Tag Archives: Paul

Appoint or Elect? How should we select leaders in the church? Titus 1:5-9, Part 1

17 Jun

I recently heard the story of a pastor who got in a predicament.  The story goes like this: “A minister parked his car in a no-parking zone in a large city because he was short on time and couldn’t find a space with a meter. Then he put a note under his windshield wiper that read: ‘I have circled the block 10 times. If I don’t park here, I’ll miss my appointment. ‘Forgive us our trespasses’.’ When he returned, he found a citation from a police officer along with this note: ‘I’ve circled this block for 10 years. If I don’t give you a ticket I’ll lose my job. ‘Lead us not into temptation’.”

Maybe you know the feeling.  It is a human condition to be tempted and fall into it.  Yet we followers of Jesus are called to live differently. Therefore in this series of posts on Titus 1:5-9, we’re going to try to answer the question: Is it possible to be blameless?

In this blog series we are reading other people’s mail. Ancient mail, yes, but it’s still mail! Last we looked at the beginning of a letter from one of the earliest Christians, a guy named Paul, who was writing to his friend Titus.  Today we continue studying that letter.  If you’d like, you can read Titus 1:5-9, which will be our focus this week.

Let me review a bit of the background to this letter that we studied last week. We need to remember that Paul invested in Titus, discipling him, helping Titus become a leader in the fledgling Christian movement.  Titus had even traveled with Paul to the Island of Crete, which is right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.  There they spent time talking with people about Jesus and starting churches in towns across the island.  When I refer to “churches,” don’t think of buildings.  Instead they were groups of people who believed the message of the good news about Jesus, and gathered together.  Think of house churches.  Paul knows there is still much work to be done among these new Christians on Crete, and he has a plan.  Paul’s plan is a mission to send Titus back to Crete with a very specific goal.  I encourage you to pause reading this post, and read Titus 1:5-9 to see if you can discern the mission that Paul has for Titus.

Think about these brand new Christians on Crete. They have no Christian history like most Christians do around the globe in 2019. In America, for example, we are used to centuries and upon centuries of Christianity being the major religion in our nation.  But for the Cretans Paul is writing to, Christianity was totally new.  They had no Bibles to read.  They had no leaders to guide them.  All they had was maybe a few weeks or months with Paul and Titus.  They were far from established. 

And what’s more, they were in Crete.

The Cretans were, well, Cretans.  Peek ahead to verse 12 and we get a taste of why the word “Cretan” is still used today to describe people that are out-of-control.  Their own poet, Epimenedes, said that they were liars, evil brutes and lazy gluttons.  We get the idea that Crete is Mardi Gras all the time.  OK, maybe that is an exaggeration, but life in Crete was wild. Contrast that to the fact that when Paul and Titus were on Crete, they had preached a whole new way of living life.  That new way of living was the way of Jesus.  Paul knows that these very new Christians are in the middle of a Cretan society filled with opportunity for them to turn away from the way of Jesus.  Cretan Christians were going to be faced with difficult life choices.  How could Cretans live the new way of Jesus?  Would they be able to live a new way?  Would they be tempted to live the old Cretan way?  Sure they would.  Paul is very concerned about this.

To make matters worse, there were Christians who were causing lots of trouble in the churches already.  We’re going to talk about them further next week.  For now, look at verse 10, where Paul calls them the “circumcision group”.  Scan through verses 10-12 and you can see how destructive these people were to the church, and Paul is not reserved in his feelings about them. 

Suffice it to say, society and culture in Crete could be tough for the new Christians there, and Paul is rightly concerned.  There is some serious work to be done, or this young church could fall apart. 

What is Paul’s response to this very tricky situation?  He sends in Titus.  Look at verse 5.  He writes that is he is sending Titus to deal with what was left unfinished.  Paul and Titus had started the churches together, got them off the ground, and then had to move on.  So these young churches are in a precarious position, and Paul wants to strengthen them by sending Titus back to them.  Now Paul has a very specific mission for Titus.

