Tuesday, December 16, 2014

People Who Minister – 2 Tim 4:19-22

Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus. Make every effort to come before winter. Eubulus greets you, also Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brethren. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you. (NASU)
Prisca and Aquila
Paul was well acquainted with Prisca (Pricilla) and Aquila. He first met them at Corinth where they settled down after Claudius forced all Jews out of Rome. He stayed with them and worked in their tent making business. This enabled Paul to evangelize during his free time (Acts 18:1-4). They then accompanied Paul back to Ephesus where they stayed and Paul continued on (Acts 18:18-19). After Paul left, they heard Apollos speak but they also took him aside and corrected his theology (Acts 18:26). Their influence on the Gospel is significant. They used their business to aid Paul, they traveled extensively ending back in Rome (Rom 16:3), they risked their lives for Paul (Rom 16:4), they had sound theology and influenced Apollos.
How can we be like them? We many not all have businesses where we can hire people who need work while they concentrate on their ministry. But we can support missionaries. Paul was supported by the Philippian church (Phil 4:15-16); they set a good example for us. Perhaps you know of a young seminary student or family that could use some help while they are going to school training for a life of ministry. We should not fear when we are forced to pick up our family and move to a new city or even country. What would have happened to the gospel if Claudius had not kicked them out of Rome? Would they have met and helped Paul or Apollos? When we travel, even if it is to the grocery store, we should look for opportunities to serve others and engage people with the good news of Jesus. It isn’t all about evangelism either. Sometimes we need to take the time to disciple others.

