Friday, November 15, 2013

Applying Biblical Metaphors – 2 Tim 2:3-7

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything. (RSV)
So how do we share in suffering? Several versions translate this to share in hardships. Hardships or sufferings, is there a difference? Probably not in Paul’s mind. We saw in the previous lesson that a faithful person must be prepared to endure many things. Some are hardships while others are more serious and I would call them suffering.
The Greek word translated “share in suffering” really should be translated “share in suffering along with …”[1] Since Paul didn’t identify who to share the suffering with, it can be presumed to be Paul or even others who are on the front lines of spreading the Gospel. So sharing in suffering isn’t to be understood as taking the burden from Paul or others but it is a call to enlist to do whatever is necessary to further the kingdom of God. And thus, comes the metaphor of a good soldier.
At this point it is important to make sure this is a metaphor and not meant to be taken literally. If we were to take it literally, then it would be a call to do physical violence to anyone opposed to the Gospel as can be seen in other religions that use similar words. Since this is not what Jesus preached (Matt 5:43-48), then we can be assured that Paul is using a metaphor and not expecting us to take up arms to do physical battle (2 Cor 10:3-5). This is further clarified by using two non-military metaphors.
And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. (Luke 8:14 KJV)
The first way in which a soldier of Jesus Christ is like a soldier of the world is in having a single-minded purpose. Full time soldiers don’t have businesses on the side. They have to be able to drop everything and deploy. Many soldiers have gone into battle with concerns of the home front instead of the dangers that are immediately around them. They are vulnerable because they are distracted and are more easily killed in action. The follower of Jesus can’t be like the person who claims to have put Christ first in his life but is more concerned with achieving abundance for himself in this life.
The strange part of not being single-minded is being choked. The world teaches us that the more we have, the happier we will be. But these things actually choke our spirits. We may feel good on the outside and appear to be happy, but our spirits are gasping for air. The more we hear the call of the world, the wheezing of our spirit grows quieter. Instead of producing fruit, we are producing thorns. Those thorns tear at our marriages, relationships, work, and even civic duty. Instead of being effective in our service for the Lord, we lose even more time trying to patch our holes and doing that is usually in unbiblical ways.
Satisfy the Commander
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10 NASB)
Being a good soldier requires us to remember that God created us for a purpose. This means that He is our Commander. He has a plan and He wants us to accomplish it. He did the hard part when He rescued us through Jesus from our old commander, Satan (Eph 2:1-3). If we thought about that long enough, it should be sufficient to keep us trying to satisfy Him instead of ourselves.
And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb 4:13 ESV)
We must give account for our actions to our employers in the world; how much more should we consider that there will be a day when we must give account to our heavenly Commander? This is one of the big areas that separate true followers of Jesus from those who profess to be Christians but don’t live like it. It’s called surrender. Being ready to give account to our Lord is demonstrated in surrender to His will. He doesn’t need to ask us what we did because He sees all. Instead, He will tell us how well we followed Him (Matt 25:31-46).
The soldier knows that he must obey orders because his life and those in his company depend on it. There are even times when he is called upon to give his life while not understanding the circumstances. Some larger battles have been won because a few obeyed at the cost of their lives in what some would have called a suicide mission. Many lives have been lost because a few have refused to obey similar orders. Then, some have lost their lives senselessly because their leaders are fallible and gave bad orders. 
How much more should we obey our Lord in total surrender to Him? He is infallible. He works all things for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28). We often baulk at that truth because we don’t see the bigger picture but think that the verse means we should individually receive good out of every trouble. We question God when we don’t see the good in our lives. Our eyes are then only focused on earthly things instead of eternal things. We don’t understand that our suffering or afflictions may not be for us but to strengthen others or even bring them to salvation. We don’t consider the eternal glory that we will receive and more importantly, the glory it brings to Jesus (2 Cor 4:16-18).
Follow the Rules
 Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. (John 4:20 KJV)
You would think that God would be pleased when people worshiped Him regardless of where or how. But that isn’t what was required in the Old Testament. God made it clear the there was a place and way to worship Him (Deut 12:11). That didn’t change until Jesus came and offered Himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for sin (Heb 10:9-10). So you ask what is Paul talking about with an athlete and competing by the rules.
Just like the people of the Old Testament, people today want to do things their own way. The Old Testament worship pointed to Jesus. There was one way to approach God and that was by the sacrificial system that represented what Jesus would do to make a way for us. There is still only one way to approach God and that is through Jesus Christ (John 14:6).
