Faithfulness

Warnings & Encouragement for the Journey (2 John 1-13)

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John’s second letter is written to a local congregation (‘the elect lady and her children’ – the bride of Christ). The apostle has been encouraged to have come across some of the congregation who are ‘walking in truth’ as God wants of us (2 John 4).

The Christian life is often depicted as a journey – a path that is to be walked out. Although salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, this does not result in inactivity. Movement, even intentional effort is implied by the word picture John and other writers of Scripture used for the Christian life.

John uses ‘walk’ three times in this short section each time, indicating that progress and intentional effort in a certain direction are expected of believers.

It is a great encouragement to know that all believers in Jesus are on the same road/journey. We might be at different points along the way, but we share the same road!

Roads have borders that define the road’s edge; in this instance, it is the commandments of God define the roadway that God has laid out for us to journey along. We are to be those who ‘walk according to His commandments’ (2 John 6), commandments which have not changed since the beginning but commandments which we ‘should walk in’ (2 John 6).

It is safe to summarise the two borders of the Christian road as love for God (1 John 5:2-3 & Matthew 22:37) and love for people (2 John 5 & 1 John 3:11).

In 2 John 8, the apostle shares wisdom for the journey with these believers and with ourselves;

Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” (2 John 8)

This one verse is richly dense with meaning! In it, we find assurance and warning and encouragement.

1. Warning! ‘We are to watch ourselves.’

Don’t go off the path; don’t get distracted or diverted by the schemes of the enemy. Obeying God’s commandments & listening to the Holy Spirit will keep you on the road. We have a responsibility to do this ourselves, but we are helped greatly if we have others around us who can spot if we are veering towards the edge of the path. It’s your responsibility to watch yourself, but it is wise to enlist the help of some brothers or sisters who will love you enough to keep watch too.

2. Warning! ‘So that we do not lose what we have worked for.’

There are serious consequences if one does not adhere to the first warning. You can lose something; you can have regret even as a believer. But what can you lose?

The apostle says that we can loose ‘what we have worked for’. And what have we worked for? Well, we know that we haven’t worked for our salvation! Jesus did the heavy lifting, not us; Jesus did what could not do. So what is in focus here is not us losing salvation which was given to us not by works but by grace alone so that no person can boast (Ephesians 2:4-8)!

In what way have we ‘worked’? Well, we have worked out the impact of our salvation (Philippians 2:12-13), we have worked harder than anyone in response to the grace of God in us (2 Corinthians 15:10). We worked in that we have responded to God’s free gift in giving us salvation. We have worked in that we should ‘work for’ our reward…

3. Encouragement: ‘But may win a full reward.’

This is what God’s desire for us, to give us our full reward that He always intended to give us. God is so good; He saves us not on the basis or our work/merit but purely by grace. Then God inspires us, works in us by the Spirit (Philippians 2:12-13) changing us at the level of our desires so that we now want to do His will and obey His commandments. And then God plans to reward us for walking the road He has laid out for us – incredible!

If you have believed in Jesus, your salvation is secure, guaranteed! But whether or not you will ‘walk God’s road’ obeying the Holy Spirit’s promptings and God’s commands is not guaranteed. And so, the possibility exists that some of your reward that God wanted to give you may be lost, that we by our lack of response, our lack of working and walking God’s ways may lose some of what He had always intended to give to us – rewards.

John doesn’t want this for the believers he is writing to, and God doesn’t want it for you either. So take heed of the warning, watch yourselves and ask others to watch you too. Invite people into your life who can speak with a loving honesty and who in turn will be blessed if you do the same for them.

A Mission Worth Your Entire Life (2 Timothy 4:5-22)

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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.[1] 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…

 “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 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.”[2] 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.


[1] Phrases from Simon Guillebauld’s excellent book, “More Than Conquerors.”

[2] “Ray Ortlund and Sam Storms on Finishing Well in Ministry”. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/churches-planting-churches/id1069930513

Perseverance produces Faithfulness (2 Timothy 2:3-26)

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What would your final words be?