See how he describes Titus’ mission in verse 5?  Titus’ main objective is to appoint leaders in every town. This tells us that church leadership is very important to Paul.  He talks about godly leaders in many places in his various letters.  In this week’s posts, then, we are going to study Paul’s teaching about Titus’ mission to appoint leaders in the churches in Crete.

First of all, Paul uses the word “appoint.” It is not a vote.  Titus is to do the choosing.  Titus is making the picks.  It is not up to the Christians in Crete.  This is not a democratic process.  At this juncture it is important to note that this letter was to be read in public to the churches.  Paul wants all the Christians in Crete to know that they don’t get a say in who their leaders will be.  Titus is choosing. 

That means that we don’t need to elect our leaders in our church.  Many American Christians think that we should always vote for leaders in the church, that somehow God works through elections.  I think, though, that we have very good reason to doubt that idea. Yet we Americans especially are use the method of elections in the church.  You won’t, however, find elections and voting in the Bible.  You also don’t find elections and voting condemned in the Bible.  So I think we would do well to approach this with caution and wisdom.  At Faith Church, this teaching from Paul is the foundation for why our Leadership Team selection is not just a vote, but a process where we try hard to only have candidates on the ballot whom we are okay with being on the Leadership Team.  Therefore, when we vote, we’re okay with any result.   

We also need to see that the public reading of this letter to Titus is some accountability for Titus. Why? Because Titus doesn’t get to choose whomever he wants.  Paul goes on to give Titus some very specific guidelines he can use in the choosing process.  And the people listening to the letter will hear these guidelines too.  They will know if Titus is following Paul’s instructions or not based on how Titus makes the selections.  So what kind of people should Titus be looking for to be leaders of the church? Check back in tomorrow, as we begin to look at what Paul has to say about who should be selected to be leaders in the church.

What Christians need: Grace, Peace…and Titus? Titus 1:1-4, Part 5

14 Jun

What do you need? A million bucks? I often daydream about how a million dollars would free up my life. But that’s not really what I need. What do we need? We conclude this week’s blog posts on Titus 1:1-4 today looking at what Christians need.

If you haven’t read the previous four posts, I encourage you to pause reading this one, and jump back to part 1 and start there. The previous posts will set the stage for this one.

Then turn to Titus chapter 1, verse 4, and you’ll see that the author of this letter, Paul, mentions a name: Titus. Who is Titus?  Titus is the guy that PUal is writing to, and in the previous posts we saw that Titus was one of Paul’s most trusted associates in ministry. Paul dispatched Titus to go to the Island of Crete in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, where previously they had traveled and helped establish churches. Titus has a mission to help those churches, a mission that we will learn about much more next week when we study Titus 1:5-9. For now Paul greets Titus in this letter, calling him, “My true son in our common faith.”

Titus was not Paul’s biological son, but instead Paul led him to faith in faith in Jesus.  Paul was his spiritual father.  Fascinating, isn’t it, that we can have sons and daughters in the faith?  Paul had reached out to Titus to help him understand that there is hope in Jesus.

Who is your Paul?  Who is your Titus?

Church attendance across the country is declining.  People are less and less interested in Christ.

What do we do?

Some stats say that 80% of people who are invited to church will say yes, especially if you commit to be there with them, pick them, go out for breakfast, and then go to the worship service together.  But a vibrant relationship with Jesus is about much more than one hour per week at a worship service.  Paul calls Titus a son.  That’s a deep family word that means Paul was deeply invested in Timothy’s life.

Faith Church recently had an excellent Discipleship Training session, and our trainer, Clint led us to conclude that discipleship involves the following: Meet weekly with a few other people to study and apply the Scriptures with the aim of multiplication. Here is what each part of that description looks like.

Meeting weekly – needs at least this frequency to build momentum and relationship

With a few other people – beyond 3-5 people is too large. Also team up and have two leaders. Recommend same gendered groups.

