1 Timothy 4

Read 1 Timothy 4.

In today’s chapter, Paul turned to address Timothy personally.

After warning him about prophesies that some would abandon the faith (vv. 1-4), Paul spoke about the importance of tending to his own spiritual life in verses 6-10.

The key verse in this paragraph is verse 7b: “train yourself to be godly.” The word train is deliberately chosen from athletics. We see this in verse 8 which talks about the limited value of “physical training.” Godliness, according to Paul, is like working out in that it must be done consistently.

You can go to the gym today and work out until you are so depleted and so sore that can’t walk anymore. But tomorrow you will see no difference in the mirror. If that’s all the training you do for this month, you won’t be any stronger or faster on October 1. Or November 1. Or any day in the future. One day of strenuous workout does not change the way your body looks or works.

But, if you work out regularly, you will build muscle and you might burn some fat. Those effects of regularly working out will start to affect your appearance. In addition, you will be able to perform better athletically over all.

So it is with godliness.

If we become godly by “training ourselves,” we need to work on cultivating godliness regularly. That means daily Bible reading and prayer. It means giving regularly and serving routinely.

It also helps to take a class in some aspect of Christian living. It helps to talk about your faith and your struggles with other believers in small groups. Getting stronger spiritually requires you to reach outside your comfort zone to help someone who is needy or struggling. It strengthens you to share your faith in Christ, especially if you fear being rejected.

Once we’ve been taught by the word, we need to do what the word commands us to do through obedience. This is how we train to “be godly” (v. 7) not just aspire to godliness or know what it means to be godly.

By the way, God brings trials into our lives to test the quality of our faith. These trials are like games or races; they reveal in real-time how good our training is and how much progress we’ve made in spiritual strength.

What are you doing to train yourself as a Christian? What should you add to your training to take you to another level?

1 Timothy 3

Read 1 Timothy 3.

If you were starting an organization and looking for leaders to help it succeed, what kind of person would you look for?

  • You might look for wealthy people who could donate financially to the organization and help manage the money the organization receives.
  • You might look for people who have been successful elsewhere—starting a successful business, becoming a college president, holding a prestigious political office.
  • You might look for someone famous who can draw attention to your organization.

These are all reasonable things to look for, humanly speaking, but not one of them is reflected in the list of qualities God tells us to look for in church leaders.

Here in 1 Timothy 3, Paul writes out for Timothy a description of the kind of man (or woman, in the case of deacons, see verse 11) that the church in Ephesus should be choosing. Paul had no interest in finding those who were successful in business or politics. He said nothing about finding someone famous. He also, by the way, didn’t tell them to look for someone who can speak piously or impress people with their spiritual-sounding words or unique theological insights.

Instead, Paul commended as leaders those who live a life consistent with a heart that has been changed by the grace of God in salvation. That kind of leader is “above reproach,” meaning that nobody can bring forth evidence that would call into question his moral character.

The phrase “above reproach” in verse 2a, and the similar phrase “worthy of respect” in verses 8a & 11a are blanket statements that summarize a person’s character. The phrases that follow “above reproach” such as “faithful to his wife, temperate,” etc. give more specifics about all the areas Timothy should consider when he judges whether a potential elder or deacon is truly “above reproach.”

All the things on this list are outward evidences of godly character within. The only task-oriented qualification is for the overseer (which is an other word for the office of pastor or elder) is that he must be “able to teach” (v. 2).

Our world cares about people who can perform in the marketplace. If a man can sell, his employer doesn’t care if he is “faithful to his wife” (v.2) or if “his children obey him” (v. 4).

Verse 3 details several sins that must not be true of elders in God’s church; these sins—drunkenness, violence, quarrelsome, lover of money—have led leaders of secular organizations into sins and crimes that embarrassed and tarnished the entire organization. Those are bad enough when you’re trying to sell a product but when you represent God and claim to have a life-changing message of grace that transforms and liberates sinners from these kinds of sins, an elder or deacon who is known for such things undermines the message of Christ.

In addition to giving us guidance about what kind of leaders to choose for our church, these paragraphs give us some character qualities to evaluate in our own lives. Not every Christian will become an elder or deacon, but all of us should desire and strive for a genuine walk with God that leads us to holiness. As we become holy by the power of God’s grace, these qualities will emerge like fruit in our lives. If you find yourself convicted because you’re lacking one of the godly characteristics elders/deacons should have or if you see in your life one of the sinful qualities that should not be true of godly leaders, ask God for grace and help to grow in that area because you want to be like Jesus.

1 Timothy 2

Read 1 Timothy 2.

One of the common objections heard against our faith is that it is exclusive. If Jesus is the only way to God, then what about people who worship God through other religions? Will they miss salvation even though they have a desire to know God?

The answer is yes, according to verse 5 of our passage today: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.”

It is common to hear that every religion is worshipping the same God, just by a different name. The Bible, however, calls worship of any other god than the true God idolatry. The reason is that “there is one God.” Verse 5 went on to say that there is “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” The only way to know the one true God, to worship him, and receive his forgiveness is through Jesus.

Why?

Because he “gave himself as a ransom.”

Only the death of Christ on our behalf made reconciliation with God possible. Any other religion, in addition to saying things about God that contradict the Christian description of God, lacks a solution to the problem of sin.

But notice the next phrase in verse 6: “…for all people.” This truth goes against the idea that our faith is unjustly exclusive.

Our faith is exclusive in the sense that there is only one way–Jesus. He is the exclusive way to God.

But our faith is not exclusive in the sense that it is restricted to only one type of person. The salvation Jesus purchased, and the good news about knowing God he brought us, is for every kind of person on earth–Jew or Gentile, slave or free, wealthy or poor, male or female, Japanese or Lebanese, or any other way that people can be categorized.

This is why Paul began this chapter by urging us to pray “for all people” (v. 1). We should pray for the gospel to go everywhere there are people. In verse 2, Paul specified that we should pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives….” This is a request for the authorities of the world to leave us alone so that the gospel can advance to all the world without interference or persecution.

When you pray today, remember to pray for the world. Specifically, pray that people all over the world will learn about the one true God and the one mediator, the man–our Lord–Christ Jesus. Pray that those who are taking the gospel everywhere will do so without being persecuted or interfered with so that all kinds of people will be “saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (v. 4).

Pray also for our government here in the U.S.–not that Team A or Team B will will win the next election but that whoever wins will leave us alone to spread the gospel message. That is the message of 1 Timothy 2:1-8.

1 Timothy 1

Read 1 Timothy 1.

Ephesus was an important place in the story of the New Testament.

Paul spent two years there on his third missionary journey according to Acts 19:10. Paul travelled to other cities after those two years in Ephesus, but toward the end of that second missionary journey, he stopped nearby and called the elders of the Ephesian church so that he could speak with them and pray with them (Acts 20:17ff). Of course, he also wrote the New Testament book we call “Ephesians” to that church as well.

When Paul wrote this letter we call 1 Timothy, things were not well in the church at Ephesus. Paul had been released from the house arrest we read about in Acts 28 and was out planting churches again when he heard reports of false doctrine in the church at Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3). He sent Timothy there to “command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer.” In verse 5, he said, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” These verses indicate how important good doctrine–pure doctrine–is to the health of the church. Good doctrine creates “a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” which produces love in God’s people which makes the church a loving, Christ-like place.

Bad doctrine, then, corrupts one’s faith and one’s “good conscience” (v. 19) which inevitably leads to problems in the church–both problems between people and moral problems within people.

Doctrine is not a popular subject in the church. Instead, churches today run on emotionalism, entertainment, and self-help. Emotions have an important place and making disciples involves helping believers deal with their problems but if that plus entertaining services is what a church is about, that church will not be able to withstand the winds of false doctrine. False doctrine hollows out a church, corrupting the pure hearts, good consciences, and sincere faith (v. 5) God called us to have as followers of Christ. So, never denigrate doctrine or underestimate its importance in your life or in the church. Instead, learn the great doctrines of our faith and let them purify your heart and strengthen your conscience. Then, as we learn and grow together in the truth, we will become a loving place.

Mark 16

Read Mark 16.

After Jesus was crucified, Matthew 27:57-61 records that Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy man who became a disciple of Jesus, received permission from Pilate to bury Jesus’s body. Remember that Jesus died on Friday and that, in the Jewish world, sunset marked the beginning of the next day. That sunset meant the start of Saturday and if they had taken time to properly embalm Jesus’ body, they would be breaking the Sabbath command. So, Joseph (with the help of Nicodemus, according to John 19:38-40) wrapped Jesus’ body in a clean cloth with some spices (Jn 20:40) and placed it into the tomb Joseph had purchased for his own burial place.

In today’s reading from Mark 16, three women came on Sunday morning to do the job right (vv. 1-3). The stone in front of the door to the cave seems to have been a standard practice since the opening to Lazarus’ tomb was also covered by a stone (Jn 11:39). The women were concerned that that no one would be there to roll the stone away for them (v. 3) but that turned out to be a non-issue. Jesus had risen from the dead (vv. 6-7) and angels were waiting to give the news to the women and the disciples.

This is how the gospel according to Mark ends–with the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection and a record of the fear the women experienced. It seems like a strange ending which is why other verses were added by well-meaning Christians in later manuscript copies. But Mark is complete as it is, ending at verse 8 because it records the resurrection of Jesus.

The resurrection of Christ is just as essential to his story and our faith as his crucifixion is. Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 15 that, without the resurrection, there is no forgiveness of sins (1 Cor 15:17). Without it, there is no hope of eternal life (1 Cor 15:17). No resurrection means that our faith is a lie (1 Cor 15:14) and the apostles are all liars (1 Cor 15:15).

Fortunately, Jesus did rise from the dead as we read here in Mark 16. The fact that his disciples were willing to be persecuted and even martyred for Jesus is a key point on the subject of the resurrection. These were the same men who abandoned him and fled when he was betrayed. Peter, who denied him three times, later gave his life for Jesus as did many other early disciples. They were willing to do that because they saw the resurrected Lord. Having seen him, they knew that his testimony about himself was true and that promises he made guaranteed eternal life to those who believed in him. As 1 Cor 21-22 says, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

This is the hope that will sustain you through the trials and problems of life. It will encourage you when those you love die and it will calm your fears when the time comes for you to die. Jesus rose from the dead and he promises to raise each of us from the dead when he returns. There is no fear, no problem in life, nothing that is bigger than that. It is a promise that you can hold to and that will hold you no matter what life has in store for you.

Mark 15

Read Mark 15.

Yesterday, when we read about Jesus’ arrest in Mark 14, we read these words in verses 48-49, ““Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Christ was pointing out how absurd it was to be arrested by so many men who were so heavily armed. Jesus was a peaceful man and a public man who could have been arrested easily many times.

The reason for the precautions, of course, was the miraculous power he displayed. If you were Judas and had seen him casting out demons and walking on water, you’d bring an army to arrest him, too. Had he chosen to resist, of course, all the armies in the world could not have detained him. Although he had shown miraculous power, it was never violently directed. Though Christ arrived in Jerusalem like a king and exercised authority, he never attempted a military coup.

Barabbas did, though. As we read today in Mark 15:7, “A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.” Not only did Barabbas try to overthrow the government, his group killed a man while doing so. Yet, when given the choice to release either Jesus–the merciful healer or Barabbas, the violent revolutionary, the crowd wanted Barabbas, not Jesus, released.

Why?

Because of how dark the sinful heart of humanity is. Given a chance to kill God, the author of life, humanity jumped at the opportunity to rid the earth of him. Only the sinful heart of man would think it was better to have a killer like Barabbas on the loose than the merciful son of God.

This is why we needed Christ’s redemption. Humanity longs for God, but not not the true and living God. The true God is holy and we are accountable to him. In order for any one of us to be reconciled to God, God the Son allowed himself to be taken into the hands of sinful men so that he could die as our substitute. Due to his death, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” giving those who believe in him free and open access to God the father.

This is something to praise God for; it is also something that should draw us in to speak with God in prayer. The way is open, the channel is clear, and God is listening because of the atonement of Christ.

What will you asking him for today?

Mark 14

Read Mark 14.

Dependability is a great personal characteristic. Most people, I think, want to be someone that others can trust to be there in any situation.

Peter did. He had a close friendship with Jesus and a fierce determination to stand with Jesus no matter what. Christ warned the disciples, “You will all fall away” in verse 27. He even quoted scripture (Zechariah 13:7) to prove his point. Peter spoke right up to say, “Not me. Not me, Lord. You can count on me, no matter what.” Or, to quote rather than paraphrase verse 29, “Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’”

Jesus pushed back and said, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times” (v. 30). Instead of pleading with Jesus for his grace to prevent that from happening, Peter raised his promise to say, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (v. 31).

Of course, Jesus was right and in verses 66-72 Peter did exactly what Christ had prophesied. Instead of standing and dying with Christ, Peter did everything he could to distance himself from Jesus. The reason, of course, was fear that he would also be crucified with Christ–exactly the thing he told Jesus he was ready to do. But, when “it got real” as they say these days, Peter’s bravado didn’t hold up.

One reason why this passage was given to us is to show us the tender mercy of Jesus. Peter failed Jesus but Jesus loved him and restored him anyway. Perseverance in the faith is taught in scripture and is an important doctrine for believers to understand. But most, if not all of us, will fail to stand for Jesus in some way or other at some time in our lives. Either we will be ashamed of something in his word that the world ridicules or we will not identify with his people because of fear. If this has happened to you and you feel the shame that Peter felt in this passage, take heart! Jesus is loving and forgiving even when we don’t follow him perfectly.

How does this passage square with the doctrine of perseverance? Remember, perseverance is the truth that those who are truly regenerated and belong to Jesus will follow him from the time of their salvation until the end of their lives, continuing and growing in faith and good works.

How do Peter’s failures not contradict this doctrine?

The answer is that Peter did not renounce Christ in his heart; he allowed fear to keep him from honestly affirming what was true. Peter did not genuinely fall away from Jesus; he distanced himself from Jesus because he was afraid, even though he still believed in Jesus.

Perseverance does not make us immune to failure. It means that we will, by the grace of God, grow strong enough to overcome our failures and stand for Christ as we grow in maturity. That happened to Peter. In the very text where Jesus restored Peter (John 21), he also prophesied that he would die for Christ someday (John21:18-19). This prophecy of Christ was fulfilled, too. God was gracious to Peter and strengthened the man who failed until he became the dependable disciple he aspired to be in Gethsemane.

May God continue this growing, stabilizing work in our lives, too. Confess and forget your failures to stand for Christ and call on his grace to strengthen you in the future when you are put to the test for him.

Mark 13

Read Mark 13.

I enjoy architecture and appreciate a well-designed and good-looking building. Don’t get me wrong, I know nothing about architecture; I just like the way places look when they are done right.

At least one disciple of Jesus shared this quality with me. According to verse 1, “As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’” If he’d said that to me, I would have said, “I know! Aren’t they cool! Herod has his problems, but he did build us a nice temple!”

Jesus, however, was not impressed and he told that disciple not to get too attached to that building. In verse 2 he said, “‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’”

Ahem.

Well, at least Jesus called the buildings “great.” Though…, maybe he just meant large.

Peter, James, and John–his closest disciples–asked Jesus privately about this. Peter’s brother Andrew also got in on the discussion, according to verse 3.

What Jesus said in the rest of this chapter is called “The Olivet Discourse” because Jesus spoke these words on the mount of Olives while overlooking the temple. Going into what Jesus taught in this chapter is beyond what I could cover in a devotional, but there is a message here for us just in the first two verses. The magnificent temple that awed at least one disciple was gone within 30 years or so after Jesus said these words. That happened during the lifetime of these men.

Long before the temple was destroyed, though, it stopped mattering to these men. On the day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit moved powerfully and saved thousands of people. And he kept moving and kept saving men, spreading his work throughout the rest of the world in waves that ripple out to us. No longer did they need a great building to have a spiritual experience with God. They had their memories of Jesus and his words, the Holy Spirit’s work, and thousands of disciples to nurture. Buildings are impressive and incredibly useful but if we love the building more than God or the souls of men, we’re doing it wrong.

Suzanne and I were part of a few church plants before we came to Calvary so we know what it is like to use someone else’s building. One thing that does for you is make you thankful for the building you have when you get one. I like our building here at Calvary, but this building will be destroyed someday–hopefully a long time into the future, but someday.

The impressive monuments in Washington and the stately government buildings there will not last forever, either. Someday everything we know will burn up and be replaced by a city made by God where righteousness dwells. We can’t take any buildings with us to that city, but we can take people who hear the gospel message and are rescued from an eternity apart from God.

So, let’s be thankful for the stuff we have–our church building and grounds, our homes, clothes, cars, etc. But don’t fall in love with those things; use them to reach and disciple and love people for Jesus Christ.

Start with your own family and you’ll be on the right track.

Mark 12

Read Mark 12.

Last year, a man on the University of Michigan’s board of regents and his wife offered to give $3 million to help build a multicultural center on campus. The university accepted their offer (of course) and offered to name the building after them. Students, however, objected because the building was to be named after another man and it would have been the only building on campus named after a minority–in this case, an African-American. In response to the objections, the university changed their plans and decided to keep the original name. And, the couple who offered to donate the $3 million changed their minds and rescinded the offer. Strangely, however, they claimed publicly that getting their names on the building was not a condition of their offer. They also claimed that they usually give privately to philanthropy.

If these things are true, then why not leave the original $3 million pledge in place since it was not, they claim, pledged on the condition of having the building named after them?

Regardless of how they came to their decision, you and I both know that wealthy people like to get their names on stuff when they give a lot of money. So many buildings on U of M’s campus are named after wealthy people who donated money to the university. Some of the amounts given by these people is extraordinary. That’s why the university wants to honor them by putting their name on something.

Here in Mark 12, however, Jesus was not impressed by the people who paid a lot to the temple (vv. 41-42). Instead of being impressed with the “large amounts” (v. 41b), Jesus was impressed by the small amount given by the widow (vv. 42-44). Although her amount was small in cash value, her gift was incredibly generous because it was “everything–all she had to live on” (v. 44). Her generosity made the big impression on Jesus, not the absolute dollar amount.

Why?

Because it takes a lot of faith to give all the cash you have in the world to the Lord’s work. Others may have given huge amounts but their gifts were much smaller when compared to their overall income or wealth. It was a genuine sacrifice for this woman to give as much as she did; for everyone else, it didn’t hurt at all.

Have you ever given extravagantly like this woman did–not in the total dollar amount you gave but in the percentage of your income you gave? If not, learn the lesson from today’s passage. God doesn’t need your help or mine to care and provide for his work; instead, he invites us by faith to be part of it so that he can reward us for our faith in him. So trust him with your money and invest in God’s work.

Mark 11

Read Mark 11.

In verse 23, did Jesus really mean that you could order a mountain into the sea if you prayed with enough faith?

The short answer is yes, he really meant it.

But…

It is important to keep some things in mind here when we look at this text, or one like it.

First, Mark 11 is a strong kingdom text. It began with Jesus entering Jerusalem on a colt, fulfilling the Messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9b, “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” See Matthew 21:5 also. This entire week–the passion week before Christ was crucified–was designed by God to show Israel that the true Messiah was here.

So Jesus did some very unusual things (even for him) to demonstrate his identity as Messiah. For instance, Jesus’ “triumphal entry” (vv. 1-11) was not the way he normally entered Jerusalem… or any other town for that matter. Also, the way he unilaterally cleared the temple (vv. 15-17) was unusual, too, though he probably did it once before.

The way Jesus cursed the fig tree was also unusual; not that he used his divine authority as Lord to do a miracle but that he cursed something rather than blessing it. Furthermore, the fig tree miracle had no other function than to demonstrate his Lordship to the disciples (vv. 12-14, 20-21). Jesus could have ordered the fig tree to immediately make figs and that would have happened. Instead, he cursed the tree for not making figs so that his disciples would see–again–that he had authority over everything, including nature.

That curse on the fig tree set up Jesus’ teaching on faith and prayer here in verses 22-25. Preparing the disciples for that teaching was the point of the curse but the entire of this chapter was to show us Jesus acting in a more overtly king-like, Messianic way. Jesus was about to be rejected and crucified–all according to God’s plan–but not before he gave everyone a look at what an authoritative king he would be. This text on faith was for the disciples to show them that his kingdom power would continue to work as they acted according to his will for the promotion of his kingdom. If moving a mountain was necessary for the promotion of his kingdom, the disciples would have been able to do it by faith in God’s power. But if they just wanted to re-arrange someone’s backyard by getting rid of that pesky mountain, well… there’s no good kingdom reason for that.

A second consideration for interpreting verse 23 is that Jesus often spoke using a literary device called “hyperbole.” Hyperbole means wildly overstating something for a powerful communication effect. We do this, too, when we say that we called someone “a million times” when we really just called twice. Jesus spoke in hyperbole often, such as when he told us to cut off a hand that causes us to sin. I’m not saying that Jesus was insincere about the power of “mountain moving faith” but I am saying he chose that image to show us how much power God would place at our disposal if we believed him and used it in service to him, not so that we could rearrange the world’s topography on a whim.

So, did Jesus really mean that you can order a mountain into the sea if you have enough faith? Yes, he meant it. But, the people who needed that power most were the original disciples, not us. If this miraculous power is for us, not only do you need faith without a doubt, you also need a good kingdom reason for it.

If a mountain stands between you and a mission God gives to you, I think you can use Jesus’ authority to move that mountain. But, let’s face it, a lot of our prayer requests aren’t kingdom or mission focused. They are for our comfort more than for God’s glory. God does not tire of hearing people ask him to help them through routine surgery, but I wonder if he is saddened that we never ask him for anything else.

If you want to live for God in this world, you will need God’s power for spiritual things such as:

  • forgiving someone who has sinned against you
  • overcoming an addiction
  • praying for an opportunity to witness to someone for Christ
  • asking God to help someone else who is stuck in sin
  • receiving grace to accept something you wish he would change (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

If we believed God in these areas and asked him to move those metaphoric mountains for us, can you believe that we would see him working more powerfully in our lives and in our church?