Category Archives: 2017 – Jan/Feb

Editorial: Lessons on Encouragement from 1-2 Corinthians (January/February, 2017) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

One of the most important charges given to preachers and Christians in general is found in 2 Timothy 4:2:  “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”  There is obviously an ever-present need to preach nothing more than the truth of God’s Word, and most preachers recognize the great need to always be ready to preach that Word both when it is well received and even when it is not.  Yet, a struggle exists within many preachers and teachers of the Bible to accurate apply the last part of 2 Timothy 4:2 to their heralding of God’s Word to others.  Many known false teachers both within the brotherhood and in the denominational world infamously shy away from any sort of preaching that would scripturally reprove or rebuke in any fashion.  Consequently, it is easy for sound Christians and gospel preachers and teachers to give more reproofs and rebukes than exhortation and encouragement in their sermons, classes, articles, blog posts, social media comments, and one-on-one conversations, all in an effort to “pick up the slack” and give the world the scriptural correction they need and won’t receive anywhere else.  It is also easy to do this without the longsuffering and patience God inspired Paul to command Timothy to have.

We must remember that there is just as much value and need for exhortation and encouragement as there is for reproof and rebuke (Ga. 6:2; 1 Th. 5:11, 14; 1 Ti. 5:1; He. 3:12-13; 10:24-25).  Spiritually building up and edifying fellow Christians to help them become closer to God and overcome sin in their life requires more than telling them what they need to work on.  It equally requires open acknowledgment and appreciation of what we are doing right, and encouragement to keep it up.  For every (hopefully scriptural and constructive) critical sermon, lesson, article or comment made, there needs to be another which openly acknowledges the good done by Christians and thanks them for it.  Yes, the sermons, articles, and comments which bring out what we need to do better are more times than not correct and they are sure to get numerous “likes” and comments like “Amen!” and “Preach it, brother!”  However, after a while of being regularly saturated with lessons and articles which repeatedly say, “We have this problem,” “We’re not doing what we need to do in this area,” and “We could do better here,” a lot of us will get discouraged and begin to wonder if we can do anything right in the sight of God (or the Christian or church leader who regularly shows us our errors.)  There is a place for reproof and rebuke, but there’s also a place for exhortation.  As Jesus said, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Mt. 23:23).

This is why I believe 1-2 Corinthians are books which every Christian needs to read at least once a quarter.  We typically think of Paul as a no-nonsense, “let ’em have it with both barrels” kind of preacher, especially in his letters to the Corinthian church.  This perhaps is due to our human tendency to give more focus on the negative than the positive, which is a big reason why we might be unbalanced with the emphasis on “reproving and rebuking” rather than “exhortation, encouragement, and patience.”

In reality, it is interesting to see how God inspired Paul to both encourage and rebuke the church at Corinth in a balanced way.  He would acknowledge and show appreciation for the good the Corinthians were doing and continually state and affirm the great love he and God have for them and the love they have for each other…all while also repeatedly bringing up their shortcomings in very blunt and sometimes sarcastic ways while admonishing them to repent.

Consider the following examples from both of Paul’s inspired letters to Corinth, a church which had so many faults that it makes some of our worst days in our own congregations look like a picnic in comparison!

Beginning in 1 Corinthians, notice how before rebuking them for division (1:10-13) Paul called them God’s church, sanctified, saints, and wished upon them grace and peace (1:2-3).  Notice how he told them he thanked God for them, openly acknowledged their strong points, and told them they were in fellowship with God (1:4-9).  Brethren, how often do we openly wish God’s grace and peace upon others, even while we “let them have it”?  How often do we openly tell our fellow Christians, especially those who have easily perceived faults, that we thank God for them and bring up the good things about them?

Let’s keep reading.  After calling them spiritual infants due to their worldliness (3:1-4), Paul then called them God’s field and building (3:9), God’s holy temple (3:17), and told them all things were theirs and they were Christ’s (3:21).

After sarcastically mocking their “high and mighty” attitude (4:3-8), he stressed that his goal was not to shame them (4:14) and told them he considered them to be like his children (4:15).  Do we do this when we correct others?

After rebuking them for tolerating fornication amongst them and going to court against each other over trivial matters (5:1-6:8), he reminded them of how they had overcome many grievous sins and were washed, sanctified, and justified (6:9-11).  What a great example of balance!  How needed are the reminders that all is not lost, that those whom we correct have still done some good and are still in Christ!

Right before rebuking them for their abuse of the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), he commends them for their obedience to apostolic traditions (11:2).  This reminds me of how I’ve yet to find any Christian in need of correction who was not obeying any of God’s commandments.

While rebuking them for their misplaced priorities concerning spiritual gifts (12-14), he reminds them of how they are the body of Christ and each one of them is needed (12:12-27).  It’s very easy for some Christians, especially some who have unrepentant sin in their lives and need rebuking, to think they have nothing to offer to the kingdom.  There was a time in my life that I felt that way when sin reigned in my life.  Nothing could be further from the truth, and when Christians realize this it can be great motivation for them to repent of their sins.

After rebuking them for their error concerning the resurrection (15:1-49), he builds them up by painting them a glorious picture of that wonderful Judgment Day and then reminds them of how their work is not in vain (15:50-58).  All of us need reminding of this.

He then ends his first letter to them by sending them “hearty greetings” from brethren elsewhere (16:19-20) before wishing God’s grace upon them and expressing his love for them once more (16:23-24).  What a stark contrast from some discussions I’ve seen in which scriptural correction was given!

