Mentors are important, and as we enter 1 Timothy 1, Paul advises Timothy as to the seriousness of the battle that every Christian must face.
1Ti 1:18 This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare;
1Ti 1:19 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:
I know that the term culture war comes with some ideological baggage, but I don’t know how to describe this situation any better. After all, it is obviously the imagery that Paul is communicating to Timothy.
There is something serious about the way that the Christian needs to relate to the world. In a war, it is not simply a game of pickup basketball where it really doesn’t matter who comes out on top. If the Christian worldview is accurate, then decisions we make here on earth have eternal significance. The stakes are remarkably high. Denying Jesus on earth will result in an eternal separation from Him. Accepting Jesus will result in an eternity with Him.
As a result, this is not something that we ought to take lightly. I think that is what Paul is trying to tell Timothy. He needs to be bold in following Jesus Christ because if he does not, he will have made a terrible mistake or shipwreck as Paul says.
Therefore, I’m not saying that we need to pick up our weapons and go out and fight. Paul did not do that himself, so it would not make sense whatsoever for him to be advising Timothy to do that. Do not misconstrue what I am saying. However, we do need to have that kind of attitude. We need to understand the seriousness of a belief in Christ. As Paul wrote earlier, if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then all of this is foolishness. By implication however, if Jesus did rise from the dead, then we need to take that seriously, and we need to do whatever we can to communicate that truth to the world around us.
How do we reach other people with the gospel? How are we able to find that connection? In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul makes a really good point about how he gained credibility among the people of Thessalonica.
1Th 2:9 For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.
1Th 2:10 Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:
1Th 2:11 As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children,
1Th 2:12 That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.
They specifically did not want to be a burden to the people, so they made sure to work and essentially earn their keep. They didn’t want to look like conmen trying to benefit off of other people’s generosity. Rather, they wanted the focus to be on the message. They wanted the people to hear the Gospel.
I think about that for you and me since we probably are not traveling missionaries. How does this passage apply to us? We need to care about people. I don’t know that anyone wants to listen to anyone who doesn’t care about them. If Paul had not been willing to prove that he cared about the people and was only there to take advantage of the people of Thessalonica, then I don’t think that anyone would’ve listened.
If somebody has statistics, I would be very interested to see them, but I believe that most people are brought to Jesus by someone they have a close relationship with. I am sure that revival meetings and things like that have their place, and I know that they are effective for many people, but I still think that the true power comes from God working through a personal relationship.
It feels good to be important, and I think that most of us want to feel that we have some level of authority in a given situation. However, in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul is careful to point out to the Corinthians that when they are preaching the gospel, it is not about them.
2Co 4:5 For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.
2Co 4:6 For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
We preach about Jesus Christ. Why? God sent Him to earth, and now He lives within us to give an understanding of the things of God. Without Jesus Christ, we would still be blind in our sins. We would not realize our fallenness, but because of the light that we have shined in our hearts, we can comprehend what is really happening.
Notice that it is nothing about ourselves. Our message is about what Jesus Christ has done for us. It is not that I have read a self-help book and made myself a better person. It is not that I began practicing meditation and found to the answer within myself (not that meditation itself is necessarily bad, but when the focus is only on ourselves, there is a problem in this case). I have received light in my heart directly because of Jesus Christ moving in.
God is the important one in this situation. He has the authority, and the light comes from Him. We benefit from that without a doubt, but the gospel is not about us. When we make the gospel about ourselves, we put ourselves in the place of God, and that is something that is never smart to do.
There is much more to being a Christian than simply knowing the intellectual arguments and being a great presenter. In 1 Corinthians 13, we find out that our attitude is the vehicle that utilizes these other pieces of the puzzle.
1Co 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
1Co 13:2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
1Co 13:3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Without love, we’re not doing our job. If we preach perfectly and draw audiences like Billy Graham, if we don’t have the right attitude of love, then it is really all for nothing. That makes sense if you think about it. People are going to be drawn to us if they see that we care about them. When people understand that Christians are really trying to share news out of love rather than for some other ulterior motive, they become much more receptive to the gospel.
