Tuesday, April 26, 2022
If you have read much of the Apostle Paul’s writings in the New Testament you will know that Paul can occasionally get so caught up in what he is saying, that punctuation, sentence structure, or even taking a breath does not often factor in. From a purely grammatical stance, Paul is known to have run-on sentences, embedded clauses within clauses, and incomplete thoughts. From reading Paul’s letters, it is clear that this does not come from a lack of education, or an inability to think straight. Far from it! Paul is wonderfully articulate at times and has a clear grasp of his thoughts. Rather, I think the occasional odd sentence structure arises from the fact that Paul is simply so excited to get his ideas out that he can sometimes run them all together in a mixed-up jumble.
The two sentences that make up verses 3-7 in chapter one of 1 Timothy are not as “full and convoluted” as some of Paul’s writings, but you certainly can pick up the passion and care that he gives to this topic. His long-winded rhetoric serves, if for no other reason, as an indication of his commitment to the issues he is addressing. Paul wants to impress upon Timothy the importance of staying true to “sound doctrine,” and avoiding that which is false. This is his basic idea, and it certainly comes across. But, Paul has so much else to say! And he can’t help but get it all out.
In these short verses, you can see the evolution of Paul’s thought, as one idea crowds in on another. First, he wants to remind Timothy why he has been left in Ephesus; that morphs into a discussion of false doctrine; which shifts to a look at the errors of false teaching; that is in contrast with God’s work; which is grounded in the goal of love; which comes about in a certain way; that is different than the false teachers’ motives. Phew!
But for all of Paul’s excitement and many words, his message is rather straightforward: “teach what is true, which leads to love; avoid what is false, which eventually leads nowhere.”
And so, the pastoral question: What path are you on? Sound doctrine produces love; not simple head-knowledge, but genuine, God-honoring, Christ-witnessing love. And, the pursuit of false teaching is demonstrated by taking the student nowhere—nothing gained, a vanity which is tangible in its emptiness. What path are you on, love or vanity? Let us together see that which produces love!
Join us in worship this Sunday as we study 1 Timothy 1:3-11.
1. In verse 3, why do you think Paul reminds Timothy of his past instruction? What might be motivating Paul’s words here? Why might God have included this for us?
2. In our current society today, what would it look like to “command” people not to teach some things? What would a “command” look like that would be culturally appropriate? In other words, how do we faithfully follow this command to “command” in a society that will not take well our commanding them?
3. How does the end of verse 4, “which is by faith,” tell us what is wrong with the pursuit of myths and genealogies?
4. Why would “love” be the goal of a command to stop teaching false doctrine? What other motivations/goals might be present? How can we be sure we are wedded to that goal in everyday life?
5. Look how verse 5 describes the source of love… how do you think love comes from “a pure heart… good conscience… sincere faith?”
6. What is “good” about the law (vs. 8)? What is the proper way to use it?
Tuesday, April 19, 2022
A Word of Truth and Godliness for Hebron Church
The light bulb clicked on. A moment of clarity. Suddenly, things that have been bumping around in the mind make perfect sense.
I recently had one of those moments when discussing an article with some friends; we were talking about parenting, passing on the faith, the role of the church, and worship attendance. And then, an idea clicked in my mind—people think of the Gospel as helpful, assisting us in living a good life, but not necessarily as truthful. Their involvement in the church is based on its practical value, not on its truthfulness. Why do many come to church? To learn helpful things for life, not to be exposed to God’s reality. Oh, many would no doubt affirm the truthfulness of what we learn at church, but that’s not the point—the point is that the Gospel is perceived as one asset in pursuing health and happiness.
Now, I want to be clear—nothing, not-a-thing, is more relevant for our everyday lives than the Gospel. God made us, and made this world, and no one knows more about how we should live accordingly than He does. The Gospel does indeed direct us in living a good life. However—and this is a BIG “however”— the Gospel is nothing if not TRUE, and the instrument of proclaiming the Gospel, the church, is above all else, a voice proclaiming the truth to this world. The church teaches that which is helpful because it is teaching that which is true. The role of worship is to elevate the Gospel, that which is true, to draw attention to He who is the Truth, not just the One who makes life better.
If we focus only on the church as “helpful,” it is easy to fall into seriously bad patterns. What if one Sunday, we are not “helped”? Or, what if other opportunities arise which also promise to “help” in life? Why not choose to do other things that are also helpful instead of coming to weekly worship? If the Gospel only proclaims that which is helpful, then it quickly becomes optional. But if the weekly proclamation of the Gospel at worship is the promulgation of the truth, then we need to be there! Truth from God’s Word is present! Worship is not one helpful thing among others, to be chosen if/when we feel like it. Weekly worship is exposure to Him who is True.
It is this concern for the future of the Gospel and for the generations who have the responsibility to zealously guard it, faithfully live it, and earnestly pass it on, that leads us to the study of 1 Timothy. In this book, we will read of the priority of prayer, the godly manner of public worship, the biblical basis for world evangelism, the pursuit of faithful ministry, the church’s responsibility to care and pursue justice, and the call to radical holiness. All this and more will flow from the Apostle Paul’s words to his young protégée, Timothy. But, underlying it all is the confident assertion by Paul that the Gospel is, above all else, true, and its truth should be kept, embraced, and shared with others.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul exhibits an unambiguous commitment to the truthfulness of the Gospel. Amid our present society, with its relativistic approach to all truth and the popular assumptions that all faiths and ideologies are valid, there is a refreshing character in hearing Paul proclaim that the church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (3:15); that false teachers have “wandered away” and “oppose the truth” (1:6, 6:21); that sound doctrine is that which is “in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1:11).
Yes, come to worship this week to be helped in your daily life—but know that the truth is present by the Word of God, and we will celebrate and worship the Author of Truth, Jesus Christ Himself.
For this Sunday, read 1 Timothy 1:1-2.
1. Read Acts 16:1-3 to read more about Paul and Timothy. What do we learn about Timothy from that passage? What is the relationship between Paul and Timothy based upon?
2. In 1 Timothy 1:1, Paul refers to himself as an “apostle.” What is meant by that term? Why is it important for Paul to call himself that?
3. Paul’s claim to be an apostle is “by the command” of God Himself. Why would this make a difference? Why does Paul stress this?
4. Notice who is “Savior” in verse 1. Why is this important, and perhaps, different than what we normally think?
5. What does it mean to you that Jesus is “our hope.” What “hope” might Paul mean? How might Christ as “hope” impact your daily life?
6. What do you think is behind Paul’s identification of Timothy as “my true child in the faith” (vs. 2)?
7. The phrase, “grace, mercy, and peace,” might simply be a catchphrase, or, it might carry great weight. What might Paul be stressing by using each term in his “welcome” to Timothy?
Monday, April 11, 2022
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead, what we celebrate so passionately on Easter morning, is certainly something special and unique! Nothing could be more outside our normal realm of experience—the dead coming to life. Nothing could be more earth-shattering—for if the dead rise, all manner of things are possible. And yet, as special and unique as the resurrection is, sometimes we simply don’t talk about it. Why is that? We worship a Lord who gave Himself for us, AND ROSE AGAIN! We should talk about it all the time, no? And yet, in my church experience, the resurrection of Jesus is just not that central in our thinking.
Is that perhaps because, like my mother’s dishes, the resurrection is so exceptional that we treat it with special care, only talking about it at special times? I certainly hope not. I hope that Hebron church will not handle the resurrection as so unique that we don’t talk about it! Just the opposite—it would seem to me that Jesus rising from the grave would be constantly on our lips. In my own experience and ministry, the cross dominates—I am overcome by the sacrifice of Christ on my behalf. We can never talk enough about that! But to talk about the cross without the empty tomb is to fail to grasp the totality of the Gospel message.
Yes, the resurrection of Christ is so very special, but not so that we tuck it away to keep it safe. Every proclamation of the Gospel is a proclamation of the cross and the empty tomb!
This is certainly the Apostles’ approach. Witness the writings of the New Testament; or Paul’s orations; or, especially, Peter’s sermons in the book of Acts. Following the momentous events on Pentecost, Peter delivers a powerful testimony to the Gospel message. Certainly, he proclaims the death of Jesus, but right alongside, Peter describes God’s work of raising Him from the dead. And then, outside the Temple following the lame beggar’s healing, Peter shares of Good Friday and Easter. Again, following their arrest and persecution by the Jewish authorities, Peter announces the cross AND the resurrection. The two come side by side, each holding out the hope and message of Salvation.
The failure of the Church to proclaim the resurrection as fervently as it should… this could be because we are secretly embarrassed by the doctrine. Or, perhaps because it is inadvertently overshadowed by the cross. Or, perhaps because it is simply so special that we “save it” for a special time, like Easter. May it never be! May we never neglect the centrality of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus!
I hope you will join me this Easter in our celebration of this pivotal event of our faith.
In preparation for Sunday, read Peter’s sermons in Acts 2, Acts 3, and Acts 5. Note, in particular, 2:23-24; 3:13-15; and 5:30-31.
1. What are the common themes in the sermons Peter preaches? What core elements of the Gospel concern him?
2. Specifically, in the verses mentioned, what role in the Gospel story is reserved for humanity? List the different ways Peter describes our part in the events of Jesus’ life.
3. In these same verses, what role does God play? What does He do in light of what humans do?
4. In 5:30, “hanging on a tree” has particular meaning—according to the Old Testament, hanging on a tree meant that you were cursed. What does it mean that God raised Jesus if indeed He was “cursed”?
5. In 3:13, Jesus is said to have been “glorified.” In what ways is that “glory” shown?
6. In 2:24, why is it “not possible” for Jesus to be held by death?
7. How do each of these sermons express the Gospel in a way that touches you personally?
Tuesday, April 5, 2022
Caught Up With The Crowd
When I first began working with college students at the University of Pittsburgh, I sought all kinds of opportunities to spend time with them. I figured some of the best ministry I could do would happen around those moments when we were together, either discussing the things of the Lord, or just hanging out. In an attempt to spend lots of time with the students, I went with them to various college activities including attending sporting events. Having gone to college at a school where sports was not stressed, it was fun to get caught up in the “college sports atmosphere.”
I think the first event I went to was the Pitt-Penn State football game. Of course, the game was exciting, the stadium packed, and the fans, well, fanatical! One particular fan-favorite “cheer” for the crowd was when the band played a certain ditty, and the entire stadium screamed out, “Penn State stinks!” (they didn’t actually say, “stinks”). It was really something to hear tens of thousands of folks all screaming the same thing!
What really stood out, however, and made me laugh, was the next week, when Pitt played some other team, and the fans responded to the ditty with the same “cheer” about Penn State! I turned in some confusion to my friends and asked why we were screaming about Penn State when we were playing some other team? While there might be some good psychological reasons, the basic answer I got was… “well, that’s just what we do.” And, I must confess, caught up in the moment, I joined in!
Not really sure what we were doing, but doing it anyway! Why? Cause we were caught up in the spirit of the crowd. Have you ever found yourself with a silly grin on your face, part of a crowd, doing something fun? Ever caught yourself singing the National Anthem louder than normal because the whole stadium is singing? Joining in with the cheers during a parade? In the Scriptures, during a near-riot in Ephesus, the Bible says of the crowd: “most of them did not know why they had come together” (Acts 19:32). They all just got caught up in the crowd!
When I think of the Triumphal Entry, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, just days before His trial and execution, I wonder about “being caught up in the crowd.” We are told that “a great crowd” and a “multitude” gathered to welcome Jesus as Savior into the city (Mark 11, John 12). The people thronged about Jesus, spreading their garments in praise before Him, cheering at the top of their lungs, waving hands, clothing and branches. And, I wonder… how much of this was just folks getting “caught up in the crowd”? How many people actually believed they were welcoming in “the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 21:9)? How many were intentionally saying, “God, save us, we pray!” (the meaning of “Hosanna”)? Now, I’m not doubting it; I don’t want to call into question what the crowd was thinking… but, it’s a short step from Sunday’s triumphal entry to Thursday’s Gethsemane. Is it not possible that some (many?) in the crowd simply got caught up in the moment, and were cheering without knowing about what? And, would Thursday have been different if they had taken the time to figure it out? Which leads me to wonder: How much of our Christian life is simply being “caught up in the crowd”?
This Sunday, we’ll be exploring the crowd’s response to the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Read Psalm 118, and come ready to praise together!