Sanctification

Life OS 1.0 (Philippians 1:12-20)

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It’s hard not to put ourselves at the centre of our lives. Our will, our desires, our plans, hopes, dreams, thoughts & emotions.

We go back to this fleshly sinful ‘default setting’ all too easily – don’t we? I know that I need to fill my vision with God continually, worship again, pray again, meditate on Scripture again to re-focus myself.

Jesus knew this was the default trajectory of our hearts and minds and so taught us to pray; “Your kingdom come, Your will be done” (Matthew 6:10) to our heavenly Father.

The Apostle Paul is such a striking example of someone who has clearly prayed that prayer of Jesus’ over and over again and so had a remarkable outlook on life.  

As we journey through the letter to the Philippian believers keep in mind where Paul is writing from – prison! What would your letters be about if you were in prison unjustly? If the self-centred default human setting for the mind and heart is ON, then you would be complaining about the circumstances you find yourself in, how you feel about the injustice and the hardships.

But not the apostle Paul! He is grateful while in prison because he has come to see that his imprisonment has allowed two things to happen.

  1. The Gospel has advanced to those guarding him, people who would maybe never have come to a church, God took the Gospel to through Paul being in prison. (vs12-13)
  2. Paul’s fellow-workers have been encouraged to share the Gospel more boldly because of Paul’s imprisonment!

Both of these perspectives are only possible because Paul had displaced himself from the centre of his life & installed Jesus Christ and His Gospel at the centre.

The lens through which he saw his hardship and his experiences as a Roman prisoner was God’s will for his life and God’s plan for humanity, God being glorified in all things (vs20). To the Roman believers, Paul wrote; “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

This was Paul’s life’s operating system – God’s purposes, God’s glory! Not personal comfort, convenience, plans or safety – but God’s plans, God’s will.  

Paul is a wonderful example of a God-centred, gospel-centred believer. May I, may we keep disciplining our thinking and our emotions to follow his example and to be inspired by it.

What are you facing today? What hardship, what injustices. How might God use them to advance His Gospel through you? Fill your vision with Jesus again, our great Saviour who surrendered his will to the will of the Father for your sake and mine. So that in turn, we would live like Him and do the same and live no longer for ourselves but for Him who died for us (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Lawful? (Mark 10:1-12)

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Is it lawful? 

Sometimes a question reveals a wrong motive that is underlying.

By way of illustration; If a young man asks me; “How far can I go physically with your daughter?” I know already that this guy’s not the guy for my daughter. 

He should be asking different questions like; “How can I glorify God? How can I honour your daughter’s integrity and purity? How can I respect her and keep her for her wedding day!”

That guy’s asking the wrong question! So I might even reply with a question of my own; “How much do you value your life dude?” And urge him to think twice before ever messaging my daughter again.

The Pharisees come to Jesus while He is teaching, with a question of interpretation regarding the Law and marriage, divorce and remarriage. Their intention was to ‘test/trap’ Jesus (Mark 10:2). It’s worth remembering that when seeking to understand this passage. 

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” – wrong question! Just because something is lawful doesn’t mean it’s wise, never mind godly.  

Take Wing-suits as a silly example (check this link out if you’ve never seen this sort of thing – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbcbjMhvjEs) It is lawful to throw yourself off a mountain, but it doesn’t make it wise?

Or think of smoking marijuana, it’s legal, but that doesn’t make it a wise or godly thing to participate in. Likewise, gambling is legal but not wise and is discouraged in Scripture.

So with just three examples, it is clear that something being legal is a poor indicator of whether or not it is wise or godly.

So with the Pharisees asking; “Is it lawful…” they were barking up the wrong proverbial tree and in so doing revealing their sinful hearts and the patriarchal culture of the day.

Jesus answers them, asking them what Moses said on the matter and knowing their Pentateuch they reply in effect that Moses allowed men to divorce their wives by giving them a ‘certificate of divorce’. The debate of theirs they were trying to trap Jesus in was probably over what constituted ‘indecency’ in the wife that made it legal for a husband to divorce his wife (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

Jesus’ response shows that the law given by Moses was meant to limit evil being committed against women not to give reasons for men to eject themselves out of their marriage vows! A ‘certificate of divorce’ was a way of limiting the evil being committed against women and was not God’s good plan for marriage from creation (Mark 10:6) but due to sin and hardness of heart of men and women (Mark 10:5).

