Wednesday, April 19, 2006

John 20:24-31 – Believe!

© Eric Schumacher – Preached on "Resurrection Sunday" 2006

Read or listen to John 20:24-31.

A little over 1900 years ago, an old man put down on paper events to which he personally had been a witness. The man’s name was John. For at least three years, he walked, talked and lived with Jesus. Now, in his old age, John has put down significant aspects of Jesus’ life into a book, which his disciples can read after his death.

A question faces us: Why? Why did John find it important to write these things down? Was it that Jesus was simply a rather intriguing fellow, who did some odd things? a curiosity? a sideshow?

Was it that Jesus was a good teacher, from whom we could all learn a few things? Perhaps, John felt that if we could all learn to act a bit more like Jesus, then the world would be a better place.

We do not need to wonder this morning, because, in this morning’s passage, John gives us his purpose statement, outlining in plain language why he has written these things for us to read.

John has written these things so that YOU might believe. The “you” refers to the reader, which happens to be you and me this morning. John wants you and me to believe.

“Believe” is an important word in the Gospel of John. It is always a verb, never a noun in John’s Gospel. If we were to examine every occasion of the verb “believe” in the Gospel of John, we would quickly run out of time. I would have you notice in our passage that some form of the verb “believe” occurs seven times in the space of eight verses. Obviously, “believing” plays a central role in John’s message to us this morning.

“Believe” is Jesus’ command to Thomas. “Do not disbelieve,” he says, “but believe.” That is his command to us too this morning. However, we should not be led astray by contemporary notions of “faith.” John is not simply telling us to have a positive outlook, to “hope for the best” or to join the Optimist Club. Biblical “believing” is not empty, generic faith. It is not hope divorced from a reason to hope. Biblical belief has content.

John wants us to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God—God’s chosen King.
The word “Christ” means “Anointed One.” In the Old Testament, people were anointed to signify that God has appointed them for a task. Prophets, priests and kings could all be anointed. But, the Hebrew term “Messiah,” which means “anointed one,” became closely associated with God’s Anointed King.

In Psalm 2, the Anointed King is called God’s “son.” At the beginning of John’s Gospel (John 1:49), when Jesus calls Nathaniel, Nathaniel exclaims, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” This shows us that “Son of God” was used as a Hebrew title for the King of Israel.

So, John wants us to believe that the Messiah, God’s anointed King, is Jesus. Even so, this is not John’s only motivation in writing. He is not writing so that we will simply believe.

John writes so that by believing, you may have life in his name. Each of us, within the next one-hundred years, will die. We will each stand before God for judgment and be assigned a place in eternity—either hell, a place of eternal torment, or heaven, a place of eternal pleasure in God.

John teaches us that the way to have life is through believing in Jesus. What sort of life does John have in mind? By “life,” John means at least four things. John speaks of life that is:

Eternal – Earlier, in John 3:15-16, John wrote: “Whoever believes in [the Son of Man] will have eternal life. For this is how God loved the world, he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John is speaking of abundant life, life that will never end.

Spiritual – Also in chapter 3, John records Jesus encounter will a curious Pharisee named Nicodemus. In John 3:5-6, Jesus declares, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

Jesus is speaking of a spiritual change that occurs within us. Instead of being dead to sin, with hearts that do not love God, the Holy Spirit changes us so that we become alive. Our spirits suddenly believe in God, trust God, obey God and love God. Would you describe your spirit as “reborn” this morning?

Physical – While we should rightly emphasize that Jesus spoke of present spiritual rebirth, something that is experienced by believers now, we should not miss the fact that “life” in John’s Gospel includes our physical bodies.

In chapter 11, Jesus’ close friend Lazarus becomes sick and dies. Jesus allowed him to die so that he could teach us something about the life he came to bring. Jesus commanded his dead friend to come back to life, to be raised from the dead—and he was. Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he spoke these words to Lazarus’ sister Martha (John 11:25-26),“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus wanted Martha (and the others) to believe that he was the resurrection. That is, when we believe in him, even though we die, a day is coming when through Jesus Christ, we will be raised from the dead. All people will be raised from the dead to be judged. Yet, those who had faith in Christ will be raised to never suffer death again. They will live with Christ forever.

Peace – When Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection (John 20:19,21,26), he greets them by saying, “Peace be with you.” By peace, Jesus means something different than the Eagles, when they sang of a “peaceful, easy feeling.” Jesus is speaking of the peace of reconciliation with God.

The Bible teaches us that our sin makes us worthy of God’s wrath. We are rebels. As such, we are enemies of the King, enemies of God. John will write in 1 John 2:1-2, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

In his death, Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. To “propitiate” means to “win someone’s good favor by appeasing their wrath.” John understood that Jesus death on the cross was a sacrifice that satisfied God’s wrath. Jesus did not sin. Therefore, he did not deserve to die. When he suffered under God’s wrath on the cross, he was taking the wrath that sinners deserved. If we believe in him, God’s anger is removed and his favor is upon us because our sins are forgiven. Therefore, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have a life of peace with God.

