Six days after Peter’s revelation about WHO Jesus was and Jesus’ announcement about WHAT He had come to the earth to do, Jesus went up a mountain and took with Him just three; Peter, James and John.
Let’s pause for a moment to consider the different layers of relationship around Jesus; because the layers we see around Jesus are the same layers we see in our lives and church.
Proxemics is the study of the different concentric layers of relationship that we all have and which exist in any group of people.
Looking at those around Jesus I see the four layers of relationship described in proxemic theory as ‘spaces’;
- Public Space: (Crowds) Jesus often had a crowd with Him comprised of both expectantly inquisitive people & those in opposition to Jesus. These people knew of Jesus, were intrigued by Jesus, or they opposed Jesus. But, these people hadn’t yet committed their lives to Jesus in faith.
- Social Space:(Church) By the time Jesus ascends to heaven, there is a defined group, a community of faith of about 120 people in the upper room (Acts 1:15). Their faith in Jesus had established new secondary relationships with one another – this is the embryonic pre-Pentecost church, a community of faith in Jesus.
- Personal Space: (Community Group) Within that community of faith, Jesus had 12 who were with Him on a deeper level – the disciples. He had chosen them (Mark 2:13-20). So within the followers of Jesus, there was this small group, a subset of the whole community of faith. Jesus wanted these 12 to be in a special and close relationship with Him so that He could share his life and teachings more deeply. They lived with Jesus 24/7; they walked with Him daily; they shared meals & experiences – they shared life on a deeper level. Their relationship to Him brought them also into a deeper relationship as a small group of followers centred around Jesus.
- Intimate Space: (Trios) Four times in Mark’s Gospel Peter, James & John are found to be with Jesus in a setting the wider group didn’t share in;
- Peter along with James and John are the only ones to witnesses Jesus raise Jarius’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37)
- Peter ends up having the revelation of Jesus’ as the Messiah (Mark 8:29)
- Peter witnesses the Transfiguration with James and John (Mark 9:2-13)
- And Peter stands up on the Day of Pentecost to preach at what was the genesis moment of the church (Acts 2:14).
- James was one of that first group of disciples and part of Jesus’ inner circle. James was martyred for His faith by Herod (Acts 12:2)
- John also part of that inner-circle in his own Gospel describes himself as one that Jesus loved four times (John 13:23, John 19:26, John 20:2, John 21:20)
- John seemed to be the leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:6 & Galatians 2:9) before moving to Ephesus and becoming the last of the 12 apostles still to be alive in the late first century.
In our passage today, we see how this inner-circle in Jesus’ ‘intimate space’ got to see more of Jesus than anyone else. Jesus was transfigured before their eyes, and He begins to glow with a radiance reminiscent of Moses’ face, which shone after encountering God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:29-30).
Jesus unapologetically interacted with the people in these four spaces differently. Jesus revealed more of Himself, explained more to his twelve than the wider group and then even shared even more to his tighter group of three.
Jesus responds to our willingness.
Jesus responds to willingness. Peter is an example of someone who just always seems willing. He always seems to be asking questions, pressing in to know more, see more. I believe that Jesus was drawn to that willing eagerness and responded to it and showed Peter more as a result.
Likewise, John had a special relationship with Jesus. Was it that he listened more than the others, made sure he was close by to Jesus? Jesus seems to have responded to John attentiveness, and so John writes of himself that he was a favourite of Jesus’ (see texts above). John testified about Jesus’ existence in his epistle from those personal experiences with Jesus;
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)
Jesus had these four layers of relationship/spaces with those around Him, and the closer people were to Jesus, the more intentional or willing they were to spend time with Jesus, the more He revealed Himself to them and the more they, in turn, did for Him with their lives!
So what does this have to do with us and our followership of Jesus?
- God wants to move all people from the CROWD to the COMMUNITY:
This is the mission of the church and of every follower of Christ, to share the good news about Jesus with everyone we know so that they can move from spectators to believers and followers. [Who is there in your life who might be interested in Jesus as a man but is yet to believe in Him as God? Pray for them now, and keep asking God the Holy Spirit to give you opportunities to point them to life-giving faith and relationship with Jesus.]
- The Gospel always creates a COMMUNITY of faith, the church:
Our journey’s of faith lead us into a community; God’s family brought into relationship with one another through our common relationship to Jesus. A diverse new people who once had not been a people at all, but now through God’s choosing are the people of God (1 Peter 2:9-10). I love how those thousands who were saved on the day of Pentecost were saved and added (Acts 2:41), they became a community of faith that was not just devoted to Jesus but to one another sharing life and their possessions (Acts 2:42-47)! We were not made for walking alone. There is no such thing as biblical Christianity without commitment to a local church.
“There is no way you will be able to grow spiritually apart from a deep involvement in a community of other believers. You can’t live the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place.” – Keller
“Personalities united can contain more of God and sustain the force of his greater presence better than scattered individuals.” – Dallas Willard
“You must be deeply involved in the church, in Christian community, with strong relationships of love and accountability. Only if you are part of a community of believers seeking to resemble, serve and love Jesus will you ever get to know Him and grow into His likeness.” – Keller
- Healthy Church communities will have three of the different ‘spaces’ Jesus had around Him within each congregation:
Each of the three spaces within a church community plays a different role in the life of any Christ-follower.
- The whole church gathered (social space) for worship, sacraments, prayer & preaching has a significant role in catalysing faith, community and corporate vision.
- Small groups of 6-20 (personal space) gathered around God’s word, prayer, care, fellowship and for mission ensures that everyone in the church is caught up in life-giving relationships that spur them on in their faith and give them contexts in which to serve and bless others too.
- And finally, even smaller groups of 2-4 Christ-followers meeting (intimate space ‘TRIOs’ in RRC) allows for greater intimacy and intentionality. Peter, James & John’s experience with Jesus should provoke us to want what they had!
The pattern I see in the Gospels is like one big parable. The parables Jesus told, bemused the crowds but to those who pressed in with faith and intentionality – Jesus revealed more!
Those who intentionally pressed in became a community of faith (the church). Yet, there were those who pressed in, even more, and Jesus formed them into a small group to whom He revealed even more.
And then there was Jesus’ inner-circle, the TRIO of Peter, James & John to whom Jesus revealed the most. They experienced more of Jesus than anyone else, and correspondingly also accomplished amazing things for Jesus.
This is like a parable to you and I. Jesus doesn’t want anyone to stay just in the CROWD. But instead to be added to the COMMUNITY (the church).
More than that, I believe Jesus doesn’t want anyone to stop there with some connection to the COMMUNITY.
Instead, Jesus wants us to join ourselves to a SMALL GROUP (Community Group in RRC) so that we can grow close to some fellow Christ-followers whose relationships with one another are all centred around Jesus Christ.
And for those who truly wish to grow in God, to press in even further adding themselves to an even smaller group – a TRIO. Two to four same-sex Christ-followers who have committed themselves to an intentional spiritual friendship focussed on helping one another to follow Christ and His mission for their lives and the church.
Oh, that more people would want to move from merely being in the CROWD of admirers around Jesus to the COMMUNITY. And that they wouldn’t be satisfied to belong just to the wider church community but that they would press in towards greater connection in the personal and intimate spaces, and as a result would encounter more of Jesus and accomplish more for Jesus!
How are you responding to the parable of the spaces?
Jesus’ parables bemused and offended some and drew others in. And those who pressed in more got more, got closer had more revealed to them and as a result did more for God with their lives.
We live in a self-saturated age. This whole blog has been about relationships, a community of faith that all flows from the Gospel. This global pandemic, when we are restricted from meetings, can be a healthy moment for self-reflection.
How am I responding? Have I believed the lie that my relationship with Jesus is just a personal thing when in Scripture, that is never the case?