Some Pharisees were teaching that men could divorce their wives for ‘any and every reason’! God never intended that there be any divorces, much less divorce for any and every little reason or because someone else was catching their attention. Their question reveals a sinful motive.

Jesus reaffirms God’s plan as found Genesis (Mark 10:6-9); In marriage, God intends for a man and a woman to leave mom and dad to be ‘glued to’ one another in such a remarkable way that those two people become one flesh, no longer two but one. (Genesis 2:24)

And so because of this remarkable one-flesh union that God creates when a man and a woman get married, human beings should not separate what God has joined together.

Jesus answers them, not with a legal answer but reaffirms that God intends marriage to be for life! That was God’s plan from the start of creation, Moses had to introduce a law because of sinful hearts, but God’s plan for men and women and marriage has not changed one iota. 

And so, in the house, Jesus explains further to his disciples that anyone who does divorce their spouse, separating what God has intended to not be separated is doing what God is not pleased with. 

So much so, that to go and marry another person is to ‘commit adultery’ meaning that God sees the first marriage as still being joined together (Mark 10:11-12)

I can hear you wanting to interject; ‘But….!’ 

Remember that Jesus is correcting a wrong, sinful attitude that is underlying the question; “Is it lawful…”. Jesus has answered that question emphatically – God’s plan for men and women is that when they marry it is for life, a covenant that holds through life’s storms, through the up’s and down’s of married life, that creates a context of love, vulnerability and commitment.

And that covenant is sacred to God. Our culture treats marriage like a ‘social contract’ that is only valid while the ‘parties’ are getting what they want from the marriage. 

Much like the social contract, one might have with your hairdresser – you really like your hairdresser, you always go to the same one, until they mess your hair up one day and then you are free to walk out and end the social contract. 

God doesn’t treat marriage in that way and nor should we. Jesus takes us back to something far more beautiful, more robust and more romantic – covenant love that endures through anything. Covenant love that if broken for any and every reason is a major problem in the eyes of God.

Application:

  1. If you are not yet married: Choose today to pursue God’s ideal for marriage and not the way of the world. God’s plan for marriage is beautiful, it’s not easy, but it is beautiful and will bless you richly if you do marriage God’s way with God at the centre of your married life. Pray for your future spouse now and pray that God would prepare you and keep you for each other and help you to find each other.
  2. And if you are already married: Remind yourself of those covenant promises you made to each other before God, your family and friends. Find them, pray through them together again, recommit yourselves to them! Those promises were not about romance but absolute statements of commitment and love that are what you’ll need in dark or difficult days to hold you together and see you through.
  3. And if on some issue in life you find you’ve been asking questions of legality, stop and ask yourself if that is really a question you ought to, or want to be asking? Is it a question you would want Jesus to answer?
  4. Lastly, in all things a great question to ask is; ‘Jesus show me your will in this thing, what will please you?’

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Power cords & Love (Colossians 3:14)

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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.

To Consider:

  • 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.

Tapestry: Assurance & Action (Colossians 3:1-17)

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In his book Future Grace, John Piper shows how God’s grace to us in the past is the foundation for faith in both the present and future.  

When when we consider what God has already done for us in the Gospel when we are secure in what has happened to us purely by God’s grace – that rock-solid assurance motivates and mobilises us to live a certain way in the present.

God’s grace motivates us! It doesn’t leave us unchanged and unmotivated to change; rather, it puts a fire inside of us that spurs us on to even greater life change.  

However, what is critical is that the motive for that action & intentionality in us is not anymore to try to earn God’s favour or forgiveness but rather because those are ours already because of Jesus.

So we don’t have to get all knotted over whether we should take the imperatives of Scripture seriously or not, wondering whether they apply to us or not. Of course, they do! The issues worth considering are;

  • Motive: Why do you do what you’re doing? 
  • Purpose: What you think what you’re doing is achieving?

All through a passage like Colossians 3:1-17, I see the Apostle Paul interweaving assurance & action like a tightly-knit garment that only makes sense when all the weaves remain together.

Read the passage, and look for all the assurances woven into its fabric. I count at least nine assurances in the past-tense, two assurances in the present & future tense.  

These nine assurances inform us of the correct motive for our action, which this passage commands us to take in its thirteen odd imperatives.  

Do you see what Scripture is teaching us? Present-day action and obedience are founded on past grace. We obey God’s word in the present because of what we know; God has already graciously done for us in the Gospel. Because we are so secure in grace and God’s love for us, we respond actively working to see our lives transformed more and more into the image of God’s Son, Jesus(vs10).

