God and Government #3

October 20, 2016

Here is the third lesson. I will post the last one next week. Thanks for the feedback so far! 

Our study takes us next to Ephesus and the text of 1 Timothy 2:1-4. Included here is a snippet from Paul to Timothy—instructions for him to pass along to the Ephesian church:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 

As we continue to allow Scripture to inform us and shape our thinking/relationship with those who govern us, these words can further our understanding.

Ephesus

It is not unexpected to find Paul addressing this topic in the Ephesian context. Externally this was a church born (so-to-speak) out of a riot (Acts 19:23-41). Civil unrest had accompanied this church planting—so the idea that they would need clear instructions about not participating in such, but rather in praying for those in authority is not surprising. Further in unpacking the internal situation of the church in Ephesus—it was in turmoil due to false teaching (likely among leadership/elders) creating strife among its members, particularly young widows. A quick look at the verses following our immediate context demonstrate the situation—men needing to direct their hands toward God in prayer and not toward each other in anger and disputing. Women needing to act in accordance to God’s will in demeanor and in worship practice. In the larger picture, those in this church had issues with God-ordained authority. They were not living peaceful lives. For this to spill over and into their community (especially after already being connected to a riot) would not accomplish God’s will. So Paul urges a prayerful stance be taken toward all people, but specifically for kings and those who govern in order to live peacefully and quietly in their community. Note the connection here—peaceful lives could result from praying for/honoring those who govern. Becoming involved in civil unrest most certainly would not. One Bible commentator wrote:

“For kings and all who are in authority” The Bible does not teach the divine right of kings, but it does teach the divine will for organized government (cf. Rom. 13:1,2). The theological issue is not whether we agree with our government or whether our government is fair. Believers must pray for governmental officials because they are in God’s will in a fallen world. Believers know from Rom.13:1,2 that all authority is given by God, therefore, as followers of Christ we respect it. This statement is all the more powerful when you realize Paul is asking believers to pray for governmental leaders like Nero! (Bob Utley from Bible.org)

This was the challenge for the Ephesian Christian, but it also remains a challenge for us as well. We may not always agree with those who govern us. We may not have supported them politically. But we have been instructed to pray for them and to not engage in any civil unrest, but instead strive to live peaceful and quiet lives.

This is What Pleases God

Just in case we question this teaching, Paul clearly informs that this approach to those who govern us is “good” and is what “pleases God.” Again, this should not be unexpected. It is consistent with the other New Testament teaching on this topic (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17) and is exactly the approach Jesus, himself, adopted.

In using the terms “peaceful and quiet” Paul emphasized the importance of both being free from external strife and from inner turmoil. Christians must demonstrate their faith by calm living, which can be quite challenging in times of crisis and tension, but as in Ephesus—is so crucial to pointing people toward the kingdom of God and the hope it offers. Instead of turmoil our focus should be on godliness and holiness.

Why this is good and so pleasing to God is revealed in the text—God is eager for all men to be saved! This salvation comes only through Jesus. Quiet and peaceful lives; those free of the turmoil and tension of the world; those focused on the values of the kingdom instead of the vices of the world are reflective of him and will draw people to him. Conversely, lives full of unrest, engaged in disputing behavior, and demonstrating anything but peace cannot lift up Jesus.

Fairly straightforward message here—Christians are to be engaged in the kingdom business of seeking and saving the lost. Becoming involved in the kinds of disputes that arise out of political strife (or church strife for that matter) will hinder this pursuit. So, pray for those who govern and do your best to live quietly and peacefully while seeking first the kingdom of God. This is what is good and pleases God. Coming to this knowledge of truth releases strife—for everyone!

A second-generation restoration leader among churches of Christ, David Lipscomb, had very strong opinions concerning the Christian’s relationship with government. He was an influential editor of The Gospel Advocate during the early 20th century. He wrote a book entitled Civil Government. Here is an excerpt:

The principles in the Sermon on the Mount are diverse from and antagonistic to the principles that have obtained and must ever obtain in all human governments. No human government can possibly be maintained and conducted on these principles laid down for the government of Christ’s subjects in his kingdom. The spirit that prompts the practice of the principles is opposed to the spirit needful for the maintenance of human governments. The two spirits cannot dwell in the same heart, nor the same temple, or institution. A man cannot be gentle, forgiving, doing good for evil, turning the other cheek when one is smitten, praying ‘for them that despitefully use and persecute’ him, and at the same time execute wrath and vengeance on the evil-doer, as the human government is ordained to do, and as it must do to sustain its authority and maintain its existence.

While we may or may not agree with him—I borrow his words to highlight that the purpose of God’s kingdom and the purpose of governments rarely intersect. In this political season—let’s more than ever depend upon and trust in God, quietly going about pursuing his will, disengaging from the anger/confusion swirling around the election, while praying for those who govern us. It is what pleases God and will accomplish more good in the end. This we can learn from Ephesus.