May the Lord show special kindness to Onesiphorus and all his family because he often visited and encouraged me. He was never ashamed of me because I was in chains. When he came to Rome, he searched everywhere until he found me. May the Lord show him special kindness on the day of Christ's return. And you know very well how helpful he was in Ephesus. (2 Tim 1:16-18 NLT)
We don’t know much about Onesiphorus other than this brief description and 2 Timothy 1:16-18 and 4:19, which mentions his household. Paul wanted the Lord to show kindness to him and his family. People generally want kindness for people who have been kind. The makes me believe that Onesiphorus was a kind person and that kindness was reflected in his family. We can be like Onesiphorus when we are kind to others, especially to our own families. One interesting thing about being kind is that is a virtue that rewards us because, “A kind man benefits himself” (Prov 11:17 NIV).
Kindness goes out of its way to help others. Since Onesiphorus lived in Ephesus and the context suggests that he visited Paul more than once, it is possible that he made several trips to bring aid to Paul while he was in prison there. The first time, he didn’t even know where to find him. How many times do we go out of our way to visit prisoners, missionaries, elderly, hospitals, or even across the street to show kindness or comfort to others? Or do you make a half-hearted effort and when the circumstances are not perfect, claim that the Lord closed the door? Many times, a simple act of kindness can open a door to minister to a hurting person or share the Gospel with someone who is ready to hear from someone who is living their life like Jesus – as was Onesiphorus.
Another thing about Onesiphorus, he worked in the local church and didn’t use his expanded ministry as an excuse to neglect involvement his local congregation. I get it, we are all busy, it is difficult to go to work, minister in our neighborhood, and serve in the church. How difficult was it for Onesiphorus? I wonder how long it took to travel from Ephesus to Rome and back. I wonder how much time he had for his family? Yet, he was helpful in his church.
Erastus and Trophimus
So he sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, but he himself stayed in Asia for a time. (Acts 19:22 NKJV)
Erastus took some missionary journeys as well. He went with Timothy to Macedonia for some time, but ended up in Corinth, where he was the city treasurer (Rom 16:23). Note that he was one of many people who ministered to Paul during his missionary journeys. Trophimus is also one who accompanied Paul on his journeys (Acts 20:4, 21:29). Trophimus is an example of someone who is willing to go and then suffers the consequences of travels, illness. Paul had to leave him in  Miletus.
As we look at different people who help Paul, we find diversity. Erastus was the city treasurer. He was in a position of trust in the government. I see the same kinds of activity among many Christians today. Some are well-know, even celebrities who give their time to help the cause of Christ. These are people who have found the balance between their work, families, and ministry. While we often think that being successful in our work requires putting it before ministry and even family, those who want to be most effective in their lives know that all three are needed in the right balance. Perhaps those who are in full-time ministry find it hardest to balance their live since they can’t see the division between ministry and work. Often, they end up neglecting their families.
Trophimus illustrates the risks that we take when we engage in reaching out beyond our comfortable surroundings. He fell ill while traveling with Paul. He isn’t the only one, Epaphroditus also became ill while helping Paul during his first imprisonment in Rome (Phil 2:25). In fact, he almost died.
… Euodia and Syntyche … help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life. (Phil 4:2-3 NLT)
Paul often speaks of the women who helped him spread the Gospel. While these two were having some problems, the important thing to see is that Paul called them co-workers. He didn’t look down on them because they were women, as many would contend. Without the assistance and ministry of women, I’m convinced that Gospel would have failed. Not that Jesus’ ministry could fail because He is sovereign, but it is because He has shown throughout His Word that women are an integral part of His plan. In the Old Testament, God’s plan of redemption and women’s integration in that plan was announced to Satan (Gen 3:15). The lessons we have from the O. T. do not just include men, but women of faith and action.
Sarah, Rebecca, Tamar, Jochebed, Miriam, Ruth, the widow of Zeraphath (1 Kings 17:8), the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:8-10), and Esther are some of the women that God used to bring about His plan. Each of these had a mission to accomplish. While they were not perfect, just as the men were not, their parts were no less important than the men’s parts.
When we come to the New Testament, we find the same thing. Obviously, we often focus on the Virgin Mary, as is appropriate. However, we also need to see how other women were involved. The prophetess, Ana, immediately knew who Jesus was at His dedication and spoke to others about Him (Luke 2:36-38). Mary sat at Jesus’ feet clearly showing that disciples were not just men. Luke 8:2-3 records that women of wealth supported Jesus’ ministry. The book of Acts is full of women who assisted in ministry (Dorcas in Acts 9:36), were some of the first converts, and opened their homes to Paul (Lydia in Acts 16:14-15). Prominent women became some of the first converts in Thessalonica (Acts 17:4) and Berea (Acts 17:12).
With Your Spirit
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matt 28:20b NIV)
I hear some people say that we don’t need to ask God to provide what He has already promised. I get it, but Paul pronounced a benediction on Timothy at the end of his letter that echoes Jesus’ promise to be with all of us to the end of the age. If it is already promised, why would Paul do this? Certainly, it is a reminder that Jesus is with us to the end. Whatever our situation, we know He is right there with us.
Paul said “the Lord be with your spirit” (2 Tim 4:22). “The term ‘Lord’ (kurios) was a term pregnant with meaning among Greek-speaking Jews. It was the word used in the LXX [Septuagint] to translate the tetragrammaton (YHWH, ‘LORD’).”[1] The New Testament uses the phrase, “Lord Jesus,” 118 times in the King James Version. There is no doubt that when Paul pronounced this blessing, he was not speaking just of God the Father, but of the Trinity, inclusively of Jesus because he often spoke of the Lord Jesus. Even though Jesus has a physical body, it is a resurrected glorified body. Because He is God, He is just as omnipresent as God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is with us now and to the end of the age. It is a fitting benediction for Paul’s last letter and a reminder to us.
What is our spirit? There are many definitions, but this one sums it up well. “The nonphysical part of a person that is the seat of emotions and character; the soul … such a part regarded as a person's true self and as capable of surviving physical death or separation”[2]). This agrees with Unger as he states, “The term soul specifies that in the immaterial part of man that concerns life, action, and emotion. Spirit is that part related to worship and divine communion. The two terms are often used interchangeably, the same functions being ascribed to each.”[3] When I see a reference to my spirit in the Bible, I know that it is me.
May the Lord Jesus be with your spirit.