2 Corinthians is no different.  He starts the letter by openly wishing upon them grace and peace from God and Christ (1:2).  He then gives them a very uplifting message about comfort (1:3-5), before informing them that they are the reason he and his fellow apostles suffer (1:6) and his hope in them is unshaken (1:7), all before requesting their prayers (1:11).  What a stark contrast from sermons, articles, and comments made by myself and others in the past which simply say to Christians, “Shape up!” without also comforting them and telling them, “I care so much about you, and here’s what I’m willing to do to show it.  I hope in you.  I believe in you, so much that I’m asking you to pray for me.”

Paul then speaks bluntly to them about their need to forgive the penitent among them (1:23-2:11).  Yet, even while doing so he goes out of his way to tell them that he didn’t think he was better than them (1:24a), acknowledge that they stand firm in their faith (1:24b), and inform them of how it tore him up to have to rebuke them (2:4a), all before making sure they knew that he didn’t want to hurt them because he loved them very much (2:4b).  How much we can learn from this!   Rebuking people requires more than telling them to repent while specifying their errors.  It also requires telling them that you love them while acknowledging what they are doing right.

Even while defending himself and his companions from the accusation of being “peddlers of God’s Word” (2:12-3:1), he tells the Corinthians that their walk with Christ is such that he could use them as a “letter of recommendation” (3:2-3).  What a great example for us, friends!

Instead of complaining about it, Paul then speaks positively about the terrible ordeals he and his companions went through (4:8-11) before informing the Corinthians of how he willingly went through these trials for their sake (4:12-15).  Brethren, let’s be honest.  We tend to complain to each other about the problems brought upon us in this life, problems quite small when compared to Paul’s (see 11:23-27).  Why not speak of how God upholds us even in the midst of our sufferings as Paul did, before informing our brethren that we would go through it all over again if it would help just one soul in that congregation get closer to God?

Notice how Paul says to the church, “We IMPLORE you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God”  (5:20b) and “we APPEAL to you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (6:1).  Let’s try IMPLORING brethren to repent and APPEALING to them rather than beating them up over the head about it.  Pleading rather than lecturing might produce better results.

Before admonishing them to be different from unbelievers rather than unequally yoking themselves to them (6:14-7:1), notice how Paul went out of his way to tell these Christians that his heart was wide open for them while encouraging them to widen their hearts also (6:11-13).  Notice also that while he ends his admonishment for them to cleanse themselves, he calls them “beloved” (7:1) and urges them again, “Make room in your hearts for us” (7:2a).  Our brethren need to know how much we care for them and love them while we rebuke them.

Paul then acknowledged that his previous letter brought them grief which led them to repent (7:8-10) before going out of his way to let them know that they were doing a great job repenting (7:11) and that their repentance and subsequent encouraging of Titus comforted Paul (7:13).  Notice how Paul told them that he had been boasting about them, and that their actions proved his boasts to be well-founded (7:14).  See how he told them that Titus’ affection for them was growing and that Titus remembered how obedient they were (7:15).  Paul then told them about his joy over them and that he had “perfect confidence” in them (7:16).  This is Corinth, remember…and yet look how Paul is speaking positively of them here.  The church in America overall has a lot of problems, but she has a lot of good in her too.  We must acknowledge that.  It might just help our brethren to become better.

While talking up the Macedonians, Paul told Corinth (of all people!) that they “excel in everything” while encouraging them to excel in their giving also (8:7).  He then acknowledged that they had already excelled in their benevolence before urging them to keep it up (8:10-11) and thus prove that Paul’s boasts about them were right (8:24).  He talks of their readiness to be benevolent and again informed them of his boasts about them to others, who in turn were inspired by them (9:2), all before exhorting them to give more and in the right way (9:3-11).  He then told them of how others were glorifying God because of their generosity (9:12-15).  What a great example for us in how to stir up brethren to get more involved in church work!

Take note of how Paul, even while defending himself against his detractors at Corinth, again “entreated” and “begged” them to repent (10:1-2).  Notice also how even in the midst of his sarcastic rebuke of them (10-12), he talks of his hope that their faith would increase (10:15), his fear that Satan would lead them astray (11:3), his love for them (11:11), and his anxiety for them and all other churches (11:28).  This is before he tells them that he would “most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (12:15a), that it was “all for your upbuilding, beloved” (12:19b), that he was praying for them (13:7, 9), and that they were more important than him (13:9).  He then ended his letter to them in a very positive note (13:11-14).

What a great example of balance that shows us how to rebuke with love and encourage even while admonishing!  We can definitely learn from this, friends.  Proclaiming God’s truth is a blessing, and those of us who share it with others have a high privilege.  Let’s always “speak the truth in love” (Ep. 4:15)!            — Jon

 

Advertisements

A Good Husband — Michael Grooms

It is not sufficient to simply be married. To be is to exist, and nothing more. For a marriage to be the kind of marriage God wants us to have, we must do more than simply exist in a married state. A godly marriage is the result of dedication to being the very best husband or the very best wife one can be. The Christian husband should have a desire to be the very best husband he can be for his wife. This pleases God. There are several terms that could be employed to describe how a man can be a good husband, such as love, faithfulness, godliness, and caring. These and others are certainly good descriptors of factors that help make a good marriage. There is one word that underlies all of these. When this concept becomes the desire and intent of a husband, he will usually find that his relationship with his wife becomes enriched as the love they share flourishes. What is this powerful word? It is “understanding.”

