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Set an Example

There are many reasons that we talk ourselves out of doing something that we know that we should do. I know that, for years, I thought that we should be moving onto the mission field, and said so to several friends. Gina and I had talked about it, but we never really took a step forward because we had no idea what to do. We had no one to lead us down the path. We didn’t feel worthy to do it either. We didn’t know that we could do it, so we talked ourselves out of it. We weren’t encouraged to do it, so we didn’t do it.

But could we have done it? Yes, of course. We could have done exactly what we thought we were supposed to have done regardless of what other people did or didn’t do. There were reasonable reasons that we didn’t go, but that didn’t necessarily mean that we did the right thing.

Many people do many things, few of them for the good others. In fact, it is an unfortunate truth that people frequently try to tear others down more than they try to build them up. Therefore, we have to make decisions for ourselves regardless of what is happening around us, what we want to do about it, and the direction that we believe God has for our lives. It is important to listen and take wisdom from others, but at the same time, we have to make decisions about what is right.

That is similar to the situation that Timothy found himself in while working in Ephesus. The elders had laid their hands on him to commission him in his work. He had learned under Paul, and now Paul had sent him to continue the work that he had started.

But Timothy is still young. He has had several experiences in working for the Lord, but he started very young when Paul found him and brought him with him from Lystra amongst the Galatian churches. At this point, it seems that, because of his young age, people do not always want to listen to him. They do not want to follow the leading and the teaching that he is giving.

So Paul spurs him and on and encourages him to continue in the faith and the work that he had been sent to do:

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

1 Timothy 4:12-14

We need to move ahead in the work and in the giftings that we have been given. We can’t talk ourselves out of the work that God has given us to do. There is work to do in the kingdom of God. We must diligently continue in it. Regardless of how you feel, regardless of what others might think, regardless of their judgments, it is important to wisely move forward in what God has called you to do. With counsel, with wisdom, but also setting an example by doing what you have been called to do.

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Wasted It

I’m listening to an audio book, a reading of John Piper’s book, Don’t Waste Your Life. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but I thought that the way that he opened the book was not only appropriate, but spoke to me because I have thought similar thoughts.

He said that his father, who was a traveling preacher, told a story about an elderly man that the local church had prayed for over many years. He would come to church, but he had never accepted Christ, never turned his life over to Jesus.

But one day after having preached, the man came to the front, took his father’s hand and believed.

But having done that, the man looked back at his life and realized that what he had done was for naught. There was no meaning.

“I’ve wasted it! I’ve wasted it!”, the man said.

For many years, I thought I had done the same thing. I had made money. I had acquired many things. I had scaled the ladder in my job. But in the end, what was it? It was nothing, nothing that would last. It was a waste.

And so I couldn’t continue in that way. I couldn’t continue down that same road. I didn’t want to come to the same point that this man had come to. I didn’t want to say that I had wasted my life. That was not an option, so we changed, and changed dramatically.

Why is it that we don’t seek meaning? Why is it that we prefer that which is material and that which is temporary. The only things that are meaningful and lasting are the things that are those that are eternal. These are the things that are worth pursuing. These are the things that are worth giving our lives to. All else is nothing but a waste.

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First of All

Paul is writing to Timothy who is currently in Ephesus carrying on the work that Paul had started in the years prior. Timothy is working to help set the church in order, and so Paul is giving him instruction on the things that he must do to accomplish that end.

And so to that end, Paul says that the first thing that they must do is pray. He calls for petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving to be made for all people:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.

1 Timothy 2:1-6

Paul interrupts his thought when he says that those prayers should be made for all people, clarifying what he means when he says all people. They had in their time, just as we have today in our time, kings and those in authority. In other words, the government. So Paul gives the commandment to Timothy that the first thing that they should be doing is praying for those in authority.

As opposed to what? What is the opposite of praying for those that are in authority? What is it that Paul is attempting to correct? I would, yes, speculate, but suggest that the answer is playing politics. Paul wants Timothy to, instead of spending time talking about the politics of the day, spend time praying for those in authority.

In Paul and Timothy’s time, the kings – the Romans in particular since they are the ones in charge at this time, but not just them – considered themselves, and were considered to be divine. In other words, they were “gods”, not just kings. So of course this would be a problem when you have a group of Christians who, instead, say that Jesus is king. They are proclaiming a new kingdom, the kingdom of God, where Jesus is king.

