Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness ..."

Day #232:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - August 17th

Scripture Reading:  I Timothy 4 - 6 …

Timothy was a young preacher who had been with Paul, who had heard him preaching and teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and who was as dear to Paul as a son.  In the midst of the spreading of the Gospel and the persecution that accompanied it this was, perhaps, the closest relationship that Paul had with any other person.  The reason was obvious:  Paul wanted to be sure that the Gospel would be proclaimed after his life and ministry were over.  Paul's life was centered on proclaiming the message of the Gospel and while many others followed him, it was to Timothy that he wrote these words of encouragement and instruction to all who would be called of God to serve in this capacity.  And in his words to Timothy are important truths for all believers.

Paul warns Timothy that "some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons" (4:1).  That should SCARE people ... or at least wake them up!  I am truly amazed at how so many people who claim to believe in Jesus will listen to someone who preaches or teaches things that are contrary to God's Word.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians that "if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached  ... you put up with it easily enough" (II Corinthians 11:4), and then said, "such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.  It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness" (II Corinthians 11:13-15).

The way to counteract what Satan is trying to do is to continue to preach and teach the true Gospel.  Paul wants Timothy to focus on spiritual things, saying that "physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come" (4:8).  That doesn't mean exercising and being in shape physically has no value, but spiritual growth and training is more valuable.  These bodies will not last forever, but our souls will!!  Timothy is encouraged to "set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity" (4:12), as he continues to preach and teach God's Word.

In words that apply to everyone who proclaims God's truth, Paul writes, "Watch your life and doctrine closely.  Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (4:16).  "Doctrine" equals "teaching."  Like many words today, the meaning of "doctrine" has been changed by some to refer to traditions and interpretations that are not in accord with the Word of God.  But the Bible uses the word "doctrine" to refer to truth that God has revealed by His Spirit in His Word.  "Sound doctrine" is therefore "God-given truth," and as such it is true for everyone.  Different preachers or denominations have different "doctrine" only when they stray from God's Word.  There is one Gospel, one message that has the power to save sinners from the judgment of God!

Since being a disciple of Jesus means living life in community with other believers, in the rest of Paul's letter to Timothy, God instructs him concerning the relationships of those within the body.  First, he addresses the care of widows, an important matter to God.  James even wrote, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:27).  Widows were to be taken care of first by their family and only secondarily by the church.  Family caring for family is so important to God that the Spirit moved Paul to write, "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (5:8).  God never contradicts the order He Himself has established.  God must come first in our devotion and commitment, family second, the church third, and everything else after that.  Keeping those priorities in order brings God's blessing.

After speaking about the role of elders "who direct the affairs of the church" (5:17 ... a role that should be recognized by all congregations - the rule by elders) ... God has a word for slaves.  While understanding that the Bible was used for years to justify slavery, in the culture of that day God instructed those who were legally enslaved (according to the laws of the cultures into which the Gospel was coming) to obey their masters as though they were serving the Lord.  Many today feel at times as if they are slaves to their employers, but again, God says, "Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men ... It is the Lord Christ you are serving" (Colossians 3:22-24).

Our goal as believers must be to honor the Lord in every relationship we have.  Doing so gives us an opportunity to witness to others of the God who is sovereign over all things and all people and who offers forgiveness and life through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.  If in our lives we disobey God's will, how can we then seek to use God's Word to lead others to Jesus and to lay down their lives for Him.  We who believe, like Timothy, must model what we believe and what we proclaim to be true.

Finally, Paul speaks about money and contentment.  He again warns Timothy that some are teaching false doctrines and are leading people away from the truth.  When it comes to money, that is certainly true today.  God says that these have been "robbed of the truth and ... think that godliness is a means to financial gain" (6:5).  This is the "prosperity gospel" of our day.  People are being told that God wants you to be wealthy and if you believe and make the right decisions you WILL be!!  My question is always, "What about people in the third world?"  If it isn't true for everybody, it isn't true for anybody.  God does not have one set of principles for rich people and another set of principles for poor people.

Rather, God says, "godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that" (6:6-8).  Then that verse that is misquoted by so many, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (6:10).  Money itself is not evil, but the LOVE of money IS!  Living in this nation where gambling and lotteries have become just another way to tax people who cannot resist the temptation to want to get rich without working, these words should convict all those who want to follow Jesus Christ.  God calls His people to live with a desire to be productive, to provide for their family, to support the work of the kingdom, to help others and to be content.  When asked, "How much is enough?" ... one multi-millionaire responded, "A little more!"

How much better to serve the Lord with contentment, to give to those in need, to pursue righteousness and to walk with God, being led by His Spirit, obeying His Word, loving those around you?!  "But you, man (and woman) of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith.  Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession" (6:11-12).  Jesus is coming back, and your life and mine should be lived constantly with the awareness that all of this is temporary and living with and for the Lord is the ONLY thing that truly matters.  The rest is just "stuff!"  Whether rich or poor, our hope is not to be found in earthly things.  Jesus will return (6:14), this age will end (6:19), and life in God's perfect new world will begin.

Are you living as though that were true?  Can other people see YOUR life, as Paul wanted them to be able to see Timothy's life, and see that you are "different" than those who do not know God and serve Jesus Christ?  The pursuit of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness will make YOU happy, joyful and at peace, with God and with others.  God will use you to bring honor and glory to Himself and your light will shine in the midst of the darkness of this world.  "Take hold of the life that is truly life" and "lay up treasure for yourself as a firm foundation for the coming age" (6:19).  You will be glad you did!

"Heavenly Father, in the midst of this world where so much false teaching is being offered under the cover of 'truth,' help those who truly know You to discern YOUR truth and to live to display the wisdom found only in Your Word.  Move me to pursue those things which YOU have said are precious and valuable in Your sight, and give me strength to resist the temptation to pursue worldly wealth and pleasure that leads to disappointment and despair.  Help me to be content with what You provide and to use what You have given to me to care for those around me, for Your glory and honor.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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