Devotional # 196. 1 Timothy 1:18-20

Devotional # 196. 6/27/16. 1 Timothy 1:18-20.

Intro. Do you have friends that have left the church? Chances are good you do, considering 69% of American evangelical teens leave the church after high school, never to return.[i] And if they do make it past high school, 712 of 18-29 year olds leave the church every single day; some return but ultimately 1.7 million will never come back.[ii] In fact, adults over 30 are leaving the church in record numbers also[iii]. There are multiple reasons for this but in today’s Devotional we’re going to study what Paul says about people “leaving the faith.” We’re going to look at where the church has failed and what we can do to fix it. Just remember some of Paul’s words can seem a little harsh but we’ll view this in light of context and that Paul told us that “love” is crucial in all situations (v. 5, v. 14).

v. 18. Paul stops talking about his personal experience with the Lord (1 Timothy 1:12-16, Devotional #195) and turns to talk about his spiritual “son” Timothy. Remember this letter was written to instruct Timothy on how to deal with the problems in the Ephesian church (see Devotional # 192 and Devotional # 193 for more). Here, Paul makes a “charge”, which means an encouraging command, to Timothy to “have faith and a good conscience” (v. 19).

Faith” isn’t blind confidence. Hebrews 11:1 clearly defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” “This definition of faith contains two aspects: intellectual assent and trust. Intellectual assent is believing something to be true. Trust is actually relying on the fact that the something is true. A chair is often used to help illustrate this. Intellectual assent is recognizing that a chair is a chair and agreeing that it is designed to support a person who sits on it. Trust is actually sitting in the chair” (Source 2). Like Timothy we must remember to recognize and agree, by taking the action of faith that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

Along with “faith” Paul tells Timothy to have a “good conscience.” God has given everyone a conscience, some people chose to accept Jesus and the Holy Spirit comes into their heart and enlightens their conscience. Other people chose to ignore their conscience and eventually silence and suppress and deaden it. Were you ever blamed for something you didn’t do? Your conscience was clear even if you were frustrated or punished. What about the person who does something wrong but doesn’t believe it should be considered wrong, and therefore feels like they have a clear conscience? There is obviously a difference but what exactly is that difference? We must first start with a biblical foundation to determine when something is right or wrong. Peter tells us to keep “a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:16, NIV). Clearly “a clear conscience” comes from “good behavior in Christ.” It may be closed-minded to say that a clear conscience can only come from a biblical basis, but nevertheless true.

After his “charge” Paul reminds Timothy that there were prophesies about him. These were given when elders laid hands on Timothy (1 Timothy 4:14) and may have been general although they could have been about his spiritual gift(s) (also 1 Timothy 4:14). One of the prophesies was for sure that he would “wage the good warfare.” Paul associates the Christian walk with life and death warfare, which he’s used before, for example read Ephesians 6:10-20 (Devotional #118, Devotional # 119, Devotional #120). This warfare is very precise and isn’t “a fight” or “warfare in general” but very specifically spiritual warfare. This will be important for us to remember when we look at verse 20 down below.

v. 19. Here Paul actually states the encouragement command to Timothy, “having faith and a clear conscience”, which we just studied. Then Paul moves to those who have left the church. The statistics that I quoted above came from John Dickerson’s book The Great Evangelical Recession but Dickerson doesn’t just give us the main problems with the church – he gives us biblical solutions too. Here in 1 Timothy 1:19 we see our first solution to healing our churches: unity on essential beliefs. Should the church unify in everything? No. “‘In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, charity. In all things, Christ.’ Our unity must give and insist on clear boundaries about the essentials. Our unity must grant us gracious room to disagree on non-essentials. And our unity must exalt Christ and His gospel.”[iv]

We’re told here that one of the “essentials” is “faith and a good conscience” and if anyone “rejected” that, it could not be tolerated. Paul likens it to being “shipwrecked” (something he knew about, see Acts 27, Devotional # 71) and, in a minute, he’ll call it “blasphemy” (v. 20). We can’t over overemphasize the negative affect of calling yourself a Christian but living a life without “faith and a good conscience”. Let’s read on to get a better understanding.

