Month: December 2019
[Firstly, thanks so much to Tom and Donrich who wrote devotions for me in December on 1 & 2 Timothy! Such good content, thanks guys.]
Psalm 98 is a song, that was sung for a thousand years with a particular meaning and significance to God’s people.
But since the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus as our Messiah King, it now carries an even greater significance than the original composer could never have contemplated.
The composer sings of God’s deliverance of Israel from its enemies (vs1-3) how God is worthy of new songs, songs that express gratitude in new ways, fresh melodies and rhythms (vs1).
But for the believer in Jesus, this Psalm about salvation now carries even more profound meaning. God has now revealed His plan for salvation for His people, in fact, for all people through Jesus Christ (vs2).
The whole Old Testament pointed to the time when Jesus would come; however, those events could only be seen dimly to all those believers in the Old Testament.
But then Jesus did come (as we have just celebrated at Christmas) and God’s plan for salvation was revealed (Ephesians 3:9 & Colossians 1:24-29) in all its glory and wonder to the apostles and the early church.
God’s salvation story is no longer a mystery, but a mystery revealed to the praise of His glorious grace (Ephesians 1:3-10)!
So, ‘sing to the LORD and new song, for He has done marvellous things!’ (vs1)
For, God has worked salvation for us in a way that no one could ever have imagined. God became flesh and gave Himself for us to save us from Himself so that we could be with Him forever. Sing a new song about that – marvel at that!
God did this before all the nations. The great empire of Rome heard about it, ancient Greece. God made known His salvation not just to Israel but to every nation, to all people (vs2-3). So much so that every person on planet earth has their history and their calendars hinged around Jesus’ birth date! The good news of salvation through Jesus; ‘will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come’ (Matthew 24:14).
What was once Israel’s song, is not a song for anyone who will believe in King Jesus and bow their knee in glorious good surrender.
So, let the whole earth worship God for Jesus is the King of all kings. Jesus is worthy of majestic, beautiful worship with diverse instruments and melodies (vs4-6).
Let the whole of creation join in and worship King Jesus for he has come not just to redeem humankind but to redeem all things (Romans 8:19-23) and one day to declare; ‘Behold, I am making all things new!’ (Revelation 21:5)
Psalm 98 is an old song revitalised by new revelation, transforming it into an eternally relevant song about King Jesus. Worship Jesus today, sing your own new song, use your own worship let worship bubble up and out of you, He is worthy of all praise forever.
As we reach the end of this combined study of 1 & 2 Timothy, there is so much to say. I need a blog for each point in this section! There is a lot to be said for the relational dynamic in the gospel advance as seen in verses 9 to 16 and in 19 to 21. There is a lot to be said about the continual need to believe that God will help you persevere in the faith in the face of overwhelming challenges, as seen in verses 16 to 18. I also think there is much to say about our agency in the mission of God – as Paul is so clearly aware throughout this book and this chapter that the gospel advance will continue long after him, and its spread is not dependent on any one person for its success.
However, I think that all of these topics fall under Paul’s words in verses 6-7, as we see the heart of the man who gave everything he had for the mission of God.
I grew up reading stories of “wide eyed radicals” and “dreamers of the day”; men and women who would give up their whole lives for the mission God had called them to. Whether it was reading books like ‘Jesus Freaks’ and ‘The Heavenly Man’, or various biographies from giants in the faith such as Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor or Olaudah Equiano; these stories of radical living and lifelong sacrifice stirred my faith in a simple truth; Jesus is worth everything we have to give.
Paul fits this mold of “wide eyed radicals”. Perhaps the original in the early church movement. 2 Timothy 4 constitutes his final words, in the final chapter of his final book, in his final moments this side of glory. It is a summary of a lifetime of service to God and His bride, and as we lean in, we will discover some amazing truths to fuel our perseverance in the mission…
“6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
– 2 Timothy 4:6-7
Paul here is drawing from Old Testament sacrificial language to convey the summarizing thought of his earthly life. There was nothing left, no reserves, just a complete emptying out of everything Paul had to give to the mission of God, because of his passionate devotion to God. It’s not a sacrifice to earn the Father’s approval, or to attain spiritual salvation. Paul’s sacrifice is joyfully and enthusiastically offered up precisely because his approval and salvation has already been graciously given! He lived with a sense of joyful significance, as he was included in God’s gloriously good purposes for all creation. It’s the response to salvation, not a prerequisite for salvation.
Paul also draws from his own writing from earlier New Testament letters, as well as these two letters to Timothy, and he uses military and athletic language to claim that God’s mission was worthy of every sacrifice he ever made. The military language fits the pattern set throughout 1 & 2 Timothy, and in using the metaphors of “fight” and “race” Paul is intentionally using very active and energetic language. His life is an example of what it looks like to be wonderfully consumed with the dreams and endeavors of gospel advance.
