Archive for August, 2007

Conduct: Godliness Demanded & Effected by the Gospel

August 22, 2007

With doctrine defined and faith in place, Paul weaves one more thread into the fabric of his three-fold Gospel ministry: godly conduct. Indeed, the very reason Paul writes Timothy is so that he would know “how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Tim 3:15). For the Apostle, membership in the believing community means much more than mere association with a group of people down the street; it means joining a people whose God demands a conduct in absolute submission to the Gospel of Christ. As the Father, God sets the rules of the faith, establishes the law of Christ, defines the way of godliness, and provides clear testimony to the manner in which the members of his household should behave. Thus, in several large portions Paul includes instructions concerning the conduct of various kinds of people within the church: for example civilians (2:2), women (2:9-15), overseers (3:2-7), deacons (3:8-13), youth (5:1-2), widows (5:3-16), elders (5:17-22), slaves (6:1-2), and the rich (6:9-10, 17-19).

Due to God’s gracious adoption of Timothy into his household, Paul exhorts his dear son in the faith to walk persistently in a manner that reflect his Father’s will. He is to train himself in a manner that always moves him toward godliness (4:7). Being fancied with silly myths and bigger muscles grant him no gain in regard to God’s purposes for godliness (4:6-8). Timothy is also to be an example to those who believe in his speech, conduct, and purity, even devoting himself to these things so that the church and the world observe a proper, living testimony of a Gospel-changed life (4:12-15). What is more, Paul commands him to pay close attention not only to his doctrine (Listen up fellow seminarians!), but also to himself, that is, his conduct (4:16). Then, as if such a command from the Apostle needed any more weight(!), Paul notes that persisting in this “will save both [himself] and [his] hearers.” Thus, Timothy’s conduct is instrumental to his own and the saints’ perseverance. In a word, one’s conduct has eternal consequences on both individual and corporate levels. Doubtless, this reality compells Paul to urge Timothy all the more to keep himself free from sin (5:22) and to pursue diligently righteousness and godliness (6:11). Such a hunger for holiness characterizes the man of God.

Considering the evil age in which we live and the abiding sin against which we fight, such demands and responsibilities of a Gospel-centered life seem rather daunting, indeed impossible. How, then, shall any of us do this kind of Gospel ministry? 1 Timothy also gives us the answer to this question: grace. Paul brackets the entire letter with grace. He begins with, Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord,” and closes with, Grace be with you!” (1:2; 6:21). Furthermore, he explains that even he himself, who was once a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent, “received mercy…and the grace of our Lord overflowed for [him] with faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1:13-14). Thus, God’s grace shall be our help in this ministry he has entrusted to us. Yes, feel the weight of godliness the Gospel demands. At the same time, know that what the Gospel demands, it will also effect within us by God’s grace.   

Bridging the Gap

Paul’s words have great bearing on our own devotion to the Gospel. Just think of the implications for the covenant community. A church is a community of people who, having been reconciled to God and to each other through the person and work of Jesus Christ, repeatedly assemble for edification in the service and work of the ministry (Heb 10:24-25; cf. Eph 4:12). This assembly consists of baptized believers who have been set apart for God by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that the manifestation of His grace, love, righteousness, and strength might be displayed to the world in the Gospel, both in word and deed (Jas 1:22). Since these truths describe a church, there is a great demand for obedience to Christ and His word, resulting in the purification of Christ’s own possession that they might be set apart from the world. The church is to hunger for righteousness (Matt 5:6), purify their hearts (Jas 4:8), pursue sanctification (Heb 12:14), abide in holiness (1 Thess 4:4), and maintain unity (Eph 4:3). She is not to be conformed to this world (Rom 12:2), nor to have fellowship with the darkness (1 John 1:6), and is to abstain from every form of evil (1 Thess 5:22). If she is not carrying out these disciplines, she is not putting on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 13:14), and thus testifying falsely about the holiness of her Father (1 Pet 1:15-16), the freedom from sin bought by His Son (Rom 6:22; Gal 5:13), the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (2 Thess 2:13), and the Gospel that rescues her from this present evil age (Gal 1:4). May we all be diligent to obey his words, longing for and encouraging pure devotion to Christ.

Faith: Genuine, Persevering Trust in the Gospel

August 12, 2007

Paul frequently exhorts Timothy concerning matters of faith, a term he often uses to describe a persevering trust and an enduring confidence in the promises of God for salvation through Jesus Christ (1 Tim 1:4, 14). Since this faith unites believers to Christ in the Gospel, it is by no means insignificant, but carries with it eternal consequences. Thus, knowing this precious gift and function of faith, Paul urges young Timothy twice to “fight the good fight” of faith, that he might lay hold of eternal life (1:18-19; 6:12). Without fighting, he will be like Hymenaeus and Alexander, who suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith, two men whom Paul himself handed over to Satan, so that they would be taught not to blaspheme (1:19-20).