The Gospel creates community, and those who press in more to Jesus and to the community get more & do more for God.
So I challenge you. If you are a Christ-follower, don’t be satisfied to be part of the CROWD of onlookers, or even just being an isolated attendee in the COMMUNITY of the church.
Press in, join a small group and pray for an intimate band of friends (TRIO) who like Peter, James and John end up seeing more and doing more than they could ever have imagined! You will never regret that decision. Amen.
Jesus’ parables are mysterious, ambiguous, surprising, and sometimes they raise more questions than answers.
We know from Mark’s gospel that Jesus spoke in parables all the time to the gathered crowd but then explained everything to his inner circle of disciples (Mark 4:33-34).
Once again, in Mark 4:23-25, Jesus implores the people listening to Him to listen well, to press in and to enquire about what He is teaching them.
Jesus is encouraging intentionality, persistence & eagerness in His hearers encouraging them, that the revelation and understanding they will receive is directly proportional to the degree to which they enquire.
If they listen much, listen well, they will receive much, perceive well! Listening intently and persistently is like an investment that guarantees a return in equal proportion to the amount invested.
So many of us live in a world of ease. Our food comes from the supermarket; it is generally not the result of careful preparing of soil, sowing, watering, weeding, harvesting, but rather a simple transaction involving money.
But for a subsistence farmer, Jesus’ words ring true. There is a straightforward relationship between the degree or measure of effort and intentionality invested by the farmer and the result, the joy and fulfilment and nourishment enjoyed as a result.
This is what Jesus is urging those who are around Him listening. God’s kingdom is like this. As a pastor, I meet people who sometimes lament that they don’t know their Bibles as much as Mr X or Mrs Y. They wish for a deeper love for God, a more robust faith, a life-giving prayer life or heart of worship. But so often they are looking for a ‘spiritual supermarket’ where they can transact for it, go and get it.
But Jesus tells us here that His kingdom, growing in revelation, growing in love for God and relationship with God is not a transaction, there is no ‘spiritual supermarket’ but rather the measure you press into God will be the measure you grow in God.
This is not an earth-shattering revelation, it isn’t complicated, but it is profoundly true.
Those who pay close attention to God’s teachings, to His Word (the Bible), those who invest the time to listen to His voice in daily life – they will receive much from God in terms insight and wisdom into the things of God. That is the person who will grow in God and have a life-giving relationship with God, who will know the joy of faith that is robust and prayer that is vital and powerful.
Brothers and sisters, the measure with which we press into Him is the measure by which we will receive from Him.
This is such an encouragement to keep reading our bibles, to keep going to our Father in prayer, to keep meeting for church on Sunday’s and in small groups, to sit under God’s Word together…
I have found this to be true in my life – the more I diligently seek God, seek to know His ways and His will, the more I come alive spiritually. And as a pastor for many years, I have also found this to be true in others over and over again.
Who wouldn’t want a vibrant spiritual life full of spiritual fruit and abundance, joy, peace, hope and fruitfulness?
Everyone wants that surely. Jesus is telling us, press in, keep investing in your relationship with me, the rewards will never disappoint you.
In closing, the incredible encouragement is that Jesus explained everything to His disciples, His inner circle. Many left after these teachings bemused, but His disciples had personal extra-lessons with fuller explanations and Q&A! Brother or sister, if you have believed in Jesus you have Jesus with you always by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit – you are in the inner-circle as it were, you are part of the group Jesus will explain everything to! So be encouraged and keep pressing into Jesus by devoting yourself to His Word and to prayer and fellowship with the saints. Amen.
Imagine the scene, Jesus has told a man He never met; ‘your sins are forgiven’! No one spoke like that; the scribes from the Synagogue are fuming – after all, only God can forgive sins. Outrageously, Jesus then says to them and the whole crowd that is listening and watching on;
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
In these early moments of His ministry captured in just the first two chapters of Mark, Jesus is revealing His authority over all created things. His redeeming power and love to overturn the effects of the curse of sin on people by granting people freedom from oppression and remarkable displays of healing from physical suffering with just His words. Jesus teaches with authority like none other, grants people forgiveness of sins, is feared by the demonic realm and rules over sickness and disease.
In the small fishing town of Capernaum, it is hard to think of anyone who hadn’t heard about Jesus and what He was saying and doing yet. Much like today’s opinions about Jesus, the opinions must have ranged from thinking;
- Jesus was a delusional madman with a blasphemous illusion of divinity,
- Or that Jesus a conman trying to trick people
- While others must have remembered what John the Baptist had been saying about Jesus, and what had happened when the heavens opened when Jesus was baptised, and a voice was heard; “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) wondering is this truly the Messiah?
What was universal was astonishment. Astonishment at the things Jesus was doing and saying and so a crowd followed Jesus like moths drawn to a light. Jesus walks away from the scene of the healed paralytic man and goes down to the sea of Galilee, maybe because it’s calm and peaceful there.
As he walks to the sea, Jesus passes the booth of the tax collector, Levi. This is a man who would have been despised by his community since he is a Jewish man working for the Roman state, enforcing its taxes and using the position to personally profit as well. This is a man that has made a choice that has benefitted him financially but has left him ostracised, separated out from his community as an outcast.
Jesus passes this despised and probably ruthless man who probably keeps thugs as friends to impose his authority, and Jesus does something unpredictable to the crowd of onlookers. The crowd knows that Jesus has an inner-circle of followers (disciples), but they can’t predict what’s about to happen.
Jesus calls out to Levi and invites him to follow Him just like He did to Simon, Andrew, James and John! The crowd is as stunned and perplexed as Levi. Levi is such an unlikely candidate for Jesus to invite into His inner circle of disciples.
In the first chapters of Mark’s gospel, we have witnessed Jesus’ authority, supernatural power and magnetism, but here we encounter Jesus’ grace and mission. Levi is not deserving of love and acceptance according to the crowd. Levi hasn’t seemingly even been with the crowds drawn by Jesus; he is still at his post collecting taxes. And yet Jesus graciously invites him to join Jesus’ inner-circle with the same life-transforming words; “follow me” (Mark 2:14).
Sidebar thought: I am fascinated by Jesus’ choice of who was going to become His 12 disciples. So far we have four fishermen, and the man who’s tax booth by the sea probably meant that he had been the one taxing them and their fishing businesses! The taxed working class and the tax collector on the same team – remarkable diversity unified in Jesus. Those gathered to Jesus have always been diverse people who would not have associated if it were not for Jesus who transforms them into beloved brothers. What hope we have for our divided world struggling with racism! Jesus is the only One who can bring true unity out of diversity.
Amazingly, Jesus’ gracious invitation sees Levi (Matthew) immediately dropping everything as Levi rises and follows Jesus (Mark 2:14). As Levi gets up to follow Jesus he is leaving all he has known, leaving his income generation behind, Levi doesn’t even know where he is going, and surely doesn’t know what will happen next.
As they walk and talk Jesus surprisingly leads Levi to his very own home. When Jesus invited Levi to follow Him, I doubt Levi thought they would be going to his house. I wonder why Jesus takes Levi from his place of work, his place of oppression of people and corruption and takes him to his home?
Was Levi’s house bought or built with the proceeds of corruption? Was Jesus confronting Levi with his sin and compromise and yet graciously loving and accepting him despite it? We don’t know, but what we do know is that Levi throws a great party (Luke 5:29) for his friends who were ‘tax collectors and sinners’ (Mark 2:15). Jesus is unlike any other religious leader, and the church is to be like Him.
Jesus loved to socialise with people who were ostracised by society; Jesus is drawn to them. And in this account Jesus tells us why that is so;
16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus announces His mission here in Mark’s Gospel, His purpose. Jesus came for messed up people, for those who acknowledge they are wrong, that they have an incurable problem. Jesus didn’t come for pious religiously proud people who think they are ok!