In 1 Peter 3:7 the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to write, “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel…” This scripture demands of the reader to understand “understanding” as it applies to marriage and the will of God. There are several ways that understanding will help a man be the husband that God would have him to be, and to have the fulfillment of a happy marriage. In the scope of this article we will look at three things that a husband needs to understand in order to promote a healthier relationship with his wife. First, he must understand God’s purpose for marriage. Second, he must understand his role in the marriage. Third, he must understand his wife.

Understanding God’s Purpose For Marriage

The Christian husband must understand God’s purpose for marriage. Too often, marriages are simply a union of lives based on the attraction of the man and woman to each other. God has designed marriage to be so much more! The horrific divorce rate in our country demonstrates what happens when a marriage is simply based on attraction. Over time, the attraction becomes diminished and the desire to nurture the marriage fails. A marriage based on attraction is a self-seeking marriage. A marriage based on godly love and understanding will be able to withstand the challenging times. While physical attraction is important within a marriage, it is only one factor among many. A godly marriage is a marriage that begins with a love for God, and is built upon that love. When our love for God is as it should be, that love will culminate in a healthy love for our spouse.

One purpose that God has for the institution of marriage is companionship. God created the first woman (Eve) to be the companion for the first man (Adam). When God created man, He said It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Ge. 2:18, NKJV). Thus, God established the first marriage with the stated purpose of companionship. Husbands, are you a companion for your wife? Do you encourage companionship by spending time with her and giving her your full attention? Do you put her in a place where she feels like she must compete with your job, hobbies, friends, or other things for your attention? There is a reason women tend to be more affectionate than men, and part of that reason goes to the very purpose of their creation. The wise husband will value the companionship of his wife and seek to nurture that companionship. It is hard to “find time” to devote to these things, thus it is necessary to make time. Nurturing your relationship with your spouse must be a priority. It is essential to a healthy marriage.

Another reason that God created marriage is for physical fulfillment (1 Co. 7:1-4; 8-9; He. 13:4). 1 Corinthians 7:2 teaches that a man or a woman is to be married “because of sexual immorality.” The idea behind this is that God created men and women to have sexual desires, but intended that those desires only be fulfilled within the marriage relationship. It is, therefore, the responsibility of each spouse to be sure that they are attending to the physical needs of their spouse. The husband is to “render to his wife the affection due her” (1 Co. 7:3). The Christian husband who understands God’s will for him will attend to his wife’s need for affection and physical fulfillment (1 Co. 7:5). It may not be in your nature as a man to show affection, but if your wife desires your affection it is your duty as her husband. Your job is not to be sure you get what you want out of marriage. It is to be sure you are giving your wife what she needs! Far too often, marriages are destroyed because one or both of the spouses failed to meet the physical and emotional needs of the other. When someone else comes along who is willing to meet that need, the result is often disastrous. A garden needs to be nurtured. It needs weeds pulled and the vegetables or flowers fertilized. A marriage is like a garden in that respect. It needs to be tended. It needs nurturing. Sometimes the weeds must be pulled. Those things that harm or threaten the marriage relationship need to be removed. The love needs to be fertilized with selfless attention. It takes diligence and work, but the results are a beautiful garden of love!

Understanding the Role of the Husband

It is essential that the Christian husband has understanding concerning his role in the marriage. God has instituted within the family, roles which work according to His plan. When these roles are understood and honored, the family can function as God intended. Just as God has placed within the church certain roles of leadership and function that meet His design, He has done the same within the family. Neither in the church nor in the family do these roles indicate that one person is more important than the other. God has placed the man in the role as the head of his wife (1 Co. 11:3).

When a Christian man understands his role as the head of his wife (and thus his family), he will be better able to fulfill God’s purpose and will have a more fulfilling marriage. Too many men abdicate their role as the head of their family. When this happens, the burden of filling this role falls upon the wife or goes neglected. The man who understands his role as the head of his wife will not seek to lord over his wife, but rather cherish and honor her (1 Pe. 3:7). As the head of the family it is incumbent upon the man to be the provider for his family (1 Ti. 5:8). While this responsibility may be shared by both spouses, the burden lies upon the man. God has designed the role of the wife as the keeper of the home (Ti. 2:5; 1 Ti. 5:14).  In order for her to fulfill her God given role, he must fulfill his role as a provider. The marital relationship suffers when these roles are not fulfilled. Honoring these roles provides an environment that encourages the marriage to flourish.

Understanding His Wife

Lastly, the husband needs to understand his wife. The differences between men and women are manifested physically, emotionally, and psychologically. While these differences can contribute to misunderstanding and strife within a marriage, such does not need to be the case. God made men and women different for a reason, and that reason is seen in the roles in which God has placed them in the family. Women are physically and emotionally equipped to fulfill the role of the care giver in the home. Men are likewise equipped to provide for and protect the home. These differences should complement each other and when in harmony create a strong union around which the family prospers.

The Christian man should seek to understand how his wife thinks, what triggers her emotions, what her vulnerabilities are, and what she seeks from him in their marriage. Wives likewise need to understand their husbands. The key to such understanding is communication. With this key, a couple can unlock the mysteries that center around their differences, and learn to meet the needs and challenges that stem from these differences. Remember, she is your partner, your lover, your helper, your life companion. Seek to understand her mysteries. Seek to fulfill her needs. Talk to her. Provide for her. Protect her. Hold her. Cherish her. Reassure her. Affirm her. Love her. Lead her to Heaven. You are her man, but more importantly you are God’s man. God has blessed you with your wife and has given you a charge to be her head, and treasure her heart. Remember, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the LORD” (Pr. 18:22).

