Archive for the ‘ Pauline Epistles’ Category

Spiritual Reformation 2 & 3

Saturday January 20, 2007

The first of Paul’s prayers that Carson looks at is in 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12. There’s a lot in there, but I’ve come away with three big things to chew over and try to improve (there’s a lot of room to do better!) with regard to how to pray for other people – namely: view, aims and content.

Paul’s view in this prayer is through a wide angled lens. Everything is set in the context of the grace of God which saved the Thessalonians and is the only means of their ongoing sanctification. Furthermore, the end of this world seems to be always in Paul’s mind, with many references to judgement and the new creation. I too often focus on what people want today or – if I’m really good – tomorrow.

Paul has two aims for his prayer – that “Jesus Christ will be glorified in us on account of what we have become by his grace, and we will be glorified in him on account of what he has done for us” (p59). He doesn’t aim for comfort or happiness for the Thessalonians, but for what is actually best.

It is hardly surprising when Paul is looking at the big picture and is praying for the glory of Jesus and Christians that he doesn’t pray for temporal, material things. The content of his prayer is largely concerned with thanking God for evidence of grace in the lives of the Thessalonians (specifically faith, love and steadfastness, v3-4) and asking God to continue with their sanctification (“that our God may make you worthy of his calling”, v11). There is also prayer that the godly agendas of the Thessalonians would be fulfilled (v12) – not, that is, exams, competitions or social events but “every resolve for good and every work of faith”.

Honestly, my response? Despondancy. Not only does Paul pray all the time, but he’s really good at it! When I do manage to pray, I so rarely have the view, aim or content that Paul manages. What’s more, my earlier resolve to have a list of 12 people to pray for every time I prayed has gone completely splat and I’m tempted to give up on the whole thing. But I know that that’s Satan’s tactic and not the council of my King. I know that what I must do is get up off the mat, then get back down on the mat on my knees (see what I did there?!). I need to admit I’ve failed, and that I could never do anything other than fail. I need to admit that I’ve given in to the temptation to revel in self pity. I need to ask forgiveness. I need to praise God for his grace that there are so many fresh starts and a promise that one day it won’t be a battle but I’ll be perfected. I need to ask that God would teach me to pray. Then I need to take a smaller slice of the elephant that is learning to pray better and – relying fully on God – start chewing.

So, new resolve. I’ve just nicked the student prayer list from my church and added the the twelve names from before and a few others. Now each day there are four people – three Christians and one non-Christian. Each morning, immediately after the Bible (or I’ll never get round to it) I will, at the least, go through the Lord’s prayer, pray for the appropriate four people and read a prayer from Valley of Vision. I believe that, by grace, this is an achievable target. If not, I just need to learn to carve a thinner slice. I really should get some specific accountability on this, but until I manage to set that up (and once I have!) here’s trusting in God.

Heavenly Father, I long for Jesus to be glorified in me. I do also long for the day when I will see him and will be sanctified and glorified. For now, Father, I cling to your grace. I thank you that my motivation to improve has come from your grace. I pray that your grace would sustain me and allow me to pray at least this much each day and that soon I would outgrow this and seek more time in your presence. Please keep me from legalism and from apathy – please keep me in grace. I thank you that you have given us teaching on how to pray. I thank you that the Spirit prays in my weakness, and he knows the deep things of you. I thank you that my salvation isn’t based on being able to maintain discipline, but I thank you that I can please you by doing so. Please teach me to pray, please conform the amount, the view, the aims and the content of my prayers to your will. Amen.

Timothy 2:1-13

Saturday January 20, 2007

v1-2: In the context of the good and bad examples Paul has just reminded Timothy of (“You then“) Paul urges Timothy to “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus”. I’m not sure how Paul means that grace will strengthen Timothy. In one sense it’s obvious – if Timothy is given strength, where could it come from but God’s grace! – but I think it means more than that, perhaps that remembering what heaven will be like will strengthen Timothy to endure whatever happens now. I wonder if the three analogies in v3-6 aren’t unpacking this instruction – they are all strong men who are motivated by a future reward. (Ephesians 6:10ff “be strong in the Lord…” might also be relevant – Timothy, in Ephesus, would probably recall Paul’s earlier letter.) Timothy, like Paul, is to tell the gospel to “many”, but to “entrust” (1:12, 14) it to faithful men who are able to teach – they will be the shepherds and defenders of the original, true gospel.