This life is only for those who believe. Therefore, we should ask the question: What does it mean to be a believer? John gives us an example of what believing looks like in the response of the disciples, especially Thomas. Let me begin by stating a definition of “believing” as I see it taught in Scripture. Then we will look at its parts from Scripture. I will let you examine your own heart to see whether you are a believer or not.

“A believer personally receives the facts about Jesus Christ—his sinless life, crucifixion and resurrection as the Son of God—as historically true and therefore is completely confident in Jesus Christ, banking all hope of salvation in him. A believer confesses these things with joy and yields their life in full allegiance to Jesus, whom they know is God.”

Personally…
When John got to the tomb and looked inside it, John 20:8 says that he “believed.” When the other disciples saw the Risen Lord, they believed. Yet, it was not enough that the other ten disciples had seen Jesus and had believed in him. Thomas, as we will see, had to believe for himself.

When Thomas exclaims his faith in Jesus, he declares (John 20:28), “My Lord and my God!” He says “my” twice. This stresses for us that Thomas owns these things as his personal, life-ruling convictions.

It is not enough that your grandparents, parents, siblings or friends believe. You yourself must personally believe.

…receives the facts about Jesus Christ—his sinless life, crucifixion and resurrection as the Son of God—as historically true…
Thomas refused to believe in Jesus, because he could not except that what was stated about Jesus was actually true. The disciples claimed that Jesus had literally risen from the dead.

Thomas meets their claims with doubt. He says, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into his side, I will never believe.” Notice this. Thomas is stating that he is not willing to believe in the disciples’ wishful thinking, a stress-induced vision, a ghost or a fanciful tale. Thomas is stating that an alive Jesus must have the same body as the Jesus he knew. This Jesus must be able to be touched, and must show the marks to prove he is the same man.

When Jesus appears to Thomas, he offers Thomas his physical hands and his physical side. Jesus body was supernatural—it could somehow appear in a locked room. Yet, it was a physical body. Jesus was really, truly raised from the dead.

I am not asking you to believe in a myth this morning. I am calling upon you to believe that the man Jesus, who was beaten to a bloody pulp and then attached to a beam of wood with nails until he was dead—this Jesus literally rose from the dead. He right now is bodily sitting at the right hand of God and will physically come again to reign on earth. That is what Jesus and his disciples require you to believe—that Jesus was crucified for our sins, buried and raised from the dead.

…and therefore is completely confident in Jesus Christ, banking all hope of salvation in him.
Thomas does not exclaim “My Lord and my God” because he is afraid. He is motivated by faith, not by fear. Faith—complete confidence—should be our reaction to the story of Jesus Christ crucified for sin and raised from the dead.

John 3:14-15 says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” There was a time when the Israelites were in the wilderness that they were attacked by a plague of deadly serpents. God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and to put it on a pole. Everyone who was bitten by a serpent and looked to the serpent lifted up on the pole would live.

Jesus said that serpent pointed toward him. We all have been infected with the poison of sin. Jesus became sin for us, by being lifted up on cross. Looking to him means saying, “I am a sinner who is condemned to die. Jesus has taken my condemnation by dying in my place. I do not trust in my own works or my own good deeds. I only look to Jesus. I bank all my hope of salvation in him.”

A believer confesses these things with joy…
The word “Gospel” means “good news.” Good news makes you happy. John 20:20 says that “the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”

1 Peter 1:8 says, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Obtaining the salvation of your souls, Peter says, results in “joy that is inexpressible.”

Our feelings do not save us, but our salvation gives us feelings! When you hear of Jesus Christ crucified for sin and raised from the dead, does your soul well up with joy? Does your heart sing, “I’m redeemed!!!” There are certainly dark spells when our joy seems to be absent. However, if you have never felt a deep, profound joy in Christ, then I would urge you to plead with God to give your soul rebirth.

…and yields their life in full allegiance to Jesus, whom they know is God.”Thomas’ declaration of faith was a declaration of Jesus’ authority. Thomas calls him “Lord and God.” The name of God in the Old Testament was “Yahweh.” In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, “Yahweh” was written as “Lord.” When Thomas declares that Jesus is “Lord and God,” he is doing nothing less that declaring that Jesus is the God who existed before the foundations of the world were laid. Jesus is the God who spoke light into existence, who created the heavens and the earth, the land and the sea, and everything that lives in them.

To claim the Lord as your God, it was not enough simply to speak words. To have him as your God meant that you submitted to his authority as God. Thomas is bowing to Jesus authority and putting his life under Jesus control. That is what faith does. Faith trusts, and so it obeys. Disobedience comes from not believing that the person in authority knows what is best.