Because we are saved by grace we;

  • Seek things that are eternal (vs1)
  • Set our minds on things that are eternal(vs2)
  • Put to death old earthly ungodly sinful practices(vs5-7)
  • Put away ungodly attitudes and speech(vs8)
  • Do not do certain things anymore (vs9)
  • We put off the old sin-soaked life (vs9)
  • We put on the new in-Christ-life (vs10)
  • We put on God-like character traits since we are God’s chosen children (vs12)
  • We forgive just as God forgave us (vs13)
  • We put on love which sums up our new life (vs14)
  • We let the peace of Jesus rule our hearts (vs15)
  • We let the WORD of God saturate our daily lives (vs16)
  • We give thanks in whatever we do! (vs17)

The Scriptures are jam-packed with imperatives, commands for us to obey, instruction that ought to be observed and followed. This passage alone is an example of that.  

But notice that it’s the assurance of what is already ours, and what will be ours who’ve believed in Jesus that is the thing that motivates our action in response to God’s grace.

God’s grace teaches us (Titus 2:11), motivates us to work harder than anyone else at our growth in godliness (1 Corinthians 15:10), motivates us to really consider our lives carefully and the thirteen imperatives in this little passage that challenge us!

May your life and mine be an endless tapestry of threads of assurance that look back and stretch forward woven daily into action that’s inspired by the myriad of imperatives in Scripture and the voice of the Holy Spirit in the present.

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Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

The greatest story of all time (Colossians 2:13-15)

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I love watching movies, reading novels, and I like a wide range of genre. I think the common thread is that I love stories. It’s always sad when they end because I want to carry on living in that world for a little longer.

I often find that God shows me things about life and people in movies. I find it helpful to read the Bible, trying to imagine the story or passage I am in as if it was a movie. It makes it so much more real and alive.

The story of our salvation and rescue is the greatest of all time. It’s a love story of the most profound love ever seen. While reading today’s passage, I allowed my imagination to run a little, imagining these verses on a movie set.

I’m sure you can picture a movie you’ve seen where someone is in serious trouble. Maybe the character has done something terrible, and are about to be caught, or perhaps have wronged someone and are about to be found out. Maybe they are in a hostage situation or have been captured, and there seems to be no way out. All you can feel for them is despair and hopelessness. That is our situation before Jesus. No hope, just despair.

Let’s go back to our story. It wouldn’t be a great movie if all it painted were hopelessness and despair. You have to have a hero, a way out, an answer. As the story progresses, solutions get discovered, a hero steps in, or a glimmer of hope shines into the bleakness of the situation.

Jesus is our hero! At this point, my analogy falls flat because he is so much greater and more amazing than any hero we could picture or imagine. He swoops in, cancels all our debt, forgives all our sins, rescues us out of a prison where we thought there was no way out. We were just like that poor person in the movie who had no answers and was about to be found out. All the charges against us have been dropped and cancelled. We were guilty, we deserved no mercy, no way out, BUT God in His mercy loved us too much to leave us in that state.

There’s a sense of justice when the villain gets caught. God didn’t just save and rescue us. He dealt with our enemy. He disarmed him, stripping him of all power towards us and then publicly shaming him with his victory over him on the cross. What a victorious and fantastic way to end the greatest story of all time!

I’ve studied the Bible for many years using a method I heard from John Piper.

I read the passage a couple of times and then ask myself three questions:

  1. What does this passage teach me about God,
  2. What does this passage teach me about myself
  3. And what should I do?

The incredible thing I saw today was that I learnt a lot about God, I learnt a lot about who I was and what I am now, but I couldn’t write anything under “what should I do?” Why? Well, I can’t do anything. Jesus has done it all. It’s all about him and his heroic actions towards me. That’s the gospel, and what we need to remember and meditate on for the rest of our lives.

Nadine is one of the elder’s wives at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Fake news? (Colossians 2:8-12)

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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. 

Nadine is one of the elder’s wives at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Progress takes time (Colossians 2:6-7)

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Paul is urging the Colossians to continue following Jesus. Here is how he suggests they do that. He uses the analogy of plants with roots and buildings on a firm foundation.

Both of those things take time to develop. I recently discovered that I could use the bottom of the celery I buy at the shops to grow another plant. I cut off the leaves and the stalks and then put the end piece in a little water. Over time it grew new leaves out the top and roots out the bottom. I have just planted it in the soil, and now I wait to be able to use it in my kitchen. The point of my story is that it has taken quite some time. The leaves didn’t grow immediately, and the roots took even longer to appear. I have no doubt it will be a few weeks before I can cut off some celery to use in cooking.

