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If we will listen, there are Christians all around the world who can give us insights into an enduring faith. For some Chinese pastors, the seminary of imprisonment is required before one can pastor a congregation. For Christians in Muslim nations, conversion means at least being abandoned and shamed by one’s family – possibly martyred.

While Western Christianity has not faced such open hostility, contemporary morals have shifted so as to be in direct opposition to clear biblical preaching.

In the latter part of his second letter to Timothy, Paul defended the authority of scripture, reminded Timothy of the opposition he was sure to face and commended him to preach the word. Paul’s admonitions are just as true today.

Those of us preaching and teaching the word will give an account before its Author as to the veracity and consistency of our preaching and teaching with the Word of God.

Earlier this year, I preached a series of sermons on the gospel and human sexuality. Some in our community heard about the series and before I even preached a sermon, they condemned it through social media. This experience reminded me that God’s Word has never been popular.

There will always be people to discount and dismiss the Bible.

Biblical ethics will always run counter to self-centered morality.

In that sense, the experience of Paul and Timothy under Roman cultural mores are little different than the experience of gospel preachers in today’s America. But we must not fail or falter.

For we will not answer to the culture. And we will not ultimately answer to our churches. But we will answer to the One who wrote the Bible.

And He is looking for preachers and teachers who endure angst, anger and persecution to communicate the truth of the gospel.

From 2 Timothy 3 and 4.

Sunday School Lesson for the Biblical Recorder originally published here.

As Paul continues in chapter 2, he uses the language of reminder. It amazes me that much of the Christian experience is not novel, rather it is repetitive. We don’t graduate from the gospel. The gospel is our entry into the Christian faith, but it is also the conduit toward spiritual maturity.

Paul uses three more metaphors to conclude the chapter. These metaphors emphasize our responsibility to apply the gospel to our daily lives.

We need to embrace the diligence of a faithful student who correctly interprets God’s Word.

We need to embrace the holiness of an honorable vessel who shuns youthful sins.

We need to embrace the gentleness of a servant who teaches the truth while avoiding unnecessary quarrels.

Diligence is the key quality in these metaphors.

Paul charged Timothy to teach the gospel. The student, the vessel and the servant must diligently pursue gospel understanding and gospel clarity. The challenge of any church, any pastor and any teacher within the church is clarity about the gospel.

Today’s church faces the prospects of gospel distortions – prosperity gospel theology, moralistic preaching, manipulated responses and easy believism. Today’s church also faces the prospects of theological divisions on tertiary issues. It is the task of the pastor and church leaders to remain diligently focused on the primary goal of the church – communicating the gospel of Jesus and training others in the gospel.

Paul highlights one of the primary pastoral tasks: discernment in gospel teaching. Paul challenged Timothy to recognize distortions, divisions and distractions that will hamper the church in its mission. Diligence in study, holiness and gentleness is the means by which followers of Jesus will be able to discern these issues and remain faithful to the gospel.

Sunday School Lesson originally published here for the Biblical Recorder.

Paul begins chapter 2 with his restatement of our disciple-making mission, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
 
In order to lead others to follow Jesus, we need strength and grace. We also need focus. Paul uses six metaphors in chapter 2 to illustrate the focus and diligence we need to teach others to live and share the gospel.
 
The first three metaphors are found in verses 1-7.
 
We need the dedication of soldiers, the integrity of athletes and the hard work of farmers.
 
As we reflect the gospel personally and teach the gospel to others, we must engage in this task well.
 
If soldiers can be dedicated to their commanding officer to the point of suffering and death, then followers of Jesus must be equally dedicated to their Lord and Savior.
 
If athletes can compete according to the rules in order to win, then followers of Jesus must faithfully train themselves and others in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If farmers can labor early, long and late in order to have fruitful crops, then followers of Jesus must labor in the strength and grace of Christ and expend themselves for the gospel.
 
Each of these metaphors implies focus.
 
Soldiers, athletes and farmers are judged based on short moments of glory: the battle for the soldier, the event for the athlete and the crops for the farmers.
 
But the quality of those fleeting moments is forged by their focus during the drudgery of suffering, preparation and hard work.
 
May we be so focused on the gospel. 

Sunday School Lesson originally published here for the Biblical Recorder.

From the confines of a small, dark, damp prison cell in the heart of Rome, Paul penned the words of what is likely his last letter before his death. Considering the context, Paul’s letter is a beautiful testimony to God’s provision as well as a glorious challenge to its readers.
 
Paul invested time, effort, energy, lessons, encouragement, example, teaching and suffering into his young protégé, Timothy. Paul wrote to Timothy to secure the young pastor’s confidence in God’s Word and to emphasize the blessing and the burden of the entrusted gospel.
 
The gospel is a glorious burden. We have it – not to hoard – but to share. The gospel is an unimaginable blessing – life, hope, peace, eternity and privilege. The gospel provides us confidence in our spiritual lives.
 
Following are just a few of the reasons we can have confidence in God and His gospel drawn from the text:

  • Because the gospel is shared relationally (Timothy’s grandmother, mother and Paul), our confidence grows from interdependence not self-sufficiency.
  • Because God gifts us and empowers us, our confidence develops from God, not ourselves.
  • Because God strengthens in suffering, our confidence does not have to be shattered by our circumstances.
  • Because the gospel comes by grace, our confidence does not rest in our own works or own level of righteousness.
  • Because we have the Holy Spirit, our confidence comes directly from God.