Notice also that Jesus accepted Thomas’ worship. Jesus understood himself to be God. He accepted and expected Thomas’ submission and obedience. He expects the same of us.

Understand this: If you choose to believe in Jesus, it will change your life. Your marriage, your possessions, your money, your activities, your words, your hobbies, your everything comes under his authority. You are making a commitment to walk in obedience to him, because you trust that he knows what is best. Yielding to Jesus will change your entire life; but it will also change your eternity.

Well, now what? Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus understood that he would soon ascend bodily into heaven. He knew that he would not always be around. Not all people will have the chance to see his wounded hands and side on earth. A day is coming when people will not see him, yet they will be called upon to believe in him. When Jesus speaks of “those who have not seen,” he is speaking of you and me.

This was the task of the disciples—to tell other people about Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen king. They were to preach the message about Jesus Christ so that other people would believe in him and have eternal life. Those people that the disciples were to tell about Jesus includes you and me. We are told about Jesus through the written Word of God.

John is writing so that his readers will respond the same way as Thomas. John wants you to believe. Jesus’ command to Thomas is his command to you this morning—“Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Examine who Jesus was and is. Consider what it means to believe in Jesus.

What should you do this morning? Believe!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

John 19:16-30 - A Sinless Sacrifice and Victorious King

© Eric Schumacher, Preached Good Friday 2006

Read or listen to John 19:16-30.

By this point in the story, Jesus had already been plotted against by his enemies and betrayed by one who claimed to be his friend. In an illegal trial, he has had lies told about him. Pilate has had him flogged. Soldiers have forced onto his head a crown of twisted thorns, thorns likely long enough to pierce through the skin and scrape against the bone of the skull. He has been mocked, spit on and beaten.

After all this, he is delivered over to be crucified. The Jewish historian Josephus called crucifixion “the most pitiable death.” Cicero called it “that cruel and disgusting punishment.” It was a punishment associated with horror and shame (Carson).

Crucifixion began with a brutal flogging called the verberatio. The former flogging that Jesus received was the fustigatio, a less severe beating given for small offenses (Kostenberger). The verberatio was administered to weaken a victim before their crucifixion. Don Carson (p. 597) describes this flogging:
“The victim was stripped and tied to a post, and then beaten by several torturers...until they were exhausted, or their commanding officer called them off. For victims who, like Jesus, were neither Roman citizens nor soldiers, the favoured instrument was a whip whose leather thongs were fitted with pieces of bone or lead or other metal. The beatings were so savage that the victims sometimes died.”

Josephus records that one eyewitness of such floggings were “flayed to the bone with scourges.” Eusebius writes that victims were “lacerated by scourges even to the innermost veins and arteries, so that the hidden inwards parts of the body, both their bowels and their members, were exposed to view.”

After this flogging, still naked, a beam of wood was laid across their shoulders. The criminal was then forced to carry the splintered, wooden beam on their skinless back to a point outside the city. Once there, the beam would be laid on the ground. The criminals arms would be stretched out and either tied or nailed to the beam. The crossbeam would then be hoisted up onto an upright beam, just high enough for their feet to be off the ground. Their legs were twisted and a single nail was driven through both ankles.

The victim was then left to hang naked in the sun. It could take hours, often days for them to die. Since (unlike many film portrayals) the average cross was only six to seven feet high, dogs and wild animals attracted by the scent of blood could feast on a victim left hanging over night. A live victim could be eaten by vultures or ravens. “In order to avoid asphyxiation, he had to push himself up with his legs and pull with his arms, triggering muscle spasms that caused unimaginable pain.” A seat was often affixed to the cross for the victim to rest on. This was not to provide relief, but to prolong their suffering. “The end would come through heart failure, brain damage caused by reduced oxygen supply, suffocation, or shock.” (Kostenberger)

What Do We Think of Jesus?

The question that faces us is “How Should We See This Crucified Jesus?” From this passage, I want us to see Jesus as at least two things:

1) We Should See Jesus as a Sinless Sacrifice.
Jesus was a sacrifice. The timing of Jesus’ crucifixion is important. John has stressed in this gospel that Jesus crucifixion happened during the Passover festival. The Passover was a festival that celebrated God’s redemption of Israel out of Egypt.

Through Moses, God had commanded Pharaoh to let his people go. Pharaoh refused, so the Lord promised that since Pharaoh was afflicting his firstborn son, then He would kill Pharaoh’s firstborn son. Therefore, the Lord decreed that on a certain night he would pass through the entire land of Egypt, killing the firstborn in every household.

The save his people from this plague of death, the Lord commanded each clan to select lambs and to kill them. They were to collect the blood of the passover lamb in a basin. Then, they were to take a bunch of hyssop and paint the top and sides of their doorway. Then, they were to remain in their houses until the morning.