As we survey the Gospels, we see that Jesus was almost magnetically drawn to people like Levi, broken, sinful people, and they were drawn to Jesus too. It is remarkable that broken messed up people weren’t reticent to come to Jesus despite His teaching with authority with a challenging message that was calling people to acknowledge and to turn from their sins and to believe in Him; “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15)
These people knew that Jesus would accept them and love them, despite His uncompromising message. Jesus was a compassionate truth-teller. True love doesn’t skimp on truth. May we Jesus’ followers, may we the church be more and more like Jesus was. May we be accused of being friends of sinners, may broken people feel magnetically drawn to us not judged by us. May we also be compassionate truth-tellers for that is true love. May we love people in such a remarkable way that even though we don’t join them in compromise or sinful actions may those around us experience Jesus’ love for them so that God can do something radical in their lives because of our close proximity to them.
Thank you, Jesus, that You came for those who know they don’t have it all together, thank you, Jesus, that you came for people like me! People who are broken, people who have made mistakes, and people who still make mistakes and still disappoint themselves and others, people who’ve got a shameful and chequered past like Levi. But thank you, Jesus, that Levi’s story is our story, and that just like you called him to follow You, so too You are calling me to do the same and just like You helped Levi to reach his broken friends I pray that You Jesus would help all of us to reach ours too. That we would become more and more like You, ridiculously compassionate truth-tellers. Amen
Authority, who has it and how they use it is a massive topical issue right now.
In the USA, we have sadly witnessed the murder of George Floyd by a man supposedly in authority. In shocking moments like this, countries look to people in all the various realms of authority (politics, community, business, churches…) to say something or do something. In addition, we have witnessed that if a country or community believe those in authority have misused their authority – they are prone to rebel against all authority.
In our own South Africa, late yesterday, we heard that the judicial authority in our country had declared our Government’s authority in promulgating Level 3-4 regulations unconstitutional as the Bill of Human Rights has been compromised. Here we have Government trying to use its authority for the good of our nation, but citizens appealing to the judicial authority to resist or reform the Governing authority.
Authority! It’s a big issue and always has been. In Mark 1:21-34, we see real authority on display, good authority being exercised, the authority that blesses individuals and a community.
Jesus walks into ‘church’ (a meeting in the Synagogue actually) and stands up to teach the congregation who are present. Those who teach from the Scriptures have some authority as they help people to understand and apply the authority of God’s word for their lives.
But when Jesus starts preaching, which is something very normative in this context, all those present that day are astonished. There is something very different about this teacher; Jesus is unlike those they are used to hearing. Their position or role, their activity is the same as Jesus’, but He is preaching ‘with authority.’ (vs22)
I’m so glad this wasn’t my church. The contrast drawn by the congregation that day was between Jesus and their normal teachers – gulp. And, the contrast was notable as Mark’s Gospel records; ‘And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes’ (vs22)
Good authority used well isn’t repulsive to human beings, quite the contrary. These people were drawn to Jesus’ authority even though the things He was saying weren’t all affirming and cushy! Remember what Jesus was preaching; “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'” (Mark 1:14-15)
Jesus wasn’t a people-pleaser saying what people wanted to be said, that’s not what drew people to Him. Real authority often has to make decisions or lead in ways which are for the good of those they are leading but won’t always be liked.
When we encounter good authority, I believe that we are drawn to it, and it brings us peace and security. These people willingly gave themselves to Jesus’ authentic authority and therefore listened to His teaching.
In a church context, church leaders (elders) have authority;
- If they have been called & gifted by God to lead.
- And if that local congregation have recognised that calling and gifting as God’s gift to that local church and their personal lives
- If they teach and always lead from the fountain of authority that is everlasting – Scripture
- And if those elders use the authority that God’s entrusted to them for the benefit and blessing of God’s people and not for any personal gain
Pray for your church, pray that God would bless your church with leaders who are truly called not just placed in their position by some organisation, but hand-picked by God and called by God to lead and to teach and to love and care for your church. Pray that they would not say what itching ears want to hear, but that they would stand on the authority of God’s Word, always faithful to the Scriptures and in so doing will protect and bless that church for generations to come.
Lastly, a short exhortation from Scripture to anyone who is in a church; “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
The demonic realm and demonic influence
Those present on that day didn’t just hear a great sermon which came with authority because it was rooted in Scripture; they witnessed power over the demonic realm.
I have always been fascinated by this guy sitting in ‘church’ with a demon influencing his life. He was sitting there not entirely free but in some form of demonic influence or bondage. How did this demonic influence manifest itself in his life? Was it a perpetual fear or a constant struggle with depression… What we know is that it doesn’t seem to have been too obvious otherwise he probably wouldn’t have been welcome in the meeting.
But on this day when Jesus, the King of kings, walks into the room immediately that under-the-radar-demonic-influence in his life suddenly surfaces! The guy who’s probably never said a word in ‘church’ (Synagogue actually) suddenly shouts out; “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”
Yikes! I have had a few moments like this in church when someone blurts something out that is socially not cool in what suddenly becomes a very public and awkward moment. I wonder whether this guy was the most surprised of everyone!
Authority. The demon or demons influencing this guys life know who Jesus is, and they know that Jesus has real authority. The people listening to Jesus’ teaching have just encountered His authority in His bold proclamation, but the demon(s) knew Jesus and knew his power.
We know this because of what they say to Jesus. They know who Jesus is, they know where He came from, they; know Jesus has the power to destroy them; they know that this man standing teaching these people is GOD! They know that He is the King of kings with absolute and total authority over them.
And so Jesus uses His authority to bless this man under the influence of the demonic realm and sets him free with just these words; “Be silent, and come out of him!” (vs25) Real authority doesn’t have to shout.
I love the fact that there is no show-down here, no titanic battle. Jesus’ authority so far outstrips any power of the demonic realm that they have to obey and leave the man alone – free at last.
There is so much we could say about the demonic realm and Jesus’ authority which He has now invested in us His followers to relieve people from demonic influence but time & space doesn’t permit.
However, in summary, may we see how much authority we have in Jesus’ name to set people free from all forms of demonic bondage and influence (John 14:12-14). May we not be blind to the demonic realm, and may we not be fixated on it either. May we simply be in awe of Jesus and ready to proclaim Jesus’ authority in lives and situations that need it for people to be free indeed.
Lastly, in Mark 1:29-34, we see Jesus’ authority over sickness as He heals Peter’s mother in law and then many in the town of Capernaum.
News of Jesus’ teaching with authority and Jesus’ act of supernaturally and simply setting the man free from all demonic influence spread like wildfire so that by the time evening came ‘the whole city was gathered together at the door’ (vs33)!
What drew them? Fascination no doubt, but I believe that for the sick and struggling and those suffering under the various physical and psychological maladies resulting from demonic influence what really drew them to Jesus was hope. Hope that was awakened because Godly authority was present. They had hope that they could be freed from their sickness and bondages.
Mark’s Gospel records what must have been amazing scenes. Just imagine the whole city outside a house, a gathering of onlookers and those suffering greatly. Picture Jesus, coming out the house, and speaking to people one by one simply with no histrionics but with his real authority as King of kings being displayed for all to see. Picture the tears and exclamations of joy as MANY are set free from their pain and sorrow and oppression.
What a joyful time it must have been! This is a moment when we see the coming Kingdom breaking into the present. This is what we ought to pray for an expect every day, people being released from pain and suffering in the authority of Jesus name. Amen
National Lockdowns and social distancing restrictions stopping churches from gathering for Sunday worship celebrations have the potential to expose & bring adjustment to some unbiblical patterns that have crept into the church of Jesus. Our passage for today says;
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:16-17)
1. Corporate not Individual Faith
In our individualistic age, we need first to remember that these words were not written to individuals. “We are writing to God’s holy people in the city of Colosse, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.” (Colossians 1:2 in NLT) Why is this important?
