Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What to Do about Opponents to the Gospel – 2 Tim 4:14-15

Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching. (NASU)
Opponents
Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples. I threw them out and handed them over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God. (1 Tim 1:20 NLT)
No one knows whether the Alexander in Second Timothy is the same as the one in First. He may even have been the same Alexander of Acts 19:33 who attempted to quell the riot in Ephesus. If all three were the same, then we would know that he was a Jew (Acts 19:33) who probably converted to Christianity then departed from the faith (1 Tim 1:19-20) and then greatly opposed Paul’s teaching (2 Tim 4-14-15).
For some, Paul’s words against Alexander may seem unfitting for a Christian. After all aren’t we supposed to love our enemies and pray for them (Matt 5:44)? This is true, but our current culture has redefined love. Today’s love is focused on the immediate instead of the long-term. It often focuses on the wrong person as well. In the case of Alexander, Paul kicked him out of the church for two reasons that today’s world would not call loving. The first is clearly stated in 1 Timothy 1:20. It was to teach him a lesson. If we are to look at other Scripture on church discipline we understand that ultimate purpose is to restore the person to fellowship (Matt 18:15, 2 Cor 2:5-11). Sometimes, the one removed from the church isn’t really a believer and the goal then is, that left alone to his own devices, he will remember his life among Christians and compare it to his immoral degenerating life (delivered to Satan), see the difference, and turn to Christ for forgiveness and salvation (1 Cor 5:4-5). True love will look at the eternal consequences of actions, not just the temporal.
Avoid such godless chatter, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will eat its way like gangrene … (2 Tim 2:16-17 RSV)
Second, the church needs to remain pure. While we are certainly required to love our enemies, we must also consider our love for other Christians, especially those who are new in the faith. When one is teaching blasphemous things, he may very well lead others of into the same error causing untold damage spiritually as well as physically. Why did Jesus become angry with the Pharisees? It wasn’t because they insulted Him. His anger boiled over into what the modern world would label as intolerance, bullying, and name-calling. In Matthew 23, Jesus pronounced seven woes against the scribes and Pharisees in which He called them fools, hypocrites, blind guides, unrighteous, serpents, brood of vipers, and murderers. Nearly every reason for these condemnations stems from hiding the truth of God and the way of salvation from the ones they should have been leading in true righteousness. God gets angry at sin, but doubly so when someone leads other into sin. True love will warn people about those who will lead them astray.
Be on Guard
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves. But beware of men. (Matt 10:16-17a NASB)
When we have opponents to the Gospel, we need to be aware and beware of them. We are in a spiritual battle and we should expect the worst to happen. That’s where we need to be shrewd as serpents. If we understand what the worst could be, we don’t pretend that it could never happen and if it happens, we will not be surprised, depressed, or defeated. We will have made contingency plans, but most of all we will trust the Lord because He is sovereign. Even though we are sheep, our Shepherd is mightier than all. We don’t need to be afraid even in the midst of the wolves.
On the other hand, we need to be innocent as doves. That means that while we are prepared for the worst, we are also praying and expecting the best. Our trust in God not only takes us through the worst but brings about the best as we pray according to His will. Innocence also means that when we encounter the evil schemes of men, we will not retaliate with earthly wisdom or deeds (2 Cor 10:3-5). Paul instructed the Corinthians to stop thinking like children, with regard to evil to be like children, but in thinking to be adults (1 Cor 14:20). Peter also addressed this when he said that those who accuse us will be ashamed of their slander when they see our good behavior (1 Peter 3:16). Adult, shrewd, serpent-thinking will recognize that as we do not repay evil with evil but overcome it with good, we will persevere (Rom 12:17, 21).
Vigorously Oppose
What do we do if someone does vigorously oppose the message of the Gospel? First, we must have the proper attitude about what is really going on behind the scenes. According to Paul, we are not struggling with people but with spiritual forces (Eph 6:12). There is a huge battle going on and the people that are opposing the Gospel are slaves forced to fight in something even without knowing it. They are victims and we should be praying for their salvation even more than we pray for them to stop any physical persecution.
Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me! (Ps 35:1 ESV)
The second thing to remember is that this is really the Lord’s battle. While we may think it is personal, as did David, the Lord is able to fight the battle much better when we turn it over to Him. If it seems personal, then we need to remember what is at stake. If it is the Gospel, God’s glory, or His reputation that is at stake, then we need to make sure we don’t get in the way by taking it personally. What does God say about the eventual outcome of those who oppose the Gospel? Isn’t it the same as those that fought against Israel?
Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all. For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. (Isa 41:12-13 NIV)
We need to remember that they will suffer eternal loss if they don’t get on the right path. But we don’t just stand idly by and expect God to do all the work without us. Jude wrote, “I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3 NASU). We don’t have any excuse to roll over and let them preach heresy unabated. As long as we have the Lord with us and maintain the right attitude, whether we win or lose a skirmish, we will be fighting the way He wants.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Need Friends? – 2 Tim 4:9-13

Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. (ESV)
Friends
A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Prov 18:24 NIV)
This is a good description of what happened to Paul. He had many companions during his ministry but now he is in prison for the second time, he has come to ruin. Luke is the only one who has stuck with him in this last ordeal. Shame on Demas, but before we cast too many stones at the others, we have to admit that we really don’t know why some of them left. Tychicus left at Paul’s direction, we can’t blame him. God may have called other to some specific ministry that wasn’t in the capacity that agreed with Paul. In the past, Paul had disagreements regarding ministry direction (Acts 15:37-40, 1 Cor 16:12). Sometimes we just don’t understand our friend’s plans. One thing is for sure, if they are Christians, their plans should not revolve around us, but Jesus. Perhaps a point of Proverbs 18:24 is to make many friends so that when people go their own way or even a different call by God, there will still be at least one who will be there to help.