Imagine you were a CEO of a startup company, a leading figure of a research project or a key member in your field of expertise, and you knew what you were writing would be your final words to your successor. That scenario isn’t too dissimilar to Paul’s life as he was writing 2 Timothy around 64-67 AD. He finds himself in prison, awaiting a certain fate of death, with very few people around him. After a lifetime of church planting, preaching and raising leaders, Paul knows his final efforts will be to encourage his spiritual son in the faith.

It’s helpful to visualise the situation Paul is writing in, as it provides some clarity in an otherwise confusing section of scripture. At first glance, chapter 2 seems a whirlwind of different themes that Paul is mixing together. He’s discussing leadership, holiness, perseverance and false teachers in a manner so unlike the structured theological masterpieces of Romans or Ephesians. However, with an understanding of Paul’s context, we as the readers, are given a glimpse of Paul’s overall reflections of ministry, as well as his final words of encouragements to us.

Within this book of Paul’s final words, there consists an encouragement for Timothy to persevere in faithful ministry.

If anyone would know the challenges that Timothy will face, it would be the Apostle Paul. He was sitting in a jail cell, waiting for his promotion into the grandstands of Heaven. He was the guy who was kidnapped and stoned to an inch of his life (Acts 21). The man who survived a shipwreck, only to be bitten by a viper (Acts 27 & 28). Paul was the guy who wrote and boasted in his various sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23-28), so that God would be praised. Paul knows exactly what he is encouraging Timothy into when he says “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus”.

Many of us today do not live with a readiness, a willingness, to embrace and fight through the challenges that will come as we try to live for Jesus. Maybe this is because we so easily forget that we live in a spiritual warzone. When Paul says “share in suffering”, what he is communicating is that there is a share of suffering that every believer should brace themselves for. If we live as we ought to, transformed and compelled by the gospel, then we should expect trials, opposition, temptations and sufferings to face us. Sin won’t go down without a fight. The devil is still prowling around. Cultural ideologies such as individualism, sinful temptations of materialism and political tactics of division have already taken out the sincere faith of many believers.

One of the questions that we all need to face up to as a matter of urgency is this: Are you ready for the inevitability of suffering? The hardest rugby tackles are the ones you don’t see coming. They are the ones that cause injuries. Paul’s words are a caring and compassionate plea to Timothy and to us; that we would be prepared for wartime living.  

Our perseverance comes from remembering and trusting in Jesus’ work in our lives. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead…” This section runs parallel to the first chapter of the book, and it reminds us that our perseverance does not come from ourselves. We are meant to trust and rely in our savior’s ongoing work in our lives. Our perseverance is inseparable from the resurrection of Jesus, to His victory and the certainty of our success in the mission field. This is also why Paul says, “therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect”, because there are people who have been elected (chosen) by God, and Paul knows that their conversion is an absolute certainty. The truth that God is electing, preserving and empowering us will produce endurance inside of us.

Finally, our perseverance produces faithfulness and glorifies God. This is where Paul ties in our holiness with our faithful perseverance. To be ‘preserved’ is not just to make it to the end of our lives without sin taking us out. To be preserved is a call to fight for holiness in our lives. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed.” As we are preserved by God to continually endure through our sufferings, it is a testament of the faithfulness that God is working in our lives and displaying to the people around us. We should “flee” from sin and “pursue” a transformed pure heart. Then we too will be able to say, along with Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7, that we have “fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

  1. What kinds of challenges should we expect as we live for God in the world today?
  2. Why do you think Paul’s using his final words to encourage us to keep persevering?
  3. What do you need to flee from in your life to preserve your faithful holiness?
  4. What do you need to pursue more in your life to preserve your faithful holiness?

God’s Sovereign Word (1 Timothy 4:1-10)

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I want to start of by asking a question: Are we looking at the Bible through the world’s eyes or are we looking at the world through the Bible’s eyes?