We live in a self-obsessed age. The ‘god’ of our age in the Western world at least – is SELF. Sadly, as believers in Jesus, we are not immune to the influence of our age.
It is all too common to have individuals or families opting out of regular church gatherings be those physical or virtual due to lockdowns on a Sun or mid-week or for small group times of worship/prayer/God’s word/community/care.
They do so, rationalising their choice to themselves or others even though they are in flagrant disregard to the command of Scripture not to stop meeting together as the church (Hebrews 10:25).
The problem is that the decision making GRID they are using is too individualistic and is not Biblical – ‘This doesn’t suit me, I don’t have time, I don’t need this…service/prayer meeting or small group.’
But what is entirely missing is the biblical emphasis we see in our passage today – the very corporate nature of our faith! Biblically, we are a family, a body of believers. We are not individuals doing what serves us and suits us. We are to be those who think of others and their needs as more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4).
In Colossians 2:19 & 3:12-17, we see radiating out of Paul’s letter his understanding of the church as a body. The church as a community of faith formed by the Gospel and deeply interconnected.
- How are you engaging with your local church?
- Are you acting like an individualistic, selfish consumer connected to your church in whatever ways you decide while it still serves your needs expectations and desires?
- Or are you truly there for the whole body, playing your unique part, totally committed for the sake of the whole body?
- I urge you even in these unique times of social distancing, to repent of self-centred thinking and to ask God to help you to make your unique contribution for the sake of those other people God’s put you into contact with through your local church community.
- Get into a Community Group and show up each week when it meets, spend yourself for others and watch what God will do in and through you!
- Show up for church mtgs, prayer times etc. and reach out to others daily.
2. Saturated with God’s Word (vs16)
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (vs16)
The Apostle Paul’s desire for this church in Colossae (and for all church communities) is that it be one that is saturated with the Word of God!
As believers; we have an innate sense that reading the Bible would be good for us and would help us to grow spiritually. And although we might know that Colossians 3:16 urges us to let God’s Word dwell in us abundantly richly – the dangerous modern pattern is that we simply do not read the Bible enough!
Here are some thought-provoking statistics from LifeWay Research (@https://lifewayresearch.com):
- 88% of Americans own a Bible, and 80% consider the Bible to be a sacred book, yet only 20% of Americans read the Bible regularly.
- However, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible
- Less than a quarter of those who have ever read a Bible have a systematic plan for reading the Christian scriptures each day, and a third of Americans never pick it up on their own.
- 57% read the Bible 4 times a year or less!
We are increasingly in a pattern in the Western church at large of wanting to be spoon-fed Scripture once a week by our pastor through the preaching.
If God’s Word were equated to the physical food necessary for nourishment for health and growth – many believers would be on a habitual hunger strike! We would be we emaciated and weak due to our eating only once a week (assuming you come to church every week & that the sermons and worship are Scripture saturated, which is a big assumption)! Is it any surprise therefore that the Western church’s spirituality is so emaciated, weak & riddled with compromise?
I unashamedly want to inspire you to hit the reset button in your life and to inspire others around you in your church to do the same. Decide today to commit yourself to a personal habit, a personal devotion of reading, believing and applying God’s Word to your life and watch what God will do in you!
“When it comes to spiritual growth, nothing beats the Bible… Scripture reflection more than any other practice moves people forward in their love for God and love for others.” – Parkinson & Hawkins
Reflection on Scripture is the most potent spiritual practise you could give yourself to. Let the word of God dwell in you and in your church richly, abundantly, deeply. Make Scripture not just your daily pattern but make it central to your thought processes, decision making, your conversations with others.
Eugene Petersen said of Bible reading that we should “read the Bible with our ears!”. By this, he meant that we need to read listening to the One who authored it – God Himself. The Bible is no ordinary book, so why not try reading, asking the following three questions as you read:
- What have I LEARNT about God/faith?
- What is God SAYING to me?
- What am I going to DO now?
3. #Everyonehasacontributiontomake! (vs16)
As a church, when we all saturate our individual lives with God’s Word, things begin to change as a result in our community of faith.
- We all begin to teach and correct and counsel one another with all spiritual wisdom rooted in Scripture not the ideas of the world we live in or our opinions.
- We also lose our over-reliance on leadership to teach us once a week through the sermon, rather we start teaching one another from the treasures stored up in our hearts from our own Bible reading.
After all, God promised that we would all know Him (Jeremiah 31:33-34), that we would all be filled with the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29) and Jesus said; ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me’ (John 10:27).
- And lastly from our passage, we all begin to overflow with lives of worship and thanksgiving and praise to God. We won’t have an over-reliance on the worship band to gather us to worship, we will initiate worship in whatever context we find ourselves in, we will break out in hymns and spiritual songs filled with thankfulness to God because we are overflowing with these things because we have filled our own life-tanks and so aren’t relying on someone else to fill us, but we bring our plenty and splash it on everyone we engage with.
Colossians 3:16-17 teaches us that in a biblical church, everyone has a contribution to make! So, let’s all decide today to get into our Bible’s, to fill up our spiritual tank so that we have an overabundant supply to splash on to others in our church.
What a compelling, inspirational picture of what is possible in your church and in your personal life, if only you and I will allow these lockdown moments to jolt us into a personal and church-wide RESET! Let’s respond to God’s Word to us today and see all that God will do as a result.
Paul has been writing and exhorting the believers with many instructions to do & not do (see Colossians 1:1-13). But all get brought together by one exhortation – to love!
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:14 in NIV)
This makes me think of a piece of power cord transmitting power from some power generation plant thousands of kilometres away to my laptop via a wall plug and this power cord – allowing me to write to you.
That short power cord is made of multiple thin strands of copper wire that on their own would be of no use to me. Because on their own, none of them would be sufficient to transmit the electrical power current needed to run this laptop. More than that, if they were on their own trying to transmit electrical power, they would be more unsafe than helpful putting my household at risk of electrocution and or fire.
But when bound tightly together and ensheathed in a protective outer layer of insulating plastic, they are not only able to transmit the power needed but also are enabled to do so safely!
Similarly, Paul seems to be saying that in all these diverse exhortations he is making for godly living (Colossians 3:1-14), there is one exhortation (to be loving towards one another) that binds them all together.
And that one exhortation (to be loving towards one another) makes all the other exhortations work together, enabling them to transmit something greater and to do so safely!
‘Single issue Christians’ are like exposed copper wires in a power cord without the necessary insulating covering. Have you ever met one of these people? They are fixated on one issue or command or instruction in Scripture and seem almost always to be lacking the protective binding of love for other people!
Take, for example, the very clear command in this passage for believers in Jesus to ‘put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality’ (Colossians 3:5). This is like one copper strand of the power cord of this whole passage.
Now a single issue Christian would be 100% right that God’s will is abundantly clear all through Scripture that sexual sin is serious and that it is ungodly and unbefitting for God’s children to engage in ANY sexually immoral behaviour. That strand on its own can transmit the full force and power of that command.
What the Bible teaches in terms of sexuality is not hard to understand – i.e. no sex before or beyond sex with the man or woman you are married to as a believer. Despite the fact that modern sensibilities have changed, God’s commands have not changed one iota and God’s commands need no updating and never will!
Therefore someone who makes much of this one strand of teaching is 100% right, but as Dallas Willard famously said; “It is possible to be right and to be unlike Christ” This single strand of teaching on its own can hurt and damage people if not encased in God’s love!
In this fallen world, living amongst people who are messed up and have messed up and are still messing up, this Scriptural exhortation ought not to be watered down even 0.5%. It is still relevant and still needs to be applied to peoples lives, however, it ought to be done so with the insulating protective cover of God’s love.