v. 20. Above I noted one of the biblical solutions Dickerson mentions is unity, a second solution is: healing in discipleship and shepherding. And here, in verse 20, Paul points us in that direction. He names two of the guys in the Ephesian church who rejected “faith and a good conscience”. Not much is known about Hymenaeus and Alexander except “Hymenaeus is mentioned in 2 Timothy 2:17 in connection with Philetus, another false teacher. Alexander may be the opponent of the faith referred to in 2 Timothy 4:14,15” (Source 3). And Paul tells Timothy that he has “delivered [them] to Satan.” This sounds questionable and harsh but as I said at the beginning we need to properly understand what Paul is saying and more importantly why. Paul is saying that people like Hymenaeus and Alexander are serving Satan and if they are doing that then they can’t be allowed to fellowship with believers.
Do you remember that Timothy was told “wage the good warfare” in verse 19? In Ephesians Paul reminded us that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12, Devotional #119). So Paul wasn’t saying Hymenaeus and Alexander were the root cause, they were just a symptom of the Devil’s manipulation.

Yes, it was important for Paul to kick them out of the church so that they couldn’t influence other believers to think incorrectly but equally as important was the desired outcome. Paul says he kicked them out so that they “may learn not to blaspheme.” Time and again when a person was kicked out of the church the hope was that they would see the error of their ways, repent and come back into fellowship with the congregation and with Jesus Christ (for example 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Paul is teaching Timothy and us the importance of taking a firm stance on an essential belief but also setting the people up for healing via discipleship and shepherding.

 

References.

Source 1: John S. Dickerson, The Great Evangelical Recession, 2013, p. 99.

Source 2: S. Michael Houdmann, http://www.gotquestions.org/definition-of-faith.html

Source 3: John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1862.

[i] Source 1, p. 99

[ii] Source 1, pp. 103-104

[iii] Source 1, pp. 106-107

[iv] Source 1, p. 152

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Devotional # 187. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

Devotional # 187. 4/25/16. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12.

v. 11. “Therefore” always refers to what was just talked about. So just prior to this, in verses 4-10, Paul was talking about God’s righteous judgment (see Devotional # 186). He said that the “persecutions and tribulations” (v. 4) that the Thessalonians went through were “manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God” (v. 5). He went on to explain what God’s Final Judgement will look like and how we can be confident that it will be righteous justice. This is very important for us to understand here in today’s section but also for next week’s Devotional # 188.

So with that in mind Paul, Silas and Timothy pray for the Thessalonians all the time (see Devotional # 179 for more on praying continually). What do they pray for the Thessalonians? They pray “that (1) our God would count [them] worthy of this calling and (2) fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and (3) the work of faith with power.”

Regarding the first part of their prayer which is “that our God would count you worthy of this calling”: our first question probably is ‘what have we done to be worthy?’ and second, ‘what is our calling?’ Well, it should be no surprise that neither of these have much to do with something that we’ve come up with on our own. In fact the last thing should be our first focus: “our calling.” A person’s “calling” in the Bible “usually refers to God’s initial call to salvation, but the idea here probably includes the culmination of that initial act (1 Thessalonians 2:12)” (Devotional # 178) (Source 1). So our “calling” here is talking about everything from when we are first called by God to accept Jesus and be saved from our sin through when we are taken to heaven, which at that moment will show God faithful in His “calling” of you. Now that we have “our calling” well defined we can understand that God will only “count us worthy” by our response to “our calling.” As usual, we haven’t created something that is worthy of God and we also haven’t in and of ourselves done anything to be praised, we simply have been humbled and obedient to His call.