Essentially, Paul reminds young Timothy of the difficult times, worries, insecurities and challenges that are sure to come. Yet those hindrances pale in comparison to the promises and hope we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, when you are tempted to be uncertain or fearful, don’t look inward (at your own imperfections) or outward (at the difficulty of the circumstances) but rather look upward (at the God of the gospel) who grants us confidence.

Sunday School Lesson for the Biblical Recorder originally published here Focal Passage: 2 Timothy 1:3-14

Contentment is a biblical expectation, but contentment is not the driving force in contemporary economics. The driving force in our economic system is to get people to spend money.

Commercials, advertisements and companies promise that the next car, phone, tablet or item will make your life easier, better or more fruitful.

I imagine that your experience is like mine.

The next, the new, the better is good for a little while, but it eventually slows down, breaks or loses its novelty. Then we are tempted to try the next new thing.

Paul warned the young pastor Timothy against discontentment, envy and the pursuit of more. One of the signs of personal godliness is the willingness to be content with whatever God has given us and not be driven to pursue more and more and more.

Why does Paul give these warnings and commendations? He wants Timothy and the readers of this letter to know what truly lasts.

Wealth and luxury are fleeting. At best they last a lifetime.

Only what we do with what we have and how we live our lives will last eternally. When we “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness,” we focus on character traits that invest in heavenly rewards.

But let’s not misquote Paul here. Money is not the root of all evil.

Rather, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” If we let money drive us and use us, it becomes our idol. And we don’t have to be super-wealthy for money to become an idol.

Yet, if we use the money (things) God has blessed us with for the pursuit of godliness and God’s glory, then we are making an investment that will last.

Don’t be used by your wealth or desires. Rather, use them for the glory of Christ.

Sunday School Lesson for the Biblical Recorder originally published here Focal Passage: 1 Timothy 6:6-19

On Sunday morning before our worship services, several deacons gather in my office to pray. Nearly every week, one particular deacon arrives in my office with an update and a prayer request from the church members he is responsible for. He’s called them, prayed with them, visited them and is ready to share with us what is going on in their lives. He’s fulfilling his calling as a deacon.

As Paul detailed to Timothy the care of widows and elders in the church, he brought attention to one of the pastor’s key responsibilities. The pastor is the overseer of church ministry.

Whether it involves music, ministry, pastoral care, preaching, the nursery, evangelism and so on, it is the pastor(s) or elder(s) who are responsible to make sure that church ministry happens and that people are cared for.

That doesn’t mean that the pastor is the only one to do the ministry. Rather, he is to oversee the ministry of others within the congregation for the care of the congregation.

Evidently, Timothy’s church was experiencing some controversies regarding how widows were cared for. This type of conflict was also what led the first church to select deacons (see Acts 6:1-7). Being responsible for ministry means knowing what is going on, thinking through controversies, listening to others and developing solutions that reflect love and compassion.

Being responsible does not mean always being in control or having to have things your own way. For a pastor to be pleasing to Christ, he must make time for study and preparation in the preaching and teaching ministry (5:17-18). But he cannot neglect the oversight of other ministries.

Pastors who bear their responsibility well will lead others to serve and lean on servant leaders to minister to others. If you are pastor, heed Paul’s advice here. If you are a church member, ask your pastor how you can help bear the burden of ministry in your church.

Sunday School Lesson for the Biblical Recorder originally published here
Focal Passage 1 Timothy 5:1-8; 17-21

Doctors receive a lot of education. Rightly so. They practice medicine with the aim of helping and treating diseases and ailments of the body and mind. I want my doctors to be well-read, well-studied and diligent life-long learners. After all, they are to assess my health and well-being. In other words, I would like them to have applied themselves well and studied very hard in medical school. I don’t want a doctor who had the typical study habits of a high school student. I want my doctors to have advanced study skills.

Do your spiritual study habits and skills reflect the advanced study of doctors or the distracted study of a typical high school student? Too many of us today are easily distracted. We are losing the ability to think deeply and concentrate intently. With technology and social media controversies merely fingertips away deep concentration and application of God’s Word is often neglected.

While the categories and controversies might be different, Timothy’s challenge was no less important. Legalism and theological minutia were distracting the leaders of the church and tempting Timothy to be distracted. Paul admonished his protégé to point out the truth, give attention to teaching the word and train others in the truth. Paul taught that staying the course of Christian ministry was hard work that required discipline, effort and attention. As Paul finished this thought to Timothy, he encouraged him to pay close attention to himself and to his teaching.

Paul’s advice is astonishingly simple and powerful. If we are to stay the course in our ministries and callings, we will not do so by flirting with controversies, by succumbing to distractions or by getting too close to temptations. Rather, staying the course requires attentiveness to our theology and to our Christian living.

Many begin the Christian journey well. But those that end well are attentive to God’s Word in study and application.

Sunday School Lesson for the Biblical Recorder originally published here
Focal Passage 1 Timothy 4:1-13