[1] Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2009), 19941-19942, Kindle.
[2] The New Oxford American Dictionary, Kindle ed., s.v. “spirit,” (Oxford University Press, 2010).
[3] Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, Updated ed., s.v. “Spirit,” ed. R. K. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006), Biblesoft.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

God Is Our Support – 2 Tim 4:16-18

At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (NASU)
I am a reproach among all my enemies, But especially among my neighbors, And am repulsive to my acquaintances; Those who see me outside flee from me. (Ps 31:11 NKJV)
Have you ever felt like there was no one who supported you? Look at the anguish in these words. Paul – all deserted me. David – I am repulsive. I’ve had neighbors who condemned my actions, friends who thought that I was completely wrong in how I handled a situation. Fortunately, the long-term proved that I had acted correctly. However, in the moment it is hard to do what you know is right when everyone is telling you it is wrong.

                If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have dwelt in the land of silence. (Ps 94:17 RSV)
Suicide is one of the dangers many people face when they feel that they have no support. According to the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in 2010 with 39,518 deaths.[1] The number for 2012 was 40,600 and was still the 10th leading cause of death. The author of Psalm 94 is not identified, but it could have been David, a man after God’s own heart. He admitted that if he had not found support from the Lord in the midst of his distress, he would have died. As you read this Psalm and others, you will definitely come away with the idea that he was not only talking about being killed by his enemies but also the affliction of his soul (vs. 19).

