All posts by Dr. Dickson

1 Timothy 2 – Organic Function (1)

Romans 12:1 would be an introductory statement that explains the organic function of the members of the body of Christ as they seek individually to live according to the gospel: “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” In order to accomplish this spiritual paradigm shift in one’s life, Paul explained that we must “be transformed by the renewing” of our minds (Rm 12:2). In another context he wrote, “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus” (Ph 2:5). In reference to discipleship, the following are those areas of our lives on which we must focus in order to transform our minds into the mind of Christ:

A. Focus on prayer (2:1-4):

Our lives must be characterized by continual prayer (1 Th 5:17). The exhortation in this text is that supplications and prayers be directed to God for those who are not a part of the body of God. These are those who have influence upon the social environment in which the members of the body live. When prayers are “made for all men,” then the social environment in which the church exists changes for the benefit of the members. We do not know how God influences “all men” for the benefit of the church, but at least in this request for prayers for all men, God does influence those around us for our benefit. We know that He works in the world around us because the Holy Spirit in this text asks that we pray that things change for the better.

Prayers affect “all who are in authority” for the benefit of Christians. Again, it is not our business to understand how God works in the affairs of man. The simple fact that the Holy Spirit here directs the hand of Paul to enjoin upon Christians the responsibility of praying for government officials assumes that God will work in government for the benefit of the church. Our prayers, therefore, do enhance the function of the body of Christ. Our prayers must extend beyond those who are members of the body of Christ. The principle reason for such prayers is “that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life.”

Offering prayers and supplications for all men and government officials “is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” Since it is the desire of God that “all men to be saved,” then it is necessary that Christians live in a society where their gospel preaching is not disrupted or hindered by social upheaval. Men and women cannot “come to the knowledge of the truth” of the gospel if the preaching of the gospel is hindered through social chaos. We assume, therefore, that the Spirit’s directions concerning prayers for civil government officials are not so much for the salvation of the officials themselves, but for the salvation of the citizenship through our unhindered preaching of the gospel.

[Next in series: April 4]

1 Timothy 1 – Gospel Behavior (3)

C. Grace-inspired faithfulness (1:18-20):

The validation for Paul’s right to charge Timothy to “fight a good fight” of the faith was based on his own life. Paul revealed leadership in living the gospel, and thus, he enjoined on Timothy the same. In other words, Paul was saying to Timothy, “If I can do it, so can you.”

It was not that there were specific prophecies in the Old Testament that named Timothy as one who would be a courageous warrior for the gospel. Some New Testament prophet in the immediate historical context of these matters possibly affirmed that this previously young man from Lystra would be a great man of God when he left the security of his mother and grandmother. Since Timothy may have at this time in his ministry been discouraged because of the opposition that some brought against him, Paul wanted the young man to remember that there were many others who had invested a great deal of trust in him to preach the gospel to the world. Timothy needed to remember that he had been sent forth by the “laying on of the hands of the presbytery” (1 Tm 4:14). There may have been someone at the time who said that Timothy would do great things for God.

In order to fight the good fight, one must keep the “faith and a good conscience.” Paul had faithfully labored when he was an enemy to the faith, and steeped in religion (See Gl 1:13). He reminded Timothy that even as a persecutor, he conscientiously believed that he was doing the Lord’s will. But now as a disciple, he simply continued on with his faith and good conscience in preaching the gospel. He called on Timothy to do the same.

But some “shipwrecked their faith.” They did so by rejecting the principles of a good soldier for Christ about which Paul wrote in this context. In the text, Paul listed two individuals whom Timothy evidently knew from past association. Hymenaeus and Alexander were by Paul “delivered to Satan so that they might learn not to blaspheme.”

To blaspheme means that one assigns the work of God to be the work of Satan. On his first missionary journey there were those Jews who were “filled with envy. And contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed those things that were spoken by Paul” (At 13:45). These Jews were so set in their religion that they could not connect the dots from prophecy to fulfillment in reference to Jesus being the Messiah. And since they could not connect the dots from prophecy to fulfillment, they were set against Paul who did.

In the case of a Christ-sent apostle, we have in this context at least two people who were “delivered to Satan so that they might learn not to blaspheme.” We are not told if they were struck blind as was Bar-jesus (See At 13:9-11). They certainly did not drop dead as Ananias and Sapphira before the Christ-sent apostle Peter (At 5:1-11). But we could assume that some physical affliction came upon them so that they might be taught not to oppose the message of the gospel by assigning it to be a message from Satan.

We might conclude that this could be the same Hymenaeus that Paul mentioned in his second letter to Timothy. If so, then Hymenaeus did not learn his lesson. Paul mentioned that Hymanaeus’ word “spread like gangrene” (2 Tm 2:17). In the second letter Paul also instructed the young disciple Timothy to “avoid profane and empty babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness” (2 Tm 2:16). Hymanaeus and Alexander were two who generated conflict, and thus they were to be avoided.

[Next in series: April 2]

1 Timothy 1 – Gospel Behavior (2)

B. Grace-motivated gospel living (1:12-18):

Paul used his own life as an example of grace-motivated gospel living. Though he “was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and injurious,” God still “put him into His service.” Paul’s total transformation reminds us of the power of the gospel to change lives (See Cl 3:1-17).