Similarly, building something takes time as well. Anybody who has been involved in any building project of any kind knows this to be true. If the process is rushed, essential details will be ignored, and the result will be a building that doesn’t last or one that presents problems over time, like leaking or cracking and unsightly parts to it.

I think Paul chose these analogies on purpose because following Jesus, allowing your roots to grow deep into him and building your life on him takes time. It takes time to read your Bible. There is so much to read and understand, yet as we daily read little bits, the Holy Spirit gently reveals more of himself to us and builds our knowledge and wisdom. It takes time to speak to him. Prayer isn’t always easy, but as we persevere, he rewards us with a sense of his presence and even in his grace answers our prayers.

We are all building our lives daily.  The question is on what are we building? Are we trying to gain our sense of security from money, relationships or possessions? God is our rock, our refuge and fortress. He is the only secure thing that will not send our lives crashing down in a heap of rubble if we build on him.

We all have roots reaching out to gain nourishment for our souls. Are you reaching out to Jesus or are you reaching out to the things of this world that will never satisfy the longings of your heart, as Jesus will?

As you are faithful in reading your Bible and pouring out your heart to him, you will grow closer to Jesus, your faith in him will grow, and you will recognize a thankful heart in yourself. It can be disheartening when day after day it feels like you’re plodding through reading your Bible and trying to grow in prayer, but remember how slowly a building is completed and how many days a plant takes to grow to maturity.

One day, after many months of being faithful in following Jesus, you will look back and be amazed at how far you’ve come. So keep going!

Gospel Metamorphosis (Philemon 8-16)

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You know, sometimes we don’t need a super-star to look at in Scripture! Don’t get me wrong, super-stars are fabulous, but we tend to create a “special” category for them, and if we are honest we often don’t feel we can relate to someone in that category.

And as a result, their lives can tend not to motivate us.

Listening or reading people like Tim Keller or John Piper I sometimes wonder if I should do something else! Their stellar gifts can seem quite out of reach, leaving me prone to feeling demotivated in comparison.

What about you? Do you know that feeling?

Yet, Scripture is full of some pretty ‘ordinary’ people, people so similar to us, weak people, people who made mistakes, not so famous people – but all transformed by God and used by God in some way or another!

In today’s passage, we are introduced to just such a person Onesimus. We know about him from this letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a church leader called Philemon, who leads a church that meets in his house in Colossae.

What’s the back story?

Paul seems to have lead Philemon to faith in Jesus (vs19). And having believed in Jesus Philemon’s life was transformed. His faith in and love for Jesus was known (vs5), and this love for Jesus led Philemon to love his fellow believers. So much so that he was known as one who refreshed and revived other people’s hearts (vs4-7) and now he and his whole family were living their whole lives for God’s mission with a church even meeting in their house (vs2).

But not everything was rosy!  There was someone Philemon found difficult to love. Someone he had little time for. There is always someone isn’t there.  That itchy neck person, that person who did THAT thing…!

For Philemon, THAT GUY’s name was; Onesimus.

He had been a slave of Philemon’s, he worked for him, but apparently wasn’t a very good or honourable employee.

Onesimus was so bad that although his name means ‘useful’ (vs11), it seems like he was nicknamed ‘useless’ by Philemon.

He wasn’t just ‘useless’ to his master, on top of this bad work ethic, it seems like Onesimus had also stolen from his master (vs18-19).

So, Onesimus was either dismissed & sent away by Philemon or, more likely; he ran away as such criminal actions against an owner would have been harshly treated in that society. Either way, Onesimus somehow ends up with Paul in Rome, where Paul has been imprisoned for the Gospel.

Maybe Onesimus remembered hearing Paul preach in the church that met in Philemon’s house; maybe he remembered hearing the letters that were read out containing the liberating truth of the Gospel? Maybe he longed for such freedom from guilt and shame for himself…?

Whatever it was, Onesimus finds Paul in Rome in prison, and Paul ends up leading him to faith in Christ, or Paul restores him to faith in Christ in Rome while in prison.

And because of that we now have this very personal letter in our bibles, so what can we learn from it. So what can we learn from this letter, this story?

1. The Gospel gives identity & belonging

Having run away, having stolen, having been called ‘useless’ when your name actually means ‘useful’, Onesimus must have had some real identity issues. Low self-esteem, nothing to be proud of, no hope for a future, a criminal on the run…!