If you listen to the tone of the text, you can almost hear the joy and relief in verse 7, as Paul marvels in the wonderful preservation of God in every act of service Paul had ever done. The passive verb in verse 6, “I am being poured out”, is Paul’s way of communicating God is the one who was at work in Paul’s life, empowering every moment and preserving his faith until the end.
Earlier this year I heard two older pastors, at a similar phase of life to Paul, quoting Colossians 1:29, where Paul says “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” Paul, in both Colossians and 2 Timothy, shows a total dependence on God for his own preservation. It would be arrogant to think that any of his achievements were his own. Paul spends 2 Corinthians reminding us how just how unimpressive and dependent he truly is. There is a great truth here, that Paul has spent his whole life demonstrating. Our perseverance is only possible through Gods preservation. He keeps us. He empowers us. And He gets all the glory.
From these two verses, we can almost picture Paul running through the gates of heaven, hands lifted high, proclaiming the goodness of the Almighty to the roar of all of redemption. Don’t you want that same magnificent moment? No reserves. No regrets. Completing your life on the mission that is worth everything you have to give.
 Phrases from Simon Guillebauld’s excellent book, “More Than Conquerors.”
 “Ray Ortlund and Sam Storms on Finishing Well in Ministry”. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/churches-planting-churches/id1069930513
Believing in the bible is unfashionable. This is because the bible is absolute truth in a fake news world. Declaring fidelity to the very words of God won’t win you may friends, or provide credibility in discussions with those who don’t know Jesus. In this setting, it can feel increasingly hard to treasure the gift of God’s words to us.
2 Timothy 4 is a continuation of Paul’s comments in chapter 3, where he spent time exposing the sinfulness of the world and gave Timothy some specific tips to combatting the sinfulness around him as he leads the church in Ephesus. Timothy was encouraged to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, … how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings” Paul is making it clear, the way Timothy was to protect himself and model holiness in the church was to treasure and rely on the power of the word of God. Timothy had clearly spent his whole life being shaped by the Word of God, and Paul is eager that this transformative effect keeps going.
Paul’s argument in chapters 3 and 4 is that when we trust and rely on the Word of God, it will empower both our pursuit of holiness and our missional effectiveness in the world.
How can the bible aid our pursuit of holiness in a world full of sinfulness? Well Paul says in 3:16 “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” This is something he repeats in 4:2 when he says, “be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” The bible is inspired by God, as His means of revealing Himself and causing faith in the world, and therefore it is eternally relevant in our lives, no matter the situation we are in. It can be used to build up the people of God, through training and teaching, and it can be used to in the fight against ungodliness, through challenging the sin around us and restore people towards righteousness. There is never a moment or situation that the bible is irrelevant or untrustworthy in. Absolute truth is absolutely trustworthy.
These are the final words, in the final chapter of the final book to his spiritual son Timothy. And so, with his final words Paul leaves Timothy his final command; “preach the word.” In other words, make Jesus known by communicating the bible. As Ellicott’s commentary states: “the language of the original here is abrupt and emphatic, written evidently under strong emotion and with intense earnestness.” Do you sense the importance and earnestness of Paul’s tone when you re-read this? Can you feel the communication of his deep love and confidence in the word of God.
Paul’s message to Timothy is the same as God’s message to us today. Our effectiveness in living for God in the world is linked to our dependency on the bible. We cannot stray from complete dedication to the bible and total surrender to God’s Word. Our personal holiness depends on it. Our public proclamation depends on it. Build your life on a deep trust in the inspired words of God.
 I have used the word final here, even though this is not Paul’s last command to Timothy (that is 4:21 “do your best to come”). My use of the word ‘final’ conveys the final emphasis of Paul’s heart to Timothy’s – Paul’s great and lasting charge.
*Authors Note: We have been looking at the Christmas story these last few days, so it might be worth going back to our last devotional on 2 Timothy 2 so you are familiar with the book again. Paul is writing his final words to Timothy, and is discussing themes of leadership, suffering, perseverance and holiness.
Ever looked in a mirror and not liked what you saw? Ever had that flow of dread run through your body when you saw something that you wish wasn’t there? Maybe your hair was having a crazy day, or the pimple quadrupled in size, or that smudge you thought you’d rubbed off was actually still there.
Reading 2 Timothy 3 is ugly and painful. It is painful because it sounds eerily familiar. In the previous chapter we saw Paul urging us Timothy (and us) to pursue a holy perseverance in the midst of challenges around him, and now in this chapter we get a striking description of those challenges. With surgical precision, Paul exposes societal sin that feels like a modern day commentary of our own cultural moment.