Paul was “enabled” to transform because of the power of the gospel that worked in his life. God redirected his commitment as a persecutor of the gospel to being a promoter of the gospel. God simply changed the focus and use of his personality assets. His passion was redirected. His life exemplified what he wrote to some disciples in Rome, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rm 12:2).

The faithfulness of Paul (Saul) in his former life as a persecutor was not justified when he said, “I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” His behavior before his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road only identified the type of person he was. Once he was convinced that the Jesus whom he persecuted was truly the incarnate Son of God who was sent to be the Messiah and Savior of the world, then the obsession of his life was changed. His transformation was a paradigm shift of thinking and behavior. “What things were gain to me,” he wrote, “those things I have counted loss for Christ” (Ph 3:7). Therefore, “the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant” in his life because he believed and obeyed the Lord Jesus in the Damascus vision. He once wrote,

“But by the grace of God I am what I am. And His grace toward me was not in vain, but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Co 15:10).

Paul’s personal transformation became a model for the rest of us. All that God did for the world through His beloved Son is the motivational power by which we can transform our own lives. This is the transforming power of the gospel (Rm 1:16). Paul wrote, “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace that is reaching many people may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God” (2 Co 4:15). The grace of God that worked so profoundly in the life of Paul caused him to abound in the work of the Lord. This begs the question: If there is no service for Jesus in our lives, then do we really understand the grace of God that was revealed through the only begotten Son of God?

In order to understand, we must, as Paul, confess “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” This is the incarnational invasion of God into the world into the flesh of man (See Jn 1:1,2,14). Unless we have this mind of Christ in us, we cannot begin to fully understand the sacrifice that the Son of God made for us (See Ph 2:5-8). Incarnational living as a disciple of Jesus is often terrifying to those who are in the bondage of this world.

The more we begin to understand the incarnational sacrifice of Jesus, the more we understand what true discipleship is all about. However, those who do not seek to understand this living according to the gospel of the incarnation will often establish a legal religiosity by which they can measure themselves according to law. They will often brush aside spiritual growth that is motivated by grace in order to measure with one another their own performance of law. They are as some in Corinth who were “comparing themselves among themselves” (2 Co 10:12). They are as Paul confessed of himself when he was in the bondage of “comparative religion.” He said of himself, “I advanced in Judaism above many of my contemporaries” (Gl 1:14). When we are under grace, there is no “spiritual” competition. There is no “advancing” above one another, for we are all one man in Christ (See Gl 3:26-29).

Here is how some play this game with God: One will legally show up at an assembly of the saints, call for the “opening prayer,” and then legally proceed through a ceremony of “acts of worship.” Once the legal performances of the assembly are over, a “closing prayer” is ritualistically performed, and the “worshiper” has convinced himself that he is right with God. He has satisfied his laws for assembly, and thus he can go on his way having convinced himself that he has performed the law of assembly. But worst of all, he goes away with very little appreciation for the grace of God that can transform his life.

We have discovered that many people are satisfied with religion that conforms to their desires because they are afraid of what it means to live incarnationally after the “closing prayer.”

When Paul wrote to the Christians throughout the province of Achaia, he exhorted them, “Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ” (1 Co 11:1). The readers of this statement had surely been previously informed of Paul’s former life as a persecutor. Therefore, when they saw that he “obtained mercy” from God, though he was a persecutor of the church, they realized that regardless of how far away from God one might feel he is, grace can extend further.

We must never believe that we have lived so far away from God that His grace cannot find us. If grace could reach and change Paul who specifically persecuted that which he later promoted, then it can reach deep into our hearts and motive transformation. We too can “obtain mercy.” Jesus did this in the life of Paul in order that He “might show forth all longsuffering for an example to those who should hereafter believe on Him to eternal life.”

After Paul had explained these things to Timothy, a doxology was in order: “Now to the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

[Next in series: March 31]

1 Timothy 1 – Gospel Behavior (1)

No greater instructions on discipleship could have come from one who was personally called and sent forth (apostle) “by the commandment of God our Savior and Lord Christ Jesus,” than these admonitions of the apostle Paul. Timothy was a true “son in the faith” in that he was the result of Paul’s preaching the gospel to a young man and his mother and grandmother in Lystra.

To such a longtime friend and fellow servant, the aged apostle directed the instructions of this letter as to a faithful disciple. “Grace, mercy and peace from God” are the introductory clues that we have that these instructions were coming from One who is more than the man Paul who wrote the letter. The Holy Spirit is guiding the hand of Paul to inscribe these jewels of instruction that lead all of us into being better disciples for Jesus. Grace, mercy and peace define our relationship with God who made all such things possible through the cross of His beloved Son.

A. Legal teachers of law (1:3-11):

Our first indication of a true disciple is that he or she is one on the move in reference to fulfilling the great commission to preach the gospel to the world (See Mk 16:15). As the traveling companion of Paul, Timothy was left in Asia because there was a great need for continued teaching among the new disciples. He was left with the special responsibility to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine.”

We assume correctly that there were some among the early disciples who were behaving as those about whom the apostle John wrote many years later: “Whoever goes ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God” (2 Jn 9). In fact, John was direct in reference to those who were not willing to abide within the confines of the truth of the gospel: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching [that Jesus is come in the flesh – vs 7], do not receive him into your house and do not give him greeting” (2 Jn 10).