When the Lord passed through the land killing the firstborn in every household, he would “passover” every household that had blood on the doorway. The firstborn in that household would not have to die because the passover lamb had died in his place. The Passover Lamb was a substitute sacrifice that satisfied the Lord’s demand of death.

The Lamb of God. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, Jesus is introduced with the words of John the Baptist (1:29), “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” From the outset of this gospel, we are to see Jesus as one who will function as the true Passover Lamb.

In John’s first letter (1 John 1:6-9), John will write, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In other words, Jesus has shed his blood to cleanse away our sin. We are not to hide our sin or deny our sin, we are to confess it and trust in Jesus to cleanse us.

Jesus was Sinless. The reason that a sacrifice has to die is that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The soul that sins must die (Ezek. 18:20). This is why a sacrifice had to be perfect and without any defect. The lamb was to represent a sinless, perfect victim who deserved no death. Jesus had to be sinless in order to function as our substitutionary sacrifice.

John highlights Jesus’ sinlessness in this passage by drawing our attention to the Scriptures that Jesus fulfilled. It was common practice for the soldiers presiding over a crucifixion to be given possession of the victims’ clothing. Jesus’ possessions probably consisted of a head covering, an outer cloak, an undergarment (a tunic), a pair of sandals, and a belt. Since there were four soldiers, each got one of the five articles. The remaining piece, the tunic, was seamless. Having a seamless garment insured that it was not made of mixed fibers, in violation of Jewish law. A torn tunic was useless, so the soldiers cast lots for it. They gambled for his clothing in front of the very women who likely made it for him. John draws our attention to the fact that this fulfills Psalm 22:18, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

The severe beating and the hot sun would make the victims thirsty. John tells us that in order to fulfill Scripture, Jesus said, “I thirst.” Earlier, on his way to the point of execution, Jesus was offered wine mixed with medicines. This was offered by the crowds as a form of mercy, in order to dull the pain. Jesus refused this, because he had come to bear the full force of God’s wrath. Here, the soldiers offer him a different drink, sour wine. This was a cheap wine used by soldiers. They put some on a sponge nestled in the bushy end of a hyssop branch and offered it to Jesus, which he received. John points out that this fulfills Scripture, probably Psalm 69:21, “for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.”

It is easy to see how these events fulfill particular events in the Psalms. What is note-worthy is the wider context of both of these Psalms. Both are Psalms about righteous sufferers. Psalm 22 is about a sufferer who is forsaken by God, although he has done nothing to deserve it. Psalm 69 is about a sufferer who is attacked with lies only because he sought God’s glory and was consumed with zeal for God’s house.

John is helping us to see that despite his suffering, Jesus is righteous. He is blameless. He is a spotless lamb, fit to be a passover sacrifice. He does not deserve death, so he can die in our place.

We Should See Jesus as a Victorious King
Having said all that, it would be easy to see Jesus as some sort of poor sap whose friends turned against him and whose enemies got the best of him. We tend to feel sorry for him and to wish that things could have turned out differently for him. However, this is not how we should view Jesus. He is not a passive victim in this scene. We should not only see Jesus here as a sinless sacrifice; we should see Jesus as a victorious king.

Jesus is presented in John’s Gospel as a King. It was common for a placard or “title” to be written out detailing the crime for which a criminal was being executed. This title was often hung around the victim’s neck as they carried their crossbeam. Once crucified, the title would be nailed to the cross. The title was written in three languages: Aramaic, Latin and Greek. Aramaic was the common language spoken in Judea. Latin was the official language of the Roman army. Greek was the international language, much like today’s English. By posting it in these three languages, it assured that anyone from anywhere could read it. By seeing what punishment was received for this crime, it would deter people from committing it themselves.

For what crime was Jesus crucified? For being the King of Israel. Pilate wrote on Jesus’ title, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Pilate was probably motivated by spite. He knew the Jews would hate to hear this man called their king. The Jews insisted he change it to read, “This man said, I am the King of the Jews.” Pilate refused.

This reminds us that regardless of people’s motivations, God is sovereignly working to have his truth declared. Psalm 96:10 reads, “Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved...’” The Lord’s kingship was never a message for Israel alone. It was always a message for the entire world. Pilate’s three-language declaration serves in John as a declaration in every tongue to the all world: “Jesus is the King!” Pilate’s stubbornness reminds us that “Jesus is King” is a decree that Jesus’ enemies cannot alter.

Victorious King
Jesus is not just a king. He is a victorious king. Throughout the entire story of Jesus arrest, trial, and crucifixion, John presents him as being in control.

How many times in the Gospels did Jesus slip through his enemies plans, foresee their plotting, and even run away? Now, he steps forward into the hands of his opponents. Throughout his trial, Jesus knows more than his captors do and controls the flow of the trial, giving and withholding information as it pleases him.

