13 December 2013

Hold Firm The Word

Hold Firm The Word
Our culture touts experience as the great standard by which life is be guided and governed.  Follow your heartGo with your gutIf it feels good, do it!  The tragic consequences of this misguided philosophy have affected all aspects of our society.  What is more sad and surprising is that this futile way of thinking has infiltrated and influenced the church.  Experience is certainly significant, and thank God Christianity is a robustly experiential religion.  But experience must not be supreme since we live by faith, not by sight (or experience!).   

Experience is Not Our Guide
While promoting the joy and providing the incentive for our faith, experience cannot function as the guide and gauge of our faith.  After all, it is difficult to manage our feelings and almost impossible to govern our emotions.  No wonder many professing Christians have such a hard time with the trials of life!  Things outside of our control affect us in a host of ways.  Many immature believers find themselves tossed to and fro by waves of difficulty and disappointment.  Carried about by every wind of doctrine they prove themselves unskilled in the word of righteousness.  With experience as their guide, their spiritual journey follows a bumpy and unproductive route fraught with sharp turns, wasteful digressions and troublesome setbacks.   

The Strength of a Christian
What is a Christian to do?  Those whom we are to imitate (Heb 13:7) must not only cultivate godly character but also must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9).  In other words, a mark of maturity, strength and wisdom is a man’s hold on the word.  Has he been taught the true faith?  Can he give instruction in sound doctrine?  Can he rebuke those who contradict?  The church needs godly officers, men of stable Christian character, who adhere unwaveringly to the teaching of Christ.  They will model the Christian life for the rest of us.  In spite of feelings or circumstances, both of which can be deceptive and discouraging, an elder must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught.  Herein lies the strength of a Christian, and humanly speaking, the strength of a church.  We are not referring to first century Pharisaism which idolized Scripture to the exclusion of Christ (Jn 5:39).  We are referring to the means by which a believer is to be gladdened, guided and governed.  Experience is important, for we are called to taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8).  Let us avoid becoming Stoics!  But if our experience of Christ is to be pleasing to Him and profitable to us, it must be grounded upon and guided by and governed according to the trustworthy word.  They revive the soul, make wise the simple, rejoice the heart and enlighten the eyes (Ps 19:7-8).  The Scriptures are more to be desired than gold and sweeter also than honey (Ps 19:10).

09 December 2013

Preach The Word

Preach The Word
Near the end of his last epistle Paul gives Timothy a solemn exhortation in the most awe inspiring language.  I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word… (2Tim 4:1-2).  As someone wisely said, matters of the greatest import must be pressed with the greatest vehemence.  Paul does not call upon the Almighty Judge, refer to His Parousia and mention His Kingdom unless the matter in question is of the utmost significance.  Preach the word!  This must be for Timothy a top priority.  As a minister of the gospel he must proclaim the gospel.  It is a non-negotiable.  Of course Paul is not saying Timothy has nothing else to do, though some ministers appear to interpret the command this way.  Rather, Timothy must make preaching his top priority.  His grand and glorious business as a faithful steward must be the proclamation of Christ.   

Abide in the Teaching
Israel’s failure in this regard led to a severe rebuke.  My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…  a people without understanding shall come to ruin…  For the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they know not the Lord (Hos 4:6, 14; 5:4).  The Hebrew heralds had not fulfilled their commission.  Israel lacked knowledge and understanding.  John says, Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son (2Jn 9).  The teaching is crucial to salvation.   

Appointed Heralds
Yes, it is humbling to hear the gospel from mere jars of clay (2Cor 4:7) just as it was humbling for Namaan to deal with a servant and wash in the Jordan (2Kgs 5:9-12).  But in either case, there is no healing apart from the appointed means.  God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2Cor 12:9).  Would we refuse to quench our thirst if the water was provided in a styrofoam cup?  It pleases God to offer salvation through good news proclaimed by fallible men.  Who are we to argue?  Praise Him for appointing heralds who can sympathize with us in our miseries.  Petition Him to appoint heralds who will not shirk their duty and above all things will preach the word!

