Monthly Archives: August 2015
In Hebrews 2, the author strikes at the heart of one of the things that I think most of us have thought about at one time or another. Why does God care so much about people who only seem to cause Him trouble?
Heb 2:14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
Heb 2:15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
Heb 2:16 For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.
Heb 2:17 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
This is a pretty amazing passage. Jesus became like us simply because He wanted to save us from the problems that we had created. Because He loved us, He wanted to make that reconciliation. These passages and so many powerful words to describe the process, but He was destroying the power of death and delivering those who were trapped in bondage.
I think about this, and God loves us in spite of all the problems we cause. We are conditioned to think as humans obviously. We are set in our perspectives, and it is easy to love those who love us and either fight with or simply ignore those who do not. We figure those people are not worth our time. However, God turns that entire perspective around. Every single one of us has offended him without a doubt, and He still loves us. He does not get mad; He does not ignore us. Rather, He is ready to forgive us as soon as we ask because nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
It is important to remember this attribute of God. We cannot forget what He has done for us.
The beginning of Hebrews 1 sets out the difference between Jesus Christ and the rest of creation. The first difference is that Jesus was not created.
Heb 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
Heb 1:2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
Heb 1:3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;
Heb 1:4 Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
Jesus Christ was the brightness of God. He was not simply a bearer of the brightness of God, but He was the brightness itself. He was the exact image of the person of God. He was and is God Himself. He was not a part of the created order.
This is hard for a lot of people to try to wrap their minds around. Naturally, we have two persons of the Trinity here with the third person being the Holy Spirit. How do we understand our God is one God but three persons?
I find that analogy is often the most effective way to understand the idea of the Trinity even though analogy is admittedly an imperfect reflection of reality. At least it helps a little bit for our finite minds.
It makes me think about Dorothy Sayers. Her argument is essentially that human creativity and can help us represent the Trinity. When an author is writing a book, there is an idea and the mind of the author. The book exists in the mind of the author. However, that both then becomes a different form written on paper. It is identical to the idea, but it is a distinct entity. Finally, when another person reads that same book, it is still the same book and idea, but it is the form in which it is communicated to the other person.
This type of illustration has helped me think through the issue of the Trinity, but always remember that every analogy is imperfect. It is much more important to understand that the Trinity is a reality than to develop a perfect analogy for it because that analogy is not going to be found.
The book of Philemon provides an interesting perspective on what is truly important. Onesimus had run away from his master Philemon, but he had met Paul and became a Christian. Paul was now sending him back to Philemon with this letter. Philemon was probably rather upset by this, but in this letter, it is clear that Paul is trying to show him what really should matter to him.
Phm 1:15 For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;
Phm 1:16 Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?
Philemon could have potentially been upset in this situation, so Paul seems to be trying to stop that concern right from the beginning. He understood that Onesimus had run away, but now that he had become a Christian, there was a transformed relationship.
As Christians, we are part of a family. Family members do hurt each other every now and then, but there is also forgiveness there. Even though perhaps Onesimus had hurt Philemon in some way when he ran away, that really was not important now. Later in the letter, Paul offered to personally offset any cost that had arisen out of the situation, and he was more concerned that Philemon would be willing to recognize the transformation of Onesimus.
I think about this in our lives. Think about someone who hurt you in the past. Perhaps later in life that person became a follower of Jesus Christ. The fact of the matter is that someday you are going to be standing side-by-side with that person in heaven praising our Lord. If you are both followers of Jesus Christ, then that is a reality. If you can’t live with them here on earth, then there is something wrong.
Paul did not want Philemon to throw out Onesimus he wanted him to think about the significance of his conversion to Christ. He was now a brother, and that type of situation has eternal consequences.
Paul ends Titus 3 by emphasizing the most important part of the Christian worldview.
Tit 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
Tit 3:6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
Tit 3:7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Tit 3:8 This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.
God has provided salvation for us. We’re justified by Him, not by our own works. As a result of that grace, we have been made heirs can have hope of eternal life in heaven with our Lord and Savior. That is vitally important.