You see, there is a difference; and history is full of horrible examples of how people have manipulated God’s word to do the unthinkable. Both Apartheid and the Crusades were fueled by the misinterpretation of scripture and the arrogence of self centered leaders. This is unthinkable! How could people be so easily deceived?

Verse 1: “by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons”

These people did not devote themselves to God’s Spirit and God’s Word. Rather than being changed by the Spirit of God and His Word, they tried to change God’s Spirit and God’s Word to suit themselves. They looked at the scriptures to prove their worldly view, to justify their sinful hearts. Is there an area in your life where you do the same?

The Bible is there to interpret the world around us. It is not just a book full of wonderful stories of God’s faithfulness, it is a guide to our everyday life. It is the living word!


Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”.


We have been given a weapon to fight these deceitful teachings: God’s Word. His word will enable us to discern between right and wrong. We must thus study His word and apply His word.


Verse 4-5: For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.


You see, if we live in the world through the guidelines of God’s Word, God will keep us safe. I think alcohol is a good example of what is talked about in verse 4. Alcohol in itself is not bad; drinking a glass of red wine per day actually has cardiovascular benefits! However we all know the consequences of abusing alcohol; it is the cause for so many hurt in our society today. There are things in our lives, like drinking alcohol or watch certain TV series, that can be made holy by the word of God, when used in the ways that honors God. The word of God is there to guide our every move in life, so that we can to grow in godliness. In other words, the gospel transforms everything!


Verse 7: “have nothing to do with irrelevant, silly myths. Rather train yourself in godliness ( being like God). For while bodily training is of some value , godliness is of value in every wayas it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”


Believers must first be dedicated to God’s word and His teachings, before we spend our time reading weird and wonderful theories of other peoples interpretations of God’s word. We should rather use our time to grow in godliness and place our hope in God.


Verse 10: “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God You see our hope can not be in other people with fancy words, new teachings and interpretations. Our hope is in Christ Jesus and in His Word.”

I want to end of by honouring all of you that do read this bible plan and who are dedicated to His word. Keep going, training yourselves in godliness for it has value even in the life to come!

Leadership note:
My hope today, is that you will be encouraged in reading the Word and equipping yourself to discern between what is good and evil in these confusing times. I hope this scripture challenges you to not only read His word, but to allow His word to change the way you see the world around you. How can you apply His word today in your life and the lives of the people around you? For God’s Word is alive, and is actively working in you!

Futile & Faithful (Hosea 12:1-13)

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Futile. Empty. Unfulfilling. Mad.

To live as if God is not God – is futile, empty & unfulfilling. It is like trying to be filled up in your stomach on the wind. Eating the wind, taking great gulps of air, will never fulfil the need for nutrition that your body has (vs1).

Rejecting God, putting your trust in self or anything other than God is like chasing after the wind as if it could be caught (vs1).

It makes no sense to reject God. It’s not rational; instead, it’s entirely irrational – like trying to feed on or catch the wind.

By reaching out to Assyria and Egypt, making covenants with them for protection, faithless Israel has been like a person futilely feeding on the wind or chasing it.

And so God has an indictment against both Israel and Judah (vs2). Neither of them has been faithful to God and His covenant with them but have rather rejected God and made covenants with Assyria & Egypt, which will prove futile.

They, Israel, are acting just like their ancestor Jacob (Hosea 12:2-5) who was habitually deceitful as he tricked his father and robbed his brother of his birthright (see Genesis 25-27).

Yet God was gracious to Jacob, and so God promised to bless Jacob with the same covenant promise that was given to Abraham (Genesis 28:10-22). More than this, when Jacob wrestled with God and asked God to bless him, God did, and at that moment renamed him ‘Israel’ (Genesis 32:22-32).

And so God will be gracious to Israel as He was to Jacob if only they would return to God and hold fast to love and justice (Hosea 12:6) rather than ‘multiply falsehood and violence’ (Hosea 12:1).

Israel became wealthy but did so through corrupt means and so has walked away from God’s ways. Therefore, God will humble them, reduce them back to a state of living in tents and humble accommodation (Hosea 12:7-8).