07 December 2013

Sacred Writings

Sacred Writings
David spares no praise for the Scriptures.  More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb (Ps 19:10).  Solomon spares no expense for them.  He prefers them to silver, gold, jewels and any other desirable thing (Prv 8:10-11).  Thus he exhorts, Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding (Prv 23:23).  Paul spares no admiration for them.  They are sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2Tim 3:15).  He refers to writings, ancient script written centuries ago by devout Jewish men.   

Wise for Salvation
Unlike the rest of the world’s literature, these writings are uniquely sacred.  They reveal what holy, promote what is holy, originate from Him who is holy and oppose whatever is unholy.  They are the oracles of God (Rom 3:2).  Perhaps most importantly the Holy Spirit uses these sacred writings instrumentally in His work of convicting, converting and comforting the heirs of salvation.  This is what Paul means when he says they make one wise for salvation

Nothing Compares to the Bible
No other book can lay claim to such an eternally significant purpose.  No other writing can boast of such relevance and import.  No other so-called oracle can compare with Scripture.  The eternal destiny of souls depends in part upon the truth revealed in its pages.  Let us therefore follow the example of true worthies in sparing no praise, no expense and no admiration for the sacred writings.  They bear witness about the greatest treasure of all, Jesus Christ (Jn 5:39).

03 December 2013

Cutting Straight

Cutting Straight
Many believe 2Timothy was the last epistle Paul wrote. Abandoned by friends and suffering in a Roman prison he was conveying some final thoughts to his young protégé Timothy.  The apostle offered inspired guidance to this youthful presbyter concerning one’s personal conduct and public ministry.  A good soldier of Christ finds spiritual strength by the gospel of grace in Christ and seeks to disciple others to do the same (2Tim 2:1-2).  Temptations to deviate from the course abound, even imprisonment and martyrdom, but the good officer stays the course.   

What's a minister to do?
If as a worker (a minister or teacher) he strives to avoid shame and seeks the approval of God, he must do his best to rightly handle the word of truth (2Tim 2:15).  Literally the minister must be eager and do his utmost to cut straight in handling truth.  An approved, unashamed workman in God’s household does not deviate from inspired revelation.  Is this all he does?  Absolutely not.  He is not a mere intellectual or academic.  He may not cloister himself among his books and neglect the needs of his flock.  Indeed, he has many responsibilities.  Peter sums it up by saying he must shepherd the flock of God exercising oversight willingly, eagerly and exemplarily (1Pt 5:2-3).  Like all Christians an officer must strive in every area to be Christ-like, but uniquely he must do this as a public person.  Expressions of faith, displays of hope and demonstrations of love should characterize his personal and public testimony.  

Rightly Handling God’s Word
Paul certainly does not restrict the minister’s duty to preaching and teaching.  But he does identify this as the primary focus of his ministry.  He points out that rightly handling God’s word is that to which he must commit himself with untiring devotion.  An approved workman is one who skillfully cuts straight when handling truth.  Like a master butcher dexterously wielding his knife to gain the best cut, a minister must skillfully handle the sword of the Spirit so he may wisely and faithfully feed the sheep.  James says the wisdom from above is first pure and only then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere (Jas 3:17).  Hence, the minister must devote himself to rightly handling God’s word so that the wonderful blessings of unity, security and fellowship may be enjoyed by a well-fed congregation.  Paul’s point is a matter of emphasis, not exclusion.  The preaching of, teaching from and counseling by the Scriptures is the root from which so many good and pleasant fruits will grow.  We do not neglect the fruits by any means, but we will not enjoy them either without a healthy root.  Sadly, many modern ministers focus so intently on the fruits that they neglect the root.  As a result we find churches in which the Word is not central, preaching is not esteemed and orthodoxy is not safeguarded.  Their unenviable condition leaves them vulnerable to the gangrene of irreverent babble leading them to ruin and ungodliness (2Tim 2:14-17).  This occurs because they have become like those who swerved from the truth (2Tim 2:18).  May the Lord Jesus by His Spirit keep us from deviating from Scripture and enable us to cut straight in handling the word of truth!