The reason for the admonition is obvious: “For he who gives him greeting participates in his evil deeds” (2 Jn 11). John, and those to whom he wrote, were facing several false teachers who denied the very foundation upon which the gospel of the crucifixion was based. They denied the
incarnation of the Son of God (2 Jn 7). It seems that Timothy may have been facing the opposition of those who were either denying or questioning the truth of the gospel.

Paul’s instructions to the young teacher Timothy was that he teach that which would result in one remaining in the fellowship of the body of Christ. Therefore, there is “truth” that one must believe in order to remain in fellowship with gospel-obedient disciples. In reference to John’s admonitions, this was the truth of the gospel. John explained:

“That which we have seen and heard we declare to you so that you also may have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn 1:3).

This is not simply something that one believes in reference to a code of doctrine. When speaking of the truth of the gospel, the disciples’ common fellowship with one another is totally based on the gospel of Jesus’ incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, coronation and consummation of all things when He comes again. There is no fellowship in Christ unless those in fellowship agree upon these truths of the gospel.

In the historical context of the problems that Timothy faced, some were giving “heed to fables and endless genealogies that cause disputes.” When disputes over matters of opinion exist between disciples, then they are distracted from “God’s work that is in faith.” Disputes disrupt the organic function of the body of Christ. In the religious culture of Ephesus, we are sure that there were endless fables among the idolatrous Ephesians about which speculation could be generated. At least in Crete where Paul left Titus a few years later there were those Jewish converts who were “giving heed to Jewish fables” (Ti 1:14).

We live in such a world today where speculators are willing to prognosticate with end-of-time fables and “blood moons” that supposedly signal the end of times. All such fables result in endless debates, and thus are to be avoided by those who would be disciples of Jesus. Meaningless discussions about such things reveal that one is more of a disciple of those promoting such fantasies than they are of Jesus.

Though we are not cursed today so much with the “endless genealogies” that seem to have been a favorite topic for Jewish discussions, the apostle’s point is clear. Any discussions, and particularly debates, that arise over matters of opinion should be shunned. What was to be corrected was not the settlement of a particular issue through debate, but that the participants in such discussions should be admonished not to participate in the debates in the first place. Those who are disciples of Jesus must know their Bibles well enough to separate matters of healthy teaching from matters of opinion. In our healthy study of Bible truths we discover in the religious world those fables and fantasies that are not worth discussion. These are matters that each disciple must avoid.

If there are those who persist in their endless debates over meaningless subjects, then they have not only given up their right to the fellowship of the disciples, but they have also violated the very bond by which the brotherhood of the disciples is held together. “The purpose of the commandment is love out of a pure heart.” And if this exhortation were not sufficient, the apostle added that we must maintain “a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

Jesus’ initial instructions in reference to discipleship could not have been made more clear: “By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). The “commandment” was reinforced by the apostle John’s exhortation: “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). When in the heat of debate over fables and endless genealogies, it is easy to determine where there is a lack of love. In fact, if there is “heat” in the discussion, then it is revealed that someone is challenged in the area of love. Love never allows “heat” to develop in the discussions of those who are identified as disciples by their love for one another.

When there are those who “have turned aside to meaningless discussion,” then we know that there are those who have “swerved.” They have gone beyond that which is the foundation of our faith. Those who have swerved are “obsessed with controversy and disputes about words” (1 Tm 6:4). And as Paul will urge all disciples in the last chapter of this epistle, a loving disciple must avoid “profane and vain babblings and opposing arguments of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Tm 6:20). Controversies concerning those things that are not salvational are simply “meaningless.” They should be avoided. This subject is so important in reference to the brotherhood of disciples that Paul will pick up the subject again in the final chapter.

Those who are obsessed with their opinions often desire “to be teachers of the law.” Because of their obsession with their opinions, they assert that what they believe should be bound on others. They are thus self-centered, thinking that their opinions are correct, and thus, must be taught as “doctrine” for others to believe. The problem is that they know so little about the word of God that they understand “neither what they say, nor what they affirm.”

Those who promote meaningless fables and genealogies will invariably find themselves in the company of some theological contradictions. The best way to refute a false doctrine is to go immediately to the context of scriptures from which the false doctrine is supposedly proved. If the doctrine is truly false, then the “proof text” will reveal that someone has twisted the Scriptures to their own destruction. They will have done that about which Peter wrote concerning those who do not know their Bibles. They “are untaught and unstable,” and thus “distort [the word of God] to their own destruction, as they do also the other Scriptures” (2 Pt 3:16).

Paul identified the problem. It seems that the “untaught” and “unstable” who do not know the truth will seek to bind where God has not bound. “We know that the law is good,” he wrote, “if a man uses it lawfully.” This would be a very difficult statement to understand if we approach law from a legal point of view. Law is meant to restrict, to control, to guide. But in reference to living the gospel of grace, living by law is a contradiction if law in and of itself is meant to be the only means by which one would seek to save himself through perfect law-keeping. In another context Paul explained, “Do we then make void law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish law” (Rm 3:31).

In the world of social order, law is meant for “the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, of murderers.” But when we apply law to those who restrict their lives through their obedience to the gospel, then law hinders spiritual growth if we use it to grow closer to God. One is hindered from going beyond the requirements of law if he seeks to allow God “to do exceedingly abundantly above all that” He desires to do in our lives (Ep 3:20).