God laments that He sent prophets to Israel, God gave visions and parables to the prophets appealing to Israel to stop, to see their sin and to repent (Hosea 12:10). God is so gracious, so forbearing to keep speaking when we are wayward.

God was gracious to Jacob, blessed him with a wife and children as He had promised He would (Hosea 12:12). God was then faithful again to His promise to Jacob by bringing the twelve tribes bearing the names of his twelve sons out of Egypt hundreds of years later through Moses the prophet (Hosea 12:13).

Israel’s actions have been futile, faithless, and yet in recounting the checkered story of Jacob’s, God shows Israel that He is faithful to His promises, He is gracious in spite of us.

What does this mean for you and I today?

  • It is utterly futile to put your trust in anything or anyone other than God Himself.
  • Learn from Israel’s history, determine not to repeat their errors in trusting in Assyria & Egypt.
  • Know that God is faithful to His promises, and know that He has promised never to leave and never to forsake us (Hebrews 13:5b), and because of that, determine to trust God!
  • And so, with God’s help, hold fast to love and justice and continually wait for your God regardless of what you are facing (Hosea 12:6).
  • In so doing you’ll avoid futility & you’ll be faithful.

The Pain of Unfaithfulness (Hosea 2:1-13)

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[All Scripture references today are from the NLT translation]

Hosea’s painful ordeal as a spouse who’s marriage partner is openly unfaithful represents another pain – God’s sorrow over Israel’s idolatry & unfaithfulness toward God.

Hosea, the husband, stumbles through conflicting thoughts and emotions towards his unfaithful wife.

One moment he wants nothing more to do with her or her children; ‘for she is no longer my wife, and I am no longer her husband’ (vs2); ‘for their mother is a shameless prostitute and became pregnant in a shameful way.’ (vs5)

The next moment he wants her shame to be exposed and wants his anger vindicated (vs3) for she has longed after her lovers and the perceived material benefits she has gained from loving them (vs5).

Then he wants to build a hedge around her, to keep her from them, to stop her path to these lovers, so that she won’t be able to catch them anymore and will lose her way to them (vs6-7).

He does this because he thinks, maybe then she will come to her senses and think; ‘I might as well return to my husband, for I was better off with him than I am now.’ (vs7)

Hosea is still hoping, still willing to forgive her and take her back and begin to rebuild their marriage – if only she would come back to him!

But his hurt is deep, she thinks these lovers of hers provided for her, but it was he, Hosea her husband all along but she took all the gifts he provided her, and she sacrificed them to Baal! (vs8)

God had provided for Israel his people had provided for them even when they were chasing after other gods, and yet Israel took the very provision God lovingly gave them and sacrificed these things to Baal. What a tragedy! What pain. What an offence.

Hosea cycles back into thinking – enough! I will remove that which I provided for her; I will strip her naked, I will put an end to her celebrations and parties. I will remove from her the material things she thinks came from her lovers (vs9-12).

I will punish her for all those times she loved others. God is speaking through Hosea’s experience about Israel who he has eventually decided He will punish for all her Baal worship and the fact that she; “‘forgot all about me,’ says the LORD.” (vs13)

Can you feel the terrible confusing pain of Hosea, the whole range of emotions and thoughts experienced? The anger, the desire to still be reconciled and to protect and yet the tiredness that’s come from repeated rejection.

What does this mean for us today?

  • Not all jealousy is wrong. God is rightfully jealous for our exclusive love and worship, just as married people are rightfully jealous over the exclusive love of their spouse.
  • God’s command to His people was; “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). This Jesus said was the first and the greatest commandment.
  • So, is your love and devotion exclusively for your God? Anything less than everything is a painful sinful rejection of God. Don’t be like Gomer or the Israelites towards your God. Love Him, adore Him, live for Him only.

Three Ominous Names yet Hope for the Future (Hosea 1:4-11)

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We already know from Hosea 1:1-3 that God told Hosea to marry a prostitute (named Gomer) as a prophetic picture of how Israel had been unfaithful to God who had only loved her.