So the command of God to remain sexually pure, exclusively faithful to and having sex only with your spouse, and waiting until they are your spouse before you do so – is still to be taught and obeyed.
But it is done best when this teaching is intertwined with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness and then encased in God’s incredible love. When that command is in that biblical power cord, the full power of the command can be at work without fear of fire or electrocution – harm being caused to anyone.
Don’t for a minute think I’m advocating some lax sexual ethic! After all, it is not loving to affirm someone in their lifestyle or behaviour when you know that their actions are in direct defiance of our Holy God and Father.
Many times in life, the most loving action is to stand up to someone, to risk offence and to tell them the truth but to so with all the imperatives in Colossians 3:12-17 tightly bound together and all of them encased, bound together in the insulating protective cover of love.
Brothers and sisters let us love one another not with the weak soppy ungodly modern idea that love = affirmation but with the transforming power of God’s word & God’s love.
- Who do you know you might need to challenge about one of the lifestyle sins described in this passage (or elsewhere in Scripture)?
- Pray now and ask God to tightly wrap all the head/heart/attitude directing imperatives around the strand of rebuke you know is needed from Scripture
- Then pray that God would encase everything in God’s love before you speak or act.
It’s incredible how quickly fake news spreads! There have been countless e-mails and what’s app messages going around at this time of the COVID-19 pandemic that causes people to panic, only to discover later it was fake news. The other thing that amazes me is that we so often believe the stuff we read because it was published or on the internet. Not everything we read is going to be helpful or even accurate.
Paul is instructing the Colossians not to believe everything they hear. He urges them not to be captured by the world’s way of thinking.
Colossians 2:8 (NLT) Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.
What is shaping your thinking? Whatever you’re spending time reading and filling your mind with is going to shape the way you see the world, yourself and even God. So much of what we read sounds really good, clever and wise. It also sounds biblical. But how would we know if it really is? There’s only one way. Read the Bible for yourself. That can be a daunting task because we always come across passages that confuse us, but that is the reason we need to be in a Christian community. We grow as we talk to other Christians about what we’ve read and we learn from each other. We also have the Holy Spirit within us, teaching us and revealing himself to us as we open our hearts to him.
Why would we listen, believe and allow our hearts and minds to be shaped by the world when Jesus is offering us the life-giving truth? As Christians, our sinful natures have been buried with Christ, and we are new creations in him. God’s power that raised Jesus from the dead is dwelling in us; now that’s the kind of truth that should be in our thinking.
I would encourage you to be critical of your view and thinking on various topics. Has Jesus shaped it, or are you thinking in a way that has been shaped by the world? Consider how you view God. Are you seeing him as the God who your Bible describes or have you got an image of him that is contrary to what you’ll read in scripture?
The answer is to read your Bible and discover all the wonders and beauties of our amazing Saviour, Jesus Christ. Ask him to reveal himself to you and prepare to be overwhelmed by someone who loves you more than you know.
[In the month of April our church’s (Reconciliation Road Church) ‘s Bible Reading Plan we will be reading through the books of Philemon and Colossians. If you want to track with us you can download the BRP by following this link – RRC BRP for April]
Philemon is a very personal letter written by the Apostle Paul to someone called Philemon. Remarkably, the letter was read out to not just Philemon but also to the whole church that met in his house in Colossae!
In the next few days, we will uncover the vital issue the letter dealt with that needed to be challenged.
Today, however, we will concern ourselves with what can be gleaned from the introduction regarding a question that is so pertinent South African Christ-followers at present – what is a church?
We are on day 6 of a national lockdown (due to the COVID-19 pandemic). All public meetings have been banned, including church gatherings!
A unique situation indeed, one that strikes at the very core of what the church is. So in this unique time, it is worth considering what the church is?
Now, Philemon is not a treatise defining & describing the church – however, tucked away here in its introductory verses, are three answers to the question – ‘What is the church?’
What is the Church?
1. A Gathering/Community of Saints (vs1-2, 5&7)
The church is more than, but it can never be less than the gathering of those who have been rescued & redeemed by Jesus.
The church is a gathering, an assembly of believers in Jesus. People who have no righteousness of their own but through their common faith in Jesus are rightly referred to as ‘saints’ in Christ Jesus (vs5&7).
Meeting together as Christ-followers is integral to the church; it isn’t an optional extra that can be easily replaced by some online experience.
There are times when the church is scattered, but it is defined by its gathering together.
In our world so increasingly filled with isolated individuals, the church stands out as a community that gathers together physically in regular rhythms of meeting for worship, prayer, God’s word & fellowship – and those meetings shape and define us.
In this unique time, when we can’t meet physically all together as a church – we ought to feel like something is wrong. The present situation should rub us the wrong way; it should leave us feeling like something is not quite right. It should make us long for the day we can physically gather together in one place all together again – and not just in our homes tenuously connected by some online experience.
And yet from vs2 we can also be encouraged in this time of being apart, that there was a church that met in the house of Philemon!
So, may we remember at this unique time that Jesus promised that He would presence Himself anywhere where two or three people gathered together in His name are (Matthew 18:20).
And, so as you gather as the scattered church know this – Jesus is amongst you as you gather to worship, pray and listen to His word. So meet as the scattered church with faith and expectation for the presence of Jesus amongst you in your homes!
2. A Community of Faith, Love & Mission (vs5-6)
This church Paul wrote to, was known to him – it was a community and a family of faith. Philemon’s family are greeted in the letter, Apphia his wife & Archippus his son.
Paul knew the people in the church; he knew details about their lives. They were defined group whom this letter was addressed to(vs3), a community of faith working out their salvation and working out God’s purpose for their lives (vs6) alongside one another.
The Gospel always creates a community! Wherever the Gospel is preached and received a church, a community of faith is born. The Gospel had been preached in Colossae, and this community which had previously not existed was now a definable group.
In this church, there was faith and love (vs5). The church does not exist to meet our felt-needs. Rather, together, we as the church care for one another’s needs, loving each other as prompted by the Holy Spirit.
The church is not a building, a programme or a random group who all happen to Livestream at the same time!
The church is an identifiable community of people joined together by their common faith in Jesus, commitment to Jesus’ mission (vs6) and by their love, care and commitment to one another(vs5&7).
3. The church has defined leadership (vs2-7)
These people didn’t just meet in Philemon’s house; he led them. Philemon’s faith and love for Jesus overflowed into their lives so that they were encouraged and spurred on in their faith (vs5) and in sharing the Gospel (vs6). Leaders ought to inspire those they lead through their own devotion to Jesus, calling people to do what they are doing!
Philemon’s faith in Jesus and love for Jesus inspired the church he led (vs5) to follow. Similarly, at one point Paul as a leader wrote to the Corinthian church he helped lead, saying; “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
More than this, we read that their hearts were refreshed through his leadership (vs7). They were revived, encouraged, spurred on in their faith walk. Leaders have a crucial role in spurring on and encouraging believers in Jesus and urging them to urge one another as well!
In this time of church scattered, it is vital to remember the relationship God has established between a church and its leaders God has appointed.
It is not God’s will for people to float around leaderless, unaccountable and drinking from every stream of content. In God’s wisdom and love, God gives leaders, shepherds to His church for the good and the benefit of the church. Their role is to shepherd, guard, guide & govern the people God has entrusted to their care (1 Peter 5:1-5 & Hebrews 13:17).
At this time, may you know who it is you relate to as your leaders! God intends that you know your leaders and that they know who you are and that God has entrusted you into their care and that you are committed to them as your leaders.
In closing, these are not obviously all the answers to the question posed, however, they are some of what resides in today’s passage and are relevant to this present moment. God bless you and keep you!