Learn what Jesus had to say about living Godly lives in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:1-7:27) and you will see that even though Jesus paid for all our sins, He expects us to live in a certain way and do His will (Matt 7:21-23). We aren’t left to our own concepts of godly living or ways to approach God. We must follow the rules. The rules don’t save us, but our obedience to Jesus demonstrates that we are saved and that He is living in us. His rules aren’t burdensome (Matt 11:28-30) like the Old Testament because they come from a changed heart that wants to do His will. It comes from a heart that is married to His.
Not following these rules means we are disobedient which demonstrates we are not in the kingdom of God. Jesus says He doesn’t know those who are disobedient. Their hearts are leading them away from God just as those in the Old Testament who ignored God’s provision strayed from God and worshiped on every hill. They soon worshiped other things and sacrificed their own children (2 Kings 16:1-4). Those who attempt to come to the Father through any way except Jesus are doing the same thing.
Share in the Crop
I would venture to say that when most people look at the metaphor of the farmer sharing in the crop, they immediately think about other places in Scripture where a minister of the Gospel is to be materially rewarded. Jesus told the disciple that while they were on the road to stay in one house and eat what was provided (Luke 10:7). Paul made several references to being supported while ministering but he also deferred support so that he wouldn’t be accused of peddling the Gospel (1 Cor 9:10-12, 2 Tim 2:6).
While it is important to make sure that ministers are supported, there is more to this verse than physical support. I say this because the previous two metaphors were talking about our attitude toward service. It seems that the third should have an application that goes beyond getting paid.
I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Cor 9:23 NIV)
Paul often comments that his blessings in spreading the Gospel is not in the physical rewards but in the rewards of seeing people come to Christ.
Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved. (Phil 4:1 KJV)
Paul established a relationship with those he led to the Lord. Twice in this verse he calls them dearly beloved. He calls them brethren or brothers (I’m sure there were a lot of sisters there too, but that’s the way the talked back then). They were family, the family of God.
His reward was joy, something that is of heavenly origin when someone comes to Christ (Luke 15:7). If you have ever led someone to the Lord, you have experienced this joy as well. He also referred to this joy as a crown. Some have called this the crown of soul winning. But as I look at other similar verses (Phil 2:16, 1 Thess 2:19, and 1 Thess 3:9) they all relate to joy, not a physical or spiritual crown that we will receive. What is even better is that we get a foretaste of that eternal joy when we see the results of our ministry in the lives of people.
Think about It
Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are my constant guide. Yes, I have more insight than my teachers, for I am always thinking of your laws. (Ps 119:97-99 NLT)
Paul’s writing has become as important as the rest of God’s Word. His command is to think about what he has written. David knew the importance of mediating on God’s Word. We get better understanding the more we think about the Word. We can contemplate the metaphors Paul used and compare them to other Scripture. As we do that, we will become wiser.
Thinking over instructions such as God has provided through Paul’s writing should be something we do all day long. Of course, we can’t do it every second, but how much better would it be to think and meditate on God’s Word than listening to talk radio on the way to or from work when those programs are designed to aggravate instead of edify. Pundits make a living dividing and making you think that other people are your enemies. If they are your enemies then thinking about God’s commands will make you wiser than them. It will also make you realize that perhaps the commentators don’t always have your best interests at heart.
As we think about and study God’s Word, we will also be able to advance in understanding beyond those who have taught us. We respect godly teachers and try to learn as much as possible from them. But the truth is that they are taking God’s Word and explaining it to us. They aren’t coming up with new revelations that aren’t in Scripture and if they are, then we should be wary of them. We shouldn’t stop listening to godly instruction, but we should be able to dig into the Word and understand it ourselves. Our goal should be to apply the Word to our lives and grow in Christ. We can’t do that if we don’t think it over.
When we think it over, then the Lord gives us understanding. For example, think about these three metaphors. What understanding do you get that you can apply to your life in each of them? Is there more to them than what I’ve said? Is what I’ve said beneficial because it aligns with the Word or is it preaching something else? Think it over and look up other verses from cross references or do a word study. Whatever you do, keep thinking it over when you study God’s Word. Thinking it over fulfils the command in Phil 4:8 and you will have peace because God is with you (Phil 4:9).