In Hosea 1:4-11, we read about three children born to Gomer. God instructs Hosea on what to name each of the children born to his wife. Each of the names has a significance for the future of Israel and what God is about to do.

Jezreel (Hosea’s son)

‘Jezreel’ is Hosea and Gomer’s firstborn son. His name is foreboding – God is going to punish the house Jehu. Seemingly for the massacre of Ahab’s whole household at Jezreel (see 2 Kings 9-10) and probably also Jehu’s compromise with the ‘golden calves’ at Bethel and Dan, and for his carelessness to not; “walk in the law of the LORD, the God of Israel, with all his heart.” (2 Kings 10:31)

God promised to ‘put an end to the Northern Tribes of Israel who had been in constant sin, idolatry and rebellion since the days of Jeroboam 1.

Lo-ruhama (not Hosea’s daughter)

Reading between the lines, we understand that Gomer was unfaithful to her husband Hosea and gave birth to a daughter. ‘Lo-ruhama’ was not Hosea’s daughter. The name God told Hosea to give her means; ‘No Mercy’.

The reason for this God-given name is that God was saying; ‘for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel’ (Hosea 1:6).

God is slow to anger and abounding in love (Exodus 34:6) but after 13 kings in the North with almost none being godly – God declares; ‘enough’. No more mercy!

Lo-ammi (not Hosea’s son)

There is such personal pain in the name of the next child born to Gomer.  It seems as though once again Gomer was unfaithful to Hosea and she conceived a son whom God named; “Not my people”.

You can imagine Hosea feeling; this isn’t my son! And that feeling was what God felt about His people Israel;

“Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.” (Hosea 1:9)

This is a stark contrast to the normal way the phrase ‘my people’ is used in Exodus. It is used as a term of endearment by God towards Israel 17 times in Exodus alone.

As James E Smith writes; “This name signals the climax of Israel’s doom. The Lord would no longer recognize Israel as his people. They would be as Gentiles to him. If they were no longer his people, then Yahweh declared “I am not your God.” They would no longer have any claim on God (1:9).” – Old Testament Survey Series: The Minor Prophets

Hope for the Future (vs7&10-11)

God declared that there would be no mercy for the Northern Tribes of Israel, but there would however be mercy for Judah because God is the covenant-keeping God (vs7). Hence, God promised to save Judah miraculously rather than by any conventional means.

God then reminds Judah of his covenant promise to Abraham; ‘the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered’ (Hosea 1:10).  The covenant still stands.

God then promises that the name ‘Not my people’ will be overturned in the future and Judah will be called ‘Children of the living God’ (vs10).

Although there are dark days ahead for the Northern Tribes of Israel, God is the covenant-keeping God and so there is hope yet for Judah and the line of David.

Lastly, there is a promise of future unity between Jew and Gentile who would both be gathered together under one leader (vs11). Later in the book (3:5) Hosea will identify that leader as “David” (i.e. a descendant of David). The reference must be to Christ, the greater son of David. – James. E.Smith

‘Not my people’ (Gentiles) & ‘my Children’ (Jews) will be united together in Jesus Christ the Messiah at some point in the future. And this is exactly what we see happening at Pentecost in Acts 2 and then in all the NT Churches and the great crowd before the throne of Jesus in Revelation 7:9-12.

What does this mean for you and I today?

There is real pain in these verses. Pain for Hosea, and Gomer who are in a terrible mess of a marriage. This pain is indicative of God’s pain over His people in the Northern Tribes of Israel and their unfaithfulness to Him.

How we live really matters. We can and do grieve God greatly when we sin, compromise or live as though God is not our God. God is loving and merciful but we need to be careful of presuming on that mercy as Israel did.

However, we know that God is the covenant-keeping God.  He keeps His promises to Abraham & David. And because of that, we have an incredible hope, the best is yet to come, God will unite the nations under the King of kings – Jesus.