When starting to read a new book, it is always helpful to contextualise what is being said. The second book of Timothy is written by Paul in a very challenging time. Paul is writing this book out of captivity, in a time where many other believers have distanced themselves from him because they are ashamed of being associated with a prisoner.
Paul thus starts of by affirming his own identity: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”. Paul makes a statement saying: I am not what others think of me, neither am I what I think of myself, but I am who Jesus says I am. This might sound arrogant, but it is not, it is beautiful.
Paul then proceeds to give us a beautiful picture of his relationship with Timothy and the relationship spiritual parents should have with their spiritual children:
- Timothy is deeply loved by Paul (even as much as a “beloved child”) (verse 2)
- Paul prays for Timothy (verse 3)
- Paul is thankful for Timothy in his life
- Paul sees his relationship as joyous, not a burden or something that steals his time (4)
- He affirms Timothy and the faith within him (verse 5)
What a beautiful picture of spiritual mentorship!
Now, back to what Paul actually wants to say to Timothy. I think verse 8 encapsulates what Paul is trying to say to Timothy here:
‘…do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord (the Gospel), nor of me his prisoner (associating with Christians), but share in the suffering for the gospel…”
Paul starts of the book of 2 Timothy focussing on the gospel of Christ, the core of the christian faith. Verse 8-10 is a beautiful rendition of the gospel and Paul uses this to remind Timothy what this is all about, what all the suffering is for.
He encourages Timothy to ‘fan into flame the gift of God’ given to him and to not be afraid to spread the gospel ‘for God gave us a Spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control”.
This challenges me, you see Paul was a well esteemed man, he was known throughout Israel, he was educated and revered, yet He was willing to lay his life down for the gospel of Christ.He is not writing in a time where everything is going his way. No, he is writing out of a prison in the middle of a trail. He has been stripped of everything he had and he chooses to preach the gospel in and out of season. (You see suffering is not void of Christ and the things of Christ)
2 Timothy 1: 11 & 12
“ I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed , for I KNOW whom I have believed”
Paul knew God, he had His desires and that is why he went. Just like Paul we have been appointed, let us flame into fire our gifts and not be afraid or ashamed of being associated with the Christ.
1. Do you believe what Christ says about you: that you are chosen and called, that your sins are forgiven and that you will be raised from the dead as Christ was raised from the dead to spread the good news?
2. Are you ashamed of God and His people?
3. Are you willing to sacrifice all you have so others might know God?
Christ gave it all for us and sacrificed Himself on a cross.
Romans 12:1 Therefore I exhort you, brothers, through the compassions of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy to God, well-pleasing, which is your reasonable service.
Before we jump into the end of this book, there are two small caveats about how this book has been split up/structured that might be helpful here as we continue reading:
- The bible is the perfect and authoritative Word of God, and yet the chapters and verses we use to structure it were added much later on. This means occasionally we get a chapter that starts in a strange way (for example, Acts 8, 1 Timothy 6 or Hebrews 12). When’s this happens, we should go back to the previous chapter to remind us of what the author is speaking about. In 1 Timothy 6, verses 1 and 2 seem to be the end of the discussion of chapter 5, and from verse 3 onwards we enter a new section.
- You might, just like me, read verses 1-2 and hit a big cultural mine (if you are unsure what I mean by this phrase, go back to our post on 1 Tim 2). These verses discuss slavery in a way that can lead to some confusion. I personally prefer the translations that use the word “bondservant” to “slave” because it is far more descriptive of the socio-cultural landscape in the 1st century. If you hit the cultural stumbling block, like me, you may find this article by Common Ground helpful to read. They are a partner church in the Advance network of churches, and it’s great to see these resources being produced! https://commonground.co.za/?resources=why-does-the-bible-condone-slavery
Now getting into the chapter!
1 Timothy contains a clear writing structure that was designed by Paul to communicate his central purposes. There are consistent themes that run throughout, moments of praise (doxology) that break up different sections, and two bookends at either side of this short letter. We can think of them as the two pillars at either end of a building that help to keep everything else standing. Without these pillars, there would be no context to Paul’s words. Everything would feel random and out of place, because we would miss the context in which Paul is writing to Timothy.
The pillars are the sections where Paul directly confronts the bad leadership in the Ephesian church. In both chapters 1 and 6, Paul charges Timothy to confront bad leadership and to model godly leadership. Today, we look at how Paul characterises bad leadership; and tomorrow we get to see how he encourages Timothy towards good leadership.
This has been a repeated theme throughout the book, the essential combination of leadership and holiness, and Paul highlights it here by examining both good and bad leadership. Lets look at some of the marks of bad leadership that Paul provided us with:
- Bad leadership rejects the person and teachings of Jesus (v3)
- It grows from greed and a self-centeredness in the heart (v4)
- It leads to irrational and sinful thinking (v5)
- It is motivated by a desire for worldly gain of some kind (5)
- It will result in the destruction of themselves and others (v9)
It seems relatively clear here that Paul sees all of the physical acts of these false leaders, and yet he shoots straight for the heart. In leadership, never satisfy yourself with the surface level symptoms. Gods Word always cuts to the heart (Acts 2:37) and transforms our deep roots. The root sin here is exposed in verse 10 as an unhealthy love of money. And this love of money brings “all kinds of evil”.
Look how dangerous sinful leadership is. It’s no surprise Paul isn’t pulling his punches here. Chapter 6 sounds similar to chapter one, but it also seems like an escalation. For example, in chapter one, the effect of bad leadership on other people was “swerving & wandering” (1:6), but now it’s “plunging people into ruin and destruction” (6:9).
We should not play games with bad leadership. It’s warfare. It’s live or die stuff. It should not be flirted with or entertained, because it’s destructive power has eternal consequences. However, we should also be weary of our own hearts, and where we’d might see some of these marks of bad leadership in ourselves. We should interrogate our hearts and minds. We should reaffirm our commitment to serving and living for his kingdom. Friends, let’s hear the warnings.
Some Questions To Consider
- Why do you think Paul brings up this theme of bad leadership again?
- What roots of bad leadership do you see in the world and church today?
- Are there any roots in your own heart that you need to repent of?
A godly leader should be especially aware of the state of their own heart, and should hold an appropriate fear of the Lord to remain constantly prayerful that He might keep and protect against any roots of evil that might start to grow.
(By Donrich Van Schalkwyk
Paul now shifts his attention from widows towards church elders and church leadership.
He starts off by saying that we should keep church leaders in high regard (1 Thessalonians 5:12) and that we should make sure that they are cared for. Paul proceeds to quote scripture from Deuteronomy 25:4 where he compares the elders (especially those in teaching and preaching) to an ox treading out grain.
The idea here is that an ox that treads out the grain will be allowed to eat from it as he does the work. So too should preachers and teachers be cared for whilst doing the work of God. There are many examples of this in scriptures:
Galatians 6:6 One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.
1 Corinthians 9:14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
He also points out how church leadership should be corrected, once more visiting the recurrent theme of holiness in the church. He makes sure to give clear direction on how to keep leadership accountable, because he knows a healthy church is accountable to one another. Paul ultimately stops at nothing and nobody to make sure the church beams of holiness.
He is so serious about holding people accountable that he urges us to publicly rebuke those who persists in sin. Imagine walking into church one morning and an Elder rebukes you in front of everyone for persisting in sin.
Paul understands that we now only see in partial and that one day we will all see in full. There is no time for our self-righteous pretence. We are all sinners and it is our responsibility to keep one another accountable. Even if you hide it as best you can, one day it will all be revealed for all to see. Paul knows that publicly rebuking someone might just be the thing that sets them free.
James 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
We have been called to walk in the light and to grow in godliness. We need to be willing to die to ourselves in every regard, not letting our image get in the way of knowing God.