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When Bad Things Happen to Good Churches

January 23, 2015

Being in the preacher world I am well acquainted with bad things happening to good churches.

Division; immorality; financial difficulties; unhealthy leadership; strife and friction; ungodly agendas; even false teaching are among the bad things that often happen.

All are devastating. All are hurtful. All threaten to undermine the work of God’s kingdom. All happened to churches we read about in the Bible.

Just pick one: Corinth? Rome? Ephesus? Galatia? Colossae? They were all familiar with bad things.

Allow me to pick one–Ephesus–and roll with that (mainly because I am leading a study on Timothy at my church right now). We know quite a bit about this church. The first-century historian, Luke, details its riotous beginning in Act 19. The apostle Paul shares a rather emotional moment with its leadership in Acts 20. Later he pens letters both to the church and his protégé, Timothy, who was serving there (listed in the New Testament as Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy). And then this congregation is the recipient of one of the seven letters written to churches by Christ as recorded in Revelation 2:1-7. In terms of information about them—we have a broad context.

A broad context of bad things happening.

Bad things not only happened to the Ephesian church, but were first predicted to happen to them (see Paul’s statement in Acts 20:25-31). Ouch!

Turns out Paul was right—what he foresaw happened and it was bad. Unhealthy leadership with ungodly agendas did a number on this fledgling body of believers. Read 1 Timothy in particular, and you will start getting the picture. It is a picture of bad things.

To counter these bad things Paul sent Timothy. After Timothy got there and saw just how bad things were, Paul had to write a stay-there-and-do-the-job-I-sent-you-to-do type of letter. Hey, I have been a preacher at a good church when bad things were happening. Believe me when I say Timothy needed this kind of encouragement!

Of course, Paul gave him specific advice on how to handle the various bad things occurring, reminded him that he definitely was the man for the job, and encouraged him to keep his own nose clean as he sorted through the mess.

It is worth noting that in the midst of all of this instruction and confidence building, Paul uses the exact same phrase twice to preface a major point. It is:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. (1 Timothy 1:15 and 4:9)

Interesting. Various ideas have been floated out as to exactly why he turned this phrase, but I like to think it is one of those okay-now-listen-up-because-what-I-am-about-to-tell-you-matters-a-little-bit-more type statements. It is similar to when a parent calls the kid by his full name. Now it is time to pay closer attention!

So what was this crucial information Paul wanted to share and how does it help good churches currently dealing with bad things?

It all has to do with Jesus.

In both contexts Paul follows his preface with strong affirmations about Christ, forgiveness, and hope.

Could there be any more important information or any better way to counter the bad things while leading the church to a healthier place?

It all has to do with Jesus.

When bad things happen to good churches just double-down on the Christ! It may sound over simplistic in the always complex consequences of the bad things, but no surer foundation exists upon which to rebuild.

Bad things have a way of distracting; of bouncing off in all directions; of creating confusion in such a manner that we lose sight of the blessings of Jesus. He gets lost in his own church! The bad things discourage us; disappoint us; and divert us away from him and the hope he promises. They create a debilitating fog that clouds the joy of Christ, which prevents him from being exalted in his church.

Little wonder then in his letter directly to the church in Ephesus, Paul’s prayer was for them was “that you may know him better” in order to more fully realize the hope Christ offers by having the “eyes of your heart…enlightened” (see the entire context of Ephesians 1:15-23).

Discouraged because bad things are happening at your church?

Fix your eyes on Jesus more than ever! Get to know him even more. Teach, preach the forgiveness and the hope found only in him. Exalt Christ!

Not only will he provide you the strength (right, Timothy?) to navigate the bad things; he will create the healthy focus enabling your church to rediscover the good things.

He was the answer to the Ephesian church crisis.

It reminds me of what Paul “resolved” only to know while dealing with the bad things in the Corinthian church.

It was all about “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

When it truly is all about Him, bad things will not defeat good churches. They will hurt. They will disappoint. They may even discourage for a season. But better days are ahead. That is the essence of the hope Jesus offers.

Remember that letter Jesus wrote to the Ephesian church recorded by John in Revelation 2:1-7? Hear what he says to them then:

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance… You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 

Wow! Seems like the bad things were in their rear view mirror. They did not allow themselves to be defeated. This good church overcame the bad things in his name!

If (and God forbid) bad things ever happen to your good church cling to Jesus!

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (Ephesians 6:10)


“Life that is Truly Life”

January 20, 2015

LifeTruly_lThe title is a little phrase snatched from the context of the apostle Paul’s concluding statements in a letter he wrote to his young protégé, Timothy the evangelist, who at the time was in the ancient city of Ephesus trying to sort out a mess of a church.

To many people across the world this letter we call 1 Timothy is likely unknown or obscure. Certainly Christians are more familiar with it, but even to many of them this phrase (from 1 Timothy 6:19) is probably not something they often consider.

It is just there in Paul’s instructions to Timothy on what to teach to the wealthy members of the Ephesian church. Apparently, among the other problems facing this infant church, an unhealthy attitude toward money existed.