“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”
Do you feel the awkwardness of these verses? I visibly shrunk lower on my chair when I read this. It grieved me in my heart, because these are the sins so clearly seen in the world around us. People who care only for their own self-advancement in life. People passionately pursuing money that corrupts the soul. People so desperate for pleasure that they will participate in self-destructive patterns of behaviour. We should not be surprised; the outworking of sin has a familiar historic pattern. Furthermore, we are not facing any new version of sin today that has not challenged the church before. Sin is sin, and godlessness is destructive wherever it goes.
Let me pick up on one of these societal sins that Paul is exposing, and demonstrate why it feels like it is a critique of our society today. “For among them are those who creep into households and capture women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions…” In verses 3 & 4 we see the seeds of violence (“abusive”, “brutal”, “without self control”), but verse 6 seems like contemporary resistance against Gender Based Violence. A society without God is a society in sin, and in a society infected with sin we will always find the sinful pursuit of evil desires, such as we have right now in this country. This passage is hard to read, just as every new story of the abuse of women by men becomes more and more painful to digest. We must connect the current crisis of Gender Based Violence with the spiritual degradation of our society. Look at how Paul exposes and challenges the societal sins of his day. This is a charge and a challenge to us to do the same – we should not stay silent.
Paul’s immediate response to the societal sins that threaten to compromise our holiness is to “avoid such people” (v5), having followed his godly example (v10) and to continue living out the truth that we believe (v14) by relying on the bibles power and relevance in all situations (v16). This correlates with Paul’s deliberate and fatherly concern for the holiness of believers that runs throughout 1 & 2 Timothy.
I have been so struck by the way Paul exposes societal ungodliness that I want to suggest that we should have a similar understanding of our cultural moment. In John 17:14-16 we read that as believers we have been intentionally sent into the world by God to make Him known by proclaiming the gospel. The Great Commission of Matthew 28 has made this our core purpose. Therefore, as we pursue this great aim, part of our proclamation must involve a cultural analysis of what societal sin the gospel must confront.
As we consider the society around us, where is the brokenness? Where are people hurting? What patterns of sin are there? What self-destructive behaviors do the people in our communities regularly pursue? What ideologies/political thoughts/worldviews/perspectives of morality to people claim to? Where must the church challenge cultural norms? Who is being marginalized and cast aside?
In our cultural milieu, we must learn from Paul and use the gospel to challenge Gender Based Violence, the ongoing injustice caused by the legacy of Apartheid, politically divisive rhetoric, growing inequality, a pursuit of sinful and self –destructive passions as well as the elevation of the individual before all other things.
For the gospel to transform people of any culture, the church must endeavor to study and participate in that culture. The gospel can only be good news to the people around us when it is seen as the answer to all brokenness and sin in their lives. Trevin Wax states: “As we learn to identify the prevailing worldviews of society, we look for ways to present the gospel of Jesus in ways that are more likely to resonate.”
Study the world around you. Participate in it. It will increase the effectiveness of your gospel proclamation to it.
Why is the birth of Jesus so important?
I think many people cherish Christmas for different reasons. The unbelievers will be excited because it is a time where families come together and gifts are opened. Christians might feel that Christmas is important as it is Jesus’s birthday and it is important to celebrate the birth of someone special in your life.
You see, the birth of Jesus Christ was not like the birth of anyone else. We do not only celebrate the birth of Jesus because this is the day He was born. No, we celebrate the birth of Jesus because of what it means to us and the world around us.
What does the angel say to the shepherds in the midst of the glory of God? (Verse 10 and 11)
Verse 10: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”
Now what is this great joyous news?
Verse 11: “For unto you is born this day..a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”
This is the reason the multitudes of heavenly hosts praised God by saying “glory to God in the highest”; for it is by God’s gracious mercy that He sent His son, His only son, that we might be saved. Oh, how He loves us!
This, I believe, is the main reason why the shepherds walked away from the birth of Jesus by “glorifying and praising God”. Jesus, the Messiah, the Saviour of Israel, the one everyone has been prophesying about for thousands of years, was born!
I don’t know about you, but I have too many times before only celebrated Christmas by rejoicing in the birth of Christ and not also in what His birth has meant for me.
Salvation is possible because God decided to send His Son! Hallelujah ! Praise the Lord !
As we celebrate the birth of Christ today, let us also thank God for the reason He sent his son to us. Take some time out of your day to sit down for 5 minutes and focus on the real reason for Christmas: Jesus Christ. Do not let another Christmas slip away without doing as the shepherds did, for when they heard the news they went hastily to God. Go to Him for He is worthy to be praised, salvation is in his name!