But all that is about to change. You see the Gospel doesn’t just change our eternal address it transforms who we are!

“The Gospel doesn’t just change

our eternal address it transforms who we are!”

We don’t know anything about Onesimus’ nationality or parents, but it is highly likely that he was a foreigner probably brought to the Roman empire through war or slave-traders.

As a slave, Onesimus would not have much in the way of protection from exploitation/abuse would not have had much in the way of rights or any privilege.

But in the Gospel Onesimus becomes a son 3x over!

  • The son of his human dad
  • A son of God
  • A son of Paul, his spiritual dad! (vs10) “I appeal to you for my child.”

The Gospel transforms identity/belonging, so much so that Paul says that when he sends Onesimus back to Philemon (carrying this letter we are reading), he says that he is, in fact, sending “my very heart”! (vs12)

This useless slave who had messed up monumentally – because of the Gospel becomes a beloved son 3x!

More than this, Paul writes to Philemon, an important man, a church leader a homeowner and Paul writes of how Onesimus has become to both of them (the apostle Paul and this leader) – a fellow brother (vs16) in Christ!

Our faith in Christ, our adoption as children of God, creates a new relationship of love & equality of value between us, a connection that is deep and eternal – brothers and sisters in Christ! Equal in the Lord.

The Gospel gives us a value that transcends social barriers that previously defined and divided us! This is so real for the apostle Paul that he writes to Philemon instructing him to receive Onesimus ‘AS YOU WOULD RECEIVE ME’ (vs16-17).

  • I don’t know how you see yourself today.
  • I don’t know if you can identify a bit with Onesimus?
  • I don’t know if your identity feels like it is intact or in tatters?
  • I don’t know if you feel useless, ashamed of things you’ve done or failed at?
  • I don’t know if you feel like you don’t belong anywhere because of your family situation or a lack of a father or lack of parents….?

But what I DO KNOW is that the Gospel, the good news about Jesus transforms your identity and your sense of belonging!

  • God wants you to belong!
  • God wants you to KNOW Him as Father
  • God wants to give you spiritual fathers and mothers, spiritual brothers and sisters wants to give you a place of honour in His household – the church.

The Gospel gives us identity & belonging!

2. The Gospel gives us purpose!

Rejection is a terrible thing. Imagine being called ‘useless’! Maybe you’ve been, or you are still at times called ‘useless’ by someone, a boss, a friend or family member…

As a rejected, runaway slave and fugitive – Onesimus seems purposeless. Seems like he is useless – having no useful purpose at all in life.

But having encountered Paul and the Gospel Paul writes; ‘formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.’ (vs11)

Paul wants Onesimus to continue to stay to help him with the mission of Jesus but sends him back to be of help to the church back in Colossae.

When Jesus begins to change us from the inside out, little by little, our character starts changing too. We begin to become trustworthy, faithful, reliable, on-time, helpful…

The Gospel is incredibly down-to-earth, practical!

It doesn’t just change our eternal address but changes everything in our lives – it makes us useful, helpful, reliable to others and in God’s service.

Onesimus was set free from slavery by the Gospel, but what was he set free for?   Following Christ set him free from sin but in addition, set him free for good works (Ephesians 2:10) that God had prepared in advance for him to do. And so Onesimus becomes useful to in God’s church/kingdom (vs11). He gets a purpose!

Are you looking for purpose?  

The Gospel is what gives you purpose. Onesimus was floundering until he found Christ! And as you follow Christ, as you begin to serve others because you serve Christ – your life too will get purpose, and your character will get transformed.

3. Transformation by Spiritual Fathering Mothering

It’s worth asking; ‘How did this all happen for Onesimus?” This all happened because the Gospel restored him not just to his heavenly Father but also gave him a spiritual dad too! Paul picked up on this guy, who was a bit of a wreck probably by the time he got to him.

Paul didn’t get too hung up with his own life challenges while he himself was in prison. Paul wasn’t too self-absorbed so that he missed the moment, rather he saw the young man in front of him in need of help! What a (personal challenge to us)

And so, Paul involved himself, fathering Onesimus in the Lord, in the Gospel – Paul loved him as a son. Paul spoke life, hope, faith and a future over him calling him ‘useful’ restoring dignity to him. More than this as we shall read in the verses that follow, Paul advocated/mediated for him, was willing to pay for him, trusted him.

Who is God calling you to invest your life into? Could you be used by God to redeem a life, from useless to useful, from rejected to beloved? Who is your Onesimus?