Law establishes limitations, but grace motivates one beyond limitations. “According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God” one obeys law, but does not restrict his or her spiritual growth to a supposed perfection in law-keeping. Law promotes growth in the knowledge of law, but grace promotes spiritual growth in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (See 2 Pt 3:18). When one marks his growth through law, he is measuring his spirituality by his performance of law.

An example is in order at this point. Under the Sinai law tithing regulated, if not restricted, the giving of the individual. The ten percent tithe was the norm by which one would judge himself righteous according to law. If one performed the tithe, then he could consider himself righteous according to law. But the law of tithing passed away when the new covenant displaced the old covenant of which tithing was commanded as law.

Christians, therefore, in their new covenant with God, are no longer under the limitations of the ten percent. They are free from law to give as much as they want. In reference to giving, the principle now is, “Let each one give according as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion [by law], for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Co 9:7). This principle is followed by a statement that explains the result of gospel-giving according to grace: “God is able to make all grace abound toward you so that you, always having all sufficiency in everything, may abound to every good work” (2 Co 9:8).

When we are motivated by our appreciation of the grace of God, then we “abound to every good work.” We are not confined to ten percent in our giving. The more we walk in gratitude of the grace of God, the more we give. The result is cheerful giving, not giving that we are compelled to do according to law. When we are compelled by law, we often give grudgingly. But when we are motivated by grace, we cannot give enough (See 1 Co 15:10).

[Next in series: March 29]

Gospel Preacher – Intro (2)

When Paul asked that Timothy go with him and Silas on the remainder of the second mission journey, Timothy knew the hardships that he would have to endure. From what happen to Paul on his first visit to Lystra two years before, Timothy knew that struggle was in the future if he signed on with Paul.

On his first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas went to Lystra. On that occasion Paul healed a crippled man who had not been able to walk from the day of his birth (At 14:8). The people of Lystra were overwhelmed. They cried out, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men” (At 14:11). They subsequently called Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes (At 14:12). But then some antagonistic Jews showed up from Antioch and Iconium. These persuaded the residents in Lystra to stone Paul, which thing they did, dragging “him out of the city, supposing him to be dead” (At 14:19). Now notice what Luke recorded in the following historical statement: “As the disciples stood around him [Paul], he rose up and came into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe” (At 14:20).

Young Timothy was in that group of disciples who looked on the body of Paul as if he were dead. Many years after the incident, Paul wrote to Timothy, “But you have fully known my … persecutions, afflictions, which came to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—what persecutions I endured” (2 Tm 3:10,11). Timothy undoubtedly stood there in the crowd of the brethren looking on what they assumed was the dead body of Paul. And then Paul moved a little, stood up, brushed off the dust, and then had a good night’s sleep. With all the bruises from the stoning, he and Barnabas then walked about fifty kilometers over to Derbe. We might assume that Timothy witnessed a direct resurrection from the dead, for they all assumed that Paul was dead on that occasion.

It was not that Timothy did not have an example of persecution that would result from following Jesus as a disciple. He had the example of the former persecution of Paul, but he also had the example of what it meant to be a determined gospel preacher. If a stoned disciple could get up the next day to continue on his mission to another city, then certainly he could at least walk several times back and forth between Lystra and Iconium. He too could live the committed life. For some reason, he was a greatly motivated young man. Paul could see this in him when he arrived on his second visit to Lystra, and thus Paul wanted him to go with him.

For some reason on this second journey Paul had already rejected a young man named John Mark because he formerly did not go with him to the work on the first mission (At 15:38). John Mark turned back when he saw the snow-covered mountains of Pamphylia. Timothy, on the other hand, worked alone in his mission to go back and forth between Lystra and Iconium. One young man was initially a follower, but turned back. The other was an initiator who set out on his own.

There certainly was not that much difference in age between Mark and Timothy. But on the second mission journey, Paul did not want to have Mark with him (At 15:38). On the other hand, Paul desired that Timothy come on a journey where he was going alone with Silas into difficult territory where the gospel had not yet been preached. Paul simply judged Mark not ready, whereas he judged Timothy ready because he had proved himself.

If we take about a twenty-year leap into the future from the time Paul began his second mission trip, things had changed in the life of both Mark and Timothy. It is interesting to note that when Paul was in prison in Rome in A.D. 60,61, Mark had finally caught up with Paul. By this time in his spiritual growth, Mark was able to stand by Paul in a Roman prison. But this was over twenty years after the beginning of the second journey when Paul had rejected the company of Mark. Timothy, on the other hand, was able to stand with Paul after he had been a disciple for only two years. Though Mark about twenty years before immediately went with his cousin Barnabas on to familiar territory in Cyprus on the second mission journey of Barnabas, Timothy was willing as a young disciple to head out into the unknown after only two years of following Jesus on his own.

Discipleship is developed in individuals with different time lines. However, regardless of the time, both Mark and Timothy ended up at the same place in reference to being profitable servants for the Lord.

We have in our New Testaments two Spirit-inspired letters written to Timothy and none written to Mark. However, we must give Mark credit, for the Holy Spirit took his hand and inscribed the book of Mark, whereas the Spirit never used Timothy to write an inspired document of the New Testament. What we have is a document written directly to us by Mark, but two documents written for us by Paul to Timothy.

And then consider also that both 1 & 2 Timothy were written to Timothy who seemed to be discouraged at the time of writing. In the letter of 2 Timothy Paul had to charge Timothy to preach the word of the gospel (2 Tm 4:1-4). In the same letter, Mark was evidently close enough to Timothy that Timothy could fetch him and bring him to Rome where Paul was located in prison. Paul instructed Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Tm 4:11).

By the end of Paul’s life, both Timothy and Mark were profitable to Paul in the ministry of preaching the gospel to the world. Mark had a temporary diversion in his early discipleship, and Timothy had his own discouragements that led to his temporary cessation of preaching the gospel. Nevertheless, both grew in their ministry as profitable disciples. In the end, both assumed their responsibility to preach the word of the gospel.

Regardless of where one finds himself or herself in his or her ministry, he or she can at the end of the day be as Mark and Timothy. It is all about spiritual growth and not staying where one is in the present. And in reference to Timothy, it is not about using one’s childhood in a mixed religious family, or culturally diverse mother and father, as an excuse for not growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pt 3:18). Discipleship is not about being content with where one is in his or her responsibility to preach the gospel to the world. It is about growing into being a profitable servant for Jesus.

[Next in series: March 27]

Gospel Preacher – Intro (1)

On his second missionary journey, Paul came to the cities Derbe and Lystra that were about fifty kilometers from one another (At 16:1). This was his second mission trip to these two cities, plus the city of Iconium to the north of Lystra. He visited these three cities with Barnabas on his first mission journey out of Antioch of Syria (At 13:1-3).

While on this second mission to the three cities about two years after the first trip, he encountered a young disciple in the city of Lystra by the name of Timothy. We are not told how long Timothy had been a disciple, though we assume that from the influence of his mother he was a disciple for at least two years, assuming that his mother became a believer during the first mission trip. She was “a certain Jewish woman who believed” (At 16:1).

Timothy’s father, however, was a Greek. When Luke recorded this historical information concerning Timothy, he did not state that the father was a believer, as was the mother. We thus assume that the father was not a believer, for he had some influence over the household because Timothy was not circumcised. Therefore, Timothy grew up in a religiously divided family, assuming that the father carried on after the heritage of Greek mythology. Nevertheless, though Timothy was young, his mother and grandmother did a good work by influencing him to believe in Jesus as the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus as the Messiah. Contrary to the religious influence of his father, Timothy’s mother taught the young man the religious heritage of Israel.

On his mother’s side of the genealogy, Timothy was a Jew. His grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice, had handed down to Timothy a “genuine faith” from his Jewish heritage and knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures (2 Tm 1:5). Paul wrote that “from a child you [Timothy] have known the Holy Scriptures” (2 Tm 3:15). There is no historical evidence of a synagogue existing in the city of Lystra, and thus, we assume that both Lois and Eunice, as Jews, carried on with their teaching of the Scriptures in the home concerning the prophecies and fulfillment of Jesus as the Messiah.

Since Timothy’s father was a Gentile, and his mother a Jew, he grew up in a culturally mixed family. When one grows up in such a family, the child usually has to make a decision as to which culture he or she belongs. In this situation, Timothy would eventually during his childhood have to determine whether he was a Greek after the influence of his father, or a Jew after the influence and teaching of his mother’s religious heritage. It seems that Timothy made this decision before the arrival of Paul on his second visit, for he was already an active disciple. From the time of the first visit of Paul two years before, until Timothy encountered Paul on the second visit, Timothy had grown to be a very active believer in the area of Lystra and Iconium.

Nevertheless, there was still some Gentile influence of his father that had to be overcome before Timothy could join in the ministry with Paul. So Paul “took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those regions, for they all knew that his father was a Greek” (At 16:3). It is not recorded in the New Testament, nor is there any archaeology evidence, that there was a synagogue of the Jews in either Derbe or Lystra. Nevertheless, there were certainly many Jews living in the area. The Gentile father was known in the region, and for this reason, and in order for Timothy to be accepted among the Jews to whom Paul was going to preach, Timothy had to conform to the religious rite of circumcision, though the Sinai law with circumcision, had been nailed to the cross (Cl 2:14).

What is interesting concerning the commitment of Timothy before the arrival of Paul was the great reputation Timothy had with the church that existed in Lystra and Iconium. Timothy “was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium” (At 16:2). Iconium is about twenty-five kilometers north of Lystra, Timothy’s home town. Timothy was known by the church in both of these cities, and thus we must assume that he made the journey between the two cities on a regular basis. His faith and dedication as a young disciple had moved him to go beyond Lystra in order to reach out to those in Iconium. When Paul was made aware of this faith and dedication, he “wanted to have him go with him” (At 16:3). We must note, therefore, that Timothy had already proved his commitment to evangelistic work long before Paul showed up.

[Next in series, March 25.]

Gospel Matters (C,D)

C. Gospel fellowship in the flesh (2:10-13):

Verse 10 is the “gospel verse” of Hebrews. Paul had revealed to the Colossian saints in reference to the now crowned King that “all things were created through Him and for Him” (Cl 1:16). Therefore, it was appropriate “for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things,” to be the origin also of eternal salvation for those who would seek to be His brethren whom He would bring into eternity. In order to do this, the Son could not remain in the “form of God,” but had to empty Himself into the flesh of man for an offering for the sins of those whom He would bring into eternal glory (Ph 2:5-8).

Those who are sanctified—that is us—and the One who sanctifies—that is Jesus—are brothers because of the love offering of the Father. The love offering of the Son brought us into brotherhood with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because we have been cleansed of sin by His blood, He can now have a brotherhood relationship with us. This relationship could exist only when the sin that separates us from God was washed away by the blood offering of the Son of God (See Is 59:1,2; compare At 22:16).

It is not, therefore, that we seek to establish conditions for ourselves in order to have a relationship with God. It is He who sought to establish a relationship with us. Through the offering of His Son He has accepted us. It is our responsibility to accept His acceptance of us through our obedience to the gospel of His Son.

In the prophetic context of Psalm 22, David rejoiced in his willingness to proclaim the name of the Father in the assembly of Israel when the Israelites came together for their feasts of celebration. The Hebrew scribe applied the statement to the Son of Man who would joyfully proclaim the name of the Father in the midst of His assembly (church) of the sanctified (See Ep 5:19; Cl 3:16).

The declaration and celebration of brotherhood between the resurrected Son, and those who were sanctified by His suffering, can be possible only on the foundation of the gospel of grace that was revealed through the suffering Servant, who at the time of writing, was the crowned King.

Because His brothers had previously risen from the grave of baptism, having washed (cleansed) away their sins in their obedience to the gospel (At 22:16), they were claimed as brothers by the Sanctifier. Our trust is now in Him, not in ourselves. Our righteousness is from Him, not from ourselves in our former religiosity wherein we sought to self-sanctify ourselves through works of merit. “Therefore, having been justified by faith [in Him], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rm 5:1).

D. Gospel deliverance (2:14-18):

In order to accomplish all the preceding, there was the necessity of incarnation. Brotherhood between God and man could never have been pronounced from heaven, or made possible on earth, without the demonstration of incarnation on the part of Deity. There had to be an eternal sacrifice on the part of the One who brought all flesh into existence. And since the flesh of bulls, sheep and goats are all created flesh, they could never be a satisfactory offering for the sins of humanity against God (See Hb 10:1-4). The offering of animals was insufficient because animals had no choice in their offering under the Sinai law. The incarnate Son of God, on the other hand, offered Himself (Ph 2:7). Of His own will He made a choice to transition between spirit and flesh in order to be a suitable offering for those who would later seek to transition into eternity.

Therefore, “since the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise partook of the same.” This is the gospel of the incarnation. Before creation, the Father, Son and Spirit determined the totality of the gospel. Since God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are love, then they had to create that which they could love. But in order for those of “flesh and blood” to respond sincerely with love to their Creator, they had to be created free to make all their moral decisions.

There was thus risk in the creation of flesh and blood. The risk was that the created would have the volition to reject the love of the Father, Son and Spirit. And for this reason, the Son had to volunteer Himself as the reconciliatory offering to bring “flesh and blood” into fellowship with the Father, Son and Spirit (Ph 2:7).

Since the created were in the bondage of “flesh and blood,” they needed to be delivered from the bondage by death. The good news of the incarnation, therefore, was necessary. But the gospel had to move beyond incarnation. Offering was necessary in order to reveal love (Jn 3:16). Offering was necessary in order to “give aid to the seed of Abraham,” whom we are by faith (Gl 3:7). Aid need not to be given to angels, for they are always in the presence of God (Lk 1:19). Therefore, we needed One to stand in the presence of God on our behalf (1 Tm 2:5). So the crucified and resurrected Christ ascended “to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hb 9:24). He is there as our high priest and mediator.

It was necessary, therefore, that the Son of God would truly give up being in the form of God (Ph 2:6). It was necessary in order that He “be made like His brethren.” This was all necessary in order “that He be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God.” If these things did not transpire in the existence of the eternal Word, then there could have never been an “atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people.”

It is not that the Son of God was incarnate with reservations. He could sin. He could suffer. He could be tempted, as we, to sin against the God of His origins (See Mt 4:1-17). And because He was able in all ways to suffer and be tempted as His brethren in the flesh, “He is able to aid those who are tempted.” He is a Savior who can empathize with our needs. Though He is now our King in heavenly places, He understands our predicament in the bondage of “flesh and blood.”

[THE COMPLETE BOOK OF HEBREWS WILL BE PUBLISHED BY THE END OF MARCH. GO TO www.africainternational.org FOR THE ANNOUNCEMENT AND DOWNLOAD OF THIS VERY INSPIRING DEVOTIONAL COMMENTARY.]

Gospel Matters (B)

B. Gospel coronation (2:5-9):

It may have been that the readers did not fully understand the atonement of the cross, nor the present gospel reign of King Jesus. So the writer takes their minds back to their marginalization of King Jesus through their exaltation of angels. He reminded the readers that the Father “did not subject the world to come to angels.”

Whenever it is revealed in Scripture that something that is created exists is subjected to someone above creation, then that One to whom all things are subjected is either the Father or Son. Before the gospel coronation of the Son, God the Father was King over all things (See Ps 10:16; 22:27,28; 24:10; 44:4; Is 33:22). But in prophecy during the days of Israel, David spoke of a new King who was coming, and a transition in kingship over all things (Ps 8:6-8).

The “Son of Man” was indeed through incarnation made “a little lower than the angels.” For this reason we believe that no angel was ever incarnate into the flesh of man. Only the Son of Man made this incarnational journey into the flesh of man (Ph 2:5-8). However, though He was lowered to the flesh of man from the spirit in which He, as God, was in eternity, the Father “raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places” (Ep 1:20). In the coronation, the Son was “crowned with glory and honor.” And not only that, the Father “appointed Him over the works” of creation.

In the good news event of the resurrection is the fact that the Son of God had to have been in the flesh of man in order to be raised from the dead. In the coronation, He had to be Deity, for only God can reign over all created things. All things could be subjected only to Him who was the Creator, and thus He was above all that which was created (Cl 1:16).

We must not assume, however, that the incarnate Son reversed His incarnation at the time of His coronation. There is no reference in the New Testament that states that Paul’s revelation of the incarnation of the Son of God into the flesh of man that is revealed in Philippians 2:6,7 was ever reversed when the Son ascended on high (See Jn 1:1,2,14). All we know is that one is an antichrist if he or she does not confess that the Son of God is in the future coming in the flesh. By John’s use of the present tense in the following statement that was written at least sixty years after the coronation of King Jesus, we can only make assumptions as to the present existence of the Son of God:

“For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess that Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 Jn 7).

We know that the Son of God will come in bodily form as He ascended (At 1:11). And John reminded us, “It has not yet been revealed what we will be. But we know that when He appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is” (1 Jn 3:2). If we will be like Him when He comes, then He evidently will return with flesh and bones as He was at the ascension, or as what Paul reveals we will be when our mortal body puts on immortality in the heavenly body (See 1 Co 15:35-57). However, we must not forget that Paul said that we do not now know Christ according to the flesh (2 Co 5:16). Christ does not have to be in the flesh and bones as He was after the resurrection and at the time of His ascension (Lk 24:39). At His final coming we will see Him as He will be as our resurrected body. These are things that do not confuse our understanding of what He now is as King and Priest. They are things beyond our understanding.

The writer referred his Jewish audience to Psalm 8:6-8. Some would assert that David was speaking in this context of man only. David was certainly referring to man in the original context in which the Holy Spirit first had the statement inscribed by the prophet David. However, the original inscription was a metaphorical prophecy in reference to the Son of God. There was an earthly meaning in reference to man at the time David wrote, but a heavenly fulfillment in reference to the ascended Christ at the time the Hebrew writer wrote. This prophecy was not understood in this manner until the Holy Spirit referred the readers back to His library of Old Testament books and quoted the statement in reference to the coronation of the Son of God.

The preceding understanding is revealed in the fact that “subjection” is in the present tense in reference to something that was happening at the time the Hebrew writer inscribed these words. We note that at this time King Jesus reigns over all things. “You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” Though the created world was subjected to man’s desires and use from the beginning, the living metaphor is now applied to the Son of Man over all things (See Gn 1:26).

The subjection of all things to the kingdom reign of the Son was complete. The Father “left nothing that is not put under Him.” This is more than the Son being the King of a church of disciples. His kingdom reign extends far beyond the church, for His kingdom extends to all that has been created, both visible and invisible (Cl 1:16; 1 Pt 3:22). The readers limited understanding of the kingdom reign of the Son of God may have been one of the causes of their apostasy to make earthly kings, especially the Roman Empire, more important in their theology than King Jesus.

Here is a crucial point to remember in reference to the universal kingdom reign of King Jesus: “But now we do not yet see all things put under Him.” We can see the visible church of disciples who are the submitted subjects of the kingdom. However, this visible church of submitted subjects does not constitute the entirety of the kingdom of the Son of Man. His kingdom reign extends far beyond the church, though we in the flesh, with limited perception, do not see His reign over all things including angels.

We live in a world of rebellion. We live in a world of conflict between good and evil. We do not conclude that this world is out of control, for the writer reassured us previously that everything is under control, for King Jesus upholds all things by the word of His power (Hb 1:3). However, we must not make the erroneous conclusion that social chaos in this world infers that things are out of control of the One who ascended on high.

Jesus is King and head of all the kings of this world. He is Lord of all the lords of this world (1 Tm 6:15). To assume anything contrary to the totality of His kingship is to minimize His gospel reign. To assume that His kingdom is composed only of obedient subjects (the church) is an attack on the present gospel reign of Jesus.

In this context, the limitation of the kingdom reign of King Jesus was one of the points of theology that laid the foundation for the apostasy of those to whom the document of Hebrews was directed. As the writer will reveal later in this document, in their marginalization of the King, they also marginalized the ministry of His present priesthood. And surely, this is what the readers were doing in their comparison of Jesus to angels.

We do not understand why some would believe that angels, as our ministering spirits, would work in the affairs of man for the sake of the saints, while at the same time, Jesus as the King of kings and Lord of lords supposedly cannot. But we do understand. From the corrections that the Hebrew writer made, we conclude that any limitations that we place on King Jesus as He now functions are also limitations of what He now does as our high priest and mediator between God and man (1 Tm 2:5).

So the Hebrew writer gives us a reality shock. We do “see Jesus who was made a little lower than the angels.” But there was a purpose for His “lowering.” The purpose was to bring “many sons to glory.” In order to do this, the atonement of the cross was necessary. His crowning with glory and honor was necessary. All this was necessary in order that “by the grace of God” He “might taste death for everyone.”

[Next in series: February 19]

Gospel Matters (A)

Erroneous beliefs have consequences. They have consequences because they are carried out in our behavior. Our core beliefs determine our values, and our values determine our behavior. When the mandate was stated in Scripture to “belief on Jesus,” it was assumed that the believer would follow through with gospel behavior.

Emphasis on the gospel according to Hebrews reveals the inner core of our beliefs, and thus our hearts. Legal religiosity deals more with the head, but gospel deals with our hearts. So the Hebrew writer now takes us into the inner sanctuary of our hearts lest we turn away from our gospel commitment that was initiated at the time when our belief in Jesus was carried out in our obedience to the gospel in baptism.

A. Gospel announcement (2:1-4):

Because it is the gospel that motivates correct responses in reference to the commandments of God, “we must give more earnest attention to the things that we have heard so that we do not drift away.” The writer now brings up the example of the Israelites who did not give the more earnest heed to the things that were spoken to them. Being of Jewish heritage, the readers remember their apostate history as a nation in the past.

These statements reminded the readers “not to drift away” from those things that they heard. The assumption is that there is always the possibility of apostasy from our initial commitment to the gospel. For the Christian, obedience to the gospel is never a “once-saved-always-saved” conversion. There are no guarantees on faithfulness that work outside our own volition to remain faithful to our call through the gospel. Faithfulness is never enforced by outside influences, nor by the Holy Spirit inside us. Faithfulness is always the responsibility of the individual.

For example, “The word spoken [to Israel] through angels proved steadfast” (See At 7:53). Under the Sinai law that was delivered to Moses through angels, “every transgression and disobedience received a just punishment.” With disobedience to the word of God through the Sinai law came consequences. Embedded within the Sinai law was the principle that one must be taught obedience to that which was commanded (See Dt 6). Their being taught obedience assumed that if they were not taught, they would fall from the grace of God (See Hs 4:6; 2 Pt 3:18). And this they did.

The above illustration concerning Israel is understood in reference to turning from something that is far greater than the Sinai law. If the readers “neglect such a great salvation” that came to them through the Son of God, then they must not assume that there will be no consequences. Since the message of the gospel was initially spoken from the mouth of the incarnate Son of God, and then was confirmed by the signs that followed, how can we question the truth of the spoken word of the gospel? How can we escape just punishment if every we turn from the gospel?

It was Nicodemus who came in the night and said to the Lord, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (Jn 3:2). In the beginning of the gospel, the Christ-sent apostles initially proclaimed the gospel through spoken words. As did Jesus, they too had their message of the gospel miraculously confirmed (See Mk 16:20).

If the truth of the good news was miraculously confirmed and obeyed, then there is no excuse or escape for those who turn from the gospel. It is not that they have revised or changed some outline of law. They have turned from the blood of the Lamb of God who cleansed them.

The writer will not let this point go, for he will return to the subject of apostasy later in the book (See Hb 6:4-6). He will so return because of the eternal consequences of the one who turns from the gospel. His or her example of apostasy would be manifested before the world. In another context, the Holy Spirit gave a commentary on this matter:

“For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Pt 2:20-22).

The spoken word of the gospel was miraculously confirmed, not by miracles being worked on the obedient, but on those who had not yet believed. Confirming miracles revealed the power of God in the messengers of God in order that people believe the message. But once they believed, there was no demonstration of miracles among the disciples for the purpose that they continue to believe the gospel. The Spirit correctly assumed that the power of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and coronation of Jesus Christ would motivate individuals to remain faithful. These who were on the verge of apostasy in this historical context could not blame God for not working any miracles in their lives in order that they remain faithful.

Once one was obedient to the gospel, then there is no excuse for turning from the heart of God that was revealed on the cross. There is no excuse for rebelling against King Jesus who now reigns. The Hebrew writer continues through his description of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and reign of the incarnate Son of God. The good news of the events were miraculously confirmed by the Holy Spirit. There is no desire for repentance on the part of those who have turned their backs on this gospel that God has revealed for the salvation of the apostate. The writer seems to indicate that the potential apostates to whom he is writing had all the blessings in order to encourage them to obey the gospel. However, the lure of legal Judaism was so strong that they were turning their backs on the heart of God that was revealed through the gospel of the Son of God.

It is relevant to mention here that the writer is addressing baptized disciples who had been blessed with the Holy Spirit. From what was transpiring in their lives at this time, the writer made no mention of the Holy Spirit guarding them from their apostasy. He makes no mention of miracles in their lives to encourage their faithfulness. This is significant in reference to our understanding of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

At least we understand from what the writer states in this context that it is not the Spirit’s responsibility to guard us from apostasy. It is not because the writer makes no mention of the Spirit being responsible for their apostasy, or for them to call upon the Spirit to guard them from falling. Neither are there any instructions that they turn to the Spirit for help in reference to their faith in the power of the gospel.

There are no calls for miracles in the lives of the potential apostates in order to keep them faithful. The writer’s efforts to restore those who were wavering is based solely on reminding them of their knowledge of the gospel of God’s grace that was many years before miraculously confirmed to be true. Their problem was that they did not grow in the knowledge of who Jesus now is and the gospel of grace (Hb 5:11,12; see 2 Pt 3:18).

[Next in series: February 17]