Study & applying the Scriptures – the Bible is essential to disciple-making.

With the aim of multiplication – keep growing and splitting the group.  Initial group can be to study one book of the Bible, and then re-eval.  But have heart to grow.

And what does Paul say to Timothy?  He starts with “Grace and Peace,” a very typical Pauline greeting.  What does Paul mean?  Why does he share this?  Is it just perfunctory?

Grace is defined as “a favorable attitude toward someone or something—‘favor, good will.’ (Louw & Nida).  Paul is saying to Titus, “may you have favor, may you have good will.”

And may you have peace, which is defined as “a set of favorable circumstances involving peace and tranquility.” (Louw & Nida) Sounds very good, right?

Grace and Peace.  We need that. 

Notice that these are not grace and peace from Paul.  Instead Paul says that the grace and peace are from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

Though Paul calls Titus his son, he properly refers to God as their Father.  Paul is not truly father to Titus.  God is father of them both. 

And from God, from Jesus, there is grace and peace.

Let those words settle on your heart and mind today.  In one sense it was just a customary greeting.  In another sense, there is something deep and important grace and peace.  We need grace and peace from God.

I’m reading the story of Brian Johnson of Bethel Music, and his struggle with anxiety.  He said that it was a struggle for him as a child, but for 15 years he experienced grace and peace, until adult life and ministry got intense, especially as Bethel Music started growing.  The anxiety returned.  Maybe you’ve felt that with work, with raising a family, with finances, with school, with friendships.  There are many pressures in the world.  Do you need grace and peace? 

Paul reminds Titus that grace and peace are rooted in God our Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.  Brian Johnson says that for him, in the moment of panic and anxiety, that is when God became real.  I sense Paul would say the same thing.  Jesus is the truth, and in Christ alone we have the source of grace and peace.  Turn to him in prayer, in his Word, not alone, with others (with your Titus!). Turn to Jesus, the source of grace and peace.

Is eternal life a real thing? Titus 1:1-4, Part 4

13 Jun

Take a look at Titus 1:2.  There is a repeated word in the original Greek in which Paul wrote, but for some reason the English translations I looked at don’t repeat it.  Here is how verse two would look if that word were repeated:

“in hope of life eternal, which was promised by God, who does not lie, before time eternal.”

See that repetition?  And also see the emphasis on God as telling the truth?  I mentioned that in the previous post, as Paul is very concerned that Titus and the Christians on the Island of Crete focus on truth. Why does Paul need to say that God doesn’t lie, though? Isn’t that obvious?

Actually, no. In fact, the concept of God as truthful, contrasts to the Greek and Roman gods, who the people in Crete were raised on.  One author I read said that “there was never a greater lying trickster than Olympian Zeus, who always seemed to wrap himself in a fog in order to ravish some maiden out of sight of his wife, Hera, and then to lie about the deed.” (Baugh, Titus)

Paul knows his audience.  He knows what the Cretans believed, because they were taught it from the days of their childhood, and Paul see how they act.  He wants to assure Titus and the church in Crete that the hope they have in Jesus is based on the fact that he is the truth.

What’s more, the truth God promised was from eternity to eternity, that there is hope of life in him!  What a wonderful way to start a letter, isn’t it?  There is hope in God, hope for life, and God doesn’t lie about this.  It is true!

Continue to verse 3. There  Paul explains that, “At God’s appointed season, He brought his word to light.” What is God’s Word?  His word is the truth that Paul mentioned in verse 1, the truth of Jesus. “He brought it to light” is the idea of revealing it.   Paul says that through the preaching, the proclamation, that was entrusted to him, then, he is helping people see the truth of Jesus, shining a light on it so people can see it. 

Now this is Paul speaking…he was an apostle…so maybe this is just something that he does?  Maybe we don’t have to?  Maybe it is just for the evangelists?  The missionaries?  The pastors?