The second part of the prayer is to “fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness.” I was reminded by a friend today about the goodness of God (Source 2). It was because of a book I had given him to read titled, The Great Evangelical Recession by John S. Dickerson. I highly encourage you to buy it, read it and then give it to someone else! I think the following quote is impactful for many reasons but I am surprised at how well it applies to what we’re learning here. Earlier in the book the author told us about a young woman who was enslaved in prostitution named Steph…

“Goodness can’t be claimed from a distance. It has to be demonstrated in person. Steph put it this way: ‘how important it is to go into these dark places, because that’s where the victims are comfortable… The reality is that these victims want us to come to them in the jails and alleyways, in the pimps apartments… There’s no way they’re going to be drawn out of those dark places without going into those places ourselves.’ … And isn’t this exactly what Jesus did?… We must go into their place of darkness, while maintaining our personal integrity and purity. Even after conversion, we can expect someone from a foreign tribe and culture to take months or years to fully embrace new life in Christ. Their full freedom from slavery will be a long process” (Source 3).

Of all the great things summarized in this quote (personal evangelism, personal application, the tragedy of sin) I think the most applicable to this Scripture is that God’s goodness was shown in the God-Man Jesus and how He reached every one of us. Beyond that it points us towards our “calling”, that we just talked about, which involves us sharing the good news of Jesus with others until we go to heaven.

Lastly, “the work of faith with power” is the third part of their prayer. The “faith” (1 Thessalonians 1:3, Devotional # 174) that we possess in Jesus is used by God to answer the first two parts of this prayer “with [His] power.” This should be the reason that we pray, not just because it’s a habit, not just because the Bible tells us to, not just because God asks us to, not just because it’s good for us, but because it truly is “power.”  This is the most direct way to see God work and also for us to live within God’s will!

v. 12. And what is the result of these constant prayers? (Actually, in my mind this is partly a result but also a final petition of the prayer of Paul, Silas and Timothy.) The result of prayers like this is that the name of Jesus will be glorified. That is the paraphrased version but we can learn even more if we look at it verbatim: “that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you.” Notice: our (we belong to Him and He to us) Lord (Master) Jesus (His proper name) Christ (Savior) may be glorified (magnified and lifted up) in you (in us…can you believe it? It’s in “us” that He is glorified!). We are fortunate to be used by the Lord to glorify Him. But how do we glorify Him? Why don’t you try to “Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples” (Psalm 96:1-9 condensed)? In fact in Philippians 1:9 I asked you what was the meaning of life? The answer was “to glorify God” and how you answer that question determines where you spend eternity (Devotional # 121). Again, what a blessing to know Jesus is being glorified in us!

And not only that but “you in Him.” We are actually glorified in Jesus too. This is not because of anything we’ve done or how pure we inherently think we are. In fact, it’s purely because of the “grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is the shared and same “grace” given by the Father in the Trinity and the Son in the Trinity.

Conclusion. We have learned several things today.  We have seen how God’s future righteous justice is important in leading up to the Rapture but also in our day to day lives. Knowing that God will set things right is a big comfort. When we consider those things and couple that with Paul, Silas and Timothy’s constant prayer for the Thessalonians we find some very interesting things. They pray “that (1) our God would count you worthy of this calling and (2) fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and (3) the work of faith with power.” And finally, that the precious name of Jesus gets to be glorified and magnified in each one of us. It is a comfort that I am not “worthy of this calling” because of anything more than my response of obedience to Him, since it’s only possible through the “grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Aren’t you thankful that God has chosen us to glorify His name? And it gives me a future hope, like we read last week, that He will one Day “be glorified in His saints and to be admired” (2 Thessalonians 1:10).  Next week we will be returning to a specific discussion of the end times and a deep and heartfelt study of the “hope” we have in the Lord.

 

References.

Source 1: The New Testament and Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 831.

Source 2: Personal conversation with G. R. on 4/23/16.

Source 3: John S. Dickerson, The Great Evangelical Recession, pp. 139-140.

Devotional # 172. 1 Thessalonians 1:1

Devotional # 172. 1/14/16. 1 Thessalonians 1:1.