v3-4: Having shared the message, Timothy is to share in suffering with those who have received it, and to be single-minded in serving the Lord. This is a sobering instruction, and Timothy (and we) will only follow it if he aims “to please the one who enlisted him”. I’m not sure whether this is referring to Jesus or Paul (Jesus seems more likely in light of 2:15) but Timothy is to concentrate on pleasing those above him rather than on saving himself trouble.

v5: The crown here is the laurel crown of victory, not a monarch’s crown of power. Timothy will only be rewarded for his race if he follows the rules – unlike others (eg 2:17-18) he mustn’t swerve from the message he’s heard but must preach and defend that message.

v6: The reward seems to be the very people who Timothy has worked for. I can see how this could work – people in heaven coming up to him and saying, “thanks, Tim, for telling me the gospel and making sure I kept with it.” The application? Work hard!

v7: The fact that I don’t properly understand all the analogies doesn’t mean I should give up, but that I should think and I should ask the Lord for help – trusting that he wants me to and will help me to understand his word. It’s worth noting that Paul applies two of these metaphors to his own life in 4:7. Again, he’s telling Timothy, “do what I did, like I did it.”

v8-9: To keep him going, Timothy had to remember Jesus Christ, and Paul reminded Timothy of two facts about Jesus. Firstly he is “risen from the dead”, which would have reminded Timothy of the sure hope of his own resurrection and put his sufferings in their place. Secondly, Paul said Jesus is “the offspring of David”. I’m not sure why he mentioned this here, though it does seem that these two were the heart of Paul’s gospel (Romans 1:3-4) and may have reminded Timothy that Jesus is King over everything and whatever happens on earth can’t change that. Calling it “my gospel” doesn’t stop it being “the gospel of God” or “the gospel of his Son” (Romans 1:1,9) but I assume it means “as preached in the gospel which I preach, for which…”. Though Paul is bound in prison, “the word of God is not bound!” Amen, hallelujah!

v10: Because Paul’s suffering doesn’t stop the spread of the word, Paul is willing to “endure everything”. Moreover, he is enduring for the elect, so he knows he isn’t striving in vain but God will bring everyone of them to “salvation…with eternal glory.” It seems that he’s not just refering to converting the elect, but to ensuring that they remain in the faith – while he’s standing up to suffering he acts as an example to all the believers. The trustworthy saying of v11-13 seems aimed at all Christians (v14) so it links in nicely here to say that Paul isn’t just enduring for the initial salvation of the elect, but that they would remain faithful and so receive more “eternal glory”.

v11-13: This saying employs parallelism, so that it only makes two distinct points but each is made twice with slightly different wording. If we have died with him (surely meaning the “death” of baptism and repentance) we will live with him, and if we endure in believing we will reign with him. The literary parallels show that v13 isn’t an encouragement (“don’t worry, God won’t abandon us even if we abandon him!”) but a warning – “faithful” must mean faithful to his promises or character, that those who reject him he will reject. This is further implied by “he cannot deny himself” – he can’t not be who he is. Indeed, the one who is to “deny himself” is the Christian (Mark 8:34). A helpful reference in the ESV is to Romans 3:3 which, I think, makes the same point but more clearly. It must have been an encouragement to Paul who had endured to think about these truths near the end of his life.

Heavenly Father, I ask that I would be increasingly strengthened, entrusting the message to others, single-minded, obdedient, hard-working, faithful, persevering. Above all, I pray that you would teach me to remember Jesus Christ – the reason, example and power for my sanctification. Amen.

2 Timothy 1

Friday December 29, 2006

v1-2: These are fairly typical of the introductions of Paul’s letters. What stands out, though, is the phrase “beloved child” – Paul’s affection for Timothy was obvious. There is also the first hint of the book’s great theme – “the promise of life”.

v3: Why does Paul refer to his “ancestors”? Is the approaching end of his life encouraging him to look back? Or is he setting up a similarity between the two men, which will be completed when he refers to Timothy’s mother and grandmother (v5)? Either way, it is clear that though they didn’t know Jesus they did serve God. The old covenant believers weren’t serving God any less (or differently?) than Paul and Timothy, they just didn’t know as much. Paul remembers Timothy “constantly” in his prayers – he had a massive prayer list! The clear conscience could belong to Paul or his ancestors, but I think it more likely that Paul is explaining that his constant prayers for Timothy give him a clear conscience – after all, what better can he do for his ‘child’ than to life him to God?

v4: Paul remembers Timothy’s tears – presumably when they last parted. It seems that they would both be overjoyed to see each other.