Love of the World
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15 NKJV)
What about Demas? What do you think drew him away from ministry to the world? I have met people who were once pastors and are now working in secular jobs. Is this wrong? Is this the same thing that happened to Demas? These questions can’t be answered based on the little information we have about Demas. What we can do is heed the warning that John provided and know that if we are putting the things of the world ahead of our love of Jesus, then we don’t have God’s love in us. The pastor turned insurance salesman may have good reasons to do so. If the goal is making more money so that he can have a better life, then there is spiritual trouble ahead. If he made the change because God was directing him to do something different, that is where he should be. Whether we are led to full-time ministry or secular work, we should do it in the name of the Lord (Col 3:17). If we want to please the Lord then all that we do should be with His glory in mind.
Changes
But many who are first will be last; and the last, first. (Matt 19:30 NASU)
Life is full of changes. Friends come and go. The big changes, which often force us to be last, often bring about the best. Paul was in prison and out of prison and back in prison. His companions left him, perhaps because they needed to continue the work of spreading the Gospel while he was locked up. From their viewpoint, it may have been a very difficult decision to leave Paul with only Luke to take care of him. However, change can often force us out of our comfort zones to do something that we wouldn’t have otherwise done. Illnesses, death in a family, divorce, children leaving home, loss of work, and many other changes may be a wakeup call. We may discover through these things that we have been putting ourselves first instead of last.
Change doesn’t always happen in the way we want it. The disciples wanted change but didn’t’ want Jesus to be crucified; they didn’t understand the change that must be made (Matt 16:21-23). Even after Jesus’ resurrection, they still thought Jesus was going to bring change the way they wanted by restoring the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Just like the disciples, we often think that political changes are what our country needs.
And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. (Ezek 36:26 NLT)
Jesus’ plan for change is something that is much more important than any political agenda. Judah had been carried off to Babylon and Ezekiel was a prophet to the exiles. The exiles wanted to go back to Judah and God told them that He would bring them back; however, it wasn’t in their timing. Before their ultimate return, which is still in our future, He would change their hearts. They were idol worshipers and far from being true God worshipers. The same is true for any nation. Until the people of the nation have new hearts by being born again, there will be no lasting change.
It is also applicable to individuals. Unless we get a new heart through faith in Jesus, all our changes are only temporary and not eternal. Once we have a new heart, that will never change as Jesus will be the one that ensures we will always be His (John 10:27-28). He is our friend forever.
Restoration
And Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphyl'ia, and had not gone with them to the work. (Acts 15:37-38 RSV)
You probably know the story of Mark. On Paul’s first missionary journey, he and Barnabas took Mark along. They had an amazing time of ministry on Cyprus. They proclaimed the Word of God in the synagogues so that the proconsul, of the province, Sergius Paulus, asked to hear Paul. What an opportunity, except that the proconsul’s right hand man was a magician who opposed the Christian missionaries. After a brief spiritual battle, the magician ends up blinded and Sergius Paulus becomes a believer. How would you have liked to be a part of that awesome mission trip?
You would think that after that spiritual high, Mark would be all the more eager to continue with Paul and Barnabas. We don’t know why, but Mark didn’t continue on with them. Was the battle too much? Did Mark have obligations at home? Was it too stressful? No one really knows, but once they traveled on to Pamphylia, Mark left and returned to Jerusalem. When they wanted to make a second missionary journey, Paul didn’t want to have anything to do with Mark. The breakup between Barnabas and Paul over Mark was serious (Acts 15:39). We see a glimpse of Paul’s stormy side there and his condemnation of Demas in 2 Timothy 4:10.
Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions— if he comes to you, welcome him. (Col 4:10 ESV)
Barnabas is only heard from again in the Bible in this reference that occurred about nine or ten years later and a brief mention in 1 Corinthians 9:6. Other mentions in Galatians were written before the split. The reference in Colossians is important because it shows that Paul encouraged them to welcome Barnabas. One of the problems with acrimonious splits is that people hear about them and then assume the worse. It is even possible that the Collossians had heard about the split from Paul on his second missionary trip after the split. This would make it even more important for Paul to emphasize their need to welcome Barnabas. Restoration is often hard because of the number of people that hear about the problem but never hear about the reconciliation.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matt 18:21-22 NIV)
Restoration or reconciliation doesn’t always happen after a problem occurs and there is an apology. We must be clear that restoration and reconciliation is not the same as forgiveness though forgiveness must come first. Complete restoration can only occur when trust is reestablished after genuine repentance has been demonstrated. The person who continues to abuse a relationship and ask for forgiveness is not one you can trust. If you forgive the person, then you don’t bring the offence up with him, others, or yourself. However, that does not mean you will trust the person. On the other hand, if the abuse stops and there is a change in keeping with repentance, reconciliation can occur. Regarding Mark, it is clear from Col 4:10 and Paul’s instructions to Timothy that any conflicts between Mark and Paul had been resolved because there is trust and a demonstration of repentance in usefulness in the ministry.
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Heb 13:5 ESV)
We may alienate ourselves from Jesus by our love of the world or other sins. But we need to know that this is a one-sided problem. He has not left us or forsaken us. Rather, knowing that He is with us through all our problems and even our sinful rebellion should be an encouragement to live a life pleasing to Him rather than being drawn away to the world. If we do withdraw for a time, we know that we can always come back to Him. However, we will need to confess our sin before we will find that complete restoration (1 John 1:7-10). Jesus is the one who always sticks closer than a brother.