Mark 2:17: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Some Questions To Consider:
- Do you hold leadership in high regard, or are there maybe some resentment/disappointment/anger that you need to work through?
- How can you better care for the eldership of our church?
- Do you allow your image to get in the way of knowing God?
- Is there sin in your life that you feel God is calling you to confess to those around you?
Throughout 1 Timothy we discover the kind of leaders God is calling us to be. It should be remarkably encouraging to meditate on the delight of God towards leaders who faithfully serve him. However it should also evoke the fear of God inside us when we consider the call to leadership. It is not an easy task, and we must remember the hope we have as we serve (1 Tim 4:10). I love Hudson Taylors phrase and think it apt to end with here; “lets go forward on our knee’s.”
To contend for holiness is to contend for justice.
Over the last few chapters we have seen a recurring theme. Paul’s wartime dispatch to Timothy contains a simple message, that believing in the gospel changes you. You can hear the gospel, know the gospel or even study the gospel, and still be left utterly unchanged. However you cannot believe in the gospel and be the same. It will transform you.
In this chapter we see Paul take his recurring theme, and, just as he did in chapter 2, apply it to specific situations that Timothy needed to address in the church. We know that Paul is contenting for the holiness of the church, because his concern is for ‘purity’ (verse 2), ‘honor’ (verse 3), ‘godliness’ (verse 5) and ‘good works’ (verse 10). Paul also calls out a variety of sinful behaviors that have taken place (verses 8, 11-13). Paul is like a broken record, playing the same beat over and over again, determined that the church should display the beauty of God’s holiness.
What might be surprising to us as we read however, is how much time Paul spends focusing in on one particular group within the church; the widows. It seems strange, perhaps weird, that in such a short letter so much ink and paper would be spent here. If you are surprised, then a quick survey of the whole bible will completely confound you! Widows are directly mentioned over 80 times, with a few key verses here below:
- “…father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” (Psalm 68:5)
- “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” (Deut 10:18)
- “Leave your orphans behind, I will keep them alive; And let your widows trust in Me.” (Jeremiah 49:11)
- “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn…” (Exodus 22:22-24)
Do you see the theme of justice permeating throughout these verses? Lets remind ourselves of the people that these verses, as well as Paul in 1 Timothy 5, are focusing on. Widows are often among the most marginalized and powerless in any society throughout history. They are among the least important, those without voice or agency, with little hope of a brighter future. So the idea that God, the Alpha and Omega, is so determined to love, support and protect widows is an awe-inspiring revelation! It’s so counter cultural, so unexpected and oh so beautiful! It reveals the holy beauty of God to us in a remarkable way. It reveals who He really is.
So back to 1 Timothy, and Paul’s charge to us who believe in the gospel is to live out the gospel and therefore become more like the one we believe in. Just has God has always done, we also are to love, care for, empower, highlight, restore dignity and empower all of those who have been marginalized in our communities. As the Adam Clarke commentary on 1 Timothy 5:3 says, the word ‘honor’ means to support or sustain. This is an active, sacrificial, intentional command from the bible. This is what Paul is charging the church to do. This is a challenging reminder, to put in the center of our attention and service those who the world is trying so hard to marginalize. It is the inseparable fusion of holiness and justice, and we cannot simply read this section of scripture and not obey its commands.
Our holiness, the thing Paul has been talking about throughout this book, is not just about character attributes we should nurture. It is also about good works that we should dedicate ourselves to, which is why James (1:27) describes real belief as looking after widows. To contend for holiness is to contend for justice, and lets remember that as we do, we display the love of Jesus to the world around us.
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- In your own words, why does Paul spend so much time focusing here on widows?
- How is our personal holiness connected to living justice-shaped lives?
- How are you challenged to change your life so you can be obedient to the command to ‘honor’ the marginalized and disempowered in society?
In my experience, church leaders generally are good at pursuing one type of holiness (fruit of the spirit) but are not as intentional about pursuing the type of holiness that Paul has challenged us on today. Leaders must lead by example in living justice-shaped lives. To live passionate about gospel-centered justice means changing how we live, sacrificing things in our lives so we can be obedient to the bibles commands and so we can show other people the love of God. Don’t duck out of this. Be bold. Count it as joy. Be a leader.
 Accessed 11/12/2019. Walker, Austin. 2015. https://www.crossway.org/articles/why-does-the-bible-say-so-much-about-widows/.
 Accessed 11/12/2019. https://www.studylight.org/commentary/1-timothy/5-3.html
Sometimes it is possible to forget that the church isn’t ours. It is God’s people, brought together as His family, united by His blood, to advance His mission and magnify His glory. For sure, we are the church, strengthening and taking responsibility for its purposes on Earth, however it’s not ours to mold and change as our own. Don’t mess! This is God’s house!
Paul holds a deep concern for the church, as it is the household of God. This explains the whole letter, but verse 15 is especially helpful when reading chapters 2 and 3. Paul states that his purpose in writing is so that we “may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” If we read chapters 2 & 3 again, understanding that the church belongs to God, we will see that God himself cares deeply about how His church is being built. That’s why, at the very onset of its inauguration, in Matthew 16:18 we read that Jesus claims ultimate responsibility for building the church.
Paul’s deep concern for the well being of the church comes from remembering what the church is. In verse 15 we get three different descriptions of the church. It is the household of God, referring to the church as the family of God. Next is the church, meaning the assembly / coming together of God’s people. Finally we get the church as “the pillar and foundation”, because whilst in the world the church is meant to be both the firm foundation and the high tower of truth. These are awe-inspiring truths of who we are as the people of God, and it demonstrates how intentionally God is building His bride.
God’s concern for His people is shown in chapter three through his concern for the holiness of leaders. Found in the list of Elder and Deacon characteristic’s, we see practical examples of the kind of gospel transformation Paul has been exhorting throughout the book. These ‘qualities’ are also a direct contrast to the false teachers influencing the church in Ephesus. At the heart of the churches problems was a failure of leadership character, necessitating Paul’s detailed descriptions of what godly leadership should look like.
One of the fundamental problems behind all church failures (not just in Ephesus) is a failure of character, and this failure will always be found when leaders over-emphasize their importance in the church. Then egos begin to inflate (1 Tim 1:7), sound doctrine begins to wane (1 Tim 1:10) and church roles begin to get muddled as people are not guided into holiness (1 Tim 2).
When I was young up I had the privilege of growing up in a church plant with leaders who were clear that the church would not rise or fall based on their abilities. From my childhood onwards, I learnt that church leadership is about gospel transformation, internal character and spiritual dependence on the God who is building His church.
This chapter is a continuation of Paul’s concern for gospel transformation in the household of God. It is an incredible gift to the church from God Himself, as it will protect us from bad leadership and constantly point us to good leadership. But we also should be regularly asking the Holy Spirit to encourage and challenge us personally, trusting that God is transforming us as He is building His church.
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- Why do you think Paul is so concerned that Timothy establishes healthy leaders in the church?
- What does these two lists of leadership characteristic’s reveal about the heart of God towards His church?
- How could these lists help you to assess your own spiritual transformation?
These lists are incredible gifts to help guide us as we seek to grow more and more into imitators of Jesus, and they are worth our regular meditation. You may find it beneficial to ask others you trust to help guide you through them. Remember, God is transforming you. God is building His church. These character traits are not about performance, or striving to be better. They are about seeing an inner renewal by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.
 This is the ‘most likely’ understanding as verses 4, 5 & 12 use the same word is used to refer to family households.
 You can read 1 Tim 1:7 & 6:4-5 to see how different these church leaders were from the standard that God required in His household.