His opponents cannot have his title changed. He has the presence of mind to place his mother in the care of his cousin, the beloved disciple. He intentionally says thing to fulfill Scripture. He dies when he knows it is time to die. Even from the cross, Jesus is reigning! He is in control! (for more on these thoughts, see Burge)

Jesus last words were “It is finished!” This is not a person hanging their head in doubt, discouragement and defeat. Matthew tells us that Jesus cried out with a “loud voice” (Matthew 27:50).

The single greek word we translate “it is finished” literally means to “bring something to completion,” “to accomplish,” or to “fulfill something,” especially with the sense of fulfilling one’s religious obligations. Earlier, in John 17:4, Jesus prayed to the Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” Jesus had accomplished everything the Father gave him to do.

“It is finished!” is not concession of defeat. This is Jesus’ announcement of triumph. Everything that he had to do bring His Father glory and His people salvation is completely accomplished in his suffering on the cross.

In observing Good Friday, we are not commemorating the defeat of Jesus (Burge). We are celebrating his victory over sin, death and the power of the devil. The Sinless Sacrifice is the Victorious King!

Application
First, remember that Jesus reigns in and through suffering. It is not defeat, but the path to glory.

Things did not go wrong when the Scribes and Pharisees began to plot against Jesus and when Judas betrayed him with a kiss. Things did not go wrong when Jesus was arrested, stripped naked, flogged and nailed to a cross. Things did not go wrong when Jesus died. They went right! They went exactly according to God’s plan! This road of suffering was the Father’s plan to exalt His Son to glory. It is also God’s plan from bringing His redeemed people to glory.

As we studied Wednesday evening, 1 Peter says twice that it is God’s will for us to suffer. If we are to be conformed to the image of Jesus, then we will be treated as Jesus was in this world. In Mark 10, Jesus told his disciples that they would suffer cruel things at the hands of evil men when they proclaim his word. Here is part of what he said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.”

Therefore, when you are treated as Jesus was, remember–things are not going wrong! Things are going right! This is what Jesus said would happen to his people on the road to glory. In addition, he said their reward would be great in heaven because of it.

Second, remember that Jesus entirely accomplish our salvation on the cross.
Nothing needs to be added to Jesus’ work for us to be saved. We only need believe that He is our Victorious King who became our Sinless Sacrifice.

Jesus did everything required for our salvation! So quit living like your relationship with God depends upon your works.

We have been reconciled to God! His wrath was entirely satisfied by Jesus’ sufferings. So do not live each day as though God were angry with you.

Face each hour with the peace and joy of knowing that Jesus is our Victorious King who has redeemed us by becoming our Sinless Sacrifice.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Bruce Ware on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: Strategically Central

Bruce Ware answers the question "Why is Defending Male Headship Important for Church Health?" in an article for IX Marks.

Below I've posted a sermon which provides biblical support for Ware's arguments.

(Update: Click on the title of this post to read the article.)

1 Timothy 3:14-16 – How One Ought to Behave in the Household of God

©Eric Schumacher – Preached April 2, 2006

(For resources on 1 Timothy, see The Pastoral Epistles or Entrusted with the Gospel.)


We are not saved by our behavior. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ crucified for our sins, raised from the dead, ascended to His Father and returning in glory. It is essential that we properly understand the truth of the gospel. It is also essential that we properly apply the truth of the gospel.

In light of the doctrinal centrality of the gospel, it is too easy to look at the Bible’s instructions for the church and to think that these issues are somehow unimportant. We hear arguments to the effect of: “It is not worth getting too involved in. After all, we’re saved by believing! We need to be proclaiming the gospel, not examining how the church should act! Evangelism is ‘kingdom-work,’ everything else is a distraction from the gospel.”

I want us to see that, for the Apostle Paul, how we behave as a church is related directly to our proclamation of the gospel. If we care about the proclamation of the gospel, then we will care about the behavior of the church.

I hope to come to you soon –
Paul wanted to come to see Timothy soon. But, Paul writes, he is writing these things to Timothy in case his visit should be delayed. That shows us at least two things from the outset. If this cannot wait for Paul to arrive, then the content of this letter is both important and urgent. If Paul feels this way about what he is sending, then Timothy should give it them same weight when reading and implementing it. Do you think of these things as “important and urgent”?

Writing These Things to You…
Paul says that he is writing “these things.” Our first question might be, “What are ‘these things?’” I think the phrase “these things” refers to everything that Paul has written in this letter—charging certain persons not to teach different doctrine, praying all people and leaders, modest dress, proper roles of men and women in church, understanding the offices and qualifications of overseers and deacons, freedom to partake of all the foods God has given us, distinguishing which widows should receive the church’s care, paying elders, admitting charges against elders, selecting and appointing elders, how slaves should respond to their masters, how to deal with false teachers, and how the rich should live in this world. These are the things that Paul writes with urgency to Timothy.