No, this is for us all!  We all can shine a light on who Jesus really is.  We recently had a discipleship training event at Faith Church that made this very clear. The mission of God’s Kingdom to make disciples is for all Christians. How do we know this? Think back to Matthew 28:20.  There Jesus says that a disciple is someone that is learning to obey everything Jesus commanded the original disciples.  One of those commands is “go make disciples”!  So it is every disciple’s call to make disciples.

Paul goes on to say that the preaching entrusted to him was by the command of God our savior. Paul repeats this in verse 4 when he refers to Christ Jesus our savior.  That repetition means it is an important concept. 

How is Jesus our savior?

Savior from what?  What do we need saving from? 

Savior for what?  What do we need saving for?

Paul doesn’t explain these things.  He will later in the letter.  We’ll get to that.  For now, Paul is saying that we have a savior in Jesus, that Jesus is the truth that leads to godliness.  In other words, while there are many people and organizations trying to get us to believe that they have truth, Paul is saying that truth is found in Jesus.  True hope for life eternal is in Jesus.  Throughout the letter we’re going to hear him talk about this more.  In this greeting, he just introduces it.  So if you are struggling, wondering if there is hope, wondering what is the truth, keep reading Titus.  Feel free to read ahead!  Comment below. I would be glad to talk further.

Many in our world do not have hope.  Paul clearly wanted Titus and the people in his church to know the source of truth that leads to godliness. 

Now that Paul has described his role as a servant apostle to proclaim the hope we have in Jesus, he next refers to the recipient of the letter. Check back tomorrow as we learn about Titus.

Find truth in a world of fake news – Titus 1:1-4, Part 3

12 Jun

Truth does not seem to be in good standing in our culture.  Facebook recently reported that they deleted over 3 billion fake accounts.  This means there are a lot of people who want to influence others around the world with untruth.  Fake news!  Our previous sermon series was all about false ideas that Christians believe, and throughout that series we found many untruths.  As we continue looking at Titus 1:1-4, Paul is going to talk about truth. It seems truth (or the lack thereof) was a major issue on the Island of Crete, where Titus was serving.

After describing himself as a servant/slave of God and apostle of Jesus, Paul says he holds these roles, “For the faith of the elect.”  Who are God’s elect?  This is the idea of God choosing people to be part of his family.  There are two main beliefs about God choosing people: corporate election and individual election. In my denomination we do not believe that God chooses individual people to be a part of his family and that he condemns others.  Instead we believe that God does choose all corporately in Christ, and yet we individuals need to choose him back.  God chose the entire nation of Israel, in the Old Covenant, the Old Testament, to be his special chosen nation, and yet that didn’t guarantee that each individual Israelite was saved; they still had to choose him.  Many didn’t.  In the same way, in the New Covenant, the New Testament, we believe that God chose all in Christ, but that doesn’t guarantee that each person will be saved, they still have to choose God.

That is why Paul uses the word “faith” in Titus 1:1  He wants more and more people to place their faith in God.  Therefore he mentions the next phrase about why he is a servant and apostle.  He wants all people to have “the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness.”

What is the truth that Paul wants people to know?

Paul knows he needs to talk with Titus and the other Christians in Crete about truth.  Why?  Look at verses 10 through 12.  We’re going to dig into that much more fully in the coming weeks, but I want you to at least see it here.  In verse 10 he talks about some Cretans as “mere talkers, deceivers,” in verse 11 he refers to their “dishonest gain,” and in verse 12 he quotes one of their own poets, Epimenedes, who said, “Cretan are always liars.”  Just as it is in our day, in Titus’ day, in Crete in particular, it seems that lying and deception were rampant.  You can see why Paul really wants them to know the truth.

So what is the truth that leads to godliness?  In verse 2 Paul says, “God does not lie.”  Truth, Paul says, is found in God and as we keep looking at the passage, we’ll see how Paul describes it.