So for this reason, and for the fact that we frequently also align ourselves with one political ruler or another in our day, Paul tells Timothy that the first thing that they must do is to pray for (obviously, not pray to) the kings and the authorities. They are to pray and ask God for blessing to come upon these authorities so that – first – they may live peaceful and quiet lives. They should ask that they would have lives that would allow them to do the work of the kingdom of God, making the true and eternal king known to all.

But not only this…instead, they should pray also that these “all people”, meaning also the kings and the authorities, would also come to know Christ. They should pray that these authorities would also submit to the authority of Christ, the greatest and true king over all.

All of this to say that our engagement from a political perspective is to pray. Not to spend time a ton of time in the context of the church body worrying and debating about the policies and politics of the world, but instead praying for the kings and all in authority to know Christ so that they will govern appropriately and that we can live the lives that Christ has called us to live and focus on the work of his kingdom, not focusing on the kingdoms of the world that are passing away.

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Things Above

Yesterday I noted that Paul explained that there are many teachings that seem wise, but in reality do not have any power to restrain someone from “sensual indulgence”, or in other words, from sin. Frequently, we might ask ourselves how we can leave sin behind, how we can, as Paul said in another place, not do what I want to do. My flesh, my sinful nature, wants to sin. It wants what I do not want, and so I must put that off, I must put it away.

But how? Paul has told us that wise-sounding religious rules of “do this” or “don’t do that” really don’t have any power to restrain us. And I think that I would certainly tend to agree.

But if not that, then what?

Paul goes on in chapter 3 of Colossians to explain that we have to look beyond the things of the world to the things above. That which comes from heaven, that which comes God, that is what we need to look toward. We need to consider those things, and if we do, if we will focus on that, then we will no longer desire those things that are of the world.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

Colossians 3:1-2

The earthly things are the “sensual indulgences” of the world. They are the things that are designed to lead us away from Christ. They are the desires of our flesh that want to distract us from that which is right, that which is holy. But the things above are those things that are good and right and just. They are the things that are holy. They are the things that are of God. These are the things that we must learn to desire because they are much greater than the things of the world. These are the things that will last forever, eternally.

I should say that this isn’t to say that there is a difference in pleasure. There is great pleasure in the things above. There is great enjoyment. But these are pleasures and joys that, in addition to the pleasures and enjoyment that are temporary, are also pleasures and enjoyment that lead to eternity. They aren’t temporary.

Paul subsequently makes a list of the things that we should put off and instead look to things above. He says:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Colossians 3:5

So, for example, let’s say that the first three in the list all pertain to sex. Does that mean that we shouldn’t enjoy the pleasures of sex? No, of course not. Paul isn’t telling us to put off sex. He is telling us to put off sex that belongs to the earthly nature. Instead, he is referring us toward sexual pleasure and enjoyment that leads to eternal life. That which God has called us to with our spouses. He calls us toward that which he has built for us, not a perversion of that which was designed.

By looking beyond that which is of the flesh, that which is of this world, we choose Christ instead. We prefer what he offers us instead of what the world offers us. We desire those things that are good because we get more pleasure, more enjoyment, more happiness, more joy out of those things. We are, instead, blessed eternally by this way of living.

This reminds me of the parables that Jesus told of the treasure in the field, or the pearl of great price. Remember what happened with the man that found these treasures? He sold everything so that he could purchase that one thing. He left everything behind so that he could purchase that which was worth so much more. He saw no value in everything else that he owned when he compared it to the value, the worth, of that treasure, so therefore he sold it all just so that he could buy that field that contained the treasure, or that pearl that was worth it all.

This is the same idea. Jesus said that the treasure is the kingdom of God. The way that we can put off sin is to prefer the kingdom. We prefer what our King says. To enjoy it more than what the world has to offer to us. This is how we can look toward the things above and leave behind the things of this world.

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Appearance of Wisdom

Paul tells the Colossians that there are rules that people will follow that seem to be wise. Do this, or don’t do that. These are commands that the world gives that seem wise, but don’t actually do you any good.

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Colossians 2:20-23

It is this last part that I think is intriguing and is important to understand:

…but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

The rules that seem wise are rules of restriction, intended to keep us away from the things that we would actually like to do, but are actually harmful to us. But in those cases, because we are weak creatures, Paul points out that the rules actually are lacking in value to restrain us from indulging ourselves in the sin that they are intended to keep us from. That is why Paul says that those rules seem wise, but actually lack value in truly keeping us from sin.

