Thursday, March 22, 2018

Dare to be a Timothy (1 Corinthians 4:16-17)

“Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.” (1 Corinthians 4:16–17, NASB95PARA)

Paul exhorted the Corinthian believers in this letter to be imitators of him, and to help forward that he also was sending a living breathing person to be his encouragement and example in the process. At the writing of this letter Timothy had not yet come. We know this from chapter 16 where we read, “Now if Timothy comes, see that he is with you without cause to be afraid, for he is doing the Lord’s work, as I also am.” (1 Corinthians 16:10, NASB95PARA) But it was Paul’s intention that he would, and when he did they were to receive him really as if Paul had come himself. Timothy had spent considerable time with Paul, and he was at a point in their ministering together that Timothy could go and do without Paul being present. Paul spoke many times of Timothy’s faithfulness to that which he had seen and heard.

Timothy knew Paul. Right after Paul and Barnabas had separated to go on their own way in ministry, Paul went to Lystra where he met Timothy and immediately took him under his wing as Barnabas had done for Paul. “Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe. So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.” (Acts 16:1–5, NASB95PARA)

And throughout their time together Timothy would regularly be by his side observing, growing and serving. As time progressed Timothy reached the point that Paul would then leave him to continue a work or even send him to forward a work. Timothy had seen Paul in a wide variety of settings and circumstances. He had heard him teach and he had seen him endure hardship. Timothy knew not only Paul, but he knew and was encouraged in following the example of Paul.

Near the end of his life the apostle Paul wrote to encourage Timothy and urge him to come to Paul in prison, “Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:10-15, NASB95PARA)

The example Paul set for Timothy has been preserved for us in God’s Word and it is just as useful for us today in the midst of all that is going on as it was then. Paul continued in the next verses to Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, NASB95PARA)

Here in these verses of 1 Corinthians, Paul was writing to the Corinthians believers to tell them that in the absence of him being able to come that he was sending a trusted son in the Lord who knew his example, lived it faithfully, and would be able to direct their steps as well. Paul had duplicated himself through personal discipleship and now he was sending to them a faithful disciple of Christ to multiply the work given to them both. The essential nature of this process is recorded for us also in Paul’s last letter to Timothy, where we read, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2, NASB95PARA)

Timothy demonstrates for us what it is to be a disciple, while Paul demonstrates what it is to be the one who disciples. Together we see from Scripture this process that God designed to continue His work of drawing people to Himself and ensuring that they have what is needed to help them grow. The Corinthian believers needed both the message and the example. The question for all of us is really whether we have committed ourselves to God’s way of living and growing His church. For me, one of the most exciting things is to see light-bulbs come on in people’s hearts and minds.

There is this phrase which has been used over the years, of which I am not certain its origin. It is, “Dare to be a Timothy.” These verses in a nutshell describe Timothy to us as a faithful disciple who had grown in the Lord and who was now able to teach others also. “Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.” And, just as the Corinthian believers were to see Timothy in person, so are we able to see Him in the inerrant and inspired Word of God.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Right Response (1 Corinthians 4:11-13)

“To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.” (1 Corinthians 4:11–13, NASB95PARA)

Today we are returning to a portion of the verses looked at in the last post to look at some specific responses brought forward by Paul in the midst of the attacks of others.

First, he wrote, “when we are reviled, we bless.” The word revile has the meaning of railing against. It is an intense and persistent attack. It is a relentless going after that goes on and on. And, what did Paul say the response of the apostles was when being attacked this way? He said, they “bless.” The Greek word is the one from where we get our word “eulogy,” and it means to celebrate with praise or to speak well. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they praised their persecutors, but it does mean that they praised God who had them wrapped firmly in His hands in the midst of persecution allowing them to respond in His peace. Peter wrote this of Jesus who was their personal example, “and while being reviled, He [Jesus] did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;” (1 Peter 2:23, NASB95PARA)

In Acts we see the example of Paul and Silas after they had been arrested, beaten with rods, thrown in prison where they had their feet fastened in stocks (Acts 16:19-24). The jailer had been given orders to keep them safely there. We continue to read, “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.” (Acts 16:25–32, NASB95PARA)

He then added, “when we are persecuted, we endure.” Again, we find the word “we,” but we really don’t have to look any further than the example of Paul who in verse 16 told them, “Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.” We saw how he responded when beaten and arrested in Philippi, and also what God did as a result with many coming to Christ. In 2 Corinthians he wrote to many of these same people that heard this current letter of a much longer list of that which he endured for the sake of the gospel of Christ. “Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:23–28, NASB95PARA) Paul continued to speak of these struggles he endured and even a personal one that he had requested that God remove. Then in chapter 12, verses 9-10 he wrote this, “And He [Christ] has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10, NASB95PARA) Paul knew what it was to endure, and as an apostle chosen by the One who endured the cross for us, Paul wrote that we are to do likewise in following their example.