Paul’s portrayal of faith in 1 Timothy is also far from the faith so often preached in some contemporary circles, a mere mental assent to some facts or even a kind of one-time decision. Instead, he pictures genuine faith as that act by which one persistently casts themselves upon Jesus and continuously lays hold of him in the Gospel. This sincere faith cultivates love (1:5). This enduring faith sets a good example for other believers (4:12) and characterizes the man of God, who is not diverted by the love of money (6:11).

In addition, Paul uses the term “faith” in another sense in 1 Timothy, namely, when he sums up the whole of Christianity in the phrase, “the faith.” The expression is seen primarily in the Pastoral Epistles, most likely because of the rise of false teaching (e.g. 1 Tim 4:1; 6:21; 2 Tim 4:3-4; Tit 3:9). Thus, “the faith” drew the implications of being something unique and set apart from what others believed (1 Tim 3:9; cf. 2 Cor 13:5; 2 Thess 3:2). Thus, Timothy is Paul’s true child in “the faith” (1 Tim 1:2). Furthermore, it is always directly identified with those who are in Christ, for he is what makes the faith “the faith” (1 Tim 3:13). Prior to his conversion, Paul made it his aim to destroy “the faith” (Gal 1:23); however, he who once tried to destroy it now exhorts the brethren to protect and guard it (1 Tim 5:8; cf. Tit 1:13). Knowing firsthand the sufferings and opposition one might encounter because of “the faith,” Paul encourages Timothy to stand firm in its “sound words” (1 Tim 6:12).

Since through faith people become united to Christ, and by it they persevere in the Gospel of his grace, it is no wonder Paul takes up his pen to address Timothy’s and the church’s. His earnest plea is for their faith to be genuine and persevering in the Gospel that they might not walk away from “the faith” (cf. 6:10). Overall, therefore, Paul’s Gospel-centered ministry demands of Timothy that he earnestly concern himself not only with the doctrine that defines and explains the Gospel (as seen in the previous post), but also the faith that embraces and treasures the Gospel in all of its content.

Bridging the Gap

In light of Paul’s emphasis on faith, I recalled a statement a close brother shared with me while at work. In a word, he said that he found it strange that Christians would be so diligent to concern themselves with the initial faith of unbelievers by urgently preaching the Gospel to them, but often times could care less about restoring the waning faith of a Christian brother/sister with that same Gospel. In other words, many Christians would rather save the lost than keep a true brother from forsaking the faith. Surely, according to Paul’s words here (and elsewhere), we ought concern ourselves with both winning the lost and preserving the church. For the sake of “the faith,” therefore, let us be diligent to encourage each other’s faith.

Doctrine: Clear Understanding and Exposition of the Gospel

August 11, 2007

Repeatedly, Paul exhorts Timothy to pay attention to the doctrine of the Christian faith (1 Tim 1:3-7; 4:1-6; 6:3-5, 20-21). This includes paying attention to his own doctrine, that it might always be in accord with the God-inspired, apostolic word (cf. 2 Tim 3:15-17). What is more, he must always be aware that such teaching has eternal consequences not only for himself, but also for those who listen to him (1 Tim 4:16). Those who teach the church do so, not merely to fill the people with information and facts from the Bible (important as that is), but to serve the people’s eternal salvation. Eternal life and eternal damnation, therefore, always remain in the balance for teachers, always.

Timothy is also to pay close attention to what others teach. Regarding this matter, Paul’s instruction often comes with urgent warning and with full awareness that those infatuated with fruitless discussion shall arise from within (1:3-7; 4:1-4; 6:3-10, 20-21). Timothy is to remain in Ephesus for the very purpose of “instructing certain men not to teach strange doctrines” (1:3). This also agrees with his responsibility mentioned in 6:3, that he might instruct the church concerning certain teachings that do not agree with “sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ.” By pointing out these things to the brethren, Timothy will become a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of sound doctrine which he follows (4:6).

Without doubt, Paul’s words to Timothy have in mind the spiritual well-being of the church. She bears the name, “household of God,” and shoulders the responsibility as “the pillar and support of the truth” (3:15). Timothy’s awareness of his own doctrine and that of others is not for pride of place in the academy or selfish gain within the church. No, his doctrinal evaluation is for the church, that her members might know the Gospel, believe the Gospel, live by the Gospel, and so uphold the truth of the Gospel. It is not surprising, then, that Paul wants attention given to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching (4:13).