Looking at the phrase, “truth that leads godliness,” what Paul is talking about is straightforward.  The word he uses for “truth” is defined as “what actually happened.”  And the word he uses for “godliness” is defined as “appropriate beliefs and devout practice of obligations relating to supernatural persons and powers—‘religion, piety.” (Louw & Nida)

So Paul sees himself as a servant of God, an apostle of Jesus, with the mission of helping all people come to know the truth that will lead to right beliefs, right practice and thus, right relationship with God.  I appreciate that so much.  It goes back to the two main purposes of this letter: sound doctrine, and good works.  Paul wants everyone everywhere to know the truth (sound doctrine), which is the truth about Jesus, so they will live rightly (do good works).

Of Slaves and Apostles – Titus 1:1-4, Part 2

11 Jun

Have you ever called yourself a slave to your boss? A slave to your job? Maybe you have slaved over a project in school. Or perhaps you worked slavishly doing yard work. We use the word “slave” in many ways, even though that word has a horrid connotation because it describes the very awful and very real world of many people today, and throughout history. Slavery is terrible. Would it surprise you to learn that in his letter to Titus, Paul calls himself a slave of God? Is Paul off his rocker? Does God have slaves? What is going on here?

In Part 1 of this series of posts on Titus 1:1-4, I said that we are reading other people’s mail. Today we begin to do just that. In verse 1 Paul starts off in two ways that were very common in ancient letter writing, but might seem strange to our modern eyes. First, he begins the letter by identifying himself, “Paul”.  We always start our letters by addressing who we are writing to. 

Second, Paul writes in a fairly formal fashion.  We’re not used to that.  Our letters are so often very informal: “Hey man, how are you doing?” or just a simple, “What’s up?”  But how does Paul start? “Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness…”  Here is Paul writing to a close friend.  And he starts like that?  To our modern sensibilities, this seems odd.  I want to say, “Geesh, Paul, just talk normal to the guy.”

But that is our culture talking, and I think there is another point that could help explain further why Paul is so formal here.   Look at the end of the letter, chapter 3 verses 12 to the end.  There Paul is more personal in his comments to Titus.  Also in verse 15, the very last phrase, he says, “Grace be with you all.”  Paul doesn’t say “Grace be with you, Titus.”  He says, “Grace be with you all.”  That is a clue, I suspect, that Paul intends the content of the letter to be read to all.  Yes, he is teaching Titus.  But he is also teaching all the house churches in the various towns on the island of Crete.  And thus it makes sense that he would be more formal back in 1:1-4. Let’s continue reading verses 1:1-4.

First of all, he establishes his authority and credentials.  Look at verse 1.

“Servant,” in the Greek language that Paul originally wrote in, is also translated as “slave”.  Slavery in the ancient near east is not the same as slavery that we Americans are familiar with from our history.  In Paul’s day, slaves might actually have opportunity for advancement and position. If you were a servant of the king, for example, you were in a positive position.  Some slaves could purchase their freedom. Slavery was also rarely based on race. But slavery could also be brutal in the Greco-Roman Empire. Please don’t read me as saying that it was okay. It was still one human owning another human, and often mistreating them. That means Paul’s frequent use of this word to describe his relationship with God is curious.  Paul is not saying that slavery is good.  He is saying that he belongs to God.  God owns him.  And that is not a bad thing.  That’s why most English translations use the word “servant” for this Greek word. I tend to think that “servant” takes an unnecessary edge off the concept that Paul is trying to convey. “Slave” is the better word, as harsh as that might sound, because of the connotation that Paul has given up his freedom and submitted it to the will of God.

Second, Paul says he is an apostle of Jesus Christ.  The word, “apostle” can be defined as a special messenger.  There were the 12 disciples of Jesus who became the 12 Apostles, and Paul was added to their number by God’s choice in Acts 9.  The apostolic gift and task is one of seeing where new works for the Kingdom can be started.  Sometimes that is missionary work, church planting, or starting other new ministry.  It is very entrepreneurial and very important.  Paul lived this apostolic life traveling many times across the Roman Empire, starting new churches for God everywhere he went, including the Island of Crete where Paul is now sending this letter to his friend Titus.