Men of God, may God bless you with an understanding of His will for you as the husband of your wife and the father of your children.  May that understanding enable and empower you to be the man God would have you to be, and the man your wife needs you to be.

gospelpreacher@charter.net

Michael serves the Boiling Springs Church of Christ in Boiling Springs, SC.  He is on the board of directors for the Carolina Messenger.

 

A Good Wife — Tassie Smith

Imagine the world’s best wife.  Without a wrinkle or a hair out of place, she’d be a fashionista with a model perfect figure. Without ever compromising her principles, she’d be the equal of every man in the board room.  She coaches soccer, sells homemade scarves on Etsy, keeps an urban garden, volunteers at the homeless shelter, organizes the PTA, and feeds her family nothing but balanced, organic, whole food meals.  Her husband never feels neglected and she is deeply involved in each of her children’s lives.

Feeling overwhelmed?

Me too!

In fact, the world imposes a whole series of competing and impossible ideals on women. In contrast God’s vision of a faithful wife offers simplicity and freedom.  He calls us to portray basic godly principles— gentleness, courage, submission, love and hard work—in our marriage relationships.

Gentleness

A faithful wife is gentle; she has “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Pe. 3:4b).  This verse has left many a woman frustrated and confused. Are we supposed to be weak?  Silent?  Does God value introverts over extroverts?

Rather than being a personality trait, gentleness is how the whole church is called to act. Paul says, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near” (Ph. 4:5). Why would it matter that the Lord is near?   He is not a harsh and terrifying master peering over our shoulder to see if we are behaving. Rather he is our primary example of gentleness. Our Lord cradled and blessed the children. He saw to the safekeeping of His mama while He was dying.

Although every Christian should be gentle, a Christian wife is gentle in unique ways.  She can be trusted with the tenderest baby or the most broken heart.  When her husband faces disappointment and failure, she doesn’t rail at him.  When he has been thoughtless or careless, her rebuke wouldn’t take the form of silence or shouting but a quiet word about how she feels. This isn’t about our personality but about choosing not be harsh regardless of the circumstance.

Courage

An excellent wife is also fearless.  Peter puts it this way, “You are  [Sarah’s] daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear” (1 Pe. 3:6). When Abraham told her he heard the voice of God, she left everything she knew in Ur for a lifetime of uncertainty. She waved as he marched off to war and bore his child in joy at 90 years old. Fearless is the right word.

Fear is the opposite of faith.  When we trust God, not to make everything magically okay but to see us through the worst, we can live fearlessly in every aspect of our lives.

Fear has haunted many a marriage to its death.  In fear that her husband will leave her, many a woman has driven him away.  In fear of what others will think, many a woman has tried to make her husband into someone he isn’t.  In fear of poverty, many a woman has nagged a man until he hates his role as provider.  In fear of all this and more, many a Christian wife has prevented her husband from leading their family out on to some limb of faith—moving, mission work, making new disciples.

Submission

A faithful wife is submissive. The concept of a submissive Christian wife is grounded deeply in the submission demanded of every Christian and exemplified in Jesus Christ.

Remember the words Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Ph. 2:6-11).  Jesus, didn’t care about being “equal” to God.  He became a person, the kind of person who submits to God, to the point of death.  It is this kind of submission that Paul has in mind when he begins his section on relationships in Ephesians with these words, “and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Ep. 5:21).

Every Christian is called to follow Jesus Christ who went to the cross in submission to God. Thus they owe their submission first to God and then to each other. Again we face the question how would this submission look in a Christian household?

Ephesians 5:22-32 and Colossians 3:18-21 address this question.  Submission would look like a wife who follows her husband’s lead with love and trust. She doesn’t need to lead, to be in charge; she can give all that up.  Not because she’s not his equal before Christ, but because she is.

Christian wives submit to their husbands from the foundation of their submission to Christ.  He demonstrated what it means for an equal to lower Himself and submit in the best times and the worst, to someone who loves Him.

Love

An excellent wife loves. “So that [the older women] may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children” (Ti. 2:4).  In the world’s version of love our heart takes the reins and drives us any direction it wants. This is not God’s kind of love.

God’s love for us is constant.  The word that we translate “lovingkindness” in places like Exodus 20:6, Lamentations 3:22, and Jeremiah 31:3 means something like “faithful love.”  Has God ever decided He had suffered one slight too many and found more amenable people? His commitment to redeem us is eternal. His love is sacrificial.  “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Ro. 5:6). He doesn’t choose the people who are good, or righteous or beautiful or powerful…but to every person, helpless in their sins, He sent His Son.

A wife who loves sees the best in her husband. She believes all things.  She is transparent and forthright, not just in the sense that she doesn’t lie but that she reveals her heart.  She rejoices in truth. She doesn’t have to have her way, stand her ground, or be right.  She doesn’t seek her own.  She doesn’t give up or give in.  It’s not about her.  It’s about a faithful commitment. It’s about loving her husband the way her Father loves her.

Hard Work

 An excellent wife is hardworking.  No delicate wall flower, the excellent wife from Proverbs 31 is clearly a competent woman.  She is a skilled worker in fabrics, a business person, an organized manager and a  wise adviser.

Again the world has competing ideals.  On the one hand is a picture of a woman sheltered by her family; she is far too sweet and delicate to make her way in the world.  On the other had we have a woman who elbows and jostles her way through the world leaving all thoughts of family behind as she shatters the glass ceiling.