What is required instead is valuing something even greater. In the next chapter, Paul will go on to talk about the fact that Christ has given us life. Christ is the one that we must desire above all else. More than our sensual desires. More than what the world has to offer, we must desire him. We must want to be with him. That relationship with him will have great value in not only restraining us from sensual indulgence, but in living in holiness. Because we find our joy in Christ, we no longer find joy in sin. We no longer find pleasure in the things of the world, but in the things of God. This is no longer an appearance of wisdom, but is what it means to be truly wise!

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Lacking

Wait a minute, Paul. In what way, exactly, are Christ’s afflictions lacking? Did Jesus not live a perfect life? Is his sacrifice on the cross not perfect – one sacrifice for all, whether for past, present, or future sins?

Here is the passage that I’m referring to:

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Colossians 1:24-27

You can see how this could pretty quickly become confusing. If Paul is saying that Christ’s afflictions are lacking in some way, then we have an imperfect sacrifice.

But scripture has already told us that Jesus is the perfect sacrifice – one sacrifice for all time, for all people, for all sin. Here is what the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us:

And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

“This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”
Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”

And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

Hebrews 10:10-18

We can see here that no other sacrifices are necessary. Jesus’s sacrifice was sufficient for all people, for all time. One sacrifice that was given by God himself, by Jesus our high priest, and no sacrifices are needed any longer.

If that is true, then, what in the world is Paul talking about? How can he say that there is something lacking in the sacrifice of Christ? Even further, how can he, although a great man, but just a man, make up for anything that is related to Christ’s sacrifice? He can’t, can he?

Let’s read what Paul is saying in context. He is referring to the presentation of the message. He is talking about the message that has been hidden but that has now been made known to the Gentiles. He is talking about the fact that the message now must be spread to the rest of the world.

The sacrifice of Christ isn’t automatically transmitted to everyone’s heart and mind. Instead, God has decided and seen fit that man would be the way that the message would be transported and taken to everyone everywhere. In this way, Paul is saying that he is taking on what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

Let’s take it one step further, however. Paul actually doesn’t just say that he is the bearer of the message. Instead, he says that he fills up in his flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Paul takes this message within him, within his flesh, and carries it to the whole world. Paul had taken beatings. Paul had been jailed. Like Christ, his flesh bore wounds, the wounds of the gospel, as he took the message. When you heard the message from Paul, you saw the wounds on his flesh. You saw the marks of Christ upon him. He was full, within his flesh, of the message of Christ. Not just words, but true marks of Christ.

So in this way, Paul fills up within him what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. He isn’t sacrificing himself for the people. He is giving himself to Christ, to Christ’s glory, so that the mystery of Christ would be revealed and the whole world may hear of the salvation that comes from God.

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Content

The church in Philippi had been the first, and at times the only, one to support Paul as he was traveling and doing his work. Several times he had been in need. He didn’t necessarily have food or shelter, nor a way to pay for it, but the church was willing to help him.

We could take an example from when Paul was in Corinth. When he arrived there, he didn’t have a way to live, and he had left the Macedonian churches behind – the Philippian church being one of these – as a result of persecution. At each point along the way, Paul had either been beaten, put in prison, or chased out of town because the Jews wanted to kill him. As a result, he needed to move, and move quickly.

So when he arrived there in Corinth, he needed to work, and he couldn’t continue preaching and teaching full time as a result. As it turned out, that is how Paul met Priscilla and Aquila as they made tents together. So God used this time in Paul’s life that he needed to work to support himself, but when Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, they brought the support that Paul had needed so that he could continue to do the work that God had called him to do, to teach and preach again full time.

However, regardless of whether Paul was in need or had plenty, or regardless of whether he needed to work to support himself or had been supported by the churches, Paul remained content in his situation.

His contentedness wasn’t something that he just knew how to do. It was a way of thinking, a way of acting, a state of being that he learned. I suspect it was something that God taught him through his call and through difficulty.

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:10-13

Paul had learned what it means to be content. He learned how to be content. He learned it through the trials of the life that he was living. But most of all he learned it because, even in the difficult times, God gave him strength to endure, and it was through this endurance that he gained his strength. This strength from God and endurance through the difficult situations made Paul to be content and taught him that God will provide for him in each situation, that he is with him and walks with him, just as Jesus promised.