Conclusion & Application

  • What’s God saying to you today?
  • Are you like Onesimus in some way? Do you feel like you have lost your way, you’re ashamed, have messed-up, feel lonely, purposeless or lacking hope…? God wants to redeem your life, put you back together again! Pray now and ask God to begin a metamorphic process of Gospel transformation in your life. Reach out to a spiritual father/mother to walk with you today.
  • Or have you walked with God for some time already, God has put you back together and so you’ve made some progress (not that we are ever totally right this side of heaven). Who is your Onesimus? Who is God calling you to invest your life into to see some other people’s lives transformed by the Gospel? What are you waiting for? Reach out to them today.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

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.

Family Resemblance: Love (1 John 4:7-12)

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In the preceding verses (vs1-6), John has made it clear that false teaching is invariably linked in part to erroneous teaching about who Jesus is and what He came to do.

Then starting in vs7, the apostle John contrasts false teaching with authentic godly life that results from right teaching and right believing.

Those who have accepted the Gospel, those who have been loved and accepted by God, in turn, love others with the same type of love with which they have been loved (vs7).

The connection between love for God and love for people is so strong that the apostle writes that anyone who doesn’t love other people can’t truly love God!

The Gospel doesn’t leave us unchanged; it doesn’t just cause our sins to be forgiven; the Gospel melts our hearts and changes our lives and our relationships.

True faith in Jesus Christ has to have an outworking. The overwhelming characteristic John highlights is love – because ‘God is love’ (vs8). Therefore, we will love if we are truly God’s children (‘born of God’ vs7) because God is love.

I can’t see it, but people tell me that my children look like me. The resemblance is there physiologically and in terms of things like temperament and personality. They share some of my DNA, and they grew up in close proximity and relationship. Similarly, the apostle John’s argument is that we who have truly been supernaturally born of God will resemble God because we have God’s DNA in us (1 John 3:9)!

True faith is not the attainment of knowledge, or experience but demonstrates itself as being true in God-like self-giving love.

And this is how we know what real love is – that God gave of Himself in sending His only Son into the world to save us (vs9). Love doesn’t start with us (‘I love God’); rather love was initiated by God when God loved us and sent His Son Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins (vs10)!

Brother or sister, we did not initiate reconciliation with God. We didn’t take the first step in love towards God. While we still sinners, still against God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Salvation is all God’s initiative; God has loved the unlovely and made us lovely and able to love others.

So, let you and I who have believed in Jesus love one another with the same love with which we have been loved – and as we do, God’s tangible presence will be experienced amongst us.

Reflection

  • Who are you finding hard to love right now?  Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you about this person and your present struggle.  What is the Holy Spirit speaking to you?  And what ought you to do now?
  • Look back on your spiritual journey of faith in Jesus – how have you changed when it comes to love for others?  Be encouraged.  We all mess up, but as you look back you will see progress.  Now ask the Holy Spirit to make you more and more like your heavenly Father.

Gullible? (1 John 4:1-6)

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Gullibility is a liability! Not everything that ‘sounds’ spiritual or deep is Godly or helpful. We live in an age of information overload, the access to options or alternate thought positions has never been easier.  

Therefore being able to discern right from wrong, good from evil is an important life skill. The apostle John writes warning believers affectionately; “Beloved, do not believe every spirit” (1 John 4:1) or as the NLT puts it; “Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit.”

In our day in the name of God, church leaders are sadly often in the news for telling those who follow them to perform all manner of crazy acts, claiming this is what God wants or torturing Scripture to say that what they are teaching is what Scripture commands!

Discernment, therefore, is a vital aspect of faith for all Christ-followers. But how does one discern orthodoxy from heresy?

1. Listen to God’s Holy Spirit!

 God’s Holy Spirit will always make much of Jesus, who He is and what He has done for us. So listen to the content and the focus of someone’s teaching and if Jesus is not the BIG IDEA, if anyone, anything is, then tune out! Remember that;

  • The Holy Spirit will teach us and will remind us of everything Jesus said. (John 14:26)
  • The Holy Spirit will testify about Jesus (John 15:26)
  • The Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth (John 16:13)
  • The Holy Spirit will bring glory to Jesus (John 16:14)

Hearing from the Holy Spirit is not for some elite group of Christians. Adam and Eve used to walk and talk with God in the Garden. Now that you have been reconciled to God through Jesus, you too can walk and talk every day with God. This is your joy and your privilege as a believer!  