Yet God doesn’t box women in to these two extremes.  He sets us free to bless our families by the work of our hands.  We do this home or in the community.  We can teach our own children or a classroom full in the public school.  We can fret over the fever of our own infant or change diapers in the NICU.  We are free not to fight for what we want but to serve the way our Savior did!

Precious

 An excellent wife is precious. “An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.”  (Pr. 31:10).  The world doesn’t value wives.  Our culture whispers that it is an out-dated role, a position of weakness and a waste of a woman’s potential. But from the creation God has shouted Satan down.

When God finished the streams and mountains and fashioned every kind of animal, He brought all the creatures to the man to name. Adam found no equal among them, no suitable partner. So God made one more thing, a precious gift for Adam crafted from his own flesh, a wife.

God intended a wife to be a His own precious gift to her husband.  He can both cherish her and lean on her.  She is his equal, his mate.

Being a faithful wife starts with being a faithful Christian. We know our value because we were redeemed by the God who gave the life of His Son for us. We love with faith and integrity because that’s how God loved us.  We work with all our hearts because we do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus (Co. 3:17) We submit to our husbands because we look to our Savior who submitted wholeheartedly to His Father. We fearlessly follow our husbands because a woman who fears God need fear nothing else (Lk. 12:4-7).   We act with utmost gentleness because we serve the one who wouldn’t snap off a broken blade of grass (Is. 42:3).  The example of our Savior and the character of our Father enlighten every aspect of what it means to be a faithful wife.

There is no need for us to be overwhelmed.  Being a faithful wife isn’t about being busy, being good at everything or never making a mistake. It isn’t about how we look, if we win the “mommy wars” or how clean our house is.  Simply put a faithful wife walks in the Spirit.  “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).

maidservantsofchrist@gmail.com

Tassie and her husband were missionaries in China for almost nine years under the eldership of the South Knoxville Church of Christ.  Since returning stateside, they have worked with the Rock Springs Church of Christ where her husband preaches.

Lessons From Chapter Four of 1 & 2 Timothy — Stephen Scaggs

Elvis has left the building.  A well-known idiom, it means that it’s all over, the show has come to an end.  In his last two epistles to Timothy, Paul is basically saying, “Paul is leaving the building.”  Yet he ends each epistle with an appeal to the glorious hope which awaits us all…when we leave the building.  In the fourth chapter of each respective epistle, Paul tells Timothy that he needs to take his ministry seriously if he is going to be successful as a minister.  Paul is passing the torch in his second epistle to Timothy; he charges Timothy in God’s sacred court to preach the Word.  In this article I would like to share some lessons we can learn from the fourth chapter of both of these epistles.

While these books have general application for all Christians, their primary application deals with preachers.  As preachers, we must be careful not to fall away (1 Ti. 4:1-5).  Rather, we must discipline ourselves (vs. 6-10) and allow our ministry to reflect in both our walk and our work (vs. 11-16).  We must also preach and hear God’s Word faithfully (2 Ti. 4:1-5), finishing our ministry well (vs. 6-8) while preparing ourselves to face life’s winters (vs. 9-22).

How To Behave In God’s Household

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, the real purpose of the letter is revealed.  Paul had presented his purpose in writing in the previous chapter.  He had stated he was writing these things to instruct Timothy on how to conduct himself while administering the affairs of the church (3:14-4:10), while also encouraging Timothy by providing him counsel concerning his own spiritual progress (4:11-16).

Falling Away (1 Ti. 4:1-5).  Paul first discusses the present problem.  Apparently this is an explicit prophecy about apostasy.  Perhaps he is referring to Jesus’ prediction about the apostasy before the destruction of Jerusalem (Mk. 13:22), or to other prophecies Paul had made (2 Th. 2:1-12; Ac. 20:29).  Some in Ephesus were already apostatizing; we know they were already wilting by the end of the first century (Re. 2:4-5).  This present apostasy are people that are not enjoying God and the blessings He provides, but rather denying certain things.

Paul tells Timothy that this warfare is spiritual, something he had already told the Ephesians (Ep. 6:10-20).  Paul told them that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ep. 6:12).  Some of these teachers were following deceitful forces and demonic teaching (2 Co. 11:13-15).  Demonic influence can be blatant and obvious, but also subtle.  Evil spirits continue to work in churches to thwart God’s truth by their demonic doctrines.

Falling away always begins in the mind because the mind is the seat of all facilities for the body.  These spirits are misleading.  The teachings they espouse appear healthy, but they are a recipe for disaster.  They try to get into your head and twist your thinking.  However, God’s people believe and know the truth (4:3).

Falling away leads from the mind to our morals.  The demonic teaching seared people’s consciences (4:2).  Instead of leading them to repentance, their wrong thinking led them to wrong morals.  Biblically speaking, a person that apostatizes can go in two directions: either legalism (2 Ti. 4:1-5) or licentiousness (2 Pe. 2:1-3; Jude 1:18-20).  These Christian teachers forbade marriage and certain foods, probably an early form of Gnosticism.  Some concluded that since the body was evil, we must discipline the body through asceticism (i.e., a rigorous denial of self and pleasure); others concluded that since the body was evil anyways, it did not matter what you did in your body.  These are the results of wrong thinking, stemming from deceitful spirits.

Paul then discusses what Timothy’s perspective should be.  This apostatizing was already taking place and Paul warns Timothy to be on his guard.  In contrast to falling away, the remedy is holding to God’s truths with thankfulness, gratefully enjoying God and his creation.