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:1-2 NKJV)
Let’s turn it on end. Have you ever deserted someone who needed support? On this end, when we don’t know the full story, it is easy to judge others and provide no support. I’ll admit it is hard to support someone in some of life’s difficulties. Looking at the second chapter of Job, we can see two methods of support for someone who is going through trouble. Job’s wife suggested that he curse God and die (Job 2:9). This is terrible advice but it is what many of us may receive from the world. When we have been raised in an environment that teaches us that our prosperity is a sign of God’s pleasure with us, difficulty and testing says God doesn’t approve of us or that our faith is weak. Fortunately, Job had a better understand and knew that both good and bad are under God’s sovereign control (Job 2:10).
And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. (Job 2:13 RSV)
Job’s three friends came and sat with him in silence for seven days. There is both good and bad using this as an example. There are times a person needs to have others near without trying to offer reasons for the calamity he is facing. However, understanding the concepts of the ancient Near Eastern thought sheds a different light on these seven days of silence. Eliphaz was from Edom, Bildad was probably lived near Uz and was Arab, and Zophar was from Naamah in north Arabia.[2] Based on this, it is extremely unlikely if Job’s friends were monotheistic worshipers of Yahweh but were aware of Him. They could have been like Nebuchadnezzar who acknowledged God (Dan 4:2) but also worshipped other gods (Dan 3:1-7). Their problem is that they didn’t have the written Word of God. They had traditions and the influence of all sorts of religions around them to form their concepts of God. Therefore, they didn’t really know what pleased or angered God.[3] So their seven days of silence may very well have been a time of waiting to see if Job died or not. If he died then they could confidently say Job died because of his error in appeasing God during his life. If he lived, well, then they needed to confront him with what they believed was his sinfulness. Their culture required that a person confess sin even if they didn’t know what it was in order to be restored.[4] God rebuked the three friends because of their ignorance of Him (Job 42:7).
We can conclude that the friend’s constant attempt to get Job to confess to some sin that he didn’t commit and their concepts of God were way out of line. But, what about the seven days of silence? Was that totally wrong? No, there are times when silence is good medicine. “It is foolish to belittle one's neighbor; a sensible person keeps quiet” (Prov 11:12 NLT).
Many people today say that we can’t comfort others unless we have gone through the same problems. They point to Paul’s statement that God is the God of all comfort and that He comforts us so that we can comfort others (2 Cor 1:3-4). While that is true, does that mean that we can only offer comfort to those who have gone through the same afflictions that we have? No, that is the product of our postmodern thought process that emphasizes relations and the concept that we each have our own truth. Therefore, your comfort only works if it is born out of the same conflict that I have had.
I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. (Rom 15:14 ESV)
 God has provided His Word to us so that we will know how to address all kinds of problems. According to Romans 15:14, if we are living godly lives (full of goodness) and know the Word (filled with knowledge), then we will be competent to instruct others. Going back to Galatians 6:1-2, remember that it says, “you who are spiritual restore … in a spirit of gentleness.” Perhaps the world is right. If a person is not spiritual (i.e. a mature Christian), then they can’t offer comfort unless they have been through the same suffering. However, that is not God’s Word to believers. There are occasions when we can observe the wisdom of Job’s friends and be silent in order to help someone in a spirit of gentleness. So let us be wise when we comfort but not neglect God’s Word either, for He is sufficient for all our needs, whether it is to minister to others or get us through our own trials (2 Cor 3:5, 9:8, 12:9).
But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey him. (Rom 16:26 NLT)
God specifically called Paul to take the message of salvation to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). But salvation for non-Jews was nothing new. Paul called it a mystery in Romans 16:25 and Ephesians 3:9, but it was plain to anyone who was looking for it. In Genesis 18:18, the Lord slipped in one of the first clues when He said, “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him” (ESV). David spoke of a time when all the nations will turn to the Lord and worship Him (Ps 22:27-28).
For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart. (Jer 29:11-13 RSV)
When we face trials and it seems like there are only opponents around us, when our friends have abandoned us, we need to remember God’s purpose for us. But before addressing His purpose for us, I must digress regarding this verse. Note that the RSV, NAS, and ESV say plans for welfare. KJV and NKJV say peace. NLT says good. However, the most often quoted version I have heard is the NIV, which says prosperity. Synonyms for welfare are wellbeing, interests, benefit, happiness, good, and safety. Synonyms for peace are tranquility, harmony, and serenity to mention a few. Now compare the synonyms of prosperity, which are wealth, affluence, opulence, and riches. What a significant difference between the meaning of the NIV and the other translations! The Hebrew word used is shalown or shalom.[5] It should look familiar, as most people recognize it as a greeting of peace. It’s a good idea to check out other translations when studying your Bible. I’m not picking on the NIV, as other translations have similar poor word choices. We need to look at the context to see what the most appropriate translation is.
These verses are taken as an individual promise, but the context of the verses is to the Jerusalem exiles in Babylon (Jer 29:1). God was very specific. He would return them to Jerusalem after 70 years (Jer 29:10). Those who were not in exile were promised “sword, famine, and pestilence” (Jer 29:17 ESV). How many times have we ever claimed that promise for ourselves? When the captives returned, what was the result? According to Nehemiah, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire" (Neh 1:3 ESV). Does this sound like prosperity? As time passed, the conditions improved, but prosperity would not be the description I would use. God took care of them but it was nothing compared to the reign of Solomon. Their welfare improved but prosperity occurred for only a few.
