Tuesday, July 26, 2022

" The Christian Quest" - Henry Knapp

Reading The Hobbit was a seminal moment in my life. Sometime in middle school, I ran across an illustrated edition of Tolkien’s work and was captured immediately by the world the author created. Middle Earth was filled with awe-inspiring, fantastical things, glorious landscapes, terrifying images. Until that moment, I wouldn’t necessarily have said that I possessed an imagination, but once immersed in Tolkien’s story, my mind took flight. Suddenly, all the words on the page became vivid images in my head; I was easily transported to a place that only existed in the imagination. I had no trouble picturing the individuals, places, and events described. Looking in on Tolkien’s world was easy for me. 

But, it was not only the imaginary world of The Hobbit that captured me—it was the entire design of the plot. I do not mean the intricacies of the story of a band of dwarfs taking on a solitary hobbit in order to rob a dragon of his hoard. No, that was engaging enough, but what really captured my imagination was the entire notion of “a quest.” Here in The Hobbit, I was first confronted with the quest motif, the idea of a long and arduous search, undertaken by a misfit band of characters, for some lofty purpose. I like how Webster defines it: “a chivalrous enterprise usually involving an adventurous journey toward a noble end.” Ever since The Hobbit, I have had a soft spot for stories that take on “the quest motif.” Perhaps it is the romance or the comradery or the idealism, but I love it! 

I wonder why we do not think more in terms of “a quest” when speaking of our faith. You do not have to be a romantic to see the “chivalrous” side of pursuing Christ or the adventurous journey of walking by faith or the noble goal of seeing God. But for some reason, we do not naturally seem to think of the Christian life as a quest. 

So, perhaps I’m reading a bit much into it, but it sure seems at the close of his letter that Apostle Paul is calling Timothy to join in a quest of enormous, eternal proportions. Like Gandalf recruiting Bilbo, Paul nudges Timothy—pointing him toward a journey that he cannot avoid. Flee this! Pursue that! Fight here! Avoid those! And, can you just imagine the reward? Stunning beyond belief! Paul’s commands to Timothy ring of the quest motif—a task, a journey, a purpose, a goal, with a band of believers accompanying you at every step! 

Of course, like any quest, opposition arises; a struggle is the expectation; disappointment and discouragement haunt us at every stage. Satan attacks, sin corrupts, sorrow dominates, and frustration is ever present. Yet through it all the faithful strive on…because the goal of this quest could not be more glorious—God Himself! 

Like Paul, like Gandalf, let me be the one to urge you on—take this quest! Join me in the journey! For the blessing of God’s Presence is a great and worthy goal. 

In preparation for worship this week, read 1 Timothy 6:11-21. 

1. As you read through the text, make a list of all the “quest”-ing imagery you find. 

2. Remind yourself what “these things” in verse 11 refers to. If Timothy is to “flee” some things, how are they the opposite of what he is to “pursue”

3. How does “fight the good fight of faith” (vs. 12) well summarize this text? 

4. In verse 13, what does the implication of charging Timothy before God mean? 

5. Verse 15-16 describe our Lord and Savior. Make a list of all the qualities mentioned here. Why are they a good “goal” for a quest? 

6. The paragraph on the rich can be understood as speaking to more than just the uber-wealthy. What biblical principles for our life’s journey are evident here? 

7. Paul’s final (or near-final) command to Timothy is “guard the good deposit!” How is this such a great summation of this biblical letter? 

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

"Theological Discord" - Henry Knapp

In the “theology world,” it is not unknown for there to be strife and contention, often surrounding a single word or phrase. Indeed, one of the better-known theological controversies dealt with the question of a single letter in a word—is Jesus “of the same” substance as the Father or a “similar” substance as the Father? A single letter in one Greek word changes “same” to “similar” and was the source of great controversy in the early Church. (Incidentally, the Church reaffirmed the biblical witness that Jesus is indeed “of the same substance” with the Father.) The stakes are high when we are trying to “think God’s thoughts after Him,” when we are trying to find the right way to talk about the Gospel. Getting our theology wrong betrays the Scripture, but fighting for the “right” can easily happen in the wrong way!

During my theological training, I have witnessed and participated in a lot of theological discussions, many of which devolved quickly into arguments and bitter quarrels. And, I must confess, I was often the cause of these controversies. In my defense, I always wanted to get things right, to be faithful and accurate according to God’s Word. As we have seen in the study of 1st Timothy, holding and maintaining the truth against falsehood is no light matter to our Lord - it is an important part of faithfully serving Christ. Nevertheless, all too often, the manner in which I hold forth the truth is more about me than it is about the faith. Sometimes, I really do want to help others see the truth as Scripture proclaims it, but sometimes, I just wanna win! My pride, my impatience, and my self-confidence gets in the way of true, helpful dialogue.