I think about a hypothetical situation where I am sharing the gospel, but my main motivation is to get more people in my local church so that we can have the biggest church in town. I’m not doing it in this situation because I care about the individual people, and that will come through in my presentation. Eventually, they will realize I don’t really care about them, and they will fade away as a result.
We need to make sure that we have the right heart going into it. As we work for the glory of God, we need to love the people we are working with. It makes a difference.
I find it interesting that Jesus recognized ahead of time in Luke 9 that not every conversation the disciples had would be profitable.
Luk 9:3 And he said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money; neither have two coats apiece.
Luk 9:4 And whatsoever house ye enter into, there abide, and thence depart.
Luk 9:5 And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them.
Jesus did not tell them that everyone would open the disciples with open arms. Rather, there would be some who would not listen, but it was not necessarily a cause for concern. The disciples were to preach the gospel to the best of their abilities, but if they people do not listen, it is not as if the disciples were supposed to burn down the city on their way out. It was not a convert or die type of situation.
The disciples were simply supposed to shake the dust off their sandals. In other words, they were supposed to brush it off, and continue preaching to people who would listen.
I think this has a lot of relevance for all of us today. We certainly try our best to show the beauty of Jesus Christ to the world around us. I write this every day in hopes that either it will reinforce the faith of those who already believe or help bring someone nearer to the family of God. However, the reality is that not everyone will listen. As much as I wish it were the other way around, it is not my job to start ripping people who didn’t listen. My job, and the job of all Christians, is to present the gospel, be faithful in that and let God do the rest.
In Mark 6, it is interesting that Jesus already began the missionary work of spreading the gospel.
Mar 6:7 And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;
Mar 6:8 And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:
Mar 6:9 But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.
This stands out to me because the Gospels as we know them were not written yet. I hold to an early dating of the Gospels, but they all involve Jesus being crucified, and that had not happened yet. However, the disciples were going forth with some type of message. Surely, Jesus as their teacher did not just send them out and tell them to teach whatever they wanted. There was some type of message that would have been communicated orally.
This is a very important point especially because the Gospels might not have been written until at least 60 A.D. That is a gap of 30 years from the events that they narrate. How do we know that the stories were not corrupted over that time?
I am taking a class on Scripture and Apologetic Implications with Dr. Mike Licona at Houston Baptist University right now. We just got done talking about the culture that Jesus was a part of. In that time, there was a teaching method used by rabbis that relied heavily on memorization. It would not have been strange at all for Jesus to have taught His disciples in the same way. Also, by using memorable parables and mnemonic devices that were recorded in the Gospels, Jesus would have been helping His followers remember.
I know that some people are worried about the distance that the Gospels were written from the events they narrate. However, by looking at the content of what was written and realizing that these would have been important, life-changing memories for the disciples, it is not hard to believe that the tradition we have been given in the Gospels had been faithfully transmitted orally by a culture that was very good at doing that.
I was thinking about the study of apologetics while I was reading Matthew 9. This was immediately after Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector, to follow Him, and Jesus was having dinner with the tax collectors.
Mat 9:10 And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.
Mat 9:11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?
Mat 9:12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
Mat 9:13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Jesus came to be with sinners. Obviously, the Pharisees did not see themselves as sinners, and they felt that they were better than the tax collectors, but we know that there is no one who is perfect. Jesus came to be with everyone, but this meal was proving a more significant point.
He was demonstrating that it was His job to bring salvation for all who would put their faith in Him. On some level, the tax collectors were willing to invite Jesus into the house. They wanted to be with Him, and He was right there to be with them.
Now, coming to apologetics, I was to hear about how part of our calling reflects the Great Commission. We’re supposed to bring the Gospel everywhere, and we are also commanded separately that we always need to have a reason for the hope that we have.
We don’t know who is going to respond to that message. Is it going to be the tax collector who was visibly frowned upon? For a more contemporary example, might our message resonate with the guy who is a known drug dealer? What do we do then? Do we avoid him like the Pharisees would have?