So Paul’s primary descriptors of himself are servant and apostle.  In nearly all of his letters, he starts like that.  In other words, he saw his life as defined by God’s mission.  Paul could have talked about his lineage or about his income-earning work, which was tent-making, or about his ministry successes, or his education, or his previous life as an important Jewish leader.  He doesn’t do any of that.  Instead he talks about his role in the mission of God’s Kingdom.  He is a servant and apostle. I find that very instructive.  So can we identify at all with Paul?  Or was he too special, too different? 

I think we can identify in many ways with Paul. 

First, that word “servant.”  Put your name in place of Paul.  “(Your Name), servant of God.” How does that sound to you?  How does that feel?

That is what you are!  But we so rarely identify ourselves as a servant or slave of God.  It is important to ask, “What kind of servant am I?  What should I be doing to serve the Lord?”  For Paul, this was his central identity.  That is something that we can emulate too!  Serving God should be our central identity.

But what about the “apostle” part?  Can we put our name in there?  We are not all apostles are we?  Are there apostles now?  Every now and then, depending on where you travel, you might see a church sign that has the name of the pastor as, “Apostle so and so.”  Some people clearly still use that title.  Are they wrong?  Let’s talk about that.

In my theological tradition, we believe that there were the original 12 Apostles, the 12 that were specifically chosen by Jesus.  One betrayed him, Judas, and then in Acts 1, we read that the remaining 11 replaced Judas with Matthias because he, too, was with Jesus.

But Paul wasn’t a part of that group.  So how did he become an apostle?  Paul used to be a persecutor of Christians, and you can read the story of God’s miraculous intervention in his life in Acts 9, when Jesus called Paul to be a special 13th Apostle of sorts.  Paul, like the other 12, is included in the group of Apostles because he was personally called by Jesus.

While we believe there are no longer specially called apostles on the level of the 12 or 13, we do believe there is an apostolic gift which Paul went on to teach about in his letter to the church at Ephesus in chapter 4 of Ephesians when he says that God called some to be “apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and shepherds and teachers.”  Using the first letter of each of these gifts, APEST, some of given that name to the five-fold gifting of Christians. And these gifts are given by God to all true followers of Jesus.

What gift do you have? What is your role?  Just like Paul we are all servants, but we also have a gifting from God.  Paul’s gifting was to be an apostle.  What is yours?  There are many gifts assessments that you can take to get a starting point. Those assessments are not the word of God for you, but they can help you think about how God might have gifted you. I recommend the APEST test found here. After you take it, I encourage you to discuss it with those people who know you best. Maybe people in your church small group, or your close family and friends. Then start serving in a ministry in your church that could help you practice your gift. See the test as a discussion starter, or a launch pad. Maybe the test was accurate, but maybe in time you’ll see that it needs to be adjusted.

In conclusion what we have seen in the first half of verse 1 is Paul establishing his identity as a servant and an apostle of God, but why? Check back in tomorrow as we continue the study.

Being faithful in the waiting [First Sunday of Advent, part 3]

5 Dec
Photo by Jonsung Lee on Unsplash

Thus far the readings for the First Sunday of Advent have begun with a prophecy from 600 BC that God would send a new king to Israel, and that the people needed to get ready for that king by practicing repentance.  We looked at Luke 1, which describes Jesus as the fulfillment of that prophecy.  As we move from the Old Testament readings to the two New Testament readings, we’re going to encounter more prophecy, once again looking to the future.  The next reading is Thessalonians 3:9-13.