Literally, these people are hypocritical teachers who speak false things.  When I say “hypocritical,” I suggest “a practical denial of their” inner self (Wieseler).  They concealed their more legalistic convictions, but had an open verbal profession of adhering to the Christian way.  To salve their guilty conscience, they took a hot iron and seared it shut.  The prescription medication for a seared conscience is allowing God’s truths and goodness to melt the inner man — allowing the Bible to confront our sins and enjoying the simple pleasures in life that God gives to every one of us.

Paul mentions gratitude twice in the text.  If we overflow with gratitude (Ep. 5:20; 1 Th. 5:18), our consciences cannot be seared shut.  If we are bitter or grumble toward God, we will doubt God’s goodness and will eventually fall away.  In a practical manner, we can be thankful for our spiritual blessings in our physical joys.  God wants us to enjoy this world with its literature, art, and music; its mountains, oceans, and valleys.  God wants us to share meals, to enjoy marriage, and to participate in the joy of creation.  However, in these things we should not just enjoy the gift, but the Giver of all good gifts.  Yes, we do not need to overindulge or become self-centered (Paul deals with discipline immediately after), but Paul’s point is that all of life is spiritual and sacred.

This extends beyond saying table grace, but to all our life.  Whether we hike in the mountains, enjoy the warm company of family and friends, a concert, or a good book, it ought to exuberate with prayers of thankfulness.

Discipline That Matters (1 Ti. 4:6-10).  Paul’s message to the young evangelist Timothy is that if he wishes to succeed in his service, he must be disciplined in God’s Word and healthy teaching. Perhaps Timothy desired to be disciplined, but he had several old habits into which he just kept falling back. The key to discipline is motivation. Athletes drive themselves relentlessly for years because they are motivated to win that gold medal and all the implications it carries. We must push ourselves to do what we don’t want to do to achieve what we’ve always wanted to be. Our motivation is eternity and all the implications of eternity.

Eternity should motivate us. While Paul does not despise bodily exercise, he is making a comparison between bodily and spiritual; while the body is temporary, the spirit is eternal (4:8). Many live for this life, but fail to live for eternity. Many are obsessed with beauty and health, dietary restrictions, and physical performance, but none of that will change that death is inevitable.

The living God should motivate us. Paul said that he had set his hope on the living God.  He is not merely a projection of Paul’s mind.  God created the universe and all that is in it. Because he is living, Paul could commune and draw strength with him daily. If it is true that God is living and our hope is fixated on him, then the living God should motivate us.

Salvation should also motivate us. Paul tells us that God is the Savior of all humanity, and thus counters the teachers he mentioned before who bound their dietary laws and forbade marriage. In effect, Paul is saying, “God wants to save all types of people, in every place, from every walk of life. He has provided salvation for all, but not all are saved.” Apart from Christ, humanity is alienated from God, but with God humanity has sufficient salvation. This fact of our salvation ought to motivate us.

What is discipline? Discipline is an ongoing process, not a quick fix. Paul uses the verb in the present imperative, stressing continuous action. Discipline involves hard work. Paul said, “We labor and strive.” “Strive” is a wrestling term, giving all strength to win. Discipline means discarding hindrances. Paul encourages Timothy not to have anything to do with the random babbling of the false teachers. The Greek word for discipline implies stripping off hindrances – if we’re going to win, we must strip off the weights. Discipline means keeping your eyes on the goal. Paul tells Timothy that the goal is godliness, growing in conformity to God, taking God seriously, and recognizing the implications of a godly life.

How do we implement discipline?  By nourishing our faith with truths (4:6b), continually feeding on God’s spiritual nuggets.  Spiritual warfare involves the mind and affects the morals.  We must take in God’s Word by hearing it preached and reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on it.  We must be obedient to the truths that we are following (4:6c).  True wisdom is not intellectual knowledge, or an accumulative database of facts.  True wisdom reaches out and changes lives.

Timothy’s Walk and Work for Christ (1 Ti. 4:11-16).  Paul tells us in another place that God gave to the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, teachers “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ep. 4:11-12). It seems as if there are droves who are either burning out on ministry because they are exhausted or bombing out of ministry because of moral failure. Timothy’s danger was that he would just fade out of the ministry because his timid personality tended to want to avoid conflict. The fact is that we cannot preach God’s truths without inevitably confronting error and offending some people. Timothy was in danger of neglecting his ministry (4:14), so Paul took him under his wing out of love for him.

Paul tells Timothy to pay close attention to himself (his walk) and to his teaching (his work.)  He gave similar advice to the Ephesian elders (Ac. 20:28).  The goal of every disciple is to develop godliness through daily discipline, walking with the Lord.  The walk and work of a preacher ought to be inseparable.

In ancient times, age meant a lot.  Often just having gray hair was a sign of a credential. The young Timothy was probably somewhere in his late 20’s or early 30’s. Paul tells the young man to not “let anyone look down your youthfulness.” Some might shrug Timothy’s teaching because, “Well, he’s too young to know what he’s talking about.” If your message is backed by a disciplined, godly life, then it doesn’t matter how young or how old you are.