[1] NT:4777 sugkakopatheo (soong-kak-op-ath-eh'-o); from NT:4862 and NT:2553; to suffer hardship in company with: (Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary.)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Reliability of the Bible and Bible Teachers – 2 Tim 2:2

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. (NIV)
I’ve always looked at this verse strictly as a command to teach and mentor other so that the Gospel will be continued and people will know how to live godly lives. I skipped the first half of the verse that places an emphasis on the witnesses of Paul’s teaching. The Holy Spirit working through witnesses are the key to the reliability of the Bible. Paul’s teaching wasn’t done in secret and the people who heard it would easily correct anyone who tried to change it. The Apostles and leaders of the Church would also be able to call Paul on the carpet if his teaching was in anyway erroneous but it was Paul who initiated the council at Jerusalem when he detected false teaching (Acts 15). If a letter claiming to have come from Paul stated something different than what he had preached, it would be identified as a fake. And we know that some tried to fake his letters as he signed the originals even when dictated by others (Gal 6:11).
And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give. (Deut 31:21 ESV)
Paul’s writings are only part of the Bible. The principle of witnesses is important in the preservation of the message of the rest of the Bible as well. Witnesses were not always people, sometimes they were monuments that were set up to remind people of a treaty (Gen 21:30, 31:44). God provided a song as a witness and recorded it in Deuteronomy 32. It has become part of the Bible, faithfully transcribed and passed from generation to generation. Each generation then became witnesses as well.
This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. (Acts 2:32 KJV)
The disciples were told that they would be witnesses in Jerusalem and eventually, all around the world. They were to tell the truth about what they had seen and heard. Being a witness was a very important part of their message. It verified that what they were saying was true – anyone living during that time could have contradicted their statements but history during that time is silent in opposition to the Gospel. No one came forward to say the Apostles and other witnesses were lying. The Sanhedrin, the highest governmental council of Jesus’ time didn’t deny the truth of the disciple’s witness, they tried to cover it up (Matt 28:11-15), tried to shut it up (Acts 4:13-22), and finally tried to ignore their witness in the hopes it would fade away (Acts 5:34-40). No one said they were liars.
Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This "letter" is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts. (2 Cor 3:3 NLT)
We have not seen the events of the first century, but we can be witnesses to the reliability of the Bible as well. Our lives changed from sin to a life of righteousness, love, compassion, and all the other fruits of the Spirit bear witness to the truth of the Gospel and the life-changing ability of a person surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ. If others can’t see the change or the difference between worldly values and Christian values, then there is something seriously wrong with our hearts. If the “letter” the world is reading is full of lies, lust, or licentiousness then our witness isn’t in accord with the Gospel or the Bible.
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:26 KJV)
One of the arguments that I had before becoming a Christian was that there was no way the disciples could have accurately remembered everything Jesus said. They would have added their own twists to it. Certainly, some of the accounts in the four Gospels vary depending on the author and the emphasis each wants to make and their viewpoints. These minor differences help establish that they were witnesses or wrote based on interviews of witnesses (Luke) rather than agreeing upon a contrived story. However, when it comes to the message of our sinfulness, and God’s redemptive plan through the death of Jesus for our sins according to the Scriptures, His burial, and His resurrection, there is consistency that is brought about by the Holy Spirit.
If we were to approach the Bible and Christianity simply as a religion that is passed on from generation to generation we would expect it to evolve as society changes. This can be seen in a major religion that has changed its rules about the number of wives allowed and people of color and gender being in certain offices. The leaders get a revelation and what used to be wrong is now right. These revelations come when it appears they are losing converts over these issues. They even make significant changes to the wording of their scripture when it fits their needs.
When the Holy Spirit (who is God) is in control, then the message that is preached doesn’t change or contradict the Bible. The Bible may need to be revised as our language changes (King James vs. current English translations) so that we can understand it, but the original language is not changed because the Holy Spirit guided and called to remembrance what the disciples heard. Paul received His teaching as a revelation from Jesus (Gal 1:12). These original witnesses are reliable because of God’s work in them.
Entrust – Qualified
But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. (1 Thess 2:4 NASU)
One of the things that we need to look for in a person who can be trusted with passing the Gospel along to others is someone who is more concerned with pleasing God than pleasing men. I remember a preacher telling me that the board of his church wouldn’t allow him to have an altar call for salvations except for twice a year. I suspect that his sermons were also affected by what the board allowed him to say. If the messages were too convicting or too biblical, I’ll bet he heard from them that he needed to be more considerate of people’s feelings.