From the time of David who wrote Psalm 25, which we studied in part 2, we’re moving forward in history 1000 years to 50 AD.  One of the earliest followers of Jesus is a guy named Paul, and he is writing to the Christians in Thessalonica.  Thessalonica was the largest city in what was then called Macedonia.  It is still today a bustling town, a favorite of tourists, and in the middle of the city is an archaeological site with ancient ruins. Today it is called Thessaloniki, Greece. If you want, you can read about Paul’s first visit there in Acts 17.

At the time Paul visited, scholars estimate 200,000 people lived there, because Thessalonica was located in a favorable position on one of the main highways in the Empire, the Egnatian Way, and it was a port on the Aegean Sea.  Because of its large population and prime location, of course Paul would want to share the good news of Jesus there.  As was his practice, he went to a Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica and preached about Jesus. Many people started believing in Jesus. That made the staunch Jews mad, and Paul and Silas had to flee, but a church was started.  Though Paul moved on, his thoughts and prayers were still with the church in Thessalonica, and in the following weeks and months, he wonders how they are getting along. 

We read in 1 Thessalonians 3:6 that his assistant, Timothy, visited Paul, reporting good news about the Thessalonian Christians’ steadfast faith and love, that they longed to see Paul again.  Paul knows he won’t be headed back to Thessalonica anytime soon, so instead of a visit, he writes them a letter, hoping to keep investing in their lives. 

In this section of that letter, Paul says he was encouraged by their faith, since they are standing firm in the Lord.  Paul is overflowing with thanks for them.  And in verse 12 he prays to God that God would make their love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.  He prays that they will be blameless and holy in the presence of God.  That’s a very similar prayer to what David prayed in Psalm 25!  Hmmm…maybe there is a reason these passages were selected to be read on the same day?

Then in verse 13, Paul mentions the return of Jesus.  Actually in this letter of 1st Thessalonians, you can scan through the end of each of the five chapters and you will notice that the return of Jesus is mentioned each time.  When Paul wrote, he didn’t include chapters and verses.  They were added       much later.  But by seeing this repeated mention of Jesus’ return, of Jesus’ coming again, we can see that it was a major theme for Paul.  Paul is asking the Christians in Thessalonica, and by extension he is asking us, “Will we be blameless when Jesus returns?”  Unlike the Davidic kings who turned away from the Lord, Paul calls Christians to remain faithful and blameless before the Lord while we are waiting for his return.  And when will Jesus return? 

That brings us to the fourth reading, Luke 21:25-36.

Advent is a season when we remember Jesus’ first coming, his birth, so that we might prepare ourselves for his second coming.  But when will that happen?  Jesus talks about this in Luke 21:25. 

In this passage, Jesus is in his final days.  He has arrived in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover to great fanfare.  On what we call Palm Sunday, the crowds wanted to make him king. Many Israelites saw Jesus as the fulfillment of that prophecy in Jeremiah. But they were mistaken about Jesus’ Kingdom.  They wanted a ruler like David who would wage war against the enemy and give Israel independence.  But Jesus was not that kind of King.  His Kingdom, Jesus said, was not of this world, though it would make a great impact on the world! 

And so here in Luke 21 Jesus and his disciples are at the temple in Jerusalem, and the disciples are commenting about the beauty of the temple.  Their beloved church building.  The temple was the center of Jewish life and faith.  And Jesus says in verse 6, “you know, this temple is going to be destroyed.” 

The disciples are aghast.  What is he talking about?  When would this happen?  They want to know details!  How will they be able to tell?  Jesus goes on in verse 8-24, giving them two levels of prophetic teaching. 

First the near level.  In verses 12-19 he talks about the persecution the disciples will go through, and that actually took place only a few short months after Jesus said it.  You can read about it in Acts 3-4.