This is the source of Paul’s contentment. Not money. Not provision, but God’s presence with him in the form of Christ.

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Advance the Gospel

Paul was waiting for his trial in Rome. He had appealed to Caesar from Caesarea Philippi and then had a long journey to reach Rome. Once there, he was placed in what we might call “house arrest”, although while he was in a house that he had rented, he was neither at his “home”, nor was he just under arrest. He was in chains. He was being held against his will and may have, with some debate about what actually happened next, been killed soon thereafter.

Yet people came to them and he taught them. He spoke freely and preached openly from his house there in Rome. Christ was known all the more there in Rome because of what he had done. And not only that, others began to speak out boldly as well:

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

Philippians 1:12-14

It seems that the Christians there in Rome had been scared, and they would have had reason to be scared. They had been driven out. They had been killed. They had been persecuted in many ways. Having the government begin to hunt and kill the people around you would cause anyone to rethink what they are doing! And yet, they already had Paul in prison. The only thing that they could do to him yet is to kill him.

So this emboldened the other Christians. They saw that Paul was speaking boldly about Christ, even despite his situation, and so they began to take more and more courage from Paul’s situation that they too could speak about Jesus.

So Paul says that the chains that he was in actually served to help advance the Gospel. The Gospel moved forward and was heard by more people precisely because he was in chains. Perhaps if he hadn’t been, the circumstances would not have been the same. Perhaps others wouldn’t have been nearly as emboldened, or even would have tried to silence Paul from speaking about Christ. Instead, because he was in chains, people came to him. Because he was in chains, people were more emboldened, and so they began to speak as well.

God will use every situation, even the situations that look hopeless in our eyes, for his glory. There is nothing that Satan can do that God will not be able to turn around for his glory. Yet he continues to try and we continue to despair at difficult situations. We need to remember, instead, these stories. We need to remember that God is using both what we would call a good situation as well as what we would call a bad situation for his good and his glory. And as our heavenly father, while we may not call everything good because it doesn’t seem good to us in the moment, there will come a point that we understand what God was doing and how he used our difficulty and our challenging situations so that the Gospel, the good news of his coming to earth will be advanced.

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Ambassador in Chains

Paul tells the Ephesian church, while writing from prison in Rome, that he is an ambassador in chains. Paul has been chained up as a result of the Jewish leaders’ accusations, while never having been shown to have done anything wrong. Yet even while he is a prisoner, many people are coming to know Christ, and Paul is continuing to write to the churches that he founded, one of these being the church in Ephesus.

Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:19-20

From his writings, Paul seems singularly focused. He doesn’t seem to be stopped, nor even slowed, by the fact that he is in chains or in prison. Instead, he continues to serve his human masters, the Roman soldiers, as if he is serving Christ, and for this he is granted the opportunity to speak freely to the people there in Rome.

But what is even more, Paul continues to serve his heavenly master, Jesus Christ, despite the fact that he is in jail precisely because of his relationship with him and work for him. There isn’t a doubt in Paul’s mind. He is headed toward eternity with Christ and the rest of his life is to be devoted to him. Paul is looking beyond his present circumstances to the eternal reward of living with Christ forever, seeking to bring along with him as many people as possible.

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Fruitless Deeds

When we walk in the darkness, when we live for ourselves, when we reject God and go the way that we prefer, it may feel good for a while – and in fact often does – but the result will only be temporary. The result is, in reality, fruitless. There is no lasting meaning beyond what happens in that moment. That deed, that thought, has no reference point beyond that point, and as people who do those deeds, if who we are is represented by what we are doing, there is no lasting meaning to our existence.

But if we walk in light, in goodness, we are actually walking in a way that makes reference to God, to the infinite, and we have long-lasting significance. Not because of ourselves, but because of God. We find ourselves in him, so we find our meaning and significance in him. We think thoughts that are related to that which is infinite. We do deeds that find their meaning in eternity, and in this way we can find ourselves walking in the light.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.

Ephesians 5:8-13

I shouldn’t live my life in the light just because I must be obedient to God. I should live my life in the light because I find my joy in God. I find happiness in him. I no longer have a taste for evil, the deeds of darkness, but I actually prefer that which truly satisfies with joy and happiness. And in this way, I find the meaning that I long to find.

I follow a man on YouTube named David Wood. I listened yesterday to one of his commentaries regarding the temporary and the infinite reference points. I think it is related, although maybe not directly connected, to what I’m saying here: