Friday, March 18, 2011

The Truth – We Need to Be Ransomed – 1 Tim 2:3-7

This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (RSV)


There are many times when I’ve want to know what God’s will is for my life. I’m sure I’m not alone in that desire. I would like to know what I should be doing, if this job or that is where I should be working. Some wonder if the person they are dating is God’s will for a mate. Wouldn’t it be cool if God were to tell us verbally what He wants us to do whether it is a big decisions or little? Do you ever wonder why He doesn’t? (OK, there are some people who do believe that God directs them exactly like this but with a few exceptions this is not the way God usually worked.)

I think He doesn’t direct us in the minute details of our lives is because He wants us to lean to make decisions that will bring glory to Him without having to spell it out for us. He has given us many directions on how to make those decisions. All we need to do is read what He has already said. For instance, He desires everyone to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

His first will for us is that we become saved. He doesn’t want anyone to perish. Ezek 33:11 Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?' (NIV) Just as He pleaded with Israel, so He pleads with every living person today to turn to Him for salvation before it is too late. He is patiently waiting for people to turn from their unbelief and turn to Jesus for salvation. Each of has a number of days on the earth but we don’t know how many they are. Ps 39:4 "Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is.” (NLT) The big problem with many is that they think they can take care of salvation later but the end of life sneaks up on them and they lose their chance.

God wants us to come to a knowledge of the truth. The truth is that there is only one way to heaven. In today’s relativistic believe structure, there isn’t any acknowledgment of truth. Relativism says that my truth is what I believe, your truth is what you believe, and both are valid even if they contradict each other. However, relativism doesn’t allow me to believe that there is only one truth, which logically disproves the validity of relativism. This makes it hard for people who have grown up with this faulty logic to accept God’s truth. Relativism essentially allows my opinion, however faulty, to trump the truth.

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (NKJV) There is no getting around this truth. Christianity hangs on this truth and a few others. Pull any of these foundational blocks out and Christianity crumbles. Paul builds on this block as He explains that Jesus is the mediator between God and us. Why do we even need a mediator? It is because God is holy and we are not. There is no way that sinful man can stand before God and mediate for himself or anyone else. Job knew it quite well. Job 9:32-35 He is not a man like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God's rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot. (NIV) Since God became a man in Jesus, Jesus can be our arbitrator or mediator. He took all of God’s wrath upon Himself so that God’s rod is removed from us. We don’t have to be in terror or frightened by God anymore because Jesus is our mediator. We can come boldly to the throne of grace and receive mercy (Heb 4:16) because Jesus shed His blood on the mercy seat in the heavenly realms. Jude 24 says that Jesus is not only able to keep us from falling, but to present us before God without fault and with great joy.

Many religions set up imposing hierarchies between their adherents and whatever god or gods they worship. They often have one person at the top who speaks for God and tells everyone else what his god is like and how they should act in accordance with what this mediator says. Over time, he and his successors write down the instructions and make changes as their god supposedly reveals new things to them. Some offer sacrifices or perform rituals on behalf of their followers, without which, the followers would be lost. However, Paul says that Jesus is the only mediator and He gave Himself as a ransom for us. We don’t need any other human beings to mediate or to be priests or intercessors for us. We have Jesus. So anyone who says that we need an earthly mediator or system to reach God is a liar and is not mediating between you and God but is in fact keeping you enslaved to Satan.

When Adam sinned, he sold all of his descendants as slaves to Satan. I was held captive by sin and a subject of Satan’s kingdom. When Jesus died on the cross, He paid the ransom price, the shedding of His blood, so that all I and all mankind could be free from sin and no longer Satan’s slaves. Mark 10:45 "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (NASB) Today, we see people kidnapped as well as pirates holding ship and crews for ransom. The concept isn’t new. A price must be paid before the kidnappers or prates will release the prisoners.

The strange part of Christianity is that the kidnapper, Satan, didn’t set the ransom price but God did. Our ransom is compounded by the fact that as we lived in sin we offended God, the one who wants to see us freed. When God set up the Jewish sacrificial system, He set the pattern for forgiveness and paying the ransom. Heb 9:22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (NIV) So Jesus, living a holy and sinless life is the only one who could provide a once-for-all sacrifice that not only atones for our sins but also pays the ransom price to free us from Satan’s dominion and sin.

The Old Testament prophets showed bits and pieces of this wonderful plan as God unfolded it to them. In Mark 1:15, Jesus said the time has come as He started His ministry. He said the kingdom of God is near and that we should repent and believe. This is God’s testimony that the time finally arrived when Jesus gave His life so that each of us can be free from Satan and sin if we accept that Jesus paid the ransom for us.

Rom 16:25-27 Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him—to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen. (NIV) Would you like to be established as a free citizen of heaven ransomed from Satan’s dominion? The eternal God has made know to us by the prophetic writings that we must believe and obey Jesus if we want that ransom applied to our lives. This ransom is available to all people in all nations.

Turn to Jesus in faith that He has paid the price. Trust in Him alone to save you. Be willing to obey Him to demonstrate that your faith is true. Repent of your sins and confess that Jesus is your Lord and you will be saved. (Rom 10:9)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Who Is on Your Prayer List? – 1 Tim 2:1-2, 8

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.


Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. (NASB)

I have many people on my prayer list. I know some of them personally; they are friends, relatives, and acquaintances. This includes some missionaries, pastors, and church leaders. I have never met others and would only recognize those who are national leaders. I have lost track of a few on my list. I don’t even know if they are still alive. One is a co-worker that I invited to the 1976 Billy Graham crusade in Seattle. His mother came with him and we both prayed that he would go forward but he didn’t. I keep praying for his salvation.

As I look at the different kinds of prayers that Paul asked us to make, I see that I fall short on thanksgiving. When I’m asking my Lord to save someone, I forget that I also need to thank Him for this person. I also have to admit that I pray for some people to be saved because they are obnoxious or irritating people. I fall very short on the thanksgiving side when praying for them. I am thankful, however, that they are not enemies. Matt 5:44-45 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (NKJV) If I only pray for these people for their salvation, my pray fall very short of Jesus’ instructions. My prayer needs to be out of love not annoyance. I need to see these people the way Jesus does. He sees them through the cross. He loves them so much that He died for them. So who am I to pray for them simply so they will get along with me better?

Prayer often grows feet. As I pray for people, I should be aware of their needs. I should pray for those needs and this is how I start to bless them. Then, by asking God to bless them, if I have the opportunity, I can also do something for them. I’ve heard it said that you can’t pray for a person and continue to hate them. The reason is that as we pray for them, we become more like Jesus, sons of our Father in heaven. Since He provides for their needs, whether they are good or evil, then as we start to do the same thing, we show His love for them.

Praying for kings and those in authority has always been a problem for some. There is a great line in the movie Fiddler on the Roof. The people ask their Rabbi if there is a blessing for the Czar. He thinks for a moment then prays, “May the Lord bless and keep the Czar (dramatic pause) far away from us.” Persecution has been a problem for Jews and Christians alike. While it is very natural for us to want to be free from it, we have to also acknowledge God’s sovereignty in raising up kings and deposing them Dan 2:21a He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. (NLT)

When politics are involved, it seems that some can only pray for the leader of the nation to be voted out of office, overthrown, or something worse, depending on the part of the world they live in. The irony is that others who are also zealous in their faith would pray for the same leaders to continue in power. What should a Christian’s prayers for the government leaders look like?

I believe that at the heart of our prayers, we should consider the sovereignty of God. We may think we know what is best in the affairs of the world, but only God has the wisdom, knowledge, and ability to direct this world the way it should go. Isa 44:28 Who says of Cyrus, “He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, saying to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be built,’ And to the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’” (NKJV) This passage was written somewhere around 712 B.C. Cyrus didn’t become the King of Persia until 536 B.C. (Ezra 1:1), some 176 years later. God’s sovereignty is beyond our comprehension. When Isaiah wrote this about Cyrus, Jerusalem and the temple were still standing. Persia wasn’t even a nation yet. In Isa 47, God predicted that He would use Babylon to humble Judah and that Babylon would go too far punishing Judah. Because of Babylon’s sin, God said He would overthrow the country in a single day (verse 9). This finally happened in Daniel 5 when Darius the Mede conquered Babylon in one night. Next came Persia and then Cyrus.

As I pray for our country or others that may be in turmoil, I can only guess what God is doing. I can’t be sure. In the eyes of Judah, Isaiah’s predictions didn’t make sense. They thought they knew exactly what God’s will was for Judah and it didn’t include exile and dominion by pagan nations or that a pagan king would allow restoration. When we get a leader that encourages godlessness, is this part of God’s plan?

Should I pray to have this person removed from office or should I pray that God’s chastening through the results of his administration bring about God’s glory? When I see things happening in our country or others that look like they will cause economic collapse, should I pray for reforms that I think are the correct way or should I pray for changes recommended by the administration, which I dislike because they will cost me more? When I pray for my country, am I concerned about the poor or just my own financial stability?

Paul says that instead of trying to figure out all the details and then telling God what we think He should do, we should pray for the leaders so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. We don’t have to come up with the solutions to the world’s problems. We need to pray that we can live quiet lives fulfilling godliness and holiness in the way we live.

When it comes to living quiet lives, Paul explained that we should be lifting up holy hands in prayer. That means we should not be participating in things that would stain us with sin. It means we should try to live in peace with everyone and overcome evil with good (Rom 12:17-21). Isn’t that what Jesus taught? Matt 5:39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (NIV) This is certainly not a popular teaching today. Today we are told to stand up for our rights. Usually, standing up for our rights ends up costing someone else.

Paul said we should pray without anger or disputing. I find this harder to do as I encounter those who do quarrel over the right way that our nation should change. They will argue this way or that and become angry when someone thinks differently.

I believe that only by sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, will this or any other nation have the opportunity for change. Then, when more people become Christians and Christians start living the Gospel, seeking to serve others instead of themselves, things will change. They may not change the way people want it to change now, but it will change the way Jesus wants it.

Dear Lord Jesus, please affect the changes you want in our hearts and the hearts of our leaders so that we will accomplish your will and bring glory to you.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fighting for the Faith – 1 Tim 1:18-20

Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. (NIV)


The wording of this passage in different translations doesn’t seem clear to me. Maybe it’s just me but I would like to know exactly what “this instruction” is. Is it an instruction to fight the good fight or to follow the prophecies? If it is to follow the prophecies, it would have been an enormous help had Paul included what they were. It isn’t until we reach the fourth chapter that we receive a hint about the prophecy. 1 Tim 4:13-14 Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. (NKJV) From this, it appears that Timothy’s gift was to preach the Word (exhortation) and proclaim good doctrine. This fits with the opening of this chapter as Paul has commanded Timothy to correct people who have been preaching false doctrine. It also fits with Paul’s examples of Hymenaeus and Alexander who have blasphemed, perhaps by teaching false doctrine.

Prophecies

Since I can’t say exactly what the prophecies were, I do want to talk about prophecies that people receive from or give to others. Timothy received his gift through prophecies made not by a single person but by the eldership or presbytery. This wasn’t a single person walking up to another and announcing in the name of the Lord what he would or should do. This was a group of men who were in unity of purpose and conviction that this is where God was leading Timothy. The Holy Spirit had to have directed this because the Scripture is clear that the gifts come from Him. 1 Cor 12:11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. (NIV) God can use a single person to do the same thing, however a single person is also prone to his own imagination.

There are many churches today that are full of people who conjure up some interesting prophecies. I’ve been among them and have heard their utterances. I’ve heard heresy and I’ve heard great inspiring messages. I’ve heard predictions that seldom turn out the way they were spoken. I’ve heard excuses why they didn’t happen the way they should have. Quite frankly, I think most of these prophecies come from people who are so caught up in what they think is a gift from God that they don’t understand that they are actually being dragged away and enticed by their own evil desire (James 1:14) to be recognized as someone important.

I believe that if churches today would exercise just one test when a prophecy of future events is given, there would be about 95% fewer people claiming to be prophets. Deut 18:20-22 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, “How may we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?” - when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him. (RSV) We aren’t following the Old Testament law now, but we should rebuke anyone who has made a prediction and it hasn’t come to pass to stop it. They have been proven wrong once and should not be heeded again – the New Testament equivalence of what the Law taught.

For the rest of those who claim to be prophets, who are not bringing a message concerning future events but expounding on God’s Word, we need to hear their teaching and examine the rest of Scripture to see if it is true. We need to follow Paul’s instruction and command them not to teach false doctrine if it doesn’t agree with what God has already said; for we know that God will not provide a revelation that changes what He has already stated.

I have no problems with people who will rebuke me for doing wrong or encourage me about what I’m doing. If they say that the Lord is working in me, I’ll praise God for that. However, I’m very wary of anyone who tells me that the Lord told them to tell me something.

Fight the Good Fight

This phrase will probably be rendered politically incorrect. Oh my, he is encouraging violence. He is using words that someone will act on and become a bully or worse. Sorry, I digress. However, there are some who may not understand how to fight the good fight. They will verbally assault others in an attempt to correct doctrine. They will do abhorrent things to drive home their point. Sometimes there is a fine line between telling someone correcting and being obnoxious. Jesus was able to walk that line, but I’m not. See Matt 12:34 and 23:33 where Jesus calls those who oppose Him a brood of vipers. I think that Nehemiah gave a good example of someone going over the line. Neh 13:25a And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair; (RSV)

Paul gave advice about how to contend for the faith. 1 Cor 16:13-14 Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. (NASB) Before I can fight, I must be alert to what is wrong. There are too many people who simply accept whatever they hear preached, read, hear, or see on the internet. They aren’t alert. They also do not stand firm. If someone challenges a tenant of their faith, they cave in because they really don’t have a good grasp of what they believe. They also cave in when they don’t want to believe something is sin when it is hard for them to quit. Finally, any rebuking or correction of another must be done in love. It is too easy to feel vengeful or hatred toward a person, especially if they have attacked you and your faith.

Paul also made it clear that our fight isn’t physical. 2 Cor 10:3-5 For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (RSV) Our war is for the souls of man and that can’t be won by physical threat or intimidation. We are not like some religions that believe that those who don’t believe the same should be killed until there are only believers. People who don’t know the truth will convert to save their mortal bodies. Instead, we rely on the power of God to work in our presentation of the Word of God. The strongholds are belief systems and doctrines that are contrary to the Gospel and the truth about our God. They come at us in arguments and claims about God that are not biblical. If we are to battle these things, we must make sure our thoughts are aligned with Christ. We must give our thinking to Him as we develop a view of the world that He has shown us in the Bible. We can’t view sin the way the world does by minimizing it with words that don’t provide the full impact of the meaning and consequences that sin does.

Hold On

Sometimes it gets really hard to hold on to what we believe. It is easy to slip gradually into a stupor because we are distracted by the world or we simply get tired of fighting. The church at Sardis had a reputation for being alive but they had actually given in to the world. Jesus rebuked them and warned them. Rev 3:3 Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don't wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief. (NLT) Holding on requires that we constantly go back to what we have in the Bible and what we believed and saved us. We must hold on to this. Note that Jesus tells us to turn to Him again. We may think we are holding on if we are active in our church, attending meetings and going to Bible studies. We may even be helping the poor and needy, and visiting the sick. However, if we are not holding on to our relationship to Jesus, we are in trouble.

If we start to do things that bother our conscience and excuse our actions, we will not be able to hold on. Little things creep in and cause a shipwreck to our faith. It can be listening to music that doesn’t glorify God. The words are a little rough and over time, even the vulgar words don’t offend your conscience any more. The same thing applies to TV, movies, or books. One time cheating on one question on a test leads to more. One extra glance at a co-worker leads to lust, flirting, and even adultery. It progresses until faith is shipwrecked.

I don’t know what Hymenaeus and Alexander did leading up to blasphemy, however it is clear that it led them far enough from the Lord that Paul had to deliver them over to Satan.

Deliver to Satan

This sounds very scary. One thing is sure. When we are in fellowship with each other, we are stronger and able to resist Satan because Jesus is with us. Matt 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." (NKJV) Before Jesus made this statement, He taught about church discipline. When a person refuses to listen to rebuke for sin, Jesus gave a very simple solution. Matt 18:17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. (NKJV) The person is put outside the protective power of fellowship in the church.

What happens to a person who is disciplined like this? Rom 1:24a Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts… (NIV) You can read the rest in Romans 1:24-32. There is a downward spiral of depravity until they spiritually hit rock bottom. There can also be physical consequences of their sin that results in illness, depression, alcoholism, mental instability, and many other problems. Each person doesn’t follow exactly the same path, but it does result in spiritual depravity. Hopefully, they will come to their senses, repent, and be reinstated in the church.