Paul mentions five areas where Timothy needed discipline for godliness: speech, lifestyle, love, faith, and purity. No one would respect Timothy’s message if his mouth was full of sarcasm, profanity, ridicule, gossip, blaming, destructive criticism, angry words of threat and revenge, griping, complaining, lying, filthy talk, or dirty jokes (Ep. 4:29). Honesty, integrity, how we spend our time and money, priorities, attitude toward possessions, personal appearance, home, how we treat people…all of these factors would be important if any would take Timothy seriously. Without agape love, he would fail in crafting people into growth. If love does not permeate our life, then we will fail in our ministry (cf. 1 Co. 13). If Timothy was going to succeed in his ministry, he would need to be consistent in his life, unlike the hypocritical teachers that Paul mentioned earlier. If he was to succeed in his ministry, he would have to expunge sickly thinking from his mind. Timothy’s walk was essential if he was going to be successful.

Timothy was to focus on the public ministry of the Word. He was to read it aloud (especially in an illiterate society), apply it to life (“exhortation”), and teach it (4:13). Paul tells Timothy not to neglect his public ministry (4:14), to take pains to progress it (4:15), and to persevere in it (4:16).

Every believer has a gift whether in benevolence, evangelism, or edification. The elders laid their hands on Timothy, prayed for him, and empowered him via encouragement. Timothy had to develop his teaching. Paul tells him, “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them.” “Pay close attention.” “Persevere in these things.” Paul later tells him to rekindle the fire (2 Ti. 1:16). Sometimes preachers get discouraged.

Timothy was a timid person. While timidity is not a negative trait, Timothy allowed it to affect his ministry. Paul tells Timothy to grow in confidence and authority, backed by a godly life (4:11). He tells him to grow thick skin for when opposition comes (4:16).  Going back to the seriousness of ministry, Paul concludes by saying, “You will save both yourself and those who hear you.” Timothy was to have a view of eternity.  Even if he was catching flak, he was to persevere.

Timothy needed to persevere in God’s truth with thankfulness. Because of what was at stake, Timothy needed to discipline himself for godly living. Timothy’s walk with Christ a necessary basis for his work for Christ.

As servants today, we need to persevere in God’s spiritual truths with grateful hearts. As servants today, we need to be motivated by what is at stake and discipline ourselves to godly living. As servants today, we need to make sure our walk with Christ is in step with our work for Christ. If we our ministry is going to be successful, we cannot allow our fear to paralyze us from performing these solemn, sacred duties.

Timothy’s Charge

The last 22 verses of 2 Timothy are Paul’s final recorded words before the apostle’s execution.  Having just emphasized the trustworthy nature of that Word and its vital importance (3:16-17), he now charges Timothy to be faithful in heralding that Word (4:1-5). He then reminisces that he has fought and he is finishing well (4:6-8). He then asks a few things in the face of winter, a doxology, and a few other miscellaneous concluding remarks (4:9-22).

Preaching the Word (2 Ti. 4:1-5).  Why preach?  Preaching the Word is a serious charge.  Paul invokes Timothy to take an oath as in a court of law before God and Christ.  Timothy was to preach with a view of eternity, which reflects the seriousness of preaching and the solemnity that ought to be a trait of all preachers.  How many preachers today have taken this solemn oath in God’s court?

What to preach? We have a few clues in the immediate context. Paul references the Scriptures earlier (3:16-17), followed immediately by the command to preach. The Word (4:2) is the God-breathed Scripture (3:16). Paul gives the reason for preaching the Word (4:3). He refers to the Word as sound teaching. He has a solemn duty to herald the King’s messages for the people, as do we.

When to preach? Paul answers this question: in season and out of season. Preaching must not be play; it must be a life-consuming passion. A rhetorical question might be, “When not to preach?” As Timothy, we need to be ready in view of eternity, which implies readiness always.

How to preach? Paul charged Timothy to reprove, rebuke, and exhort. How? “With great patience and instruction.” We need to show people where their life is not in line with God’s truths and we need to show them how to make those steps back in line with God’s truths with patience and instruction in mind. People require time to change – they don’t always get it on the first time around. He gives them careful instruction to help them in view of eternity. We also need to be patient with the people we teach.

Hear the Word.  Paul charges Timothy to preach healthy teaching, which would result in healthy living.  Healthy teaching does not always mean that society and culture will like it.  Why preach healthy teaching?  Paul answers, “Because otherwise people’s ears shall turn aside to myths.”  Like Timothy, we cannot allow public opinion to override our personal convictions.  Like Timothy, we must confront sin, give encouragement, and strengthen the struggling.

Persevere in the Word.  Paul tells Timothy to persevere despite people not listening to him. First, Paul tells Timothy to keep a clear head.  Some preachers get so caught up in the little details that they miss out on what is going on around them. We must keep alert. Many young preachers tend to allow themselves to be easily influenced by things going on around them, perhaps also taking a side.  This is a danger we need to avoid.

Paul also tells Timothy to put up with flak.  A preacher is going to catch flak.  If he is going to remain a preacher for very long, he is going to have to grow thick skin…but still be patient!  We must find a healthy middle ground in that we must become resilient while not becoming calloused.

Paul then tells Timothy to get his job done.  Despite modern definitions of the word “evangelist,” the term euaggelistes simply means a preacher of a good report.  An evangelist’s true success is measured primarily on whether he is faithful in proclaiming the Word.

Paul also tells Timothy to discharge all his duties in his service to King Jesus.  This requires faithfulness in proclaiming the Word, suffering the hardship as a soldier.  What Paul is about to write concerning how he has fulfilled his service to his King and is about to die embraces this idea.

Finishing Well (2 Ti. 4:6-8).  Paul viewed his past, present, and future all with confidence and conviction.  How many of us as preachers live in such a way that we can say these same words when it is the time for our departure?  How many of us are passing the torch to the younger generation?