Then Paul wrapped it up with, “when we are slandered, we try to conciliate.” Slandered is the Greek word blasphemos, and it simply means to hurt or injure fame. It is to speak evil of someone’s character, while “conciliate” or “entreat” (ESV) has the meaning of encouraging, exhorting, comforting, consoling. Rather than using their words to tear people down, Paul said that he was about building them up and using his words to bringing people together. And, this is exactly what he was seeking to do in confronting their dissension over who they followed. Paul instructed them in truth that was to reframe their thinking and help them to align their hearts with one another in Christ.

It did not matter for Paul to win in human terms. He did not have to get the last word and make the best cut. He knew that in this world there was going to be persecution and he was committed to enduring every form of it to forward the gospel of Christ to the glory of God.

Friday, March 9, 2018

A Father’s Example (1 Corinthians 4:8-16)

“You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now. I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.” (1 Corinthians 4:8–16, NASB95PARA)

These verses were a long time coming in this letter, and when they came they came pretty strong. Those to whom Paul was writing had become boastful in their allegiances and their position within those allegiances. They were acting as if they had it all and were in need of no one or nothing else. As Paul indicated with a strong hint of sarcasm, they had become kings all on their own. They had seemingly gone beyond their teachers to achieve their own status of rule and reign. Unfortunately, this place that they had gone to was not a spiritual one, but as he had written earlier was one of the flesh. They were doing church in their own strength according to their own way. And, they really weren’t listening to what they had heard from the very teachers who they used the names of as points of status.

Oh, how great it would have been if they had achieved spiritual maturity and were in a place where they could reign together such that the apostles could even share in it with them. But this was not the case and this is not how God has chosen to work. It is here that Paul turns his attention from their false haughtiness to the reality of the life of the apostles like himself. Rather than using exalted men, God chose to use persecuted men to further His kingdom.

In choosing His apostles, Paul said that he thought God had put them on exhibit as examples of the way we were to walk and serve. All of creation was watching these men. Both the men and women who they walked among and God’s created angels both those who were obedient and those who had been cast down as cohorts with Satan. These were the men personally given to Christ by the Father, and Jesus had kept every single one of them except for Judas who was specifically chosen to turn. This even included Paul who was later added, and who was penning these words. All of them had a big target on them for the enemy, but that did not sway them from doing the task that God had given them. And, while Scripture does not record the manner of death for each of these men, church history has many traditions that reflect them indeed suffering the condemnation and martyrdom of which Paul spoke.

They may have been sentenced to death by man, but God had their lives firmly in His hands and their sentence of life was proven the moment that each of them stepped out of their bodies and into His presence. The world may have looked at them as fools for having suffered all that they did for a result that they could not see, but these men knew just how rich they were, and they were faithful to the call. All of those who had seen their own glory in their lives and had adulation upon adulation piled upon them conversely discovered just how little this really meant.

Let’s read again just how he described the difference…. “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.”

I can hardly imagine anyone answering this advertisement for a position with the perks stated: fools, weak, without honor, hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed, roughly treated, homeless, toiling with your own hands, reviled, persecuted, slandered, scum of the world, dregs of all things. These men clearly endured a lot, more than they thought they had signed up for in the beginning. When Jesus called most of them they had no idea what was ahead, except for possibly this one man, Paul. It was Paul that was called by the already crucified, buried, resurrected and ascended Christ. It was this one man, Paul, who stood there watching and condoning Stephen’s stoning and was moved to do the same to others.