The point is, when we start looking for God’s purpose, we can’t take random verses from the Bible and claim that this is his purpose. We need to look at the overall message of God’s Word to understand our purpose. Colossians 1:15 says that all things were created for Jesus. Revelation 4:11 (KJV) says that everything was created for God’s pleasure. (Did you notice that I picked the translation that used the specific phrase I wanted? Be on guard!) What would you say is your overall purpose based on these verses? If it is to bring glory to God, then you are right. How is that to be done? “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl 12:13 KJV). There are some very good passages in the Bible that sum up how we keep his commandments. See 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24 or Romans 12 – 13.
We can continue talking about our purpose and glorifying God by doing His commands. The ones mentioned above all depend on following Jesus command to love God and others (Matt 22:37-40). While loving God is the most important, Jesus had to remind us that loving others can’t be neglected. He repeated the command three times (John 13:34, 15:12, 115:7). Least we get off track and think that by being all loving with one another and that is all it takes to get saved, we need to remember that without a saving relationship with Jesus in the first place, we will not be able to love God or others. We must first believe in Jesus (John 6:29).
The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. (Ps 121:7 NASB)
Paul’s expectation of rescue appears to be from the evil perpetrated on him by others. He has spoken of those who abandoned him, caused him great harm, and that his life may soon be over. Certainly, these deeds could be considered evil. Psalm 121:7 certainly sounds like a fitting quote for his circumstances. The Psalm’s implication is a physical protection but also a clarification that the soul is more important than the physical. Paul knows where he is headed, heaven. As we think about our purpose and fulfilling what God wants in our lives, we must keep our eyes on the ultimate goal and not become distracted by the crazy things that happen here on earth. It doesn’t mean we ignore them, but we have to keep them in an eternal perspective (2 Cor 4:16-18, Col 3:1-4).
Paul may also have been thinking about his first letter to the Corinthians where he said that God would not let them be tempted beyond what they could handle, but always gave them a way out (1 Cor 10:13). In this sense, rescue would be from sinful desires or attitudes. In prison, Paul could have easily become depressed and despaired of life, or bitter and angry because of those who deserted him. The word used for temptation is peirasmos. It is the same word that is used when translating Jesus’ words in the Lord ’s Prayer for temptation (Matt 6:13), testing for the seed sown on the rock (Luke 8:13), and trials when speaking to the apostles who stuck with him (Luke 22:28). James used the same word when speaking of our trial (James 1:2) and our temptations (James 1:12).[6] So, whether we are talking about difficulties of life or temptations. We know that the Lord is the one that keeps our souls.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. (1 Peter 5:8-9 ESV)
 It is also possible that Paul read Peter’s first letter. Paul knew he was rescued from the lion’s mouth, an allusion to Satan. Paul could take comfort in knowing that his suffering was not something that was strange but a very huge part of the Christian life. When Peter wrote, persecutions were most likely localized. When Paul was about to be executed, persecution was the way of the Roman government under Nero. Yet Paul could say he had been rescued from Satan. This is a clear indication that Satan cannot defeat us. Our salvation is secure in the midst of all kinds of trials, temptations, and testing.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38-39 NIV)
How many people do you think could be staring an unjust death sentence in the face (or terminal illness) and confidently say that the Lord would save them from every evil deed? Paul focused on the fact that his home was in heaven. There wasn’t anything in this life or anything that could happen to him after death that would prevent him from going to heaven. He lived in a time when myths abounded. There were underworld gods or entities that supposedly presented trial to people that they had to pass in order to enter into whatever “heaven” they imagined. These people or demonic entity could do nothing to him that would prevent him from going to heaven. There are no mountains to climb or crevices to cross. No magical powers, no beasts, nothing, was going to stop Paul from a safe entry into God’s eternal kingdom.

Do you have that confidence for this life and the afterlife? If you don’t then you need to turn to Jesus. He has already defeated Satan, paid for your sins (Col 2:13-15), and intercedes for you ( Rom 8:34, 1 John 2:1).  However, there is a catch. When you turn to Him, it is an all or nothing trust that must result in obedience (Luke 6:46). My prayer is that you will and have the assurance, just as Paul did, that you are going to heaven.

[1] “Faststats - Suicide and Self-Inflicted,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed November 14, 2014, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/suicide.htm.
[2] Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, Updated ed., s.v. “Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar,” ed. R. K. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006), Biblesoft.
[3] John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 2521-2534, Kindle.
[4] Ibid, 2876-2879.
[5] OT:7965 shalowm (shaw-lome'); or shalom (shaw-lome'); from OT:7999; safe, i.e. (figuratively) well, happy, friendly; also (abstractly) welfare, i.e. health, prosperity, peace. (Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary, (2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.)
[6] NT:3986 peirasmos, Thayer's Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database, (Biblesoft: 2006).