Reading the immediate context you get the idea those with money were not using it to God’s glory or to further God’s kingdom. Reading the greater context, you get the feeling others in that church were using the church for their personal profit. Either way, it was not good news.

So Paul instructs Timothy to work to redirect some hearts and practices by encouraging them to “take hold of life that is truly life.”

By making this statement Paul is necessarily indicting the “life” being lived by many (rich included) in the Ephesian church. It is a contrast statement. Their (the Ephesians) approach to life was not “truly life.”

That is a fairly bold statement. How would that come across in our culture? Probably as judgmental and unwelcome. We pretty much pride ourselves on making our own way—rugged individualists that we are.

Who is some long dead, dusty old preacher or anyone else, for that matter, to tell me what life is all about?

Yet, if we ever honestly (brutally so) take personal inventory, how is that really going for us? How really is our life?

Contextually Paul shares three points that I think connect to his “truly life” statement.

  • It has to do with contentment. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (6:6) is how he put it. Again, this was a contrasting statement—set up against the confusion; friction; and hurt put upon that church by people who were anything but content. The point? We can have it all, but without a God-laced contented spirit, can we enjoy it?
  • It has to do with hope. Real hope as in something true and meaningful after we are done with this world. This is found in one place- “God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment (what a great statement—6:17). Everything else is uncertain and temporary. Which is better to build a life upon?
  • It has to do with helping others along the way. Serving, sharing, being generous—that is part of “truly life” according to this teaching (6:18). Self-absorption; self-consumption; and self-centeredness isn’t.

“Truly life” leads us to “lay up treasures” as a “firm foundation for the coming age.”

Awesome.

So, if Paul is to be believed—“life that is truly life” not only allows us to live now in the abundance of the blessings God has given for us to enjoy, but shapes us to do so with a contented spirit and a generous heart in full certainty of an even better future ahead. And it also helps us to avoid many unpleasant situations, which rob us of peace and joy.

Where can I sign up?

Oh yeah, at the foot of the cross.

“ For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37)

 


Sex and Food

December 2, 2014

The little first generation church in the ancient city of Ephesus was (to borrow a current not-so-ancient phrase) a “hot mess.” Unhealthy leadership created the situation. They were promoting “controversies rather than God’s work” according to the Apostle Paul. He was well acquainted with this church and her leaders (see Acts 19-20) and sent his “son in the faith,” Timothy, there in an attempt to repair the damage brought on by those who “have wandered away” and “turned to meaningless talk.” We can read all about it in 1 & 2 Timothy.

Part of the mess these “certain men” created included unhealthy ideas about and manipulative use of two of our most human desires–sex and food. “They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods” is exactly how Paul stated it (1 Timothy 4:3). Their motive in doing this–as detailed in 1 Timothy–is likely not surprising. They sought power, control and… money (which brings power and control). What might be surprising is that they used unhealthy approaches to sex and food to gain it.

Or maybe not.

Upon further review there seems to be quite the pattern within just the New Testament alone of sex and food being used to create other messes in both the Jewish and Christian communities. Just run these (not exhaustive) references: Matthew 12:1-2; 19:3; Acts 6:1; Romans 14:2-3; 6; 1 Corinthians 5; 6:12-13; 18-20; 7:1-40; 8:1-13; 10:23-33; 11;17-33; Ephesians 5:31; Colossians 2:16;21-23; 2 Peter 2:13-14; 18 & Jude 4.

While each of these contexts certainly are different they do illustrate how sex and food have repeatedly been the targets of folks (as we say in the south) “up to no good.”

Sex and food. Both are powerful human desires. Both were created by God as healthy and good–blessings for us to enjoy. Yet both remain targets of corrupting influences that appeal “to the lustful desires of sinful human nature” (2 Peter 2:18) rather than to God’s wonderful design for these gifts. According to God:

  • Sex is to be fully enjoyed and explored within the context of marriage (Hebrews 13:4). It is how a man and woman become “one flesh” in the sight of the Lord (Matthew 19:4-6).
  • And food? All food is to be viewed as a gift from God. We are to accept it with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:3-5; 1 Corinthians 10:25-26).

If you did run those earlier scripture references then you already know this was not the sex and food message many heard in those early churches. In somewhat of an oversimplification-both were either overly restricted or overly indulged. Neither approach helped anyone–except those “certain men” using them for their own agendas. They prospered in the messes they created, but the churches did not. (If you think Paul had nothing for them–check out what the Apostle Peter thought in 2 Peter 2. Wow.)

Sex and food? How is that going for us now? Anyone still out there trying to control and direct our attitudes and actions toward them? Do they continue to be used to further ungodly agendas? What kind of messy consequences continue as a result?  Anyone profiting from these consequences? And just what kind of reception does God’s message on these two get?

Sex and food. Most of us are not going without them and our desire for both can lead us to enjoy them in God’s healthy context or consume them in our own lusts.

I guess it all depends upon what sex and food message we are hearing.