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.
[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!
As we reach the end of this combined study of 1 & 2 Timothy, there is so much to say. I need a blog for each point in this section! There is a lot to be said for the relational dynamic in the gospel advance as seen in verses 9 to 16 and in 19 to 21. There is a lot to be said about the continual need to believe that God will help you persevere in the faith in the face of overwhelming challenges, as seen in verses 16 to 18. I also think there is much to say about our agency in the mission of God – as Paul is so clearly aware throughout this book and this chapter that the gospel advance will continue long after him, and its spread is not dependent on any one person for its success.
However, I think that all of these topics fall under Paul’s words in verses 6-7, as we see the heart of the man who gave everything he had for the mission of God.
I grew up reading stories of “wide eyed radicals” and “dreamers of the day”; men and women who would give up their whole lives for the mission God had called them to. Whether it was reading books like ‘Jesus Freaks’ and ‘The Heavenly Man’, or various biographies from giants in the faith such as Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor or Olaudah Equiano; these stories of radical living and lifelong sacrifice stirred my faith in a simple truth; Jesus is worth everything we have to give.
Paul fits this mold of “wide eyed radicals”. Perhaps the original in the early church movement. 2 Timothy 4 constitutes his final words, in the final chapter of his final book, in his final moments this side of glory. It is a summary of a lifetime of service to God and His bride, and as we lean in, we will discover some amazing truths to fuel our perseverance in the mission…
“6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
– 2 Timothy 4:6-7
Paul here is drawing from Old Testament sacrificial language to convey the summarizing thought of his earthly life. There was nothing left, no reserves, just a complete emptying out of everything Paul had to give to the mission of God, because of his passionate devotion to God. It’s not a sacrifice to earn the Father’s approval, or to attain spiritual salvation. Paul’s sacrifice is joyfully and enthusiastically offered up precisely because his approval and salvation has already been graciously given! He lived with a sense of joyful significance, as he was included in God’s gloriously good purposes for all creation. It’s the response to salvation, not a prerequisite for salvation.
Paul also draws from his own writing from earlier New Testament letters, as well as these two letters to Timothy, and he uses military and athletic language to claim that God’s mission was worthy of every sacrifice he ever made. The military language fits the pattern set throughout 1 & 2 Timothy, and in using the metaphors of “fight” and “race” Paul is intentionally using very active and energetic language. His life is an example of what it looks like to be wonderfully consumed with the dreams and endeavors of gospel advance.
If you listen to the tone of the text, you can almost hear the joy and relief in verse 7, as Paul marvels in the wonderful preservation of God in every act of service Paul had ever done. The passive verb in verse 6, “I am being poured out”, is Paul’s way of communicating God is the one who was at work in Paul’s life, empowering every moment and preserving his faith until the end.
Earlier this year I heard two older pastors, at a similar phase of life to Paul, quoting Colossians 1:29, where Paul says “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” Paul, in both Colossians and 2 Timothy, shows a total dependence on God for his own preservation. It would be arrogant to think that any of his achievements were his own. Paul spends 2 Corinthians reminding us how just how unimpressive and dependent he truly is. There is a great truth here, that Paul has spent his whole life demonstrating. Our perseverance is only possible through Gods preservation. He keeps us. He empowers us. And He gets all the glory.
From these two verses, we can almost picture Paul running through the gates of heaven, hands lifted high, proclaiming the goodness of the Almighty to the roar of all of redemption. Don’t you want that same magnificent moment? No reserves. No regrets. Completing your life on the mission that is worth everything you have to give.
 Phrases from Simon Guillebauld’s excellent book, “More Than Conquerors.”
 “Ray Ortlund and Sam Storms on Finishing Well in Ministry”. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/churches-planting-churches/id1069930513
(2 Timothy 1:13-18 & 2 Timothy 2:1-3)
In the first part of Timothy we visited a few ideas:
- godly mentorship (discipleship),
- being unashamed to share the gospel, and
- having an eternal perspective in times of suffering.
In today’s devotional I want to continue with focusing on discipleship and the need thereof. 2 Timothy 13-14 and 2 Timothy 1-2 speaks concerning this, read it again.
Jesus set out on his mission to change the world by choosing disciples, this is one of the first things he does, and in what is recorded as some of the last things said to his disciples, he encourages them to do the same.
Matthew 28:18: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…’
Just like Jesus discipled the twelve to go on and change the world (read disciple others), so too Paul was discipling Timothy. He encouraged Timothy to imitate him as he imitated Christ and in 2 Timothy 2, he gives the structure we ought to follow in discipleship of others.