1 Luke 39-80
Growing up in a household where gifts were opened up on the evening of the 24th , I remember experiencing this uncontainable excitement of what was to come. It felt like years had passed before I could finally open up the gifts under the Christmas tree and experience the joy that it brought.
In the same manner, there was great excitement surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God was at work in the hearts of Elizabeth, Mary and John. It was as if the Spirit of God could not contain the excitement. Mary is overcome with joyful praise, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and John leaps for joy in the womb. This wonderful “hoorah!” moment is all under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
What a beautiful example of how we should worship God “in Spirit and in truth!’ These individuals were totally overcome by the Holy Spirit and it was the Holy Spirit within them that was ultimately worshipping God. They were being led by the Spirit.
John 4: 24: ‘God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Phillipians 3:3: ‘..we who worship by the Spirit of God…’
Sometimes we do not know what to say or how to pray but the Holy Spirit within us knows, He is our Helper (John 14:26) and without Him it is impossible to follow God as He enables us to do the will of God so no one might boast.
It is quite remarkable what is being revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. Mary is told in verse 35 that the boy will be called the Son of God and in verse 43 the Holy Spirit gives Elizabeth a revelation of who Jesus is:
Verse 43: ‘And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’
This baby boy has not even been born yet and Elizabeth believes, because of what the Holy Spirit has revealed to her. She believes not because she has seen miracles or heard fancy teachings, but because of the work of the Holy Spirit within her. I thank the Lord for the working of the Holy Spirit in us, so we too are able to believe.
My prayer is that we will allow the Holy Spirit to put Christ at the centre of our Christmas celebrations. That we will not miss him in between family time, cooking and socialising, but that He will once more be celebrated as our biggest gift.
May we burst into praise like Mary, be continuously filled by the Holy Spirit like Elizabeth and leap for joy like John this Christmas!
Can you sense it? Christmas is not what it should be. Everywhere we turn, the world around us has become so fixated on what we have made Christmas to be. The decorated nativity sets that you have to dust off once a year. The wrapped gifts that bring instant joy but never seem to fully satisfy. The fake smiles as families (try to) get along. If we are not careful, Christmas can become a manufactured event that fails to satisfy and can rob us of genuine joy, and our only defense from these cultural forces is to remember why Christmas happened.
In this long passage of scripture, we get several beautiful moments that remind us of the purpose of Christmas. Lets look at two of these moments from the Christmas story. They should act as a reminder to us of why we needed a saviour to come to us.
“And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
These are the angel Gabriel’s words about John the Baptist, however they reveal something about the spiritual state of the people of God that should be very sobering for us today. There was a need for the people of God to change, and they clearly could not do this themselves. They needed John to “turn” them towards the coming saviour, Jesus Christ. If Gabriel said that they needed to turn towards God, it meant that they were previously turned against God. The people of God also needed John to “make ready…a people prepared”, which means that previously they were not prepared. They were not ready because they were stuck in their sin and “disobedience”. Lets not be fooled friends, Romans 3 makes it clear that this wasn’t just the spiritual state of the people of God then – it is the state of every single person before God changes things. We are all stuck in our sin and disobedience. No one is righteous, no one understands salvation and no one even tries to seek God.
“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
6 Months later, there is a new revelation in the Christmas story that can bring us all hope. This time the angel Gabriel reveals God’s plan to meet our desperate need. Jesus Christ, “the Son of the Most High”, will come to win His people back by forgiving their sins and giving them eternal life. He will do this coming to Earth, living among the creation that He Himself created and showing love to the most unlovable. Notice that in Gabriel’s description of Jesus, there is a lot of intentional references to the Old Testament. “The throne of David”, “the house of Jacob” and even the concept of “His Kingdom” are all references to the OT, revealing that this was the plan all along. God’s mission was always leading to the time when He would put on flesh. The Old Testament promises were yearning for the coming of Jesus for its fulfillment. God Himself would meet the most desperate need of all humankind.
In the first moment from today’s passage, God reveals our desperate need for a saviour. In the second passage, God reveals His plan to be the saviour that we so desperately need. This is the Christmas story. This is what we miss if we are not careful with our holidays.
At the end of verse 17, John the Baptist is given a mission to make people prepared. So are you prepared for the Christmas story of the Gospel? Are you ready for God’s amazing plan to meet your most desperate need? John Piper writes “Don’t let Christmas find you unprepared. I mean spiritually unprepared. Its joy and impact will be so much greater if you are ready.” So don’t get lost over Christmas. Don’t be so distracted by a world that always promises what it never delivers. Remember why Jesus came to Earth. Remember that He came for you. Remember that He came to fulfill our desperate need for a saviour.