The biggest challenge in this regard for me, however, is that sometimes both desires are present at the same time. I can easily imagine both wanting to uphold the Gospel truth for God’s sake and wanting to win the argument for my sake—both desires happening during the same conversation. The test then is not to cease proclaiming the truth, but doing so where the “self” is limited and God’s truth is accented, where my pride takes the back seat to God’s designs.

In our study of 1 Timothy, we have that challenge put before us in stark terms. Paul’s warnings about straying from the true Gospel could not be clearer (1:3-7; 4:1-5; 6:3-6); as a Church leader and a follower of Christ, Timothy is to protect, project, and proclaim that which is true, that which is in accord with God’s own Word. Timothy’s job is not to ignore false teachers; but to confront, correct, and even rebuke them, preserving and guarding the truth. And yet. And yet so much of what Paul warns Timothy about is the dissension, the division, the envy and slander of false teaching! A consistent outcome of heretical words is that they lead to discord, disagreement, and disunity in the body of Christ. So, on the one hand, Timothy is to confront and challenge false teaching, and on the other hand, he is not to allow conflict to divide the Church. A tough balancing act if there ever is one!

As we look at 1 Timothy 6:3-10 this coming week, the dangers of false teaching will be evident, as will the need to uphold the truth. Paul’s advice on how we do this will challenge all who desire to be true to the Gospel and seek the unity of the body.

In preparation for worship this week, read 1 Timothy 6:3-10.

1. What might “a different doctrine” refer to? What modern-day examples can you think of?

2. Paul uses two “tests” to evaluate if something is a “different doctrine” or not. What are the two tests as described in vs. 3?

3. List out the qualities a false teacher is going to exhibit. Why are these present in false teachers (see vs 3, and your answer above)?

4. Why would false teaching inevitably lead to discord and “constant friction” (vs. 5) in the church?

5. What is the connection between false teaching and a lack of true contentment (vs. 5-6)?

6. Verse 7 seems like a truism if there ever is one. But how does it advance Paul’s argument?

7. How would you support Paul’s statement that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (vs. 10)?

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

"Modern-Day Slavery" - Henry Knapp

One of my earliest “awakenings” as a child took place in the kitchen with my mother, bugging her, no doubt, with silly questions. Along the way, I asked her why the American Civil War was fought. As a six-year-old I had just enough awareness that war was a terrible thing and that people actually died, and so I naturally wanted to understand why people risked death in the Civil War. Not sure how to talk to a first-grader about the War, my mother at first tried to pawn off the question—“arguments about the flag (huh?)… different ways of approaching life (ahh…)… talk to your dad!” Eventually, however, she told me about slavery—I’m positive she didn’t elaborate or go into detail, but I was floored. I couldn’t believe such a thing was possible; the innate “wrongness” of it all simply overwhelmed me. I do remember thinking, “so glad those days are over!”

Well. Sadly, those days are not over. Not as much as we would like to believe. One hundred and fifty years after the abolition of slavery in the USA, and in a world where forced servitude is formally outlawed in every land, the practice is still widespread. A rather conservative estimate holds that around 40 million people are held in bondage across the world. (To put that number in perspective, remember there are only about 330 million people in the USA, so about one-in-every-eight people). Those numbers include those forcibly married against their will; the rest, about 25 million, are in forced labor or sex trafficking. One in four are children; three-quarters are female. One organization claims that there are more people in slavery today than at any other time in history (can’t verify this).

Slavery, in every sense, perverts God’s created intention for humanity, mocks the salvation of the cross, and rejects the ultimate vision of heavenly redemption. By creation, every human being is made equally in God’s image; by means of the cross, the Gospel has torn down every racial, social, and religious division; in our final state before the throne we are joined as one people from every nation, tribe, and language. The very idea of slavery undercuts the core of the Gospel message.

And, yet… some would argue that the Bible itself is “pro-slavery,” and we certainly know throughout history that the Church has not uniformly stood against the practice. Indeed, in American history, the churchmen in the south were staunch advocates for “this peculiar institution.” So, how can we understand the incompatibility of the Gospel and slavery, and yet the Bible’s own words regarding the practice?

Our text this week in 1 Timothy deals directly with the issue of slavery as Paul addresses slaves and their service to their masters (6:1-2). It would be simple to hide behind the belief that slavery is no longer an issue for us today, but that simply is not true. It would be tempting to ignore this text believing that it says nothing to us since we are not slaves, but again, not true. It would be easy to condemn the Bible for its apparent “pro-slavery” bias, but not true again! To our great benefit, this text addresses us today, it challenges us today, and it reinforces our faith in our God. Join us on Sunday and see if God does not use this text to deepen our relationship as we worship Him! 

In preparation for worship this week, read 1 Timothy 6:1-2.

1. Why does Paul use the term, “bondservant” here? What other ideas besides “slavery” might be included here?

2. How would a slave regard a master as “worthy of all honor?” What might that look like?

3. Given we are not slaves, how might this text be built upon characteristics that should nevertheless be demonstrated in our lives?

4. What reasons does Paul give in verse 1 for this command to slaves? How might God’s name be reviled? Or the teaching of the Gospel?

5. Note the assumption that there is a real brotherhood between slave and master. Realizing that brotherhood might lead the slave to act a certain way, why should they not act upon that common brotherhood?

6. What other texts in the Bible deal with slavery? If you have time, look up: Ephesians 6:5-8; Col 3:22-24; Titus 2:9-10; 1 Peter 2:16-18; Deuteronomy 24:7; Galatians 3:28.

7. Read the end of Romans 6. We are slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness. Why is the “slavery” label instructive here?

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

"God's Justice, Our Justice" - Henry Knapp

One of the first biblical books I ever really studied as a Christian was the Epistle of James. I don’t know how or why I landed on it, and that biblical book is not where I would first direct others to start, but the influence of that first study on my faith should not be underestimated. It wasn’t so much the content of James that grabbed me, it was the simple fact of an in-depth study of God’s Word. Not that James doesn’t speak powerfully to our everyday situation in life, it surely does: caring for others, works and faith, controlling the tongue, perseverance in difficulty. James touches on everyday, real-life issues.

One of these issues is James’ condemnation of showing favoritism—“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith” (James 2:1). In this chapter, James warns against showing special treatment to some over others and gives some good illustrations. When I first read this, I was young and filled with youthful indignation over any such unjust treatment—if we show favoritism toward some, we are being fundamentally unjust. As much as I rejected such notions as partiality or prejudice attitudes, I couldn’t imagine situations where it would be a struggle in the church community. Certainly, God’s people of all people would be able to live without such crass, negative stereotypes and actions! James’ illustration—putting some people in better seats than others—makes sense, but it was hard to imagine it would really happen (James 2:3).

Of course, I am older, wiser, and unfortunately, more jaded today than I was back then. Discrimination, prejudice, and blatant unfairness are all too common in our society. Injustice is not just something that exists “out there” in the world. Indeed, it exists “in here” at its core—the “here” being in the sinful heart of every human being. Small acts of bias, involuntary divisive thoughts, overt comments of favoritism, conscious actions of inequality, pepper our everyday experience. James’ warnings take on great relevance when we see the transparent sins in our community.

One of the sadder aspects of this unjust treatment of others is that it happens while we are fully aware of the fundamental injustice of such actions. Created as we are in the image of God, we reflect in some ways His character. We have some meager capacity to love because He is love. We can show some form of mercy because He is mercy. And, we have a sense of justice because He Himself pursues justice. All humanity shares in the image of God, and, hence, all have an innate sense of what is right and wrong. Of course, equally, all humanity share in the depravity of our sin—that fundamental characteristic of the image of God in each person is damaged by our brokenness—and, thus, we all equally distort that innate justice. Often we can identify injustice (in others, it is easier!), but often sin overrides and we do not respond to injustice as we should.

Thus, we have the book of James warning us to avoid favoritism and to pursue just relationships. And, not just James, but throughout the Bible, God is portrayed as Just, and we are to follow Him in justice. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul had to remind Timothy himself of the need to be on guard against showing partiality and favoritism to others (5:21). This is a challenge to our world, to our particular society, to our institutions, to our church, and mostly, to ourselves, to our own hearts. And this challenge flows naturally from the text we will study together this Sunday.

In preparation for worship this Sunday, please read 1 Timothy 5:17-25.

1. Make a list of all the commands Paul tells Timothy here. I count at least eight!

2. What holds all these commands together? The ESV lists them all in a single paragraph… why? What is the common link?

3. What would a “double honor” mean in verse 17? The implication is clear, but why this particular phrasing?

4. How does the Old Testament citation about an ox have any bearing at all? Read Deuteronomy 25:4 and the verses around it. Does that help at all?

5. Verse 20 sounds tremendously threatening… how might you understand this more generously/graciously than to think Paul is trying to scare people?

6. Why does Paul insert this comment about Timothy’s stomach here (vs. 23)? How does this fit with the overall message?

7. I think verses 24-25 sum up this paragraph. Why do you think I think so? Can you give specific examples of either the sin of verse 24 or the good deeds of 25?