We might ask next, “To whom does Paul write and why?” The word ‘you’ in verse 14 is singular. Paul is writing to one person, Timothy. But, if these things concern the behavior of the church, why write to Timothy?

Timothy was responsible for passing along “these things” to the congregation. Paul will write elsewhere in this letter that Timothy is to “command these things,” “teach these things,” “keep these things,” “practice these things,” “urge these things,” and “put these things before the brothers” (1 Timothy 4:6, 11-12; 4:15-5:1; 5:7, 21; 6:2-5). That is the calling and responsibility of a pastor—to call the church to believe and to behave properly, as revealed in the Word of God.

I am writing these things to you so that…
Perhaps you have been listening to Matt teach through 1 Timothy and thought, “Okay, I understand what this saying. But, I don’t understand why it is important! Why would Paul write this to Timothy?”

Paul answers that question in verses 14-15 where he gives us his purpose statement for the letter. He writes, “I am writing these things…so that you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God.” Paul is writing so that Timothy will know what the proper behavior is for believers in the church.

…you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God.
The church is described here as “the household of God.” This is a reference to those who live within God’s house as “God’s family.” A household included a man’s wife, his children and his slaves (if he had them). Proper behavior was expected the members of the household. We find this described in passages such as Ephesians 5:22-6:9 and Colossians 3:18-25, where Paul describes the proper behavior the members of the household (wives/children/slaves) alongside the that of the head of the household (the husband/father/master).

It is interesting, I think, to note that all three of the components of a household are used to describe the church. We, as believers, are the “bride of Christ” (Eph 5:25-32; Rev 19:6-8), “the children of God” (Eph 5:1-6; Phil 2:14-16; 1 John 3:10), and “slaves of God” (Rom 6:16-22; Eph 6:6; 1 Pet 2:16). What I found especially interesting about these passages is that each of them not only calls us by one of these titles, but is connected to a behavior that is to accompany such a standing.

As the “bride of Christ,” we are submit to Christ and clothe ourselves with “the fine linen of righteous deeds.” As the children of God, we are to “be imitators of God,” “practice righteousness,” “obey his commands,” and do all this “without grumbling or questioning.” As we have been “set free from sin and have become slaves of God” we are to present our members as “slaves to righteousness.”

In other words, the title of believer comes with expected behavior. We cannot claim Christ as bridegroom, unless we are willing to act as the bride. We cannot claim God as Father when we insist on acting in disobedience. We cannot claim God as our master, while we live as slaves to sin. This is why the gospel call is a call to “repent and believe.” In coming to Christ, we are to turn away from our sins and yield our lives to him.

Paul applies this here. Since we, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, have been born again into the household of God, Paul wants us to understand how one ought to behave in the household of God. This is why Paul’s letter to Timothy focuses so much on the behavior of various groups within the church: teachers, men, women, overseers, deacons, old, young, widows, slaves, and the wealthy. Within God’s household, various groups are to behave in various ways. So, the first thing that Paul has shown us that there is a proper way for the church to behave as the household of God.

What does this say of the responsibility of the church?
If the pastor’s role is to call the church to believe and behave according to God’s Word, then what is the responsibility of the church? Answer: Behave as you ought in the household of God!!!

Our behavior matters as well as our belief. We ought to be concerned with both our faith and our practice. This is why many churches throughout history have adopted for themselves both statements of faith and membership covenants. The statement of faith proclaims, “This is how we, as the body of Christ, believe!” The membership covenant proclaims, “This is how we, as the body of Christ, will behave.” If Paul writes an entire letter to inform a church “how one ought to behave in the household of God” is it too little a thing that we draw up and abide by a summary of how we are to live, just as we do with how we are to believe?

I think this also tells us that church membership ought to come with certain expectations. Paul wrote an urgent letter to Timothy so that he would know how to instruct the members of the church in Ephesus to behave. At the very least, we should call for and expect from one another the behavior called for and expected in the pages of Scripture.

The Church of the Living God
The second thing Paul shows us is that proper behavior should be observed with great care and reverence. Paul stresses the importance of proper behavior by describing the as “the church of the living God.” This description stresses the seriousness with which we should take proper behavior as God’s people.

The word translated “church” means an assembly or a gathering of people who have been called out to a particular place. The word church in the New Testament can refer to the “universal church,” made up of all God’s people from all times (Hebrews 12:23). But, most often, it is used to refer to a local church, a local congregation of believers (James 2:2), which is what Paul refers to here.

We are not simply any assembly. We are “the church of the living God.” “The living God” is an expression that is frequently used to refer to the true God, the creator of heaven and earth from which all life come, as opposed to dead gods made from metal and wood. It is a title that evoked reverence and awe.