Then the medium range level.  I verses 8-10, and 20-24, he talks about a time when Jerusalem would once again be attacked, just as it was in Jeremiah’s day.  This time, not the Babylonians, but it was the Romans in 70AD who destroyed the city. Before we move too quickly past this, I think we need to just pause and think about how astounding this is. Jesus in 33 AD prophesies that the temple would be destroyed.  And it happened!  Let’s just pause and think about how amazing that is.  Jesus says that a major catastrophic event will happen, and he gives some fairly specific detail about how this event will occur, and 40 years later it happens?  That is Jesus.  He can tell the future like that. That means we can trust in him when he gives the next level of prophecy too.

Next Jesus says there will be third, future, level of prophecy.  That is what we are focusing on today.  Look at verses 25-36.

There will be various signs for sure, and then he will come again!  As he said many other times, we don’t know the day, time or hour.  His coming will be like a thief in the night, like a lightning strike, surprising.  So we should practice humility about signs.  We should be very guarded about our confidence in our ability to interpret signs of the times. What does it mean, then, to be ready for his return?  Jesus will teach us in the next post in the series, as we continue study Luke 21:25-36.

An early church MMA match – Faith and Works: Paul versus James, Round 1

11 Oct

Image result for paul vs james

Did you know that the early church had an theology MMA match?  James vs. Paul.

Paul said Faith doesn’t work.

James said Faith does work.

Each was an important leader in the early church.  Paul its greatest missionary.  James the bishop of its biggest church (and brother of Jesus).  They really seem to conflict with each other.

I’ve mentioned that Ephesians 2:8-9 is a critical verse when considering Sola Gratia and Sola Fide.  There Paul puts these two Solas together, teaching that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works.

But right up against it, we have James 2 who says that faith without works is dead.

What gives?  Is faith just in our mind?  Just a set of beliefs that we think?  In other words is faith “not works”?

Or is faith without works dead?  Meaning, if faith is just a set of beliefs in our mind, is it an empty, worthless faith?

Is Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9 a contradiction of James 2:14-26?

I think we need to look at Abraham a bit more.  Turn to Romans 4, and let’s take a deeper look at Paul’s description of Abraham’s faith.

Read verses 1-3.  Paul says Abraham believed, and God credited righteousness to him.

Paul explains this in verses 4-5.  Read this. We employees understand what Paul is saying.  How many of you are hourly employees?  You work one hour, you earned one hours pay.  How many of you are salaried?  You work and do your job, and you receive your pay.  But when you believe in God, you haven’t done any work, you haven’t earned anything, you deserve no pay, no grace.  And this is where grace comes in.  Though you don’t deserve it, God credits you his righteousness anyway.  That is grace, received by faith, not by works.

Paul talks about this a bit more, but jump down to verse 18.  Here he really gets to the heart of the matter.  He explains that though Abraham was old, as good as dead, “he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith!”  He was fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised, and this is why it was credited to him as righteousness.  What is more, we can ALL have God’s righteousness credited to us the same way if we do what Paul says in verse 24-25.

“Believe in God who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”

Now jump down to Romans 5, and let’s keep reading.  Read verses 1-11.  This is the message of salvation in Christ that is the by grace through faith.

Praise God!  Though we are sinners, God loves us, and through faith in Christ, we can be forgiven!

Remember what Paul said Ephesians 2:8-9? We are saved by grace through faith, not by works.  There Paul is describing faith at the moment of salvation.  We might say this is where a relationship with God starts.  But note what Paul says, it is not by works.  Jesus had to do the work.  We cannot earn our salvation.  We have to place our faith in what Jesus did through his life, death and resurrection.

But how do we place our faith in God?  Let’s review what we have learned so far.

We have seen the intellectual side of faith:

  1. I believe that God exists.
  2. I believe that I am separated from God because of my sin.
  3. I believe that God graciously forgives my sin through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection.

But there is also a physical side of Faith:

  1. God, I give my life to you, and I want to know you, to serve you, to live for you. You are now my leader, you show me how to live.
  2. And then you actually make life choices based on God’s pattern of life, most clearly displayed by Jesus in the Gospel. A life of faith is a life that says “Jesus, teach me how to live.”