Paul views the present (4:6).  He reminds Timothy of his circumstances by basically saying, “I am about to die.”  The flow of thought is this:  “Even in opposition, Timothy, you must preach the Word because I am about to die.  I am passing the torch.”  Dying is easier when we know that we’re leaving behind people that can carry on with Christ.  Paul did not view his execution as tragic, but saw it as the culminating drink offering being poured onto an existing sacrificial life (cf. Ro. 12:1-2; Nu. 28:7).  He refers to his death as a departure, literally the unyoking of an animal from his plow, the loosening of a rope from a soldier’s tent, or releasing the mooring ropes of a ship.  Death means the end of our physical strains, that the victory is won, and our earthly vessel awaits the culmination which is to come.

Paul views the past (4:7).  While reminiscing about the past, he recalls, “I have fought a good fight,” using an athletic metaphor about either a wrestling match or race.  We are in an onslaught “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ep. 6:12, ESV).  If our living centers around comfort and pleasure, can we say we have fought a good fight?  Paul recalls, “I have finished the course,” using another athletic metaphor.  Per legend, the Greek marathon originated after a decisive battle between Greece and Persia, when a Greek soldier ran from Marathon to Athens with the gospel (good news) that they had won the battle in Marathon against Persia and then dropped dead from overexertion.  Paul said with confidence that he had finished his course.  He recalls, “I have guarded the faith.”  Timothy was to guard that deposit (1 Ti. 6:20; 2 Ti. 1:12, 14).  Paul is basically saying, “I have done precisely what I told you to do.  I have guarded it with my life, and now you do the same.”  Paul viewed his past with confidence and his present with conviction.

Paul views the future (4:8).  He reassures Timothy and himself about the future.  Paul desired to meet the Lord, the righteous Judge.  Despite his dismal circumstances, he had security about the future.  He did not fear the final judgment.  Rather, Paul lived in view of that day when he would receive that garland wreath of righteousness, that prize given to the victor of the Olympian games.  Not all receive a crown, but only those who participated in the games (1 Co. 9:24-25).  Even though his earthly judge wrongly condemned him, he knew that the righteous Judge would vindicate him.  Even though he knew that evil wins the battle temporarily, he knew that the Lord would come in a day of reckoning.  Even though he knew life was unjust, he believed in the One who brings equalization to all.

Facing Winter (2 Ti. 4:9-22).  As Paul concludes his final letter to his beloved son in the faith, he urges Timothy to make every effort to come to him before winter.  Paul was human.  He is wrestling with his feelings and disappointments.  However, he was also confident in the Lord.  He triumphantly states, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever.  Amen” (4:18).  Such an amazing attitude is something we as preachers need to take to heart.

Committing to Christ (4:17-18, 22).  Even in a cold, dark dungeon in Rome, Paul reveals five things about the Lord.  He is sovereign.  Even though God could have rescued Paul from the evil deeds of wicked men, He delivered Paul through them.  He is ever-present.  Paul said, “The Lord stood with me…The Lord be with (Timothy’s) spirit.”  Even with no one around him, Paul had company.  He is saving.  Paul said confidently, “He will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom.”  Even in the face of death, Paul would be saved.  He is glorious.  Paul said in a doxology, “To him be the glory forever and ever.”  Even in shackles, God retains His glory.  He is gracious.  Paul’s final words are, “(God’s) grace be with you.”  Paul was committed to the living Lord.

Committing to the Cause (4:11, 14-17).  Even in a jail cell, Paul is still strong.  Even in the face of death, Paul still refers to his ever-present ministry and service (4:11).  This is truly what it means to preach out of season.  Whatever circumstances we face, we seize our opportunities for ministry.  Nero was torturing Christians; testing in Nero’s court meant peril and danger.  Paul said, “No one stood with me.”  The Roman Christians were committed, but they were afraid.  Paul is gracious to them, shown by his words, “May it not be counted against them.”  Alexander opposed the cause.  Paul recounted how he had done him much harm.  While we don’t know who this was, it is likely he was a believer and perhaps the one who informed the Roman authorities to arrest him.  Paul said, “The Lord will repay him for his deeds.”  Paul was stating fact; while he did not desire personal revenge, he trusted in God to make everything right.  Demas was committed, but deserted the cause.  He used to be a fellow worker (Phile. 24), but he fled now that identifying with Paul meant death.  We do not know if he repented like Peter had after denying Christ, but in that moment he was not committed.

Committing with Others (4:9-10, 12, 19-21).  Paul was not a lone ranger.  He trusted in his fellow workers:  Timothy, Crescens, Titus, Tychicus, John Mark, Carpus, Prisca and Aquila, Erastus, Trophimus, Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, and Claudia, along with all the brethren in Rome.  He was not  a loner.  He was committed with others, and they labored together.

Committing to Growth (4:13).  Knowing of his imminent execution, Paul wants Timothy to bring him his books.  Paul didn’t tell him, “Bring me my TV and movies.”  He wanted to use his mind to read and think.  He wanted to develop his mind.  He wanted to develop his soul, to know Christ more and more.  He wanted to take care of his character.  Even at the end of his life, Paul still had room to grow.

Paul was confident that Timothy would keep his charge (4:1-5).  He was convicted in and committed to his risen Lord (4:6-22).  This should be our goal as well.

scaggsstephen@gmail.com

 Stephen preaches at the Collinsville Church of Christ in Collinsville, VA.  He is a 2012 alumnus of the Memphis School of Preaching in Memphis, TN.  He is married to Rebekah and they have two children, Emmett and one on the way!