2 Timothy 2:2: ‘and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.’
Paul teaches Timothy, who in his own time, teaches faithful men and they then go and teach others. It always baffles me that Jesus could change the world through only twelve people. They were not extremely smart, nor extremely holy, they were not especially good with words, no; they were ordinary people just like you and me. Imagine what He could do through us if we are willing to disciple and be discipled!
One of the beautiful examples of discipleship was described in 1 Timothy, Paul honours the role of Timothy’s grandmother and mother in shaping the faith he now possesses. Two godly women not only raising their children, but actively discipling them. That is ultimately the goal of parenting: discipling.
We have all received good deposits from other people in our lives; our faith would be worse off if it had not been for those people who prayed for us, encouraged us and loved on us. It is our responsibility to not only receive these ‘good deposits’, but also to guard the deposits entrusted to us in order to deposit it to others.
Matthew 28:18: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.’
- Are we being actively discipled and are we actively discipling others like Paul teaches?
- Are we teachable enough to receive other people’s deposits?
- Are we only raising our children or are we also discipling them?
- Who do you look up to in the faith, that you could ask to walk this road with you on a more intimate basis?
There are so much godly wisdom in our church communities today, so many lived experiences and so many testimonies that could be benefited from. God has placed people in our lives so we can share our ‘good deposits’ and receive the ‘good deposits’ from others. In this way the church will be ever growing into the image of God. Now, go therefore and make disciples!
Throughout the book of 1 Timothy, we have regularly encountered Paul’s commentary on both good and bad leadership; as well as the central theme of holiness. He maintains a determined passion to oppose bad leadership (which we looked at yesterday) and to encourage true leadership that flows from holiness. At this stage, we can all see the inseparable connection of leadership and holiness.
Remember before Timothy arrives, the existing leadership of the church in Ephesus had plunged the church into crisis. These leaders lacked the moral character, godly desires and competent gifts required to lead God’s people (1:6-7, 19-20, 3:6-8, 4:1-3, 6:4-5). However, through the words of Paul, we can see leaders who inspire trust because of holy character (3:2-12), who build the church to fulfill its purpose (3:15), who sacrificially serve the people God has entrusted to them (5:17) and who are wholeheartedly committed to a radical pursuit of holiness (2:2, 8, 10, 3:2-13, 4:6-10, 16, 6:6-7, 11-16).
As we have already seen from this chapter, leadership flows from the heart. Yesterday we saw that bad leadership comes from a heart full of ‘evil roots’. Contrastingly, Paul now goes on to describe & encourage Timothy towards godly leadership, which flows from a heart that has been radically transformed by the power of the gospel. Let us consider three characteristics of godly leadership:
Firstly, godly leadership flows from a leaders identity in Christ. “But as for you, O man of God…” Paul describes Timothy as a man belonging to God. It is such a simple phrase, so easy to overlook in a chapter with so much being discussed, and yet it might possibly be the most powerful statement! That is because there is power in knowing that we belong to another. God had to change us, redeem us, remove our sins, pardon us in His court, reconcile us to Himself and transform our hearts from stone to flesh. It is a fundamental change of our entire identity, which inevitably leads to a change in how we live. This simple, powerful statement is the foundation of all good and godly leadership. Our belonging to God enables our living for God.
Secondly, godly leadership involves a proactive participation in a relationship with God and a pursuit of personal holiness. If leaders belong to God, they are therefore empowered to “flee” and to “pursue” (verse 11), to “fight” and to “take hold” (verse 12), “to keep the commandment” (verse 14), to “charge” (verse 17), to “guard” and finally to “avoid” (verse 20). This passage is full of verbs and commands, clearly communicating that the life of a leader involves a lot of action! This is a summary of a central theme in the whole book: believers must actively pursue and train themselves in godliness. Leadership flows out of who God has made us to be and how He is empowering us to live.
Finally, godly leadership looks to the future. Leaders regularly recall the eternal reality of Jesus’ victory and our glorious future with him. “…until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see.” Paul here is breaking out into another moment of doxology (praise) as he is himself amazed at who God is – its like he can’t contain himself! However Paul also has a deeply theological foundation that he is communicating here. This future when the victorious King Jesus comes back for His church is a certain reality that we are all moving towards. This is our certain hope. This will be the fruit of our labour. It motivates and preserves all that leaders do now.
These marks of godly leadership summarise the central themes of leadership and holiness throughout the book, and they form Paul’s concluding remarks. They will keep us in the love of God, embolden us to keep serving His mission in the world and stir us to keep pursuing a deep and transformative relationship with Him. What a powerful encouragement for us all.
Grace be with you.
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- As we have reached the end of the book, what concluding thoughts do you have on good and bad leadership?
- How is your life characterized by the kind of intentional pursuit of holiness that we read in 1 Tim 6?
- How does a gospel shaped certainty in the future encourage us to live and lead for Jesus now?
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.”