Verse eight is interesting as well. Those who have believed in God ought to do good works. This illustrates a relationship I think between faith and works. If we have faith, then the works should follow. They are the consequence of following God. They do not give salvation, but if we are following the will of God, then we are going to do good things.
Think about Jesus Christ. He was perfectly following the will of God, and he did a wide variety is good works. As this verse says, they were profitable. He was helping out society simply by being in line with the will of God the Father. That applies to us as well in this case. I believe that Christians are good for the world. If we are endeavoring to live by the Christian worldview, the world is going to be better for having Christians in it. As you look at the number of schools, hospitals and charities founded by Christians over the years, it is obvious that many people have been motivated by the desire to follow God to do great things for humanity.
As a result, let’s remember this passage from Titus. Faith needs to come first, and salvation comes by that alone. However, as we then endeavor to follow Jesus Christ, works that are good for the world are going to follow. John Lennon might have imagined a world without religion, but I don’t think he would have liked what he would’ve found if there had never been a group of people passionately trying to follow the will of God who motivates good work.
As Christians, we have hope. That is something powerful about the Christian worldview. It fully acknowledges everything that is wrong with the world; we’re not in some kind of false bubble. However, we know that there is something better to come in the future.
In Titus 2, Paul is speaking to Titus about characteristics that ought to be present in believers, and he finishes off in this list with the most important in my opinion.
Tit 2:11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,
Tit 2:12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;
Tit 2:13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;
We live in this world. We should live in a way that God wants us to. However, we are doing that while constantly looking for the hope of the return of Jesus Christ. We live on earth, but we keep our eyes on heaven.
I think that we all have heard sermons asking about whether or not we would be proud to be doing what we are doing if Jesus Christ was to return today. I think it is a question worth considering, but even if Jesus did not return today, it still seems like the same question would apply. After all, God knows everything we are doing anyway.
Therefore, as we live on earth, we are trying to follow the way of Jesus Christ. Because the Word was made flesh, we do have an example of the perfect Christian life that we can follow. However, while we are living that life, we also keep our focus on the ultimate hope that we do have. The world is not all there is, and one our time here is done, the true adventure really begins. It has really struck me lately how amazing and exciting that really is.
Paul was writing to Titus in chapter 1 mostly about the qualifications of elders in the churches that Titus was supposed to appoint. However, after he lists out a variety of qualifications, we come to this verse.
Tit 1:15 Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.
First of all, it is wise to remember that no one is pure without the intervention of God. It seems clear that all have sinned, and we are all unbelieving to begin with. Therefore, we fit into the latter category without a doubt. We are defiled, so we cannot experience purity.
However, what about those of us who are Christians? Does this mean that we have absolute liberty to do whatever we want because everything becomes pure when we do it? I don’t think so. After all, it seems contradictory to say that I am able to sin yet it is pure.
Rather, it seems to me that we need to take a look at what happens to the people who are the pure. If we are pure, then first of all that has been imparted to us through Jesus Christ. Any righteousness we have comes from Him alone. Therefore, in order to call ourselves the pure, we need to be acting in accordance with the will of God.
If that is the case, then we’re not going to sin because we cannot be pure follow God and sin simultaneously. I am not saying that followers of Christ do not sin, but I am saying that when we do sin, we have deviated from following God. Clearly we can have forgiveness, but for that moment we have stumbled off the path.
To wrap all of this up, it seems to me that when we are following God, everything is pure. After all, following God cannot be anything but pure. However, if we were separated from God, then how can the experience this type of purity?
We’re supposed to be presenting the Gospel at all times even when it is not popular. In 2 Timothy 4, Paul encourages Timothy to remember that it might become difficult to continue following Christ, but it is what he needs to be doing.
2Ti 4:2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
2Ti 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
2Ti 4:4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
Throughout history, there have been multiple times when preaching the Gospel was restricted. Even today, there are many countries around the world where proclaiming the Gospel can mean imprisonment or death. People don’t want to hear the message or are incredibly entrenched in their own ideologies, so rather than defeat Christianity through intellectual means, they prefer to use brute strength and silence those who will continue to preach faithfully.