Intro. Today we start the book of 1 Thessalonians! We have had a break from studying through just one book with the Christmas and New Year’s Devotionals. But now we continue on, having gone through Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians we come to the book of 1 Thessalonians (pronounced “thess-uh-lone-ee-ans”). As with many of the books in the New Testament we call them books but they started off as letters. This is the first letter (that’s why we call it “First Thessalonians”) that we have from Paul to the church in Thessalonica. Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy were with Paul on his “second missionary journey when [this] church was founded (Acts 17:1-9)” (Source 1) so although Paul is the primary author, he still acknowledges that his traveling companions also greet the church.

Thessalonica is modern day Salonica (see map below) and became the capital of Macedonia around 168 BC (Source 1).

250px-Salonica_Eyalet,_Ottoman_Balkans_1850s.png

It’s important for us to understand why Paul wrote this letter, and without breaking it down section by section, he simply had gotten a good report from Timothy’s last visit (Acts 18:5) and wanted to encourage them. This is a nice change of pace for us when so often we are reading something from Paul because Christians have screwed up!

v. 1. As mentioned above this letter is from Paul and he wrote it to one of their fellow, God-fearing churches. Just here in verse 1 we see the phrase “Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” twice. The first time Paul notes that he is writing “in” as in “through” God. The second time he notes he is writing “from” God. So God is both inspiring him to write and it is therefore true and important but it is also from God so it shows His heart towards them and the things they are doing well and things which will strengthen their walk with the Lord.

I’ve been careful to leave out the words prior to “Father” both times it’s used here because I wanted to draw special attention to them. The first time the phrase is “God the Father” because He truly is the one and only Father God. But the second time the phrase is “God our Father” because He is relational and His heart towards His people is to know them and be known by them. God the Father is a distinct Person of the Trinity (separate from God the Son) and Mighty Creator of the Universe but He is also “our” Father where He knows the small things like each of us by name, knitting us together in our mother’s womb and loves us unconditionally.

Both times Jesus is referenced it’s the same: “Lord Jesus Christ“. This is a great phrase because we get:

 

 

-His title – “Lord” meaning Master.
-His personal, Human name – “Jesus” meaning “Yahweh is salvation” (See Devotional Christmas: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen for more).
-His purpose – “Christ” meaning Savior.

So what does our Master, God-who-is-salvation, our Savior, desire to make known to the Thessalonians and us today? It is: “grace to you and peace”! Do you remember how important this phrase is? “Grace” was a common greeting among Gentiles and “peace” was common among Hebrews so there is recognition of the diversity of the church while at the same time bringing unity! The importance of Christian unity cannot be understated in 2016. I’m serious. You may think the Christian church in the United States is probably as unified as it has been in the past but it’s never been more fragmented and disjointed. Read the book The Great Evangelical Recession by John S. Dickerson for both the sad statistics of how we’ve allowed ourselves to be divided and the encouraging solutions to fix it. Check out Devotional #142 for more on the importance of “grace and peace.”

Conclusion.

-Try picturing your “companions” in the faith when you read through sections like 1 Thessalonians 1:1. If you put yourself in Paul’s shoes it will come alive. Do you have a Silas and Timothy? If so be thankful and if not seek a few brothers and sisters that you can become close with in serving the Lord. You will hold each other accountable and “motivate each other in love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).

-Take encouragement in knowing that “the Father” who is “our Father” speaks “in” and “through” the Holy Spirit using average people like Paul. In the same way God will speak through you if you are willing.

-Meditate on the “Lord Jesus Christ” who is your Master, personal representative with the Father Yahweh and your Savior. However, He is not yours only but Savior of your next-door neighbors, of people such as Paul and Mary Magdalene 2,000 years ago and Abraham and Sarah 6,000 years ago. Do not try and hoard or hide Him, there is plenty to go around! Tell someone about Jesus their Savior.

-Pass along your “grace and peace” to others, whether they are your enemies or friends. And share the “grace and peace” that can only come from God the Father and God the Son.

 

References.

Source 1: John MacArthur, The John MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1841.