Try this: As you read, or listen to anything/anyone – ask the Holy Spirit to confirm in your Spirit whether this is helpful or unhelpful in your spiritual walk.

2. Use the Weapon of Scripture

One of the primary ways God has put on display His will for our lives is in Holy Scripture. The more you read and internalise Scripture, the better equipped you will be to discern spiritual nonsense from the good stuff.  

So, if some teaching doesn’t line up with Scripture – toss it out! Our LORD did this when He was tested in the desert by the devil, and yet Jesus resisted him, Jesus exposed the falsehood through quoting Scripture to the enemy.

So read your Bible daily, commit to that discipline, and it will protect you in ways you cannot begin to imagine. Internalise Scripture, memorise Scripture – doing so is that arming yourself with the sword of the Spirit, taking the sword out of its sheath to protect yourself from enemy attacks (Ephesians 6:17).

3. Be in intentional Christian Community

Being on your own, isolated with your thoughts, leaves one vulnerable to false teaching and potentially being persuaded or lead astray. The people John was writing to had a relationship with the apostle John, and that relationship helped them to remain strong in the face of false teaching as they could ask John for his opinion. 

Who are you in intentional Christian Community with? Is the Bible and listening to the Holy Spirit a key aspect of that friendship? In Reconciliation Road Church we urge every believer to be in a TRIO or a COMMUNITY GROUP or to be in both if possible. Why? Because Community protects one, keeps us from the pain of being diverted from the path God has for us.  

Do you have an intentional Christian Community? If not, take a step and reach out to some other people.

May we, may you be fortified against gullibility. May you obey the Holy Spirit daily, devote yourself to Scripture daily and may you have an authentic and intentional Christian Community around you to protect you from dangerous spiritual gullibility.

#SinlessSinBearingSaviour&Advocate (1 John 1:5-10 & 2:1-6)

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Do you like torches? I do, always have been fascinated by how this small device can illuminate a path or space. Go into any camping shop, and you’ll agree by the array of choice of torches and lights that others share my interest in a good bright torch. Light displaces darkness, and something in us really likes that.

A dim light might be insufficient to light up a whole room, and so conditions can exist in which darkness and light seem to cohabit. However, even with just one light bulb, most average-sized rooms are lit up, and darkness flees.

Not to mention how every morning the Sun rises in blazing glory banishing the night across an entire swathe of the globe north to south all at once. Light displaces darkness; darkness cannot exist in the presence of light. There is no struggle, just darkness receding when the light appears.

John says, God is light (vs5) – a light on another magnitude entirely! John doesn’t say God is like light or like the Sun, rather light is God’s essence, His very nature.  And because God is greater than my torch or a light bulb, greater than the Sun in all its brilliance, because of the greatness of God’s light – there is no darkness in God at all (vs5).

Describing God as ‘light’, is John’s way of explaining that God is entirely and utterly holy, sinless, blameless, pure.

All of which leads us to vs6. The apostle John says to you and I – that just like darkness can not cohabit with light of any significance, so too you and I can not claim to be ‘following Jesus’ or ‘walking with God’ if we lie and do not practice the truth if we are living a life of sin and compromise (darkness).

Light dispels darkness, so if we are living a lifestyle of sin and darkness, then the truth is we are not walking with God, we are far off from the brilliance of His light.

I urge you at the start of this year to reconsider your lifestyle, your patterns of behaviour and thoughts your rhythms and habits. It’s all too common to find believers in Jesus who claim to be following Jesus, and yet their lives reveal the truth.

The apostle John sounds a warning, that it is ridiculous to claim to walk with God and yet to live as though God’s moral commands and imperatives are optional or unimportant.

But John knows the human condition and John knows the Gospel. No one can claim to have no sin in them – not one (vs8). According to Tim Keller the Gospel is that;

‘We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we dared to believe, yet at the very same time, we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.’ – Tim Keller

So we have a problem. God is holy, and we are not – we need a Saviour! God is light, and in Him, there is no darkness at all, and darkness and light cannot cohabit, and we are dark in our sinfulness! So what are we to do?

Enter the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

‘The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin’ (vs7). Which then makes it possible for us to ‘confess our sins’ (vs9) trusting that God will respond to our confession and our trust in Jesus’ saving work and will forgive us of our sins and to make us clean, holy, pure, light (vs9). And so because of this work of Jesus, we can have fellowship with God who is holy. What a Saviour!