v5: The roots of Timothy’s faith were in the faithfulness of his grandmother and mother, who seem to have taught him well (3:15) despite Timothy having a Gentile father (Acts 16:3). An encouragement for those in the same position – and all who seek to promote the gospel through their lives and words.

v6-7: The “gift of God” here is easier to understand in 1 Timothy 4:14 where it appears that the elders laid their hands on Timothy (to appoint him to his role) and one of them prophesied that he had the gift of teaching (based on 1~4:13 that’s what the gift is) so they “gave” him the gift by telling him that he had it. Now Timothy is told to use and grow this gift for two reasons. One is because of his sincere faith (“For this reason”, beginning v6) and the other is because we haven’t been given a spirit of fear (“for”, beginning v7). On the contrary, his teaching is to be marked with power, love and self-control. Power, because his teaching should be authoritative. Love, because otherwise he will be distant, lacking grace and a “noisy gong” (1 Corinthians 13:1). Self-control, because otherwise he will be a hypocrite. I guess that teaching today should be marked by the same.

v8: (v8-12a form one long sentance, and it’s important not to lose the flow because of the verse breaks.) The “therefore” could look back to the ancestors of v5 (because your ancestors have believed this don’t be ashamed of it!), but I think it’s saying ‘because we have a spirit of power, love and self-control’. Indeed, the “power of God” is referred to again in this verse. Why would Timothy be tempted to be ashamed? The fact that many were deserting the church and there was great persecution would make it easy to “be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord”, while Paul’s imprisonment and seeming failure and defeat would make it easy to be ashamed of him as Timothy’s leader. But no! Because you have a spirit of power, share in that suffering by God’s power. This wasn’t a call to seek out hardship, but to gladly endure it if it came and certainly to hold the gospel more valuable than Timothy’s own life. Paul doesn’t ask Timothy to do something that Paul wouldn’t do – he has!

v9-10: Two further reasons to share in suffering are that God “saved us” and that he “called us to a holy calling”. Timothy is then reminded that we have not been saved by works but by God’s own “purpose and grace”. The surprising thing is that though we have only seen God’s grace since the appearing of Jesus, we’ve had it since “before the ages began” — “before times eternal” in the Greek.  That’s hard to fathom, but a great joy! The references in v10 to death and life are more striking in the context of the suffering Paul and Timothy were facing.  Many Christians were being killed but because of Jesus’ work that can only bring them to “life and immortality”.

v11-12a: Paul reminds Timothy of his credentials, that he was “appointed a preacher and teacher and apostle” for the gospel”. It seems that preacher and teacher are distinct roles. This appointment (by Jesus) is important as Paul will encourage Timothy to stick with Paul’s gospel not another, and has caused him to suffer. (“As I do” cannot be referring to Paul’s conduct in suffering – joy, hope, etc – as then the temptation in the next sentence would be pride not shame.)

v12: As Paul urged Timothy (v8), so Paul is not ashamed despite his sufferings.  This is because he is able to say that he knows Jesus, and he is convinced that Jesus will be to guard until “that Day” (the day of judgement — the end of time) the deposit (the gospel) entrusted to Paul.  In other words, the promise that Paul will be vindicated on the last day will be guarded by Jesus until then.  The alternative translation, “what I have entrusted to him”, may be easier to interpret but seems less likely as it is out of step with the end of verse 14.

v13: Timothy is not simply to repeat what had Paul said, he is to say it the way the Paul said it — that is in “faith and love”.

v14: The “good deposit” seems to be the gospel message and gift of teaching and, as in v12, Timothy has God’s help to guard it.

v15-18: Surrounded by instructions to Timothy in v13-14 and 2:1 are human examples of what and what not to do. Phygelus and Hermogenes abandoned Paul, while Onesiphorus travel to Rome, searched hard for Paul and visited him often — as well as all of his help at Ephesus!  In the light of these examples Paul exhorts Timothy to keep going.

The Truth is in 2 Timothy…

Tuesday November 28, 2006

*For ease, references to 1 Timothy are denoted 1~ch:v, eg 1~1:1 is 1 Timothy 1:1. Where a book isn’t specified, references are to 2 Timothy.

It’s been a while since I’ve done any writing on passages of the Bible, but I’m going through 2 Timothy in my one-to-ones with an older guy from church and I wanted to have some reminders of what we’ve been talking about. I just want to record some of our thoughts so there are plenty of things I won’t understand fully but hopefully will have time sometime to come back and do more work on. Basically, don’t expect polished sermons but a collection of (often wrong and probably sometimes contradictory) musings on Paul’s last letter before his death.

As always, context is key, so a moment to review the situation that Paul was writing from and into. The church was undergoing serious persecution, being driven by the leaders of the Roman Empire (1:8,12 3:10-13). In this time, many are deserting the church (1:15, 4:10a, 16) and many who are remaining are teaching things which are untrue (2:16-18, 1~1:3-7).

As for the two men, writer and reader, Paul was imprisoned –probably in Rome, after the end of the events recorded in Acts –because of his preaching (1:8, 2:9). So far he has been saved from death (4:16-17) but he knows that his execution is not far off (4:6-8). Timothy is a church leader, possibly in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3) who is Paul’s apprentice and protégé (1:2a, 3:10-11). He doesn’t seem like an obvious leader, he is timid (1:7), poorly (1~5:23) and young (1~4:12). However, it has been recognised by Paul (1:6)and “the body of elders” (1~4:14) that he has the gift of teaching.

In the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the one theme which comes from this book again and again – indeed the whole letter seems to be soaked with it – is the future. (There are far too many references to list here, but 4:8 and 4:18 give a good appetiser for the feast inside.) In a time of immense suffering and hardship, Paul is looking forward to the resurrection, eternal glory and seeing Jesus and encouraging Timothy to look forward to. It is only in this context that he urges Timothy to follow Paul’s example, to endure suffering or to work hard for the spread of the gospel. Whatever our struggles, and with persecution and intolerance growing in this country, what better place for us to let Paul fix our eyes as well?

The Truth is in 1 Thessalonians…

Wednesday October 11, 2006

Acts 17:1-9 has the story of Paul starting the church in Thessalonica. After an extemely promising start (see 1:4-10), Paul was thrown out of the city after just three weeks – not nearly enough time for him to teach the church all that he wanted to. It seems, in particular, that he didn’t teach them what was going to happen after they die or at the end of time. He didn’t know how the church was doing – or even if there still was a church so sent Timothy to find out. And the news is fantastic! The church is strong in faith, love and godliness.

In fact, Paul is so excited by it, and so keen to praise the Thessalonians and to fill in the gaps in their knowledge that this must have been such a fantastic letter to receive. Love and admiration just emanates from it. For that reason, I think that looking at this letter will show what characterises a church that Paul and Jesus loved – which won’t be a bad thing to know for our own churches.

The Truth is in Colossians…

Tuesday October 10, 2006

I had the immense privilege last year of studying Colossians with Nathan Davidson – an apprentice at my church. It was the first time I had really gotten into one of the letters in this much detail and I owe a lot to him for the time he gave me.

The church in Colossae was one which Paul had never visited (1:7, 3:1) but he clearly cares enough to pen this letter. The generally accepted purpose of Colossians (as I understand it) was to correct false teachings which were knocking around in the Colossian church.  This comes from the fact that most of chapter 2 (v8 to the end) deals with several false teachings and explains why each is unacceptable.

However, the main theme that I am struck by as I read the letter isn’t the heresy of the church. It’s Jesus. Paul’s attack on false teaching, as well as his explaination of correct doctrine and behaviour, is always thouroughly grounded in Jesus – whether his character, his position or his sacrifice. Even if the various errors didn’t still exist (though most, if not all, do in today’s church) we can learn so much from this letter about how we should deal with false teaching and – even more simply – so much about Jesus from Paul’s loving explanations.

In many ways, the key verses here are 2:6-7: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, aboutnding in thanksgiving.” These verses act as a summary of the entire letter – the preceding half is about how they “received Christ Jesus the Lord”, a reminder of the faith “as [they] were taught” and the reason to carry on (“therefore”), while the second half of the letter is about what it looks like to “walk”, be “rooted and built up…and established” in Jesus. And the focus of it all is “Christ Jesus the Lord”.

That last phrase is worth one quick mention before jumping into the book. It is common in the new testament to find reference to “Christ Jesus the Lord” (though the word order may vary and the “the” is often changed or replaced, eg. “Lord Jesus Christ” or “Jesus Christ our Lord”) when it would seem that just using one of these three names of Jesus would suffice. But the phrase has more meaning that just ‘Jesus’, if such a thing is possible. It acts as a short hand for the entire gospel – the “Christ” (the Greek for Messiah) was God’s annointed King, “Jesus” means ‘he saves’ (by, as we shall see in 1:20, his death) and Jesus can only be “Lord” if he isn’t dead any more. So this oneshort phrase contains the ideas of God sending his King to die for our sins and be raised to rule over everything. When we see this full title for Jesus, the entire gospel should flash into our minds.