Unfortunately, this has become the norm for most Christian churches. They want everyone to feel included but not called to repentance. They measure sin and morality not by the Bible but by society. They please people and the Gospel should not be entrusted to them. Paul was approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, modern men who are more concerned with popularity than speaking the truth of the Gospel are not approved by God and their distorted Gospel is proof.
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. (1 Tim 1:18-19 NIV)
The Gospel should be entrusted to people who are willing to fight for the faith. If they have doubts or concerns, they dig into the Bible to see what it has to say. They don’t let people sway them to strange doctrines, myths, or pop-psychology. They keep their conscience clear not only in their behavior but in the way they handle the Word of God.
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matt 10:16 RSV)
Jesus wanted His witnesses to have two qualities that we don’t often acknowledge. While we talk a lot about being wise, we seldom associate wisdom with snakes. Since snakes most often represent evil, I would say that Jesus is telling the disciples not to be naïve. Entrust the Gospel message and teachings of godliness to people who are aware of the wolves and the schemes of Satan. There are too many people who minimize Satan’s power and influence because they are naïve. They can be caught off guard and a long way down the wrong path before they realize they’ve been duped, if they eventually wake up.
On the other hand, they also need to be innocent. I don’t think this innocence is just about living godly lives, but in context with the wolves and wisdom. It is easy to resort to human methods to combat wolves and other forces in spiritual battles. However we need to be innocent with respect to the way the world works and wise in the way God works. Our weapons have divine power to remove spiritual strongholds, arguments, and people’s opinions that would try to hinder us (2 Cor 10:3-5).
Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave —  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matt 20:26-28 NKJV)
A significant characteristic of a person to entrust with teaching others is someone who is humble and puts other first. Jesus pointed to Himself as the example of putting other first. This takes the emphasis off being great and on being a servant. If a person wants to learn how to teach others in order to become a famous preacher, theologian, guru, or wise man, then we can’t stop him. However we can pray that in the process he will learn that he must become a servant and won’t entrust him with a teaching position until he learns that.
We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don't try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this. (2 Cor 4:2 NLT)
Faithful people will be honest as they present the Word of God. They know that they don’t need to sugar coat or distort the Word for people to come into the God’s fold. People who stage miracles and other phenomena claiming them to be the work of the Holy Spirit may win converts to themselves, but I seriously wonder if the converts find true salvation. When the truth of God is preached, we don’t need anything else.
Some trick people into proclaiming themselves as Christians by presenting a false gospel. They talk of salvation, but the major promise is a good life. They promise troubles will be removed. They promise prosperity for the faithful. They don’t mention that Jesus promised persecution (Matt 5:10-11). They don’t speak of the cost of discipleship (Luke 9:23-26) or obedience to Jesus (Matt 7:21). They don’t talk about repentance (Luke 13:5). The result is a false sense of eternal security that usually crumbles when hardships arise. The faithful teacher must speak all that he has heard and not leave out the tough things.
But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities [hardships], in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened [punished], and not killed [put to death]; As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. (2 Cor 6:4-10 KJV)
What a fantastic summary of the attitude and behavior of someone who is entrusted with the Word of God to teach others! What stands out to you in this list of attributes?
Is it the patience? I think of many who serve in difficult nations patiently sharing the Word with whoever will listen and not seeing anyone come to Christ. Some would say that there is something wrong with their calling if they don’t see results. Many quit. Yet history has proven that the seeds sown sprout many years later.
Genuine love is also something that critical. I’ve seen too many who say they love yet they don’t take the time to listen. They speak the words but are so busy or their ministry is so important that they have to get to their next meeting or prepare for their next sermon or lesson that they can’t give a genuine hello to anyone. I’ve know some who would shake your hand as they pulled you past so they could keep on walking to wherever was more important. This is too convicting; let’s move on to another.
Evil reports are often going to follow people who are making an impact for Jesus. The way a trustworthy person handles these is very important. We’ve seen politicians who have protested that they were innocent only to be exposed later. Does a trustworthy person make a big deal out of accusations and fight them fiercely? If they are true, then he acknowledges them. If they are false, then let the wolves howl until they find nothing to complain about. The important thing is to make sure that the reports are not brought because there is a problem. Being true is what is crucial.
If you think you should be teaching others and no one is entrusting you to teach, then you should look back at what you want to teach, look at your character and see what is going on that would keep you from it. You may need to repent and show a good track record before you are entrusted with a teaching position. If you are faithful in these areas but still not entrusted, then it may be time to look for a different calling.