What darkness is there in your life at present? What sin are you involved in? Don’t lie that what you are doing is not sin and don’t grovel either that you have sinned.  Rather confess, acknowledge to God your sin and ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and to make you clean again. Then walk free of it, live in the light, makes changes to your life pattern and walk with God thanking Him always for this amazing gift of forgiveness because of the cross of Christ.

Consider this, who is God faithful too in vs9 when it says; ‘he (God) is faithful’?

You could think God is faithful to you because you confessed your sin and trusted in Jesus to be forgiven. However, I believe John is saying that God is faithful and just to Jesus. How so?

Because God’s righteous, holy wrath was satiated by Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross in our place for our sin (1 John 2:1-2), it would be unjust for God to punish us for sins Jesus paid for already!

So, God is faithful to Jesus, honours Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice for us every time we ask for forgiveness. Next time you need forgiveness, worship Jesus for making forgiveness possible and thank God the Father for being faithful and just to Jesus – which makes your forgiveness possible and glorifies Jesus again and again.

‘My little children’ – says John (1 John 2:1). He urges them to not sin but knows that they will at times sin, and so assures them that we have one who argues our case on our behalf in the heavenly realms – Jesus our advocate, Jesus the righteous (2:2), Jesus the one who took the penalty of our sin away (2:3). What assurance, what good news!

How now shall we live in response?

Don’t deny that you do struggle with sin & don’t continue living in sin. Aim to live free of sin (2:1), aim to keep Jesus moral commands (2:3-4), aim to follow the counsel of His Word (2:5), make your goal to follow Him in the way that you live (2:6), and confess your sins when you do sin and receive His forgiveness (1:9).

Trusting the Word of God (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

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Believing in the bible is unfashionable. This is because the bible is absolute truth in a fake news world. Declaring fidelity to the very words of God won’t win you may friends, or provide credibility in discussions with those who don’t know Jesus. In this setting, it can feel increasingly hard to treasure the gift of God’s words to us.

2 Timothy 4 is a continuation of Paul’s comments in chapter 3, where he spent time exposing the sinfulness of the world and gave Timothy some specific tips to combatting the sinfulness around him as he leads the church in Ephesus. Timothy was encouraged to continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, … how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings” Paul is making it clear, the way Timothy was to protect himself and model holiness in the church was to treasure and rely on the power of the word of God. Timothy had clearly spent his whole life being shaped by the Word of God, and Paul is eager that this transformative effect keeps going.

Paul’s argument in chapters 3 and 4 is that when we trust and rely on the Word of God, it will empower both our pursuit of holiness and our missional effectiveness in the world.

How can the bible aid our pursuit of holiness in a world full of sinfulness? Well Paul says in 3:16 “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” This is something he repeats in 4:2 when he says, “be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” The bible is inspired by God, as His means of revealing Himself and causing faith in the world, and therefore it is eternally relevant in our lives, no matter the situation we are in. It can be used to build up the people of God, through training and teaching, and it can be used to in the fight against ungodliness, through challenging the sin around us and restore people towards righteousness. There is never a moment or situation that the bible is irrelevant or untrustworthy in. Absolute truth is absolutely trustworthy.

These are the final words, in the final chapter of the final book to his spiritual son Timothy. And so, with his final words Paul leaves Timothy his final command; “preach the word.”[1] In other words, make Jesus known by communicating the bible. As Ellicott’s commentary states: “the language of the original here is abrupt and emphatic, written evidently under strong emotion and with intense earnestness.” Do you sense the importance and earnestness of Paul’s tone when you re-read this? Can you feel the communication of his deep love and confidence in the word of God.

Paul’s message to Timothy is the same as God’s message to us today.  Our effectiveness in living for God in the world is linked to our dependency on the bible. We cannot stray from complete dedication to the bible and total surrender to God’s Word. Our personal holiness depends on it. Our public proclamation depends on it. Build your life on a deep trust in the inspired words of God.


[1] I have used the word final here, even though this is not Paul’s last command to Timothy (that is 4:21 “do your best to come”). My use of the word ‘final’ conveys the final emphasis of Paul’s heart to Timothy’s – Paul’s great and lasting charge.

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?

Marks of Godly Leadership 2 (1 Timothy 6:11-21)

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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:

  1. As we have reached the end of the book, what concluding thoughts do you have on good and bad leadership?
  2. How is your life characterized by the kind of intentional pursuit of holiness that we read in 1 Tim 6?
  3. How does a gospel shaped certainty in the future encourage us to live and lead for Jesus now?