Reading the second half of this chapter is like walking across a cultural minefield in 2019. There are many different ideas that can offend our ideological sensitivities. This chapter should really come with a warning sign! Yet if we remember the setting Paul is writing into, then we shouldn’t be surprised. This is because 1 Timothy is a wartime dispatch sent to the frontlines. Timothy was sent to wage war in Ephesus, where a mix of different cultural values had combined to undermine the Gospel. Does this sound familiar to our context at all?
As you read through the chapter, you might be able to recognise a theme that runs throughout. For sure, you can easily spot the cultural mines of gender inequalities, or the potential kindling of a toxic purity culture, or perverse patriarchal preferences. However, if you haven’t prematurely stepped on one of these exploding mines, you may notice a road through the mines. A theme that will help guide us and helps us understand how the Gospel actually empowers us to engage our cultural sensitivities. The question when we look at the chapter is: what’s Paul’s purpose?
I believe its holiness. It’s living out this incredible good news (the Gospel) in a way that it affects our public worship. The Gospel transforms the believer’s hearts, lives and church experiences. Let me quickly show you why I think this:
- “First of all, then…” Just as we saw yesterday, what Paul is saying in chapter two is a continuation of his ideas from chapter one. He is talking about Gospel transformation and believers’ living holy and humble lives.
- “…rather she is to remain quiet.” Is Paul here silencing women and robbing them of agency? Well just before we hit a huge mine, let’s focus on the word quiet and its purpose in the sentence. In verse 2 Paul says that “we (all) may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified…” This shows that the word ‘quiet’ is linked to, and for Paul a synonym of, godliness. It isn’t a sinful or cultural attempt to undermine the dignity of women. We know that elsewhere Paul recognizes the important value of women’s contributions to church gatherings (1 Corinthians 11:2-5 & 14:26), and overall leadership (think of Nympha, Mary, Lydia, Phoebe or Junia). Therefore, Paul’s encouragement to pursue this ‘quiet’ holiness is something that every person should aim for. It externally displays our internal Gospel transformation.
- “I desire that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands…” Paul’s purpose is to encourage the holiness of men in the church! This is applied to the men of Ephesus with a specific instruction not to quarrel. So Paul’s desire for holiness involves a correction of the men first.
- “… but with what is proper for women who profess godliness” Paul’s purpose here is now to encourage the holiness of women in the church! He wants everyone to be holy! This desire is applied to the women of Ephesus with a specific instruction to stop being so focused on materialism and looking good to others that they take they’re eyes off of Jesus and ignore the Gospel transformation that should be taking place in their hearts.
- “Yet she will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith and love and holiness.” Its almost like Paul pre-empts some opposition (this is war after all) and so he repeats his goal, and in the bible repetition denotes importance. Paul is going to some lengths here to make his aims here – he loves everyone in the church and desires that they grow in holiness.
Once we see these things, hopefully a path begins to develop through the mines, and we can appreciate the heart and instruction of Paul here. It should show us one thing; Gospel transformation changes everything about us! Not one thing. Not most things. Everything. Our entire lives should be a display of this quiet, humble godliness that has been supernaturally worked inside of us by God Himself! Furthermore, this should be applied to our churches, as Paul is writing about the whole church in Ephesus. All people in the church, in every context of the church, should display this powerful and graceful transformation. Whatever we do, and however we do it, it just all be pleasing to the God who desires to use us to save others (verse 3).
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- Do you find 1 Timothy 2 difficult to read? Why do you think this is the case?
- How does Paul’s uncompromising call to holiness challenge the way you are living at the moment?
- Can your church be characterized by the Gospel transformation described the chapter?
Worldly cultures will try to dismantle your faith and knock you out of the fight. To put it another way, they will try to stop you trusting God. However as leaders we should read this chapter trusting and loving God, which develops some unshakeable beliefs. Belief’s such as the authority of scripture, the perfection (inerrancy) of scripture, the loving nature of God and his good desires for our flourishing. We cannot lead if we get knocked out of the fight. To quote Paul elsewhere, we should not be ashamed of the Gospel (Rom 1:16). Instead we should be of good courage and faith that God is working powerfully through His Word.
 The word ‘all’ isn’t in the original manuscripts of the bible, yet Paul is talking to both men and women here (as the gender differences only begin at verse 8) which is why I have added it in.
 This is a very challenging passage to read, with many different interpretations avaialbale. If you are confused or interested in RRC’s position, please do email the church office at firstname.lastname@example.org
 This verse is complicated and often misunderstood. Paul isn’t saying there is another way that women can be saved apart from Jesus’ atonement. He is actually referencing the atonement, by mentioning the curse of Genesis 3 on Eve and how He promises to crush Satan on the cross. If you are interested in this, I found this article by John Piper very helpful: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-are-women-saved-through-childbearing.
Unity, harmony and love within the family of God (the Church) is not just a nice to have but essential!
Jesus said it like this; ‘by this will all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (John 13:35).
When Paul thought of the Philippian believers and thought of what would make his joy in them complete (vs2) he urged them to do three things;
to agree, to be of one mind
to have the same love
to be harmonious (‘in full accord’) with one another
As believers, a family of faith, a gospel-community, Scripture urges us to be united in our thinking. Disunity of thought brings uncertainty in relationships and damages trust and the vulnerability that trust thrives on. But is such unity even possible?
Yes, it is! Unity is possible for those who have been included and encouraged in Christ. Unity is possible for those who are living in the power of the Holy Spirit. Unity is possible for those who have all experienced God’s love poured out into their hearts (vs2).
Unity without these shared experiences would be impossible, but within a gospel-community, it is possible; otherwise, Scripture would not command it.
More than this, gospel-communities are to be harmonious according to vs2. The Greek word translated ‘being in full accord’ (ESV) can also be translated ‘harmonious’.
Harmony is not the same as unity. By way of example, an orchestra is not an orchestra unless there is unity in diversity, not uniformity. Both unity and diversity are essential for there to be harmony. An orchestra’s beauty is its harmony of diverse instruments united one piece of music. It is having one conductor arranging their unique contributions in such a way that each contributes their unique sound, thus creating a beautiful harmony.
Gospel communities, likewise, are to be united but not uniform. They have a diversity of personality & gift but are united around one desire – to bring glory to Jesus Christ and to serve His mission in the world.
This was a passion in the heart of the apostle Paul, and thus, he makes this appeal to the Philippian believers urging them to be united and harmonious.
So what hinders unity and harmony? Its things like selfish ambition, pride (conceit). Such things ruin relationships and damage people and gospel-community.
Therefore, in the Church, let’s be those who humbly consider others more significant than ourselves. Let’s prefer others, be one another’s greatest fans and be very slow to posture or put ourselves forward (vs3).
Let’s also ensure that we are not selfishly looking after our interests but that we are considerate of the interests and needs of others seeking to serve others always (vs4).
What could possibly motivate us to act in these ways? There is only ONE; His name is Jesus! The single mind that we are all to have (vs2) is that we are all to have the mind of Jesus (vs5). We are to follow His example as He did not live selfishly or proudly but in humility, He came to serve you and me. Jesus, although He was God, emptied Himself taking the form of a servant (vs7), and humbled Himself to the point of death, death on a cross (vs8) for us!
He is our example; He is our motivation. He is the one we worship and live out our whole lives as a response.
Unity, love and harmony matter. But they are only possible when a gospel-community together fix their eyes on Jesus our great Saviour and example and live out their lives with one another as a response to Him.
- Ask God if there is any way you have been contributing to disunity in your gospel-community (Church)? Is there any way you have been acting selfishly, ambitiously or proudly? If the Holy Spirit shows you anything, then repent now of such things.
- Meditate again on what Jesus did for you (Philippians 2:5-11). What do you feel God is showing you about Jesus? What is God showing you that might need to change in your life?
- Ask the Holy Spirit to make you more and more ‘other-aware’, looking out not just for your interests but also the interests of others.