We read in Acts chapter 7 and 8, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he [Stephen] gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” (Acts 7:54–8:3, NASB95PARA)

It was Saul who was out in front of this great persecution of Christ’s followers, and it was as he was engaged in this cause that Jesus stopped him in his tracks and changed the course of his life. We read about this in Acts chapter 9. “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” (Acts 9:1–9, NASB95PARA) For three days he waited until God sent Ananias to him. Despite what Ananias had known of Saul, he listened to these words of the Lord, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15–16, NASB95PARA)

And sure enough, Saul (or Paul) came to know suffering along with the others, but they also knew that their suffering was in the greater context of doing it for Christ’s name’s sake. Later to the Philippian believers Paul would write, “although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:4–11, NASB95PARA)

This was Paul who was uniquely qualified by God to write to these believers and call them to account for their falsely placed loyalties and twisted view of what it was to be a Christ follower. After having confronted them in such a strong way he added, “I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” Paul loved them. He had invested greatly in them, and as one who had become their spiritual father through the gospel of Christ, he was writing to them to set them on a right course for growing in spiritual maturity. As a father would set straight his children Paul was writing to them not to shame them but to give them greatly needed help and direction. There may have been many men who had come across their paths to teach them, and they indeed had been wrangling over which one of them they should listen to the most, but Paul was uniquely qualified to give them this most needed admonishment such that they would not be torn down but encouraged to set a good and right course for the future.

With this he added in verse 16, “Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.”

Monday, March 5, 2018

Consider the Source (1 Corinthians 4:7)

“For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7, NASB95PARA)

Pride is a trap. It begins early in life when we begin to compare ourselves, our families, and our accomplishments with others. It’s seen in whose mom is a better cook or even better looking for that matter, who is faster or smarter. It is becomes intricately intertwined with accomplishment, and it can for many lead to extreme perceptions of ourselves in a variety of directions from self-deprecation and the constant criticism of ourselves and self-image issues or incessant boasting and the sticking of our thumbs up under our armpits as we “strut our stuff” whatever that stuff might be.

In Isaiah 14 we read of the taunts that were to come of the king of Babylon. ““They will all respond and say to you, ‘Even you have been made weak as we, you have become like us. ‘Your pomp and the music of your harps Have been brought down to Sheol; Maggots are spread out as your bed beneath you and worms are your covering.’ “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations! “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, To the recesses of the pit.” (Isaiah 14:10–15, NASB95PARA)

People and pedestals go back a long way. In fact, they go back before people to the very father of pride to Satan himself. In Luke  10, after Jesus had sent out the seventy-two to proclaim his coming, we read, “The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”” (Luke 10:17–20, NASB95PARA)

Long before the king of Babylon was to fall from his great pride, Satan himself was cast from heaven. And, as these witnesses to the power of God returned with their great stories of success Jesus cautioned them not to rejoice in the success which really came from the hand of God, but to rejoice that indeed their own names are recorded in heaven because that same hand of God moved to save their souls. Both judgment and salvation rest in the hand of God, and as His ambassadors we are to rejoice in Him and His great works including those that He chooses to do through us.

After King David had received a great offering from the people for the temple that his son, Solomon, after him was to build he prayed. “So David blessed the Lord in the sight of all the assembly; and David said, “Blessed are You, O Lord God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name. “But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You. For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope. O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided to build You a house for Your holy name, it is from Your hand, and all is Yours. Since I know, O my God, that You try the heart and delight in uprightness, I, in the integrity of my heart, have willingly offered all these things; so now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here, make their offerings willingly to You. O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, our fathers, preserve this forever in the intentions of the heart of Your people, and direct their heart to You; and give to my son Solomon a perfect heart to keep Your commandments, Your testimonies and Your statutes, and to do them all, and to build the temple, for which I have made provision.”” (1 Chronicles 29:10–19, NASB95PARA)

King David, unlike the king of Babylon, recognized who it was that was the source of everything that he saw before him. Similarly, Job after having lost his possessions and his children, responded, “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.” (Job 1:20–22, NASB95PARA)

God is our creator. He designed our bodies with all of their intricacies and He gives us breath. He created this place in which He has given us to live and He holds it together even in the midst of the devastation which sin has brought. He created us to experience the joy that we know as we look into the life of our newborn babies and even now He sustains us in the loss that we feel as we hold the hand of a loved one for the last time. Everything that we have is a gift from Him.

“Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” … “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1:11, 17, NASB95PARA)

So, when it comes to boasting consider the words of Paul earlier in this letter, “so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”” (1 Corinthians 1:31, NASB95PARA)