his heart and his life through an encounter with His Son, Jesus Christ. Saul had met Christ on the road to Damascus and had never been the same again. “Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:14 NLT). Paul reminds his young disciple that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15 NLT), and he classifies himself as “the worst of them all!” But God had mercy. God extended grace. Paul’s life had not been beyond the reach of God. His life had not been too far gone for Jesus to transform. He had not been irredeemable. Paul’s life had become “a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16b NLT).

Paul gave Timothy a timely reminder: “All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God” (1 Timothy 1:17 NLT). He was never to lose sight of that fact – in spite of all the opposition, confusion, setbacks, false teachers, uncommitted congregants, limited converts, and trying circumstances. He gave Timothy one simple directive: “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear” (1 Timothy 1:19 NLT). Faith in what? Faith in Christ. Jesus Christ was the one who had made it possible for men to be made right with God. He was the one who provided redemption and restoration with the Father. It was through Him that all men have access to God’s incredible mercy, grace, power, presence, and provision. Paul wanted Timothy to remain faithful to Christ and faithfully fulfill his work as God’s minister of the Gospel. Some had failed to do so and Paul used them as an example and a warning.  Hymenaeus and Alexander, evidently believers and members of the local fellowship there in Ephesus, had not remained faithful to Christ. They had violated their consciences, somehow disobeying what they knew to be true and right and, as a result, had shipwrecked their faith. Their lives were spiritually “on the rocks,” out of commission and under God’s discipline. Faithfulness is the key to preventing spiritual failure. God was going to use Timothy in a powerful way, but Timothy had to remain faithful to Christ and focused on God’s power to extend grace and mercy to all, and redeem even the worst of sinners. Timothy’s God was still on His throne. The same Christ who had taken Saul of Tarsus and transformed him into Paul the apostle, was working in the city of Ephesus. He’s working in our city as well. So we must remain faithful.

Father, like Timothy, we sometimes face opposition and find ourselves tempted to give in or even give up. But Your plan is unstoppable. Your grace and mercy are without limit. We just need to remain faithful to Your Son and dependent upon Your power. There is no situation so difficult or individual so sinful that You cannot remedy or redeem. Keep us focused on You, not our circumstances. Amen.

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