I think that we ought to be more like Jesus. We don’t engage in the activity. That is obviously the caution in all of this. We don’t want to fall into the temptation ourselves. However, that does not mean that we don’t share God’s message with whoever is responding to it. The tax collectors were the ones who were listening, and Jesus said that He was there to heal the sick. They were the ones who seemed to want Him.
In Ezekiel 2, Ezekiel himself had just finished seeing a rather perplexing image of angels and wheels. I guess an image like that would probably be assumed to be supernatural in origin, so maybe Ezekiel was not overly surprised when God began speaking to him. This was essentially his commissioning as a missionary.
Eze 2:3 And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day.
Eze 2:4 For they are impudent children and stiffhearted. I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD.
Eze 2:5 And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them.
Eze 2:6 And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.
Eze 2:7 And thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear: for they are most rebellious.
I am not a career missionary by any means although I greatly admire those who are. I imagine that this must be one of the more encouraging passages for people who are going into this line of work. However, even those of us who are on the home front can learn a lot from this commissioning.
First, it affirms that our job is to preach the gospel. Not everyone is going to listen, and that is to be expected. However, we are not to be afraid of them or whatever we go through. How often are we afraid of talking about Jesus for fear of the consequences? I know I have been there, and I think if we are all honest, we have probably had a time where it was not easy to share our faith. Maybe we didn’t want to get laughed at. Maybe we simply didn’t know what to say. However, this passage affirms that these barriers are only artificial. Our job is to persevere through them through the power of God to speak the truth.
I want to draw out that point regarding the fact that not everyone will listen. It is a difficult thing to face, but it is experientially true. As Christians, we have taken a position based on evidence (which can take different forms for different people) and have made a decision to live this life in pursuit of God. However, there are people who obviously do not come to the same conclusions. Perhaps they value different evidence or have other reasons, but as is clear through the history of the world, not everyone is a Christian, and not everyone will be.
That can be the frustrating point. Christianity makes claims about belief and nonbelief, and the answer to that question has eternal consequences from the Christian worldview. If people are not listening, it is clearly a different sort of situation that you refusing to acknowledge that the Philadelphia Phillies are most obviously the best baseball team. It is a much more serious matter, and the belief is incredibly important. It can be discouraging and upsetting when people do not listen.
It is important to remember that our mission is to preach the gospel. It is not necessary that we have a certain hit ratio on successful conversions. It is not at all like that. Our job is to preach, and the individual needs to respond. Just like salvation is not transferable, the decision is also not something that we can do for someone else. Even though it might be discouraging when people don’t listen, we need to do all that we can for our part of the bargain. That is what God commanded Ezekiel to do.
In the previous chapter, we were talking about Jesus, and we are extending that discussion into Isaiah 11. It is very interesting because when Jesus comes, some very interesting things are going to happen.
Isa 11:6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
Isa 11:7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
Isa 11:8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.
Isa 11:9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
I am not sure that this verse is intended to be taken literally because the Messiah came for people rather than animals, so perhaps these comparisons are being used to tell us about people and the effect that the Gospel will have on them.
It is true if you think about it. The church as we know it today has people who might not be able to get along and many other circumstances, but they come together because they understand they are part of something bigger than themselves. We also have people who have seen their lives entirely transformed. They had one lifestyle, and now they have an entirely different one. It is like the old wolf life can all of a sudden be transformed and live with the lamb.
Verse nine even tells us that if and when the entire Earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord, there would be no more destruction. I think we need to address this claim a little bit more. Some people will immediately come back and say that they had been plenty of bad Christians, so I certainly would not expect a world full of them to create a world without violence. Look at the Crusades for example.
Hold on just a second. It is important to differentiate between people who call themselves Christians and people who truly are Christians. For example, I can call myself a used car salesman, but it doesn’t mean I really am one. I don’t go to the garage and sell cars all day; I go to my office and sell insurance. However, I still call myself whenever I want. The proof is in the evidence rather than the label.
People who have been transformed by the Gospel ought to be different. I’m not saying that we all should be perfect because that would be ridiculous and impossible, but I am saying that there should be some kind of development evident in our lives. Things that should not naturally happen began to happen in that person’s life. It gets back to all of the comparisons in the chapter.