I think that this type of persecution that Timothy faced is actually an indirect indication of the truth of Christianity. Nobody is persecuted who believes in the Greek gods as far as I have ever heard. Why? Because a belief in that system has already been disproven. It was not able to stand up to scrutiny of intellectual investigation, so there is no further need to silence it. Sure, I assume there are people who do believe in these gods, but it does seem to me that if something has already been disproven, then there is no need to silence it. It does not appear to be a threat, and it goes away quietly.
The fact then that many people perceive Christianity to be a threat indicates to me that perhaps there is something there that they might not see in other religions. There might be something about Christianity that even though these people do not want to hear it, they feel like they have no choice but to kill or persecute because they cannot intellectually silence it. If you don’t want to hear it but cannot stop it, then you need to do something.
In apologetics, we talk a lot about 2 Timothy 3:16, and I know there’s good reason for that, but I want to focus on the next verse for today.
2Ti 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
2Ti 3:17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
The Scripture is inspired by God. It is profitable for a variety of things, but all of those things serve a purpose. God gives us doctrine to do good works. We receive reproof from God to do good works. We are corrected by God to perform good works, and we are instructed by God so that we will do good works.
I always think about the fact that the greatest commandment is to love God first. However, the second commandment is to love those around us. We do have a relationship with God through Scripture as I tried to emphasize above. That is part of the first commandment. We can love God when we know who we are actually loving.
However, as a result of that relationship, we should begin seeing results. Again, I do not believe in works-based salvation, but I do believe that good works are the result of salvation. We learn all of these things from Scripture to develop a relationship with God, and then we’re supposed to bring that to those around us.
Book knowledge is excellent, but we also need to remember that a major part of the Christian life is serving those around us. As we learn more about God, I am convinced that we will want to share the love of God even more with those around us. As we do these good works, they are going to see God glorified.
We need to remember this character of love. If we do not communicate that to the world around us, I don’t know how we will gain their attention.
Timothy 2 brings me back to my school days. How do you do well in school? Although it is certainly the case that some people have natural propensities towards reading or math, it is also true that there comes a point where everyone needs to put in work in order to do well.
2Ti 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Similarly, Timothy needed to make sure that he was studying the word of God. He was in a leadership position, and it was his responsibility to help the people rightly divide or understand the word of God. How would he be able to do that well unless the devoted time and effort to learning all that he could?
This clearly has practical application for all of us. If we want to talk about the Bible and if we want to help other people with their own understanding, then seems to be the case that we need to know the material. We need to know what God has said if we want to be in a position to actually help people understand it.
I know that that seems intuitive. How can we talk about something that we do not understand ourselves? It would be almost like trying to be a referee in basketball and explain the rules to people when you have never read the rulebook.
We certainly do not all have to be perfect Biblical scholars who know every possible interpretation of every possible passage, but we do need to be engaged in study so that when questions come up, we are able to have some type of answer. After all, if we are claiming to be Christians, then we probably should know what it means to follow Jesus Christ.
Well, we are pressing on to another book of the Bible. In 2 Timothy 1, Paul reminds Timothy that the life of a Christian is not a life that is characterized by fear.
2Ti 1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
2Ti 1:8 Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God;
There are three things that Paul mentions belong to a Christian in the place of the spirit of fear. Power is rather obvious. We have the power of God working through us, so why would we be afraid of anything? God is greater than whatever we might be facing.
However, we also have experience of love. People seem to fear things that they don’t like. As a kind of ridiculous example from my own life, I have never liked needles, so when I was young, I was afraid of them. However, when we move that to people, maybe we are afraid of people because we are intimidated or something like that, but when we recognize that we are called to love people, that fear is simply not necessary either.
Finally, having a sound mind drives away fear. Many of our fears are not logical. We might be afraid of something funny like the dark, but when we think about it logically, there is really not much to worry about. After all, when you are in your bedroom at home in the dark, it is not as if there is all of a sudden something terrifying in your bedroom. It is still your bedroom. That type of sound mind that ought to characterize the Christian helps drive away fear as well.
Overall, there is a lot of fear out there, and the Christian life simply does not need it. God is with us, so what could possibly stand against us?