What does this have to do with proper behavior?
What does being the “church of the living God” have to do with proper behavior? Paul will state in chapter 4 that having our hope set on the living God, causes us to toil and strive toward godliness. So, again, we see that being part of God’s people motivates proper behavior.

I think that Paul uses this phrase to draw our thoughts back to when God gave his people the law at Mount Sinai. In Deuteronomy 5, when Moses presents the law to the people, he says, “These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire…” But, when the people heard the Lord’s voice they responded in fear by asking, “…who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived?” And so they sent Moses to speak to the Lord for them. Moses returns with the Law and says, “You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.”

See what is happening here with the “assembly of the living God.” God has redeemed this assembly and is bringing them to the promised land. He reveals himself, in all his power and glory, as the living God. Then, the Living God says to the assembly, “You shall behave in this way!”

It is significant, that the other place this connection between the “assembly” and the “living God” is found is as the author of Hebrews applies this Deuteronomy 5 passage to the New Covenant church. In Hebrews 12:14-29, he tells them to “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” In other words, “pay attention to your behavior!” And he motivates them by writing:
…you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse him who is speaking.

What is he saying here? You, through the blood of Jesus Christ, have come to the city of the living God and to the assembly of the firstborn. Therefore, because you have become the people of the living God, pay attention to how you behave! So, in Hebrews 3:12, we are told to “take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” Watch yourselves because, as we are reminded in Hebrews 10:31, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

The imagery of the “living God” causes us to walk carefully and with fear. Again, Paul shows us is that proper behavior should be observed with great care and reverence. The living God is jealous for his assembly, his bride, his children. He is jealous for the complete devotion of his assembly. He does not take kindly to those who bring his assembly harm or lead it astray.

The church is not a human club where we are encouraged to come pursue our own interests. The church is not an opportunity for self-advancement; a place where we can come to showcase our talents. The church is not a democracy where everyone gets a say because our highest goal is keep everyone happy.

The church is the “church of the living God.” This is an awesome task, to be God’s church. He owns us. He has authority over us. He purchased us with his own blood (Acts 20:28). Therefore, to honor Him and to honor the blood of His Son, we must show great care and reverence as we behave in the household of God.

A Pillar and Buttress of Truth
Having described us as a “the household of God” and “the church of the living God,” Paul uses a third image to shows us why proper behavior is important for God’s people. He shows us that proper behavior is important because the church is the support of the gospel.

Paul calls the church the “pillar and buttress of truth.” “Pillar” and “buttress” (or, “foundation,” “ground”) are two words that basically mean the same thing. They are both architectural terms for “support.” Pillars, foundations, buttresses all “hold up” or “support” what rests upon them. What does the church “support?” The church is the pillar and buttress of “truth.”

What is the truth?
Paul immediately follows this reference to the truth with an exclamation of the greatness of the gospel in verse 16. “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” He describes for the gospel—Jesus Christ’s incarnation, resurrection, and his ascension into heaven to be seated at God’s right hand in glory. So, the truth that seems to be immediately in Paul’s mind is the gospel, which is the “word of truth” (Col 1:5).

The church, which is built upon the truth of the gospel, is God’s chosen instrument for upholding and defending the gospel. Obviously then, it is important for us to guard the verbal proclamation of the Gospel. We want to make sure that we believe and teach the right things. But, back to Paul’s purpose statement, what does supporting and defending the gospel have to do with right behavior? Isn’t it enough just to teach the right things?

The Mystery of Godliness
For Paul, a mystery was something that was at one time hidden, but now has been revealed. What I find interesting is that Paul refers to the gospel as “the mystery of godliness,” a word that is concerned with both our reverence toward God in our hearts and our behavior and good works. In other words, the Gospel reveals how are to live. Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, his ascension to glory at the right hand of God shows us how we are to live.

How is this so? The gospel is that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became a man and lived a perfect life. He died as a substitute for sinners on the cross, under God’s wrath. On the third day, he was raised from the dead. He later ascended into heaven, where he presently sits at the right hand of God in glory and will return from there to judge the living and the dead.

When we place faith in Jesus Christ we are united with him. In Christ, we have died to sin. In Christ, we have been raised to new life. In fact, the Scripture tells us that we have been seated with Christ in the heavenly places. When we are saved, we are changed. We were once dead, but now we are alive. We begin to act and think differently. Our lives begin to be conformed into the image of Christ. That is, our lives begin to be a manifestation, a living out of the gospel.

We are to uphold the gospel, not only through proper verbal proclamation, but through embodying and confirming it in our behavior. The gospel does not just effect how we believe, but how we behave. Our lives are to reflect and to live out the Gospel.

Each of the behaviors that Paul gives instruction on is manifestation of the Gospel. What we teach, who we pray for, how we pray, how we dress, the roles of men and women in the church, the requirements for overseers and deacons—these are all the outworking of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Freedom to eat any food, following good doctrine, caring for true widows, honoring our masters, dealing with false teachers, and how the rich are to live—each of these is an application of the gospel.