What else is so incredible about these exhortations is that interwoven within them are numerous statements which spell out large portions of the doctrine Timothy and the church must understand and heed. In 1:8-11, Paul teaches Timothy about the usefulness of the Law in pointing sinners to the Gospel of the blessed God. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners according to 1:15. Paul finds it fitting to insert two doxologies filled with great truths of the Christian faith: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisibile, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1:17); and “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen” (6:15-16). Furthermore, Paul mentions that God, who is our Savior, desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Why do they need to come to this knowledge? Because, he says, “there is one God and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as a ransom for all” (2:3-6). Salvation comes with a proper understanding of the content of the Gospel. Moreover, by a common doctrinal confession, the church upholds the mystery of godliness: “He who as revealed in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (3:16). More examples are included in 1 Timothy, but these are enough to show the emphasis Paul places on doctrine, that is, on the teachings that clearly reveal the Gospel of God in Christ.

From these brief observations, we should conclude that the Apostle finds right doctrine essential for the church of Jesus Christ. For Paul, there is one God in Christ who has revealed one Gospel by which men and women must be saved. This Gospel God has also entrusted to his church, and even gifted the church with people to preserve it well. Timothy’s task, therefore, is not small. Gospel-centered ministry demands of his life devotion to the word of life, diligence in teaching the truth, and assiduousness in the preservation of pure doctrine, that the church might not only have a saving Gospel to preach to the lost, but also by that same Gospel be saved herself. 

Bridging the Gap 

In light of these words, consider just three observations from our contemporary situation. (1) One of the largest “churches” in the world rejects justification by faith alone. (2) One of the key leaders in a movement now sweeping many “evangelical” circles in the United Kingdom and America teaches that the Virgin birth and substitutionary atonement are not essential to Christianity. (3) One of the largest and fastest growing churches in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex rejects the Trinity.

Brothers and sisters, be aware. These people preach no Gospel. Shall we not be all the more diligent to forsake the television and labor for the truth of the Gospel of Christ; to understand and explain it well and with precision? Pay attention.

Threefold Gospel Ministry: Doctrine, Faith, Godliness

August 11, 2007

After reading through 1 Timothy several times over the past week, the Lord graciously helped me see something amazing in his word. Through the exhortations Paul writes to Timothy a threefold Gospel ministry appears consisting of right doctrine, persevering faith, and godly conduct. He mentions these three as separate items within the letter, however, he never allows any one of them to stand alone; that is, they are never to be seperated from one another theologically or practically. Together, these three concerns of the Apostle form a kind of triple-braided chord that cannot (and should not) be broken. In the following posts, you will find my attempt to explain these three individually, and then how they come together as a theological/practical unit to comprehend a Gospel-centered ministry.

In case there are any interruptions, look for these posts:

  1. Doctrine: Clear Understanding and Exposition of the Gospel
  2. Faith: Genuine, Persevering Trust in the Gospel
  3. Conduct: Godliness Demanded & Effected by the Gospel
  4. Gospel-Centered Ministry: Right Doctrine, Persevering Faith, Godly Conduct

The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9)

August 2, 2007

What is the purpose of the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11? How is it connected to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Here are a few meditations that I pray would help answer these questions.

1. The story occurs in the days following the flood. Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth; and from these men came many tribes and peoples that populated the land. In 10:32, we not only find these nations descended from Noah, but also that “from these [families] the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood,” the phrase further explained in 11:1-9.

2. Now, we can imagine this story being told to the Israelites as they were coming out of slavery in Egypt, as Moses recounts to them their history. The only thing they knew was a world of diverse languages, especially that of the Egyptians. However, here Moses points out to them that it has not always been that way, and that there is a significant story which tells of why the diversity exists now–a story which communicates grand theological truths about God, judgment, grace, and the Gospel. (more…)

Air Conditioned Churches or Perseverance of the Saints?

August 2, 2007

“The number one reason why prayer malfunctions in the hands of believers is that they try to turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom. …what have millions of Christians done? They have stopped believing that we are in a war. No urgency, no watching, no vigilance, no strategic planning. Just easy peacetime and prosperity. And what did they do with the walkie-talkie? They tried to rig it up as an intercom in their cushy houses and cabins and boats and cars – not to call in fire power for conflict with a mortal enemy, but to ask the maid to bring another pillow to the den.”

After attending class today and listening to students give urgent prayer requests before the lecture, I realized how accurate John Piper’s illustration is. Two students offered requests, and I hope the obvious differences in them will awaken you as it did me. One (an American) asked that we pray for their church to have air conditioning so that they would not have to sit in the heat this Sunday. Another (a Korean) asked that we pray for the faith of the twenty-one remaining Korean missionaries kidnapped by the Taliban just recently. As the class prayed, I sat at my desk humbled, in tears, and in need of change, because my own prayer life looked more like the former instead of the latter.

We are at war. Our brothers and sisters need prayer, not for air conditioning, but for perseverance in the midst of persecution.