The way that we behave reflects what we believe. If we want the world to see the gospel, then we must live according to the gospel. If the world does not like what it sees, it should be because the world does not like the gospel that it sees.

An Illustration
Imagine that you are a steward entrusted with the care of your master’s most prized possession—a priceless hand-blown globe. Your master has built a pillar of bricks in the center of his garden to function as the foundation of the globe. It is your job to make sure that the globe is kept safe and always on display for the world to see.

Now imagine that visitors to your master’s home, who don’t find the pillar attractive, scrape and gouge at the bricks to make the pillar more suitable to their liking. Over time, the elements of the world begin to erode the bricks.

If you are to be a faithful steward of the globe, how much attention will pay to the pillar on which the globe rests? Wouldn’t you pay close attention to the condition of the bricks? Wouldn’t you make repairs and restoration as necessary?

The globe is the gospel. The church is the pillar that God has erected as the foundation for the globe. The bricks in the pillar are the doctrines and behaviors of the church.

What happens when we allow the wind and rain of the world erode the erode and shape our behavior as a church? What happens when we let the world gouge and scrape, so that our behavior is shaped more by the preferences of the world than by the Word of God? Bricks begin to fall out. And what happens when enough bricks fall out? The pillar crumbles. And what happens when the pillar crumbles? The gospel falls to the ground.

This is what Paul is saying—Proper behavior is important because the church is the support of the gospel. You, church, are the pillar and buttress of the truth, so, by all means, behave! If you care about the proclamation of the gospel, you will care about the behavior of the church. A person who is in love with the gospel, will love and care for the pillar on which it rests.

Reform and Proclaim
Can you neglect and ignore the pillar on which the gospel rests and still claim to care for the gospel? If you care about the gospel, will you not pay careful attention to the pillar, guard it, and make repairs as necessary and restore bricks that have fallen out?

Here is my summary application of this passage: Reformation of the church and proclamation of the gospel cannot be divorced.

We live in an age in which the proper behavior of the church is assaulted because the gospel is threatening and offensive to the world. If they can bring down the pillar, they bring down the truth. So, just as we must always be concerned with proclaiming the gospel, we must always concern ourselves with reforming the church.

A church which constantly reforms itself according to the word of God will be a strong and firm pillar from which the gospel can be proclaimed to the world. The church which refuses to concern herself with being conformed to the behaviors revealed in God’s word can say all it wants about being “Kingdom-focused,” but in the end it will crumble, fall and bring the truth down with it.

If we love Jesus Christ and His Gospel, then we will love the church, the pillar and buttress of the truth. If we want to see the Gospel proclaimed, then we will work to see pillar reformed by God’s Word. We will behave as we ought in the household of God.

Must-Read Article on the Iran Crisis

Justin Taylor points us to an article that every American should read: The frightening truth of why Iran wants a bomb. This is the sort of information our media misses and our voters need to consider.

Note this paragraph on the "advantages" Iran and its Islamic counterparts have over the Western nations:

In Ahmadinejad's analysis, the rising Islamic "superpower" has decisive advantages over the infidel. Islam has four times as many young men of fighting age as the West, with its ageing populations. Hundreds of millions of Muslim "ghazis" (holy raiders) are keen to become martyrs while the infidel youths, loving life and fearing death, hate to fight. Islam also has four-fifths of the world's oil reserves, and so controls the lifeblood of the infidel. More importantly, the US, the only infidel power still capable of fighting, is hated by most other nations.

It seems that America's "intentionally childless" pursuit of immediate comfort and decreased responsibility may come back to bite us.

Mohler on "The Pastor as Theologian"

Al Mohler posts The Pastor as Theologian, Part 1, beginning a three part series. Here is his conclusion from the first installment:

As many observers have noted, today's pastors are often pulled in many directions simultaneously--and the theological vocation is often lost amidst the pressing concerns of a ministry that has been reconceived as something other than what Paul intended for Timothy. The managerial revolution has left many pastors feeling more like administrators than theologians, dealing with matters of organizational theory before ever turning to the deep truths of God's Word and the application of these truths to everyday life. The rise of therapeutic concerns within the culture means that many pastors, and many of their church members, believe that the pastoral calling is best understood as a "helping profession." As such, the pastor is seen as someone who functions in a therapeutic role in which theology is often seen as more of a problem than a solution.

All this is a betrayal of the pastoral calling as presented in the New Testament. Furthermore, it is a rejection of the apostolic teaching and of the biblical admonition concerning the role, and responsibilities of the pastor. Today's pastors must recover and reclaim the pastoral calling as inherently and cheerfully theological. Otherwise, pastors will be nothing more than communicators, counselors, and managers of congregations that have been emptied of the Gospel and of biblical truth.

Amen! and, Amen!